The Man’s Trip
Story By Chris Landers
Photos By Renere Lopez
Published: Summer 2012
A father and son from California take a leap together, and set out on an exploration of the Hudson River
There was a lot Renere Lopez didn’t know when he set out on his cross-country truck, boat, and train odyssey. Mosquitoes, for example, were a revelation to the lifelong Southern Californian, and at one point there was a large rock … ah, but let’s talk about the rock later.
Lopez is the secretary of the Balboa Sail and Power Squadron in Newport Beach. In 2010, his son Brandon had just graduated from middle school. Their plan was this: Lopez would trailer Bad Striper, their 24-foot Seaswirl, from California to New Jersey, and, after some shuffling around of the truck and trailer, meet Brandon at Newark Airport. That part went more or less according to plan, except for a train trip from Sturgeon Point Marina, in Evans, New York, to Buffalo after dropping the trailer off on the shores on Lake Erie. That turned into a bus ride (there are, it turns out, no trains from Sturgeon Point to Buffalo). Brandon arrived smoothly, anyway, and the pair set out up the Hudson River for a little while. Then the "check engine” light on their 200-horse Evinrude came on, and they were dead in the water. TowBoatUS towed them to the nearest marina, which, it turned out, didn’t do Evinrudes. Another tow brought them into the capable hands of mechanic James Gogan, who quickly diagnosed the problem (clogged cooling hoses) even after closing time at TZ Marine and sent them on their way.
This brings up one of the best parts of the trip for Lopez: the people he met. He says he’s pretty outgoing by nature, and New Yorkers treated him with stereotypedefying friendliness wherever he went. "I have no problems talking to anyone,” he says, "and I was really excited about what I was doing, so I was able to draw people into my adventures, and they were more than willing to help."And so strangers, on this trip, became "friends for life."
The view from Jersey
Local knowledge proved invaluable for the father and son as they progressed up the river toward Lake Erie. Lopez suggests asking at fuel docks about the next leg of the river. Advice from a fuel-dock owner allowed them to avoid a huge, unmarked rock in the channel, and other hazards that didn’t appear on the charts. "It’s a river," Lopez says. "Even though the Army Corps of Engineers surveys it every so often, it’s still a river. It changes."
A copy of the Cruising Guide to the New York State Canal System and Richardson’s Chartbook and Cruising Guide to the Hudson River also proved useful, not just for navigating, but for appreciating what they saw along the way. The pair took it easy, leaving the dock in late morning and stopping in early afternoon, which left plenty of time for sightseeing and picture taking. Lopez says he wouldn’t attempt the trip without a second person, and the fact that the second person was his teenaged son made the trip that much better. "When my son got out there, he was really quiet," Lopez says. "I didn’t quite know if he was going to enjoy it at all. As I go through the pictures, I can see his whole demeanor change."
One day in particular stands out, notable because it was Brandon’s 15th birthday. Lopez had gone into town to recharge cell phone and laptop batteries, and Brandon called him from the boat. They were blocking the launch ramp, and some other vessels needed them to move. "You need me to get back there and do it?” Lopez asked.
"No, dad, I can do it,” he said. "Okay, son, go ahead,” Lopez said. "I was really proud of him for that,” the father recalls. "He took this 24-foot boat and maneuvered it, and figured it out on his own, without me even being there. It was like watching him grow. And it was his birthday, too.”
Bad Striper left the Hudson for the Champlain Canal, heading to Lake Champlain for a few days before turning around to enter the Erie Canal. This brings up another point Lopez would like to stress. When you have obtained local knowledge from, say, a fuel-dock owner, and used that knowledge to, for instance, avoid a large submerged rock that doesn’t appear on the chart, make sure you mark it on the chart for the return trip.
Striper was within sight of Lock Two, down bound for Troy, New York, when they hit the spot on the map where the rock wasn’t. They also hit the rock at about 21 knots, damaging the lower unit and mangling the propeller. After limping the boat to the Erie Canal and spending $5,000 to fix the engine, Striper continued on to Lake Oneida, where continuing engine problems forced them to abandon the trip 200 miles east of their goal. They caught a ride from a friend to pick up the truck and trailer near Buffalo, returned to Albany to truck west for the last leg of the trip.Lopez kept a blog of their trip (called "The Man’s Trip"), and he uses it to do presentations back at the Power Squadron, that type of thing. He can’t read the last post without tearing up a bit, so he gets a friend to do it. In that post, he goes through the last bits of the drive and ruminates on the difficulty of getting gas through long stretches of the Western states, thanks everyone he met along the way, and then he and Brandon sign off, "until our next journey …”
That journey will be this summer, when Renere and Brandon Lopez head back east to finish the trip they started (and beyond, heading north into the St. Lawrence River). That’s still just a warmup, though. In 2014, the father and son, along with others this time, plan to take a 42-foot catamaran into the Pacific for "around 12 or 14 months.” That blog already has a working title: "Sabbatical From Life."