Happy Canada Day! or How far can flies fly anyway?

Although Oswego was a very pleasant surprise, we were ready to move.  But then weather on Saturday scrubbed the mission.  West winds on our end of Lake Ontario are a deal-breaker.  Effectively unlimited fetch and 15-knot winds mean 4 to 5 foot waves on the beam as we plow north.  So put we stayed.  Lake Ontario is called the Graveyard of the Great Lakes for a reason.  Maybe the reason is just to sell posters at the museum or dupe people into buying houses in Oswego rather than risk their lives, but still.

Things looked better for Canada Day so we planned departure for 8.  At 7, another couple of Looper boats left Oswego.  We fired up the engine and set the lines for easy release.  Then one of the boats—Canadian Eh—pulled right back in and tied up.  Although the winds had shifted, they encountered 4-foot waves and turned around.  The other Looper boat—Miss Norma—reported that things smoothed out after an hour or so, however, so we threw on some bluegrass gospel and took off.  (We agreed that we would change the music if Pandora gave us Nearer My God To Thee.  No need to tempt fate.)

img_4080After setting a course at 12 degrees, we settled in for a nice cruise.  Not a cloud in the sky.  The thought of biblical plagues never crossed our minds.

Then the biting flies landed.  Ogden Nash once observed: “The Lord in his wisdom created the fly.  But then he forgot to tell us why.”  He didn’t forget.  There just isn’t any good reason for flies.  If the apparently-amphibious fly population in the middle of Lake Ontario is the result of Rachel Carson’s battle against DDT, perhaps we lost the war after all.  It was like someone snuck a dairy farm on the boat.  A good chunk of the trip we spent trying to kill them.  A 12-gauge with birdshot would have been more effective than our measly fly swatter.  We kept at it only because we feared Canadian Customs would think we were smuggling livestock.   We hoped the buckets of carcasses we threw overboard would send a strong message to the other battalions but that didn’t work.  The closest land was 30 miles away and they kept coming.  How is that even possible?

img_4081Dana thought it funny to see Doug on the hunt.  Obviously she doesn’t appreciate impressions of Mr. Miyagi in his post-Arnold’s career.  Fly-killing with style, baby.  Ultimately, however, you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.  We fled to the pilothouse and turned on the generator for AC.  If only we had put 2 and 2 together and left the flybridge earlier.  Duh.  The silver lining, if any, is that using more fuel might give us an extra inch of bottom clearance on the Trent-Severn.

800C5E06-6B98-4C10-B9BC-ACFA6F72CB9EThere aren’t many exciting photo opportunities when no land is visible and no odd boats are present for much of the trip.  Dana even took a nap.  After five hours we sent out a dove, which returned with an olive branch to confirm there actually was land out there.  We shortly reached the St. Lawrence River, which oddly starts at the lake and flows northeast past Montreal on its way to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Tibbett Light welcomed us to Thousand Islands, almost Canada.

img_4090Thousand Islands is home to Thousand Island dressing, at least according to the locals who sell it.  We suspect that may be myth but we’ll go with it.

Eight hours and 55.7 nm after leaving Oswego, we tied up in the Town of Clayton, just across the river from Canada shoreline.  Clayton is filled with summer visitors who tell us it “usually is so cool at night we wear jackets.”  Yeah right.  It was brutally hot and humid and will be that way all week.  Maybe Canada will be different, although the Canadian barge that waked us didn’t seem too worried about our comfort.

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This will be our last U.S. stop for a few weeks.  The boys hope to get stamps in their passports.

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On a foggy day in Oswego you can’t see diddly

img_4079TripAdviser lists 26 things to do in Oswego, N.Y.  Six of the top 11 are museums.  Number 1 is Ontario Orchards.  So we went there.  Ontario Orchards is a cross between Hadley’s off I-10 in Cabazon—a must-stop place on the way to softball tournaments in Southern California—and Dickens Fruit Stand.  It’s cool and all, but the ranking certainly doesn’t speak well of the museums.  We picked up some hard cider, a pie, and assorted boat snacks.  No offense to the good folks at Ontario Orchards, but don’t get the hard cider.  The pie, however, was delicious.

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The number 2 Oswego attraction per TripAdvisor is Fort Ontario .  In some form or another there has been a fort on the shore of Lake Ontario at Oswego since 1755.  It was closed on the nice day we arrived and we didn’t go back in the rain the next day, but the various signs documented significant history and we later did test out the drone–with a not insignificant pucker-factor given The Incident–to see what was inside the walls.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Fort Ontario is that next week it’s hosting an event to celebrate the Madeline books series.  You know, Miss Clavel (played by Fargo’s Marge “Margie” Gunderson in the movie), the Spanish Ambassador, eleven little girls whose importance was limited to filling out two straight lines, and of course that dog-hiding scamp Madeline.  The connection to a nearly 300-year-old fort in Oswego isn’t exactly obvious, but we should be gone anyway.

