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Old 08-01-2014, 03:40 PM   #1
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Erie Canal Observations

I just got back from a ten day, 125 mile, 21 lock each way trip across about 1/3 of the Erie Canal. So here are some observations about the canal and what you see along the way:

I have a hard time seeing how the NY Canal Corp can afford to keep that canal running. On an average day of 25 miles and 4 locks we passed 1-2 boats coming against us. On 30 of the 42 lock passages we were the only vessel in the lock. The $50 we paid for our 10 day pass can't possibly pay for even the labor of the lock keepers, much less repairs and maintenance of the canal.

We stayed at free walls and docks for 9 of the nights and an inexpensive ($30) town dock for one night. Four of the free docks (Canal Corp and town docks) had decent access to an adjacent town- Canajoharie, Little Falls, Rome and Sylvan Beach. A couple of times we tied up in the middle of no where. We probably spent $100 on meals and groceries in those towns, but the margin on that stuff won't pay for the dock upkeep.

Basically there isn't enough traffic on the canal to justify either the canal operation or the free town docks. At least not with what we spent in the towns on our cheap cruising budget. And except for one professionally crewed 75' or so yacht, everyone else seemed to be in our financial strata. I guess I should mention a 150' canal cruise boat that probably does pay some serious dough to pass through, but I don't have a clue where they tie up at night- not the free docks I am sure.

There were some nice spots to tie up. Little Falls has a very nice free Rotary Club sponsored dock very close to town, but it is a very high 8' wall. The town was nice and a bit quaint. Groceries and a half dozen restaurants were easily accessible.

Canajoharie had the best dock- a floating one that holds about 4 boats and provides free 30 amp power, but no wifi. None of the free docks had wifi except for the fantastic free dock at the Waterford Welcome Center, but I really don't count that one since it is just outside of the canal. The Canajoharie town center was just a three block walk away from the dock and they had a free Celtic band playing on the town green that night.

Rome was kind of a bust- an industrial looking environment near the dock. Sylvan Beach was the most fun. On Saturday night there must have been a thousand boats- pontoon, cruisers, runabouts and jet skis that "cruised through the hamburger stand" that afternoon and early evening, capped off with a short fireworks show. There was a 50s style amusement park right behind the wall, a couple of decent restaurants and a nearby swimming beach on Lake Oneida.

The one paid dock we stayed at was in Scotia, near Schenectady. It was located in a beautiful town park which had a free rock concert that night. But the town itself was kind of a bust.

Here are a few pics. The first is approaching the Waterford Welcome Center on the right with the first canal on the left under the bridge. The second is a typical dam spillway and canal pair. The third is approaching lock 7. The fourth is the countryside about 70 miles up the canal.

All in all I am glad I did it once, but wouldn't do it again.
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Old 08-01-2014, 04:27 PM   #2
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Not sure what you are getting at...

Sounds like you had a nice time...visited new places and it was thoroughly reasonable...

I understand it's not for everyone but you sound like it was a huge disappointment that it wasn't something else...what were you looking for?

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Old 08-01-2014, 04:37 PM   #3
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Nice pictures, thanks for sharing.
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Old 08-01-2014, 05:21 PM   #4
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Thanks for sharing. Headed that way next year. We hope.
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Old 08-01-2014, 06:38 PM   #5
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To summarize:

The canal system can't possibly pay for itself.

There were a few nice places, a few busts and a few so-so ones.

My previous impression, gained from this site and others was that the Erie Canal is an idyllic environment with quaint towns along the way, each with a great tie up that welcomed cruisers. With a few exceptions, not so, at least on the stretch that we cruised.

