A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Oswego NY to Buffalo NY

Friday 16th

It had been quite windy yesterday down the Oswego canal causing waves to break across the breakwater at the port.

Although the wind had dropped overnight, it was still up enough to slow our trip down to Rochester on lake Ontario today, and we arrived a couple of hours later than scheduled. After lunch, Carolyn and I caught a bus into the city ($1 pp return fare) and went for a wander downtown. There was not a lot to see, so we looked for a bar for a cold beer and found East street with several such establishments. There was one on the other side of the road that had murals of people playing musical instruments and a sign out from that said “come on in and ask Stan to play his Oud”, so we figured it was a bar with live music and went in. Turned out to be a guitar shop and, what’s more, while they didn’t have any $20 guitars, they did have a couple for $100 that were very playable. We went back across the road to a real bar and had a beer and a think about it, then I went over and bought the best of the 2, an Ibanez, complete with gig bag, so I’ve now got something to play on the ship. It turns out it was so near new that the scratch board still had the protective peel-off plastic mask on it. It also has a nice tone and is very loud for a small guitar…and, yes, it is made in China!

The skipper advised that we would be getting away earlier than usual, in case of headwinds or issues locking through the Welland Canal, as it is very busy at present. So we departed at 10pm for the night crossing to be at the canal entrance by dawn.

Saturday 16th
It turned out to be a dead flat lake all the way and we arrived at 6.30am to take on the pilot, who came alongside right beside our stateroom.

Due to traffic, we didn’t get to enter the first lock until 10.30, so it became obvious we would be unlikely to get through and reach Buffalo, NY by our scheduled time of 5.00pm. The locks are much bigger than the Erie Canal locks and about the same size as those on the TennTom waterway, and locking right through takes an average on 11 hours. Some pretty big ships come through here

While we were in Lock 1, we were overflown by a Lancaster bomber and, considering there are only 2 flying in the world, it is a pretty rare sight (BTW I have video footage to prove it – just no stills….. it was so unexpected)
As anticipated, we did not leave the canal until about  6pm and duly arrived at Buffalo around 8pm. Being a Saturday night, there was a lot of activity downtown including a loud concert and fireworks displays (although no-one could give a reason for them!) I gave the Ibanez a try out and found it quite a nice instrument. Nobody threw themselves overboard during the performance, so it can’t have been too bad!

Sunday 17th
It was forecast to be hot and it was. Most of the passengers are heading off on excursions to Niagara Falls but, since we were there last year, we have decided to stay aboard. I went for a wander down to the Military Park, about a mile down the road, but decided to not visit the Destroyer, Cruiser and submarine exhibited there as I am about done with running up and down steep gangways and ladders and squeezing through tight spaces for a while. But it was an interesting walk – the Erie canal’s original entrance was right there (it has been recently restored after being buried for about 100 years after they made a new entrance further up river). I also came across a couple of cheeky squirrels that were the first I  had seen so far this trip and the first for a while with the bushy tails.

BTW, and although we expected it, the stateroom is kinda tiny! This pic shows the two beds, one partly hidden by the bathroom and shower. Its quite a bit smaller than the staterooms on Loopy Kiwi, but its comfy and has the same airconditioning units, so we know how to drive them.

Another thing I’ve not mentioned so far is the meals: For breakfast there is a buffet with cereals, fruit salads etc and then we are served a hot course, which is usually 2 items per day, such as eggs benedict and hash browns.

Lunch is a soup, followed by a sandwich or salad, and cookies.

Dinner is an appetizer, then a choice of 2 mains and 2 desserts, and a hot cookie.

Last night it was ribs – and they were as good as the best of Muldoons. The other main was chicken, both served with a baked potato and corn on the cob. The desserts were pecan pie or strawberry ice cream and cookies were butterscotch chip. There is no shortage of food and almost everybody had seconds of the ribs. Tonight is key lime pie!

There have been some strange dishes served and some interesting combinations but, so far, nothing I have been served I have disliked, and most of it has been excellent!

Beer and wine are complimentary with dinner. Happy hour between 5.30 and 6.30 is BYO, but they provide all the mixes.

