8/17/17-8/20/17: The next town down the canal that we chose to stop at was Fairport. The trip there was probably the worst day we’ve had so far since leaving on May 21st (even worse than the 8 foot wave day back in Tobermory).
We left Brockport around 8AM. We had several lift bridges and 2 locks this day, so the 30 mile journey would take longer than the normal 5 hours. We came to the first lift bridge in Adam’s Basin, but the bridge tender was at the next bridge, the Spencerport Bridge (on the Erie Canal, one bridge tender will sometimes operate multiple bridges and just run back and forth between them to let boats through). We called Spencerport to let them know we were ready. The bridge tender told us she would be there in about 5-10 minutes as it was only 3 miles away. As we sat holding our position in the middle of the canal waiting, our engine died. And this time, it did NOT start back up again.
Oh crap! The current is taking us towards the bridge, the wind is turning us sideways in the canal, and there is no place to tie up. The wind took us towards the edge of the canal before the current took us into the bridge, so we quickly dropped an anchor to hold us in place. We were about 10 feet from the rocky shore and had had to fend the boat away as the wind blew us to shore. The bridge operator, right at that moment radioed us that she was ready to lift the bridge for us. We had to tell her to cancel the lift.
Meanwhile… We called TowboatUS, a nation wide boat towing/assistance service and told them of our situation. We were originally told it would be 2 hours before a dispatch could get to us. While we waited for the towboat captain to call with an ETA, we had already talked to several marinas in the area, and found a mechanic who was willing to meet us in Fairport to look at the engine, assuming we could be towed there. We also tried to figure out what was happening to our engine. It boiled down to this. It quit, and we had no power at the instrument panel to restart it. Meaning the fuel pump wasn’t pumping, the starter wouldn’t turn, etc… We started to trace wires, knowing that if we could find the right ones, we could hot-wire the starter and also wire the fuel pump directly to the battery. As we were tracing wires, Peter and Kathy drove by and offered to tow us down the canal as far as we needed. We declined as we had already dispatched TowboatUS and were waiting on the captain’s call. They went on.
And just at that moment, power suddenly came back and she started right up! Also right at that moment, the TowboatUS captain called and informed us he was in the middle of Lake Ontario helping another boater and wouldn’t be able to get to us until 5 or 6 hours later. We told him we got it started and we were going to make our way to Fairport, but to call us before heading to us in case we died again. We called the bridge, got it lifted, and were on our way.
On our way, near Rochester, we ran into a group of 10-12 year old kids kayaking with two camp counsellors. They would not move out of our way for anything. When they final did, they split, but still stayed in the middle of the canal, right where we needed to be. We slowed down and passed them as far as we could, which was only 2 or 3 feet away from the. They all looked at us like we had no business being there and were interrupting their day. Some people’s kids…
As we approached the first (of two) locks, lo and behold, there was Gentle Presence (Kathy and Peter’s boat), waiting in the lock for us. It turned out that we weren’t that far behind, and the lock master saw us coming and held the lock for us. The second lock proved to be a bit more challenging. We approached the lock on the left (port) side, but at the last minute, decided to go to the right (starboard) side instead as there was more room there. The angle, boat speed, and lack of steerage made it challenging for both of us to teach the lines at the same time. At the bow, Kate had a cable instead of a line, and while trying to grab it, the boat hook got trapped behind it. It took us a couple extra minutes and a hand from the lock master to free the hook and get our line around it. Not our most graceful lock-through.
While we were in the second lock, the BoatUS captain called, and we took the call while “locking down”. We made the decision to cancel the dispatch as we were less than 10 miles from Fairport, had several towns in between, had Kathy and Peter right in front of us, and our engine hadn’t died since the bridge that morning. We motored the rest of the way to Fairport.
In Fairport was another lift bridge with wall tie ups on both sides of the bridge, and on both sides of the canal. We both went through the bridge (we were told by Steve, the diesel mechanic, the best tie ups were beyond the lift bridge in front of some condos). Both walls had a lot of boats, and there wasn’t room for both our boats. Peter and Kathy turned around to go back through the bridge and tie up on the west side, and we saw one space at the very end that we thought we may be able to get into, but we knew it would be close. It was. But we spun around, made the approach, and several people helped us get into the tiny spot on the wall. We were stern to stern with another boat only 4 feet apart, and our bow was hanging about 8-10 past the end of the walkway. But we made it. We were in Fairport.
We called Steve and told him we were in Fairport. He was on another job but said he would be there the next morning. He arrived on schedule, asked us a bunch of questions about our engine’s symptoms, and began looking things over. He though the problem we’ve been having was electrical, so immediately started focusing on the wiring. Within about 20 minutes he had located a loose wire on the starter which he believes was the cause of our power loss, and, ironically, the reason our engine would die at random times. If the power fluctuated or was lost to the lift pump, no fuel would supply the engine, and it would die. We hope this is the problem we’ve been chasing for the past 2+ months. We will soon see.
Fairport is a cute little tourist town with a fabulous farmer’s market on Saturday morning (can you tell when we are writing this? Yep, it’s Saturday). There are lots of shops and restaurants, as well as a great meat market and an interesting organic grocery store, all within walking distance. And yes, there is even an ice cream shop (we’ve already been there twice). And the farmer’s market was awesome. So many fruits, flowers, vegetables, baked goods, and hand-crafted items to choose from. We stopped at an Amish stand for some baked goods and another stand for some veggies. $15 bought us 2 small pies, a loaf of pumpkin bread, a dozen molasses cookies, and some potatoes and onions. We are living large (quite literally).
We will probably stay here a few days because we really like the town, and Steve was going to pick up and deliver some diesel additives for us. Besides, we have some extra time and are using it to figure out where our journey will take us this fall.