May 17, 2003 / New York, NY to Hyde Park, NY
Although we had originally planned to stop at one of the marinas in Newburgh, we pressed on and went to Hyde Park Marina, covering a total of 77 statute miles for the day. For those of you who've been on the Tombigbee, let us say that this marina is a notch or two above Bobby's Fish Camp, but not much (the restaurant is a little fancier, and you may get to hook up to electricity). Unlike Bobby's, though, you have other choices in the area.
Maggie found a boat ramp and walked down to sample the fresh river water. Hey, no salt! She waded in and wagged. This helped to make up for having to spend eight hours in the boat. She'll give two squirrels to Hyde Park Marina.
May 18, 2003 / Hyde Park, NY to Troy, NY
Everyone in this part of the state who has a boat was on the Hudson today, and they are all going to regret their sunburns tomorrow. The day started very foggy, but once the fog burned off, it was beautiful, if slow going. We should have checked the tide tables, because the river's natural southward current coupled with ebb tide really slowed us down. Took up over ten hours to make 74 miles. Maggie's thoughts must have been: "Will I ever get off this boat? Will I ever see a squirrel again?"
The trees are leafing out, which means that we are encountering lots of pollen, for about the tenth time on this trip--we're calling it the Voyage of the Eternal Spring. Everywhere we go, we see daffodils fading, tulips popping up, blooming dogwoods, and people wearing shorts for the first time after many, many months of winter clothing. Tonight we are staying at the Troy Town Docks, a riverside marina which charges $1.25/foot for dockage. Gas is $1.999; diesel is $1.679--but you can knock off ten cents/gallon if you belong to BoatU.S. Maggie did not like the metal grating stairway she had to negotiate to get off the docks, and there were no squirrels or other interesting critters to find. She'll award a single squirrel to Troy Town Docks.
May 19, 2003 / Troy, NY to Niskayuna, NY
Now that we are entering the New York State Canal System, we get to brush up on our locking skills. We will transit thirty locks in the next few days. A short distance above the Federal Lock in Troy, there's a big sign pointing to the left for the Erie Canal, to the right for the Champlain. We made the left turn, coming into the small town of Waterford, which has nice docks at the Welcome Center, located just below the first official Erie Lock, which is called Lock 2. The first five locks of the Erie Canal System ("the Waterford Flight") are very close together; boats must transit them all without stopping. In Lock 3, you're required to purchase a pass. While you are tied up in the lock, the lockmaster will come to your boat and inquire what kind of pass you want. The price (must pay by cash or check--no credit cards) is keyed to number of days and boat length. A 10-day pass for a 40-foot boat (or longer--this is the top limit) costs $50.00. Boats in the 26-39 foot range can get a 10-day pass for $37.50. Two-day passes are also available, but it's not possible to pass through the canal system that quickly, as there is a ten-mile-an-hour speed limit and the locks close at 5 p.m.
Most of the locks we passed through today have smooth walls, but a couple are pretty rough. The lockmasters have been prompt, attentive, and courteous, and some of them have called the next lock ahead to let them know we were on the way. Because there is no commercial traffic of any kind and no traffic at all after 5 p.m., they let boats tie up for the night on the outer lock walls, many of which have nicely landscaped parks, picnic tables, and grills. Tonight we are staying on the wall at Lock 7, close by a popular trail that is used by joggers, cyclists, and people walking their dogs. A female Labrador retrieving sticks from the river reminded us strongly of Stella. Maggie thinks Stella would agree that the Lock 7 stop merits three squirrels.
May 20, 2003 / Niskayuna, NY to St. Johnsville, NY
We have been disappointed with the currency of information in our cruise guides. We have onboard the 2003 Northern Waterway Guide, Richardson's Hudson River & Adjacent Waterways Chartbook + Cruising Guide, and the New York State Canal Corporation Cruising Guide (copyright 2000). None has been fully up-to-date. For example, none of them mentioned Waterford's Welcome Center docks, and none of them mentioned the new town docks at Amsterdam (we did ask about dockage at Amsterdam--$1.00/foot. Electricity, showers, restrooms, and a small snackbar/grill are available there). You can tie up for lunch, a little shopping, etc., for no charge at Amsterdam. One of the guides showed a town dock at Schenectady Gateway Landing Park, but it has been removed. Two of the guides indicated a marina at Fultonville (Poplars Inn Resort & Marina), but though we saw a sign on the ground, the marina facilities have been removed.