Till next time

On the Loop again - NYC to Oswego NY

Sunday 10th June

A quick cab ride to Chelsea Pier, where we embarked aboard Grande Caribe for the cruise to Chicago and the continuation of our Great Loop adventure of 6 years ago. Shortly after embarking, we found Dennis and Kathy (who had boarded yesterday) and, since Grande Caribe is a “Bring your own grog” ship, Dennis and I went off foraging for beer. This we found at a CVS Pharmacy about 15 minute’s walk away – we also tried a guitar shop to see if they had a real cheap guitar I could  use on the cruise and ditch afterwards – but nothing was available, so there went that idea.

The cruise got underway at 4.30pm and stared by going downstream to the statue of liberty, before turning back up the Hudson. We got better views of the landmarks from the boat, as in the city there are just too many tall buildings to see the tall buildings! Even something as large as the Aircraft Carrier “Intrepid” was hard to pick out from amongst them.

This is pier 60 that the cruise started from – the structure behind the superyacht (named “Kisses”) is a golf driving range!

There was a “Welcome aboard” cocktail party with hors d’ouvres  that night and we stopped overnight at a small  park area called Bear Mountain.

Monday 11th

From Bear mountain, the first stop was a short distance to Westpoint Military Academy, where some passengers were ferried ashore, as the ship was not allowed to dock there – being an operational facility. The river is around 150ft deep at Westpoint so we didn’t anchor and instead stooged around for the 3 hours or so that the passengers were ashore.  While doing so, we got our first sighting of Loopers – in this case they were easy to identify by the lack of mast on the sailboat, and the AGLCA pennant. We have seen a bunch more since, both on the water, at locks, and stopped at marinas on the riverbanks..

Westpoint has a large sporting complex and is renowned for having a good rugby team (rugby is considered a good discipline-building sport for the military) and you can see the emphasis on this quite clearly on one of the buildings

The Hudson is kinda big and therefore big ships are quite common. This one passed us by and looked a lot closer in the flesh than it does in the pic.

The stop for the might was in Kingston (not  the one in Jamaica) and we tied up alongside a cutsie museum, where we had free entry. Lots of model boats that I got plenty of pix of for John two dogs, and other interesting facts…such as where the Chipmunk gets its name. For those of you that don’t know this remarkable fact, it is derived from the Lanape indian word “Chitamun”, which means: “he who comes down a tree headfirst”. So add that to your store of useless information (or pub quiz questions)!

Tuesday 13th 
We were all woken by the grinding of the bow thruster (yes it IS noisy) at 5.30am as we got off to an early start to get to Troy and our first lock to enter the Erie canal system. In order for the Grande Caribe to use the canal and get under the fixed bridges, it is necessary to clear off the upper deck and lower the pilothouse so the bridge clearance is 18 ½ feet (which is actually LOWER than Loopy Kiwi at 19 ½ feet)

I did ask them to pay me the $300 dockage fee, but they wouldn't  cough up!

This was the lowest bridge we went under at 19ft, and I have video showing just how close we were, and shortly after we went into the lock immediately in front of it, a couple of trains went over and their weight drops the bridge by another 4 -6 inches!

After 11 locks, we stopped for the night alongside lock 11 at Amsterdam, NY (not Holland).

Wednesday 14th
Another early start and another 11 locks to Sylvan Beach on the edge of Lake Onieda, New York. A lot of the canal to here is man-made alongside the Mohawk river and is straight, narrow, shallow, and pretty boring. We arrived at Sylva beach, a popular summer resort in New York state, at 8.00pm and found it was closed.

Thursday 15th
Yet another early start across Lake Onieda, through one last lock on the Erie canal, before turning right into the Oswego canal where there are 7 more locks to Lake Ontario. Interestingly, they are numbered 1 through 8, but during the building they found they only needed 7, so they just left out number 4, rather that redo the drawings. The sky had clouded over and the wind had got up, so it was a cool trip to Lake Ontario. WE arrived at 2.00pm and were provided a shuttle service to the local liquor store, laundromat, and WALMART!!! while the crew put the wheelhouse back up and reassembles the rest of the ship.

