Nine Lives and crew are getting ready for our 2019 summer voyage. Expect to see new blog postings some time in the next 2 to 3 weeks. We will begin in Brewerton, New York, and visit the Finger Lakes, Cayuga and Seneca, before heading up the Oswego Canal and into Lake Ontario.
Meanwhile, I have just added the earlier blog postings that were originally published elsewhere. This means that unfortunately the blog is now somewhat out of order, for which I apologise. You can easily see the dates of the individual postings, so I hope you will forgive me for not knowing how to get it all in the correct sequence!
Before I begin telling you about our spring voyage, I should start with a brief summary of the winter projects.
Dick was quite busy on Nine Lives this winter, working through a list of general maintenance and specific issues. Initially this involved various electrical systems. Hurricane Irma last fall fried the power cords and affected some of the systems, so a boat electrical specialist was called in and worked with Dick to sort out the issues. While working on that, they discovered that the solar panels were not charging the batteries, because the connections had been damaged by a lightning strike way back before we collected the boat in St Petersburg! The panel connections were repaired, the stereo was replaced, and a few other issues were also resolved. We had some concerns over one of the fridges not keeping cold enough for safe storage of food. Dick realized that the enclosure is too tight to allow proper air circulation, so he installed two small computer fans at the back. Those, together with a small battery operated fan inside the fridge, seem to help.
Some of the other projects included installing a CO2 detector and a battery monitor, changing the oil in both engines and the generator, changing zincs and filters, purchasing new dock lines and all sorts of esoteric boating tools, replacing the grill with a new infrared grill, and removing the diving compressor from the front storage locker, thus freeing up lots of space. Oh yes, replacing the “joker” valves on both toilets, an unpleasant job that Dick said was not quite as awful as expected.
Fresh water tank newly sanitized and filled, and a final thorough cleaning of the interior by our ever helpful Kathy, together with cleaning and waxing the exterior by a local specialist and bottom cleaning by the diver, we were ready to embark!
We left just after 10am on April 11th, and headed to one of our favourite anchorages at Tom Point Creek, north of Beaufort SC for the first night. Upon arrival we celebrated the start of the 2018 voyaging with a special bottle of Moet champagne that is intended to be served over ice, perfect for boating! We chased the spring north, and the different greens and almost autumnal colours of the new leaves on the trees was very pretty. Some nights were quite chilly, but for the most part the weather was perfect and there were few insects about.
Our first bit of excitement occurred just as we were approaching Charleston. The area is busy and quite complicated to travel through, with close attention needed to both the charts and the numbers and shape of the markers. Shortly before we arrived in the harbor, the chart plotter (the electronic version of the charts that we see on the screen in front of the helm, and that we use to see where we are and where we need to go) suddenly switched from the correct detailed chart to something like a broad diagram, completely unusable. The usual measures such as turning off and on had no effect, so Dick had to quickly switch to using the tiny chart he had downloaded on his iPhone. Fortunately I also had a book
of paper charts to follow along, so we were not entirely travelling by the seat of our pants! It was somewhat disturbing though, to watch Dick, the driver, who is far sighted, at exactly the moment when the most attention needed to be paid to the waters ahead, suddenly whip off his sunglasses and peer down at the tiny screen on his phone! Fortunately we managed, and continued to manage for the 3 days it took to resolve the issue! We did not repeat last year’s two hour detour up the wrong channel in Charleston’s vast and complex harbor, and arrived without incident at our second night’s anchorage in Graham Creek, south of McClellanville SC. We have stopped there twice before, but this time was considerably less enjoyable due to the continuous and dramatic swinging from side to side as the wind and the tide worked in conflicting directions. I enjoyed watching oystercatchers on a temporarily uncovered shoal.
Day 3 took us to Bucksport on the Waccamaw River, one of the prettiest sections of the South Carolina ICW. It is something of a red-neck destination, with bikers, a large RV camp and the docks, and a bar that can get very lively on the weekends. We stayed there two nights, to avoid thunderstorms and high winds in the weather forecast. We were not the only boats taking precautions, as we saw few northbound travelers the second day, and very few of the smaller pleasure boats that are usually out and about on a Sunday afternoon.
Monday morning we headed towards Myrtle Beach, arriving early afternoon at the marina at Myrtle Beach Yacht Club, which is confusingly located in Little River, well north of the city it is named for! There we met and chatted with our first Loopers of the trip. To remind you, “Loopers” are boaters who are either in progress or have completed America’s Great Loop, the 6,000+ mile navigation of the east coast, the great lakes, the central rivers, and Florida that is our 5-year planned voyage. These Loopers we met are rather special, in that they have come all the way from Adelaide Australia to make this voyage. They bought a boat in Florida and began the trip this spring. They plan to complete the loop in about 1 year, a not uncommon practice, and then sell the boat at the end of their journey. We enjoyed meeting them again at the Rendezvous in Norfolk, after leapfrogging their boat “Someday” several times on the voyage north.
From Little River to Southport, and then on to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, we enjoyed an uneventful voyage. For a change, this part of the Intracoastal Waterway has been recently dredged, so we mostly had at least 12 feet of water under the boat and few nerve racking moments when the water shoals unexpectedly. Last year we touched bottom several times in this stretch.
Wrightsville Beach looks very pretty from the water, and is quite a lively stop for boaters, but there is very little there apart from the marinas. I enjoyed watching several floating condos (large, 70 ft+ cruising yachts) dock on the other side of the river while trying to avoid being run into by yahoos in speedboats and the occasional kayaker. It is one of the challenges of being on the water. Kayaks and paddleboards technically have the right of way over motor driven boats, as do boats under sail, but the jokingly called “law of gross tonnage” means that the bigger the motor vessel, the longer the stopping distance and the less maneuverable it is. Unfortunately kayakers and paddleboarders often fail to comprehend this simple fact of physics, and one has to keep a sharp eye out and be ready when they suddenly decide to cross directly in front of your boat! Speedboats are a different challenge, seldom
having a radio on board, so you cannot contact them (not that any transmission would actually change their behavior), and thinking that because they get a great thrill out of bouncing over a big wake, so will you. So the sensible rule of “one hand for the boat at all times” needs to be followed when these idiots I mean fellow boaters are out and about.
Leaving Wrightsville Beach we were stopped for a couple of hours by the closure of the Surf City Swing Bridge, which only opens once an hour, and does not open at all when the winds gust to more than 30 knots. Our destination that night was the anchorage in Mile Hammock Bay, which is located in the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejune. The protected anchorage can get quite interesting. For some hours after we anchored a large military helicopter crossed back and forth just north of our location, and the next morning we could see a lot of trucks and men in uniform on the shore. A number of them embarked on dinghies and set off south, followed closely by a Coast Guard RIB. We could hear over the radio that both the Surf City Bridge, and the Onslow Beach Swing Bridge were closed due to high winds, so we were lucky to have passed through Surf City during one of their few openings earlier. Fortunately the winds subsided enough that we were able to pass Onslow Beach Bridge the next morning. It is possible that we could have slipped under those bridges at absolute low tide, but I was glad we didn’t have to try!
Onward, continuing north to our next multi-day stop at the very pretty and boater friendly Beaufort, North Carolina. Just south of Morehead City we passed through a shallow area, and suddenly the water was literally boiling with triangular fins of hundreds of manta rays. I can’t find anything on google to explain the behavior, other than the statement that they occasionally breach like whales for unknown reasons. They eat zooplankton, so they were not feeding on a school of fish. We could hear them thumping and bumping on the hulls. The thrashing lasted for about 20 yards, and then all was calm again.
At Beaufort we enjoyed a great meal in a restaurant we went to last summer, and met quite a few Loopers docked in the marina. The City Docks are perfectly positioned to enjoy the waterfront restaurants and shops, with the added bonus of tokens for free drinks at one of the establishments. On Saturday we walked over to the local farmer’s market. As often happens these days, there are few stalls selling actual produce, and more selling crafts, but we enjoyed it anyway. I found a great hand woven basket set on a lazy susan. It is perfect for holding all the various bottles such as olive oil, vinegars, sauces, vanilla, etc etc, that must be secured even inside a cupboard so that they don’t fall over and leak when the speedboaters I was telling you about get too close and create wakes big enough to knock over anything unsecured. I also found a very cute stuffed toy lion made of alpaca, to add to the collection on the bed, much to Dick’s disgust.
North of Beaufort begins the first of the sections of the trip that I worry about, being very unhappy when the waters get even a little bit “lumpy”. As a former sailor you would think I would be used to big waves, but I never was and am unlikely to ever enjoy such conditions. The first challenge was the Neuse River. Last year, due to a lack of experience and understanding of wind and wave forecasts, plus a mistake on the part of the helmsman in following the chartplotter, we were really beaten up on this very wide and shallow river that empties into Pamlico Sound. This year we were well prepared, had followed
the forecasts, and knew exactly where we needed to go. We have also learned that when crossing “big” water, Nine Lives rides a lot smoother if we go on wide open throttle (pretty much as fast as the engines will take us at about 18 knots) than if we go at our usual 7 knots trawler speed. Of course this uses a lot more fuel, but the comfort and the ability to skip across potentially rough water is priceless. So we skimmed across most of the Neuse, and ducked into the very protected harbor at River Dunes, a boaters resort and housing estate north of Oriental, NC. In addition to the sheltered harbor, the resort offers a nice lounge and restaurant to boaters, plus a small general store and the loan of a courtesy car if you need to pick up groceries. At River Dunes we found 7 other Looper boats, with another arriving the next morning, so there was much enjoyment of docktails and convivial meals in the restaurant. A difficult decision was made (on our part) to wait out a predicted storm for 3 nights at River Dunes, instead of trying to make it further north to Belhaven the next morning. As I said to Dick, “Eight other Loopers are unlikely to be wrong!” We had a great time, especially the second night which happened to be my birthday. We invited all the Loopers to join us on board Nine Lives for Prosecco and nibbles. The weather being somewhat rainy and cold, everyone was inside, either in the salon or the cockpit, and we discovered that 16 on board is friendly but quite doable! All gathered during a break in the rain for a picture on the dock. I thought it was one of the best birthdays, and certainly the biggest party I have had since I was a teenager!
