Most of our blog entries are written for our friends and family, which include mostly non-boaters. But this blog post is specifically for sailors from the great lakes planning to head this way. We know there’s a few boats taking the same path as us, so what follows are a few things we’ve learned so far.
Chandleries – You’ve been spoiled!
If you’re a Lake Ontario sailor, you’re probably used to walking into The Rigging Shoppe, Genco or Marine Outfitters with a story of woe and a broken thingamajig and walking out with an earful of expert advice on how to fix it. Well, fogetaboutit! Those days are over. I haven’t searched exhaustively, but I have visited a few marine stores here and they’ve all be quite lackluster. I suspect that New York simply doesn’t have stores of the same quality. I think part of the problem is that sailboats through the canals and Hudson are in the minority of boats. But also, I suspect that the Amazonification of shopping has hit harder here in the birthplace of Amazon Prime, than it has in Canada, where West Marine still does not deliver.
Foolishly, I suspected that having a smattering of West Marine stores along our route would be of great benefit to us. I thought that something akin to their online expertise would be found in their stores. Such is definitely not the case.
Despite their great online presence, West Marine retail stores seem to exist just to sell fenders, coolers, sweaters and fishing supplies. They seem to be staffed by kids who don’t know much about boating. And while Amazon can deliver anything, anywhere, today, West Marine still uses a byzantine process of inter-store inventory transfers that can take many weeks. Yes, it should be easy to order something online and say I want to pick it up at store x on date y. But for some reason, that’s not how their system works. If West Marine was a public company, I’d short that stock. Perhaps that’s why they recently delisted.
If there are better chandleries to be found, I haven’t found them yet. Not in Rochester, Manhattan, nor Albany. My search was casual, not exhaustive, so you may know better. But, if not, I think you should assume that the state of New York is no match for the great chandleries of Ontario. Perhaps in Annapolis and other more sailing-oriented communities, this will change.
We very much took our time to get here (Sandy Hook), and in retrospect, I think we should have put in more hours underway and got here sooner. The trip through the canals and down the Hudson is, overall, mildly interesting. I expect that what’s to come in the Chesapeake will be a better place to be taking our time. But, we are getting our fitbit steps!
Anyhoo, by slowly working our way this far, and by still being timid about anchoring, we got a chance to visit more marinas and clubs than we needed to. So here’s a little list of the clubs/marinas we visited with notes/opinions on each. (We are solar powered, so I haven’t paid attention to power availability.)
|Wilson, NY||Great spot. We anchored at the bottom of the bay and loved it there. The yacht club also looks very nice if you can get a reciprocal. They seem to sell out quickly.|
|Point Breeze, NY.||Couldn’t raise anyone from the yacht club here so stayed at the marina. Nice enough place and people, but very limited dockage for sailboats. Good spot for power boats, but I can’t recommend it for sailors.|
|Fair Point Marina, Little Sodus||This is where we got our mast taken down. Given the lake levels, it’s a muddy place. No town services nearby and in town, still not much except a large convenience store. Good pizza at the winery which you can reach by dinghy.|
|Fulton, Oswego Canal.||There’s a very tiny, free “marina” here, but it’s tight and the docks are small. We stayed on the adjacent wall, which was too high to be comfortable getting on/off the boat, but it was quiet.|
|Phoenix, Oswego Canal||Worth stopping here for lunch or overnight. Great docks. Nice little town. Kids of the nearby daycare offer a service where they deliver lunch to you from any of the local eateries.|
North end of Oneida Lake
|Nice wall to tie up to. The restaurant within view of the dock is pretty good. No showers or dedicated washrooms. Enjoy stock car races on Friday or Saturday nights! No town nearby, things are quite spread out here. Not a great place for walking around.|
|Utica town dock, Erie Canal||Not a great spot, but okay. Dock is in the shallowest and narrowest part of the canal and there are large barges churning up the waters here. You pay the Italian restaurant for your dockage. No washrooms, but you can use the restaurant’s when they are open. Utica is not a very nice place for walking.|
|Canajoharie, Erie Canal||Nice little place. Great docks. Great walking. No washrooms. Nice old town, though in some decline, it seems.|
|Amsterdam, NY||Nice docks in a park setting. You pay the manager of the restaurant in the park. It offers showers and free laundry, using the restaurant’s facilities. The facilities are kinda rough and dirty. At the far end of the park, there’s a spectacular pedestrian bridge that crosses the river to the rest of the town. I recommend you get the wings at Herks (a dive bar on the other side of river). If you want to see the saddest mall in America, the steps leading up and across the railway corridor will take you there. It’s so weird, it’s worth it.|
|Waterford, Intersection of Erie and Hudson||Great spot. Nice docks. Nice washrooms with showers. Nice town. Good shopping nearby. They let you take the grocery cart back to your boat, so good place to stock up.|
|Hop-o-Nose, Catskills||Nice quiet setting. The marina has a nice pool and a great restaurant. The town is nearby and makes for a nice place to stroll, but not much of a place for stocking up.|
|Marlboro Yacht Club||Not recommended. Very rocky on the outside of the club’s dock. Nice club. The town is small and not that interesting. Raccoons is a great restaurant, though.|
|Nyack Yacht Club||Great club with lots of views of the river and great showers/washrooms. Excellent launch service. Mooring balls overlook the Tappan Zee bridge, which is quite a nice sight in the night. Nice town is steps away. Recommend eating at Temptations Cafe. It’s better than it looks! No grocery stores in walking distance.|
|West 79th Street Basin||It’s as rocky as they say it is. If the current and the winds start competing, it gets really rocky here. If you have any challenges with knees or balance, I can’t recommend this place. The dinghy dock itself is a wild, bucking thing that seems hellbent on tripping people. Look for a yellow mooring ball. White ones are not for transients.|
|Atlantic Highlands Yacht Club||Fantastic place. Great mooring. Great launch service. Good showers. Nice town is steps away. Great sunrises and sunsets.|
Get the App
While Skipper Bob’s is the definitive guide to the canals, it’s a bit unwieldy to use while travelling – particularly if you’re going south. We found ourselves referencing the NYS Canals Guide far more frequently. The app knows exactly where you are and displays each lock, dock, bridge etc on a map so you can clearly see what’s next or quickly measure how much farther from here to wherever. There’s supposed to be something like it for the iphone called Canal Guide.
Erie Lockmasters are Groundskeepers
In the Oswego Canal, the lockmasters are all older guys loving their post-retirement gig and being very diligent about the work. But in the Erie, the lockmasters are multitaskers, and landscaping seems to be the priority. So when you can’t reach the lockmaster, don’t slow your approach. Keep the hammer down and assume you are going to have to dock on the lock wall. Sometimes, the lockmaster is off cutting grass and unable to hear your radio call. Sometimes their radio simply doesn’t work.