6/25 – 7/1/2016 Summary – On the morning of June 25, we left Bobcaygeon headed for Fenelon Falls, the “Jewel of the Kawarthas.” And it was. We walked the town, visited a small farmer’s market, ate dinner at Just for the Halibut, and took a long bike ride on Victoria Rail Trail. It was a great place and we did not want to leave.
Nonetheless, the next morning we slipped our lines and pulled away from the lock wall only to see the 120’ Kawartha Voyageur having just rounded the corner of the narrow lock channel. (See details of that surprise below!)
That afternoon we entered Balsam Lake, the highest point on the Trent-Severn Waterway. We stopped in the middle of the lake and went for a swim in the clear cool water. Beautiful neon blue dragonflies (which thankfully eat mosquitos) flitted about us.
Over the next 70 miles, we did some interesting locks: the Kirkfield Lock – second highest lift lock in the world (second only to the one we did in Peterborough); Swift Rapid Lock – the biggest drop (47’) of any conventional lock on the waterway; Big Chute – a railroad car that took our boat out of the water and across a land bridge and put us back into the water a quarter-mile downstream and 57’ lower in elevation; Lock 45 – the narrowest and shortest lock in the system; the 110-year-old railroad swing bridge opened for us by the bridge tender climbing to the top of the control tower in the center of the bridge.
The scenery along the waterway was extraordinary! Areas with cottages along the water to long stretches with nothing but trees and a few small (very small) towns produced one of the most interesting and beautiful sections of the Loop for us so far. We must have driven through half a dozen places called “The Narrows” with channel markers as close together as 20′ apart.
After leaving the Trent-Severn Waterway, we were in the eastern reaches of Georgian Bay. We made the 8-mile voyage from Lock 45 to Wye Heritage Marina in Midland, Ontario where we left the boat while we returned to Phoenix for the month of July. It will be good to be home for a short spell, but we are eager to see what the rest of Canada has to offer.
There are lots of details below if you are interested, but if not, we are not offended. Thanks for stopping by!
Details – Friday, June 25, dawned bright and clear and we took an unusually short day, only 16 miles to Fenelon Falls Lock 34. It was just a short distance across Sturgeon Lake which was “waterski smooth” for us. The turn into the lock entrance, which used to be a flight lock but is now only 1 lock, was a very long and narrow approach. We considered making it just a lunch stop but after hearing Lock 35 was also a popular stop and we might need to get there by 2:00 to have space on the wall, decided to just stay at Fenelon Falls. We were so glad we did.
Paula’s first stop was right across the street from the lock at the Crafty Ewe yarn store. After lunch on the boat, we walked to the outdoor market where Paula found delicious gluten and egg-free date bars…yum. Seemed the other outdoor market the tourist center host told us about didn’t exist, but we got some exercise looking for it and enjoyed the base of Fenelon Falls on our return to town followed by a walk the other direction through town. We thought Fenelon Falls was a much better mix of shopping and touring than Bobcaygeon. The best part of it was experienced after supper on the boat and letting the heat of the day cool down a bit. Just through the park adjacent to the lock wall was the 52-mile long Victoria Rail Trail.
Originally a railroad, now it is a dog-walking/biking/jogging trail by summer and snowmobile trail by winter. We biked toward Burnt River about 10 miles on the most beautiful flat trail that looked like a “trail to forever” through woods interspersed with open bays and houses, finishing about 8:45 just as the sun set (opening picture). Love those long days to do so much! We really enjoyed Fenelon Falls and see why it is known as the “Jewel of the Kawarthas.”
