Day 1: Rochester to Pittsford

Wednesday, August 4, 1999

At last, after all our months of hard work putting a deck and canopy on our steamboat Aurora Borealis and our weeks of detailed planning for the trip, we were really on the Erie Canal! Having launched at Allan's Canalside Marina, just west of Rochester, we started by burning the wet wood we had picked up at the lumberyard, moving slowly through the water. The terrain was surprisingly rural, considering that we were steaming through the center of Rochester!

Last night we had slept on the steamboat on the water for the first time. We didn’t sleep very well. For one thing, there were mosquitoes. There weren’t very many --- just enough to keep us awake. For another thing, it started raining around 2:00 a.m. There wasn’t any wind, so the rain came straight down and didn’t get us wet. Tired as I was, the plywood bed seemed mighty hard. Also, I had to worry about rolling out of bed into the water. Anyway, we had finally gotten to sleep.

We woke this morning around 6:30 a.m. to a rather gray day. We spent a lot of time getting things in the boat arranged. Yesterday evening, after the long shuttle, we had just carried our gear haphazardly to the steamboat and put it anywhere. Now it was time to get it organized. We got under way at 8:20 a.m. Our first two days were intentionally planned to be leisurely, as we needed to recuperate from our frantic preparations and the two days of dropping off wood and shuttling the van and trailer.
The Erie Canal, just west of Rochester.
We took a side trip about three miles up the Genesee River, passing by the University of Rochester and going as far as the Court Street Dam. There are little parks in various places where you can stop. We stopped at one where we turned into the Genesee.
Aurora Borealis along the Genesee River.
Rochester from the Genesee River.

Here is the tour boat Sam Patch on the Genesee River. The boat is named after a folk hero of the 1800’s who is nearly forgotten today. His motto was, “Some things can be done as well as others.” He stated that, “If God can make cataracts, men can certainly jump over them and live.” He devoted his life to demonstrating this fact and to the consumption of rum. In October, 1829, he jumped over Niagara Falls, twice. In November, 1829, he died while trying to jump the Genesee Falls. He was twenty-two.

It rained during much of the latter part of the day.

Guard gates are used to close off a section of the canal. They are used if an embankment breaks or if maintenance work is needed. The gates are huge steel doors somewhat reminiscent of guillotines. Two are in view here, with the Genesee River leading to the left in between.
Pedestrian bridge across the Erie Canal near its intersection with the Genesee River.

The tugboat Lockport, a gradall derrick boat, and a tugboat tender.

Back on the Erie Canal, we headed toward our first lock, Lock 33. We locked through Lock 33 (lift 25.1 feet) and, a mile later, Lock 32 (lift 25.1 feet). (With a few exceptions, which we will mention at the appropriate places, we descended through the locks on our voyage eastward from Rochester to Troy.)

A little while later, we came to Pittsford, our destination for the day, arriving around 1:00 p.m. We ate a mid-afternoon dessert in the Coal Tower Restaurant (see food), built around an old coal tower, formerly used for supplying boats along the canal with coal. I had lemon meringue pie and Al had strawberry-rhubarb pie and ice cream. Neil, son of our friends Gary and Betsy, was working in the Tow Path Bike Shop. We invited him and his friend Greg to take a ride with us when Betsy showed up at after work to pick him up.

We wandered around town a bit. Pittsford has tourist shops near the canal and a regular town a block away across the canal. In the canal, there were huge carp. People on shore were fishing for them. There were also a great many ducks. Rain sent us back to the boat; a thunderstorm sent us to a nearby ice cream shop.

People wandered by looking at the steamboat. Some groups wandered by over and over again, stopping to look each time. For a while, we sat under a nearby shelter, laughing as we watched a group repeatedly stop to take a look. (See FAQ.)
Steaming in Pittsford.
Betsy and Neil.

Eby, his wife Laurie and their two sons joined us for a pleasant (and rather late) dinner at Aladdin’s, a good natural foods restaurant. Soon after we finished, violent thunderstorms swept through the area. We sought refuge on the porch of the restaurant until they had passed.

Number of locks: 2
Approximate distance for day: 20 miles

Next day Steamboat trip index