Welcome to the next episode in our 11-part account of Muddy Paddle's narrowboat trip through the Erie Canal and the Cayuga & Seneca Canal in western New York. The New York State Barge Canal system is in many ways a tributary of the Hudson River. It still connects the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes, and Lake Champlain with the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Hudson River. Our contributing writer, Muddy Paddle, shares his experiences aboard the "Belle Mule." All the included illustrations are from his trip journal and sketchbooks.
Day 7 - Friday
It was a sunny and cloudless morning and we spent a few relaxing hours getting organized and making breakfast. It is Lora and Brent’s anniversary so Brent went out to pick a pink wildflower for Lora for the breakfast table. We called the lock operator at E-29 and cast off lines around 9:00 AM, entering the lock almost immediately. After about a mile, we stopped at a dock to look at the ruins of old lock 60 built in 1841 and now maintained as a park. When we got underway again, Shauna and Lora set up folding lawn chairs in the bow and just enjoyed the sun and the unfolding landscapes and wildlife. By now they had learned that the ducks would always swim aside at the last minute as we approached. Yelling back to the guy at the helm was not necessary.
We continued west to Macedon and locked up at E-30. Macedon, named for Alexander the Great’s homeland, is a small canal town once prominent in the manufacturing of seed drills. Today, it is the home of Erie Canal Adventures, a canalboat rental company and marina. The facility is situated around a basin on the west end of town where several freshly painted red and green narrow boats are ready for the next renters. Previously owned by Peter Wiles who introduced these boats to the Barge Canal, the company still takes pride in maintaining their fleet and making trips enjoyable for their customers.
An enormous thunderstorm blew up as we approached a wide section of the canal which came to be known as Wayneport. Towering clouds ominously darkened the sky as thunder boomed. Heavy rain and a brief pelting of hail reduced our visibility and we slowed to a crawl hoping to avoid the canal banks or any approaching boats. The storm passed over quickly and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees. We had planned to visit the Union Burying Ground here where canal laborers with smallpox were buried, but we had passed the bridge at Wayneport Road and decided not to turn back. Three miles later, we entered Fairport.
Fairport is a substantial canal town and boater mecca. Esplanades have been created between a high truss road bridge at the east edge of downtown and the 1914 Main Street Lift Bridge at the center. This area is lined with restaurants, shops and expensive fiberglass cruisers. The village developed in the mid-nineteenth century and industries included the packing and export of fruit and vinegar. The predecessor of the American Can Company got its start here and in spite of extensive urban renewal, a few factory buildings and brick chimneys remain.
We spent the afternoon here getting lunch food, exploring the shops, and taking luxurious showers at the boater welcome center. Shauna and Lora made dinner reservations, Brent took a ten-mile bike ride along the towpath, and I met Paul, an 81-year old artist who was painting a local tour boat and its reflection on the canal. I walked up to Fairport Road, the main east-west highway here and sketched an interesting Victorian Gothic church with a very spiky steeple while sitting on a bus stop bench. An elderly woman joined me on the bench while waiting for the Rochester bus. Clearly annoyed that she had to share the bench with me she asked, “why don’t you just take a picture with your cell phone and go?”
Later in the afternoon, we welcomed a couple aboard from a large, Michigan-bound sailing cruiser. We had an early dinner at a Mexican restaurant with a terrace overlooking the canal and a large population of yellow jackets! Fairport is a noisy place with long freight trains running hourly, loud music at bar terraces and contractors banging away at the Main Street bridge non-stop. Shauna asked the contractors how late they planned to work. When she was told “3:00 AM,” we decided to cruise to Bushnell’s Basin in hopes of more peace and quiet.
Several cruisers were already tied up at the long floating dock at Bushnell’s Basin and docking was tricky but the other boaters helped with lines. The Town of Perinton built this dock in 2011 and operates it through the adjacent Marathon gas station. The dockmaster’s office is adjacent to one of the finest selections of beer on the canal. After connecting to shore power, we picked up ice and paid the nominal docking fee. Brent treated us to ice cream cones at a shop next to the canal. We played a few trivia games and turned in around 10:00 PM.
Muddy Paddle grew up near the junction of the Hudson River and the Erie Canal. His deep interest in the canal goes back to childhood when a very elderly babysitter regaled him with stories about her childhood on the canal in the 1890s. Muddy spent his college years on the canal and spent many of his working years in a factory building overlooking the canal. Over the years he has traveled much of the canal system by boat and by bicycle.
Muddy Paddle's Erie Canal adventure will return next Friday! To read other adventures by Muddy Paddle, see: Muddy Paddle: Able Seaman, about Muddy Paddle's adventures on the replica Half Moon, and Muddy Paddle's Excellent Adventure on the Hudson, about his canoe trip down the Hudson River.
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