Crossing Oneida Lake

Written by Kayaker Chip on . Posted in The Erie Canal

Chip MacAlpine, Erie Canal, Kayaking, Camping, Oneida Lake

Today was the opposite of yesterday. The morning started off idyllic, it continued through most of the day and then the wind and waves picked back up in the later afternoon as I was trying to make it to Verona Beach State Park and setup camp.

When the lake is calm, it is a glass surface as far as the eye can see. Maybe there are slow, spaced undulations, probably the leftovers from boat wake at the far side of the lake. In either case it’s extremely peaceful and the wide open space is a very different setting then the narrower canal or natural rivers that are part of it. Well, it was peaceful except for these yahoos out in the middle doing donuts and setting off fireworks, ka-BOOM! I’ll keep my distance. The sky had some thin upper level clouds but it was still mostly blue. Staring into a solid colored sky is tough for me. I have a lot of floaters in my eyes and notice them much more in those situation. Although today, there were distinctly others things in the air. Then one comes past a little bit closer, ahh, it’s a monarch butterfly! As I looked around, deciphering what was a floater and what wasn’t, there were lots of them, some flying high above others fluttering along just inches above the water. They were pretty dispersed but over the course of the day I must have seen a few hundred of them, all making the journey south to Mexico. Very cool.

The lake started to pickup mid afternoon. The direction of the incoming waves was favorable at the moment for my easterly travel. Although as I reached the eastern end I would need to head south to find the continuation of the Erie Canal and I would be taking them broadside. As I approached the channel there was this pseudo jetty with motored traffic coming and going. It wasn’t too heavy, but it was constant. The waves had gotten big enough were there were a lot of breakers crashing up against the rocks. I found an opening and darted through, quickly spinning around and falling inline with traffic. Entering the canal, there were many boats lined up on the wall, some actually double and triple parked. I didn’t see any low spots for a kayaker to disembark, except for this wide yellow staircase that said emergency vehicles only. I figured I could get out quick, leash up Sally and then walk her along the wall and find my own mooring before there were any emergencies. Time check, 4pm. Good, plenty of time to walk the mile to the Post Office to pickup my food cache. I grabbed a few things, and was on my way. Both Google and Apple maps had the correct address, but it wasn’t a mile away, it was barely a quarter mile! Back to the boat! The “short” wall still being two feet high or better, mean there really wasn’t an easy way to retrieve my existing dry bags and add the new items I had just retrieved from the post office, so I figured once I got in, I could just pack them around my legs and head off to the state park. I waited for traffic heading out onto the lake to subside and then took my turn. The wind and waves were still coming in from the west. I pushed through and went out past the jetty and downed trees that littered the mouth and then turned to the left taking waves broadside again. As I rounded the corner all I could see was breakers, crash, crash, crash, they were moving swiftly and their spacing was tight. It was kind of too late to turn back into the jetty and head up the canal. Plus I didn’t have a plan for my overnight in that direction. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able navigate south through the crashing surf, although I gave it a try. The shallow nature of the lake mean that occasionally between swells I would bottom out, momentarily stuck, then would be swept sideways with the next wave. This wasn’t going to work, so I turned into it and somewhat rode the waves back in. While the campground would have been nice, all I could see was me tumbling around in the surf food having escaped and floating it’s way to the beach without me. I land in someone’s backyard and as quickly as possible got out and pulled Sally up, trying to keep as little water from getting into the cockpit as possible. I don’t want to lose the food I just got! “No Trespassing” of course. I put the trolley wheels on and started maneuvering across the sand and piles of eel grass to the woods at the property line. Too thick to make it through, plus there was a ditch. I walked the length of the property and rang the doorbell to let the owners know that I would be huffing and puffing as I moved my loaded boat over dry land through their backyard, but no one was home. Sometimes on these longer dry land portages I wish I had two sets of wheels and could make a seventeen foot long skateboard. Oh, well, towards the street I go. Just inside the jetty was what looked like a park although there were again signs posted indicating otherwise. Two women were out walking their dog and I asked if they lived nearby and knew if this area was ok to setup camp. They indicated no, but everyone across the street in the cottages “owned” it and they in particular were the ones who mowed the lawn. They said I could stay the night and they would let the other neighbors know. Time to make camp and see how much got wet!