Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Cruising the Erie Canal (and beyond?) by Pedal Boat with Sail

It all began……
I am awash in emendations even as I commit my thoughts to print. I hope the balance I achieve between my inclination to reconstruct and portray a logical and chronological story and my wish to highlight the fancies that strike me at the moment does not work too much mischief in favor of either approach.
To my lifelong fascination with wind, water and the motions generated by each and both I must add an addiction to sound as determiners of my explorations.
I have many memories of a period from ages 4 – 8 of the excitement in going to spend an afternoon at “Big Sandy”, a freshwater pond on Cape Cod. Movies from that time show me, standing thigh deep in water, holding tightly to a toy sailboat. I was a proficient swimmer by the time I was 5, and by 7 was crewing on our sailboat, “The Yank”, a snipe, affording my endless opportunities to play with wind and water, harnessing the power of the sails and being tossed about like a cork.
An enduring visual and kinesthetic and, as I later realized, esthetic experience took place when I was 9 years old when a visit to Canandaigua, NY included my being allowed (by my future Grandmother-in-Law) to row her Peterborough cedar strip boat in the still shallows, gliding over crystal clear waters near shore
I learned canoeing from the experts: Canadian guides, trappers and handymen who built our and others’ cottages with me “helping”, of a summer. Later on, with the advent of windsurfing, this too became a passion.
No surprise that Kenneth Graham’s “Wind in the Willows” touched me like no other book. More on this later.
The Erie Canal entered my life when my family moved to the Niagara Frontier; the fearsome mesmerizing of the cataract, the rapids above and the whirlpools below was probably all the stimulation a five year old could process.
How a canal system managed to get around the roiling power of that natural wonder was revealed only gradually and much later. Memory of glimpses of the Canal from childhood remained with me and received reinforcement periodically across New York State, and especially from the three years we lived in Rochester: a canal over a road? A canal over a river? Yes- these and more. From the two Canal songs I learned as a child came understanding of towpaths and mules, though again I couldn’t figure out how the barges could be held off the banks.
The writings of Samuel Hopkins Adams, an up-stater and Ham Coll Grad, about the Canal, especially “Grandfather Stories”, in which he recounted tales of the creation of the Canal as recollected by his grandfather whose father had helped build the Canal, are full of facts, myths and the humans who generated them.
Then is 1998 or so we got wind of a company that rented canal boats by the week, beginning and ending at the North end of Cayuga Lake which is joined to the Erie Canal by a spur. These boats were modeled after the barge boats of yore: narrow and long, full galley (kitchen), six beds, two baths and shower, powered by a 50 hp diesel engine plus bow thrusters. It was during that trip, with Eric and Lorraine von Brockdorff, that I experienced a particular “state of mind” for the first time- a kind of tranquility, calm and relaxed, but alert to the sights, sounds and scents of the Canal. I didn’t miss a heron or an osprey. Too, the perspective of the countryside from the Canal is so unlike that seen from road or street: much more greenery, far fewer buildings, roads, traffic, noise- very much a different world, although in the same place.
The development which propelled the whole enterprise from dream to reality came- and here I reveal something of my personal habits- in the form of a Hammacher-Schlemmer catalogue. Although I rarely (honest!) purchased anything from H-S, I enjoyed leafing through their offerings, especially far out (and farout expensive) vehicles/toys which were wind or human powered or both. What I saw in 2006 was the very thing to transport me to tranquility: a pedal-powered boat which accommodated a sail, and which could take 3 adults, so they claimed, which I amended at the time, and confirmed, would be 2 adults and a child or one adult and 2 children. Anyway, H-S kindly put me in contact with the company that manufactured these boats, located in Muskegon, MI. Some phone queries lead to a visit in June of 2007, a test run, and the decision to make the boat my flagship of the Erie Canal, the Hudson River, and possibly Long Island Sound. To get to Block Island would be a stretch, but I wasn’t going to rule that out.
The plan was to obtain the boat (called a Nauticraft Escapade) in mid June of 2008, acquire the sailing rig (made for this boat by another company) and test out the nautical characteristics under varying conditions at Canandaigua Lake, including sleeping/camping in/on the boat, trailer back to North Tonawanda (the Western terminus of the Erie) and Bon Voyage!
One event interfered with my shakedown efforts. In the month of May, clearing brush from a wall of Block Island I (again) proved to be a fine target for a deer tick which I discovered some weeks later. Inflammation around the site suggested early Lyme disease, so- three weeks of doxycycline, one effect of which is to make one’s skin highly susceptible to damage from the sun, and indeed this happened, thus restricting my outdoors activity, and thus limiting the opportunities I might have had to learn my boat (now named NOCO NORCO TWO). Registering the boat, and especially the trailer, in NY State deserve their own play, act or at least scene.
So much for prologue: the story continues in the form of the log, all in process.

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