Houseboating the Erie Canal – Day 2

Sunday morning kicked off our first full day of houseboating the Erie Canal! We got the hot water heater going, which only took about 5-10 minutes to heat up, and got showered.  I cooked some breakfast on the boat, and then we hit the road…er…the canal!

I had planned for our two longest days of cruising to take place early in our trip so that we could relax a bit more later in the week.  Today, we were aiming to reach the town of Holley (about 7 hours away), which I had read about in other canallers’ reviews. The dock is in a park with a lovely little waterfall nearby, and other canallers had also mentioned that it was a great place to break out the grill provided by Mid-Lakes, and we planned to do just that!

A farmhouse along the western section of the Erie Canal
Some of the beautiful scenery along the Erie Canal

We set out around ten, and about a half hour later we approached Locks 32 and Lock 33, which were about a mile apart from each other.  Each of these locks lifted us up 25 feet in the canal, and we navigated the locks like pros, even with just our limited orientation the day before.  

We had another 15 miles of cruising to go to get to the town of Spencerport where we planned to take a break and go to the grocery store.  During this part of the trip, we crossed the Genesee River, which leads to Rochester, and we also traveled a section of the canal known as the “Rock Cut”.  This section was cut completely through rock, without any modern machinery or equipment. The walls of the canal here were much higher than the top of our boat whereas on most of the rest of the canal, the top of the canal wall was lower than our boat. You can see highways and tell that you’re close to a city, but the canal itself is very secluded and feels almost like you’re cruising through a tunnel.

As we approached the town of Spencerport, we slowed down to prepare for our docking.  During orientation with Mid-Lakes, they tell you to only go as fast as you are willing to hit something.  And during our docking, we learned just how important this advice was! As you approach a dock, you eventually need to shift to reverse to slow your momentum, but when we tried to do so…nothing happened!  We lost all ability to put the boat into gear (which is not how you want to make your arrival into a new town…)

It wasn’t the most graceful docking, but once we were safely tied up to the dock, we opened up the engine hatch to take a look and found a bunch of fluid in the bilge.  At first, we thought it was oil, but upon further investigation, I noticed that the fluid was actually pinkish red, which we know from prior boating experience is transmission fluid.

We called Mid-Lakes and explained the issue and they said they would call back shortly.  Within a few minutes, we heard from the owner himself who said he’d come out to take a look. Since we had traveled a ways from the marina, he said it would take about an hour and a half to get out to us, so we went ahead and did our shopping and wandered around town a bit.  But sure enough, he arrived within the hour and a half as promised and had even brought a new transmission with him. A little more than an hour later, we had a new transmission and took the boat off the dock for a little test drive.   Everything looked and felt good, and we were free to get on our way again.

We weren’t thrilled to have encountered a mechanical issue, let alone on our second day, but we were super impressed with how quickly Mid-Lakes resolved the problem and got us back up and running.  If you do rent a boat (any boat), it is definitely always good to slow down earlier than you think you need to in the event that you can’t stop as quickly as you expect. Boats are notorious for having mechanical issues, but fortunately, this was the only problem we encountered during our week on the canal.  (There’s actually a joke that the two happiest days of every boat owner’s life are the day they buy the boat and the day they sell it! Like any machine, boats can and will have mechanical difficulties from time to time, so heed the advice of Mid-Lakes during your orientation.)

Abandoned train track in the Erie Canal's Rock Cut
Abandoned train track in the Erie Canal’s Rock Cut

Upon leaving Spencerport, we encountered 4 lift bridges on our way to Holley. The trick with these is that the first two have one operator and the second two share another operator.  These are referred to as “roaming operators”, and there are a lot of them on the canal. Some of the bridges that roaming operators manage may even be 3-5 miles away from each other!  Once they raise the first bridge for you, they’ll ask if you’re continuing on so that they can plan to meet you at the next bridge. But it’s that first bridge that can be tricky, so definitely call the operator while you’re still a mile or two out so they can meet you when you arrive.

