Sunday, October 8, 2017

Locked Up

September 22, 2017

The only memory I have from my high school physics classes is the Ripple Tank study.   I recall clear tanks of water the size of small, shallow aquariums where we studied wave mechanics.   Somehow we would set the water in motion, waves would hit the end of the tank, come back on one another, and create waves over waves.  I liked that part.  We soaked the class I’m sure.  We were expected to observe wave structure (crest, trough, wavelength) and if I remember correctly, velocity (speed), angles of incidence (the wave travelling towards the wall), reflection (the waves bouncing off), and interference (when two waves meet).  I struggled with the formulae measuring those angles, wondering what the sense was of studying waves in such detail and where the numbers belonged that described all of the wave phenomena.  I should have paid much more attention to this theory of Wave Interference: when two waves meet, the combined height of the new wave is double the initial height of the original two.

After crossing Lake Ontario in mid September, I drove our boat into our 65th of 74 locks in the past three weeks.  We were in the Erie Canal system in Northern New York State, having motored through the Canadian Trent Severn Canal system north of Lake Ontario.  Craig and I have the lock passage routine down pat. 
- Motor up the chute to the entrance of the lock. 
- Radio the lock master. 
- Wait for the steel door to bang and rattle open and the green light signal from the lockmaster. 
- I drive the boat into the lock structure (concrete or rock walls) and up to within inches of one of 10 or so cables or ropes along the lock wall. 
- From the bow, Craig grabs one of the ropes/pipes with a boat hook, ties it up, and runs to the stern to tie to another one. 
- Once he signals to me, I hurry down to the inside helm and shut down both engines. 
- I run back out to the stern and grab the line wrapped around the cable. 
- Craig returns to the bow and hangs on to the rope.
- Water raises or lowers.
- Doors bang open, I run back in and start the engines, Craig pushes us off the wall and out we go.

The height of the lock can be anywhere from 3 feet to 47 feet and the last five locks of the Erie Canal (called “The Flight” because they are only a few hundred yards apart) at the town of Waterford take us down 140 feet of elevation.   The lock steel doors slam shut and we begin the push-me-pull-you dance with the ropes as the boat squeezes against the lock wall or swings out into the lock.  Sometimes it is uneventful and we stand for 10 minutes or so as the lock empties or fills and we rise or fall.  At other times, we push the boat off with all of our might or hang like Tarzan to keep the boat from swinging into the middle of the lock.  Sometimes as the water empties and the boat lowers, freshwater mussels living on the wall squirt water into our eyes as we are holding the ropes. 

By lock 65 (#9 on the Erie Canal), I was getting smug.  I usually steer the boat slowly into the lock and let it drift towards the wall.  This time I roared us in, thinking I could hurry things along.  Our speed brought the boat wake waves into the lock with us and the waves banged against the forward wall of the lock.  Angles of Incidence.  The waves came back and rocked us against the wall.  Angles of Reflection.  Not a problem, except that the back lock doors were closing so there was nowhere for those waves to go except to keep running into and over one another.  WAVE INTERFERENCE We found ourselves sitting in a giant wave tank as my smugness rolled back and forth under us, waves over crested waves, rocking us against the wall.  It took several minutes for the waves to subside.  Velocity.  Craig did not need to say I-told-you-so. 

Another interesting type of lock is the Lift Lock, of which the Trent Severn Canal system has two.  The Peterborough lift-lock elevation change is almost 20 metres (65 feet) and the original was built in 1904.   It is the world’s highest hydraulic lift lock, and operates on a balance system.  There are two large pans of water that balance one another out as one lifts and the other lowers.  We just float into one of the pans and enjoy the panoramic views of Peterborough as we are lowered.  It can be somewhat harrowing pulling the boat up to the edge of the pan at 65 feet and it takes only a couple of minutes for the lock to lower us into the bottom river.

Peterborough lift lock
View from the top of the lift lock

2017 was a great year to travel the Trent Severn and Erie Canal systems.  With Canada’s 150 celebration and the Trent Severn operated as a national park, we did not have to pay the fee of several hundred dollars.  
Lock attendant in Trent Severn opening the gates with a hand turning gear system.
They walk in circles pushing the handle and the gates open or close.
We were pleasantly surprised to find the same fee waiver as the Erie Canal system
celebrates its 200th year.  Horses or mules pulled the barges from shore through the canals of the early 1800’s and the animal paths can still be seen along today’s canals.    

We finished our last lock with a four day respite in Waterford, New York.  Only a 20 km bike ride from the state capital of Albany, we had the chance to ride up and down the Hudson River from Troy to Albany knowing we would soon be on the Hudson and heading to NYC.

Albany: Best doughnuts 
SUNY on the Hudson River

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Roches et Arbres

Craig has grown tired of my constant rendition of the Arrogant Worms’ song that sums up Canada perfectly:
We have rocks and trees and trees and rocks and rocks and trees and trees and rocks and…WATER.

