Thursday, August 10, 2006

Oh Canada! The Trent-Severn Waterway July – Aug 2006

Thursday, July 27: An uncharacteristic 2 p.m. departure and a route straight through York, PA coincided thus allowing us to join Doris and Jerry for dinner. They were to commence diets on the morrow, and an evening of wild abandon ensued: we each ordered our OWN entrees! It will be meal sharing for the altar bound Jim and Joyce. Our first day’s drive ended at the Fracksville Comfort Inn that featured capacious truck parking, perfect for our rig in tow behind the Astro van.
 Friday, July 28: After an easy drive to New York’s Wellesley Island State Park Captain rigged and launched our MacGregor 26 M, "A1SAILBOATS.COM. The park rents native American style dugout canoes and invites vacationers to duplicate the pace of the original paddlers: 60 strokes a minute. We demurred in favor of the Perch Fillet dinner at Nut ‘N’ Fancy Restaurant before turning in for the night berthed by the launch ramp.

Saturday, July 29: A flock of 50 Canada Geese in flight noisily coming in for a landing finally roused First Mate Joyce. Netting over the fore deck and companionway hatches kept out the insects that all look benign, and the cool night air was prime sleeping. Captain graciously fore bore his signature 6 a.m. motor ignition in favor of relaxation, of all things. En route to Gananoque to phone in to Canadian Customs on the opposite shore we had a go at tacking under Genoa alone: our boom and mailsail were home in Mayo. In the quiet morning at a pleasant heel along the boulder strewn shores of the Thousand Islands we spied nesting Eagles and ack! rocky obstacles athwart our path. We'll sail our muddy bottomed Chesapeake when we get home, and enjoy Mr. Honda’s smooth 50 horses in the channels.

This year’s Seaway Getaway starts at Trenton, near the extreme eastern end of Lake Ontario by the St Lawrence River above the US border. Having toured both Gananoque and Kingston on previous trips our shore leave in Kingston was limited to lunch where we were serenaded by the Ft George Bagpipers and Fife and Drum Corp. Winds on the nose of 15 knots and a few showers encouraged Captain to tuck into Kerr Bay off Amherst Island by 3:30 in an anchorage of 2 dozen sailboats nestled between a farm and a wooded shore.

Just as offshore reefs buffer Caribbean Coast from ocean , the large mass of islands on Ontario’s northeast corner creates narrow, deep passages threading through the islands for protection from waves across the whole lake’s fetch.

 Sunday, July 30: Near glassy calm at rosy skied dawn greeted us as we weighed anchor to make our way at 12 knots along North Channel and Adolphus Reach to the small town of Picton. Boulders of Ocean Quartz have been replaced by granite that sports shocks of trees. Our "land dinghies", bicycles, unused since last summer’s "Sea Chant" tour were launched to tackle gently rolling hills. Jim’s dream of enjoying the splendor of his brand new model was dashed by the collusion of the trailer ladder, a loose rack, and a sharp turn. His rear brake cable will have to be repaired. Picton satisfied all our needs in short order. Touring the tidy streets and floral beds, dining at the marina restaurant, showering steps away from our shady slip. This will be a hard spot to top! We resumed heading north on Long Reach to a left at the Bay of Quinte that will carry us all the way to Trenton. Our mid-afternoon tie-up at Belleview was cut short by Picton’s haunting charm. Belleview, it turns o ut is the only place to repair a bicycle, but its ordinary sprawl failed to beckon us to linger. After a passage of 67 miles today we handed our dock lines to Craig, the congenial dockmaster at the municipal dock at Trenton.

 Trenton’s bridge proclaims it to be the "Gateway to the Trent-Severn Waterway" and its waterfront park, jazz band concert, riverwalk, and great restaurants made our stay delightful. Our compact MacGregor is serving quite nicely, thank you. Comfy beds, cold beer, hot morning coffee, Bimini shade, flow through ventilation, smooth 12 knot cruising, and no squawks about fuel costs. Our evening in Trenton was put to good use. A quick horse-trade with a down-locker just completing his passage supplied all our charts. We met our morrow’s up-locker, "Grecian Pride", a 35’ Chris-Craft, and Captain un-stepped our mast.

