August 8, 2005
“Sea Chant” lay in readiness for departure following a morning fishing trip with brother-in-law, Jerry, visiting for a Lusby family reunion. Fish were frozen, and Captain Jim passed a calm night at Casa Rio Marina enjoying air conditioning. The goal is to head far enough north that air conditioning isn’t needed: Canada!
Tuesday the 9th dawned to gentle rain. The Naval Academy in Annapolis cancelled the 1812 Overture Concert so Captain after completing his preparations at the mooring on Half Moon Bay began trolling his way north to Rock Hall. At last a Rockfish was on the line, but alas it was only 14”, not a keeper. Captain anchored for the night in Chesapeake City at the mouth of the C & D Canal, and grilled his perch and spot for a delicious meal.
Wednesday the 10th Captain was underway at his customary 5:50 in the morning, and made good time on the Delaware River running with the tide with a top speed of 10.8 knots. By 1:00 Jim was at the canal, and out to the ocean. The stay at Donald Trumps’s Marina set the Captain’s budget back. The overnight slip was $102 and the fuel was $250.
Thursday the 11th’s departure was at 6:30 with calm seas on the way to New York City. Jubilation! Captain caught an 8 lb 30” Bluefish that he tucked away in the cooler while he spent the night at Liberty Landing Marina by the Statue of Liberty.
Friday’s departure was challenged by the bad current in the East River prompting Captain to take a scenic detour up Newtown Creek. Alas, the current was still waiting for him after he cooled his heels in the creek, and the creek was entirely given over to the grittiest industries of the city. It was a 5-7 knot slog up the river to Manhasset Bay. Jim dropped $210 into the fuel tank, $2.99 per gallon. Ouch. No dock fees tonight. Captain picked up a mooring near Iemanja, then moved aboard, Bluefish and all. Visions of a fish fry were dashed for that evening when the onboard captain, Jeff, was conked on the bean when an unsecured hatch nailed him on the head. It was off to the hospital for Jeff, and back into the fridge for fish.
Saturday the 13th was a workday aboard “Sea Chant” attending to filters and pumps. In the evening Captain Jim and Captain Jeff, reasonably recovered, dispatched the Bluefish in fine style aboard Iemanja. Plans are crystallizing for First Mate Joyce to come aboard “Sea Chant” on Sunday. Time to hustle.
Sunday dawned to more hot, hazy, humid weather and another up river run against the current. Captain’s rendezvous point with Max and Sally Groves with whom Joyce has hitched a ride is 58 miles away past West Point, the Palisades and Highlands to the tiny town of Newburgh, Mile H-53. Whew! Captain made it in time to treat our drivers to lunch at Pamela’s Restaurant. The River is wide here and passing boaters kick up quite a wake. No sooner had we finished lunch than the Captain was casting off for a fast run, with the current for a change, to our overnight tie up at the city dock in Kingston on Rondout Creek, Mile H-79. We were nestled in our slip before the evening thunderstorm hit. Jim took in the shore side Latino Festival while Joyce crashed.
No one would have believed how late I slept on Monday the 15th: 11:30. Is that transdermal Scopalomine patch a soporific? The Kingston waterfront beckoned us to launch our land dinghies, the two bicycles Captain brought onboard and get the flavor of this popular cruising destination, including a local maritime museum. Tempting as it was to stay, there be towns to the North for Captain to explore. We made the modest run to Esopus Creek at Mile H-88 to overnight on the hook in the town of Saugerties. Since there are no commercial fishermen living in these little creeks the only sounds to intrude (once the drummer finished practice) on our slumbers are the whistles of passing trains along the shoreline. We slept like babies.
We were underway early on Tuesday the 16th and put into the next Creek, Catskill, for our morning bicycle ride in the town of, what else, Catskill at Mile H-97! Each of the towns we toured bear evidence of decline, and all show signs of revitalization. Empty storefronts in the canal side towns runs at about 1/3. No loitering signs tell the rest of the tale. But since the canals have been removed from the Transportation Department to a separate Canal Authority old store fronts are being restored to their original style. Tourism and attracting retirees to own Hudson River vacation homes is the new goal. Up and down the canal system the towns will be as quaint as Annapolis. The sun has disappeared behind the clouds as we wend our way to Troy at Mile H-130. The rapids beyond make this the farthest navigable port on the Hudson. We dodged brief rain showers to take in the bright lights of Troy, and passed a comfortable night tied along the municipal wall with access to electricity and water.
The Hudson Travelers
The Champlain Canal, Wednesday August 17
Of the five boats along the wall at Troy “Sea Chant” was the first to be underway at 6:30 AM heading north. The nearby town of Waterford is a pivotal point in the 800 mile New York Barge Canal System. A sign advises boaters who bear left that they will ascend a flight of 5 closely spaced locks with a combined lift of 169 feet to enter the East-West 341 mile long Erie Canal. “Sea Chant” perseveres past this junction to pursue the 62.5 mile Champlain Canal entering Lock 1 at Mile CC 5.4. Our early start made for relatively fast locking: no time lost waiting while each vessel in turn secured themselves to the pipes or hanging lines from the lock walls. A two day canal pass is a modest $15.00.
Shore leave came early at Mile CC 11 where we stopped to ride our bikes around the town of Mechanicville, beside Lock 2. Later while we waited to exit the lock Captain deployed the awnings over the flying bridge. “That looks like a low bridge up ahead captain,” said First Mate, and the lock master also expressed concern about the 15.5’ clearance. We crept beneath it with scant inches to spare. The next low bridge caused our antenna to twang, and Captain lowered it for the duration. Even lower bridges crossed the original Erie Canal. One crewman was detailed to keep watch forward and sing out to the deck passengers, “everybody down” to keep them from being swept overboard.