Tonight we are staying at St. Johnsville Municipal Marina ($1.00/foot, no water and tiny-amp electricity on small dock where we were placed, laundry room is closed, restaurants in town are closed). We've decided to always have a Plan B for where we are going to spend the night, and right now, the free lock walls are looking pretty good. Maggie agrees, and limits the squirrel rating for St. Johnsville to one .
May 21, 2003 / St. Johnsville, NY to Herkimer, NY
The town of Little Falls has a daytime-only tie-up wall along the canal in town, and the town looked interesting as we passed. We had planned to overnight at the terminal wall above Guard Gate #4 and make the short walk back to town, but it is being rebuilt and at present has "Keep Out" signs. The construction does not appear to be far enough along to be finished this summer. Plan B took us to the terminal wall at Herkimer, which we expected to be rather bleak, judging from the photo in our NYS Canal Guide. Here we were pleasantly surprised to find a new building ("Gems Along the Mohawk") housing a collection of shops, a nice restaurant (the Waterfront Grille), and restrooms. They opened in November and are still working on the amenities, the landscaping, etc. The shops feature all kinds of gift and specialty items that are manufactured in the region. You can stay for free at present; they expect to charge in the neighborhood of $1.00-$1.25/foot once they get the electricity set up. The staff was extraordinarily friendly and eager to please. Gary was also excited to find a Super Wal-Mart within a reasonable walking distance. If the marina had handed out dog treats, Maggie might have rated them higher; as it is, she'll give two squirrels to Herkimer.
May 22, 2003 / Herkimer, NY to Brewerton, NY
The guidebooks (and this includes the brand-new 2003 edition of the Northern Waterway Guide) are also completely unaware of a new town marina at Utica, located just above green marker 573 and just below the Genesee St. bridge. As we passed, we saw a pumpout station, what appears to be a gift shop or restaurant (something called "Kitty's on the Canal"), 4 electric posts, and a fuel pump (could not tell if they are selling/will sell gas, diesel or both). Looks like a good place to stop, particularly as there was nowhere to stop here before. We did not stop, however, as the winds and weather were conspiring to make it a perfect day to cross Oneida Lake with no waves.
We arrived in Brewerton, on the lake's west end, about 4:30 in the afternoon, with plenty of daylight left to find a free tie-up space on the southside terminal wall, wash down the boat, find a couple of squirrels, and drink a couple of beers while relaxing up on the flybridge. Maggie gives two squirrels to Brewerton.
May 23, 2003 / Brewerton, NY to Oswego, NY
The weather forecasts for the next ten days predict more bad weather than anything else, so we decided to take advantage of the partly cloudy skies and head for Oswego, on the south shore of Lake Ontario. On the plus side, almost all of the 8 locks we transited today were open and waiting for us as we arrived. On the negative side, we had pretty stiff cross winds, which complicated the already difficult job of figuring out whether we'd have lines, poles, or cables to snag for the ride down. The first three Oswego locks had cables, which we like better than the loose lines, but just as we were feeling confident, we hit Lock 5 (there is no Lock 4), and it had only lines. Once you're secured, you get a smoother ride going down than going up, but first you have to get tied up! (Note: if the person handling the lines is not the more muscular member of the team, we recommend that she wear gloves with good rubber grips.)
May 25, 2003 / Oswego, NY to Sackets Harbor, NY
We departed Oswego at 0728 in light fog and light southeasterly winds, hoping that we would encounter tolerable wave conditions in Lake Ontario. The water was fine, but the fog persisted until well after 1000. It's always a dilemma for boaters: When it's foggy, the winds and water are usually calm, but how long will it last? Our radar and GPS chartplotter keep us safely on course and out of the way of other vessels, but we would also like to be able to see where we're going!