Wifi on the boat is dodgey at best so I’ll try getting this off today – but who know how well it may work.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

The Big Apple

Thursday 8th June

The  Comfort Inn at Maspeth's airport shuttle also provided a service to the nearby subway station, so we decided to give the famous NY public transport system a go to get to our midtown Manhattan hotel (although the shuttle driver raised his eyebrows when he saw the luggage we had in tow). Anyway, we took the lifts to the platform, got on the # 7 train to Times Square/42nd St, and in 25 minutes were in the heart of the Big Apple! Getting out of the subway was not so easy as there were no lifts, and people freaked out a bit when we left Carolyn’s bag at the bottom of a set of stairs for me to return to and lift up, although it was within sight the whole time – but people tend to get spooked by “unattended” bags around here. Mind you, it was just as well this happened right there, because at the next entrance down, there were about 10 guys hanging about in full assault gear, and big machine guns, with “NYPD Terrorist Unit” written across their backs. We found the hotel easily enough, but check-in was 3pm and it was only 11.30, so we left our bags and went for a wander back up to Times Square.

There, we mistook this guy for Durry, a friend of ours, but it turned out to be someone else entirely

And had a feed of famous NY pizza and something called a Stromboli – Carolyn liked it but I wasn’t that impressed

By the time we had a beer at one of the squillions of Irish pubs in NY, it was time to go back to the hotel and check in. It is a funny little place, only 4 rooms per floor, but 20 stories  high – we were on the 19th. The rooms have been/are being done up as it seems to be reimaging and will be known as the Lord & Moris (yes, only 1 “r”) from July 1st. They are also quite cramped and the edge of the bed has a sharp square corner which bit me on the ankle and made it bleed. I complained to the reception, and they gave me a bandaid, so when it bit me again 2 days later (the other ankle, and even more blood) I dealt to it with the small rasp on the multi-tool I always carry for repairs and maintenance purposes.

We have good view of the city from the hotel, and it is amazing just how crowded the streets are, both night and day

Friday 9th
The subway costs us seniors $2.75 each for a return ticket, so we took the #1 train down to the Staten Island Ferry for the ½ hour free (yes, FREE) ride across to the island, past the statue of liberty. There we had lunch at a waterfront bar, which had some interesting cocktails on display, like this strawberry margarita for $25.

After the return ferry trip, we stopped off at “Ground Zero” to see the 9/11 memorial, bought the T shirt, and got a pic of some more heavily armed cops (although these ones were not in body armour).

As this had necessitated leaving the subway, we had to invest a further $5.50 to get back to the hotel – the senior fare works as: you buy a regular one way fare and they make it a return. So we had a couple more rides spare for Carolyn to get to the Guggenheim tomorrow. Which makes it all sound like we’re penny-pinching but, believe me, you take all you can get, cause there ain’t nothing else cheap in this town!
We stopped by a 7 eleven across the street from the hotel and came across an exotic dancer, who we had seen performing on our way to the subway this morning. Even the locals appeared astonished at his garb…..only in New York!

Saturday 9th
I headed for the “Intrepid” (WW2 aircraft carrier) museum, a 1 mile walk, to look at more air and space memorabilia. Carolyn headed for the Guggenheim, a two train subway ride away, armed with maps and clear written instructions on how to get there and back. The streets were not so crowded today, but it was quite warm at 28C (82F), and it was still relatively quiet, (people wise) when I reached the museum at 10.30 (not so later on). I headed back at around 1pm and stopped at another Irish pub just 3 doors down from the hotel for a lunch of bangers and mash. The hoarding outside said that it was a lunch special for $10, but when the bill came, it read $16. It turns out I was having Brunch, because it was Saturday. Lunch is only weekdays – you gotta read the fine print. But still, it was worth it as it was the best meal I have had in the USA. I got back to the hotel at 3pm, Carolyn turned up at 5.30, having gone the wrong direction on the way there, came out of the station on the way back so had to buy another ticket, hadn’t taken the address of the hotel so was directed by a policewoman to another Comfort Inn, got lost on the way back from that and couldn’t get her phone to work to call me. Finally some kind folk in a Deli looked up the hotel and set her in the right direction, but she was about walked out so we went back to the Irish pub and I had the second best meal of the trip so far – Shepards pie that actually had lamb in it (although there was beef as well!)

That’s about it for now. We’re off to the Chelsea Pier  tomorrow to meet up with Dennis and Kathy and board the “Grande Caribe” for our continuation of the Great Loop, up the Hudson and canals to the Great Lakes..