About three hours after leaving Spencerport we arrived safe and sound in Holley.  Since we had the transmission delay, we arrived later than expected, so we wanted to rush over to see the waterfall before it got too dark to grill our dinner!  We asked the bridge tender how to get to the falls, but he didn’t seem too certain. And the path he sent us on definitely did NOT take us to the place we were expecting.  Rather than getting to the park where we could look up at the waterfall, we ended up finding the top of the waterfall and were able to look down on it! We did try to find the right path afterward, but with sunset approaching, we gave up and decided to fire up the grill instead.

Holley Park Waterfall
We found the top of the waterfall!

Mike had to fight with the grill, which wasn’t overly intuitive to use, but a little while later we had some yummy bratwurst on the screened-in bow of our boat.  There were mosquitos buzzing around, but I had brought a citronella candle to help keep them at bay. (Definitely pack your bug spray and a citronella candle or two.) Soon after, we said goodnight to Day 2!

In my next post, we head to Lockport, NY for Day 3 and the giant staircase locks, 34 and 35.  Lockport is just 18 miles from the western end of the Erie Canal and Niagara Falls.

For more in the Erie Canal Houseboating series:


Sunday – Day 2

8:30 am Showers and breakfast in Pittsford  (mile 253.47)

10:00 am Head west toward Holley (7 hours)

  • Beyond the village of Pittsford, there are two locks, Lock 32 and Lock 33.  Apparently, you can watch kayakers in the spillway bed at Lock 32 if you tie up west of Lock 32 (we didn’t get to do this ourselves, but we did see that they had a bunch of kayaks available to rent there!)
  • Pass through/by:
    • Lock 32 (mile 255.14) – free dock west of lock on the south wall
    • Lock 33 (mile 256.40) – free dock east or west of lock on the south wall
    • Genesee River (mile 260.55) – watch for northbound current as crossing river
    • The “Rock Cut” – when you pass the Genesee, you’ll start to head through the Rock Cut, which has much higher walls than the rest of the canal and lots of abandoned train tracks and bridges overhead
    • Henpeck Park  (mile 267.59) – no services but free dock on the north bank
    • Greece Canal Park (mile 267.95)

2:00 pm Take a break in Spencerport (mile 271.20)

  • Tie up east of lift bridge E-174 on south or north wall where power and water are available or west of the bridge on the south wall, which also has power and water hookups
  • The Village Plaza is within walking distance and has a TOPS supermarket if you need any additional supplies (we bought ice and more water here)

3:00 pm Head back out towards Holley

  • Pass through/by:
    • Spencerport – Union St. Lift Bridge (mile 271.28) – single operator for this and the Washington St. bridge at mile 274.21 – call ahead
    • Adams Basin – free dock east of lift bridge on the south wall (mile 273.3)
    • Washington St. Lift Bridge (mile 274.21)
    • Brockport – Park Avenue Lift Bridge (mile 278.76) – same operator for this and the Brockport Main St. bridge at mile 278.93 (you can see both bridges in one place, so you shouldn’t have to wait long for the operator here to get from one bridge to the other)
    • Town of Brockport (mile 278.85) – visitor center is on the south wall between the two lift bridges.  The center has restrooms, showers, laundry, shore power, and water available for a fee (fee varies by length of boat)
    • Brockport – Main Street Lift Bridge (278.93)

5:00 pm  Arrive in Holley; tie up in Holley Canal Park for the night on either side of the canal (the park, falls, and town are on the south side) (mile 283.43)

  • Shore power, fresh water, gazebo with restrooms and showers (get combination # from the bridge tender)

5:30 pm Explore the falls and grill out in the park

  • To get to town, follow the paved path downhill through the park from the gazebo to the town park. After you’ll see railroad museum.  Turn left before museum on gravel road to little hollow with a second town park and waterfall.

Mileage – Pittsford 253.47 to Holley 283.43 = 29.96 miles, 4 lift bridges, 2 locks

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