Sackets Harbor is a very pretty village whose history is closely tied to the War of 1812. Navy Point Marine (telephone (315) 646-3364) is on the site of the old naval harbor, and it sits beside the old battlefield, where re-enactors stage mock battles every summer. Maggie rates Navy Point a two-squirrel stop. We paid $1.20/foot for dockage, nothing extra for electricity. We enjoyed meeting Dave and Polly Brown, soon-to-be-Loopers (leaving next month) on their Gulfstar trawler Ole Salt, who graciously gave us a tour of the area, including Watertown and Henderson Harbor.
We were advised by marina staff to call Customs even before registering for dockage. There are two pay phones adjacent to the dockmaster's office, and the call is toll-free (1-888-CANPASS). We had no trouble getting our Customs ID # by phone. There are a number of banks very close to the marina for currency exchange. Not many boats here as yet, but as weather improves, that will surely change. Dockage rate is $1.20/ft (CAN), plus $5.00 for 30 amp ($10 if you use twin 30s). They do not accept "day of arrival" reservations, though will reserve in advance. The marina phone is (613) 542-2134. Our cell phone has only a roaming analog signal, but we are in a wireless Internet access zone near Confederation Park, so we can use our wireless LAN card in the laptop to access the Internet. Doggie poop bags are provided, and there are several parks nearby. Maggie thinks that three squirrels are in order.
Kingston is the second oldest city in Canada, with a rich history going back to the establishment of Fort Frontenac in 1673. Many of the limestone buildings were constructed in the 1840s, and there are scores of restaurants, parks, Queen's College, and museums. We will enjoy a couple of days of sightseeing before heading west to the Bay of Quinte.
May 30, 2003 / Kingston, ON to Trenton, ON
At last, clear skies! No fog! A good day to view the northern coastline of Lake Ontario and the Z-shaped Bay of Quinte. We left Kingston at 0708, with calm waters and sunshine for our long run of 71.1 miles to Trenton. Lake Ontario was so deep at its eastern end (we frequently saw 450- to 500-foot depths on the sounder) and yet today we ran through one narrow channel (Telegraph Island) that was only 16-17 feet deep. We'll have to retrain ourselves to keep sharp eyes on the depth gauge; the river bottoms are granite, which is unkind to propellers and hulls. In the afternoon the clouds reappeared and the wind began to build, gusting from the west and signaling the arrival of yet another front.
We arrived in Trenton at 1550, managing a tricky docking with wind and strong river current running perpendicular to each other. Dockage and electricity at Fraser Park Marina for our 40-foot boat cost $42.80 (CAN). There is a small marine supply store a short walk away and two grocery stores (Price Chopper across the river (no credit cards) and a very nice A & P (a short walk but not visible from the waterfront; ask the dockmaster for directions)).
We met a Michigan couple (John and Kathy, on Joie de Vivre, a 390 Searay) who had been taking the Trent-Severn north, but turned around in Rice Lake after they hit rocks, damaging props and shafts. Two boats they had been traveling with continued to Port Severn but hit rocks on leaving Lock 45 going into Georgian Bay. This couple has decided to go home another way and they are going to cross Lake Ontario and take the Welland Canal (the boater's safe alternative to Niagara Falls) into Lake Erie, then all the way around Michigan. We debated what to do--if Georgian Bay is that shallow, should we also reconsider our route? After rereading all our Great Loop materials relevant to the alternate routes, talking to the Trenton dockmaster and some Canadian boaters at the marina, we decided to pretty much follow our original plan to go north, though we doubt we will stay long in Georgian Bay or explore its granite islands.
