Traveling the Champlain Canal
I've been asked by several people over the past few months to provide info and tips on transiting the Champlain Canal and the Hudson River. I've only done it once, so I'm by no means an expert, but I figured I'd put all of my tips in one place. If others have anything else they would like to add, please do! Also, many people are often willing to help others make the trip through the canal system. I, for one, time depending, can volunteer to help out. If you are looking for extra hands, feel free to post here too!
So here are the tips:
- On our 40ft boat, when we came up the canal this past May, we created 3 X's out of 2x6's (could have gotten away with two) and a square frame for the stern (also 2x6's). The three X's were placed: 3 feet or so from the bow, over the mast boot, over the companionway (we would get rid of this one in the future) and the square stern brace was, well, on the stern. We heavily strapped the X-braces and the square frame to the boat (anywhere solid) and we also did the same with the mast (from the spreaders). You can leave the spreaders on.
- Make sure the stick is very secure. You can have it shipped from Champlain to Albany (or Catskill) or the other way, but expect to pay $1,200-$1,700 for a 56' mast. Put your boom down below (or do what we did - put it and your bimini on a trailer and drive it north or south). Leave the mainsail on if you want. Also, make sure you remove your genoa from the furler. The extra weight of the sail makes a big difference (at least it did for us - it was huge, and we almost damaged the sail by leaving it on).
- Prior to leaving (so you don't have to deal with it the day of), catalog, mark, etc. all the wires going through the mast boot as well as all of the rigging. Put tape around turnbuckles where each of the standing rigging connects so you know how far to screw it on. Get extra cotter pins for when you reattach everything. Make sure all antenna wires and other wires can be disconnected from the mast (or the backstay too, in our case). Know the path your running rigging takes.
- Ask the first lockmaster - "Based on the wind, which side of the lock should I prefer?" Each lock will have a flag. Look at the way the wind is blowing. Go to the side of the canal opposite where the wind is blowing. If the flag is out to the right, pick the left side. The wind does a loop when it enters the canal. On one side, the wind will push you towards the wall (preferable). On the other side, you will be pushed away from the wall (and will have to hold on for dear life).
- Don't underestimate the number of bumpers you need. Always have extra. You will be pushed up against the wall. We bought fenderboard adapters allowing us to put a 2x4x10 over the side. A bunch of bumpers would have been fine.
- Have port and starboard bow and stern lines ready - long ones that can reach up the (sometimes) 20' walls of the locks. You won't need them unless there is an emergency (except for the very last lock - the federal lock), but you'll be glad to have them just in case.
- The federal lock in Troy (the first or last, depending on upstream or downstream) is a pain. All of the state locks have lines hanging down that you can grab a hold of. The federal lock has long vertical bars every 15-20 feet. You'll be lucky if you can grab just one of them. Run a line from the stern to the inside of the bar. Run a line from the bow to the inside of the bar. Then pull on the lines using the bar as a pivot point. This is the only lock that is really a pain.
- Make sure you have AT LEAST two people on board. Someone will be focusing on the engine play while another person will have to be forward to grab a hanging line (with the boathook). If your stern starts drifting away from the wall while you are working the engine, you'll be in a closed area with a huge stick hanging over your bow and stern, and you will need to figure out a way to get back to the wall. It's not tough, but just takes some teamwork.
- Most lockmaster's weren't monitoring the radio when we went through. The Lake Champlain/Hudson River cruising guide has a list of telephone numbers for all of the locks. Most often, the lockmaster's are hanging out outside by the lock itself. They call from lock to lock to let them know you are coming up. At the end of the day, they'll start asking you how far you intend to go.
- Take a look at your mast while it's down. Replace lights (even if they work - and keep the working ones as spares). Clean the spreaders and the boots. Take advantage of the timing.
- Get your mast stepped as far south on the lake as you can. Powering up or down the lake with the mast strapped down isn't fun if the weather picks up.
- Get a couple of good sets of garden gloves for the locks. The lines you hang onto are often somewhat slimy.
- Make sure each person helping you has an extendable boathook for grabbing lines.
- Several of the locks have places to tie up for the night. Expect to go through most locks the first day, but not be all the way through. Depending on your interest (or lack thereof) in traveling in the dark, you may have to overnight in the system. If you call ahead (the lock telephone numbers are in the Lake Champlain Cruising Guide) the lockmasters can tell you whether they have room to tie up. It's good to figure this out before you enter the system. I don't know what your draft is, but there are also some marinas and town walls you can tie up at.
- Timing-wise, here's what we did (we headed north up the Hudson). Day 1 - Jersey City (Liberty Landing Marina) to Haverstraw Marina. Haverstraw to Catskill. Catskill to Albany (had our mast taken down at Scarano's, but they don't do it any longer). We stayed at the Albany Yacht Club after the mast was taken down. They take transients if you call them in advance, and are a wonderful group of people. Albany to Lock 9. Lock 9 to Champlain Bridge Marina. Champlain Bridge Marina to Willsboro. We could definitely have pushed harder on the Locks and may have actually made it all the way through (if we left early enough and kept going through the dark) but we decided to take it easy. I wish we had spent more time on the Hudson.
- Don't expect to sail too much on the Hudson. The currents can be strong in the Spring, and the channels are not too wide until you get to the southern Hudson. Which reminds me - keep careful track of the currents and make sure you go with them. The one day we went with the currents we put in a 70 mile day in 7 hours (Haverstraw to Catskill). One day we didn't go with the currents, we sat staring at the George Washington Bridge for close to 4 hours doing under 2 knots over ground. This page should have all the current info you should need: Current Station Locations and Ranges
- Catskill is definitely a nice place to stop. Kingston and Newburgh are also nice. I don't believe that there are that many anchorages along the Hudson, but I'm not completely sure.
- New York City is a very cool place to sail through. You can get fairly close to the Statue of Liberty. The traffic down there can get pretty nasty. We went through on a Sunday which seemed to minimize the traffic. Water taxis, tugs, barges, ships, homeland security, tour boats, ferries, etc. - you have to keep a fairly sharp lookout.
Most of all, have fun, and bring a camera!
- The one place to really avoid around NYC is the Kill Van Kull. This leads into one of the busiest shipping centers in the region. When entering the upper bay, stay to the east side to avoid it. There is no need to call NYC VTS (Vessel Traffic Service - basically the Air Traffic Control equivalent for the marine channels), but if the weather is nasty you might want to let them know you are there and also do securite calls.