The Trent-Severn links its two namesake rivers that flow in opposite directions with other lakes and rivers to form a 240 mile long system that takes the voyager to the highest waters navigable from sea level. It was designed to serve the commercial needs of Canada’s heartland farmers and loggers who envisioned shipping their goods from Lake Huron’s upper lobe, Georgian Bay, through the waterway to Lake Ontario. By the time the concept gained steam in the campaign to elect MacDonald Prime Minister the growing railway system was making it obsolete as it was being built. Its canals would have been filled for railroad right-of-ways but were spared by post-war prosperity and the rise of pleasure boating. Trent-Severn is a tourism boon, and we reckon to join in.

 Monday, July 31: At the 8:30 a.m. opening of Lock 1 we are the first vessel tied to the port wall just behind the sill impatiently awaiting "Grecian Pride’s" arrival. Guide books advise us that a diligent captain can complete the waterway in 6 days, so naturally, Captain buys a 5 day one way pass at $4.50/ft intent on bettering the time. Lock 1 is part of a 6 flight series spaced about a mile apart. No need to signal; each lockmaster calls ahead and gates creak open on our approach with a locktender on each side circling "mule fashion" around a moveable turnstile. The turnstile handle bars also double as floodgate controls. Lift heights vary with the terrain with most about 20 feet.

We parted company with "Grecian Pride" who pressed on while we elected to bike around Frankford for lunch and ice. Alas, Captain rearranged the mast from its hinge point at the mast tabernacle to its trailering configuration suspended from the bow pulpit. This minimizes the projection of the mast beyond the transom. However, First Mate had been reliving her childhood dangling her legs over the bow, and resting her head on the point of the pulpit as we motored between our six morning locks. We have an 11 mile run between Locks 7 and 8 passing summer cottages and children squealing with delight as our wake supplies waves in the 81 degree water. A broad marsh of cat tails replaces our narrow river and the banks are lined by layers of shale. I wish you hadn’t sent us that damn Yankee heat and humidity with threats of thundershowers. That’s what we came north to escape! The steady breezes keep us comfortable as we continue on at 5 p.m. spying "Grecian Pride" snug in her berth a long t he seawall in Campbelford at Lock 13. It is a tempting town but we have learned that the lock day now ends at 7 p.m. instead of 8:30 proclaimed in last year’s tour book. Oh those indolent captains of yore who dallied in towns after 7! This light twilight usage will confound Jim’s goal of shaving a day off "diligent passage." Our afternoon lockmate is a speedy ski boat with a youngster aboard anxious to reach lake country. They tear off after every lock and impatiently await the lock tender’s gate openings and his slower companion’s arrival.

 Both at Rainey Falls at Locks 11 & 12, and Locks 16 & 17 the locks are in tandem sharing a common lock gate in the middle to accomplish steep lifting of 40’. Our ski boat companion locked through #18 and the lake beyond, but we straggled into Hastings as the last Fish and Chippery was sweeping its floors as they served us. The corner ice cream shop unlocked its doors for the last customers of the night at 9:15. The only folk to pass A1 SAILBOATS.COM lying on the town sea wall were fishermen. It was a warm night.

Tuesday, August 1: Forecast temperatures are for 115 year record breaking heat and humidity. Our fore ward hatch is suspended open to funnel an evaporative flow of air through the cabin. We conserved our melted cooler water in a bucket, and voila: we are as cool as cucumbers. Even Captain slept until 8 today: it must be a vacation. We can see the lock tenders releasing the chamber that had been flooded overnight in preparation for our passage into Rice Lake 57 miles from our start in Trenton. Before the waterway was built the lake’s water level fluctuations were ideal for the growth of wild rice. Rice today is limited to the fringes but still draws migratory water fowl to this, the second largest lake in the system. It is 20 miles long and 3 miles wide flanked by rolling hills. Some are cleared for pasture studded with rocky outcroppings, and are interspersed with stands of woods and tidy farms followed by strings of cottages at water’s edge. Winds are on the nose at 15 – 20 but we’ll be gone before any serious chop sets in. Mid-lake islands also break its fetch. The now submerged foundations of a former railway bridge , called a "crib", have Captain keeping a sharp watch on our markers. Rice Lake runs from Mile 57 – 69, and at 68.5 we enter the Otonobee River that leads to the bright lights of Peterborough.