May 31, 2003 / Trenton, ON to Frankford, ON
We left Trenton at 1010 and entered the Trent-Severn Waterway, where we'll transit forty-four locks over approximately 240 miles. Until June 19, the locks open at 0900 and close at 1600 on weekdays; on weekends, they stay open until 1900. Beginning June 20, the hours are longer: 0830 to 2000 every day. Boaters must purchase a pass to use the system locks, and there are several varieties to choose from, the price predicated on the length of your boat and the number of days: a one-day pass for $1.30/ft (doing as many locks as you can get through in one day, minding the speed limit and the hours of operation); a six-day pass for $4.20/ft; a seasonal pass for $7.35/ft; or our choice, a one-way transit for $3.85/ft.
You can purchase your pass at the first lock (which takes cash, personal checks, or Visa/Mastercard), as well as pick up literature on the canal system. We expressed our concerns about low water to the lockmaster at Lock 1. He volunteered to call Lock 45 for us to inquire about the water levels at Georgian Bay, which were subsequently reported to be 6-8 inches below the mean low water datum. We plan to take it slow, pass through with water and gas tanks at low levels, and cross our fingers. In contrast to the low water in Georgian Bay, the water in the Trent River is very high. Any higher today and they would have had to shut down the system, as the river flow would have come over the top of the lock doors. This of course means that the current is also running very fast, another reason the system may be closed temporarily. We passed through six locks today, finishing our short run of 7.6 miles above Lock 6, at Frankford, Ontario.
We also purchased a seasonal mooring pass, which will allow us to tie up overnight at any of the locks and Canadian parks along the way. We were able to purchase the mooring pass for the price of $7.50/foot, but were told the price is rising to $9.00/foot on June 3. (Alternatively, you can pay $0.50/ft each night, if you don't plan to stay many nights at the locks.) Many of the locks have picnic areas and restrooms, there's no traffic (i.e., no wakes) after the lock closes for the day, and it's easy to get on and off the boat with the dog. We have to generate our own electricity, but we need it only for cooking and a little TV-watching before bedtime. While it gets cold at night, we're comfortable with blankets and our canine foot furnace. To do her part, Maggie is growing fur again, which we are sure she will shed when the temperature rises again (perhaps tomorrow!).
June 1, 2003 / Frankford, ON to Campbellford, ON
We woke up about 0700--it was 42 degrees. Hey, it's June! Back home we would be baking already. We left the lock at 0830, chilled by the brisk north wind, but hopeful that the high pressure headed our way would bring blue skies and some sunshine. The river is still running fast and the channel buoys are twirling in the strong currents. Our first lock of the day was at Glen Ross. It's popularly known as the "Flower Lock," providing lots of color on the embankments. Well, we got to see the "Flowerbed Lock." They planted the beds last weekend, and it will be a few weeks before the blooms appear. Oh, well . . .
We spent the day going up, up, up--six locks in all, for a total lift of 117 feet. We stopped for the night at the city docks at Campbellford; $1.00/foot for dockage, water, and "hydro" (!?--it's the term the Canadians use for electric power--must be derived from "hydroelectric"). Campbellford is a pleasant little town, two of whose local products--chocolate and cheese--are highly recommended. We'll have to try them both. The town is proud to be the home of the artist who designed the distinctive Canadian two-dollar coin. The coin is nicknamed the "toonie," while the one-dollar coin is a "loonie" (the loonie features an engraving of a loon; the toonie has a polar bear). Maggie would have preferred a "squirrelie," but couldn't find any.
June 2, 2003 / Campbellford, ON to Hastings, ON
We refueled at Turner's Service Station in Campbellford, not far below Lock 13, paying $.639 (Canadian) per liter of gasoline--what that works out to in gallons and dollars, we aren't quite sure. While the day started out quiet enough, the wind picked up again, and the current was still quite strong. The lockmasters usually spot you coming and try to get the lock doors open so that you can head straight in, but it's not always possible. Below each lock is an area marked with a painted blue line; if the lockmaster hasn't seen you, or if the lock's not ready, you can pull up and tie alongside the blue line to wait. In the case of Locks 13 and 14, which are only a mile and a half apart, the same lockmasters work both of them. We were their first customers of the morning, so we had to pull over to the blue line at Lock 13 while they emptied the chamber and got it ready. After locking through, we puttered up to Lock 14 to give them time to drive there and get it ready, but still arrived too soon. The spillway currents were particularly strong, and it took a couple of tries to get the boat secure to the blue line; but the friendly lockmasters came down to help with our lines while the lock drained. And then they passed word on to Locks 15 and 16 to slow down the current and make things a bit easier for us. We've been pleasantly astonished at the friendliness and helpfulness of the Trent-Severn lockmasters. Wish we could bottle it and send it a couple of lockmasters back in the States (no, we will not be more specific).