Our skies today were blue, the air, crisp. Thick white cumulus clouds formed but shed no rain. The mirror surface of these non-tidal waters capture the bucolic scenes of tree lined banks in sharp detail. We continued up locking all day through Lock C-6 at Mile CC 32 about 7 miles from the town of Fort Edward. We thought about “Maggie’s Farm” racing in Galesville without us. But we were treated to freshly made strawberry shortcake and a band concert in the waterfront park where “Sea Chant” is enjoying the hospitality of the town: free tie-up and electricity.
Thursday, August 18 dawned at 60 degrees with Captain and First Mate scrambling to find long pants and shirts. Maryland’s humid weather had been here before we came, and could return, but for now we are lulled into wondering why we thought we needed to head to Canada for relief from the heat. Overhead, mackerel skies and feathery high clouds called mare’s tails remind us of the sailor’s ditty marking a weather pattern change: Mackerel skies and mares’s tails make tall ships wear short sails. Locks 7 and 8 marked the end of our uplocking to cross the Adirondack Mountains. Locks 9 to 12 gradually lowered us to the level of Lake Champlain. Curiously, there is no Lock 10. There had been one initially but it was determined that it was unnecessary, and so has been removed. We lingered in the Town of Whitehall at lunch time to bicycle into the hills to tour Skene Manor, an imposing Victorian mansion being restored by the town of Whitehall. We biked over a former car bridge that has been transformed into a theater. Imagine going to a play in a building suspended over a waterway. Our meal at the Finch & Chubb Restaurant lived up to its fame. The building itself had been an armory in the war of 1812. Benedict Arnold commissioned a fleet of small sailing craft to be build here to challenge an expected British attack for control of Lake Champlain. While the victory went to the British, and Arnold’s fleet was scuttled to prevent their falling into enemy hands the delay this skirmish entailed forced the British to retire to the safety of Canada until the following season. The revolutionaries had all winter to fortify themselves for the attack at Saratoga, the first American victory, and the battle that brought the French in on our side. Arnold was disillusioned by the lack of respect he felt his efforts were worth, and the rest is history. The town of Whitehall pronounces itself, The Birthplace of the U. S. Navy.
Later, an 18 year old fisherman named Buell made his mark on fishing. To his dismay a silver spoon from his picnic hamper fell overboard. He was intrigued to see a large fish seize the spoon and swim off. Buell welded a fishing hook to another silver spoon and began reeling in fish much larger than those landed by his counterparts using live bait. Thus the spoon lure industry was born here in Whitehall. Other innovations were inspired by the requirements of moving freight from deep water rivers and lakes into relatively shallow canals. The centerboard was invented for canal travel as was the traveler for quick sail handling. After taking on 100 gallons of fuel we exited through Lock 12 into Lake Champlain which initially more closely resembles a narrow river.
Governor Clinton’s Ditch as the Erie Canal was known laid the foundation for New York City to become the nation’s premier port, and to open up the mid-west to settlement. The Erie Canal runs the full width of the state and ties into both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario on its western and eastern sides. Midway a spur to the south links Lakes Cayuga and Seneca into the system. Lake Champlain at right angles to the Erie at its Eastern terminus heads north into Canada’s Quebec Province. To this day 77% of New Yorkers live with 2 miles of a canal, and 87% live within 20 miles: it is where all the cities grew.
After exiting the Champlain Canal we found an anchorage beside Fort Ticonderoga. Jim enjoyed the waters warm enough for swimming, and “Sea Chant” basked in the full moon awaiting new adventures on the Lake.
The Canal Couple
Lake Champlain, Thursday August 18
Lake Champlain formed from a deep fissure when geologic forces caused the earth to buckle and fill with sea water. When the ice age arrived it was covered by glaciers which filled the lake with fresh water as they melted. Initially the lake drained southward into the Hudson until uplifting of the Adirondacks sealed that opening and creating the lake. The Chambly Canal links the north end of the lake with the Riviere Richelieu at Rouses Point 110 miles north of Whitehall.
The lower 22 miles seems like a river with both banks of the lake as close as they were in the canals narrowing at one point between rock palisades to .1 mile wide. Aside from fishermen and the solitary house nestled in the tree covered steep banks it seems little changed since its discovery in 1609 by Samuel Champlain. A passing Amtrack train sounding its soulful whistle brings us abruptly back to the 21st century. We dropped our hook for the night just offshore from the rebuilt Ft. Ticonderoga.
Friday, August 19th dawned to overcast skies and mild temperatures. The delivery skipper was underway at 6 AM when the lake is at it calmest. We pulled into Port Henry mid-morning for a hike into town for groceries, and to take in the lake view from the surrounding hills. The boundary for the states of New York and Vermont lies in the middle of Lake Champlain. The lake continues to widen gradually as we push northward, and the enveloping mists shroud both the Adirondacks to our west and Vermont’s Green Mountains to the east in a blue haze. The serrated rows of peaks look like a painted scenery backdrop for a play. Next stop was Westport, an old style resort community with Victorian era homes nestled along quite streets. No less than three liveried dock attendants assisted our arrival. The winds have been picking up all day, and we ducked into the appendix like Shelburne Bay on the eastern shore. The bright lights of Burlington, Vermont are visible to our north. It is the largest city on the lake. Throughout the night we can hear the wind building as a front moves through. Our sailors adage of mare’s tails was prophetic.
