Updated 05/23/2012 07:10 PM
Stranded ship returns to Erie Canal
Ship captains go to great lengths to steer clear of stormy weather, but sometimes there's no avoiding it. YNN's Matt Hunter has the story of a ship that returned to the Erie Canal on Wednesday just a matter of months after it was stranded there last summer.
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WATERFORD, N.Y. – Since 1967, Blount Small Ship Adventures has given passengers the chance to see America up close.
"My family's heritage is from this area from New York to Pennsylvania to Ohio, so this is like retracing my own family history," said Nancy Burke, a California resident who, along with her husband, Skip, is taking a 15 day cruise.
Starting in Rhode Island and ending in Chicago, the company's cruise liners pass through New York's historic Erie Canal each summer.
Last year, when Tropical Storm Irene and the remnants of Lee roared through, one of the line's most prominent vessels, the 184 foot Grande Mariner, found itself stranded.
"Obviously it wasn't a fabulous situation to be in, but I think we made the best of the worst case scenario," said Nancy Blount, the company’s president.
"We lost three lock houses, two power houses, untold tons of debris, bridges washed out," New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian Stratton said.
With a 55 mile stretch of the canal too damaged to allow traffic, the boat remained stuck in Western New York for two months before it was finally able to return home in November.
Six months later, the Grande Mariner was back on the Erie Canal Wednesday, making its first trip through the Capital Region since last fall.
"We were happy to get our boats back on Thanksgiving and we're back again for, hopefully, a very successful season," said Blount, whose father founded the company 45 years ago.
Like every other boat in the fleet, the 96 passenger Grande Mariner is tailor made for the Erie Canal. With precise specifications, they can squeeze into every lock and under every bridge with just enough room to spare.
Thanks to the hard work of cleanup crews, the ship will continue on that annual journey.
"This is our second time on this cruise line and we really enjoy it. We get to see parts of America that we don't normally see," Burke said.
According to Stratton, the canal sustained roughly $50 million worth of damage during Irene and Lee. He says while most of the repairs have been made, it will take several years to finish the entire cleanup project.