It is a might warm. Funny, our Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion chart stops at 90F degrees equals 32.2C. There was talk along the locks yesterday of heat indexes of 41 degrees that were to soar to 45 today. That would be 105 to 115 by my math. Yikes! We’ll have to immerse ourselves up to our necks as the natives all along the river are doing this morning. That does it. We’re heading for the Holiday Inn at Peterborough after lunch and hunkering down in a/c for the rest of the day. Our ice is holding out remarkably well since First Mate deployed the 2 dinette back rest cushions to full time use on top and in front of our Coleman cooler plus a PFD in the rear.

 Wednesday, Aug 2: Peterborough is a marvelous town tailor made for bicycling. The river widens into a lake around which businesses and homes are arrayed. The city marina’s floating docks extend behind the Holiday Inn’s waterfront, and dockage is waived with room rental. A family on a rental houseboat and A1 SAILBOATS.COM took the city up on its offer. Embarrassing to say but the blandishments of soft shore life so bedazzled us that we never left our refuge from 1:30 Tuesday until check-out at 8:30 today. Refreshed and back aboard we were trailed into the lock by Mallards assured of 5 minutes of soulful begging. I caved; I didn’t want that Rye heel anyhow. We’ve spotted two Snapping Turtles locking through as well, but they didn’t pay us any never mind. Thankfully today the sky is overcast with the odd sprinkle, cooler temperatures and steady breezes. Downtown Peterborough lies between two conventional locks, the piece de resistance is a 66’ hydraulic lifting lock arranged like twin lift racks in a garage. While we are up-locking along with the rental houseboat family other boats were down-locking. We passed each other in mid-air. A large piston lifts boats, water and all, and very little additional water is needed to equalize at the top before we are on our way. The up-lock view varied from the ecologically conscious Trent University Campus split by the waterway with its "green roofs", slopes with sod and growing plants, and a width just able to accommodate two way traffic to broad marshes of rushes, cat tails and blooming white water lilies. A Loon gave call at our passing. All morning locks came in quick succession and First Mate kept her side saddle perch on starboard bow. Lock 26 at Lakefield looks inviting for lunch but our feast of omelets and waffles stood us in good stead. First Mate did scamper across the footbridge, alas sans wallet, while waiting on the Blue Wall for entry into Lock 27 to the fabled shopping at Young’s Point Lockside Trading Company. One expects ice cream and souvenirs but a plasma TV and full sets of furniture? It was a mini Sears & Roebuck offering homespun wisdom on a plaque: Mosquitoes Suck. No longer do lock tenders call ahead to forecast our arrival; we’ve entered Kawartha Lake country, and boaters are apt to dawdle fishing, swimming and such like.

Our first lake was Clear Lake, the epitome of a summer camp site, where rental cottages abound. After a twisty passage it gives way to Stony Lake with scenery akin to The Thousand Islands. Its pine covered boulder islands put one in mind of Bonsai dish gardens on a giant’s scale, and the larger ones have homes tucked discreetly into the greenery. Gulls perch on rocks that are awash keeping their toes cool and a watchful eye out for fish. They are supplements to the aids to navigation marking submerged hazards. Guides must have made a fortune here before charts: the intricate isles and coves are a nautical maze. Captain pays strict attention to our channel on this large lake lest we blunder off the path to the exit spellbound by the vistas.

 Burleigh Falls at Lock 28 marks the beginning of modern metal door locks operated hydraulically. Previous gates were hand cranked and formed of squared tree trunks held down in the frame structures by stacks of weights. Modern technology spelled the demise of Lock 29 since one lock could perform the total lifting task. We popped right around the corner into Lock 30, entrance to Lovesick Lake. Legends vary as to who was originally lovesick, but the spurned one retreated to a suitably isolated outcrop and pined; happily, a full recovery is reported. We celebrated at Lovesick Café with delicately fried Pickeral and warm-from-the-oven Apple Crisp and Bumble Berry Pie, rhubarb plus 3 seasonal berries. Teens fresh from cavorting among the Falls ate ice cream outside our window. These plus others we saw today swinging from tree ropes to splash in the lake or jump down from disused railway swing bridges complete a Norman Rockwell image of youth in summer.

