Whitby to Annapolis Route – Erie Canal Flotilla Tour

Whitby to Annapolis Route – Erie Canal Flotilla Tour

Day 1: Whitby to Cobourg, ON

Distance: – 35 miles
Time: 3 hours

Only a 3-hour cruise from Whitby to Cobourg, we highly recommend this detour as a mini shakedown trip (a mere 30-minute drive for our PDQ mechanics).

It’s a clear run east along the shores of Lake Ontario and a great way to get a feel for the MV/34.

Cobourg MarinaThe Cobourg Marina has excellent facilities and is only two blocks from the downtown core. The marina building provides access to a coin-Laundromat, and washrooms and showers are available 24 hours a day. Amenities also include electric and water hook up, diesel, a pump-out station, and a picnic area.

Victoria HallA stroll along the main street, only a five minute walk from the Cobourg Marina, will lead you through the Town of Cobourg’s United Empire Loyalist heritage where you will see numerous historic buildings, such as Victoria Hall (pictured to the right), that are well worth investigating. A stroll along the extensive walking paths that run along the waterfront is a great way to absorb the relaxed atmosphere of this harbour town.

There are many excellent restaurants and cafes in Cobourg, most notably the Oasis, which offers an eclectic menu of seafood and pasta dishes – quickly becoming a favorite with PDQ Flotillas.

Day 2: Cobourg, ON to Oswego, NY

Distance: – 100 miles
Time: 8 hours

From choppy seas to flat waters, you can count on unpredictable conditions. Keeping in mind that you want to clear immigration in Oswego – preferably by 3:00 PM – you should give yourself sufficient time to cross Lake Ontario.

This long stretch gives you the opportunity to practice plotting your course on your new navigational equipment. The smoke stacks clearly mark the entrance into Oswego where you can dock for the evening.

Crossing Lake OntarioThanks to the meticulous behind the scenes work by PDQ’s export specialist Lynne Sheahan, clearing immigration is never a problem. Lynne insures that you have all the proper paperwork and registration numbers ahead of time. To avoid confusion, it is recommended that crew remain aboard the boat until cleared by immigration.

Entering Oswego, NYThere are several restaurants and grocery stores in Oswego – Captain’s Steak & Seafood Restaurant is one of two restaurants located right at the marina. In the summer, there is usually live music at the marina.

Day 3: Cobourg, ON to Oswego, NY

Distance: – 100 miles
Time: 8 hours

From choppy seas to flat waters, you can count on unpredictable conditions. Keeping in mind that you want to clear immigration in Oswego – preferably by 3:00 PM – you should give yourself sufficient time to cross Lake Ontario.

This long stretch gives you the opportunity to practice plotting your course on your new navigational equipment. The smoke stacks clearly mark the entrance into Oswego where you can dock for the evening.

Crossing Lake OntarioThanks to the meticulous behind the scenes work by PDQ’s export specialist Lynne Sheahan, clearing immigration is never a problem. Lynne insures that you have all the proper paperwork and registration numbers ahead of time. To avoid confusion, it is recommended that crew remain aboard the boat until cleared by immigration.

Entering Oswego, NYThere are several restaurants and grocery stores in Oswego – Captain’s Steak & Seafood Restaurant is one of two restaurants located right at the marina. In the summer, there is usually live music at the marina.

Day 4: Brewerton to Illion/Little Falls

Distance: 65/75 miles
Time: 9 hours

Brewerton, located at the west side of Lake Oneida, is a good place to start the second leg of the locks. It means you can cross the lake without having to wait for the locks to open – and the early morning crossing is truly magnificent.

Crossing Lake OneidaLake Oneida has numerous shoals and obstacles close to the channel and while the MV/34’s shallow draft of 2’4″ is unlikely to ground you, it is good practice to remain in the 2-mile wide channel. The lake itself is about 10 miles long and exits past an extensive breakwater into Sylvan Beach.