As usual Captain arose at 6 AM to test the lake’s waters. The other sailors waved us cheerfully on our way: they weren’t budging from their snug anchorage. Shelburn Bay is located at the lake’s widest point, 12 miles across. Our guidebook advises, “Several days of a good blow can produce waves averaging 4 ft or more in height in the summer and approaching 8 ft in the fall.” Ours was only an overnight blow, but it persisted well into the morning. First Mate noted that unlike the Captain’s helm seat which is bolted to the floor hers is secured by a mere bungee cord. “Sea Chant” lurched wildly from side to side impacted by steady winds and building seas. Captain sought the protection of Valcour Island where we dallied over a breakfast of toast and eggs instead of our customary cereal taken underway.
Valcour Island has served the American cause in both wars against the British. Benedict Arnold arrayed his fleet of 15 vessels anchored in a line from Valcour to the western shore. Most of his craft resembled daysailors challenging the 180 ton British ships which had been disassembled on the Richeleau, portaged past what is now the Chambly Canal, and re-assembled on the Lake intent on seizing Fort Ticonderoga. Outgunned, Arnold was forced to retreat, and when overtaken by the pursuing British, to scuttle his fleet. Nonetheless, the British gave up their plans to attack the fort, and retired back to Canada.
At Valcour Island Lake Champlain splits into two branches. The lake on the Vermont side dead ends, and is therefore strictly a cruising ground. Fortified by breakfast Captain determined to put in to port at Plattsburg, NY 88 miles from our entry into the lake. Docking our single engine bow thruster-less vessel under windy conditions put Captain and Crew to the test, but we succeeded, and decided to call it quits for the day. Plattsburg is the second largest city on the lake with plenty to see shore-side. Our overnight slip is three boats away from the restaurant which will host a live band this evening, and is the destination Sunday of a motorcycle club hundreds strong. It won’t be dull around here!
The town has erected a tall eagle topped obelisk honoring the naval defeat of the British by Commodore Macdonough in the 1814 Battle of Plattsburg,, one of the battles that helped end the war. Like Arnold before him the Commodore deployed his fleet in the sheltering veil of Valcour Island. Ten thousand British were heading south awaiting support of their fleet. In a 2.5 hour battle the British fleet was defeated, and surrendered to the Americans. With that, the British army marched back to Canada. Likewise we are marching towards Canada Sunday the 21st.
The fresh-water Mariners
Quebec, Sunday August 21
Bonjour. Plattsburgh did its best to keep us in its thrall: a rock ‘n roll concert in town, a live band after our dinner at the marina’s restaurant, The Naked Turtle, and the promise of hundreds upon hundreds of motorcycles heading into town completing a charitable run. But Captain saw becalmed seas and lit out for a run to the border after breakfast at an internet café, The Coffee Cat.
As we bid adieu to Lake Champlain the winds were picking up as a cold front swept through Rouses Point, the last city on the US border. “Sea Chant” pressed on for the refuge of the Richelieu River which empties Lake Champlain. Canada maintains a custom’s dock just over the line for a casual check-in.
Of course, our relationship has not always been as cordial. Following the War of 1812 Ft. Montgomery was erected to guard our territorial rights. It was nicknamed “Ft Blunder” when the completed fort was surveyed—and found to be on the Canadian side. Back to the drawing board, and the completion of another fort.
We passed a pleasant afternoon traveling past marshy shores and farmland 22 miles to the town of St. Jean where we tied up along the sea wall for the night. Our progress was halted here by the beginning of another canal system, The Chambly, that overcomes the rapids of the Richelieu.
We enjoyed our stroll up to the first lock, and past all the stores whose signs are strictly in French. “What are crevettes?” asked Jim as we approached the Bleu Marlin marina restaurant. Aha! A picture on the banner provided the answer. The marina was having a shrimp feast, and we mustered enough savvy to place two orders that were heavenly.
While lounging back aboard “Sea Chant” Jim excitedly called First Mate to join him on the upper deck. It was the conclusion of an international hot air balloon festival, the second largest next to one hosted by Albuquerque, NM. Some 55 balloons drifted past, many descending low over the river, and a few landing on the grassy bank across from the restaurant. Never before have we seen balloons in other than the traditional shape. But scattered here among the merely colorful were balloons shaped like the devil complete with horns and tail, a rubbery duckie, two bumble bees, a barn with silo, farmer and farm animals peeking from barn doors, a toadstool with pixies, a beagle dog, a frog and a beaver. Clear blue skies showed them off to a-tee for the delighted crowds along the river walk.
Monday, August 22, our start was delayed until 9 AM when the bridge across the canal was rolled out of our way, and we entered Lock 9 of The Chambly Canal. In deference to the purchase of canal passes this one is electrically operated. All of the remaining locks are manually controlled. Unlike the US canals that were rebuilt to accommodate the increasing size of vessels, once this French Canal was completed it remained unchanged. It is rather narrow with rock lined banks to reduce erosion, and Captain had to maintain strict vigilance holding “Sea Chant” exactly in the center as the canal meandered along. The Canal is 10 miles long, but the locks are concentrated in a 1.5 mile stretch with the final 3 locks forming a continuous tier until discharging into the Chambly Basin. The bridge and lock keepers were very prompt in serving us, and bicyclists along the former tow path enjoyed watching the procedure. The locks were really only big enough for one vessel at a time. Each lock tender used a large winch handle to crank his lock door shut. Then each cranked up the floodgate on his side, and when the descent was completed, each cranked open his gate on the lower side of the lock.
Captain and “Sea Chant” took a well deserved rest upon reaching the basin to tour Ft. Chambly which in turn served the French, the British, and briefly the Americans in an unsuccessful bid to conquer Canada. Lunch was at the nearby Fourquet Fourchette Restaurant which offers French colonial food and drink. Thus fortified, “Sea Chant” plied her way along the lower Richelieu until dropping anchor between two mid-stream islands.