Tucker spent the time staying at his other home with Shel and Sherry. They are delighted to have him for much of this year, and he is delighted not to have to join us on the hated boat. However, perhaps he missed us a little, Sherry sent a picture of him trying out boxes to see if he could mail himself to join us…
During the downtime at River Dunes Dick took the opportunity to launch the dinghy and start the outboard motor. Unfortunately, after much coaxing, all that was achieved was a vague Eh Eh ah ah, followed by nothing, so rather than completely drain the battery, Dick gave up and added that to the ever-growing list of things to sort out at the boatyard this month.
From River Dunes we chose to run as fast as possible and make a 90 mile trip up the rest of the Neuse River, the Pungo River, and the Alligator River to the marina at the mouth of Albemarle Sound. This allowed us to catch up some of the time we had lost, and by giving Elizabeth City a miss the next day we were back on schedule. We set off across the Albemarle Sound (the second of the potentially very wind tossed big bodies of water) early in the morning at absolute mirror flat calm. By the time we had crossed the sound the wind and waves were already coming up, and I was very glad we had decided to start early and run fast. We took an alternate route north this year, opting to go through the Great Dismal Swamp (yes, it really is called that), a large protected wetland south of Norfolk, Virginia. The Dismal Swamp Canal is the oldest continually operating canal in the United States, opening in 1805, and never closed until 2016, when Hurricane Matthew did so much damage that the canal was impassable for a year. The original canal was dug completely by hand. George Washington was one of the early investors in the Canal Company, and helped to manage some of the building of the canal before he became disillusioned with the project and sold his shares.
North of Elizabeth City we joined the Pasquotank River, a beautiful waterway between treed banks with occasional well kept homes and cottages. At one point Dick’s attention was caught by a stick floating on
the water that seemed to move oddly. Rushing to the door we could see that it was in fact a large water snake swimming across the river. Gradually the river narrowed until we reached the South Mills lock. It was fortunate there was no southbound traffic coming out of the lock, because there was no room for another boat to pass us! This lock is the first that many Loopers encounter, and the lockkeeper takes great care to ensure that everyone is properly secured and fully understands the operation of the lock before he begins the 8 foot lift. Instead of 8 feet, this should definitely be referred to as 96 inches, it took 45 minutes to pass through this lock and the immediately following swing bridge!
Partway through the Dismal Swamp Canal is a stopping point with a 150 ft dock, a visitor centre, and a picnic area and rest rooms. On our arrival we could see that the dock was already full, with 2 sailboats and a large trawler, but fortunately it is common practice to “raft up” when the dock is filled. This meant we tied up our boat to the already docked boat “Exhale” a beautiful new North Pacific Trawler, and met the very nice Loopers who own it. Rick and Mary made us welcome and invited us for drinks aboard their boat. Trying hard not to be too envious of their large salon with two extremely comfortable recliner chairs, we enjoyed a convivial evening! The next morning we all set off in convoy through the rest of the canal towards our destination of Norfolk Virginia and the Looper’s Rendezvous. As the boats waited for the lock at the top of the canal and exited into the Deep River, we took pictures of each other and exchanged them by text messages. What a difference mobile phones make to all our lives!
Initially we found the much touted Great Dismal Swamp, well, dismal. For much of its length there is only a narrow strip of trees between the canal and a busy four lane highway. On the other side, again screened by a narrow line of trees, are farms and large fields, so I was doubtful (correctly) that we would see any sort of wildlife. As the clouds cleared the next morning and the sun came out the scenery also improved, the four lane highway gave way to a bike path, and the absolutely still water created gorgeous mirror image reflections of the vegetation on the banks.
A short trip up the Elizabeth River and we were at last in Norfolk. Mary from Exhale reports that the Blue Angels flew overhead to celebrate our arrival at Waterside, although I was busy helping with the docking and did not see them. However the next day Nine Lives was welcomed to Norfolk by a wonderful parade with representatives and floats from almost all the NATO countries plus marching bands from high schools and colleges around the country. I am certain our arrival was the reason for the celebration, surely it could not have just been the annual NATO Day Parade?
Not long after we docked our attention was drawn to a visitor on the finger pier right beside our slip. An otter came out onto the pier and proceeded to roll and wriggle on its back to dry its fur. Wonderful to watch, I have never seen an otter “in the wild” this close. I did not dare take time to drag out my big camera, so only phone pictures are available. After all the wriggling and rubbing, the otter went over and rearranged our neatly coiled dock line. “Awww,” I thought, “he is going to go to sleep on it!” Wrong. After disarranging it to his satisfaction, the little blighter first thoroughly peed on the line and then shat on it! Dick was, to put it mildly, not best pleased. After cleaning it off later, we discovered the next morning that the otter had returned in the night and decorated the line again. At that point we
changed the lines and secured them back to the boat. Apparently we were not the only boat in the harbor that was so blessed.
While we cleaned and polished the boat and prepared for the Rendezvous we were joined for dinner by friends Marilynn and Winkie. This was their second visit to Nine Lives, as we entertained them last year when we were at Hampton Yacht Club. It is always a great pleasure to meet and spend time with friends from the past. Marilynn and I worked at Brookhaven National Lab together many years ago.
The Rendezvous is a gathering of Loopers, future Loopers, and past Loopers and sponsors that takes place twice a year. There were 300 attendees, and 50 boats filled the Waterside Marina for the conference. Each day there were seminars on topics of interest, including slide show presentations on the route ahead, tips and tricks for choosing and buying the right boat, insuring it, maintenance, and even clearing US and Canadian customs. For 3 of the afternoons there is a “Boat Crawl”. Anyone who wishes to participate will open their boat for conference attendees to come aboard, see how we live on board, and ask questions. This is particularly valuable for people who are planning to do the Loop, but have not yet chosen their boat. Because we are somewhat unique, not many catamarans on the Loop, and we were the only Endeavour catamaran in the marina, we opened all three of the days. This meant that we didn’t get a chance to see the other boats, but we certainly enjoyed meeting all the people who came aboard. The conference finished with a Pub Crawl through four different nearby pubs. It was a very interesting and rewarding experience, and as we make our way around the Great Loop we will certainly attend future events.
On our last day we backtracked a little to Great Bridge, where Nine Lives is resting at Atlantic Yacht Basin. She will get a haul out and refurbishment of bottom paint, plus the list of projects that Dick either didn’t get to or could not reasonably do himself. Dick expects the work to be mostly complete by about the 24th of May, so he will return and stay onboard for a week or so then. He will re-provision, and also visit some of the Norfolk attractions we didn’t have time for. I am looking forward to a week on my own here in Hilton Head. Some time around June 1st, weather permitting, we will return to the boat and begin our summer voyage up the Chesapeake and onward to the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, Montreal, the Rideau and Trent Severn Canals, and then we will leave the Looper pack and head south to Lake Erie and the western end of the Erie Canal. Around September 1st we are booked at a marina in Brewerton, NY, for heated indoor storage for Nine Lives while we return home for the winter.
Our second day in Cleveland was spend exploring the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. We both enjoyed the experience, although we were most interested in the songs and artists of our own generation. I expect some people could spend days there, looking at memorabilia. I found the clothes fascinating, it was hard to believe the performers were so small. There were dresses belonging to Diana Ross and the Supremes, and they were tiny! The clothes worn by the giants of rock and roll, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and many more recent rockers, show that these men had to be well under 6 feet tall, and extremely thin by today’s standards. There was an excellent film with clips of Elvis Presley, and we also loved a 30 minute film of Dick Clark and American Bandstand. In the evening we walked a little further into town for an outstanding meal at Blue Point Grille.
From Cleveland it was a long day, 100 miles, to Erie, Pennsylvania. This year we made a conscious effort to reduce the distances we travelled each day, so a normal day has been 30 to 40 miles. The weather was glorious, although hot, with a bright blue sky and a good forecast for wind and waves. With no rain in the forecast we replaced the side doors with the screens, which involves two large stiff zippers each side and one on top. Just after lunch the clouds started to build up and the sky got dark. We were caught in an afternoon thunderstorm with accompanying squall out on the water. The rain lashed the boat from the side (of course it was the side I sit on) and the cushions, carpet, and my chair with me in it, got absolutely soaked. Eventually I managed to undo the top zipper and secure my door at the top, but with the strong wind the only way it could even partly reduce the amount of rain coming in was for me to stand with my back to it and hold on. Drenched doesn’t even begin to describe the experience. Dick, from his dry seat at the helm, was highly amused. The rain, low visibility, and choppy water were not the only matters for concern. We had heard a securite announcement from a tow that he was headed into port with 3 loaded barges. We could see his position on the chartplotter, but he didn’t seem to be moving, and we were headed directly for him. Dick went well out into the lake to make sure we gave him plenty of room. We were able to see through gaps in the rain as we passed that he was indeed stopped, repositioning the tow from the front of the barge train (pulling) to the rear (pushing it into port). In due course the rain stopped, the waves settled down, and the sky was blue again. The carpet took a while to dry though, and it was surprising how very dirty that rain was.
