Crystal River to Tarpon Springs, Caladesi Island and St Pete

By the time we got to Turtle Cove Marina at Tarpon Springs, about 10 days’ dirty washing had accumulated. I’m not normally so slovenly, but we had had no opportunity to do it.

It’s usually a chore, but the laundry at Turtle Cove was conveniently situated in the clubhouse building which overlooked the swimming pool. So we passed a pleasant afternoon doing the washing.

Near Tarpon Springs
Doing the laundry at Turtle Cove Marina

Tarpon Springs was described in the guide-books as the nearest thing to Greece, outside Greece. Rather surprisingly, this description turned out to be quite accurate. Greek people came here 100 years ago to work in the sponge industry, and still do. They brought their culture and cuisine with them. The town centre was within easy walking distance of the marina so we wandered down to have a look in the shops and have coffee in one of the Greek cafes. We bought amazing bread and baklava from a Greek bakery. There were even kafenions with shouty Greek voices emanating from their dark interiors, where tourists didn’t go.

Dodecanese Boulevard, Tarpon Springs
In the coffee shop

In the evening, we ate at the Rusty Bellies’ Waterfront Restaurant. It was popular and packed out, but it wasn’t a hardship to sit in the shade with our margaritas while we waited for a table.

Rusty Bellies from the water

From Tarpon Springs, we could have made a straight run through Clearwater to finish our Loop at St Pete, where it all started more than 5 years ago. We had bought Carina at Treasure Island, Clearwater, and taken her across to St Pete where we’d spent a week equipping her before we had actually set off. We’d come to like the city during that first anxious week of getting everything ready and wondering if we could actually do this Loop thing. St Pete felt like the start of our Loop, and we decided that was where it would finish, where we would announce to the world that we’d crossed our wake, and celebrate appropriately.

But I had noticed, in Skipper Bob’s book, a passing reference to Caladesi Island. It’s an unspoiled island, accessible only by boat, but there’s a marina there run by Park Rangers. There’s a small cafe, but no bars, no tourist shops, and no grocery stores. We had time to go there.

Caladesi to St Pete
Anclote Key, on the way to Caladesi
Honeymoon Island

Caladesi is rather special. The marina is hidden away down a system of channels that pass through the mangrove. ‘Channelization of mangrove areas was done before the state park was established. This type of land alteration would not be allowed under today’s management practices,’ the Island Trail Guide rather primly states.

The channel at Caladesi
The marina at Caladesi

We got there at lunch time and headed over to the beach, a 5-minute walk away through the dunes. Ferries come from Honeymoon Island and elsewhere, so we didn’t have it quite to ourselves. For a not inconsiderable fee, you can hire a beach umbrella. The State Parks are not above making money out of their visitors, but really there was no choice in the matter. It was getting hot out in the sun.

The beach from the dunes
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Caladesi Beach, looking towards Honeymoon Island

The next day we walked the Island Trail, through 2.5 miles of the interior of the island and finishing on the beach, passing from the coastal strand to a pine flatwoods community. Unfortunately the coastal hammock part of the trail was closed because of prescribed burning, a land management tool which reduces the risk of wildfires and recycles nutrients into the soil.

Sabal Palms
Blackeyed Susan
Gopher tortoise prints
Bark
A young South Florida Slash Pine establishing in the flatwoods
Ancient Pines
Cats Eye Pond
Wild hibiscus
Prickly Pear Cactus

The beach was almost deserted. There was a severe thunderstorm forecast, and the ferries weren’t running.

We left Caladesi for St Pete, but we had a night at anchor at Boca Ciega first.

Near Treasure Island

As we passed through Clearwater and Treasure Island, we tried to identify the inlet where Carina had been docked when we first bought her. We think this one was it, with a new boat tied up in Carina’s place.

Treasure Island
From the anchorage at Boca Ciega

We couldn’t help feeling excited as we approached St Pete, and saw the entrance to the familiar Municipal Marina.

Approaching St Pete
Entering St Pete Municipal Marina

It was quite windy and Ian was worried about docking. Frank, the dockmaster, had assured us that he’d be waiting to take our lines, and he was. As we tied up, I asked about the laundry facilities.

‘Sure, we have a laundry. There’s a lounge there too, with a TV. But you gotta watch Fox News. You’re not allowed to watch CNN. That’s the Communist channel.’

Then, ‘I guess you guys spend a lot of time laughing at our President.’

After five years, we’re getting a bit more used to American humour and the use of irony. But we’re British, and so we couldn’t possibly comment.

Safely tied up at St Pete Municipal Marina, view from the flybridge

It was over. We felt a mixture of sadness, relief, gratitude and euphoria.

As we’d approached the end of the journey, I’d imagined this day. I thought I would go to Publix, get some champagne, possibly buy myself a small, expensive reward for persevering throughout my trials and endeavours, and have a celebration dinner at an upscale restaurant.