Early Tuesday morning on the 23rd we put ashore at the town dock of St-Antoine-sur-Richelieu at River Mile 17.8 to enjoy the provincial town’s unique style. Each home was a castle lovingly trimmed with filigree wood working on shutters, porch railings and trim boards, and even steps. Flowers are at their peak and abound in hanging baskets, planters and beds. Homes are clustered close to the river banks on both sides reflecting the early land distribution. Since the river was the only means of transport initially each family was deeded a parcel, with a narrow access to the shore, that ran very deeply inland for farming. Indeed the Richelieu has been called the world’s longest village. With our bikes stowed back aboard we continued downstream to the last lock on the river at mile 12, the St-Ours Lock (pronounced ‘ers.) In contrast to its quaint predecessors this lock is 300’ long with a floating dock to which we were secured: to bow and stern lines to tend on our descent. This was the last lock to be modernized before commerce bypassed water transit leaving the other Chambly locks in their original state.
The final leg of the Richelieu terminates in the industrial and gritty port of Sorel with a fire belching foundary filling the sky with billowing clouds. Goodbye Richelieu. Hello St. Lawrence.
Les Deux Amies
Saint Lawrence River, Tuesday August 23
Not since his first day on the Hudson has the Captain been confronted by unfavorable current. After First Mate Joyce joined “Sea Chant” we fell in with a favorable tide, and once in the Champlain system all of the flow has been to the north where the Richelieu aided us with a half knot bonus until finally joining the St. Lawrence.
We are not following that seaway to the Atlantic, but rather pursuing its course upstream to Montreal with a noticeable 1 knot current against our headway. Fortunately three rivers also empty into the St. Lawrence in close proximity and have divided the river into separate channels by their accumulated silt deposits. We pursued the Chenal Sud stopping at River Mile 23 at the town of Contrecoeur for an afternoon ramble. We enjoyed the older homes, although the town itself was more modest and practical in its architecture, and toured its historic center where two women were busy plying looms.
Continuing on we put in for the night at the town pier at River Mile 5 in the town of Boucherville across from a marshy shore and a river island supporting a corn farm. The town had Arthur Murry style feet painted on the sidewalk to guide tourists past the most stately homes. A baronial estate is on the market for $9 million. We found a restaurant that advertised “maison cuisine”, or home cooking, a favorite of the local workers, and just right for us boaters. Returning to “Sea Chant” an earnest resident hearing us speak English struck up a conversation about his budding career in heavy metal music. We passed a pleasant evening with him as our guest aboard, and have his signed demo cd as a souvenir.
On Wednesday the 24th “Sea Chant” emerged from her sheltering side channel into the full flood of the St. Lawrence as we headed into Montreal, the second largest French speaking city in the world. The current flowing past a channel marker made it look like a rock in a rapid where the flow of the St. Lawrence is joined by the Ottawa River with a combined strength of 5 knots in the center. “Sea Chant” quickly dove for the sheltering shore where the back swirling flow plunged us ahead into the harbor at over 9 knots. “Sea Chant” will lie pampered in the port of Vieux Montreal while Captain fortifies her with fresh charts of the Ottawa River, our next pursuit, and an oil and filter change.
The highlight of our morning sortie by bicyclette was a tour of the Chateau Ramezay Museum and Governor’s Garden. The governor’s home had the latest in 18th century technology including a dog powered spit turner for his hearth: a round basket fitted to a turnstile located near the ceiling relied upon a restless pooch pent up within to keep his nibs roast from searing. The city is bustling outdoors as the Canadians savor even the past few cool, overcast, and showery days before fall arrives in late September. We’ll return to the city tonight perhaps to dine in the restaurant named the Filles du Roy. It commemorates the 1000 French girls whose doweries were supplied by the King as inducement to emigrate and marry here, hence they were all called the king’s daughters, and are the ancestors of modern Quebec. We’ll take in the bright lights of the city’s special night illumination before heading off tomorrow into the Ottawa River.
The St. Lawrence Duo
Au Revoir Montreal Thursday, August 25
Had “Sea Chant” been a runabout we could have traveled via the Lachine Canal from our marina but the 8’ bridge clearance meant we had to follow the route of commercial vessels putting through the St. Lambert Lock, or Ecluse as they say here. A minimum of two crew must be aboard to transit, and a friendly boater traveling with another couple shared his wife with a solo sailor. Also, within the lock only two vessels handled lines. We were told to lock through tied to the other powerboat. Once through “Sea Chant” was kicking up her heels until we realized there was another lock the three of us would transit together. No need to rush: we would travel no faster than the 24’ Shark. It was our turn to be the line handlers through the St. Catherine Lock which opened onto the broad and shallow Lac St-Louis. It reminded me of the Keys in that you carefully threaded your way past submerged rocks (instead of coral), and sunlight glinted invitingly in all directions. Once across this lake we will enter the Ottawa River via the Canal at Sainte-Anne-De-Bellevue.
Terrace restaurants line the shore beside the lock at Ste. Anne, one of the most popular tourist destinations, particularly for boaters. It is a quick 3’ lift before exiting onto the Lac Des Deus Montagnes. Captain is settling into the cruiser mode now, and languished on a shady terrace enjoying Sangria, and eventually dinner before locking through to the Ottawa River, and a sunset cruise to our overnight anchorage near our next lock, about 45miles west of Montreal. Lock building on the Ottawa was spurred by the military and forestry. Logging and fur trading has given way to farming, and from the hint in the air I’d guess beef and dairy farming.