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Old 08-01-2014, 06:40 PM   #6
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Definitely more modern than I expected. Fancy/modern lock(s), and no mules?
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Old 08-01-2014, 07:03 PM   #7
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Too bad you trip was so so. The Erie is on my list. Maybe if ya spent a few $$$ at happy hour :-) or rented a car shopped in a store you might of seen more. I can't fathom a ten day trip and only spending $180.00. Maybe you can share tips with my Admiral. :-)
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Old 08-01-2014, 07:21 PM   #8
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Free docks, live music, cheap eats. What more could you want. You know, you might be behind (or ahead of) the crowd. And really, who wants to wait for the party boat to clear the lock. First in-first out, no waiting, sounds great to me. And yeah, the mayor isn't dockside with a key to the city, but hey, stop wearing those dark sunglasses. Maybe they'll recognize you for the celebrity you are.
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Old 08-01-2014, 08:51 PM   #9
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I have spoken with many boaters that have done the Erie and/or Trent system and it seems you either love it or not (locking through), but having experienced the Trent in busy times with a bunch of houseboats used like bumper cars, I think I personally would have appreciated the light traffic and tranquil setting that you experienced. We do have some nice little towns along the Trent however, but you pay plenty to stop at them. Always nice to hear others opinions, thanks for posting.
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Old 08-01-2014, 08:54 PM   #10
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The Erie Canal was a big historical milestone in our country's history. Is it really necessary for it to be self supporting or profitable to be kept alive? Are all of our monuments profitable or self supporting? Maybe we should rename it the ATT-Erie Canal and while we are at it it make it the Ford Motor Company-Lincoln Memorial....I hope you readers get my point, and the mere suggestion that our heritage should be self supporting is extremely offensive to me...but that is just me.
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Old 08-01-2014, 09:06 PM   #11
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First, as to the finances. It was once a huge commercial system. However, today there is just a small amount of commercial traffic. Still it is built now and shutting it down would cause hardship to a lot of towns and businesses as well as commercial entities. Everything doesn't stand profitably on it's on but some things are parts of a whole. We drive on roads all the time that don't pay for themselves. So we pay taxes to keep them up.

As to the canal, you did only see 1/3 and saw it rather quickly and not much in depth. Now, that said, I'm not saying your opinion is wrong. It's an opinion and what you got out of it. Obviously not the place for you. However, I've read many stories of those who have transited the canal and you are the first who didn't like it. Had a friend who was just through it and loved it. The great thing is different places for different people. We look forward to seeing it although it's not our ultimate destination. Still we like to experience different areas. Now we will spend more than $180 in ten days. And we'll explore the history, the culture, the art.
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Old 08-01-2014, 09:55 PM   #12
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We did the entire Erie Canal last summer from Albany to Buffalo. It was, by far, our favorite part of the entire Great Loop. We spent 5 weeks going across it, stayed at 22 towns, had 4 mayors catch our lines, and saw 4 town bands give public concerts. I spoke at town council meetings and one Rotary luncheon along the way. All my talks were about how to bring more cruising boaters to upstate NY. There were about 6 newspaper articles written about it although I prefer the mentions given on about 10 town websites and local online news better. A typical story is like this one:

The canal from Waterford to Brewerton is definitely, without question, the less interesting half. Once past the Oswego Canal, life changes and there are more towns like Canajorharie (in the east) with open arms and interesting things to do. Without seeing Lyons, Fairport, Brockton, Spencerport, and a ton of other small towns on the western side, you just aren't seeing the Erie Canal. It's kind of like cruising the Chesapeake by going along the Patapsco River and spending time in Baltimore. Yeah, you were on the Chesapeake but you sort of missed the real Chesapeake Bay.

If the towns along the Erie Canal organized just a little, it would become a whallop of a cruising destination. The NYS Canals (owners of the locks but sadly part of the NYS Thruway organization) seem to do everything possible to hurt themselves without realizing it. I had numerous conversations with an executive director there and gave a few specific suggestions. I also met with multiple directors of the NY Canal Corp, a marketing arm for the towns along the Erie Canal. I also gave a presentation at a board meeting of theirs held in Spencerport. They agreed with my suggestions for the Thruway authority and supposedly tried to have them implemented this year. Unfortunately, nothing was changed.

The towns, people, and businesses along the Erie Canal are fantastic. There is no better cruising destination on Earth for the summer months, IMO, including Maine where I've lived for 21 years. You've really got to continue west past the Oswego Canal to get it though. To be honest, you're not really seeing the Erie Canal if you don't go further west than that.