Erie is the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania, and its only major port on the Great Lakes. As heavy industry and shipping have declined, health care, plastics, tourism, and service industries have taken their place. The harbour was interesting, divided into several parts, with the one we were visiting requiring passage under an elevated walkway that connects the Sheraton Hotel with the Bayfront Convention Center. Unfortunately, the harbour itself is still something of a work in progress, but in a few years it could be very pleasant. There is a large maritime museum and library, and a 187 foot Bicentennial Tower along the waterfront.
Our next stop was Buffalo and a grateful goodbye to “big water” for this year. We stayed at the marina that is closest to downtown, and once again were pleasantly surprised by the waterfront parks and development of what was once a very unattractive industrial port. The marina is situated on a spit of land that also includes a waterfront park with attractive gardens, a lookout tower, and two restaurants. From the marina it was easy access to an extensive network of cycle paths. We rode our bikes through what looked to be a very interesting naval museum, the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park. There are a number of decommissioned ships, including a submarine, a cruiser, and a destroyer. Further along the Buffalo River is the oldest active fireboat in the world. The Edward M Cotter was built in 1900 and rebuilt in 1953. In addition to being a fireboat, she is used as an icebreaker on the Buffalo River in winter. She has a colourful history, including being burnt out in 1928 while fighting a fire on a barge carrying 5,000 barrels of crude oil. Rebuilt, she continued in service, and crossed Lake Erie in 1960 to help put out a fire in grain elevators in Port Colborne, Canada. We only saw her at dock, but I gather she is a regular sight in Buffalo Harbor.
After a two night stop in Buffalo it was time to make our way into the Western Erie Canal. We had planned our usual 9am start, but we were delayed somewhat at the pump out dock by a very slow pump. As it happened, that delay didn’t matter, because of limited service at the lock on the Black Rock Channel. This three and a half mile channel parallels the Niagara River, and allows boats to avoid the strong current and rough waters of the river. It was built as part of the Erie Canal, but somehow it is no longer part of the Canal and the lock is a Federally operated lock. It is in need of refurbishing, so the operators have decided to limit openings, and while two different phone numbers are provided to call to get the schedule, neither of the lines are manned. On arrival at the lock we found a sign that told us the first opening would be 11am, so we had to tie up and wait for over an hour. As is his wont when there is any expected delay, Dick set off along the lock wall to investigate. On his return, he met the lock keeper arriving for work, a surly individual who was not at all impressed with Dick’s friendly smile and told him in no uncertain terms that he was forbidden to be on the dock and to get back on that boat and stay there!
After exiting the Black Rock Channel, we were into the Niagara River, which was unpleasantly choppy until we turned into Tonawanda River. Not the most attractive waterway we have been on, and even after making the turn into the Erie Canal proper, it was somewhat unprepossessing until we had passed through the double lock at Lockport. The stretch between Lockport and Rochester is very pleasant, with small towns that are making the most of their waterfront and the opportunities for tourism. There are many lift bridges, all freshly painted in soft green with contrasting bright yellow trim. Most of the towns have free docking at the town walls, and many have installed power pedestals and shower facilities. One of the lock keepers told Dick that she is employed full time, all year round. During the winter when the canal is closed, they take apart and refurbish all the lock and bridge mechanisms. She said her winters are spent “up to the elbows in grease!” At each lock we were asked how far we planned to go that day, and the keepers called the next lock to tell them to expect us.
In Middleport we were joined for the evening by Wade Aiken, a talented photographer I met when we lived in Olean some years ago. It was nice to catch up and hear about his extensive world travels and his photography. The next day we travelled to Spencerport where we were met by another friend from the Olean Camera Club. Barbara was not able to stop for a meal, but we had time for a chat and a cup of tea and hope for a longer visit, perhaps next year when we are in the Finger Lakes.
A frequent sight on the Erie Canal is English-inspired canal boats that appear to be a popular vacation. The boats are a little wider than UK narrowboats, and generally shorter at a maximum of 43 feet, but they are driven by a traditional tiller at the stern, and they all look very clean and in good condition. You can rent them from Midlakes Navigation, and they offer 3, 4, and 7 day rentals. We do not wish to be disloyal to Nine Lives, but we were intrigued by the possibilities!
Rochester is another city with an attractive downtown. We turned off the Canal into the Genesee River, navigable almost to the city center. We tied up at a good dock in Corn Hill Landing, a revitalized historic neighbourhood. The waterfront complex of rental apartments includes several restaurants, one of them is a very pleasant wine bar. We walked over and each ordered a flight, sparkling for Dick, and rose for me. To accompany we had a meat and cheese board, with fresh French bread, local honey, and grainy mustard. It was a delightful way to spend an hour in the afternoon, particularly as we were planning an “eating up” evening of leftovers on the boat!
The next day Dick rode his bike through downtown to Lake Ontario. He reports that Rochester is a very clean city with lots of parks and waterfront paths. It is strange that a canal has never been cut to bypass the waterfalls in the river and allow access between the Erie Canal and Lake Ontario. Apparently, it has been proposed many times, but so far nobody has found the money.
In the afternoon we took a rental car to Ithaca, and after a very nice meal in a French restaurant we went to a concert by Joan Baez. What a remarkable woman she is. She played straight through without an intermission (or a chair), and returned to sing three more songs for an encore. It was a mix of old favourites and new material from her latest album. Although she can no long sustain the high notes, at 77 years old, she is still an amazing performer, and we were very glad we were able to take the time to see her on what is expected to be her last tour. The theatre is also of historic and architectural interest. The building, originally constructed in 1915, began as a garage and Studebaker showroom. In 1926 it was transformed into a cinema and vaudeville palace. The extravagant combination of Moorish and Gothic architecture is striking. After struggling for many years as a movie theatre that closed in the 1980’s, the building was condemned in 1997 and slated for demolition. It was saved by strong community support and fundraising from both municipal and private donors, and has been operating as a concert theatre since 2001.
Returning to the boat at midnight, we planned a slightly later than usual departure, but my Rochester experience was not yet complete. At just past 4am I became aware of footsteps and a slight rocking of the boat, as well as conversation from outside. I got up and shouted at Dick to wake up. No response. Shouted again as I opened the hatch and went up to the cockpit to find the absolute cliché of a black man in a hoodie sitting on the boat. I shouted at him “GET OFF”, and somewhat to my surprise, he did, with profuse apologies and compliments on the boat. He told me it was such a beautiful boat he just wanted to try to get a picture of himself sitting on it. His girlfriend on the dock also apologised and paid compliments. As this was happening, Dick finally woke up, just long enough to understand what had happened, to hear the apologies, and know that his intervention was not required. Then back to sleep he went, while I lay awake for hours getting over the shock! Thinking about the incident, I come away with a few thoughts. Given how well spoken and truly apologetic the man and his companion were, we are assuming they were simply walking to or from work, saw the boat and thought it was unoccupied and that they would not disturb anyone if they took a picture. It would have been very easy to over-react. By coincidence I have been reading in the AGLCA forum about several boats being boarded while tied up on the Illinois River. The boaters reported that they used wasp spray and other unspecified deterrents to get rid of the intruders. I know that many boaters (legally) carry firearms. In our case, while it was, for me, a disturbing experience, the trespassers were quite innocent, and over-reacting could have been disastrous. One thing we did agree on, in future we will make a point of connecting the lifelines and rail as well as bringing in the boarding ladder if we are using it. Just to make it a little less easy to get on board.
After Rochester we stopped at Newark, with a well maintained town wall, excellent shower facilities, and a nice little canal museum. From there the Canal became less scenic, and the towns not quite as pretty. There followed long stretches with no towns or signs of habitation. The next night we tied up below a lock, truly in the middle of nowhere (Tripadvisor reported the nearest restaurant was 4.5 miles away). It was an incredibly peaceful stop, almost like anchoring. We also noticed a somewhat different attitude on the part of the lock keepers (with the exception of the one we tied up at.) They seemed to be less likely to be paying attention to their radio when we called for a lock-through, requiring several calls before we could see any activity at the lock, and often no response on the radio at all. No longer interested in how far we would be travelling, and certainly not willing to call the next lock to let them know we were coming. The attitude seemed to fit with the general condition of the houses we saw along the canal in this stretch. Tumbledown shacks, yards full of junk, and lots of derelict docks.