Six locks today, ending at Hastings, where we tied up above the lock and spent a quiet night in this small town. It was a short walk to the grocery store, the public library (Internet access to check e-mail!), and the Beer Store (Gary's favorite). We met some Canadians on a brand-new Mainship 390 trawler who had damaged the propeller somewhere below Campbellford (drifted outside the channel and hit rocks); they could still make 4 knots and were headed for Buckhorn to get the damage assessed and repaired before taking the boat home to Midland, Ontario. Just ahead is Rice Lake, where the Michigan boat hit rocks; we are nervous and hoping for calm air in the morning.
June 3, 2003 / Hastings, ON to Peterborough, ON
We left early (0635) and Rice Lake was both very glassy and very grassy (check your strainers). Red buoy 404 (which was out of place when the Michigan boat hit rocks) has been moved farther south, and we passed it without incident. The entrance to the Otonabee River would be hard to spot under ordinary conditions, but even more confusing now, as it is not marked as shown on the chart. The red light south of the entrance is not there, but perhaps it has only moved to a new position. It may be the red light that now floats to starboard at the channel entrance. Moreover, the green light that should be to port at the entrance is gone. Fortunately, the red and green daymarks that should be marking the channel entrance are in place. We were again glad to have the chartplotter and GPS, which confirmed we were in the right place, even though the navigation aids were not.
It was strange to have only one lock to do today--Scott's Mills Lock 19, which is just below Peterborough. We tied up at the lower end of Ashburnam Lock 20, on Little Lake just east of Peterborough and a lovely location adjacent to Beavermead Park. It's a 15-minute walk into town, heading west on Marie Street and crossing a railroad bridge to get to George Street, Peterborough's main drag. Just as you leave the railroad bridge, Boater's World is on your right. If they don't have what you need (we need a new Shurhold boathook--we left one on the bottom of the Erie Canal), they'll order it, even offering to deliver to us farther up the waterway. (We just didn't feel right about accepting that generous offer--we'll get one in Michigan, if not before.) We did buy Lake Huron charts and a PORTS guidebook to Georgian Bay and the North Channel. There's a nice grocery store just north of Boater's World, Dieter and Darcy's NoFrills, and there are a number of restaurants not much farther up George Street.
The park on both sides of Lock 20 is popular with Peterborough residents, who picnic, jog, bicycle, and walk their pets in the area. A friendly fellow at the picnic table beside our boat struck up a conversation with Gary. He noticed that Gary had an accent and asked Gary if he was from Minnesota!
We spent two days in Peterborough, the second at Peterborough Marina, where we met our Toronto friends Tony and Marian Lash. Gary has been a Beta-tester for the Lashs' Harbormaster boat monitoring system, and Tony had a software upgrade to install on our unit. We enjoyed meeting cheerful Maicey the dockmaster, who let us use a phone line for checking e-mail. Docking at Peterborough Marina can be complicated, particularly with easterly winds, as a strong current from the Otonabee River runs perpendicular to the floating docks. We paid $1.10/foot for dockage. There's a large public laundromat across the street from the marina, if you need to wash. Maggie gives four black Ontario squirrels to Lock 20, but only two to Peterborough Marina, primarily because dogs are forbidden to enter the "grassed area" of the park beside the marina. Still seeing pollen floating on the water . . . aaa-choo!