The Ottawa canals are a study in contrasts. From the smallest lift among our locks we tackled our largest on Friday morning, August 26. As transport by water gave way to rail and highway Hydro-Quebec created a new use for the river’s rapids: a dam was built to generate electricity. Beside the dam the deepest lock in Canada was constructed: a lift of 20 meters (about 65’). Water flow is controlled by a 200 ton guillotine gate. As “Sea Chant” was locking through the Public Television Station was filming a story on the operation. She cut a fine swath on this crisp, blue sky day, and we informed the interviewer that “Sea Chant” was a 1977 Mainship trawler, 34’x11’x3’, with a 200hp diesel engine, which cruises at 8 kts @3gph, a good thing when fuel is $5.00/gallon up here. We get about 3mpg, compared to the faster gas engined cruisers which get between ½ and 1mpg. About 900 of these boats were built between 1977 and 1987, and Mainship today is the number one trawler builder in the USA.
Travel on the river is endlessly entertaining. Both shores are easily viewed, and binoculars allow closer scrutiny. Farms, trees and fishing boats give way to riverside houses, campgrounds, and new mansions the farther up river we go. The surest sign of a town ahead is the glint of the silver church spire. Older towns have a church of gothic stone topped with a silvery roof, and a steeple sometimes in 3 layers all in silver color: a base, an open belfry, and a steep coned pinnacle with a cross on top. They are marked on our charts as well in lieu of lighthouses.
All in all. “Sea Chant” has proved an enduring enchantress. One of the oldest vessels plying the waterways, she faithfully starts and plugs away all day without complaint. Captain and crew much prefer her upper steering station specially fitted with a new seat for First Mate and shaded by dual Biminis. It has a quaint auto helm control about 3 “ diameter. The merest nudge will send the bow aiming opposite to the turn (First Mate has a cheat sheet diagram to aid in obeying helm commands.) Her wheel, by contrast, requires vigorous efforts by Captain to redirect her bearing. On rainy days Captain steers from her main cabin while First Mate looks on from her twin helm seat on the port side. There is ample room to walk on the outside to deploy fenders and fasten lines when we dock. Stove, fridge, hot shower, 12 volt TV for on board movies, and brand new screening for her lower level "porch” makes her a cozy cruiser ideal for these glassy waters. If it weren’t for the blandishments of shore we could stay cocooned aboard.
Montebello De Papineauville is a destination not to be missed. Papinveau was the original land grantee and 5 generations lived there until it was sold to the Canadian railroad in 1930 for use as a sportsmans club. The original manor hose not having enough rooms, the “sportsmen” built a 204 room log cabin style edifice, which was sold to a hotel chain in 1971. The whole place is a staggering 65000 acres. “Sea Chant” nestled into a slip while crew headed for the outdoor pool. Lodging is in the world’s largest log cabin. It is laid out in a huge X pattern with a central hall featuring a six-faced massive fireplace. The yacht basin is earmarked for ice fishing in winter. The year round resort features a tunnel to the indoor pool, horseback riding, golf, and a host of other sports. It is a 5 star cuisine and accommodations resort in a rustic setting. We topped off our day by strolling from the pool to the outdoor bar-be-que of trout, steak, chicken, shrimp, veal, and sausages cooked by the chefs while you watched with superb side dishes. A saxaphonist provided a smokey jazz ambience. We’ll explore the rest of the resort in the morning when we recover from dinner.
The Mellow Montebellos
P.S. Try www.ballooncanada.com for more about the aerial show we enjoyed at St. Jean-sur-Richelieu. If we dally in Ottawa until Sept 2 we can see them again.
Bon Jour, Hello Ottawa, Saturday August 27
Marshes indented by fingers of water gave way to towering granite cliffs on the left shore studded with unbelievable mansions, embassy row, when we completed our up-river pursuit of the Ottawa River. The 80’ falls described by Samuel Champlain as curtains (Rideau) were overcome in 1832 when English engineer, John By, constructed a flight of 8 locks transited in a continuous series. The manual gates are drawn aside by chain around a drum. All eyes were on “Sea Chant” as she made her solo ascent at 6 PM, ushered into the heart of this capital city like a queen. The flukey water whorls and gusty breezes kept Captain and Mate on their toes minding the fore and aft lines looped behind cables attached along the walls. The later locks are filled to overflowing requiring two sets of fenders: a high set to cushion our contact while ascending against the walls, and the other at the water line to prevent scuffs when we rest at the level of the sidewalk.
The War of 1812 was the impetus for the Rideau Canal construction. Since the St. Lawrence forms part of our common boundary it was deemed imperative to have an alternative link to Kingston at the headwaters of the St. Lawrence on Lake Ontario as a means of supplying Montreal. The area defined by the seaway and Rideau Canal resembles a piece of pie. The Irish and Scotch workers who built the canal settled at their work site, Bytown. Their ancestral accents are discernible in the accents of lock tenders and bar keeps today.
Bytown was selected as the national capital, a location at a safe distance from the American border, and at the junction of the bilingual country. The Indian word for trade furnished the formal name of the city: Ottawa. Champlain did more than map new areas for France. He made an incredible 22 trans-Atlantic crossings to press for support of New France.
The Rideau Canal was built with two stone buildings on opposite shores. The Royal Engineers Office on the eastern side became a private residence in 1868. The coming of the railroad in 1901 made this into the house of song, “The Railroad Runs Through The Middle of the House” when the rear of the structure had the railway terrace pass through it. Alas, vibrations forced the demolition of the house 10 years later.