Paula almost couldn’t wait for the next morning to go run the trail while Tom caught a few extra zzz’s. We left leisurely around 11:15, dragging our feet and hating to leave. Just as Paula pulled away from the dock, around a blind turn came the 120’ Kawartha Voyageur, a big cruise boat whose captain (not too kindly) announced on his loudspeaker we needed to clear the way for him. Not able to stern back into the tight spot we just exited, it was a good thing there was just enough space on the wall to pass one boat and pull right back in behind another. With the help of 2 guys on the wall and some tricky driving, we snuck into the slot just as it passed us – with our bow hanging over the back of the boat in front of us! Bad as it was, we were told it was a good thing to know where they were and that we would not be meeting up with them later in the day. Tonnage rules, and Kawartha Voyageur is basically the biggest boat on the water. We heard the captain doesn’t announce his position in narrow sections on the VHF radio, and if you meet them, you must yield, back up, or do whatever is necessary to get out of their way, even if other right-of-way rules favored your position. Later in the day, there would have been no room to maneuver. After catching or breath, we headed back out on the waterway.
Four miles later, we arrived at Balsam Lake, the highest lake on the Trent-Severn at 840’ above sea level. Up to this point, all the locks had lifted us up, and the water upon which we traveled flowed to the Atlantic. From there on, we would be locking down 10 locks on water ultimately finding its way to the Gulf of Mexico. We shut off the engines and let the boat drift while we took a swim in the clear cool water. What a refreshing break!
Balsam Lake fed back into the narrow canal where we could see the rock-ledges just a few feet off the side of the boat. It would have been nearly impossible to pass anyone as big as us, let alone the Kawartha Voyageur. The route then opened up onto Mitchell Lake, which was full of stumps and very shallow, but with a well-marked channel. Then back into a super-narrow canal again before arriving at the Kirkfield Lift Lock 36, the 2nd-largest lift lock in the world (about 5 stories tall at 49’, just a bit smaller than Peterborough), which could accommodate boats weighing more than 1,500 tons. We tied off at the wall to scout it and then waited there until we were sure we could be in first position at the front of the “pan.” Lights indicated which pan was loading (right or left). Ahead, as we drove in, nothing could be seen other than air, a big drop, and tops of trees, making it look like you were driving off the edge of the earth – scary cool, all at the same time! A short minute and a half after the movement down started, the ride was over.
After we tied up at the bottom of the lock for the night, we enjoyed talking with Tom McDowell and Carolynn Boehmler on Su Sueno, extensive cruisers who had boated both west and east coasts of the US as well as through the Panama Canal and Central America.
We were the last to pull off the wall at Kirkfield at 8:20 the next morning, not sure of our destination for the day. Ahead was a series of lakes and locks. First we crossed Canal Lake, a very shallow lake during which, at times, we only had about 2’ under our keel. Again, we collected weeds and Tom had to dive under to eliminate the vibration caused by them. In short order, we traversed Locks 37 through 41, all within 4 miles of each other. Then it was decision time based on the weather.
Ahead was Lake Simcoe, 20 miles long by 16 miles wide, which could brew a nasty storm quickly with waves up to 8’ and whose waters required respect. But our route was only about 15 miles along the east end of the lake and the day forebode a good crossing with rain possible the next day. We decided to cross. We had good conditions but Tom had to dive the props and stabilizer one last time to clear weeds. The water was the clearest of any lake on the Trent-Severn, with visibility all the way to the bottom, over 20’ below. At the end of the lake, we drove into The Narrows at Atherly at the gateway of Orillia, met by lines of Sunday afternoon boaters in the narrow channel enjoying the weekend. This time, we were “the big guy” and took our half out of the middle! There were lots of folks just sitting in the ubiquitous brightly colored Adirondack chairs watching the parade of boats.
One more lake to go – Lake Conchiching – and our 6-mile route through it. The channel was narrow but well-marked and we passed many islands, one of which had a YMCA camp with a beach and lots of people enjoying the shore and water. One final channel took us to the top of Conchiching Lock 42 and we called it a day, as we were then a bit ahead of schedule. It was a very quiet wall, and we spent the night all alone. Before dinner, rain moved in, our first rain in 15 days since locking through the last day in Oswego, NY with Kathy except for a short shower the evening back in Peterborough while we were at dinner with Gordon and Judith. The power went out and we had a wonderfully quiet dark night. Our Trent-Severn passage had been blessed with incredible Canadian weather and minimal bugs. (We heard the black flies and mosquitos could be bad the end of June through August.)