Shortly before Baldwinsville we began to see an improvement. New homes and tidy cottages with well kept grounds and well maintained docks lined the Seneca River (the Canal becomes the river for much of this stretch). Baldwinsville is a very pleasant town of about 8,000. It is built on both sides of the canal, and includes an island between the canal lock and the dam. On the island is a large park with an amphitheatre, and we understand that concerts are held regularly through the summer months. The town wall has power and water, at $5 a night on the honour system. Here we met a couple of Loopers who have been spending summers on their boat for the past 8 years. They completed the loop in 2010-2011, and since then, they have been twice to Maine, spent two summers on Lake Michigan, and this summer they went to the north side of Lake Superior. Now me, I think of the Canadian side of Lake Superior as rocks, pine trees, and mosquitoes big enough to carry off your boat! However, Jill told me they loved it, anchoring most nights for nearly a month. The Lake was far more peaceful and the weather predictions more reliable than Lake Michigan, and as for mosquitoes, when they were there it was far too cold! It was certainly interesting chatting with them.
From Baldwinsville it was a short morning’s run to Brewerton, at the north end of Oneida Lake. At Winter Harbor, an aptly named marina where we will leave Nine Lives until next June, we found several other Looper boats in various stages of getting ready for winter storage. Nine Lives will be hauled out and stored in a huge heated and humidity controlled storage shed. While considerably more expensive than non-heated storage, there are a great many advantages, including being able to leave the water tanks full, most of the pantry food on board, and the security of knowing that damp will not be an issue. Since this is also a working boat yard, a quite long list of maintenance and repair items will be dealt with before launch next spring. Today is being spent packing up the clothes we will be taking home, doing a lot of cleaning, and generally getting Nine Lives ready for a long winter’s nap. We expect to leave tomorrow late morning, driving to Hagerstown, PA, and then get home early evening on Tuesday.
Look for the next instalment of the Nine Lives blog some time in June 2019.
It was difficult to leave Port Elgin… not because of its charms, rather because of the weather. We knew that there was a major weather system coming, and if we did not get out on the 21st, we would add as much as a week to this year’s voyaging. In fact, we regretted that we didn’t have a chance to explore Port Elgin and the neighbouring town of Southhampton. It was a pretty miserable morning, with driving rain and accompanying poor visibility. The wind and wave forecast was acceptable, but the day was expected to bring a succession of squalls that could be expected to cause localized rough water as well as visibility limited to a few hundred feet. We consulted a large weather map in the marina office several times, and finally at about 1:30 decided to make a run, hoping to slip between the squalls. We do have radar on board, but as we seldom use it, I am not confident that we would be able to interpret it well enough to see something like a small boat in time to avoid it. As it worked out, we went through one squall, and could not see much, but we were out there alone (surprise surprise) and we arrived in Goderich without incident.
We were unexpectedly quite captivated when we began to explore this town of 8000, self-billed as “Canada’s Prettiest Town”. We assumed hyberbole, but as soon as we hiked up the hill and saw the beautiful houses, charming English style gardens, and exceptional civic pride, we were convinced. Many of the lovely old houses and shops of the 19th and early 20th century are still occupied, and newer buildings are in keeping with the original style of the town. The layout of the town centre is an unusual octagon, with roads radiating out like spokes to an enclosing square. Outside the square the roads follow the cliffs of the lake shoreline, filled in with the familiar grid pattern of most Canadian towns. Flowers are everywhere, with most houses and businesses sporting hanging baskets as well as colourful plantings.
Goderich is the site of the largest underground salt mine in the world. The mine is 1750 feet deep, and extends nearly 3 miles under Lake Huron. It is operated by a subsidiary of Compass Minerals, the very familiar Sifto Salt. The mine buildings at the edge of Lake Huron can be seen for miles. In addition to the salt mine and tourism, Goderich is an important port for lake freighters with several large grain elevators.
We stayed 3 nights in Goderich. On our first day we explored the downtown on foot, including a wonderful kitchen shop with a great many interesting gadgets that we never knew we needed. We returned to the boat along a path behind the grain elevators, and were fascinated by the sight of trucks being loaded with grain that we assume had been brought in the previous day by a lake freighter that had been in the harbour.
Our second day was a bike ride of the sort only Dick can arrange. We set off first in a direction exactly opposite to the town, requiring a crossing of a converted railway bridge over the Maitland River. The Menesetung Bridge was once the longest railway bridge in Ontario, with 7 spans totalling 750 feet long, 200 feet above the river. Today it is a walking/cycling bridge. With my fear of heights, I was only able to push my bike and plod carefully along the centre of the bridge, keeping my eyes firmly down and watching the rows of nail heads in the planks. Dick enjoyed it tremendously, stopping at the various lookout points and riding the rest of the way across. We then followed a straight, slightly uphill and quite boring, trail through woods along the old railway right of way, eventually arriving on top of the highway bridge that Dick’s careful planning had intended to pass under. Retracing our steps, we found a way to get onto the highway, and were then faced with a very long ride up out of the river valley on the side of the four-lane highway (no bike path). Fortunately, my bike is electric assist, or there would have been even more tense words on choice of route for what was supposed to be a pleasant exploration of the architecture of the town! Our ride finished along the lake shore at the popular beach, where we had a meal in a restaurant that was once a small railway station. Unfortunately, the quality of the food failed to match the beautiful and sympathetic conversion of the historic building.
Wildlife, or should I say, insect life, has become an annoying and continuous presence in our lives. We began to see spiders on the boat when we were on the Trent Severn, and for the past few weeks they have been found everywhere outside, and are even beginning to encroach inside the boat. They like to hide in our dock lines and fender lines, and from there they build webs everywhere. When you step on one it makes a nasty mess on the boat that only comes off with soap and a brush, so Nine Lives is looking less than pristine. They also poop everywhere, something I have never seen before and could certainly do without seeing now! A much more attractive presence is monarch butterflies. I noticed them flying around the boat right in the middle of Georgian Bay, and since then we have seen them several times offshore as well as sipping nectar on wildflowers when we are out for a walk.
From Goderich we made a fast run to Sarnia. I had hoped that getting out of Lake Huron and into the St Clair River would smooth the water somewhat, but between strong winds, a very strong current, and numerous wakes from boats large and small, it was an unpleasant arrival until we were inside the protected harbour.
Sarnia is a medium sized city and important Seaway port. There is a large refinery and petrochemical presence that overwhelms the waterfront. That said, the Sarnia Bay Marina is a very attractive and well-built facility surrounded by parkland and bike paths, and protected from the river swells. There is a restaurant on site that we didn’t try, and an Irish Pub across the road. After discovering that the Pub was offering live music on our second evening, we decided, against our better judgement, to eat late so we could enjoy the music. The duo were scheduled to start at 9:30pm (well after our “looper midnight” bedtime), and although they were very good musicians, the evening was ruined by the presence of a number of their so-called friends and fans, who chose to talk loudly among themselves and did not pay even the slightest bit of attention to the music. Between them and wildly uncomfortable bar stools, we soon gave up and headed back to the boat. We wished we had chosen instead to go to the evening of Elvis and Patsy Cline music that was being offered at the marina!
On Sunday morning Dick took a deep breath and followed the prompts on the ROAM app that is the new offering by US Customs and Immigration for small boat border crossing. He was ever so slightly surprised to receive an immediate confirmation with number, and no requirement to report in person. It may not always go quite as smoothly, but for a first attempt it was perfect! We made a short hop down the river to the small town of St Clair, on the US side. The town is popular with boaters because of its protected harbour behind a lift bridge and several easily accessible waterfront restaurants. Here we were assailed by the sounds of what appeared to be the favourite local vessel, the cigarette boat. These large, sleek, and usually beautifully painted boats look stunning, but are an assault on the ear drums and create enormous wakes for other boaters. They are racing boats, and as such will have two or more engines with over 1000hp and no muffler. With used models running between $300 and $700 thousand, plus fuel costs, these boats are not generally owned by middle class family types. In other words, the self-absorbed owners are some of the most inconsiderate boaters we have encountered. So far, we have only seen them occasionally, and it appears we have left most of them behind on the St Clair and Detroit Rivers.
After an early start to catch the first bridge opening, we had a relatively smooth run downriver to Lake St Clair and on to Detroit. Although the lake is only about 20 miles wide, it is quite shallow and can become very rough, so we hoped to get across it before the afternoon winds kicked up. We arrived by noon in the city of Detroit, staying at the downtown municipal marina, just a mile from the Renaissance Center and located in the middle of a ribbon of parks along the waterfront. I can tell you, Detroit was probably right at the top of the list of North American cities I did NOT want to visit, but after our stop there I have certainly changed my mind. The city is well on the way to a complete revitalization of the downtown area, with parks and walking/cycling paths and beautifully restored and repurposed old industrial and commercial buildings. We felt completely safe everywhere we walked, and there was no sign of gangs of young men hanging about, or homeless people. Just families out enjoying the hot weather and joggers and cyclists making their way through the parks and very clean streets.
The first evening we walked to the Renaissance Center through the waterfront park, and enjoyed a seafood meal at Joe Muer Seafood. The second evening we began by meeting the local AGLCA Harbour Host at his office for some beer tasting and chat. We were surprised to learn that he is a lawyer who specializes in cannabis. He told us that initially he dealt mainly with legalization of cannabis for medical uses, now he is involved with the Michigan campaign for recreational use. He is now becoming a consultant for the legal aspects of cannabis business, as well as legalization and defending people who have been arrested. It was an interesting chat, and while his passion is not ours, it is always interesting to meet someone who has dedicated their whole career to a single cause. Mainly we chatted about The Great Loop, and his hopes to buy a suitable boat in future so he can participate as more than harbour host. Afterwards we walked down to the waterfront and the Rattlesnake Club for dinner. This fine dining restaurant has been a Detroit institution for 30 years, with the goal of taking an active part in the revitalization of the city. We enjoyed a wonderful meal (no snake on the menu, never was), and certainly hope that the small number of diners was not indicative of a trend.