In winter after the locks cease operation the Rideau takes on a whole new aspect. The water level in the locks is lowered to a minimum. When it freezes the canal and Rideau for the next 80 miles becomes the world’s longest skating rink. By boring through the ice to the river flow below and pumping this freshly to the surface each night the surface is kept smooth. Residents can commute to work like Hans Brinker!
We tied up for the night along the concrete walls a half mile for our flight of 8 locks to enjoy the heart of the city at night.
Sunday, August 28 our bicycles were launched to enjoy the streets blocked off each summer Sunday for pedestrians and all forms of wheeled use. Promptly at 10 we reached the grounds in front of the 3 gothic style houses of parliament where the Royal Canadian Band and ceremonial marching troops strutted their stuff in this end of season ceremony. They all sport the bushy tall hats and red uniforms we associated with Buckingham Palace. Parking our bikes we hopped aboard a double decker bus which took us on a wide tour of the city with stops for tourists wishing to linger at the numerous museums and points of interest. We stayed aboard, and learned of two major events awaiting our return to the parliament lawn.
No sooner had Jim gotten his sausage dog from a vendor on the corner than the Canadian Gay Pride Parade got underway. They were rallying at city hall with a “Kiss-in”, but we headed off when the last float passed by to try an authentic treat: a BeaverTail, or in French , Queues de Castor. North American explorers stretched pastry into an oblong shape and cooked it floating on oil. Topped with cinnamon, maple or apple they take their name from the furry animal they sought.
It is back to “Sea Chant” where we cast off to wend our way another ½ mile up the canal where we again tied up along the wall by the CFL stadium at Lansdowne Park for this evening’s Mick Jagger concert. Forty years ago they were booked at the Ottawa YMCA. Tonight some seats inside the stadium commanded $1000 each. Seated aboard “Sea Chant’s” enchanted upper deck we will sit in comfort and hear it all. With a bit of rubber necking we’ll even be able to see the visuals. With the afternoon to loll away the bicycles were deployed to enjoy the numerous flower plantings on this beautified waterway. In gratitude for hospitality during WWII of their pregnant queen the Dutch supervise the planting of 1 million tulips here each year. The beds are now a dazzling sea of annuals in elegant arrangement. Waterside bike paths line both shores, and we’ll sally forth for dinner before indulging in a thrill we missed in our teens: attending a Stones Concert. Ta-ta. That’s Mick’s limo entering now.
The Stones Fans
PS We are now in the town of Merricksville about 2 days from the canal end where we can stop as Katrina’s rain moves inland.
RIDEaU Monday August 29
How appropriate for this staunchly bilingual country that the name Rideau is a pun, with the Giant’s Staircase ascending to Parliament Hill, and wending its way through an ever varying landscape of city, posh riverside homes, historic towns, narrow canals and broad vistas of marsh grass and wildlife. The French word means curtain, the appearance of the veil of falls of the tributary Rideau River cascading today as it did when Samuel Champlain named it. It was built in anticipation of an American invasion. And we are here obeying the bilingual mandate: ride eau (water).
For 173 years this waterway has drawn travelers to some of Canada’s oldest resorts along its shores. It is comprised of 31 locks lifting vessels on the Rideau River to a network of lakes, the highest of which is Newboro Lake, a 270’ ascent to 404’ above sea level, and from there descending through 14 locks on the Cataraqui River to Lake Ontario, a lowering of 162’. The original locks and canal cuts are powered today as they were when engineered by Lieutenant Colonel John By, “the muscle power of lock staff cranking the distinctive “crab” winches. At each lock Captain and First Mate keep a sharp lookout for our pair of lock tenders to mount the steps and begin turning the cylinder wrapped by chain which opens and later closes the lock doors. If a bridge crosses our way they must sprint ahead to crank and push the roadway aside over the lock bank. They mount the upper end of the lock to take a few turns on the crab winch there that partially opens either a sluice or a pair of Venetian blind valves in the gates that starts water flooding into the sealed chamber. As the water level rises more turns of the crab winches carefully matched by the tenders to insure an even current flow past our vessel tethered fore and aft to the port canal wall. Why the port? Captain is also traveling much as the early voyagers along the Rideau did: with one engine and a Joyce powered bow thruster: an extended boat hook firmly pressed against whatever firm surface offers itself at our heightened elevation. That done, Captain adds throttle and the engines torque nudges “Sea Chant’s” bow smartly to the right, and we are on our way once more.
The first 11 locks we traversed in Ottawa are all in hand dug and blasted lock-ways 5 miles before joining the Rideau River at Hogs Back. The longest stretch, 39 kilometers between locks occurs south of Manotick en route to lock 17 at Burritts Rapids. Often the locks are in series of two or three to accommodate the lift required manned by human power. Only at 3 locks where commerce necessitated a heavier road than mustered muscle could move have electric motors been installed.
Captain and Mate alike were plenty tuckered Monday evening when we cleared through locks 21-23 at Merrickville. It had been a town of 50 souls farming and operating a lumber mill when the military construction project boosted the town’s status: they got a military base and flourished. Base is a relative term. Their fortification consisted of a moat-surrounded block-house, a fortified tower essentially standing vigil over the strategic locks. With growth in trade in mind the mid-lock of the series into Merrickville had an extra wide area on the town side. This allowed barges to off-load, turn around and return to Ottawa without impeding other vessels. Captain and Mate made a quick reconnoiter of the lovely stone buildings, took fresh stocks of grub aboard, then swaggered into a hospitable Irish pub that not only nourished our bodies but linked us via internet and CNN images of the world outside the 19th century. Merrickville is notorious for its trains: they sound their warning whistles approaching the town—all night long. With this in mind and darkness fast approaching Captain cast off the lines and hustled out to a serene anchorage in mirror calm waters. Alas, the tracks run along shore and sound carries fully over the water. We enjoyed each crossing through town along with the haunting call of a loon.
