Monday, June 20, 2011

Update on my Toledo to Fort Lauderdale Trip

Well, it’s been a few day since I have had a decent internet connection, so I will recap details of the trip up until this time.
I am delivering a 2003 Viking 65 foot sport yacht from Toledo, Ohio via Lake Erie, the Welland Canal into Lake Ontario, the Erie Barge Canal, down the Hudson river Valley to New York City and then coastwise to Miami, Florida.
The compliment onboard consists of the Mexican owner, family, friends and his personal captain and chef. Half of the 8 passengers and crew speak little or no English. Fortunately for me, Spanish is my second language so operationally, we’re a-okay. Including myself, there are 9 souls onboard, and surprisingly, there are berths for everyone!
After a couple of days in Toledo Beach Marina (actually on the Michigan side of the border), we departed at 1600  June 12th  for the hour and a half run to Put-in-Bay, a popular yachting destination in the Bass Islands just north of Sandusky, Ohio. 
Put-in-Bay is a quaint little island community with late 18th century homes along the waterfront which most have been converted to upscale restaurants or winery tasting rooms. The village center, around the beautiful community park, is a collection of your Key West style bars, fudgery, and t-shirt shops.  And yes, there is the Jimmy Buffett wannabe solo guitar player set up in the corner of the bar keeping the village idiots entertained. An interesting note: In the winter, when Lake Erie freezes over solid, the only way to get mail and supplies to the island’s full time winter residents (about 200), is by airplane or air boats skittering across the ice.
June 13th we departed for Erie, Pa. and Presque Isle; a very well protected and, except for the entrance channel, a land locked harbor in central Lake Erie. The city owned Wolverine Marina sits behind a big Hilton Hotel, which interestingly has a skywalk 65 feet above the channel entrance connecting the two hotel buildings. The marina is right at the base of the main street in town and close by an excellent maritime museum including old square riggers that plied the lakes an eon ago. One more word about the Wolverine Marina; they only clean the showers and head for marina guests once a week. So don’t expect spic and span.
June 14th, we depart for Buffalo, New York tying up at the Erie Basin Marina. A nice park like setting in the inner harbor, EBM has floating docks for vessel taking 30 amp power and bulkhead mooring for larger vessels requiring 50 amp service.  
However, it is quite a walk to the two restaurants, the upscale Templeton and a snack bar called The Hatch; both of which have mediocre food. I recommend walking past the Veteran’s Park, where there are WWII vessels including a light cruiser, destroyer and submarine, to the electric tram to explore Buffalo’s best. Also nearby are the HSBC center and the Buffalo Bison AAA baseball stadium. As a side note: The City of Buffalo has installed a new floating dock closer to the HSCB Center and the Veteran’s Park which charges only $30 per night, regardless of length of vessel. When entering the inner harbor, turn right and the dock is just past the USS Little Rock museum ship.
Mexican nationals are not permitted in Canada, no matter how wealthy they are without a visa in their passport. The Canadian consulate however is conveniently located in the HSBC center. The visa office is only open from 0730-1000 each day, so it was a two day process to get all eight thru. Included in the line-up at the embassy were Pakis, Bangladesh and Chinese immigrants seeking entry to Canada.
With a rented Chevy Suburban, we also took a drive to view Niagara Falls. If you ever do this, make sure you take the free trolley thru the park. Nice narrative and it will save the soles of your shoes a centimeter of rubber. On a personal note: It was stunningly beautiful, but it is much bigger in the movies. Can you spot the Maid in the Mist?
American Falls
Horseshoe Falls
With the Chevy returned to Hertz,  we departed Buffalo on June 18th  for our transitof the Welland Canal; a part of the St.  Lawrence Seaway system. A series of 8 locks,which connects Lake Erie to Lake Ontario,  will lower us 326 feet, along with other yachts and the huge Great Lakers, ships that carry coal, grain, steel etcetera.  
In the past, I have transited this system in as little as 8 hours and as long as 20 hours as commercial vessels take precedence over “recreational vehicles."
So, the process goes like this. We pull into Port Colburn at 0800 and tie up at Sugarloaf Marina (outstanding, friendly staff). Because we have entered a foreign port, everyone but the captain must remain onboard.  I hop off the boat, with passports and vessel registration in hand and find a phone at the marina office which connects me Canadian customs for our clearance inbound. Next, we reposition the vessel to the “city dock” which is just before the first lift bridge.
Here, I again get off the vessel and find the canal system kiosk to pay the $200 transit fee by credit card. Next to the kiosk, there is a phone which connects me with the canal control. They inform me that there is a sailboat at the dock transiting with us and to start our transit at 1100. So, with a couple hours to kill, I invite my guests to disembark the boat for a morning walk. Right across the street from the dock is The Craperie which makes the most fantastic fresh fruit crepes… I had the apple-brown sugar and a fresh raspberry crepe. My mouth is still watering!
