Posted by Tall Ships America on July 9, 2010
On the way to Toronto by Ben Rogers
Good morning, Welland Canal. This is our big booger of the summer. It’s been circled on the calendar since I arrived in Erie in March. I’ve been hearing about this Darth Vader of canals for several years now, even aboard the Picton Castle, who made a trip through during the Tall Ships festivals of 2006.
Captain Wes said the Welland is the most difficult canal to navigate in the world, and he’s been through a lot of them, so his opinion counts for something. To put it in perspective, Niagara Falls are just to the east of the canal, and run the same route. It’s a supremely impressive feat of engineering and seamanship to pilot a ship through the equivalent of those iconic waterfalls that gave even the stout-hearted Superman a tricky go-for.
A huge effort of work goes into getting a square rigger like Niagara ready for the canal. She makes regular passages through the canal every year, so some custom rigged canal fenders get lashed to the channels to take the brunt of the banging and grinding against the cement walls of the canal locks as the ship locks up and down. Basically, it’s a 6”x6” spar, that rests against the channels, with a strong epoxied box at the lower end resting against the bulwarks at deck level, all braced together with steel bars. There are eight of them, and we lash them to the ship six ways from Sunday, and smear them with Crisco.
We downrigged our port and starboard boat davits, and shifted Cutter I to the stern davits, and then turned our attention to the rig. Niagara‘s rig is very tall, very wide, and very long. To make the canal passage, she needs shortening. We ran in our flying jibboom, lashed all the loose gear to the catheads, cockbilled the sprityard, mainyard, and foreyard, braced über-sharp the tops’l and t’gallant yards, and lowered the main t’gallant mast six feet. All this was done in a day, en route from Erie to the entrance of the canal at Port Colborne, Ontario.
Then we locked down the canal into Lake Ontario. This took about 9 ½ hours. Locking down is generally easier, but there is a lot of current running up the ship’s stern, and the canal has a lot of strange eddies, which makes the ship handling no small trick. We busted a couple fenders, and popped off the horn of one of our open stern chocks, but other than a few grey hairs in the crew, everything went fine.
The next day it was up at 0500 and directly to attending the ship. We hucked all the canal fenders back on deck, put all our sticks back in order, sent up come-alongs to the tops, tuned the rig, and had the lanyards seized-off by the time we arrived in Toronto, 30 miles and a few hours later. Then a festival happened.
My birthday was yesterday, and I spent it in a happy fashion. In the morning my uncle was in town, and he and I went looking for breakfast. In the afternoon I was back aboard the ship and turned to some maintenance aloft, while the throngs below got a tour of the ship. 2700 people crossed our decks yesterday! If we keep this up, hopefully we can avoid any holystoning this season. I finished a project in the rig that our busy schedule had relegated to the backburner, then Paul and I scurried up to the fore cross trees and finished out the day bending on the main t’gallant stays’l, one of our kites we haven’t had bent-on, let alone set, in over three years. We want to put on a good show for the parades of sail. Picton Castle shipmates, Allison and her daughter Haley, who is crew this summer in those sweet little Toronto Brigantines, stopped by for a cook’s tour and some birthday wishes during the day as well.
With the day’s work done, Charlie watch was turned down and turned loose on Toronto, and my celebration of 27 years of survival reached its next phase. A few of us headed for dinner at Hey Lucy Cafe, where the downtown rooftop patio setting and background music were a perfect surprise, and set the tone for the evening. Mr. Cusson bought a bottle of champagne, and we chowed on gourmet comfort-food and waxed philosophical about life, love, and dirty jokes.
After dinner we found some more sailor friends aboard the Roald Amundsen, and recruited hands to the birthday party and made our way to a packed house with a live R & B band playing everything from the Fugees to Michael Jackson and Jay Z, and we danced until the city closed down. I don’t think the night could’ve been scripted better.
Departed Erie at 1800 and headed for Cleveland. We arrived this morning at 0130 and cleared customs before getting some steady, uninterrupted sleep. The past few days have been major exercises in seamanship and endurance, and the crew has come through. After the Toronto Parade of Sail Sunday afternoon, we pointed our nose back towards the Welland and undid all we had so recently redid, from our previous and also recent original undoing. T’gallant mast housed and lashed, yards cockbilled, fenders repaired, lashed, and greased. Up again early on Monday, and in the first lock at 0630, ready to ascend Niagara Falls. We did so, broke nothing, and 11 hours later we were back in Lake Erie and steaming for our familiar museum dock with a major hump behind us.
Toronto was an ideal start to the festival season. The port took care of the sailors, and put on a great bash at a local yacht club across the harbor Friday night. Every sailor was dancing, the DJ was playing nothing but requests, and it was euphoria and dancing and laughing for all ages. Monet and Chris did their famous interpretation of Meatloaf’s timeless “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” and when Guns N Roses came on, the hairiest sailors in the group loosed their pony-tails and let fly. It was the perfect kind of party.
Our day in Erie was spent doing laundry, finishing up the post canal re-rigging, and provisioning for the next festival port, Cleveland, Ohio.