June 5, 2003 / Peterborough, ON to Lakefield, ON
A seven-lock day, and yet we traveled only ten miles. The first was Ashburnam Lock, where we spent the night a couple of days ago. Instead of closing the lock doors behind us, the lockmasters delayed to let a tour boat pull in behind us, filled with shrieking preteens. Oh boy, field trip! Fortunately, this tour boat doesn't go far--just through Ashburnam and the Peterborough lift lock, which is like a big bathtub that raises you 49 feet while an opposing bathtub filled with one more foot of water than yours goes down on the other side.
The light rain fell harder as the day wore on, and it was an uncomfortable routine. Travel a mile, stop at a lock, get out and hold the lines in the chilly wetness, exit the lock, travel two miles, stop at a lock, etc., etc. By 1415, we had had enough and elected to stop for the night at the Lakefield lock. The rain finally quit late in the day, so we decided to walk into town to explore a little. Maggie surprised a couple of rabbits while walking from the lock into town, and of course, went into full hunting mode from that point forward. We were tired, and she was irritated with us for not taking her on several more walks while in Hastings. Sorry, pup--you are not always the Alpha Dog.
June 6, 2003 / Lakefield, ON to Bobcaygeon, ON
Hey, what is that? Sunshine? It's about time. Today was a five-lock day, but it felt so much better to do the routine under blue skies. We were also lucky to have nice weather today because we spent a great part of it traversing the Kawartha Lakes, including Lake Katchewanooka, Stoney Lake, Clear Lake, Lovesick Lake, Buckhorn Lake, and Pigeon Lake. What beautiful country, even if it was a little tricky navigating among the rocks at Hells Gate. We saw a lot of boats today, which should not have been surprising on the first pretty Saturday we've spent in Canada.
At least one of the cruise guides for the Trent-Severn says you can buy diesel fuel at Buckhorn Yacht Harbor. That is incorrect, as we learned from fellow Looper Chuck Thomas on Katie May who tried to do so. There is no diesel at this marina. We had seen Chuck briefly at Peterborough, but got a much better chance to talk at Bobcaygeon, where we both stayed for two days at the lock. He is doing a solo Great Loop cruise, having left Marathon Key in late March. We admire his gumption and boat handling skills!
Bobcaygeon is a charming town, with lots of shops and restaurants, including two we enjoyed, for the food as much as for their names-- Just for the Halibut and The Big Tomato. The Bobcaygeon lockmasters were amazing--they locked boats up and down all day long and maintained their helpful attitude and good cheer.
June 8, 2003 / Bobcaygeon, ON to Rosedale, ON
The sunshine couldn't last, but it's time to move on, as they won't let you stay more than two days at the Bobcaygeon lock. We pulled away at 0722, heading into Sturgeon Lake. Up here they don't just name the lakes; they name the rocks, names like "The Spoiler," "Sunken Rock," "Confusion Shoal," "Boarding House Reef," "Dead Horse Shoal." You have to wonder what inspired some names; others are pretty self-evident.
Only two locks today--Fenelon Falls and Rosedale. After Rosedale, we'll be descending as we pass through the locks, which means we'll be traveling with, not against, the current. That may or may not be a good thing. We needed a pumpout and went to Rosedale Marina--were charged $20 for pumpout of forward and aft holding tanks. FYI. Don't know what other Canadian marinas charge, but it seemed awfully high for sewage disposal. There were rocks at the east end of the marina's fuel dock--I think I would move the dock rather than risk my customers' propellers.
We went back to Rosedale Lock to spend the night. As it happened, another cold front came through and brought more rain. The first night we spent at the lock, we met a nice couple--Leo and Diane--Americans from Tobermory, Ontario on their trawler Spindrift, eastbound with another couple and headed for Rochester, New York. They advised strongly against going to the 30,000 Islands section of Georgian Bay due to low water. The second night we met some equally pleasant folks on two sailboats--Loopers Steven, Camilla, and Yvonne on Sea Lion; and Canadians David and Linda on Peonca. David and Linda didn't have far to go--although they'd traveled from the Bahamas, their home port is on Lake Simcoe.