After locking through the first two locks (22 – 21) you enter a long stretch of winding river that takes you past some historic sites – such as Fort Stanwix National Monument. The cruise along the canal is very scenic – with overhanging trees, herons and the occasional deer crossing in the morning.

Crossing Lake OneidaEach canal has it’s own character – adding to this “culture” are the quintessential blue and yellow tug boats and barges that trawl the river. The canals are maintained by the New York State Canal Corporation. You can expect the occasional debris from winter’s aftermath, including the usual flotsam and jetsam – and the occasional tire!

Crossing Lake OneidaConsidering that all the locks were built back in 1825, the locks – with the exception of an occasional leak (see picture to left) – are well maintained with routine inspections conducted throughout the boating season. All the original brass work is polished and the lockmaster’s blue and yellow buildings are given a fresh coat of paint in the beginning of the season.

While the marina at Ilion was ideal for a quiet evening of camping, we all opted to go into the nearby town of Herkimer. The proprietor from the Albany Street Café (315-717-0050) picked us up from the marina and drove us to what everyone unanimously agreed to be an exceptionally good restaurant.

Crossing Lake OneidaYou can easily cruise on past lock 18 to Little Falls where they’ve recently rebuilt the town docks with free docking and brand new facilities. Like many of the town along the waterway, Little Falls was a booming canal towns in the late 18th and 19th century. It now boasts historic sites and buildings, such General Herkimer Home, a state historical site.

Day 5: Little Falls to Amsterdam

Distance: – 44 miles
Time: 7 hours

At a staggering 40’5″, lock 17 is by far the highest of all the locks. Because you enter the lock while it is full, you don’t really get a sense of the depth until the water starts draining. That’s when you start to drop – deeper and deeper, until you reach the bottom – a downstream elevation of about 322 feet.

In the depths of lock 17Entering the locks while heading downstream is a slightly different experience than going upstream. The lines are a little trickier to grab, but the lock masters will usually help out. Of course, the PDQ team is always on hand during our flotillas – with lines at the ready for when you enter the locks.

power damThere are several flood control gates along the waterway to regulate the water levels throughout the season. There are also several active power dams along the waterway – some of which are quite dramatic in their sheer force and magnitude. The dams are well marked and with the exception of a few strong currents, there’s plenty of room for you to stay clear from them. The sight alone, though, is enough to unnerve even the most experienced boater!

Entering lock 14At this point of the cruise, all the boaters are quite competent at locking and are relaxed enough to soak in the surrounding scenery. The Adirondack mountain range skirts the waterway with beautiful, rolling foothills and it’s easy to forget that just beyond the canal runs a major Thruway.

Flood GatesCruising speed along the locks is a comfortable 10 miles – which gives you plenty of opportunities to sit back and enjoy the scenery – And while the MV/34 makes virtually no wake, the accumulative effect of 8 cats in a row does create a few ripples. So we’re particularly cautious when passing marinas and homes.

Just past lock 11 is Amsterdam, where we’ve traditionally docked for the evening. The town has recently improved the docks, adding new facilities and docks. Because our Flotillas are early on in the season, the dock is usually empty and we can tie up all 8 boats along the wall.

Amsterdam. At this point, everyone has become quite familiar with their boat and a certain level of stress has visibly lifted. With a little bit of foresight, you can easily arrange a BBQ to celebrate the near completion of the canal system.

Day 6: Amsterdam to Kingston

Distance: 44 miles
Time: 10 hours

The stretch from Amsterdam to Kingston is a varied one and takes you through some of the most spectacular locks along the Erie Canal and through the Catskills in the Hudson River valley.

Leaving AmsterdamAn early morning departure from Amsterdam gets you docked in Kingston by the evening. The first half of the day will take you through the final stretch of the Erie canal system. Here you’ll see some spectacular and at times, intimidating power dams.

There is a dramatic change in scenery here as you leave the calm, pastoral landscape for a more urban one – crossing beneath train tracks and bridges.

