The 35th Annual “Fairport Canal Days” Festival – Along New York’s Historic Erie Canal

Boats lined up at Fairport Canal Days

Last night we received this great story from fellow Woody Boater Matt Fine on how he spent his day on Saturday classic boating with his family in New York state. While Matt captained the Chris-Craft – his wife captured the photographs…

The 35th Annual “Fairport Canal Days” Festival
by Matt Fine & Family

This weekend is the 35th annual “Fairport Canal Days” festival ( in the village of Fairport, along New York’s historic Erie Canal. The fun way to get there is by wooden boat, so we dropped “Lil Squirt” (our 1962 Chris-Craft 16′ Ski Jet) into the canal at lock 32 and made a leisurely trip of about 8.5 miles through the town of Pittsford, where we live, over to the Fairport docks hoping we could find a spot to tie up.

An engineering marvel in its day, the Erie Canal stretches 363 miles from the Hudson River near Albany to Lake Erie near Buffalo, rising 565 feet. When originally built by hand and animal power in 1817-1825, there were 83 locks to lift the boats over several ups and downs along the path. Today the canal is wider and deeper and the number of locks has been reduced to only 35, allowing us to make our journey without having to pass through one.

"Where the Erie Canal Crosses the Genesee, Rochester, N.Y." (Copyright, 1904, by Detroit Photographic Co.)

Before the railroads and western expansion, the canal served as the country’s biggest commercial corridor bringing farm products to the coast and manufactured goods to the farms and frontier. Today the canal is primarily used for recreation, with a bike and walking path on the north side where the old donkey tow path used to be, and with dozens of parks and recreation areas in the towns along the way.

The first town on our trip was the village of Pittsford where the old flour mill and grain stores in Schoen Place now serve as retail and restaurant space.

Schoen Place Pittsford with short term docking ahead and to our left. The Port of Pittsford with overnight docking, water hookups and shore power is to our right.

Docking space and seating in front, and the “Coal Tower” restaurant in the back.

For those who have not yet purchased a woodyboat, or those whose boat is undergoing restoration, you can rent a houseboat and take a weeklong vacation on the canal, or hop on one of the many tour boats available for scheduled rides our charters. The town of Pittsford serves as the home port for the “Sam Patch” (click here to learn more about Sam Patch) a replica of an 1800’s packet boat, although the original donkey power has been upgraded.

Sam Patch checking out the Chris Craft on the way back to port.

After the Village of Pittsford, the Canal turns South toward Bushnell’s Basin and then heads north again into the Village of Fairport, our destination for the day. Main street was closed to cars, but the lift bridge was full of festival goers as we approached. Our little Chris-Craft was able to pass under the bridge without waiting for it to lift, but Fairport’s tour boat, the Colonial Bell ( is not so lucky.

Making our arrival, the Colonial Bell, the big white boat to the right, is waiting for the bridge to lift so she can come our direction with a load of sight seers.

A wooden boat with a rumbling inboard always attracts attention and we had plenty of opportunities to practice our woody wave. Most people just wave back, but there was one guy on the bridge who was so excited to see us, we got a pair of enthusiastic metal-head devil’s horn gestures.

Lena demonstrates a timid woody wave, as a fan on the bridge gives us the rock star welcome.

We were lucky enough to find an open spot to dock and we went ashore to check out the art for sale and take in our share of fair food. We had corn dogs and gyros, since we did not find the chicken on a stick vendor. While eating our gyros across from where we docked, my wife pointed out that we were one of the smallest boats there. I did not see any other varnished mahogany boats but we passed several wooden cruisers and canal boats.

There were all sizes and styles of boats docked on both sides of the canal. If you squint real hard you might see Squirt, our 1962 16’ Chris Craft Ski-Jet in the center on the far side, looking quite tiny next to the bigger boys.

After enjoying our time at the festival, we hopped back in the boat for the cruise home, stopping half way in Bushnell’s Basin for some ice cream from Rochester area favorite, Abbots Frozen Custard ( The town put in some nice new docks, and with the festival just a couple miles away, we had them to ourselves.

Image Courtesy Abbotts Custard

We ate our ice cream while Squirt takes a rest after escaping the crowds.

A perfect end to a great afternoon of classic wooden boating with our family.

Matt Fine & Family

Thanks for sharing this great story with us here at Woody Boater today Matt. By the way, where is you “Sons of Varnish” tee shirt – a perfect day to fly your colors…


15 replies
  1. Rick
    Rick says:

    Great story and a fantastic way to spend some time with the family. Put your boat next to anything made of plastic and you’ll always be the rock star. Rock on Matt Fine.

  2. WoodyGal
    WoodyGal says:

    Great story Matt! And not one misspelling! Looks like you have some interesting places to stop, eat & hang out. Always a good thing. Good to see more of Lil’ Squirt too!

    • m-fine
      m-fine says:

      I appoligize for the lack of misspelling. I wrote it in MS Word which has an autocorrect feature that strips out my more creative versions of the words and replaces them with the more common form.

      I should have worn the SOV shirt. I totally dropped the ball on that, and I also left the burgee and yacht ensign at home. As Homer Simpson would say, “Doh!”

  3. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    I just dipped the tank with the fuel stick. We averaged a whopping 1.7 mpg while going an average speed of 7 mph. I think most of the big twin engine cruisers do better than that! The jet drive is not exactly at its best below planing speeds!

  4. RiverRat
    RiverRat says:

    Nice trip. I would love to take that trip from the Hudson through the Erie then turn north toward Oswego, the Lake Ontario to the River. More Wood Boats up there.

    • m-fine
      m-fine says:

      You can also turn south toward Cayuga and Seneca to find more wooden boat gems. Or for a real thrill, take the canal all the way to the end and then take the niagara river from lake Erie back to Ontario.

  5. Alex
    Alex says:

    Anyone know the ratio of donkey power to horsepower? Just in case I’m asked someday…

  6. Alex
    Alex says:

    Oh, and m-fine, when you travel at low speeds, it’s poor form to measure mpg.

    On such occasions, you are to measure average dB, because V-8 rumble outranks fuel efficiency.

    Any other measure is irrelevant.

    Expect perhaps Cals consumed / hour.

    • m-fine
      m-fine says:

      The db level was quite high chugging along at 2500+ rpm yet slow enough to get passed by the cyclists on the towpath.

      The reason for the fuel calculation is we actually have to be worried about having enough gas for a 17 mile trip. I am guessing the regular inboard version would be humming along at a fast idle, maybe 800-1000 rpm and burn 1/3 to 1/4 the fuel the jet soaked up. I saw a 1962 ski boat for sale in the iphone app story, so maybe I should buy that one and do a head to head shootout. Hmmm.

  7. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    Thanks for the article, hope Abbots Ice Cream is still there when I get my ’50 41′ DCFB ready to make the trip if a tank of fuel is not more than an ounce of gold. Used to live in Latham, NY and bike down to the Mohawk with my school mates to fish. Saw a dead snapping turtle the size of a trash can lid with prop marks on its back one time, scared the hell out us 12 yr olds.

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