Friday, August 31, 2007

Philosophy, canals, economics... warning, you may want to skip this one

When the Winnie W passed thru the C&D canal, I (Doug) wrote a short blog entry on the history of this canal. We were hurrying then, but if you’ve got a few minutes now, let’s consider some more history along with economics, philosophy, and some Big Thinks.

In fact let’s start with the Big Thinks- consider the rise of civilization. There we were, naked in the woods, eating grubs & berries… then all of a sudden we have video games & hybrid cars. Life has changed very dramatically! Well okay, it wasn’t all of a sudden. In fact it happened in a long series of stages that are easy to identify. Along the way, somebody had to domesticate animals, discover how to control & use fire, invent the wheel, and all that.

The development of canals for large scale freight was a key stage in mankind's transition from huddling in caves to using cell phones. Canals were the single biggest factor in changing the way most people live, a far bigger factor than the wheel. This may sound like a stretch, but it’s true: prior to the development of railroads (not to mention inflatable tires and Macadam roads), the tonnage carried by wheeled transport was insignificant compared to the tonnage carried by water…. including canals.

This photo shows a perfectly straight stretch of the canal west of Chicago linking Lake Michigan with the Illinois and ultimately the Mississippi Rivers. I apologize for the non-photogenic nature of this post.

History blah blah blah- canals go way back. They were built by the ancient Egyptians & Mesopotamians for irrigation. But that fits into the “Rise of Civilization: Agriculture” Big Think more than the transportation/canals Big Think. Canals for freight transport were built by the Romans and Chinese, which is still pretty far back. The Romans used barges & flatboats to carry construction stone, which made reduced the time & labor required to build bridges & roads…. sort of bootstrapping their transport network…. more on this later.

But if the river & canal transportation was so good, why did they bother to build roads & bridges in the first place? That’s obvious, it’s difficult to make water go up & over hills. As time went along however, man’s technology progressed to the point of being able to construct a waterway that went up hills! Several ancient & medieval canals had dams & single gates to allow boats to pass. But this was not such a good solution, since the change in water level meant that the boat had to go up or down a small waterfall… better than going up or down a large waterfall, it’s true. Around 1400AD Dutch built some canals which used double gates at changes in water level, but the gates were difficult to control, they leaked, and they built large pools between the gates that flushed excessive amounts of water out of the system with each level change.

Leonardo Da Vinci considered the problem and designed what is basically a modern lock gate.
(link to Leonardo, Languedoc, and the Lock Gate)

“How A Modern Canal Lock Works” (link)

As a couple hundred years went by… medieval times gave way to the Renaissance, and new ideas with new technology are flourishing. More than that, trade & commerce are growing fast. People are using paper money and the world of finance is growing increasingly sophisticated.

One of the new ideas which is being applied is ‘economy of scale.’ This is a basic economic concept, familiar to most of us, that says it is more efficient to do large amounts of the same type of work…. and it was beginning to occur to people that this applies to transportation as well. Port cities were spending lots of money improving their harbors & docks, and King Louis XIV built the first modern canal across southern France, connecting the Atlantic coast with the Mediterranean.

Canal du Midi link

This bring us forward from the Renaissance into the times of the Industrial Revolution. Many new ideas had been born and caught on widely. The ideas of using machines to do work that men & horses could not do, of large factories to crank out mass quantities of consumer goods, of applying new scientific principles to build things, and most importantly, the idea that man can change the world around him, are pretty much accepted now.

Sometimes the grand irresistible forces that move the broad sweep of history are focused on single incidents that occur to individual people. For example, when an apple dropped from a tree onto Isaac Newton’s head… or when Francis Egerton was jilted by his Irish girlfriend…

Canals of the Industrial Revolution (link)

Francis Egerton, better known as the Duke of Bridgewater, when he lost out in a love affair, decided he would apply himself to his career. Since he was a wealthy nobleman who owned several coal mines, this led to his building a remarkable canal to get his coal to market faster & cheaper. The Bridgewater Canal really did bridge water… the sort of engineering that people said was impossible before it was actually done. And the Duke did increase his profits. Not only could he deliver more coal, and do it faster with less labor, but he could also sell cheaper while making a larger profit. This lesson was taken to heart throughout Europe and the British colonies in America.

