Lake Champlain! How did we get here?
That’s a good question. The Erie and Champlain canals are part of the New York Canal system that covers 524 miles of inland rivers, lakes and manmade canals including parts of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers and Cayuga, Seneca, and Oneida lakes. The canal system connects the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario with Lake Champlain and the lower Hudson allowing travel by boat from New York City to Buffalo NY and on up to Canada. The sections we traveled brought us from Albany through the first lock at Troy then turning left to the Flight of Five locks at Waterford which is the highest lift in the shortest distance of any canal. A total of 169 feet in only 1.6 miles! The canal was first opened in 1825 and then in 1918 in an attempt to compete with railroads, the canal was rebuilt wider and deeper using dams on the rivers to create pools between the locks. This is the canal that is still in use today mostly by recreational boats, like us, as well as a newly created bike path along its entire length. When the canal was first opened, many towns grew up along its banks at locks and junctions. These towns, full of historic nineteenth century buildings, offer free docking along the canal with nice parks to walk or ride along the towpath of the old original canal and wonder at the effort it took with picks and shovels to dig that first canal. The early barges that plied the canal were not very tall so the bridges crossing the canal have an average height above the water of 18 feet which is too low for our 45 foot tall mast. For sailboats to be able to travel the canal marinas near the ends have gotten good at un-stepping masts, it took only 2 hours to un-step and re-step our mast. It’s common to see sailboats with their masts supported on deck as they pass under the low bridges.
Though the canals provided us with some wonderful cruising, getting there from New Jersey was a trip of varied experiences. Starting with the coastal inland sailing of Barnegat Bay, to a spirited sail in the Atlantic Ocean, followed by the busy Port of New York dodging ferries and tugs pushing barges in all directions having AIS onboard sure helps sort out the confusion. Leaving the salt water of the ocean behind and traveling north toward the brackish water of the majestic Hudson you pass under several historic bridges, George Washington, Bear Mountain, Poughkeepsie, and the Mid-Hudson. Beyond the wide Tappan Zee the river narrows as you pass through the Highlands region with Bear Mountain and Anthony’s Nose then on to the massive stone buildings of West Point. As the landscape becomes more gently rolling hills you pass the river towns of Kingston, Saugerties, and Catskill with their lighthouses guiding you along the way and finally, after 130 miles, to the port of Albany.
Ahead of us lies a month of exploring the many wooded anchorages and cool clear waters of Lake Champlain that we enjoyed so much back in 1997 on our family’s year trip.