This is update #5 as we cover Fred and Sidonia St. Germaine's trip along The Great Loop in their Nimbus 405 Coupe. Links to the other updates are below.
Having arrived in Rome, NY on June 12th, at the end of a long day punctuated by floating debris, sticks, and logs, Sidonia and Fred were nearing the end of their Erie Canal travels. There isn’t much going on in Rome, a quiet, family-oriented town of about 32,000 residents. Its claim to fame is that during the Industrial Revolution, it was known as “Copper City,” as the area provided about 10 percent of the nation’s copper needs, as well as brass. There is still an active copper rolling mill.
The other bit of historical significance is that the construction of the Eire Canal began in Rome on July 4, 1817. The town later developed the Erie Canal Village to celebrate the original canal and its related history. But it has fallen into disrepair and efforts to rebuild and revitalize the village have been further delayed by lack of funds, sponsors, and the lingering effects of the Covid pandemic.
We pick up their story the following day, Monday, June 13th.
“There was a torrential downpour last evening. We could see on the weather radar that we were right at the heart of it. The storm ended our plan to walk into town for dinner. Instead, we ordered up a pizza from La Roma. One never knows how good a delivered pizza will be, but this one was exceptionally good.
“While in bed drinking our coffee the next morning, a large powerboat, around 55 feet, named ‘Our Shot’ went by at speed. We had no warning and were slammed against the dock and rocked back and forth several times. My coffee cup went flying all over the wall and the bed. We jumped out of bed in time to see his stern going by. I hope to run into him at some point and have a few words about boating courtesy. We checked for damage and, fortunately, found none. The three fenders we tied high up on the railings saved us from crashing against the dock.
(Seen below: Last Item tied to the dock. Note the separation in our rail for easy on and off. We were so close to bashing our tails when rocked by the passing boat.)
“We read that Mill Tavern served excellent burgers, so we walked about 3/4 of a mile from the boat to see if it was true. The place is not very nice, and the beer wasn’t cold, but the burgers were pretty good.”
The Erie Canal at this point takes a dip, and while generally the canal continues to raise the level of the waterway, for a short distance, boats are going down rather than up.
“At the New London Lock #22, we were surprised that we were now going downhill. Overall, we have gained 420 feet in elevation since leaving the Hudson River.”
As Last Item approached Oneida Lake, they found the shoreline much more populated than what they have seen for the last week. Oneida Lake is the largest lake within New York’s borders, roughly 21 miles long and five miles wide. It feeds Oneida River which flows into Lake Ontario. It is well known for its walleye and yellow perch, and the quality of the water has steadily improved over the last 30 years, particularly about E. coli.
Surprisingly the original Eire Canal bypassed Oneida Lake, but it now is a vital link between the canal and Lake Ontario.
When the Nimbus crossed the lake, the conditions were not as nice as one would expect on an inland lake. They saw two-foot waves, white caps, and occasionally larger waves, but the Nimbus “flew across at 21 knots and we were glad when the waves eased as we neared the west end and Brewerton.”
Most of the waterfront homes have small fishing boats or pontoon boats tied at their docks. And with so many Great Loop boats passing through Brewerton, it is no wonder the marinas are well run and offer most services for cruisers.
“We moored at Winter Harbor Marina with maybe two dozen other boats, several of which were also Loopers. We had visits with a couple of them as they strolled along the dock. Before starting our trip, based on what we had read, we thought Loopers would get together wherever they met up. We haven’t found that to be so. People seem to keep pretty much to themselves. I suppose we could walk around and make more of an effort to socialize but we haven’t.
“Winter Harbor is a very nice, full-service marina. The fee to dock is .90/ft, very cheap in our experience. We added some fuel which was $5.99/gal, also among the best prices we’ve seen. They have a ship’s store with just about any mechanical part one might need. The bathrooms are first class, they have a courtesy car you can use within a seven-mile radius, and they will even take you to the Syracuse airport for $25. That is cheaper than taking an Uber.
“We dumped the dinghy and putted about a mile upriver to the Wild Horse Bar & Grill for dinner. They serve a terrific Philly cheese steak sandwich and pretty good wings.