So now we are well into the Industrial Revolution, with large factories making consumer goods in mass quantities; and a wide spread interest in making & delivering yet more mass quantities... especially delivering, because it doesn't do much good to make them if you can't take them somewhere to sell. Somewhere in this stretch, the American colonies became the United States. And along with industrial development in the U.S., of course there were canals.

By the 1790s there were several canals operating or being built in the U.S. The Middlesex Canal served to connect the busy port of Boston to the Merrimack River, and the farms & small manufacturers springing up in central Massachusetts & northeastern Connecticut. There was work under way to cut a canal from the rivers & bays of North Carolina to the Chesapeake through the Dismal Swamp. There was a canal connecting the Mohawk River to other waterways in north central New York (link), along the same corridor that soon hosted the Erie Canal. There was a canal bypassing the rapids on the St. Mary's River which isolated the rich fur territory of Lake Superior.

But soon, another funny thing happened. Iron was extremely important, a crucial strategic material (actually, it still is, but we tend to take it for granted in this era of titanium & carbon fiber… plus we already have a lot of it just laying around in scrap form). Iron is also very heavy, and it takes a lot of heavy fuel brought to the mill or furnace. This makes the Duke of Bridgewater’s coal-carrying canal not only a very profitable innovation, but a key to increasing iron production. English iron became more plentiful and at the same time cheaper; and this made all varieties of iron tools cheaper & more readily available. By the 1830s, iron was being used to build entire structures like bridges, towers, and ships which would have been unthinkable a few decades earlier.

Here's a second funny thing that increases the importance of canals to bootstrapping an economy into the Industrial Age; however it's a bit beyond the scope of this simple blog post. The main method of iron production prior to the mid-1700s was a method called the "bloom furnace." Trying to be brief, we can describe this as putting a couple of shovel-loads of iron ore (chips of iron-bearing rock) into a closed furnace. This is the earliest form of obtaining metal from ore, going back to prehistoric times. The impurities have a lower melting point and tend to rise as the whole mass melts into a puddle, and the slag form a glassy bloom which is then hammered free of the iron. This is labor intensive and slow.

Another early method of iron production is the blast furnace, in which a continuous stream of iron ore, fuel (coal or charcoal), and limestone, is tipped into the chimney of an already-hot furnace. This dates back to the 1500s at least. With a good supply of fuel and strong combustion air (such as a water-mill powered bellows), this method could produce far more iron in a shorter time. Not only that, the iron was much more likely to be of consistantly higher quality... fewer impurities, more consistant carbon content.

However, when the iron-master's coal supply is a few wagon loads now & then, it is obviously not a paying proposition to begin firing a blast furnace. OTOH if you can count on several barge loads of coal a day, the balance tips heavily towards blast-furnace production.

So this combination of coal & iron mines, with the inspiration to link them with canals, literally handed England the tools to build the Industrial Revolution.

The same thing happened in the United States a few decades later, on a larger scale. The coal and iron mines of Pennsylvania (link) were connected by canal. The James & Kanawha Canal served the rich farms & mills of Virginia and also helped the growth of the Tredegar Iron Works of Civil War fame. The fledgling U.S. became an industrial giant, in part ecause of the good luck of having tremendous raw material resources and the good planning to bring those resources into production effectively. Canal building spread through every state that wanted economic development, and almost every state east of the Rockies has at least one historic canal.

Unfortunately for the canal business, this made possible the building of a tremendous railroad network…. And railroads can carry loads faster, more easily up hill, and during periods of flood or drought or ice… thus the canals of America and England basically put themselves out of business. Although a few canals were still being dug into the 1920s, the economic heyday of canals was in the 1870s and earlier.

Back to the "Big Think." Man is a tool user. To use tools, he has to make tools. We started with rocks and sticks, and very slowly learned to use metals. But metals were expensive and difficult to obtain, enough so that the use of stone & wood tools did not disappear until well after the dawn of the industrial age. ... still used in some places, in fact. But with advent of the canal, man acquired the ability to mass-produce not only goods but the tools to make them; and to distribute them nation wide... and beyond that, since most canal networks eventually led to ocean-front harbors, to facilitate shipping world-wide.