We did none of those things. We had lunch on the boat, and eventually we wandered downtown. Ian has an unerring instinct for finding ice-cream shops, and it didn’t let him down. Being in St Pete, it was a posh one. As well as ice-cream, it sold a variety of exotic teas, jams in fancy jars, and other esoteric preserves. Ian had an obscurely-flavoured ice-cream, and I had English breakfast tea, which came in a technical, tetrahedral bag.

As we were leaving, we thanked the waitresses. They thanked us back and wished us a great afternoon. Then one of them remarked on the cuteness of Ian’s socks, and they dissolved into giggles. Of course, it’s not only Americans who find the sight of an Englishman rocking shorts with lace-up shoes and short, striped socks amusing.

In the evening we went to Fresco’s for dinner. It’s a lively waterfront restaurant and bar next to the marina, with good food, a nice atmosphere and it was just right.

We had to wait a few days for our Gold Looper’s flag, which the AGLCA had sent to us at Marina Jack’s in Sarasota.

Except that it wasn’t really over. Apart from the fact that we had booked Carina into a boatyard in Port Charlotte for storage during the summer, we had no clue what we were going to do next, either in the short term or the long-term. And we had another 3 weeks before our return to England.

But we have made one decision. Carina is for sale. We’re spending the remaining time revisiting some places in Florida that we liked the first time around, and discovering new ones.

So there’ll be one more blog post after this one, but it seems the right time to thank everyone who has followed me, and especially those who left kind and supportive comments. What started as simply a way of letting people know where we were and what we’d been doing, grew into something a bit more. In the moments of anxiousness, boredom, missing home and our family and friends, of which there were some, having to look for the positive and the funny things to write about, of which there were many, was therapeutic. Thank you for the encouragement.

I should also thank the people we met along the way who helped us, gave us advice and stopped us getting bored with our own company. In particular, Jim and Susan who rescued us that memorable September day on the Illinois River.

And I suppose I should thank the Captain, who takes me out of my comfort zone and gives me all these experiences to write about.

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The Erie Canal – Coeymans Landing to Ilion

 

Coeyman's Landing to Ilion

Coeyman’s Landing to Ilion

Iconic may be an over-used word, but a canal about which an iconic song has been written, perhaps assumes iconic status too.

The Erie Canal was first proposed in 1807, and construction began in 1817. At a time when entrepreneurs in England could see how the canal system helped to bring prosperity to the industrial areas of England, the benefits of an East-West waterway linking Buffalo on Lake Erie, with Albany on the Hudson River and thus New York, were obvious. The Mohawk Valley separating the Adirondack Mountains to the north and the Catskills to the south was chosen for the route. Since the original canal opened in 1825, for use by barges driven by horses and mules, there have been many enlargements and improvements. As a result of the canal construction, Buffalo grew from a population of 200 settlers in 1820, to more than 18,000 in 1840, New York City became the Atlantic home port for the Midwest, and New York became known as the Empire State.

So it was with some excitement that we left Coeyman’s Landing, 10 miles south of Albany on the Hudson River, to start our journey through the Erie Canal and on to the Great Lakes and Canada.

Carina entering the water after her hibernation

Carina entering the water after her hibernation

Looking back to Coeymans Landing Marina

Looking back to Coeymans Landing Marina

A few pictures of Albany. I particularly liked the U-haul building.

IMG_0012Historic Albany

‘Historic Albany’

IMG_0010 Albany

IMG_0017

U-Haul Building

U-Haul Building

Troy is a few miles upriver from Albany. The Troy Federal Lock, at the junction between the tidal Hudson River and the Mohawk River, was a big one.

IMG_0021

Green Island Bridge, Troy, NY

IMG_0023 Troy

We felt slightly apprehensive about the locks. We were au fait with English locks on English canals, and we had travelled up the Thames from Limehouse Basin to Oxford, but American locks were an unknown quantity. The guide to the New York State Canal System afforded some insight – pictograms showed the crew attached to long ropes which dangled deep down into the bowels of the lock. How hard would it be to hang on to the rope, if the lock filled quickly causing turbulence and strong currents, or there were strongish winds? Then there was the question of etiquette. The guide stated clearly that it was not part of the lock-keeper’s job description to assist boaters. Presumably they would just look on sardonically in the face of boaters’ ineptitude.

It proved not too difficult to grab the dangling rope with the boat hook, but we learned the hard way that the fenders need to be much higher when you’re going into the locks than when you’re docking. And the lock-keepers were unfailingly efficient  and friendly.

Approaching Troy Federal locks

Approaching Troy Federal locks

IMG_0026 Troy federal locks

Leaving Troy Federal Locks

At Waterford, where the Erie Canal starts, following the Mohawk River, sometimes alongside it and sometimes a part of it, there’s a flight of locks in quick succession as the canal rises steeply above the Hudson Valley. The flight is said to be the largest in America. (For the UK Canal cognoscenti: they were nothing compared to Tardebigge or Foxton Flights.) But they were on a much grander scale, and the dark blue and gold livery lent an attractive cohesion to the New York State Canal System perhaps lacking in the UK Canals and River Trust.