There is talk at the lock of a coming THUNDERSTORM. Must be a rarity here because locals view it as we would a pending hurricane. Lock 31 into Buckhorn Lake is our last for the day. This is the mid-way point on the waterway 120 miles from Trenton. Captain has fallen under Kawarth’s spell: did he say 5 days to transit? Ha! Why we could anchor for the night and swim off the transom in the company of these three fishing boats. SPLASH! Captain! You swim back here, captain!

Black skies let forth a torrent of rain, but our anchor held fast. The storm’s fury gave way to steady rain—and snores. What is that bright beacon I see while opening the foredeck hatch about 2 a.m.? The water version of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police convinced we may need rescuing. Brrr! Blankets! I need rescuing from this change in the air. Oh Canada! This is what we came for!

Thursday, August 3: Captain hauled in a boon, a 10 lb Hooker Economy "lunch hook" anchor lost by some previous fisherman. No wonder our anchor held; it dragged into a companion. We’re underway through the heart of Lake Country ogling our way past mansions, yachts, and a 4 story retirement home the size of a hotel complex. We thread our way through Buckhorn’s narrows to emerge into Pigeon Lake. It boasts a sailing yacht club that sponsors races in this obstacle-free open water.

Pigeon is separated from Bobcaygeon Lake by Lock 32, the oldest lock in the waterway, but now modernized. Bobcaygeon is a Mississauga Indian name meaning "shallow rapids." It has enjoyed a one day high of 370 vessel transits, and close to 9000 in a season. Lock tenders are busy raking downed limbs off the island on which the lock perches. The invigorating air had us aboard the land dinghies, that is until Captain spied "Full Cup Café" offering Peameal Bacon and Eggs in a 50’s retro setting. Peameal bacon is an inch thick center loin ham slice dipped lightly in a pea meal batter for you Lower 48ers. Jackets and long pants are put by after brunch for our blitz through Sturgeon Lake, a v-shaped, narrow body fed by the Fenelon River. Early on the Canadian Tourism Bureau declared this THE ideal summer vacation.  No argument here. Its popularity provided us with a peanut gallery of on-lookers as we up-locked 4’ past Fenelon Falls to the pinnacle of our journey on Balsam Lake. It is shape d like a rough butterfly with a massive central island for a body. A narrow canal opens into Mitchell Lake, and onward to Lock 36 at Kirkfield, our 2nd hydraulic lift lock. Only this time we will descend 49’ for the first time from our peak elevation of 840.6’. Since before the lock gate was beneath us as we entered we didn’t notice that it folds down flat on the front and lies underneath us at exit. Hooray! From now on First Mate, and Captain, too, will be pampered by the lock staff who take our bow and stern lines we hand to them and they thread them beneath the stationary black wall tether cables. Marker colors are reversed for the balance of our down-locking to Port Severn. Liquid Sunshine prevailed for our final 5 locks of the day with just enough breeze that First Mate remained dry when we tied up for the night along the Lock Wall outside Lake Simcoe. 62 miles made good today. Hot soup aboard warmed Mate who snoozed from dark until an early morning boater off the lake for gas passed leaving a mighty wake. Where is the RCMP now?

Friday, August 4: We are advised to tackle Lake Simcoe’s 20’ length by 16’ width in the early morning before winds pick up. Actually, there’s a great sailing breeze for those headed in the opposite direction as we get underway. Our 320 degree NW passage across a corner of Simcoe into the Narrows puts the wind smack on the nose with a light chop. Spray is thrown over the bow, and the light mist evaporates as fast as it flies: No Salt! As we cleared the third marker in the open lake with a course change ahead Captain pined for his "windshield", a 2.5’ square of thin plexiglass with corner holes drilled through for small twine. "Done," said First Mate who watched in fascination as twine was interlaced over the Bimini frame and a windshield supplemented by a cockpit cushion on edge indeed became a windshield. The course change to 0, due North brought a drenching blast of water. Simcoe blew, spray flew, and Captain was as snug as before in his improvised pilothouse. At The Narrows water calmed, then led us into Lake Couchiching. We made a bee-line along the base of the lake to the town bulkhead of Orillia, the first town in Canada to enjoy electric lighting thanks to its hydro-electric dam. Many Provinces are enjoying the start of a 3 day weekend, Civic Holiday.