“Brewerton was also Mike’s jumping off point, as Syracuse airport is only fifteen minutes away. The next morning, June 14, just after noon, we waved a sad goodbye and a marina employee drove him to the airport. It’s going to be very quiet now and Ozzie will miss his playmate. We will miss him too.”
As they prepared to shove off the next day, they had a surprising encounter with a 44-foot Nordic Tug, with Seattle Yachts broker, Martin Snyder, along as crew. The boat left Essex, CT bound for Washburn, WI. They were in delivery mode.
“As we were getting ready to leave the dock, a trawler passed by, and a man yelled ‘Fred!’ We both looked up and waved but didn’t recognize who it was. We don’t know anyone else who is doing the Loop or that would be in this area. And the boat ‘Summer Wind’ wasn’t familiar to us either.
“After a few minutes, Fred said he thought the man looked a little like Martin Snyder from Seattle. We entered Brewerton Lock #23, our last lock on the Erie Canal, behind ‘Summer Wind.’ Once I had a secure hold of the rope on the lock wall, Fred went up to the bow and the man yelled to him ‘It’s Martin Snyder.’ Martin worked with the yacht broker from whom we bought ‘Shearwater’ in 2006 and was on the sea trial with us in Taiwan. He had sold the Nordic Tug to a couple and was helping them take it to Wisconsin.”
(Seen below: 'LAST ONE' leaves her last lock on the Erie Canal at Brewerton. Photo by Martin Snyder)
At this point, they had traveled some 153 miles on the Erie Canal since entering the canal at Waterford. They would now remain in the Oneida River until they came to the junction where the Oneida River meets the Seneca and Oswego Rivers. The Erie Canal continues, using the Seneca River west to Rochester, while the Oswego River takes one north to Lake Ontario.
“Our next lock was Phoenix Lock #1 in the Oswego River and Canal. Immediately outside the lock’s exit gate was a vehicle bridge with a rather unique lifting system which looked like a big crane. At Fulton Lock #2, the lockmaster told us he took a picture of our boat and would post it on the AGLCA (American Great Loop Cruisers Association) Facebook page.
The couple made a good decision to not push on to Oswego, as it would make for a very long day, and they were in no rush. They decided to stop in Fulton. Fulton is like many upstate towns. It had a vibrant past, but now was little more than a shadow of what it used to be.
Fulton was named after Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamboat. The town was a hustling manufacturing center at one time. American Woolen Mills was a textile manufacturer of military uniforms for our servicemen in both world wars, but it shut down in the early 1950s. Fulton Fan was among several other companies that had a presence in Fulton during its busy years. Even the company that eventually became part of Nestle was in Fulton, the first chocolate manufacturing facility in the country. Sadly, after over 100 years of operation, the aging facility closed in 2003, eliminating some 400 jobs.
There are several similar stories of upstate towns that once carried the torch of American ingenuity and manufacturing talent that wowed the world.
“When we arrived in Fulton, we found there was an area separate from the river with small docks about 18-feet long. I was surprised that Fred would want to use one of them. When jockeying into position to put our stern in first, however, our bow was dangerously close to the breakwater, but he made it without bumping. A man on the other boat moored here came over and gave us a hand with our lines. As Fred plugged us in, the man said he couldn’t get power with his type of cord so Fred loaned him one of ours.
“Fred walked a few blocks to look around town and I stayed aboard. He said there wasn’t much to see.
“A little later, we invited the man and his wife over for happy hour. They are Ron and Kathy aboard ‘Osprey,’ a 40-year-old 32-foot Silverton that they bought online, sight unseen. They are doing a short loop from Rochester through the Erie to Buffalo. They were a delightful couple, and we had a fun, two-hour happy hour with them.”
The next morning, Thursday, June 16, after a night complete with a strong thunderstorm and pelting rain, they got ready to leave the dock at 9am. The next lock, #3, was still in Fulton, less than a mile from the last lock. After that would be Minetto Lock #5 in Oswego, six miles further north. But what happened to Lock #4?