Entering Lock 6You know you’ve reached the final Waterford “flight of five” once you enter the final flood control gates at the bend in the river. Depending on whether the locks are drained or not, the little “holding area” before entering the series of locks is beautiful. The sheer rockface is a favourite with local rock climbers and the still, tranquil waters attract swallows who show off their acrobatic finesse.

The view overlooking the flight of five is simply amazing – and it is at this point that you can hear owners lament leaving the locks. The Waterford five’s claim to fame may be the greatest height in the shortest distance of any canal in the world, but the true marvel are the spectacular views gained from that height.

leaving lock 5Lock number 6 overlooks treed hills for as far as the eye can see. The drops are quite dramatic – with the first one at 33.3′ and an accumulated descent of 105 – feet in an distance of about 1.5 miles. Each drop takes you closer to the Hudson River – and depending on your perspective, the end/beginning of the Erie Canal System.

Keep your fender boards on as there is one last lock to go through – the Troy-US Lock. It’s also a good idea to keep your boat registration numbers handy as well.

catskillsOnce that final lock is cleared you have a clear run down the Hudson River to Kingston, NY. The river is dotted with fishing boats and other recreational boaters but once past Albany, the river becomes more scenic – Old Dutch mansions dating back to the early settlers from the late 1600s, are perched on the bluffs overhanging the rivers’ edge.

Hudson-Athens Historic LighthouseThe legendary Catskills follow the length of the Hudson River Valley. And it’s easy to imagine such tales of folklore from Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle – as the mountains seem to be covered with an aura of mystery as they disappear into the late-afternoon haze.

Kingston, NYYou pass several beautifully preserved historic lighthouses down the Hudson, including the Esopus Meadows, Hudson-Athens and finally, the Rondout Lighthouse at the mouth of Rondout Creek – marking shallow waters and the entrance to Kingston.

There is a marina at Rondout Landing which offer basic facilities. Kingston’s waterfront has many cafes, restaurants and boutique shops. And a little further into town you’ll find everything you need in this historic and charming town.

In the past, the Flotillas have stayed there an extra day – to do laundry, wash the accumulated muck from the locks, and just relax.

Day 7: Kingston to NY City

Distance: 73 miles
Time: 7 hours

The passage from Kingston to Annapolis is one of extremes – with the bustle of one of the world’s largest cities standing in stark contrast to the pastoral scenery of the Hudson River.

Leaving KingstonUnlike cruising in the canals, the Hudson River is more exposed to the elements – wind, currents and tides can all impact the cruising conditions.

Once past Kingston and past the Rondout Lighthouse, the cruise down the Hudson is similar to the first day – with tug boats, sailboats and fishing boats each using the waterway in a variety of ways. Highways and train tracks run along the length of the river – which continues to be a major thruway for commerce.

There is plenty of evidence of New York State’s rich cultural history dotting the valley – on the port side, you can see the Mills mansion, the Vanderbilt mansion and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home. Of course, there are other more humble structures along the way, like the original boat houses to accompany these mansions.

Approaching West PointJust past Breakneck Ridge and Storm King Mountain – both very inauspicious names – is Pollepel Island. What looks to be another rock face in the distance is actually a magnificent Scottish castle. The “castle” was actually built as an arsenal for Frank Bannerman’s extensive collection of weapons. It is now mostly in ruins after a fire in 1969 – but is still a fascinating structure and a reminder of the rich history along the Hudson River Valley.

Tappan Zee BridgeOnce you round the bend, you’ll see the US Military Academy at West Point. Past there is the Tappan Zee Bridge and at Yonkers, you’ll start to see the palisades – the unusual towering cliffs of vertical rock columns.

The scenery becomes more urban and industrial – with skyscrapers beginning to crop up on the shores and familiar landmarks like the New Yorker building on the Manhattan side. The crescendo of the city builds up as you near the Statue of Liberty National Monument – with car horns, sirens and the buzz of police helicopters circling the harbour.

View from Liberty Landing MarinaPerhaps the most impressive part of coming into New York Harbor is seeing the Statue of Liberty from your own boat!