On the Winnie W. we have travelled many canals and will travel many more... some famous, like the Erie Canal, and some almost unknown. In New York City harbor, we moored in the Morris Canal Basin) although the Morris Canal itself is long gone). We've had a first hand look... and had a lot of fun... on the historic remnants of a crucial stage of mankind's development. Without canals, we would never have gotten past a low level of industrial & technological development... we would never have the Internet!

For those few serious history and/or economics buffs... or those who are simply suffering from extreme insomnia.... here are web links to go a little further exploring the topic.

And thank you for listening to what I've been thinking about-


A General Canal Chronology

New Jersey Canals-Morris

New Jersey Canals- Delaware & Raritan


Massachusetts- Middlesex canal

Ohio Canals maps & brief history

Virginia- C&O

James & Kanahwa (link)

Tenn-Tom Waterway (a modern canal)


Illinois & Michigan Canal- a predecessor of the Chicago S&S Canal


Nova Scotia

American Canal Society

National Canal Museum

General canal link, lots & lots of short articles on many many canals

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Headed west, waiting out the water in Joliet

Hello all: Now we're traveling on the rivers.... the Chicago River, the Des Plaines River, and soon the Illinois River... but we have only made it as far as Joliet (link to GoogleMap) where we've stayed the last two days (and probably one more), waiting for the crest of flooding to pass beyond where we'll be after a day's journey further west.
Downtown Chicago has a lot of tall buildings & bridges; heading west from the city we saw a lot more bridges... including a lot of railroad trestles... and an increasing amount of industry & support businesses that rely on water transport. This view shows four bridges ahead of us!

Here is a photo of the Sears Tower from the south west side of the city; we were headed down (you are looking up) the river. We don't know what the brick building on the left is, but it looks like some care & thought went into its architecture.

This landmark... OK maybe a watermark... is the junction of the two canals from Lake Michigan heading west to the Des Plaines River. This view is looking north-east toward the lake; on the right (south) is the "Cal-Sag" waterway (the Calumet and Little Calumet Rivers and Calumat-Sag Channel) which starts at Calumet Harbor on Lake Michigan . On the left is the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal which starts near the Navy Pier in Chicago. The Chicago route has a limited vertical clearance (about 17.5'), so larger/taller boats take the Cal-Sag.

Ever look at a feature on the map, like an island or the spot where two rivers come together, and wonder what it looks like? This is the junction of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal with the Des Plaines River. The Des Plaines has been flooding but is not at a high stage, but you can still see the powerful current.

Along the left, you can see a railroad bridge carrying a freight train with shipping containers stacked double.

Here is some scenery in downtown Joliet: a mural celebrating the towns history, including a depiction of the limestone bluffs that gave the town its start in the quarrying business... at left, you can see a real bluff (I don't know if the photo is clear enough that you can zoom in and see the chisel marks).

Another sight to see in Joliet- the oldest remaining construction in town. This vault was built in 1837 to store bottles. Joliet was where the carbonated drink... soda pop... was invented, and this was the storage vault below the buildings on Bluff Street, the main business street in the 1830s.

And here we are! These boats are cruising the Great Loop, waiting for navigation conditions to improve downstream. Of course we do a fair amount of socializing, and any who need help get ample assistance; for example, someone who rented a car took reps from every boat to the grocery store today (a big highlight for Kathie). Gatherings like this are one of the attractions of cruising.
Doug spent the day repairing the air conditioner (92 degrees here today); after much detective work, he found that debris had clogged the seacock for cooling water, causing overheating and tripping the breaker.

Our best regards to you all,
Doug & Kathie

Monday, August 27, 2007

End of an era...past the Great Lakes

Hello all: It's true, we are in Chicago (that toddlin' town) and finished with the Great Lakes for this cruise. Lake Michigan has been unpleasant to us, often rolling the boat badly enough to throw things around the cabin and occasionally dunking the bow under. The places we've visiting along both sides of the lake have been great but we are relieved to get off the lake itself.

On Friday, August 24th, we docked in Milwaukee. We had a great time meeting friends and sightseeing. We went to an Impressionist exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum which is right on the harbor front. There was an antique car show at the park next to the marina. In all, a great time.
David and Darcy have lived in Milwaukee for several years and it was great to see them. Both are musicians (link to Darcy's website) ; in fact she plays the horn for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. David is a journalist who has written about, among other things, boating.