1100 sneaked up on us and with the last stragglers running to the boat we depart with the sailboat "Jade" on time for our transit. The lock chambers use 22 million gallons of fresh water , so with all eight locks, we used something in the neighborhood of 160 million gallons of water to transit the Welland. I mean, these locks are HUGE!
By the way, except for a slight delay at Lock 3 for an inbound Great Laker, we made the transit is six and a half hours; a new record for me!!
After leaving the Welland Canal and entering Lake Ontario, we headed the vessel to the Youngstown, New York on the lower end of the Niagara River. The village of Youngstown has a hundred foot municipal dock adjacent to the Youngstown Yacht Club. About 6 miles from the entrance to the river, we could see about 30 sailboats racing in very light breezes offshore and I knew we had to hustle in to get a spot. Luck would have it that here was just enough room for us to slide her in.
Not snow - Cottonwoods in bloom
Now, the process of clearing with US Customs (remember, we are coming from Canada, albeit for only 6.5 hours) is a bit different than in Florida. On the Great Lakes, one is required to enter at a designated port where a US Customs video-phone is located. So, once again I hope off the boat with passports and registration in hand for the second time today. Pick up the receiver and push the call button and I am connected with CBP. The first thing he asks me is if I have a “BR” number. Yes, this is the same “BR” number that is associated with the Local Boater Option system we use when returning from the Bahamas to Florida.
Next came the subject of the owner of the vessel and his guests and crew. Once it was revealed that they were Mexicans (with multiple entry visas and valid I-94s), the agent required each individual face him on the video phone, no doubt to record their faces along with their passport info. This whole process took about 45 minutes, much to the dismay of the multiple sail boaters arriving after us. But, as painful as it was for the CBP agent (good!), the entry was completed and we all settled down for the night.
Now, I might note here that after Buffalo, we do our prestart checks the night before, set our alarm clocks for 0600 and we are off the dock by 0645. The sun doesn’t go down until around 2030, so a good deal of daylight is available for running, and getting off the boat at the end of 12 hours. So, it is again early on the morning of June 19th when we slide out of Youngstown before those wounded the night before are even stirring. But, a head chop of three foot and 21 knots of boat speed soon brought even the worst case of hangover out of their forward staterooms to once again crash on the saloon couch.
At 1200, we arrived at Oswego, New York where the New York State Barge Canal starts. A brief tie-up on the wall affords use the take down a portion of the upper navigation lights to be able to get under the 20 foot fixed bridges along this route; of which we only had about 5 inches to spare! Locks 6 thru 1 (there is no Lock 4) are a series of locks raising us up the Oswego River to a level where we enter Three Rivers, the confluence of the Oswego, Seneca and the Onieda. We finished the day at 1730 and  tied up on the village dock at Phoenix, New York. Now, this is one of those little bergs where time has passed them by.
Barely a crossroads, most of the industrial era buildings are shuttered. However, the crew and I did manage to find a non-descript pizza parlor and ordered a meatza-pizza. What we got was one of the BEST pizzas I have ever had! If you do the Erie Canal and you stop in Phoenix, I highly recommend “Cams NY Style Pizza.”
0630 this morning found us underway once more. The route took us to the Three Rivers fork which to the right takes you to Buffalo (15.5' clearance) and to the left the continuation to the Hudson River. Nearly the entire Erie Canal system is speed limited at 10 miles per hour, however along our route we cross Lake Onieda, a 20 mile open water dash to blow out the turbos.
We continue to lock up until we get to Lock 19 where we start to head "downhill." The trip gets more picturesque as we head east and we end the day in the sleepy little town of Little Falls... aptly names. on the west edge of town in what has been called "Rotary Park" in the old canal cruising guides is the town dock. A very well maintained facility, Chris, the dockmistress, runs a tight ship. A buck-a-foot for dockage and you get 30/50 amp service, fresh water, the cleanest showers and restrooms I have ever seen (I mean sparkling!) and keys to the dockhouse for free wifi. This is another one of my favorite stops along the canal system. One note: if you want internet on your boat, dock on the east end of the bulkhead next to the office. And, write the city manager asking them to install an outside antenna so everyone on the dock can get reception!

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