Excellent and accurate advice on Lake Oneida (SVTatia). We transited it early in the morning before the waves got up. The lake has claimed more than one mast not adequately secured to the boat.
You can certainly carry your mast aboard, almost all sailboats do. I suggested the shipping
option because I would look long and hard at doing that after my last transit. It depends on the size of your boat and extent of your rigging
, as to whether it would be of benefit.
Actually, it was a blessing in disguise that we did carry our mast aboard, it's the only thing that saved the boat from extensive damage when it came off the wall in Lockport due to the lock being filled too fast, and inappropriately for a sailboat. (We found all but that lock operator to be courteous, professional and helpful. They are a great bunch - and the bridgetenders too).
That, coupled with the 68' (professionally captained) ketch
we saw get crushed on a lock approach wall by excessive current
, gives me great respect for the possible problems that can happen in the canal. I'm sure there are many uneventful passages made on the Erie. Don't assume that problems can't/won't happen - especially weather
Transiting with no (or limited) crew. It is also done routinely, but not necessarily easily. This may have changed since my last transit 10 years ago, but many lock walls are in need of repair - having large chucks of missing concrete in the side of the wall. If your boat happens to ride over one of these, they can swallow the fenders, and the boat will have to be fended off by hand in order to prevent damage to the sides. Going up in the locks, you can see these areas and try to avoid them by where you tie-up along the lock wall. Downbound to the east, the lock walls (with two exceptions) will all be under water
and you won't be able to see any damaged sections. Extra hands would helpful in that event. There are 35 locks on the canal. Going west to east, 33 are down and 2 are up (with small rises). It's a lot easier going down in a lock than going up - much less turbulence.
There are two types of "attachment" systems in the locks. Most have ropes hanging over the sides that you take on fore and aft with line handlers (and/or yourself) depending on how many are aboard. The fore and aft lines are held and the boat fended off the wall amidships. They ropes are slimy from hanging in the water. The other system in some locks (esp. at Lockport), are aircraft cables
anchored top and bottom to the lock wall. These are spaced further apart than the rope
lines in other locks. The cable is taken on at amidships, and you run a line around the cable to your amidships cleat, and ride the cable up or down, fending off your bow and stern. At least this was the system in place on my last transit.
The trip down Lake Erie should be fine if you wait for good weather. It is approximately 100 miles from Erie, PA to Buffalo, NY. In that space, there are three good ports
of refuge along the NY coast - depending on your draft
. I beat up the lake from Buffalo to Erie in +25 kt. headwinds, and 6 to 8' seas, in about 14 - 15 hours. The prevailing winds should be favorable for heading east, and you should be able to reach Buffalo in a day sail.
From Buffalo, you proceed north on the Niagara River, staying to the east side to lock through your first lock at Black Rock. Then stay on the river to east side of Grand Island, to Tonawanda, and thence into the canal. If you decide to carry your mast, it can be unstepped at Wardell's Boat Yard on the north side of the Tonawanda Creek - which is the start of the Erie Canal. The yard has a boneyard of used scaffolding and framing that you can use to support your mast. It is first-come, first serve as of the last time I was there.
With respect to Hudson, I can only say that we witnessed tree trunks, telephone poles and full docks floating downstream and mostly submerged. That was in June, and after heavy rains. I wouldn't run the river at night unless at great need, they're hard enough to spot in daylight. Your chartplotter
should keep you off the various mudflats, but I doubt you will see much of the debris on your radar
, if at all. This is consistent with reports of other sailors transiting the large rivers feeding the area, up into New England
, in the Spring.