Coming from central Alberta where we flock to a few sloughs for lakes, I am surprised by Ontario's vast aqua-geography.  Water-front properties are a dime a dozen, and we have had the chance to motor through lakes, rivers, and canals to our hearts' content.  
Our chart plotter through north Georgian Bay

Sixteen months ago, we arrived in Midland, Ontario, from Florida, attempting to join a flotilla of other PDQ’s.  Nestled in a quiet bay on the far-east end of Lake Huron, Midland is a watered gateway to Georgian Bay, a northern arm of the Lake.  Lord Simcoe’s touch is everywhere.  As a former officer for the British in the American Revolutionary War, Simcoe was commissioned as the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada in 1791.  He named Lake Simcoe after his father, although I’m not sure how one would distinguish its name for the elder Simcoe.  The townships we frequented of Tay, Tiny, and Flos were named after Lady Simcoe’s dogs.  We recently zoomed across the 30 km long Lake at 13 knots on our third day out from Midland, listening to radioed sightings of water spouts which were somewhat of a mystery since it was a sunny day.  Lake Simcoe can whip up quickly, and we took advantage of some calmer waters to cross from Orillia in the north back into the canal system at Lock 41.

Alberta Crewed spent last winter in a warm boatyard quonset.   We left her at the dock of very generous friends for the summer, and are now in the race to beat the closing of the locks.  We have to get her out of the Canadian and American canals before October 11 as we head south to spend the winter in Florida and Bahamas.  This means travelling back through over 150 Canadian and American locks and through hundreds of kilometers of Ontario lakes, rivers, and canals.  Another I-had-no-idea.  I knew we had a few canals and locks in Canada.  We have 7 historic canal systems, dozens of other recently constructed canals with locks across the country, and some of the oldest and most unique locks in the world.  For example, The Big Chute which was our second one out is a marine railway lock.  We float into a barge-like vessel and settle into large cradles.  The barge then rises out of the water, while we swing in the cradles, and travels along railway tracks.  At the end, we are lowered off of the cradles into the water and off we go. 
Big Chute Railway Lift Lock

Canals were the original pre-auto, pre-railway freeways and opened up lucrative trade routes between waterways, reducing back-breaking portages and over-land hauling of goods.  The Trent-Severn Waterway of rivers, lakes, and canals connected by 44 locks is now a pleasure-craft route and designated as a national park.  Our views are forested narrow channels, winding rivers lined by grasslands and farms, and massive Canadian Shield bedrock.  Days and days of "Rocks and trees and trees and rocks and rocks and trees and trees and rocks and…..water."

Inside the lock walls, waiting for the water fill to raise us.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Swallowed Off More Than We Could Chew

Still Pond, Maryland

Dear Ms. And Mr. Barn Swallow,

I am humbly writing to you about your children, whom you must be frantic about.  They are safe, but not anywhere near you, I’m afraid. 

When Craig and I arrived back to our boat in Pasadena, Maryland from Canada last Thursday after midnight, we had a lot on our minds trying to get the boat ready to leave the next day.  We were on a fast track to get up to Ontario from just outside of Baltimore where we would leave Alberta Crewed for the rest of the summer.  As we scrambled around provisioning and cleaning on Friday, we saw one of you perched on our lifelines but didn’t think much about it.  All kinds of birds like you perch there off and on.  We managed to leave the marina at 5:00 pm to get a few miles behind us and were at a quiet anchorage by 7:30 PM in Still Pond, Maryland.  We had crossed the Chesapeake Bay in light winds although a few boat wakes rocked us around. 

We were hot and tired so decided to go for a swim in our still bay, even though the water was only waist deep.  We measured 6 inches between our keel and the sandy bottom.  As Craig checked the anchor, he yelled up at me, “Hey, I see a nest under our foredeck.  And I can hear chirping.  I see a head!”  Ms. And Mr. Barn Swallow, I know what you were thinking when you built that nest.  Quiet boat, end of the dock, hidden from other birds of prey.  Perfect.  

It didn’t work out how you wanted it to, but many things worked in your children’s favours.  The strength of your construction meant that the nest and babies survived that rocky Chesapeake Bay crossing.  The anchorage water was shallow so I sat on Craig’s shoulders and chiseled the nest off of its perch.  I could see how the nest would have held through all kinds of rocking around with its hard mud mixed with dense grasses and twigs, and long tentacles of mud attaching it to the hull shelf.  When we set it into our basket, we saw your four chicks with mouths open.  We were awestruck and somewhat bewildered as to what to do and hoped there had only been four to start with.