Captain has rented a "land yacht", a bright red Suzuki Swift to retrace our passage along Rt 401 to retrieve our tow rig and move it ahead to Port Severn. We have little down-locking left. Our final elevation exiting Lock 45 on Severn Bay that opens into Georgian Bay, the northern lobe of Lake Huron will be 594’. Environment concerns precluded the completion of Lock 44: fear that the Lamprey Eel would spread beyond the St Lawrence system. In lieu of Lock 44 the "temporary" railway will haul us down what is dubbed "Big Chute."

Our drive passes through bucolic countryside, and we share the roadway with harvesting equipment on the way to reap and bale hay. At sunset with rays passing over fresh rolled bales they are transformed into gold coins standing on edge sharply defined against the sky. 401 also passes near Lake Ontario which we have paralleled in the protection of the chain of finger lakes and rivers.

Saturday, August 5:  By mid-day we are back from retrieving our van now awaiting us at Bush’s Marina. Quiet Lake Couchiching (Coo-itching) with its waterside park is bursting at the seams. No wind today but the lake is awash in power boat wakes; beaches and coves resemble seal colonies. The upper end of the lake narrows into what is known locally as "The Bowling Alley." Captain has reprised my Wednesday evening raceboat role as Rear Observer to advise him when cruisers are about to blast past him. At the end of the canal to the lock vessels too numerous to fit on the official Blue Waiting Wall are idling. Captain’s free booty lunch hook is just the ticket to hold A1 SAILBOATS.COM’s place in line. This busy lock merits a yellow signal well in front of the light that changes from red to green when it is time to enter Lock 42.

 Lock 42 is locking as we have never seen it before. Vessels are tied on each lock wall, and a third boat nuzzles along side a mate of equal height. Four rows of three abreast is the goal. At our locking a 43’ Present Flying Bridge Trawler with 15’ beam left just enough space for A1 SAILBOATS.COM to glide in the middle of row 3, and we locked through with 11 vessels. No one was short enough to fit behind the Present.

Our chanel opens onto Sparrow Lake, as diminutive as its name suggests. Beyond it is a gorge of pink and gray granite boulders rising steeply beside us. Wednesday’s storm toppled many a pine off its rocky sub-strata, its root mass a smooth plane that found no purchase in the rock below. Many cottagers are still without power here where a tornado accompanied the thunder and rain.

Just when we thought we had seen it all, Rapid Rapids Lock built in 1965 bowled us over with its 47’ descent. In addition to the ordinary black tether cables, Mate enjoyed the luxury of being tied at the bow to a floating bollard that descended as we did. From the bowels of "Giant Lock" emanated sounds akin to what Noah must have heard when swallowed by the Whale. As like Noah, we too, were mercifully spit forth unharmed when the towering lock gate opened to seek a secluded overnight anchorage on the Severn River in Wood’s Creek.

 Cast fishing is an obsession in these parts. From docks along the route, in open boats, even from a boat tethered to a marker in the wake tossed Bowling Alley, from daybreak past dusk, they cast. Oddly, we see no creels for their catch, just minnow baskets suspended in the water. When we over-nighted on the lock wall at Gamebridge a grizzled retiree was there trying his luck when First Mate retired for the night. He was there when we arose in the morning. For all we know he could have been our overnight Guardian Gnome. With a nearly full moon, it was no surprise to have half-a-dozen open boats with 2 to 3 young men apiece earnestly casting long past sunset. A family in a paddle boat: mom, dad and 9 year old daughter, rods akimbo, slowly pass by. A father with 2 young sons canoed nearby. The tyke on the bow did his best to hold his paddle over the side; the coordination of stroking awaits another year. Miss Pumpkin turned in by 9:00 anticipating the morrow’s excitement of descending on the world’s only marine railway lowering and lifting vessels 57’.