Friday, 8 June 2018

Heading back to the Loop

Sunday 3rd June 2018.
 Arrived good and early (2.00pm) at Auckland Airport for our 7.30pm departure to Houston to find that they wouldn’t open the check-in until the new security folk (TSA) had arrived at 3.30, as there is now an extra level of security for people travelling to the USA. So we had to go hang round the airport till then, and finally got to check in at 3.45 as the TSA folk had turned up late. The plane was chocker, so no upgrade to business class – but a nice flight all the same.

14 hours later, on arrival in Houston we noticed a change in the temperature from home. 12C when we left and 34C when we arrived. We caught the shuttle to Hertz to pick up our rental, and promptly had my credit card declined. To get sorted, we used Carolyn’s card which meant I had to sign up as a supplementary driver, which cost an extra $27. Arrived at the Hotel and found they had us booked in twice – once for one night, the other for three – but at leats my credit card worked. So far things were not going too well. However it was happy hour in the bar ($3 beers and half price appetisers) so things got a bit better after we fed and watered.

Monday 5th started as badly as the day before. We went to Walmart to top up our US phones that we bought on our last visit. So we purchased  2 top-up cards for $19.99 each, but at the end of the update, the phones said “unregistered SIM”. We showed this to the sales guy, who said we had to buy new SIM cards at $9.99 each – so we did, and we got him to fit them and make them work….which they didn’t!!! So he rang the supplier, Tracfone, and patiently waited 45 minutes to talk to a technician. After 15 minutes of discussion the conclusion was that the 2 year old phones were obsolete and we would have to buy new ones. This Walmart did not have the $19.99 replacement in stock, so we decided to call it quits, get our money back, and go start again at another Walmart. HOWEVER…in his attempts to make everything work, the sales guy had managed to redeem one of the top-up cards onto one of the unusable SIM cards, and Walmart could only give us a credit for one of them, and the 2 SIM cards. So off we went to another Walmart, $19.99 (plus tax) down the tubes and bought 2 new phones, with cards, and got them to make them work before we left, which takes about 15-20 minutes to set up. How come Jason Bourne or James Bond can just walk into a convenience store and buy a phone walk out and use it, then just throw it away, without all this hassle –  but  at least my credit card worked the whole time during all of  these transactions. And, BTW, it reached 39C that day!

That pretty well soaked up the first day and jetlag took up the rest, so we deferred our site seeing/shopping until the following day, Tuesday 6th. This was a trip to Johnson Space Centre, about 1 hour south of our hotel while Carolyn went to the Tanger Outlet Mall about 10 minutes further on. Just 2.9 miles short of the turnoff to the mall we ran into gridlock caused by a prang on the freeway, which took 20 minutes to get past. Then after dropping Carolyn off, I returned to the freeway only to run into another prang 2.9 Miles from Johnson Space Centre!  Anway, finally got there, did the tour and bought the T-shirt. It’s a bit different to how it was last time I visited about 16 years ago. Like most of these things these days, it is targeted towards kids – but I suppose they are the upcoming taxpayers and NASA has to keep them interested enough to continue to get money from them.

Finding Carolyn at the Tanger Mall was no problem because, of course, we had phones to ring each other that worked.

Wednesday 7th and it was “off to the big apple” and, again, it started badly. First was my own fault for wearing shorts with metal domes on them which ended up with me having to go through the Homeland Security Xray machine. Then we got to check-in at United to find we had no seat assignments, despite having confirmation printouts from Air NZ showing seats 12C and D were assigned to us. Of course they blamed Air NZ and told us to recheck at the gate and, even though the plane was overbooked, they were sure we would get seats! Anyway, it turned out that we got seats – just not the ones we booked – and they gave us priority boarding as a fob-off (which is actually really useful on full flights because there is never enough space for the overhead luggage unless you get on first).
However, it was a pleasant flight, it was much cooler in New York, the Hotel shuttle arrived quickly and took us to a pleasant hotel with excellent staff – even if it is across the road from one of the biggest cemeteries in New York. 

The hotel didn’t have a restaurant, but they had a real good arrangement with local restaurants of all types with delivery service – we opted for Chinese from “Yummy Yummy” which was delivered in  about 10 minutes and was…….(yummy).

We have since moved into the City proper, but more about that in a few days.