86 Kingston to Westport, Ontario


The Rideau Canal twists 126 miles and 45 locks northward to Ottawa. Armed with charts and cruising guides we started up the canal. Built by the British after the War of 1812 to serve as a safe military supply route between Ottawa and Kingston, the canal is now operated by Parks Canada for pleasure boat and recreation use. Rocky, wooded shores immediately smothered out all feeling of having been in a city, and we traveled alone along the river enjoying the instant wilderness feeling.

The blue line on the staging dock at Kingston Mills locks was empty as we tied up.

Kingston Mills Flight Locks

However, the first lock chamber was filled with a flotilla of boats just starting their way up 3 flight locks (each lock shares a gate with the next) and one detached lock. Canal passes purchased, the hours drifted by as we watched the flotilla slowly move up the locks. Once they cleared, a new flotilla at the top started down. Finally, it was our turn, and we entered the lock followed by 10 other boats. The lock tenders tucked a small boat under a bow, and one boat rode up rafted across the stern of the last row of boats. Four hours after first tying up at the dock, we’d cleared Kingston Mills.

Half the bay bottom seemed to come up with the anchor. A huge ball of weeds, sticks and mud hung from the end of the anchor chain completely hiding the anchor. Ten minutes work with the boat hook cleared the mess, and we slowly started out of Morton Bay. We’d stayed for a day watching the sun change shading and colors on the rocky cliff jutting up out of the trees across from our anchorage. A second cliff ended in the water. A local boat tied off and dad and the kids climbing slowly worked their way up the side of the cliff to the top, 20 feet above the water. After much staring over the edge and false starts one finally made the jump to the deep water below.

Lock gates at Jones Falls opened, and the lockmaster motioned us to enter ahead of smaller boats waiting on the blue line. We’d been standing off holding position for 10 minutes hoping to catch the first lock. Large boats and houseboats enter first and are placed as far forward in the lock as possible. All the smaller boats waiting were packed in around and behind us leaving an empty blue line. Locktenders cranked the manually operated gates closed, and we were on our way up another set of three flight locks and one detached lock.

Nearing the top of a lock our view expands from the top down. Slowly our narrow rectangle of sky grew larger and treetops appeared. Trees grow from the top down as we rise in the lock. Then very quickly our view became normal as constraining lock walls drop below eye level revealing grass, the canal ahead and boats waiting on the blue line.

The last Jones Falls lock was a different experience. Sky gave way to heads, then shoulders, bare chests, bikini tops, tee shirts, fat bellies, skinny waists, shorts, swim suits, tan thighs, knobby knees and all matter of sneakers, sandals and bare feet. As we rose higher the reason for our audience became evident. The blue line was lost behind a huge raft of boats. More boats were standing off in the canal. We later learned 27 boats waited to lock down. It was going to be a long delay for many of the boaters since with the large boats waiting the locks could only accommodate 9-12 at a time. The lockmaster helped by doing a double down. Once one group was started down, the lock was recycled and another group of boats started the slow trip down the flight locks.

Clear water made it easy to clear the fouled dinghy lifting line from the prop. Accompanying the tangle of line was a strange piece of heavy wire that we could not identify. Diving again, I found the source of the metal. The cotter pin locking the prop nut to the shaft had been pulled free by the line and bent to an unrecognizable shape. Not carrying a spare large cotter pin, I spent some time bending the wire to a rough approximation of a cotter pin and reinstalled it.

Some good came from our mishap. Concerned about loosing steering if the line fouled further, we’d asked a boater on the Jones Falls dam dock if we could raft. As we finished up, the houseboat on the opposite side of the dock left. We moved to the dock and spent the day exploring the area. The museum, a lockmaster’s home was interesting. It was a combination home and blockhouse with gun slits for use in case of attack. At the time the locks were built, Canada was worried about another war with the US. We found great canal tee shirts to purchase as our souvenir of the Rideau Canal. Once the lockmaster had packed the lock full with boats, he had time to talk about the locks and why things were so crowded. He explained that “the Quebec navy was on the move.” Quebec virtually shuts down for two weeks, and everyone was on vacation. We were seeing all the Quebec boaters heading west toward Kingston before turning around and heading back home.

A sign indicated baked goods and gifts for sale in a home kitchen. The line drawing of the house indicated something special, and we headed down a country road to find it. The grounds were beautiful and the shop was indeed in a kitchen. We bought cookies and savored the unique home and grounds as we headed back to the picture post card setting of Chaffey Lock and the old adjacent mill on a gray, drizzly afternoon.

A houseboat came in and tried to tie off on the opposite dock just past the blue line. Wind and current soon had him crosswise in the canal slowly closing on Odyssey. Mac, a fellow boater, began shouting maneuvering instructions which the skipper tried only to find steering problems. As he struggled for control, I dropped our dinghy in the water, and with the bow on the houseboat pushed him against the dock.

By 10 a.m. all dock space at Westport was taken. Tobin James, a beautiful Christ Craft, invited us to raft off. Convenient stores made for short trips as we restocked Odyssey’s supplies. Tom and Susan off Tobin James and Pete and Geneva off Woodya joined us for happy hour. It was fun to again be in company with fellow full-time live-aboard people and swap notes about our adventures.

We never made the walk we started on. As we drifted down the dock conservation with fellow boaters enjoying the nice evening slowed our progress. Soon we were surrounded by a small group of people asking questions about Odyssey. I suggested it would be easier to provide a tour and Tobin James indicated they didn’t mind people crossing their bow. Word spread quickly and suddenly we had 20 people aboard Odyssey on tour. We’d been invaded by the Quebec navy, a friendly group who left with wives talking to husbands about more space and washer/dryer on their next boat.


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