Weird Experience on Champlain Canal
One of the things that has impressed me during my Erie Canal transits and recent first time round trip of the Champlain Canal is how helpful and friendly the lock operators are. I wonder if anyone has experienced anything like this notable exception and encourage comments.
There is some ambiguity on AC and other sources as to whether mooring overnight is permitted at Lock 9. I called the lock a few days before departure and was told that mooring is permitted on the angled east wall but the west must be kept clear for barge passages. We tied up there in the middle of the east wall northbound so as to leave a picnic table free for fisherman and had a very nice visit with the lock operator who offered to leave the bathroom unlocked for us. We told him we would see him on our return in a few day and he said to just tie up right where we were if we needed to.
I called the lock when southbound and someone said, “Come on in, we’re all ready for you.” Just as we passed over the sill a different operator hurried down and yelled in the kind of voice usually associated with people running in circles and waving their arms in the air, “Didn’t anyone tell you that the next lock closes at 5:00 and there is no place to tie up there?”
I said, “We’re going to tie up here.”
“Oh, no you’re not, there’s tugs and barges coming through. Who told you you could tie up?” I told him I had called ahead, tied up to the east wall a few days before, and spoken to the operator personally while northbound. “Well, you can’t tie up there now, the Federal Barge is there.” At this point I decided I’d better back up and ask if that barge took up the whole wall which I couldn’t see. He threw his hands up and said he would lock us through and we could figure it out for ourselves.
We went up and the work barge was tied up around the corner by the spillway just as when we went through northbound. The rest of the wall was clear. I moored all the way down at the end this time to provide maximum channel clearance and it would have been hard for an errant barge to hit us without taking out the work barge. The operator came out of the gate shack and stood glaring at us talking animatedly on his cell phone and gesturing at us. I don’t know who he was talking to but he drove away a short time later after the lock close to recreational traffic. Two barge tows did go through, one in the evening and one in the early morning. No fuss, no muss. It was as nice and snug a spot as we could have wished for, especially being on the edge of severe thunderstorm warnings.
We went through another lock the next morning about half way to Waterford and there was the same guy operating that lock. As we left, he said in a very friendly fashion, “How was your night at Lock 9?” We told him it was very nice and two barge tows did go through with no problem. He said something like, “Well, you’re lucky. You never can tell about those barges or what they’ll do.”
I presume he was talking about the NYS Marine Highway sand and gravel barges that accounted for all or most of the barge traffic we saw. I can see where they could be a handful in a strong wind. Does anyone know if there have been problems? The gravel terminal looks to be fairly new. Is the system perhaps still working out how to accommodate in increase in barge traffic and what changes might need to be made to wall tie up policies? Or, was this just someone having a bad day and a hissy fit in the blistering heat?
It would have been awkward if he had told us that we absolutely couldn't tie up there. I wouldn't have wanted to strain the light looking dock at Fort Ann with our 43 footer and possible thunderstorm gusts forecast.