Leaving Detroit, we passed a huge steel works on the shore of the Detroit River. Zug Island is the site where Detroit Ironworks built a blast furnace in 1902. By 1931 the operation became part of a fully integrated steel mill, and is still operated today by United States Steel. Lake freighters bring coal and ore to the docks along the Detroit River. In 1975 the Edmund Fitzgerald was bringing a load of taconite for the mill when she went down in Lake Superior.
Our next destination was an anchorage in the Raisin River at Monroe, Michigan. The far western end of Lake Erie is heavily industrial, and there weren’t really any nice choices for destinations. Sandusky was too far for a single day’s travel. We haven’t anchored since Lake Champlain, so it was a nice change. As it turned out, in spite of being anchored in the Port of Monroe turning basin, it was an interesting afternoon. The skyline is dominated by the chimney stacks and conveyors of the DTE Energy Power Plant, but beside the turning basin where we anchored there appears to be a loading operation for what Dick is sure is fracking sand. This is sand that is part of the water mixture injected into shale wells. The sand serves to hold the cracks open and allow the oil or gas to be extracted. Not all sand is suitable, so there are commercial operations that mine the sand in places like Texas and Wisconsin, and ship it to fracking destinations. We watched trucks dump large loads of sand at the edge of the basin all afternoon. The condition and height of the docks suggested that barges, rather than freighters, would be used to collect the accumulated sand. Neither of us could understand why a commercial vessel turning basin would be designated as an anchorage for pleasure boats, and I was somewhat concerned that we would be woken in the night by an irate tow operator expecting us to up anchor and get out of the way!
We passed a very peaceful night, and in the morning, it was time to lift the anchor. Headsets on and me at the wheel, Dick went to the bow and flipped open the cover to operate the electric anchor windlass. A certain amount of language ensued, when he discovered that the rubber cover of the button had perished, allowing the mechanism to become corroded. After several starts, it stopped working altogether and Dick began to look around for the handle to operate the windlass manually (more colourful language). I reminded him that we have a remote control for the anchor windlass, and perhaps he would prefer to try that first. Amazingly the remote was right where I thought it was, and the battery was fine. Without resorting to the instruction manual (those are for AFTER you have tried several things without success), Dick was able to raise the anchor without difficulty. Since we were in 19 feet of water, and therefore had all 200 feet of our all-chain rode out, manually winding it in even with the windlass would have been a lot of effort. So, add fixing the windlass buttons to the ever-growing list of repairs to be done this winter!
Contrary to the expected forecast of single digit wind and one foot waves, the ride to Sandusky was very choppy and unpleasant. Eventually the fetch was broken up by the chain of islands that cross the Lake just before Sandusky, making a slightly more pleasant ride. As we approached the Bass Island chain, we were amazed to see literally hundreds of small boats anchored in the chop and fishing. I can’t imagine a less enjoyable pastime than heaving up and down on the waves, in the broiling sun, while hoping to catch fish. Obviously, there are thousands who love it, each to his own!
Arrival in Sandusky Bay made a relief from the unpleasant chop. We passed close to Cedar Point, a 347 acre amusement park first opened in 1870. Today it has 71 rides, including 18 roller coasters. The sheer size of some of the rides was brought home when we noticed the 500 room Hotel Breakers, dwarfed by the rides surrounding it. Sandusky Bay is a wonderful area for boaters. The Bay is large enough for sailing when Lake Erie is feeling frisky, and the whole area is surrounded by marinas.
Sandusky was another very pleasant surprise on this trip. The downtown is well ahead on redevelopment of the beautiful old commercial buildings, and in addition to pleasant waterfront parks, there are some lovely municipal gardens. We enjoyed a bike ride through the town and some of the historic neighbourhoods. The marina was very pleasant, and one of the friendliest we have been to. We enjoyed docktails with the owner of the marina and her husband. Her parents used to travel to Hilton Head each year for the winter, so they were interested to chat once they saw our hailing port.
We had originally planned to spend labor day weekend in Cleveland, but were unable to get in to any of the marinas for the days we wanted because they were fully booked for the annual air show. Instead, we spend an extra two nights in Sandusky, and were able to get reservations at “Rock and Dock”, the municipal marina in downtown Cleveland, for Monday and Tuesday nights. Arriving at about 1pm, we discovered that the air show runs all three days, and we were in the middle of it. Lots of boats were anchored in the harbour to watch it, and as we carefully made our way through them towards the marina we were shouted at. “You can’t go there! Can’t you see that? You CAN’T go there! Oh look, now you’re in trouble, here’s the Coast Guard!” I stood on the bow, and the very polite Coastie asked where we were headed. After I explained that we had a reservation at the marina, he told me we could go ahead as long as we proceeded with no wake and got there within the next 10 minutes. I desperately wanted to thumb my nose at the rude boaters, but I figured just being allowed to proceed was revenge enough! We docked to the sight and sound of fighter jets making passes over the boat, and were in plenty of time to see the Blue Angels. The 3rd time this trip they have welcomed us into port!
We will stay 2 nights in Cleveland, looking forward to visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and then onward towards Buffalo and the western Erie Canal.
Our second day in Peterborough was wet, so we didn’t get the promised Indian meal at a restaurant. The next morning we set off for the first big adventure in this segment of the Loop, the Peterborough Lift Lock.
The Lift Lock was opened in 1904, and until recently was the highest hydraulic boat lift in the world, raising and lowering boats 65 feet in just about 60 seconds. The lift consists of two large chambers that are filled with water. Boats drive over a dropped gate into the chamber, the gate closes, an extra foot of water is let into the top chamber, and the weight of the water in the upper chamber counterbalances the lower, so one drops while the other ascends. It was quite exciting, although a very smooth and easy operation. It was a dull day, but I did take quite a few photos, plus Dick took pictures the day before when he walked up to the lock to see the operation.
We stopped for the night at Lakefield on the wall just above the lock. Lakefield is a pretty town with a tidy main street with restored buildings, interesting shops, and an excellent restaurant. A highlight was a wonderful chocolate shop in a lovely old house at the edge of downtown. We made several selections and enjoyed them with tea for the next few afternoons. They were so good we wished we had bought a larger box! The next day was forecast to be rainy, so we wimped out and stayed another night on the lock wall. I had fun that evening cooking an Indian meal, papadums with dal, chick pea curry, chicken curry, naan bread, and basmati rice.
Kawartha Lakes is an area of lakes and small communities north and west of Peterborough. Since it is only 90 minutes from Toronto, the lakes and connecting rivers are dotted with cottages and there are lots of boaters out for the day travelling through the various locks of the Trent Severn Waterway. The village of Buckhorn was our next stop. The lock keepers manage the tie-ups above the lock, and we were shoehorned in between several houseboats. Houseboat rentals are apparently a thriving business in the Kawarthas, and we passed a lot of them as we travelled through the area. Four of the houseboats at Buckhorn were occupied by a large group of young teenage girls with older girls as leaders. They were not girl scouts, although most of them wore burgundy kerchiefs around their necks, and I heard the leaders speaking in what I recognized as a Slavic language. I found out the next day that these were Ukrainian girls, on a special outing. I think the leaders were in Canada for work experience, while the younger girls were from Canadian families of Ukrainian heritage. They were all well behaved, and very quiet. We were glad it was group of girls, suspecting that a similar gathering of boys would not have been such good neighbours! There are several restaurants in Buckhorn, including a Chinese restaurant that we were told too late was excellent. Instead we decided to go for pizza. A poor choice, as it turned out.
The next day we went on to Fenelon Falls. We arrived just in time to snag the last spot on the town wall above the lock. This meant I had a front row seat while a great many boats of various sizes locked up and down throughout the afternoon. Nine Lives gathered a great deal of interest. There are very few catamarans of any size in this part of the country, and now that we are behind the main group of Loopers, people are surprised to see a boat that has come all the way from South Carolina. Tourists and dog walkers stop to chat and ask questions, and I can hear people talking about the boat even when they don’t pause for conversation.
Kirkfield is the second lift lock on the Trent Severn. The lift was completed in 1907, and extensively modernized in the late 1960’s. The concrete piers were removed, so the lock construction is more easily seen. We stopped for the night just below the lock, so it was interesting to watch boats going up and down for the rest of the afternoon. A friendly boater stopped by to chat, and eventually told us that his two sons would love to be able to see inside the boat. We are always happy to show off Nine Lives, so the fellow and his sons came aboard. It was quite clear that the boys had zero interest, while the father asked many questions and enjoyed the visit! Beyond Kirkfield the Waterway became much quieter, with fewer boats out and about.