img_4050We initially had thought about leaving on Thursday.  Good thing we didn’t.  Until about mid-afternoon the fog on the lake was thick enough to eat with a spoon.  We have no radar until we step the mast after Chicago.  No fog for us please.

img_4077Fortunately the sun came out in time for us to visit the maritime museum, which is number 3 on the list.  Every small town in this part of the country has at least one small building called the “Maritime Museum”—as well as a plethora of monuments to local sons and daughters—which may explain why this one is ranked below the fruit place.

img_4054The museum part we saw was okay, although we probably could’ve done without the poster proclaiming Lake Ontario as the Graveyard of the Great Lakes and identifying all the huge ships that didn’t survive a crossing.  After that we contemplated just buying a house and staying here.  The museum did offer up some possibly-true trivia to use at cocktail parties, however, so all wasn’t lost.

The boat to the famous lighthouse was not operating and—at least in our personal rankings—a 2-mile walk, on the rocky breakwater, in the wind, to a closed-up building, was pretty low.  We did get the drone out there, but the shrill high-wind warning led to a fear-induced abortion.

img_4073Here’s a link to a cool story about the lighthouse.  After reading it last night we thought even more about just staying here forever, but the fact that the locals hear “the timeless screams of the six lost souls” at the haunted lighthouse scared us more than the storm.  We rode out there on Second Wave’s dinghy and heard nothing, however, so maybe there are no ghosts after all.  The nice Coast Guards who stopped to make sure we had the requisite life jackets (we did) confirmed the story.  The tragedy part, not the ghost part.

img_4049Wind direction willing—despite the documented deaths and despair—tomorrow we leave Oswego to start the Great Lakes/Canada leg of our Loop.  Roughly that will involve crossing Lake Ontario, cutting through the hopefully-not-too-shallow Trent-Severn Waterway to Georgian Bay, across the Northern Channel, nipping the corner of Lake Huron en route to Lake Michigan, and finally down to Chicago.  We don’t much care about Lake Erie, but missing Lake Superior—which according to the legend from the Chippewa on down is the big lake they call Gitche Gumee—is a real bummer.   Mostly because our use of applicable lines from The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald is eliminated.  Superior they said never gives up her dead, but we don’t know any songs about tragedies on Lake Huron.  Hopefully nobody will write one about us.

Dana photographed a grizzly bear with her phone.  Doug photographed a sock puppet with his.

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Seems like yesterday

img_6200Looking back through the tunnel of time, our first official Looping month is in the books.  We haven’t regretted it for a second.  768.8 nautical miles.  Five states and one district.  Two bays and one ocean.  Twenty-three canal locks.  One Statue of Liberty.  Only one major docking embarrassment.  Only four or five overflowing junk drawers.  Zero lost drones.  Zero dogs overboard.  Dozens of new friends.   Those are darn good numbers.

As surreal as we find thinking about what we’ve done so far, we find it surreal-er to see how little we’ve done compared to what’s left.  We have a wall map in the pilothouse on which we place a numbered red dot at every stop.  It puts things into sharp perspective.

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What we have regretted, however, is the WiFi situation.  One of the many things we took for granted in Arizona was fast and consistent internet access.  Marina WiFi as a general rule is not good, bless their hearts, and internet is very important for resolving arguments and watching videos of baby animals.  We bought a Redport WiFi booster well before we started but until now hadn’t found anybody competent to set it up on the boat.  We haven’t configured it yet but at least it’s installed.

img_4016The first night in Brewerton we settled in at dusk to watch an episode of Downton Abby we downloaded before we left Washington.  Almost immediately the volume was drowned by what sounded like an army of digeradoos in the boat.  Fifty thousand digeradoos.  (That’s the last quote from Walk Hard you will read on this blog.  Promise.)  Turns out the Brewerton Speedway—1/3 mile of banked clay—is just across the Oneida River from where we were docked.  Ample sunlight remained to allow a short drone flight over to film some action, but in a democratic vote the idea was rejected soundly by a landslide margin of 1 to 1.

img_4012Loop or no Loop, this is the time of every year when we find ourselves woefully behind on the Continuing Legal Education credits we need to make the State Bar of Arizona happy.  That meant a couple of days watching videos of lawyers rather than exploring central upstate New York.   The clouds and scattered showers at least provided the proper dreary ambience.  We did walk to the local Mexican food restaurant.  Not a Chuy’s but passable, even with the Spanish version of Achy Breaky Heart on the soundtrack.

img_4021Dana’s sister Liz arrived on Sunday from Texas.  Given the shockingly high number of Texans on the Loop, hopefully she feels right at home.  Except her home in Austin is much bigger, of course.  The Stagg sisters took the Hobies for their maiden voyage while the rest of us cheered from the deck.  Actually the boys were sleeping but Doug cheered from the deck.

img_4023On the way back from dinner we stopped by the car show/local band/ice cream stand.  All small towns are pretty much the same, although this one was cold.  In late June.