Start of the Erie Canal

Start of the Erie Canal

Near Waterford

Near Waterford

Looking back at Lock 2, Erie Canal

Looking back at Lock 2, Erie Canal

 

Inside Lock 3

Inside Lock 2

IMG_0047

The weir at Lock 7

IMG_0049 Lock 7

Lock gates opening at Lock 7 – view from the bridge

Above lock 8, we were weather-bound by very strong winds. Large parts of the canal are actually broad river, and we didn’t feel confident about negotiating the locks in Force 5 winds.

We got the bikes out instead and set off along the riverside cycle track, with the object of having coffee in Schenectady, 3 miles away. We were thwarted by some large trees that had come down in the winds, and completely blocked our path, so we had to turn round. But we did have a nice view of the Mohawk River.

Mohawk River/Erie Canal near Schenectady

Mohawk River/Erie Canal near Schenectady

We saw the ruins of the old Lock 23, once an important unloading point for Schenectady, and abandoned when the canal was enlarged in 1903.

Ruins of Lock 23

Ruins of Lock 23

 

 

IMG_0019

At the viewing point over the river, we noticed that the feet of the bench were covered with knitted, gruffalo-like feet.

Bench with knitted feet

Bench with knitted feet

The Captain made a deprecating, non-pc remark. ‘The mothers of Schenectady obviously haven’t got enough to do.’

IMG_0022 )verlooking Erie Canal near lock 8

We had plenty of time at Lock 8 to observe the changing light conditions. These four photos were taken from the deck of the boat at different times.

10 am

10 am

6 pm

6 pm

9 pm

9 pm

6 am

6 am

A mass of indigo on the river bank

A mass of indigo on the river bank

Carina at Lock 8

Carina at Lock 8

The movable dam at Lock 8

The movable dam at Lock 8

Our next stop was Amsterdam, and on the way we passed the Adirondack Power and Light  Station.

Adirondack Power and Light Station

Adirondack Power and Light Station

Amsterdam had good facilities, but also the rather sad and depressed air of a town which has lost its main source of employment – in Amsterdam’s case, carpet manufacturing, according to the taxi driver who took us to the grocery store.

Carina at Amsterdam

Carina at Amsterdam

The river park at Amsterdam

The river park at Amsterdam

Flying the flag of the American Great Loop Cruisers' Association

Flying the flag of the American Great Loop Cruisers’ Association

Mohawk River near Canajoharie

Mohawk River near Canajoharie

We arrived in Canajoharie on 4th July and moored on the public dock next to Aurora B, whose owners Wayne and Alyce  and their canine crew we had met further back on the canal, and who had just started doing the Loop. They kindly invited us onto their boat for drinks, and after a while, Alyce said, ‘Could I ask, um, a delicate question?’ I wondered what could be coming, but she only wanted to know what we thought about Brexit. I asked one right back at her, and it turned out  we were on the same wavelength about Mr Trump, too.

Canajoharie Main Street, flying the flag for 4 July

Canajoharie Main Street, flying the flag for 4 July

Canajoharie Main St

Canajoharie Main St

Evening on the Mohawk River at Canajoharie

Evening on the Mohawk River at Canajoharie

Canajoharie is little more than a village, but it has an impressive public library and Art Gallery, the gift of a local industrialist, Bartlett Arkell. The gallery was built to house his collection of copies of European masterpieces, and original American art, including works by Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam and John Singer Sargent.

Mr Arkell was a marketing visionary – he founded the Imperial Packing Company in the 1890’s but thought that a healthy-sounding name would appeal more to his customers and renamed it Beech-nut, as it expanded into the packing of meat and other produce. He was fascinated by circuses, and he marketed his products by having model circuses touring the country, with Beech-nut girls in fancy dresses and aprons handing out samples of his products to awe-struck children. The gallery includes a display of the model circuses and photographs of Beech-nut marketing events.

Our next stop was Little Falls, but between there and Canajoharie was the biggest lock on the Erie Canal – Lock 17, with a lift of 40 feet.

Approaching Lock 17

Approaching Lock 17

The size of the boat inside the lock gives an idea of scale. It was a US$3 million job, being transported to Lake Michigan for its new owner. To say that poor Carina felt like a bag-lady in comparison would be an understatement.

The Lock gate coming down

The Lock gate coming down

Leaving the lock

Leaving the lock

The lock receding into the ditance

The lock receding into the distance

At Little Falls we ventured out into the evening sun, crossed the river into the town, and had a good meal at the Copper Moose restaurant, nicely full of people and with a good vibe too.

Little Falls in the evening sun

Little Falls in the evening sun

The landscape became more hilly as we approached Ilion, where we had arranged to leave the boat for a fortnight while we visited Ted and Danielle and the children.

Lock 18 emptying for us

Waiting for Lock 18 to empty

Carina at Ilion marina

Carina at Ilion marina

Don Sterling, the dockmaster at Ilion, very kindly took us to the station at Utica to get our train at 6.30 in the morning. We were in plenty of time,  so were able to admire the splendid architecure.

Utica Station

Utica Station

Oh and here’s a link to the Boss and that iconic song