After a quick succession of 5 locks we were out into the open water of Lake Simcoe. Although not considered one of the Great Lakes, it is 19 miles long and 16 miles wide. It can become quite rough and is known for pop-up thunderstorms on hot summer afternoons. We gave Nine Lives a nice run and skipped across most of it after we noticed some building thunderheads. Lake Simcoe is connected to Lake Couchiching by a narrow channel with a fierce current. We needed to stop at a marina at the end of the channel to get a pump-out, and the current slammed the boat into a corner of the fuel dock, creating a nasty gouge in the side of the boat, fortunately above the waterline. The dockhands offered some waterproof tape to prevent any splashed water getting in, and later we were able to get more tape and complete the temporary repair. The tech at a local boatyard told us that as long as we keep the tape intact we will be fine with the temporary repair until the boat is hauled out of the water for winter storage. The tape is the same colour as the hull so it doesn’t show. Nobody wants other boaters to see the results of an “oops!”
The site of the town of Orillia has been occupied for at least 4 thousand years. Evidence has been found of fishing weirs constructed in the narrows between Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching, and there were also trading, fishing, and hunting camps in the area. Samuel de Champlain visited in 1615, but the settlement of Orillia was not laid out until 1840. There is some manufacturing in the area as well as farming and of course tourism, but the largest local employer is a casino run on the nearby Ojibway Reserve. A beautiful marina has been built in the harbour, and there are bicycle paths running for several miles in each direction along the waterfront. Dick disappeared on a beer run that somehow incorporated all 5 miles of the bike path! There were several Looper boats in the marina, and we enjoyed docktails followed by Chinese food at a local restaurant with the couple on the boat next to us. They are also doing the Loop in small pieces like us, instead of the more common all at once over a single year, so it was nice to compare notes.
North of Orillia we travelled through some “interestingly” shallow and narrow stretches of the waterway. I say interesting, there were at least 2 cuts that were too narrow to allow large boats to pass each other, and one long stretch where we had to stop in place to allow big boats to inch past us. The channels are rock sides and bottom, and the sides slope, rather than being cut straight down. Unlike in some of the notoriously shallow areas of Georgia and New Jersey on the ICW, when you touch bottom here it is not soft sand but unyielding rock! We managed to traverse the whole section without incident, just those few nail-biting moments as we passed other boats. Our stop for the night was at the top of Big Chute Railway.
Big Chute was the second grand adventure on the Trent Severn. There were supposed to be 3 locks built to carry boats between Georgian Bay and the Severn River at Swift Rapids. One small temporary lock (still in use) was built at Port Severn, and two marine railways were built between that and Swift Rapids. The Swift Rapids railway was eventually replaced by a lock, but Big Chute Marine Railway is still in use. The current carriage was opened in 1978, and can carry boats up to 100 feet long and 24 feet wide. The carriage rolls down into the water, and the boat drives in and is held at the side of the carriage while large slings are raised underneath to keep propellers and rudders off the bottom of the carriage and to steady the boat through the transit. The carriage then rolls out of the water and down (or up) the rails to the other end. It is cleverly designed to keep horizontal during the transit, even though the railway is very steep. This marvellous piece of engineering is getting rather long in the tooth, and breakdowns are not uncommon. In fact, a local boater had described it as “a white elephant that keeps breaking down”, not what we wanted to hear before our transit! Our keels completely enclose our props and rudders, so we were simply resting on the bottom of the carriage, not lifted in the slings. The carriage shakes and rattles alarmingly, and it was not exactly confidence building to listen to the operators chatting about all the reasons why the government is “going to have to work on this all winter!” Nine Lives survived the adventure without incident.
After the small lock at Port Severn we were into Georgian Bay. Our first stop was Midland, founded as a railway town in 1871. Of particular interest are a number of murals found around the town, painted by a local artist at the close of the 20th century. The largest covers what would otherwise be very unsightly grain elevators overlooking the harbour. The day after we were there was the start of a tugboat meet. They were expecting at least 20 tugboats to gather for tours and races over the weekend. The day we arrived there were already 5 at the docks. Just as there are people who enthusiastically restore old steam trains, there are those who buy and restore old tugboats. The ones we saw ranged from a very large 70 footer, to a small one painted bright red and named Maggie. We were sorry we couldn’t take the time to stay and watch the meet.
Skipping quickly across the southern end of Georgian Bay in advance of threatened thunderstorms, we arrived the next day at Meaford. We have now truly lost the last of our fellow Loopers, nearly all of whom are heading north to the North Channel and Lake Michigan. Meaford is known for its apple orchards and an annual scarecrow festival. It also has an arts and cultural centre and some lovely old houses and civic buildings. As with most small towns, many of the downtown shop spaces are taken up by banks and various social services organizations and government offices. The nearest supermarket is 5 miles away, and while there are a few restaurants, there seems to be little to attract tourists to the town. The harbour is nice, and protected by a huge breakwater. We noticed that most of the slips are taken up by sailboats, and there is an active sailing school for children operating out of the harbour. We stayed three nights due to a poor weather forecast, and were very glad of the decision when we moved the boat the first morning to take on fuel. The waves in the short hop around the breakwater blew up while we refuelled, and the return trip to the harbour was very lumpy, knocking things over in the cabin. Now that we are back into “big water” we are experiencing the weather delays that have been mostly absent this summer.
Our next stop was Tobermory, a bustling town at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula. As we made our way north along the shoreline of the Peninsula I spent some time refreshing my memory of the geological feature known as the Niagara Escarpment. Dick and I both learned in school that the Niagara Escarpment is a high bluff that runs from the tip of the Bruce Peninsula south through Hamilton and Niagara Falls. Looking it up, I was surprised to learn that in fact, the formation rises from Waterton New York, through Ontario, Illinois, and Wisconsin, ending northwest of Chicago near the Wisconsin border. What a pompous and parochial attitude of a school system that suggests that the importance and magnitude of a geographical formation is limited to the piece that falls within political borders.
Tobermory is a popular tourist destination. Nearby is Fathom Five National Marine Park, which we saw from the water as we made our way around the point. Part of the National Park is Flowerpot Island, with a distinctive rock formation just offshore that attracts thousands of visitors on the many boat trips that ply the waters between Tobermory and the island. The area is also a magnet for diving, with many dive boats going out to explore the shipwrecks in the treacherous waters of north Georgian Bay. We arrived in town in early afternoon, and I enjoyed watching the harbour activity. In addition to at least 10 tourist cruise and diving boats every hour, there is a car ferry that goes to Manitoulin Island, and lots of large and small pleasure boats. All this activity is complicated by kayakers weaving around the harbour, seemingly unaware of the “law of gross tonnage” that suggests that even though kayakers have the right of way, the bigger the vessel the less easy it is to stop or turn and give way! I would have liked to spend another day or two in the busy little town with its interesting shops and lots of people watching, but the weather is getting chancy and we had to leave the next morning.
Turning south into Lake Huron we were surprised to find ourselves in much rougher water than the forecasts had suggested. Nine Lives doesn’t really cut through the water the way a sailboat or ocean-going trawler does, instead she dances on top of the waves. Our extra speed is helpful in smoothing things out so we are not wallowing or corkscrewing, but the ride is uncomfortable to say the least. The hulls and the centre section pound on the waves, and gradually the furniture in the salon begins to make its way aft, as each hitting wave smacks the floor and makes everything bounce. At one point, Dick had to go below and rescue the small seat that happens to be our liquor cabinet, before it reached the stairs with potential disastrous results! Fortunately, the pounding only lasted about an hour before the promised smoother water showed up and we made our way into Port Elgin.
We were delighted to be able to entertain a friend from our university days on board for dinner that evening. Jan Singbeil was in the same residence with us at Queen’s ..ahem.. some few years ago. We all agreed that none of us has changed a bit, even though we have not seen each other for a very long time. We spend an enjoyable evening catching up and exchanging stories. We would have liked to stay a little longer in Port Elgin, but once again with an eye on the weather we had to take advantage of a short window to make our way south. If we did not leave in the short hour between squalls that afternoon we would have been stuck there for at least 4 or 5 days.
I took lots of pictures this time, especially on the two lift locks and the marine railway.
After transiting a flight of three locks to get to the lower basin at Jones Falls, we tied up along a wall at Hotel Kenny. This is a historic hotel, opened in 1877. For most of the 20th century it appears to have thrived as a fishing camp, with local guides taking guests out to catch big fish on nearby lakes. Sadly, it has not moved with the times. The motel style outbuildings are unlikely to offer the level of comfort expected at the prices charged, and all structures including the main hotel are clearly in need of major maintenance. The dining room was nearly empty, apart from diners from the boats that had tied up for the night, suggesting that there are few hotel guests even at peak season. It was all rather sad, especially as the location is beautiful and so much could be made of the site.
After 6 more locks we finished the Rideau Canal and arrived in Kingston. Dick and I went to Queen’s University there, and he enjoyed a long walk to the campus to see how much has changed. Kingston is a historic town occupying what was once a strategic location for defence of Upper Canada against those pesky Americans from the breakaway colonies! Originally a French trading post called Cataraqui, it was taken over by the British and renamed King’s Town after George III. The former French Fort Frontenac was partially reconstructed in 1783, and a colony was set up for displaced British colonists, or “Loyalists” who were fleeing north from the War of Independence. Fort Henry was built during the War of 1812 to protect the dockyards and the approach to the Rideau Canal. The dockyards are now the site of Royal Military College. Some of the cadets join the reinactment group of Fort Henry Guard, who staff Fort Henry during the summer months.