I hope I can be back in 2 more years. I'd like to go up the Hudson and over to Lake Erie and return. I can't imagine a better way to spend the summer.

Oh...and for the 5 weeks of staying at docks and walls every night (there's no anchoring anywhere), our total dockage/electricity cost was $200. We had 50 amp power about half the time, 30 amp or a 120v plug about 30% of the time, and no power 20% of the time.
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Old 08-01-2014, 10:47 PM   #13
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Have a different take on the canal than the OP.
Cruising the New York State Canal System
I've cruised from Duluth MN on Lake Superior to the Gulf and as far south as Antigua.
The NY Canals are my favourite.
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Old 08-02-2014, 05:43 AM   #14
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>I have a hard time seeing how the NY Canal Corp can afford to keep that canal running.<

The canal is part of the NYS Thruway Authority and they are awash with ca$h from tolls.

The trip is slow and picturesque , I always suggest a wanabbe rent a steel canal boat as a start .

If the bride can handle the space (its actually great, 100+ years of refinement) in a steel narrow boat , it will be easier to go up to a 35 -40 ft boat.
Otherwise if looking at the boat show first , a 65 ft will be closest to the old dirt house she knows .

With zero navigation and weather hassles the Erie is a great starter spot , and Ez, lazy cruising ground for experienced folks.
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Old 08-02-2014, 08:50 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by djmarchand View Post

All in all I am glad I did it once, but wouldn't do it again.

David, thanks for posting this. As usual it brought up a discussion with varied opinions. I have not done the Erie, but may do a charter as FF suggests. Because of your post and this discussion, it gives me a target area (western half) to shoot for a cruising area.
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Old 08-02-2014, 06:48 PM   #16
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I'm with Jeff, and I only did the "boring" half of the canal before I ran out of time. The scenery, the history, a different town every night, friendly lock masters, free dockage, no wakes, no heavy seas, a total change of pace.

We're not as famous as Jeff, but we did get our picture in one local paper; we just happened to be on the wall when a reporter and photographer came by doing a story on how transient boaters help the local economy.

I know some people rush to get through it, and I understand why they don't enjoy it. Some of the towns are economically struggling, and I imagine anyone who can't get along with working-class folks wouldn't like those. If it's bright lights and big-city night life you're after, you will be disappointed on this route. But it suited us just fine.

I don't know why it's not more popular, but in one way I'm glad. I intend to be back, and it won't bother me if I'm the only one in the lock, or tied up to the wall.
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Old 08-02-2014, 06:58 PM   #17
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If any of you make it to the Seneca Canal and spend the night in the Seneca Lake State Park transient slip, please don't unplug the shore power from the adjacent Mainship.


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Old 08-02-2014, 10:46 PM   #18
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Thanks for sharing your perspective, David. I've often wondered what it was like and your view helps paint the picture for me. I love the out-of-the-way, quiet waterways with little traffic and lots of charm. Sounds like some areas hit on all points and others don't. I imagine parts look very industrial, but I suppose that's just part of the canal's history. It was an important lifeline for many in the development of this country and because of that, I'd love to see it first-hand someday.

They're not all perfect peaches, but they all have some sweet spots. Thanks for posting!!
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Old 08-03-2014, 09:09 AM   #19
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Jeffery, if your still following this thread of Davids, the wife & I have the Erie on our agenda, ultimately from Buffalo through to the Hudson if possible. I'm curious how you got along with such a "large boat" on the Erie. Our boats are similar in size and I'm concerned about the availability of suitably sized docks given there are no anchorages, was this an issue and did it necessitate having to bypass some stops? I'm also concerned with our windage and squeezing in among a raft of smaller boats. Did you find this to be a concern, ie: lock masters loaded appropriately? (we do not have thrusters) Any issues with regard to height? Thoughts & suggestions much appreciated.
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Old 08-03-2014, 09:34 AM   #20
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There are lots of docks available for your size vessel and there are several places to anchor should you choose. quite a few photos of docking facilities here.

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