By the next morning, the rain had moved through and we awoke to bright blue skies. Paula cut Tom’s hair lock-side and we took a walk through the neighborhood before locking down the Couchiching Lock 42. On our walk, we found a bunch of very tiny frogs (maybe toads) along the road. We motored through the canal until it opened up onto Sparrow Lake and then into some extremely narrow, rocky canal passes before arriving at Swift Rapids Lock 43 where we stopped at the top, a whopping 15 miles for the day, as we had gotten a bit ahead of schedule. It was quite windy until late in the day, which provided nice cooling for our aft deck dinner.
At 47’, Swift Rapids Lock 43 was largest lift of any conventional lock on the system (nearly double the height of any other). Unlike on the Erie Canal, Trent-Severn lockmasters did not use VHF radios to communicate with boaters. Using the telephone was normally the only way to talk with them if necessary (or blow the boat horn 3 times to indicate your presence and desire to lock through). However, at Swift Rapids, the staff monitored the locking procedure from a control tower and used a PA system for communication. It was a very “modern” lock, built in 1965 at the end of an unimproved 11-mile road and the lock staff boated to work. Unlike other locks, once the fill/drain process was begun, the process could not be reversed. We were allowed to climb the stairs up to the control tower and enjoyed watching several boats lock through.
We met lock wall neighbors Jack and Debra Hurst on Another Compromise who kept their boat at the south end of the Georgian Bay and cruised the area each summer. They were also platinum Loopers, meaning they had completed 2 (or more) Great Loops! We loved talking with them, shared many common stories and talked about other boaters we knew in common. It was sweetly becoming a “small world” of boat acquaintances.
Tuesday morning was a little cooler and though in shorts, we wanted our fleeces on while boating on the flybridge. It warmed up in the afternoon, but we had light spitting rain most of the day. As we were still ahead of schedule, we locked through Swift Rapids Lock and only moved 9 miles through narrow cuts and beautiful cottages to the top of Big Chute Marine Railway Lock 44. We walked to Big Chute and watched several boats railway over and talked with the lockmasters about their historic marine railway. Big Chute is a boat railway which works on an inclined plane and carries boats in individual strap cradles. Upon entering, the boat is floated in position, and the cradle is then tightened around the boat hull. The railway is then moved by 4 cables operated by 200 hp electric motors.
As we watched boats lifted over and talked with their owners, the lockmasters asked if we knew everybody! We visited the 1-room museum, watching the same video on the history of the Trent-Severn we had seen at the Peterborough Lock.
With only a marina restaurant nearby, we walked there and had a slow lunch with an overwhelmed cook without wait staff and a roomful of diners. Paula had poutine, a Canadian 1000-calorie heart-attack meal consisting of French fries, smothered with grilled onions, melted cheese (in this case cheese curds), bacon, and chicken, but without the normal gravy (which Tom took for the French fries that came with his hamburger).
On Wednesday, it was our turn to experience Big Chute firsthand. The wind was up and the dam was open, adding a more challenging current to the entry. We wanted to watch a few more boats navigate that, so made one more trip up to the observation platform. First there was a PDQ (motor cat with wide-set power), then Hydrophilic (single with bow thruster), and finally Su Sueno (twin/no bow thruster, like us). Sue Sueno did a great job entering and Paula decided she wanted to do it just like they did. Back at the boat, lines cast, Paula lined up almost parallel to the oblique dock just forward of Big Chute. She stayed very close to the starboard rail of the lift, allowing the current and wind to pull our stern around just as she entered. Tom gave directions from the bow and shazam, we motored in on top of the straps just like we had planned. The lockmasters asked Paula when she was going to start giving instruction. What a compliment and Paula was elated it worked like she thought it would. (She says even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.)
What an amazing ride Big Chute was. We were positioned on our keel at the very rear of the lift with about 12’ of our boat (including the props) hanging off the back. The view looking down 60’ was like hanging in mid-air. After about 5 minutes, the railway rails were again underwater on the other side and Life’s TraVails floated off (pictures compliments of Carolynn on Su Sueno and Amanda on Cat Daddy).
Downriver, we swung wide and gave a radio securite and 3 horn blasts to be sure we didn’t meet any opposing traffic at Little Chute, a short but very narrow cut. We proceeded through the Port Severn Lock 45, the narrowest (23’) and shortest (84’) lock in the system, stopping at the tight base wall for the night (our only recommended position with which we disagreed – top would have been more desirable). After a patio lunch at Bush’s Marina and a walk to look around (very little in the area), we relaxed for most of the afternoon and had a nice visit with Bill & Martha Newman on Eagle’s Wings who we had first met at Fenelon Falls. (Bill had helped us squeeze back into the wall when the Kawartha Voyageur edged us out of the canal.)
It was a bittersweet evening. We had safely finished the Trent-Severn. But…we had finished the Trent-Severn. We loved the beauty and variety and friendliness of fellow-cruisers and lockmasters. We were awed by the granite islands with single cottages and beautiful bays. The only negative – we wished there had been more time for us to enjoy it and stop more places. We determined we would have to return, Lord willing.
Rain and wind was headed our way, so we decided rather than anchoring out the next night, we would head for Wye Heritage Marina in Midland a day early. More electrical problems provided another good reason for getting there. We entered the Georgian Bay with its winding route past Green Island, through the Potato Island Channel (the narrowest channel yet where we had to spin Life’s TraVails to make one 90 degree turn just as we passed through 2 navigation markers barely wide enough for our boat).
Wye Heritage Marina was only 8 miles south, a very protected marina at the mouth of the Wye River. We got a quick pumpout at the fuel dock before proceeding to our tight slip, R30, on the “big boat” dock. With the wind, it took Paula 3 attempts to get it right (first time in quite a while), but her anxiety was absent; she just backed out and realigned again. We had a late lunch at the highly recommended Henry’s Fish and Chips, (the “south” one, with the original being ahead of us at Frying Pan Island in Sans Souci). Afterward, Tom went to work on patching the port toe rail damaged when we lifted out of the water in the Chesapeake. At this point, we had decided we wanted to paint the toerail rather than keep the varnished wood finish, making the repair easier (not having to splice and match new teak to old) and less time-consuming, not to mention less ongoing maintenance. Over 2 days, he patched with 3 coats of filler and sanded to get a smooth finish. Meanwhile, Paula made shuttle arrangements from Midland to the Toronto airport, blogged, and route-planned for our upcoming Georgian Bay segment.
The forecast for the next morning was for rain, so Tom checked the list for inside items he could do. And when he went down to the engine room for one project, he found another one he didn’t even know he had…a leaking fuel line. He fixed the new-found leak on the 12.5kw generator and changed fuel filters while Paula continued the Georgian Bay route planning. We met with Steve, the Wye Heritage service manager, regarding getting quotes for the electrical issues, painting the aft shower, toerail and anchor pulpit. But, as it was Canada Day (Canada’s independence day and a national holiday), the technicians who would do the work were not there and we couldn’t get any appraisals. But we did get to watch fireworks originating from 4 areas around the bay and finished the day with a Netflix movie.
With only 1 more day before we left the boat, we got the scooter down and drove to town. Midland’s artistic claim to fame is its murals, the most impressive of which was a lighthouse which incorporated the window of the building into the lighthouse light. We lunched at the cute Lady Bug Café, finally tasting our first butter tarts, a Canadian pastry made with a variety of fillings.
We walked the Stations of the Cross on the grounds of the Martyrs’ Shrine dedicated to Jesuit missionaries murdered by the Iroquois Indians. From the lookout tower on the grounds we could see the marina. We then stopped by the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre, picked up a hiking map and hiked through the woods along the bay. Back at the boat, it was time for Tom to finish his toerail prep while Paula packed and cleaned the boat in preparation for leaving it in Canada for a month without us. We had gotten so comfortable in our home-away-from-home; it was hard to think about being gone a month and we knew we would miss it.