We enjoyed great pizza the first evening, and discovered when we were returning to the boat that there is a free country music concert for an hour each Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, the hour was almost done, so we listened to just one song before the musicians packed up and left. Pity, they sounded quite good! The next day we walked up Princess Street (pretty much unrecognizable after ahem, 40-some years) and tried a German restaurant. Dick enjoyed his meal, me, not so much.
From Kingston we set off towards Picton. We knew the forecast was for high winds, but Dick felt confident that we would be in waters protected by Wolfe and Amerst Islands for most of the trip. The first stretch of open water was pretty lumpy, but the second part needed some major maneuvering to deal with much higher waves than expected. As Dick wrestled with the wheel, we were surprised to be hailed on the radio. I staggered over to the radio and responded. It was a sailboat, who had just passed us. Intrigued by the sight of a power catamaran, they wanted to know who was the manufacturer of Nine Lives and what year was she. Compliments were paid, including “she handles the seas very well!” As Dick fought the wheel… A deteriorating weather forecast suggested that we should run all the way to Belleville instead of stopping at Picton as originally planned.
The next day we had to keep a close eye on the weather to find the one hour window we needed to get to Trenton. By 1pm the wind had settled a bit and changed direction enough that we headed out. Arrival in Trent Port Marina was made slightly more exciting by large numbers of small runabouts with fishermen, all of whom were maneuvering to get to the launch ramp across the river from the fuel/pumpout dock! I keep saying Trenton, but the town that Dick was born in has become Quinte West after some geographical redistribution and combination with two other towns. It seems to have been a worthwhile change for Trenton, in addition to a superb marina, there is a large City Hall and library building, and many areas of town that were derelict seem to have been cleaned up. There is still a shortage of good shops in the downtown area, but we enjoyed shopping at the European deli, stocking up on various Dutch and English imported foods and treats.
I hung up my galley slave apron, and tucked away the fender maid gloves to get on a flight home for a week. I enjoyed the chance to just be by myself, as well as bridge, lunch and dinners with friends, and lots of time with my boy Tucker. I also took care of the major issues caused by my website host, so my emails are “clean” again. Dick spent much of the week with his Mum, going on drives and scouting the various locations on the Trent Severn Waterway that are our next destinations. He had a two page list of jobs to be done on the boat as well, and some of those were even crossed off!
Eventually the break was over and we set off up the Trent River towards Frankford. First, we stopped for fuel and a pump-out. This was our first time to fuel since the Hudson River, and we were expecting to take on about 400 gallons of diesel. Unfortunately, the marina ran out after only 250! We will be able to get to Georgian Bay easily on that, but we felt sorry for any boaters behind us who were planning to fill up!
The Trent Severn Waterway is a 240 mile long series of canals and connected rivers and lakes joining Lake Ontario with Georgian Bay. The first lock was built in 1833, but it took years of broken promises and political infighting until 1915 before the entire route was completed. There are two particularly noteworthy features along the route, but we will be passing them next week, so I will be telling you all about those in the next update! There are 44 locks, 39 swing bridges, and 160 dams along the route that that manage the water levels for flood control and navigation on lakes and rivers in a large area of southern Ontario. The Waterway passes through “cottage country”, the summer destination for a great many city dwellers. Dick learned to swim in the Trent River, and his grandparents farmed land adjacent to the river. Today many of the farms have been abandoned and the land is going back to woods.
A feature of much of the waterway is free docking at lock walls and town walls for overnights. We stopped first at Frankford, still technically part of Quinte West, and only 6 miles from Trenton, but 6 locks were enough on a hot day. Dick grilled steaks and baked potatoes and we cooked fresh corn on the cob for one of our best meals on board. The new grill is proving to be a great success, compared to the strange one that came with the boat. We are also pleased with the purchase of an induction burner, that we can plug in beside the grill and keep the heat and steam from cooking outside the galley.
As we approached the first lock the next morning we were delighted to find Dick’s brother Ed waiting to join us for the day’s travel. He was immediately directed to the stern line, to be his sole charge for the rest of the day as we went through the next 6 locks to Campbellford. All that work required a suitable beverage after we tied up, and we were joined by Ed’s son Brent for libations and a few snacks. The extra crew certainly made for an easy and relaxing day!
Campbellford is a small town in the middle of farming country, with excellent town wall docking for visiting boats. We tied up on the west side, next to the park that features a 27 foot high statue of a toonie. What’s a toonie you ask? Well, Canada’s $1 coin began to be called a “loonie” after its introduction, because of the image of a loon on the coin. When the time came to introduce a $2 coin, it seemed natural to call it a “toonie”. The design of a polar bear on an ice floe was created by Brent Townsend, a Campbellford artist. Imagine our surprise as we enjoyed our drinks and snacks to see a big tour bus draw up on the other side of the park and decant large numbers of Japanese tourists. They proceeded to wander around the park in a bemused fashion, eventually posing for the usual selfies with the statue, and returning to their bus after about a 30 minute stop. Who knew a 27 foot toonie was such a tourist draw that people would travel from the other side of the world to see it?
The town’s attractions did not end with good docking and a giant toonie. In the evening we discovered a tiny European style bistro called Antonia’s. It is owned and run by a chef from Sri Lanka and his Filipino wife, who retired from the restaurant business in Toronto. Frustrated by the lack of local fine dining, they opened their bistro two years ago, and it has become a very successful business. The menu is mostly European. Dick loved his Osso Bucco, and I had delicious shrimp in Cajun cream sauce. However, the chef told us they also offer a ‘curry night” about once a month, that is increasingly popular.
From Campbellford we continued our leisurely trip to Hastings, transiting another 6 locks to arrive at a town wall that was completely full with small boats stopping for ice cream. Fortunately, the town also operates a marina across the river, and they had room for us for the night. The next day we enjoyed a relief from locks for most of the day, travelling across Rice Lake and then up the pretty Otonabee River to finish with one lock and arrival in Peterborough.
Peterborough is a medium sized city that is becoming a mecca for retirees. Cultural activities and affordable living are listed as some of the advantages, in addition to easy access to major centres of Toronto, Ottawa, and Kingston. There is a nice marina at the edge of Little Lake, a relatively short walk to downtown and restaurants. Yesterday evening we walked to a nearby Italian restaurant, and after an excellent meal we discovered that Dick’s Uncle Hans and his wife Cathy were docked just along the waterfront in their houseboat. After some convivial conversation and drinks on board their boat we staggered home to Nine Lives. In the centre of Little Lake is a huge waterspout fountain, and at night it is lit by changing colours. We are looking forward to a local Indian restaurant for our dinner tonight.
The next couple of weeks will include the Peterborough Lift Lock and the Big Chute Marine Railway and arrival in Georgian Bay. That will get us a break from locks for a while and some more weather dependent travel to look forward to.
Montreal was suffering a heat wave. There were 33 deaths from the heat in the city during the few days we were visiting. Dick managed to do some exploring, and even rode his bike as far as the Lachine Canal on the hottest day. Me, I pretty much stayed on the boat, only venturing out in the evenings for dinner, and once to visit Bonsecours Market. There were several other Looper boats in the marina, but nobody had energy for introductions or docktails.
Montreal’s history began with a fur trading station set up by Samuel de Champlain in 1605. The local Iroquois were not best pleased and were successful in driving the French away. In 1642 the town of Ville Marie was established and a fort was built the following year as a mission to convert the Iroquois to Christianity. Settlers arrived, but the mission went into bankruptcy and the town came under direct control of the French King. After 1763 New France became a British colony. Over time Montreal became the premier city in Canada, a centre for finance, manufacturing, and commerce. Today it is the largest city in the province of Quebec, and the second largest city in Canada. Port operations moved away from the Old City, and today historic Old Montreal is a major tourist destination.
Unfortunately, it is also very much a work in progress. Many of the beautiful old buildings are empty and under reconstruction, and streets that had been paved are now being restored to cobblestones. The main pedestrianized street is not particularly salubrious, too many t-shirt and souvenir shops interspersed with fast food chains. Perhaps as the restoration works continue there will be more space for European style cafes and small shops. I had high hopes for Bonsecours Market, described in fulsome terms in the tourist brochures as a historic indoor market full of boutiques and restaurants. Sadly, the reality is only one of the 3 floors occupied, yet more souvenir shops, and only one café slash ice cream stop.
We did find two nice restaurants in the Old Town, although the first one had an extremely limited and overly avant garde menu. We had an outstanding meal at the second, the enjoyment slightly reduced by a somewhat snooty waiter, who clearly felt we were not quite the right sort of people to frequent his establishment.
It is more than 50 years since I last visited Montreal. That was during the 1967 Worlds Fair, much of the city was under construction, and there was a heat wave. I guess it just is not my city.
We enjoyed an unexpected visit from Dick’s Uncle Hans and his wife Cathy. They volunteer at Ministry to Seafarers, a mission that provides a home away from home and assistance for seamen from all over the world when their ships are in port. They happened to be there when we were, so it was great to welcome them onto the boat for coffee and chat. We may get a chance to see them again later, as they have a boat on the Trent Severn.
