The Erie Canal, completed in 1825, was 363 miles long. It was four feet deep and the barges utilized 83 locks to get from Albany to Buffalo. The present day Erie Canal covers 341 miles, is 12 feet deep and contains 34 locks to raise/lower vessels as they travel. The original canal was a crudely dug ditch across the terrain while today’s waterway utilizes the Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, and Niagara Rivers as well as portions of the original canal. The canal portions are closed and drained during the winter months. A series of locks and guard gates facilitate this.
The locks serve to raise (westbound) vessels the difference in elevation of 565 feet between Albany and Buffalo. We tie to the lock wall either by a midship line wrapped around a vertical pipe or cable that is in a notch in the wall, or by hooking and holding on to one or two of the many lines that hang from the top of the wall. We utilized the pipe or cable whenever one was available as it held the boat in a steadier position. Strategically placed fenders and boat hooks helped keep the hull and rails off of the walls.
Towpaths were adjacent to the canal along its entire length. Mules or horses, led by a hoggee (mule driver) walked the towpaths, pulling the barges through the canal. Today the towpaths make great walking and cycling trails along the waterway.
Stone aqueducts were built to provide a bridge to carry the canal and towpaths across existing creeks. They were lined with wood and filled with enough water to float the barges. Remnants of these aqueducts exist today.
A rousing chorus of Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal, written in 1905 by Thomas Allen, best accompanies a cruise along the canal. The deck crew aboard the Arkansas Traveler gave a sporting rendition, as we headed west. To get a sense of the celebration, listen to Bruce Springsteen’s version of the song – http://www.eriecanalsong.com
We transited five locks during the first two miles of the canal and then another four locks over the next 36 miles. The locks in this portion of the canal close at 1800 and you must be there in time to transit and exit the lock by closing time. At 1740, after 38 miles and nine hours of travel, we anchored in the lee of Davey Island, just east of Amsterdam, NY.
The evening was peaceful and nature rewarded us in the morning with a glimpse of fox running across the rocks.