Tuesday, August 30th dawned over a scene too beguiling to quit in haste: Mate persuaded Captain to partake of a cooked breakfast rather than his trademark coffee “on the fly” with anchor hoisting competing with tucking in his shirt tail. Mate was treated to the luxury of languishing unperturbed on the upper deck while Captain tenderly tinkered with “Sea Chant’s” innards below the floors in the main salon. And a good thing, too. The alternator bracket had shed its nut, spacer and washer into the many-nooked bilge below. Diligent searching turned up the bushing, and Captain resourcefully supplied the missing metric nut from his indispensable 16-section trove tray of “wouldn’t hurt to have it” spare parts. Refreshed by a shower Captain was eager to be underway.
And what a magical day it was! Our scenery now is rustic, churches, alas, of the “low” theology prize simplicity. Gone are the wedding cake confections of spires that pierce the sky, the first harbinger of a town. These blunt steeples are solid, cross-less, and no higher than the surrounding trees. Our new silver beacons are the soaring silos. It is harvest season. Hay is in bales, and being trucked to market or stored in vast barns. Corn tassels bespeak a prodigious yield nigh its peak. Bass boaters flick their flies on waters where the marker numbers are seen mirrored in inverse below the surface as crisply as their twin above. Swimming piers with slides dot the riverfront 100 yards from the coast just past the lily pads and algae. Hershey Canada is our focus this morning. Factory seconds are to be had a short walk from Old Slys Lock (26 & 27). I’ll save you some. The lock takes its name from the settler whose home was flooded in the dam construction. The once discrete river became a flooded plain when a dam was built to supply water to the locks. A broad marshland formed, although in general, the flow of the entire system has reduced the propensity for malaria.
Fortified with a 1 3/4 kls sack of almond chocolate bar fragments, $5.00, we pressed on to the bright lights of Smiths Falls—only to bicycle back to the Heritage Farmhouse museum at Slys Lock. A Grist mill and wool mill were operated here year round courtesy of the unfrozen rapids. A Mr. Bates ran the mills, more profitable than his competitor Abel Ward’s seasonal mills. Ward was jealous but patient, and when Bates died Ward bought the mills from the widow and sewed up ownership of the commerce of the area. After our tour of the miller’s home, complete with the unique two-story attached outhouse, we returned to the 4 story Canal Museum in the city. We are now in Lower Rideau Lake enjoying shore power where we spent the night: at the gas dock of Rideau Ferry Harbor. With an early evening stop Captain was rewarded with Mate’s cuisine duly noted in his log as “nice.” Katrina’s light rains and spent fury arrived at midnight, and persuaded us to stay put till noon, recollect the recent day’s pleasures and read, Hemingway for Jim and Moby Dick for me. Gray skies gave way to a pink sunset, but not before we marveled at islets resembling Bonsai arrangements at full scale set in shimmering waters overlooked by houses tucked in among the trees on the shore bedrock. Cribs, wire blocks of stone lying just below the surface support markers all but hidden around unexpected corners.
From wending our way through narrow canals we progressed this afternoon to threading our way through channels too narrow for two boats to pass each other. Midway a wide area was designated as a “sound horn” zone. Backing out of an on comer’s way would be a tricky if not impossible task. At Newboro Lake our markers switch over from red on the right to red on the left signaling the start of our descent those 162’ in 14 locks to Lake Ontario. “Sea Chant” must be mindful not to scrape her bow overhanging a canal edge as the water starts to lower. The lock tenders lend a hand holding us off. No water turbulence now; water is draining as from a tub, and more smartly. Our final locks of the day, 39-42, were at Jones Falls. We waited an hour while another boat up-locked and then more water was accumulated in the top chamber to “flush us” as Captain puts it. We were tied up and ready for another 10 minutes when a New York boater heading home to Cayuga Lake joined us on the starboard edge. What a phenomenal flume ride that cascade of 4 locks would make if those early engineers hadn’t been limited to military plans. At Jones Falls the blockhouse and lock tender’s home were one. Located on a promontory it had gun slits in the walls. They saw duty in the Rebellion of 1837 when the Canadians tried unsuccessfully to throw off the Brits. The Canadians also managed to meld their French and British halves without recourse to Civil War.
It is more civilized here. You would love to a fall foliage cruise in late September. Waterway Getaway rents houseboats at Smiths Falls. Its not too late to book. Do join us. The Canadaclub.com advertises fractional ownerships in a lodge 3 miles from lock 35 in lake-country. Or head to Montebellow. A meeting of the heads of the industrialized world was booked here, and they know where to go. We are torn between our original goal of transiting the Trent-Severn Waterway linking Lake Ontario with Lake Superior, or returning on the Hudson for our fall foliage excursion. We’ll think about that tomorrow. Today it’s a sunrise departure from our overnight slip at Shangri-La Marina 6 miles to a bridge with 4’ clearance.
Captain scoured the bridge tender’s hut for signs of activity at 7 A.M. then consulted his guide book: Canal staff report at 8:30. We doubled back a mile to Seeleys Bay for breakfast where the locals gather: food and local color, and a chance to capture reflection photos, and buy a newspaper, “The Kingston Whig-Standard.” We drove along coastal Mississippi and New Orleans this past winter and saw communities staggered just by the debris of the previous year’s 2 harsh storms. The scale of New Orleans suffering exceeds comprehension.