Feeding seemed to be urgent but we had no idea how to care for them.  Luckily for your little ones, my sister Colleen is good friends with Erin whose mom runs the Medicine River Wildlife Centre in Caroline, Alberta so I put in an emergency call.  I knew about this Centre through Colleen’s stories of rescuing owlets, moose calves, and baby beavers.  I went with her once to release an owlet who had recovered in Erin’s Calgary basement.  They are a fiercely dedicated group and have saved thousands of animals. 

While Colleen tracked down information, I did some google searching on rescuing wild chicks, with some websites telling me to forget it, since most birds don’t make it to their first year under normal circumstances.  What could we do while floating in a boat without access to any supplies?  We were determined not to give up.  Ms. and Mr. Swallow, your babies were loud and strong. 

Colleen called back within a few minutes with the following information:
-       The priority is to keep them warm. 
-       Using an eyedropper, get water mixed with honey into them to rehydrate.
-       Feed cat food to them with tweezers every half hour, putting it into their throats.
-       Keep their beaks clean, as they are prone to infection from food left on their beaks.
-       Their chances of survival are greater with four of them.
-       They poop in a sac and the adult birds take these away so we would have to do the same.

With those directions from Erin, we layered our propped-open cooler with towels, and put warm water into our water bottles and Ziploc bags under the towels.  I didn’t have an eyedropper but just a spoon worked and they sucked on it to grab the water. 

I softened dry cat food in warm water and began the feedings (we will replace it Rusty, I promise).  I couldn’t find our tweezers so just pushed the food in with my baby finger.  Truthfully, we weren’t sure they were going to make it.  They had some downy feathers but were very tiny. 

As feedings went on, we learned the following:
-       there is a short window with mouths open, usually as soon as the cooler lid opened or I moved my hand in.  They then dozed off immediately so sometimes I opened the lid a few times to get them to feed.
-       the nest and birds were covered with mites.  I knew this from nests we’ve had around our house but they crawled up my arms every time I fed the birds.  The babies crawled out of the nest and I threw it out but kept everything outside.
-       We had to work to keep them cool as much as to keep them warm.  Our daytime temperatures were over 90 degrees and they were in our cooler so we kept it propped it open with a light breeze getting in as the day heated up.  The hot water bags cooled it down.

I got up a few times in the night, expecting the worst but all four mouths gaped open.  We laughed when the first pooped out a white sac of feces.  With the nest gone, we lined the basket with paper towels and added layers every hour.  I picked up the birds in a heap, added the towels, and set them back in.  It didn’t have the drainage capacity of that terrific nest you had built but Erin had said to keep their heads elevated and the paper towel could be shaped properly.  There was a smaller baby on the bottom of the heap that needed prodding to eat and drink but we kept on this one and it stayed with us.  We wondered if it was getting weaker but every once in awhile, its mouth would burst open and we were ready with food and water. 

We pulled anchor on Saturday morning to head to Cape May, expecting to take our new guests all the way to Canada.  We moved the cooler to our upper fly bridge as feedings continued while underway.  Your babies seemed to keep up their energy, sleeping in between feedings.  They opened their eyes when we looked in.  I wondered what they saw.  Mid day, I got a call from Kathy from the Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in Medford, New Jersey.  Erin’s mom had connected with her, and she happened to have a home in Cape May.  Kathy called a friend to pick up the birds for transport to the Wildlife Refuge.

Mom and Dad Swallow, we were ecstatic and only had the Delaware River to motor to get your babies to the ambulance.  We ended up with a quiet day, feeding and watering, changing paper, and watching temperature.  Smugly, we entered the Cape May canal with four thriving birds.  If you don’t know anything about boats, they hate smugness and slap their crews hard when they smell it.  The narrow canal was filled with weekend pleasure boats who refused to slow down and several times, rocked our boat to the point where things flew, including us and the birds.  One huge wave knocked us so hard that I slid to the other side of the fly bridge on my face, the cooler knocked over, and the babies tumbled out.  Craig and I wept as we gathered them up, cursing the rotten eggs on the other boats. The birds sat still in the basket for a few minutes but eventually popped open their mouths for food and water.

At the marina, Warren and Claudia, avid bird watchers and experts, collected our charges and whisked them away.  The fed them mealworms, and reports from the Center tell of lively and healthy birds.

The bonus for us was an evening with Warren, Claudia, and their friends at a fundraiser for the New Jersey Audubon Nature Centre of Cape May.  Ms. and Mr. Swallow, your babies are now infamous, and we wish you and them good health and long lives.  Thank you for your lessons.

Love Laurie and Craig

PS: We are awed by and tremendously grateful for the work of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre, the Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge, and the New Jersey Audubon Nature Center of Cape May.  Ethics of care for and reverence of the natural world drive their work, and they are relentless.  Warren and Claudia, as you said Claudia, we now have two new friends we have known all of our lives.  See you in the fall on our trip back.  


Fundraiser for the Nature Center

New Old Friends