The art museum is a very striking building, perhaps a work of art all in itself. The current main feature is an exhibit of the Impressionist master Pisarro (link). We got a chance to see many of his works from all stages of his career, including some of his entries into the Salon and other paintings exhibited with the rebellious Impressionists.

From Milwaukee, we went to Waukegan, and from Waukegan, we went to Chicago.

The photo at right shows how the Chicago skyline loomed up out of the mist... the photo does not convey our relief at nearing the end of another rocky-rolly day on Lake Michigan... not much wind today but there was a swell left over from the night & early morning when there were 20 knot winds. Not that we're complaining, as many people in the area have been hard-hit by storms and flooding.

Here is a schooner taking tourists for rides. This tall ship came in from out on the lake, thru the breakwater wall into the harbor, at about the same time the Winnie W did.

There were also many tour boats running around the harbor.

Here is a view of the Chicago Lock gate just beginning to open. This is the entry into the Illinois Waterway system which we'll follow down to the mighty Mississippi.

This lock was put in place in the 1890s at the mouth of the Chicago River, in order to reverse the river's flow; this results in river water that ran thru the city into the Mississippi basin instead of the open waters of Lake Michigan... which also serves as the city's drinking water source.... thus, the official name is the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal.

There is nothing left of the original shoreline; this is the inner harbor basin with the city's police & rescue boats, and work barges. In fact, if you look closely, you can see a barge under the Shoreline Drive bridge here, supporting maintenance crew hard at work on the underside of the bridge.

Glamorous classic yacht or tourist excursion boat? This is the El Presidente (link) which takes skyline-viewing trips around the Chicago River and harbor, but she was built as a private yacht 1939 and served as a naval auxiliary in World War 2. Doug said she is one of the most beautiful yachts he's seen.

This is one of the bridge keeper's houses. Just another bit of classic architecture lost in the big city.

Driving thru the middle of the city was like being in a watery canyon. The GPS reciever complained that it could not hear or see it's satellites...

This is the view aft, showing the Winnie W's mast & antennas folded down, just after going under a bridge. It was very convenient that we did not have to wait for any openings (except one railroad bridge with less than 10' clearance) and the Chicago commuters should appreciate it, too.

So here we are (link to GoogleMap). Tied safely to a wall, checking with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for lock operations & flood stages, hoping to continue tomorrow at least as far as Joliet.

Best wishes to all
Doug & Kathie

Friday, August 24, 2007

Crossing a Big Lake

Hello all: Here is a map to show our route the last week, since we left Beaver Island. Weather has not been favorable, and the zig-zag course we have taken was necessary to keep the bow toward the seas; when waves hit us broadside, we roll! While our boat is comfortable to live on, the engine room is not big enough to install stabilizers.

Here is where we stayed in Manitowoc (link to GoogleMap). You may have noticed that we used
MapQuest previously, but they have just changed the way their website works... or doesn't work, more accurately... so now I am going to revise the links.

Pulling into Manitowoc, we saw the car ferry 'Badger' pulling out. This ship crosses over from Manitowoc to Ludington, Michigan on a schedule during the season.

During World War II, 28 submarines were built in Manitowoc. They reached the Pacific war zone by following part of the Great Loop, through Chicago and down the Illinois & Mississippi Rivers. Then they went thru the Panama Canal and west across the ocean to join the fight. Four never returned and are on 'Eternal Patrol' with their brave crews.

The 'Gato' class submarine USS Cobia was not actually built in Manitowoc, but she is practically identical to those built here. The USS Cobia SS-245 carried out six wartime patrols, was on duty for the Korean War, and then was used as a training vessel for the U.S. Naval Reserve. Now she is a major star of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, which we really enjoyed visiting.

Nothing top secret here, this is the forward torpedo room of the USS Cobia. One can imagine that the crew was eager to shoot all the torpedoes, then they have much more room for their bunks!
Bunks are throughout the ship, and equipment and wiring are throughout living compartments such as the designated bunkroom and eating areas. Incidentally, the submarine service is all volunteer, and some joined because the food was the best in the Navy! The men in the sub force needed to pass various qualifying tests, such as being able to use the Momsen lung (see link) in case of emergency exit from the sub.

