Cruisin’, On A Friday Afternoon

I sat here this morning, perusing through the memories my family and I had made over the past couple of weeks and it hit me that I hadn’t once blogged about our 3 hour tour of the Erie Canal.   Fortunately for us, the weather didn’t get rough and our tiny ship wasn’t tossed.   We did add an almost 4 foot tall crew member mid tour, but we didn’t set ground on an uncharted desert isle.

Friday, July 3rd, we decided to take advantage of my in-laws close proximity to the Erie Canal and the much cooler weather, to go on a cruise and enter one of the many locks along the 300 + mile stretch of water.   No, we didn’t travel the entire 300 odd miles, but our tour was informational, historical, and even eventful.

Our ship
Our ship

Of course, having two young children who are not only adventurous, but also inquisitive, we just HAD to sit at the top of the Colonial Belle, the ship that took us out onto the canal.   We left from Fairport and went under the infamous lift bridge, a one of it’s kind structure built in the early 1900s.   The entire bridge is lifted by 40 horsepower electric motor.   The bridge can reach a clearance level of 16.3 feet depending upon the water levels of the canal.  The sound of the horn, reminiscent of those found in lighthouses and on ships who are coming into harbor during a fog, and the bells that signal to those around that the bridge is lifting was our first excitement, more so for Davey than Henry.

Lift Bridge at Fairport
Lift Bridge at Fairport

Once we made our way under the bridge and watched it lower again, we began the sightseeing.  Along the canal is a paved trail with bicyclists, runners, walkers, and even the occasion fisherman.   I once lumped all New Yorkers into the category of being too fast, too inconsiderate, and too stuck up.   Growing up, I thought a New Yorker was the polar opposite of a Southerner.   Well, that may be the case in some areas of the state, but not in Fairport where people wave at you as you cruise by.   We shared the canal with pontoon boats, kayakers, and those on pedal boats.   Docks jutted in and out of the water, haphazardly spread about, giving me the visualization of a bar graph when seen from the sky.

One of the many flood gates along the canal
One of the many flood gates along the canal

The docks were surrounded by trees, some littered with chairs and tables, lights and swings, and even the occasional hammock.  Couples and friends, families and neighbors were already enjoying pre July Fourth festivities on many of the docks and back porches of the houses.   I like to think that at least one person was enjoying a good ole glass of sweet tea.

The houses ranged from modular homes, to four story mansions and condos and townhomes.   As we cruised by, it felt like our own low country in South Carolina.   I had an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia, of sitting on porch swings under the oak trees with the Ashley River flowing in the distance.   If it weren’t for the low-humidity of the day and the obvious northern accents, I would have thought I was back in Charleston, SC.

It wasn’t just an adventure for me, but also one for Davey.   Henry seemed to be much too young to really understand what was happening.   He just knew that he was, once again, confined into a space where he couldn’t get out.   Dave ended up taking him down below, where doors were bolted and windows were too high for him to climb out of and go overboard.   He had free reign of the lower deck.

starting in Fairport
starting in Fairport

As with any adventure we undertake as a family, there is always the consideration with how long our boys will be able to keep their attention focused.   Davey lasted longer than Henry, but once there was no longer bridges to go under, which by the way we had to actually duck our heads on a few of them, or animals to see in the woods (a LOT of deer), then he quickly became bored as well.   It wasn’t until we made it to Lock 32 when he became enchanted once again.

I’m sure many of you know about locks on a canal.   Some of the well known locks of the world are on the Panama Canal.  I’ve never visited, but would put it on my bucket list.   For those of you who don’t know what a  “lock” is on a canal, let me give you a brief rundown.

There are 35 locks on the Erie Canal that run from the Hudson River to Lake Erie.   The canal rises 566 feet through those locks and in order to get from one section of the canal to the other, one must enter into a lock, which is an enclosed compartment.   You sail into the lock and tie up.   The “lockmaster” (if that is what he is indeed called), then closes two steel doors behind you.   He opens up tunnels that release hundreds of thousands of gallons of water.   It takes approximately 10 minutes for the lock chamber to fill.  Once it is filled, then steel gates open in front of the ship allowing for passage through.

At this point in our adventure, Davey became intrigued once again, although only for a few minutes.  It’s quite dull to wait around 10 minutes for your boat to rise, after all.  The opening and closing of the chamber seemed to numb the pain of sitting through the lock itself.   When we turned around and came back through the lock, we went through the same process as before except this time, tunnels were opened to pump out the water and the wait wasn’t quite so long.   It was immediately after this when the Colonial Belle took on a new shipmate, in the name of Davey Doser.

Davey stated he wanted to thank our captain for doing such an excellent job at navigating us into and out of the locks.   That token of appreciation in the form of a handshake from Davey, led in turn to the opportunity to become captain of the vessel, an exciting feat even if only for 60 seconds out of a child’s life.  At this, he became happy once more and found the need to tell everyone on the boat how he’d been in charge of chartering us back up the canal.  A round of applause ensued, along with pats on the back, and I’m convinced my child may have a future in politics thanks to his outgoing congeniality.

Davey navigating the ship
Davey navigating the ship

Bridges were the most exciting parts of the boat ride, but I’m afraid 3 hours was a bit much for my two boys.

Should you happen to make it to Western New York, take the time to find a cruise along the Erie Canal, especially one that goes through one of the many locks.  For us old people, it was an educational experience.

Go to http://www.eriecanal.org to learn more.

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