 Sunday, August 6: Big doings Saturday at Big Chute. An electrical cable frayed through emitting sparks and flame. The down bound vessels had to back off creating a bit of a backlog today for us to observe before its our turn. A staff of 4 supervise loading the "lock", again with 3 abreast in the front. A large vessel with twin screws completed the first load. The aft vessel looked as if an excess of stern protruded beyond the lift. But as this giant "St Christopher" pulled its load onto its straps fully out of the water we could see the props safely jutting beyond the back edge. As the stern vessel’s weight shifted to the straps it listed to port much as a sailboat heels in the wind. The innards of the lift building resemble a ski lift mechanism with huge cable drums lowering this oversized travel lift downhill like a skiing gondola, except the lift is guided from below rather than the lift being in suspension. The complete round trip cycle takes 45 minutes. Now First Mate is accustomed to heeling, but having our bow head down a 25 degree slope is as close as "Chicken Little" cares to come to pitch-poling head over heels. And at the base Little Chute’s 5 knot flow awaits us when we pull out of Big Chute

After two down bound loads our narrow girth garnered us a place in the port forward corner.  No lines for First Mate to monitor, but she needed to grip a steel handrail with the boat hook to keep the bow from blowing into another boat’s loading space as morning breezes built. Mate had visions of descending astride the mast and furled genoa on the bow fore peak akin to Slim Pickin’s riding a falling atom bomb in the movie Dr. Strangelove. Once a large aft vessel completed our load the giant tugged by 4 cables imperceptibly commenced lumbering up hill until the slings held all aboard snuggly. We stopped for inspection in front of the dam overlook road. Lights flashed and bars to halt traffic lowered to clear the path ahead of us to cross the road before plunging over the precipice. Oddly the bars raised, and we stayed put. Twice more the operators had a running go at lowering us before announcing that we were all to be off loaded. Too many electrical gremlins were triggering safety warnings to the computer operating system. We did observe the solution to the 25 degree grade of descent. Dual tracks for the lift wheels with the inner track elevated to compensate for the slope allows vessel to ride down nearly level. The aft wheels are wider spaced and follow the incline.

While a repairman is on his way we have no way of knowing how long the delay will last. Fellow disappointed Big Chuters, Lynn and Scott aboard a 25’ Baja had been pent up since yesterday. Captain put Plan B into effect. He tied up at a floating dock beside a shallow launch ramp and deployed the land dinghies. Captain and Mate, helmeted and poised to set out were dissuaded by Lynn's earnest entreaties. They were now separated from their boating buddies who had been lowered just ahead of them with all the food while they remained above with all the charts. We all trekked down the staircase and whistled up Bev and David aboard their 19’ Cuddy Cabin Winker. The men went aboard to head for Bush’s Marina while we girls like ants at a picnic toted the food back to the Baja to await Captain’s return with van and trailer. As a bonus, Captain was able to haul out and re-launch the Winker reuniting the friends. Since they are based on Lake Simcoe they have lost interest in Big Chute s ince t hey would be dependent on being able to return again on Monday. It was a win-win partnership: Jim got a ride to his van; Dave got his boat back up the Chute to rejoin his friends.

Like a cat licking cream from her whiskers I had just finished ice cream when I spotted A1 SAILBOATS.COM loaded on the trailer in the parking lot above the dam with Captain completing preparations for the road. The loud speaker announced restoration of service and called for the MacGregor to return for priority in line. Better to have locked and aborted than never to have locked at all. We had only one last lock beyond to go to complete this premier waterway. And I saw it all from the bow of our MacGregor.

By land it was 331 miles one way for our tow rig in Port Severn. Our journey home halted for the night in a campground, still aboard, in Cobourg East Campground in Grafton. We are beside a field of wildflowers: Queen Anne’s Lace and magenta flower spikes with shady trees. Monday and Tuesday will bring us easily back to Mayo to dream about the lakes we’ll head back to next summer.

The Trent-Severn Veterans