June 10, 2003 / Rosedale, ON to Orillia, ON
With the number of locks and the narrowness of the canal, we knew that we and the sailboats would be traveling together today. We were all set to leave early, and then the fog rolled in. Once it eventually cleared, we started down the canal and then entered Balsam Lake, with Peonca in the lead, SeaLion in the middle, Calypso Poet bringing up the rear. All went well at first, but then the wind picked up. We entered our next narrow channel and checked the chart. We were near the summit of the waterway, with shallow, marshy Mitchell Lake to negotiate before our first downbound lock at Kirkfield. Halfway through Mitchell Lake, Peonca went aground, even though it was in the channel (slightly to starboard, but definitely in the channel--it must have been pushed over by the wind). Sea Lion tried to get a line to Peonca. The crosswinds caught us, too, and we fought to control the boat, trying to back up to give the sailboats room to maneuver and still manage to keep ourselves in the channel and off the rocks. We could not assist--the channel was too narrow, the wind was too strong. There was just enough room for us to pass to port. We told the sailors we'd notify the lockmaster ahead and try to get them some help.
Before we could get to the lock, we heard a "security" call from a big tour boat, the Kawartha Voyageur, announcing that it was leaving Balsam Lake and headed for Kirkfield, that it had a twenty-two foot beam and would need all the channel. That meant the tour boat would be advancing on the grounded sailboat in that windy, narrow channel. Not good. We radioed the tour boat to tell them of the situation, and then got a response from the Canadian Coast Guard. We advised them of the situation, fearing that by this point, Sea Lion was also aground. While we were able to hear the Coast Guard's side of the conversation, and eventually, the responses made by Kawartha Voyageur, we couldn't determine whether the sailboats had broken free or were still in trouble. We had no choice but to keep moving on.
It was 1330 by the time we exited the last lock before Lake Simcoe--the skies were cloudy but it hadn't begun to rain yet. The irritating southwest wind that we'd been fighting all day worked as a tailwind as we crossed the lake and headed for Atherley Narrows in Orillia, Ontario. We arrived at Hot Knots Landing in the Narrows at 1540. (Great name for a marina, eh? We're picking up the Canadian talk and we have just aboat figured oat what they're saying.) They didn't have a slip available to accommodate a boat our size but were agreeable to letting us stay at the fuel dock. Dockage was $1.00/foot, and the marina facilities were attractive and well-maintained.
We would not recommend the fuel dock location during times of high boat traffic, but for one special reason, were glad to be stationed there today. It was late afternoon when we saw the Kawartha Voyageur pass close by our cabin window. We quickly got on the radio to ask the captain what happened. He told us that when he approached Peonca, he was unable to assist because of the wind and narrow width of the canal, but that the Coast Guard had later dispatched a rescue boat from Rosedale Lock to help them. Sea Lion had also been unable to help Peonca, but then itself went aground farther along. Fortunately, at that location, Kawartha Voyageur had room enough that it was able to help pull Sea Lion off.
June 11, 2003 / Orillia, ON to Big Chute, ON
Good thing we don't get in a hurry, as it was a day of delays. It was windy when we woke up, but then it calmed considerably. Okay, we figured, time to head out. Barely thirty minutes later, as we headed up shallow Lake Couchiching, we saw the storm clouds to the north. As the lake narrows at its north end, taking you into a channel nicknamed "The Bowling Alley," we thought we had better set an anchor and wait out the storm in relatively deeper water. After two hours, the main cell had passed, though the wind stayed brisk from the west.
We left Lake Couchiching and entered the Severn River, finding at last some deep water, which was flowing fast beneath us. We came up to a railroad swing bridge. Normally you toot your horn three times to signal for an opening, and then only if the bridge tender hasn't already seen you and opened the bridge as you approach. But this one was undergoing maintenance, and they shouted over the bullhorn that we'd have at least a fifteen-minute wait. So we waited, in a narrow channel without enough room to turn around, unable to turn off the motors, trying to keep in place until the bridge opened. After twenty minutes, it finally creaked open, and on we went.
