To Witness the World From the Water

The sun was shining, the water looked beautiful, and Tom Basher was filled with optimism the morning he and his wife set out on their long-anticipated boating adventure. With months of planning behind them, Tom knew this was going to be a trip of a lifetime and couldn’t wait for it to begin.

Having spent his youth on the banks of the Hudson River and at his family’s beach house on the Atlantic, the water had always captivated Tom – and a passion for boating was instilled in him at a young age.

The Trumansburg couple had made several overnight trips on their boat, but never anything like this. They’d journeyed from Cayuga Lake to Seneca Falls and even to Watkins Glen, but that was the extent of it.

When Tom, 36, began telling people of his plan to take his boat from Treman Marina in Ithaca to his beach house in New York City, he found that others were a bit on the skeptical side.

“Most people thought we were nuts,” said Tom of the 410-nautical-mile trip, one way. “Most people don’t boat more than a few miles.”And most people don’t realize the interconnectedness of New York State waterways.

Making Plans
Using a book his wife Karen, 35, bought him for Christmas, plus Google Maps and New York State canal system maps, it wasn’t difficult to discover a route that connected the Finger Lakes, Erie Canal, and Hudson River with the Atlantic.

“This trip is like the holy grail to Upstate New York boaters,” Tom said. “Most people don’t have the time, energy, or wherewithal to make a trip like that. We always talk about it – we decided we’d actually do it.”

The Thanksgiving before setting out on their journey, Tom and Karen were visiting Tom’s uncle at his cottage not far from the beach home that has been in the family for nearly 50 years. After discussing it with him, the adventuresome couple started plotting their course.

“We kind of knew how far we could get on a days’ travel,” said Tom. They knew they could boat between eight and 12 hours a day, traveling 100 to 150 miles. They would take food to cook on the boat and would stop at various marinas along the way to sleep and recharge their batteries – both literally and figuratively.

On Friday, June 5, 2009, their plan was in place. “We told so many people that we were going to do it,” Tom said. “We weren’t going to back down.” With well-wishers at the dock to see them off, the couple took to the waters of Cayuga Lake in their 28-foot Sea Ray, the “Nautiest” (the third in a succession of boats, the first two being “Very Nauty” and “II Nauty”), headed for the Erie Canal.

“Cayuga Lake took us up to the Seneca-Cayuga canal system,” said Tom. “Then that dumped us into the Erie Canal, which we took east to Syracuse. After crossing Oneida Lake, the rest of the trip was on the Erie Canal to Albany. Then the Hudson River took us to the Atlantic.”

“You can really get anywhere in the world,” Tom said.

A Whole New View
During the several days they spent traveling to New York City, Tom and Karen were able to view New York from a completely different perspective, seeing things most people never get to see, Tom said.

When they weren’t traveling through locks – 24 to be exact – they were soaking up the landscape and taking hundreds of pictures. “It was really neat to experience things from the water,” Tom said.

In addition to wildlife, Tom and Karen saw West Point, Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, one of the world’s longest suspension bridges.

One of Tom’s favorite parts of the trip was traveling down the Hudson alongside a flotilla of replica ships celebrating the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s exploration.

On Monday, June 8, the views of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and Coney Island were surpassed only by the sight of Tom’s uncle rowing out into Jamaica Bay to greet them.

“He came out in his wooden dinghy to pick us up,” said Tom. “He was shocked that we made it and that we did what we said we were going to do. We put our feet on the beach and were just happy to be there.”

Tom and Karen spent the next two days at the family beach house.

“We couldn’t stop talking about it,” said Tom. “We were in a restaurant and you could see the boat – everybody was pointing to it and talking about it.”

Costs and Concerns
Using the copious notes on their maps and knowledge of where to stop for gas, the trip home went a bit more quickly. Tom and Karen decided to end their journey at a repair shop on Oneida Lake, where problems with a leaking oil pump were fixed.

“We knew we had the problem,” said Tom. The pump got a quick fix before the trip, but it wasn’t going to last forever.

Aside from this concern, Tom was always a bit nervous something could go wrong along the way. “When we’re on the lake, somebody can tow us in,” he said, “but there’s nobody to call to come get you when you’re 400 miles away.” Even though it was nerve-wracking, Tom admits it made it more exciting as well.

Over the course of their trip, they spent about $1,200 in gas. Tom recalls that gas prices were roughly $3.70 on waterways.

“It seems like a lot of money for gas, but we brought our hotel room with us,” he said. “We didn’t pay for anything other than fuel. It’s a small price for a 10-day vacation for two, on a boat, seeing things that most people never get to see.”

A Word of Advice
For anyone so inspired to make a nautical journey of his own, Tom has a little advice to share. “You’ve got to be a real boater,” he said. “You’ve got to have a 24-to-26-foot boat minimum, with at least a bedroom and a small place to cook.” He also suggests taking shorter trips first, even some overnighters, to see if it’s for you. Plan both the route and finances – and be prepared to be flexible.

In addition to a love for boating, you have to love the person you share your boat with. “You’re going to be in close quarters for quite some time and you’ve got to be able to get along and deal with anything that comes up,” he said. “We did a pretty good job of it. Eight days together on a small boat and still married!”

Although both he and Karen were exhausted when they got home, Tom would love to do it again, especially with other boaters. Next time, Tom would like to travel toward Buffalo and then to Lake Champlain, but for now, he and Karen are “loving the Finger Lakes, our time on our boat, and each other.”

Tom said if there’s anything he’s taken away from this experience, it’s that life is there to be lived. “You have to experience things, take chances, and step out of your comfort zone,” he said. “Do what people say can’t be done, and do it with someone you love.”


by Kimberly Price