“I asked the lockmaster and he laughed. He said everybody asks that question. There is no Lock #4.
“The gates of Lock #5 were open, but neither the green nor red light was on, so we were unsure whether to enter. Fred radioed the lockmaster three or four times but got no answer. We could see him in his little hut, but he didn’t come out. Finally, he came out and yelled at us, in a very unfriendly tone, to enter the lock. Fred yelled back that there was no green light and no answer to his VHF call. The man ignored us. This was the only unpleasant lockmaster we’ve encountered.
As we exited Lock #8 in Oswego, ahead of us was Lake Ontario. Oh boy, did it look big and endless! As it was very windy, no boats were going anywhere, so we fueled up at Oswego Marina and then slid into a slip there among the other boats waiting out the weather. The current forecast for crossing the lake appeared to be Monday, which will give us three days to explore Oswego and maybe play some golf.”
Among the many interesting historical facts about Oswego are Fort Ontario, and the weather.
The fourth and current Fort Ontario was built between 1839 and 1844 and was home for a brigade of the 1st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. During WWII, President Roosevelt designated the fort to be a camp for approximately 1,000 Jewish refugees, from 18 different countries. It became known as “Safe Haven.”
Fort Ontario has been restored to its time when soldiers and officers were stationed there, as well as a Safe Haven Museum.
In terms of weather, Oswego is one of the snowiest towns in the country. Because of the lake effect and its location on Lake Ontario snow accumulation can reach 300 inches of snow a year.
“Fred scootered over to Enterprise this morning and rented a car. We then went to Tamarack Golf Club and played nine holes. There was no tee time reservation needed and the course was nice other than it had many water hazards. Luckily, Fred found about as may balls as I lost.
“Other than a few Loopers who are docked here, every boat is a fishing machine. We have and are used to seeing two downriggers on boats in the Pacific Northwest. Here they have three to six downriggers per boat, and they troll up to fourteen lines. When they get a fish on, they don’t stop to bring it in, they keep trolling. They go for brown trout, chinook salmon, and steelhead which are all hatchery fish. Fred noticed that the salmon they catch were shaped a little differently with a deeper belly and smaller head than our more slender West Coast salmon.
“We had a very good dinner at La Pilla which is only a block away from the marina.
“We had 25 mph winds all night. Between the squeaking of the lines and the docks, the jerking motion of the boat, and the freight train moan of the wind, we didn’t get much sleep. One dock squeak sounded so much like a cat yowling that I got up to make sure that it was really a dock.
“We decided it was a good day to get off the boat and do something else, so we drove a bit over two and a half hours to Niagara Falls. We took the more scenic route through rural countryside on a two-lane road. Despite having seen many photos, videos, and movies of the falls, they are extremely impressive in person. The amount of water flowing over is amazing and such a lovely color. Since being in the Chesapeake and the canal and rivers, we have become accustomed to the grayish brownish water. So, it was a treat to see the clear blue of the Niagara River and falls.
“We did not go on the Maid of the Mist boat, as the line of waiting people was almost endless. We did get ‘misted’ though just watching from the overlook. On the way back, we took the freeway which, like the scenic route, also went mostly through rural farmland with horses, cows, apple orchards, and crops.”
As cruiser know (or soon find out), it is best when you don’t follow a schedule. There are too many variables when cruising that one has no control over. And it is also best to refrain from getting into delivery mode if there is no need to rush. In contrast to Sidonia and Fred, the crew on the Nordic Tug are well beyond the Erie Canal and almost through the Welland Canal into Lake Erie. But they are bringing their boat home to Wisconsin, not enjoying the sights of the Great Loop. It is a world of difference. Sidonia and Fred may only run a few hours a day or make some distance and then stay for a couple of days to explore, learn, and enjoy.
And, so far, their Nimbus is proving to be a good choice for the challenges of the Great Loop.
“Back at the marina, a couple came by and asked about our boat. We have had so many people come by and look at our boat and ask questions about it. Most of them have never heard of a Nimbus, but remark on what a pretty boat we have and that it looks like a great boat for doing the Loop.”