It’s customary for boats traveling in foreign waters to fly a small courtesy flag to honor the host country.  We aren’t much for customs, but we also figure Customs might be less likely to hassle us if we show proper respect.  Kind of like putting a sticker supporting police on your car in an effort to avoid tickets.  We picked up our maple leaf and will hook it up when we get there.

Tomorrow we head to Oswego to wait for a good window to cross Lake Ontario.  We have no interest in the 14-foot waves that blow up when the storms roll in from the west.

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Taming the Beast

Because we don’t get much news anymore, we only learned today of the world’s tragic loss.  So wherever you may be, a moment of silence as we mourn the passing of the great John Ward, without whom it never would have been “Football time, in Tennessee.”

On to Looping.  Little Falls, N.Y. is a picturesque village along the Erie Canal.  It’s apparently quite popular.  We planned to give it a pass on our way to Utica, however, because there are many other picturesque villages along the Erie Canal.  We can’t stop at all of them.

FBA22DE4-279C-415A-80F4-29A672682AF5From our perspective, the most significant thing about Little Falls was the giant protective maw that confronts travelers heading west.  Erie Canal Lock No. 17 is the highest lock in New York, and is one of only two guillotine-style entries in the universe unless there are some on other planets.  (The quality of the photo is crappy because it’s a frame from the time-lapse video that occupied one phone, while the person who owns the other phone and the camera was busy worrying.)  Here is one taken just before we started the worrying.  003a1181

The guy in charge must get perverse pleasure from watching unsuspecting boaters confront unexpected current, because he didn’t bother warning either of the two boats to be ready.  Turns out the front boat gets the worst of it.  Thankfully for us that was Second Wave.  Thankfully for Second Wave they are experienced enough to wrangle things safely.  For a moment, however, we feared for everyone in the lock.

003a1221003a1204Things tamed down the rest of the way.  Dana bagged a great Great Blue Heron.  The Canal straightened out for several miles.  The restaurant at the wall in Utica was delicious.

Things would be perfect if not for the whole John Ward thing.

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St. John must be proud

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We got up, left Amsterdam, cruised through some locks, it was beautiful, blah, blah, blah.  But that’s not what this post is about.

img_3959We docked at small, quiet, and sort of quirky St. Johnsville marina and popped into town.

img_3963St. Johnsville was founded in 1725 by Jacob Zimmerman, who may or may not share  a family tree with Steve Zimmerman, who provided great service work on Misty Pearl, and with Steve Zimmerman, whose daughter attended elementary school with Shannon.  In fact, based on our experience and knowledge Jacob may the only Zimmerman in history who isn’t named Steve.   But that’s not what this post is about.

During some down time, Doug flew the drone around town and then down to the dock.  And right into a real tree.  Rather than look at the track on the phone to see where said tree was located, the better plan seemed to be assuming the crash site was across the river, waking Brent (Second Wave) from his nap for help, jumping on the personal bicycles graciously offered up by the marina, and riding into the woods with no idea where to look.  Dumb plan.

The good news:  after looking at the flight path, it was obvious the tree in question was next to the marina.   That beautiful tree at the top of this post.  Even better news:  eagle-eye Brent spotted a tiny red light.

The really bad news:  the red light was about 60 feet off the ground, in a completely unclimbable tree.  Time to panic, because it seemed very unlikely that Dana would authorize buying another drone.

img_3987But wait.  While walking through town earlier, we had seen the Fire Department doors open and volunteers working a fundraiser.  Why not go up and ask for help?  Maybe they have a device specially made for retrieving drones after morons crash them way up high.  Off on the bicycle and back to town, only to find nobody around.  Oh crap.

The three guys sitting outside the market were not firemen and had no ideas about drone rescue.  One of them suggested calling it in as an emergency, because someone probably would respond.  That seemed a bit dramatic.  And potentially criminal.  The more helpful guy noted that down two streets, left on Washington, in the yellow house on the right, lives Chris Weaver, the Fire Chief.  He might be home.

Knock, knock.  Who’s there?  Dumbass.  Dumbass who?  Dumbass Doug.  Not only was Chief Weaver home, he already was relaxing with his family.  One logically might have expected him to explain that a drone in a tree was not really his problem.  Instead he immediately said he would put on shoes and come check out the situation.

img_3975Thirty minutes later the fire truck rolled up to the marina with an extension ladder, a chain saw, and a long pike.  Shannon Whiteman, Alex Countryman, and Fred Doxtader came to help as well.  After some discussion about strategy, up went the ladder and up went Chief Weaver.  One slip and he would be visiting with St. John and Jacob Zimmerman immediately.

Down came the drone, with only a smashed battery and broken propeller.  Down came Chief Weaver with nothing smashed or broken.  Amazing.

We left the Fire Department with a donation for their fundraiser and with our gratitude.  We won’t be forgetting the good folks of St. Johnsville, N.Y.

As for the drone video we recovered, here you go: