63 Trenton, Ontario to Midland, Onta

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Fourteen times around in an 8-foot circle pushing against the lock gate lever and I’d opened the left wooden lock gate. On the opposite side, the lock tender did the same. I’d volunteered to open one of the manual gates on the Trent-Severn Waterway. Many of the gates and water control valves are manually operated just they way they were when the Waterway was built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Now they will stay manual– preserved as living history as part of Canada’s heritage. It was a pleasant, leisurely way to transit locks. Along the Trent-Severn there are 44 locks and to carry us the 240 miles from Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay on Lake Huron.

We felt slightly out-of-place in this land of modest cottages and small boats. Our 36-foot sailboat with 10 feet of mast sticking out over either end looked huge compared to the 16-20 foot runabouts we saw most of the time. At one lock, we waited patiently for someone to lock down. Much to our surprise, when the lock gates opened, out came three canoes. Larger boats were rare. The few we saw were mainly transit boats like us heading for Georgian Bay.

Bath Tub Lock

Peterbrough has a hydraulic lift lock. The 65-foot ride up was just like being in a glass walled elevator. However instead of being enclosed in glass on 3 sides, we were standing on Tranquility and floating in the rising lock chamber with 3 other boats. A 7-foot hydraulic cylinder lifted the entire lock chamber much like a car is lifted on the service rack in a garage. As we went up, a second lock with extra water descended on its cylinder. As it sank, it pushed us up.

The Trent-Severn Waterway pretends to have 6 feet minimum depth. That’s what all their literature reads. We pretend to have a draft of only 5 feet, but raised the waterline 3 inches last fall when we repainted the boat bottom. We now ride somewhere between the old and new painted waterline. We sorted out all the pretending as we headed north from Peterbrough. As instructed we were very careful to stay in the center of the channel, however, even then bumped bottom 5 or 6 times. Each bump is always a heart stopper. You’re traveling smoothly along and all of a sudden, there’s a bump, and the boat raises slightly, shudders and slows. In many cases, we’d be off before we could react. In a couple of touches, we had to play with the throttle and forward and reverse to get off.

Rounding a corner, we found Trent University hugging the edge of the canal. The corner of the library sat on the water’s edge. Large windows looked out over the water and trees. New students must loose a day or two of study, before they become accustomed to the stunning view. We stopped for the evening at a lock nearby and came back to walk the campus and enjoy the distinctive architecture of the buildings.

One morning the lock tender handed me his phone explaining he had to go help operate the upstream lock because of absenteeism. Before leaving, he pointed out the coffeepot, and I sat for an hour enjoying a cup of coffee and taking notes from the downstream lock when they called with counts and times of boats leaving their lock.

As we moved along the waterway the scenery kept getting better. Shale gave way to granite, and pines began mixing in with hardwoods. Stony Lake almost tempted us to stop and stay a few days. It was dotted with hundreds of small rocky islands. A few had cottages, but many had just impressive granite boulders with trees and bushes clinging to the thin soil in cracks and crevices. The water was deep and clear, and had we wanted, we could have tied our bow off many of the islands.

We couldn’t resist stopping at the lock leading into Love Sick Lake. The lock was dug through the center of an island and can only be reached by boat. We tied up for the evening and went off exploring climbing over boulders and wandering along a faint trail in the woods. It was a wonderful peaceful evening.

The density of houseboats had slowly been increasing. Most of them had large signs along the side advertising the company they were rented from. We translated the signs into ‘inexperienced boater’ and tried to give them a wide berth.

Tom, owner of Center Point Marina near Bobcaygeon gave us the warmest welcome we’d ever received in a marina as we pulled in to spend the weekend. We settled in at the end of a dock and discovered we’d become the center of attention at the marina. One-by-one boaters came down to say hello, and find out about Tranquility and us. We were the only sailboat in the marina and everyone was curious once the word got out that we’ve lived aboard for two years. The following night we were invited to the marina wine and cheese party. It was a fun evening of good conversation.

Four boys walked the rapids leading to the edge of Fenelon Falls. Hesitating at the edge to work up courage, or loose common sense one jumped and dropped the 10 feet to the pool below. Seeing that he survived and was now laughing as the rapids swept him downstream the others made their jump and were quickly swept from view. We continued our exploring and got to Tranquility just before the rain. Later that afternoon, John and Barb our friends from Eriskay drove down from Midland bringing a wonderful dinner and torn umbrella with them. Duct tape, the boaters friend, quickly patched the umbrella and gave it that boater patched look. We relaxed in Tranqulity’s cockpit enjoying Barb’s wonderful dinner and discussing cruising plans for Georgian Bay.

Heading for Lake Simcoe, the canal became very narrow. We were glad that we didn’t encounter oncoming traffic in the confining channel. This portion, dug through solid rock had a very rugged feel. Along the edge tailings were still very much in evidence giving the feeling that the canal had only recently been finished. However, our cruising guide indicated it had been completed 90 years earlier.

Marine Railroad at Big Chute

Marine Railroad at Big Chute

As we pulled up to the blue line staging area along the canal wall we could see rails coming down and disappearing into the water. When we looked closer there were boats at what looked like a dock. As we watched, the dock with two rows boats began to move up the rails. Out of the water came an immense structure with 6 boats aboard. Majestically it moved up a slight hill, paused at the crest and then disappeared from sight as it started down the long descent on the other side. After years of hearing about the marine railroad at Big Chute it was exciting to be there.

When our turn came, the marine railroad crew reconfigured the slings, and we floated into position. They tucked a small boat in behind us, and we were off on our ride over the hill. Tranquility settled into the slings as we came out of the water and rode smoothly to the other side. It was a unique sensation sitting aboard and going up and over and then down the steep hill on the other side while staying perfectly level.

We cleared the last lock at Port Severn and were in Georgian Bay. Our trip through the Trent-Severn had taken 12 days. The variety of landscapes and villages had been a treat; the people we met very friendly and helpful. We were sorry to see it end.

As we waited along the lock wall for the wind on Georgian Bay to die down, a gentleman came up and indicated we looked familiar. It turned out to be Rolf off Supra. We’d been in Wardwick Wells Exumas at the same time but hadn’t had a chance to talk. As we told him about our plans it turned out we’d be tying up next to Supra in Midland. It’s indeed a small world.

Finally, in the late afternoon the wind died and we headed out trying to pick out channel marks almost invisible in the glare of the sunset before us. Finally clear of the narrow channel, we turned east and crossed the last few miles of open water to Midland and a warm welcome by John and Barb.

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