We were advised that Katrina’s heavier rains that fell south of us loosened cattails from their banks that could foul our engine water cooling intakes. Our fellow locker from Cayuga Lake fell in right behind us as we departed Seeleys Bay, and we locked through the next 3 locks together. He took the lead through the marshy channels, and just as a car following along behind on a dirt road eats dust we were eating the weed his turbulence scudded our way. Jim stopped to clean his strainer.
We caught sight of Cayuga locking alone through the final flight of 4 canals leading to Kingston, with two boats below waiting to lock-up. We lay along the canal waiting dock 1 ½ hours while four 26’ boats and a 36’ Carver accumulated. We were previewing the lock, and following a guide in period costume through the block house as it would have been garrisoned in 1837, and the time passed pleasantly. The group locking was snug. We were on the port wall peering over the spillway with the Carver behind us. Two boats abreast were forward on the starboard wall, and the final two, single-file behind them. It all went smoothly, and the rewarding Rideau adventure concluded in Kingston, Canada’s original capital city.
At 2 PM Captain got a slip in Kingston Marina, and he and crew enjoyed shore leave in town. “Sea Chant” deserves kudos and a preventive maintenance respite.
“Sea Chant” is a game old girl, and is already excited about the Lake Ontario Chart Book Captain brought home to her today.
Riders of the RIDEaU
Oswego Saturday September 3
Friday was a day of rest for “Sea Chant” and lots of attention. She was treated to a new alternator, an impeller for the head, and a clean out of the water intake filter supplying water to the systems of the boat, the engine filter having been cleaned en route on the Rideau. After another night on the town it was early to bed for an early Saturday crossing of Lake Ontario.
Saturday we were effectively underway at 8 a.m., Captain delayed for the opening at the diesel pump. Had winds been less gusty at our arrival we would have fueled first. The recommended crossing of the lake which allows winds to fetch across its 100 mile length is to leave at 5 am and put in for the night at Main Duck Island. Once owned by John Foster Dulles it is now a Canadian owned wildlife sanctuary. It made a nice lunch break, but you know the Captain better than to believe mere gusty winds would dissuade him from heading out again after lunch. Mate Joyce prepared with a patch behind her ear, and away we went, and a rollicking ride it was! Winds averaged gusted between 17 and 22. Spray on our starboard side even washed over her upper deck and sluiced down the ladder to the screened transom porch, or fishing cockpit as the Captain deems it: no reading today. Mate chocked herself with pillows on the port settee, the low side, and Captain braced himself in his helm chair and elsewhere and steered snug and dry inside.
At 4 p.m. “Sea Chant” put in to the port of Oswego, a gritty shipping terminus, and no place for a lady to spend the night. Captain and Mate emerged from the cabin in the Oswego River’s calm and restored the chair, thick coil of yellow electric cable, and fiberglass boarding steps back to their accustomed place on starboard, and marveled at how clean the boat was. “Sea Chant” had enjoyed her fresh water boat wash courtesy of Lake Ontario, and took the 6’waves with flying colors.
The Oswego River has a series of 8 commercial locks. No more gentle influx of lifting waters in snug locks. We were locking where the big boys ride. We missed the wall cables around which a line could be led and cleated fore and aft to hold the boat against the wall. Canadian lock tenders keep their lock lines coiled on the bank to be lowered as a boat comes to rest against the chamber wall. One such set was bright yellow cascading down into a deep lock. “Repunzel, let down your golden hair,” thought Mate at that lock. The lines in the American locks remain against the mossy walls. Crew is expected to hold onto the slimy lines, and in the swirling current of the rapidly filling lock it needed a sturdy pull as water jetting against the walls pushed “Sea Chant” toward the middle.
“Sea Chant” locked steadily along, shedding her Canadian courtesy flag along the way: we are back in the USA. Between Locks 2 and 3 the town of Fulton offers meals and views in the Lock 3 Restaurant, and a yacht basin with free electricity for overnight canalers who can stay for 2 days. We opted for the canal wall instead, and dinner at 7. We are only ½ mile from the final lock, and can be underway at 7 am. Locks close 10 P.M. to accommodate the dwindling barge traffic. “Full ton,” once rang out as passing coal barges advertised their wares, giving Fulton its name. Both the decline in river traffic, and interstate highways bypassing town is causing the demise of this and other canal side settlements.
Sunday, the 4th after locking through at 8 A.M. our cruise along the Oswego River was relaxing in its broad expanse: no rocky shore shoals or tricky steering. Passing the town of Phoenix at OS River Mile 2 Captain put in for shore leave. The Phoenix “Bridge Brats” are known world-wide. Volunteers manage a cadre of teens who will bike to any store in town with a mariner’s shopping list. Great for the boaters, and great for the kids. They have a deluxe shore side town dock to tempt travelers into spending at this dying town. A local marina sponsors a Christmas Parade of Lights to be held this year September 16, 17 and 18, before the canal freezes.
Heading upstream boater’s advised us that the 5” of Katrina’s rains had flushed all the pond scum out into the rivers. The weight of the floating mats dragged several markers downstream, and has covered the river with the growth normally in calm coves. Proceeding with caution Captain piloted us along from our upper deck in the morning’s sunshine passing the juncture of 3 rivers: Oswego, Seneca, and Oneida. We headed right into the Oneida through locks of the Erie Canal. Arriving at the town of Brewerton “Sea Chant” spied the EsKay Marina where she will await us for a month until our return.
It is a short drive from here to Syracuse Airport to pick up a rental car. It will be Fall Foliage on the Hudson when we return. How could we take “Sea Chant” west on the Trent-Severn Waterway and leave her forlorn all winter on Lake Superior? There be fish to be caught this fall and next Spring in Mayo, Rockfish for sure next Spring, and “Sea Chant” wouldn’t miss that for the world.
The Homeward Bound