Current location, Port Washington Wisconsin.... that's about 25 miles north of Milwaukee, which we're on our way to this morning. If you click on "satellite" or "hybrid" at the upper right of the map, you can see the marina.

(link to GoogleMaps)

Here is a view of Port Washington as we approached the harbor. It's a great port stop, we'd recommend it for cruisers. They had a farmer's market this morning (Saturday) and Hank loved the bike trail.

No kidding, Hank & Doug both loved the bike trail with its creek. Even after four months of cruising they feel compelled to play in the water.

Here is a view looking north-east from the harbor breakwater wall at Port Washington.

Today Saturday we are making a short hop along the Wisconsin shore to Milwaukee, where we will meet a friend's nephew and wife.

We send you all our best wishes
Doug & Kathie

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Manistee MI, then Crossing Lake Michigan

Hello all: We know it's confusing to have two posts on the same day; we've been to Beaver Island, then Leland, and finally Manistee MI over the last 4-5 days, and there's too much info and and too many photos for one post.

We spent two nights in Manistee, hoping for a weather window to cross Lake Michigan to the western shore and Wisconsin. Today we crossed Lake Michigan to Manitowoc WI. It was as bumpy but not as wet as our crossing from Beaver Island, but twice as long!

On the way to Manistee from Leland, we passed the Point Betsy Light. “Sleeping Bear Point” is in the background behind the lighthouse.

Manistee is a small town on a river. You saw a photo of the enormous freighters in the Beaver Island post; believe it or not, a huge freighter came through this river (and opened the bridge where this picture was taken), assisted by a tug on this turn!

When we got to Manistee, Hank was delighted to meet another friend, Danny, who is also a “pound puppy.” Danny is really a puppy, and his owners are helping him to adapt to a “club paw,” largely by carefully supervising his activity as a callous develops to protect the “thumb” without a pad.

The marina has an area especially for dogs.

As you can see, the "club paw" doesn’t slow Danny down a bit! We enjoyed meeting Debbie and John, Danny’s family.

We went to the Manistee County Historical Museum, which is a terrific collection of items reflecting past times in Manistee, including several rooms with dioramas.

Here are some hair curlers! They are the contraption in the middle, with metal curlers suspended from the hat-like top. You can also see a variety of other household items.

The museum is in the building that formerly housed the AH Hyman Pharmacy, and a section is arranged like the old pharmacy, with remedies and potions from the 19th and early 20th century. The building was one of two in town that didn't burn in 1871, coincidentally on the same day as the famous Chicago fire caused by Mrs. O'Leary's cow. The building has interesting features such as a "speaking tube" intercom system, and coal boilers (now natural gas) that supplied heat to adjacent buildings to fund their own utility costs.

Tom, the associate director, was well-informed about items and local history, and showed us a 1930s Lionel train display that he made.

Tom also played the Edison cylindrical phonograph for us!

We went on a trolley tour of the area. The downtown and homes are mostly Victorian buildings with ornamentation and colors typical of that period. There were many prosperous citizens, making fortunes from lumber, transportation, and salt.

One benefactor, Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell, built a theater which has outstanding acoustics even today and has an active schedule.
This was a controversial project, with objection from the town’s ladies about the types of people who would perform in the theater and thus expose citizens to their lifestyles, etc.

The outside of the building is unassuming, but there is a mural on the ceiling inside the theater (painted by Mr. Ramsdell's son, who knew how these civic-minded ladies had harassed his father), that has nude ladies whose faces are those of the ladies who objected to the building of the theater!

Michigan has excellent state marinas every 30 miles along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. However, they all have high docks, which makes boarding tough for unathletic people like me (KK), and even scarier to watch Hank get on and off the boat. Doug made a ramp for Hank before the trip. Here Doug makes the ramp stable, setting the ramp so it goes across the lifelines and stanchions to the dock.

Here’s Hank starting to cross…

And he’s across!

And here he gets off the boat. Fortunately, he’s agile and has no fear (or maybe no judgment!). We hope that he doesn’t fall in, and then decide that is fun!

I (KK) usually board or disembark with one hand on the handrail on the roof, another on the post, and step from the lifeline railing to the dock; Doug bounds on and off!

We are all doing well. Our best to you, Kathie and Doug.