The weather forecast that kept everyone safe in the marina was spot on. The winds continued to howl, and the seas remained too rough to even consider venturing out on big water. Time to chill and check out Oswego.
“Another night of bouncing around in the slip. We had tightened our lines to the dock on the starboard side and added another line to the port side stern but still couldn’t prevent the yawing and jerking. While I washed our laundry, I filled out the ArriveCAN form for entry into Canada. After a couple of failed attempts, it went through. We are to complete and submit the form no more than 72 hours before we cross into Canada.
“Fort Ontario is just two or three blocks from the marina. The original fort was built in 1755 by the French. It later housed British soldiers, then U.S. soldiers and was also used to house Jewish refugees during WWII. There are reenactments held only on certain holidays, but we did get to see a musket firing demonstration.
“After lunch we went to the Richardson-Bates House Museum but unfortunately, it is open only two days a week and Sunday isn’t one of them.
“We did our grocery shopping, returned the rental car, and got ready to leave in the morning. Many boats have been waiting longer than us so I’m sure it will be a mass exodus tomorrow as the wind is forecast to die down tonight.”
Lake Ontario is the easternmost of the Great Lakes. With a maximum length of 193 miles and maximum width of 53 miles, it is small by comparison to other lakes in the Great Lakes, but it is still quite a large body of water.
Lake Ontario plays a major role in the possible routes one might take when doing the Great Loop. If height restrictions do not allow a boat to make the complete transit of the Erie Canal into Lake Erie, Loopers can head west across Lake Ontario to the Welland Canal, which brings one up and into Lake Erie.
Cruisers planning to use the Trent-Severn Waterway into Georgian Bay on their Loop will head northwest from Oswego to Trenton, Ontario.
Still others may choose to set a course north to Kingston, Ontario, and the Rideau Canal, or into the St Lawrence River and the Thousand Islands. All are fabulous cruising grounds and represent some of the most beautiful sections of the waterways in North America.
(Seen below: A Lighthouse at the entrance to Oswego from Lake Ontario.)
It will be interesting to see which direction Last Item will head.
“At 6:00am this Monday morning, engines and bow thrusters are running as the Loopers begin heading out. We stayed in bed with our coffee. Before we left, Fred washed the decks and windows and I cleaned up inside. We set out at 10:30 through very deep, nasty troughs at the bar between the breakwaters. We were now officially in Lake Ontario.
“We ran at 23-24 knots for an hour and a half, about 30 miles, until we were at the beginning of the Thousand Islands on the St Lawrence River. There are more than a thousand islands in this area without counting the rocks. It is said that to qualify as an island, there must be at least two trees on it.
“We first anchored on the east side of Fox Island in about 8 feet of water. The island is very flat like the islands in the Bahamas, except here there are lots of trees.
“The wind was coming from one direction and the waves, though not large, were coming from another, which made for an uncomfortable anchorage as the boat rolled from side to side. By 4:00pm, we’d had enough. I would have had a difficult time making dinner.
“So, we hauled anchor and ran for an hour, 22 miles, and anchored in 6 feet of water in a bay by Grindstone Island, across from the town of Clayton, NY. On the way, we saw our first Great Lake cargo ships, many of which carry supplies to Detroit for steel mills of the auto industry.”
Where to next? See you next time.
Here are links to the LAST ITEM's previous Great Loop updates:
Update #1: Let's Go On The Great Loop!
Update #2: "Last Item" Begins The Great Loop
Update #3: Up The Hudson To Waterford
Update #4: Last Item Heads To Rome
Update #5: This Post.
Update #6: A Taste Of The Thousand Islands
Update #7: Into The Trent-Severn Waterway
Update #8: Deeper Into The Trent-Severn
Update #9: Georgian Bay
Update #10: The North Channel
Update #11: Into Lake Michigan
Update #12: Gunkholing Down The Wisconsin Coast
Update #13: Visiting Kenosha
Update #14: Great Loop Trip Continues Into Illinois
Update #15: Exploring The Heartland
Update #16: Heading Into Tennessee
Update #17: Cruising In The Tenn-Tom