Next stop was at Lock 42, which was letting down a boat. We pulled over to the blue line, as they had to finish locking down that boat, refill the lock, and then let us in. Not that big a delay, but a pattern was developing. Another swing bridge at Hamlet. Again we encountered strong currents, but this bridge opened pretty quickly. Sparrow Lake was pretty, and we saw two loons swimming and diving in the waters. Okay, maybe this pattern is breaking. Another lock, at Swift Rapids. No wait, but now it's starting to rain again. This is turning into a long day, and we haven't gone all that far. We finally stopped for the day above Big Chute lock, having gone only 34.6 miles in eight hours. Completing the scene, we walked over to the Big Chute restaurant, planning to indulge in their touted Big Chute burgers. Although a sign on the door said their hours were from 9 to 6 on Mondays through Fridays, they were closed and it was only 5:15. Must be time to start playing Bee Gees music for the Boating Gods again. Maybe tomorrow will go better.
June 12, 2003 / Big Chute, ON to Midland, ON
Now on to the not-fun stuff. After cruising another eight miles down the scenic Severn River, we arrived at our final destination on the waterway--Port Severn. Here was the last lock, which in itself is no big deal, but it lowers you into Georgian Bay, which, as we have mentioned above, is at extreme low water. Negotiating the channel from the base of the lock into Georgian Bay was the scariest piece of boat handling we have ever managed, and we count ourselves lucky that we did not go aground. Strong currents below the lock (you are going downstream in extremely shallow water, can't power through it or you set your stern down, but need enough power for steerage), an already narrow channel recently narrowed even further by new Coast Guard buoys to keep boats off rocks due to low water--then a snaky course around a blind curve under a bridge--either the bow or the stern was out of the channel from twist to twist--and thank goodness we did not encounter a boat coming up the channel. You absolutely MUST talk to the lockmaster at Lock 45 and get his advice before you attempt it. A "security" call as you are preparing to leave the lock would also be a very good idea (hoping that anyone headed upstream has a VHF radio tuned to Channel 16).
We've already done most of the Loop (about 6700 miles with our Tennessee River side trip), so we're not inexperienced, but the Trent-Severn was the most difficult stretch we have encountered since leaving Little Rock last July. To be fair, we must tell you that the 4'-9" draft sailboat (Sea Lion, one of the boats that grounded in Mitchell Lake) made it through the channel below Lock 45 yesterday as well (must have, or we would have run across their wreckage, as they were ahead of us).
We used Waubaushene (name means "rocky shore," an understatement) Channel to get into the Bay. It is also tricky, in part because the buoys reverse from red-right-returning to red-on-port, but also because it winds around and around small rocky islands. If you know your buoys and keep them in order, you can get through it with ample water under your keel. We then got into relatively deep water for the run to Midland, arriving about 1520. Midland is a friendly and pretty place--we're staying at the town docks for $1.10/ft.
On this leg of the journey, we have enjoyed seeing the beautiful countryside in southern Ontario and meeting the wonderfully warm and friendly Canadians in their charming small towns. That part of the Trent-Severn experience has been a truly great pleasure. But we must issue words of warning: If you are coming this way, please be careful. This waterway was designed for boats smaller than ours (the Poet is 40 feet LOA, with 3-1/2 foot draft). The lockmasters told us that they guarantee 5 feet of depth--that does not give you much leeway when you have to fight strong currents, negotiate narrow channels cut through rock shelves, or when cross-channel winds push you, or oncoming boats crowd you. And we went through the system while it was NOT busy--boating season doesn't start up here for another several days, around June 21, but there are a lot of boats in the Kawartha lakes region and they will be out in force in late June, July, and August. The problems we encountered will be multiplied enormously when you add in additional boat traffic.
Therefore, take it slow, wait for good weather, and try to stay put on weekends. We are not trying to scare you, gentle readers, but we do think we need to tell you what to expect. We would only do the Trent-Severn again if we were in a smaller boat, with a draft no greater than 24 inches. Or if Lake Huron (and the other Great Lakes) were to return to its normal water levels.