We docked at Liberty Landing Marina on the New Jersey side – which affords magnificent views of the Manhattan skyline at night. There is a water taxi there that will take you to Manhattan. Considering you’re in the shadow of one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, the evening was surprisingly quiet.

Day 8: NY City to Cape May

Distance: – 130 miles
Time: 10 hours

We left New York Harbor just as the day was unfolding – the ferries were already beginning to taxi people from New Jersey to Manhattan.

There was much trepidation the previous night after talk about what could be an uncomfortable crossing off the Jersey coast.

Verrazano NarrowsBut all this anxiety proved to be in vain as the skies were clear and the waters calm as we left the protected waters through the Verrazano Narrows bridge and entered the Atlantic Ocean. For many, this would be the first offshore experience.

The coast was always within sight and except for the occasional fishing trawler, there was very little other boat traffic. The first thing you notice as you approach Atlantic City is Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal – the mausoleum sticks out like a sore thumb on the flat shoreline.

Cape MayCape May is only x miles from Atlantic City and with flat water, everyone was exuberant by the time they reached Cape May. Entering the inlet we were greeted by a clutter of masts from the fishing boats and the MV/34 Passagemaker, with its classic trawler lines, was well placed amongst the large fishing trawlers.

We fueled up and docked at the South Jersey Marina, where they have excellent service and facilities. It’s also only steps away from some fantastic sea food restaurants, most notably, the Lobster House and Copper Fish. The city center is about a 30-minute walk – certainly well worth the effort as the town is probably America’s unofficial quaint Bed and Breakfast capital.

Bike RentalWe stayed at the South Jersey Marina for another day due to the fog – which gave us plenty of opportunities to discover the summer resort town with amazing boutiques, cafes and restaurants.

Day 9: Cape May to Annapolis

Distance: 110 miles
Time: 8 hours

Leaving behind the clutter of masts from the fishing trawlers crowding the canals, we headed into Delaware Bay under the haze of the early morning sun trying to burn off the previous day’s dense fog. Upon arriving at the mouth of the bay, we had to wait for the ferry traffic that takes cars and passengers from Cape May to the mouth of the Bay.

Leaving AmsterdamDelaware Bay is a favourite with fishing boats who dodge the commercial barges traveling to the Delaware River and through the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, and make formidable obstacles when traveling through thick fog – as we soon found out.

What had promised to be a clear morning quickly turned into a foggy and hazy morning as we entered the bay – giving us yet another chance to hone our skills using radar and fine-tune our charting capabilities through this surprisingly shallow bay.

Delaware BayAs we neared the mouth of the Delaware River and the C & D Canal – inauspiciously marked by a huge nuclear power plant, the weather began to change to what would prove to be a beautiful day.

The C & D Canal runs 14 miles long, 450 feet wide and 35 feet deep across Maryland and Delaware, connecting the Delaware River with the Chesapeake Bay and the Port of Baltimore. The canal is busy with container ships, fishing boats, sailboats and skidoos.

Chesapeake Bay BridgeThe Chesapeake Bay Bridge marks the entrance into Annapolis, MD – our final destination. The Chesapeake Bay is one of the largest estuaries in North America, with a shore line stretching over 2000 miles and fed by some 150 rivers.

Annapolis HarborBeware of the minefield of crab pots that fill the harbor!!

Annapolis is a thriving boating community and home to the much-acclaimed US Naval Academy. The harbor pays tribute to this flourishing maritime community and is typically crowded with boaters.

We docked at Annapolis Landing Marina located at the corner of Back Creek and the Chesapeake Bay. The marina has excellent facilities and the Back Porch Cafe, a great place for breakfast and lunch that overlooks the creek. The Marina is also home to several PDQ MV/34 Powercats that are for charter with Sunsail.

There is an abundance of excellent restaurants, cafes and sights to see in Annapolis – “America’s Sailing Capital”. Annapolis is geared to tourists and getting around is easy.

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