We left Montreal before 9am, hoping for a swift passage through the two locks on the St Lawrence Seaway before our route took us north on the Ottawa River. This was not to be. On arrival at the first lock, we were told it would be 11am, as a large freighter was coming through and commercial traffic has priority. As the freighter was being locked through, another Looper boat arrived, we had last met them at Half Moon Bay on the Hudson River. They were told “after lunch”, as we would all have to wait for a “special” boat to come through. After a certain amount of grumbling, Dick got out his laptop and was just settling in for some internet surfing when we were suddenly called to get ready and go into the lock with the just arrived Canada Coast Guard Vessel. The Seaway locks are huge, and it is quite difficult to hold the boat in place with the thin nylon ropes that are dropped down the sides of the locks for pleasure boats. The second lock was easier when we hit on the idea of Dick staying out holding one of the ropes, the second was tied off, and I took the helm and kept the engine running to maneuver the boat back and forth against the inrushing water (much as I do on narrowboats in locks in UK).
The next excitement was created by weather. We were out in 20 knot winds and had to cross shallow Lac St Louis with the high wind and strong current. The course zigzags, and is surprisingly narrow, so at some points the swells were inevitably on our beam and we were rocking and rolling a lot more than is comfortable. It was not a particularly long journey, fortunately, and we found space below the lock at the village of Sainte Anne de Bellevue. This is a historic town, now a suburb of Montreal. We did not see much of the village, only the street along the canal, lined with restaurants. Consulting TripAdvisor, we selected one of the more highly rated establishments, which happened to be an Irish Pub. Go figure. Little of the menu resembled Irish pub fare, but Dick managed to find a lamb shank that he enjoyed very much. I decided to be adventurous and try one of the signature Quebec dishes, poutine. This is French fries, smothered in beef gravy, and topped with cheese curds. I didn’t say it was good for you! Anyway, clearly, I need to try it again, because while the dish was tasty enough, the French fries were seriously soggy, so it was not a success.
After passing through the lock and officially entering the Ottawa River the next morning, we enjoyed a pleasantly calm day crossing Lac des Deux-Montagnes and on to Carillon Lock. The Ottawa River is very wide at its lower end, in many cases more of a series of connected lakes than what one expects of a river. The scenery is pretty, although the shore is often quite a distance away.
Carillon lock is the highest in Canada, with a 66 foot lift. It is controlled by huge guillotine doors that lift and lower instead of the more usual swing gates. It is also the site of a large hydroelectric dam and tours are available, but Dick was disappointed to find that English tours must be booked a few days in advance. He didn’t feel his command of French was quite up to a tour of a hydroelectric facility!
We found a place on the wall below the lock, and enjoyed watching the boats entering and exiting. It is an enormous lock, used almost exclusively by pleasure boats, with as many as 12 locking through at one time. The largest boats go in first, and take the lines dropped down by the lock staff. Then smaller boats are added, including a row down the middle. Those middle boats tie to the boats they are beside. It makes it a bit tricky for the boaters on the wall, because they are not only holding their own boat, but also the one that has tied to them! There is also no restriction on who can use the lock, so lots of wave runners swarm in as well. We were lucky when it was our turn the next morning, just three other smaller boats, and all on the wall with their own lines to hold.
Normally it is quiet and peaceful overnight at this location, but our stop coincided with a huge 3-day festival of electronic music, including 32 hours of non-stop sound. As in all night, thumpa thumpa thumpa.
Our next stop was the beautiful Chateau Montebello. It is one of the Grand Old Ladies built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company. (others include the Empress in Victoria, Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City) Now part of the Fairmont Hotel group, it is billed as the largest log structure in the world. It was built in 1930 to be a Sportsmens Club for CPR, and over the years it has hosted a fascinating list of political figures, royalty, and events. We enjoyed looking at the old photographs on the wall! In the 1970’s it was turned into a hotel, and still operates as a destination resort in beautiful surroundings. We stayed one night in the marina and indulged ourselves with dinner in the hotel, as well as their breakfast buffet the next morning.
It was a relatively short run the next day to Ottawa, but on arrival we had the challenge of the staircase flight of 8 locks that connect the Ottawa River with the Rideau Canal. The guides suggested that “thousands” would watch us locking up, and I had been practising my royal wave, but we started with an audience of just one or two! As we moved up the flight, the audience grew, and included several tourists who took video of the entire process. By the last lock we were watched by at least 30 people. A fellow Looper who locked up with us said afterwards he was glad we were there and got all the attention, he felt he had enough stress trying to execute the enter and exit maneuvers without the additional pressure of amateur critics!
Ottawa is at the confluence of 3 major rivers, and was an important trading place for First Nations. It was visited by Europeans as early as 1610, but it was not until 1800 that the first settlement in the area was established across the Ottawa River in Hull. In 1826, land speculators arrived on the south side of the river when the construction of the Rideau Canal was announced. The town of Bytown was founded, and the canal was built to provide a secure route between Montreal and Kingston, bypassing the St Lawrence River and the threat of enemy fire on supply ships as happened during the War of 1812. Bytown was renamed Ottawa and incorporated as a city in 1855, after a turbulent early history that included labour unrest and political dissension that degenerated into rioting and violence on multiple occasions. In 1857 Ottawa was declared the capital of the Province of Canada by Queen Victoria, who was asked to make the choice after local politicians had failed to agree.
We docked on the canal wall in the centre of town. It was an easy walk to ByWard Market, where we were delighted to find a wonderful choice of fresh produce at the stalls, as well as excellent small shops selling international cheeses and pates, a butcher, and a nice Italian food store. Once again it was very hot, so we decided to have lunch in a restaurant and then relax on board for the evenings. We tried another Irish pub, and the next day had a great meal in an Italian Trattoria. On our second day we rode our bikes, stopping to watch the daily Changing of the Guard. Dick had scouted the previous day, so I knew exactly where to stand to get the best pictures and not be at the back of the big crowd. The ceremony was first performed in 1959, by a Ceremonial Guard that is made up of members from all branches of the Canadian military. After the ceremony we rode to the Garden of the Provinces and Territories. This was described in lyrical terms in the tourist brochure, and perhaps it was once beautiful, but it was a sad disappointment due to years of neglect and lack of renewal of the plantings.
The other takeaway from Ottawa was how much construction there was. Roads were torn up everywhere, and the air was full of grit and dust. A major boat cleaning was required both inside and out to get rid of it. We last visited Ottawa a few years ago, and the roads downtown were all torn up with construction then too. I guess nothing changes.
After Ottawa we went west and south on the Rideau Canal. It is in a beautiful part of Southern Ontario, made up of a series of lakes connected by canal cuts and lots of locks. This is “cottage country” and we are starting to get into the Canadian Shield. You can google it for more detail, but basically it is the igneous rock with a thin cover of soil that covers half of Canada, from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean. Much of the scenery is rocks and pine trees, with deep lakes and lots of rivers. At the same time, there are a few very shallow lakes that must be traversed in a zigzag pattern, paying careful attention to the red and green markers to avoid getting out of the channel. Canadian Shield is very unforgiving if you touch bottom. In Ontario we have always referred to electric power as “hydro,” because most of the electricity is provided by hydroelectric dams. I remember having to learn to say “power”, or “electricity” instead of hydro, when we first moved to the US or people did not know what you were talking about!
We stopped for two nights in Smiths Falls. The basin between the Smiths Falls locks was lined with boats of all sizes, and the marina/campground manager told us they had never had so many big boats in all at the same time. The French boat rental company Le Boat has just started operations this year, with a base at Smiths Falls, so a lot of previously available slips are now taken up by their fleet of houseboats. The boats do look very modern and attractive, comparing very favourably with the much older rentals available from long established companies. There seemed to be a fair number of rentals going out, considering it is their first year of operation. We were amused to see the large amount of rubber, in two rows, that completely surrounds each boat. I am sure they are typically going to be referred to as “bumper boats”, given their size and the very minimal instruction (and no previous experience) requirements for renters!
We were not the only Loopers present, and enjoyed a very convivial evening of docktails with new friends from five different boats. A highlight of the stop was a lunchtime visit from Mike and Sylvianne Foley. Mike worked at Ingersoll-Rand and was part of the hiring process when Dick joined the company more than 40 years ago. They live just outside Montreal, but were out of town when we were there, so they decided to make an excursion so we could have a reunion. We had a convivial lunch at a local restaurant, followed by a bottle of wine on the boat, accompanied by lots of reminiscing.
After a surprisingly long wait for the lock to open the next morning we were on our way across Rideau Lakes to the pretty village of Westport. The dockmaster is very efficient, calling boats on the radio when they see them on the lake so they can give good approach and docking instructions. Usually we have to make the call, and we have found that in Canada it is very hit and miss whether a marina even answers the hail! The village is clearly a destination for day-trippers arriving by boat and car, and is full of small boutiques selling everything from jewellery to clothing and souvenirs. We also found a wonderful sandwich shop, beautiful fresh bread and just the right amount of filling so you could eat it without it all falling apart.
We stopped for two nights at Westport, and then headed out towards our destination for the day, Hotel Kenny at Jones Falls. We expected a fairly short day with a 3 lock staircase to finish. Today was our day for a bit of excitement. Shortly after we set off, I noticed a cloud of white smoke coming from the starboard engine. Dick went below and decided the ticky ticky noise meant shutting down immediately. So, we now know that Nine Lives travels very nicely on just one engine! We were able to stop at the next lock so Dick could take a look and see whether he could sort out the problem. It turned out to be weed. Lots and lots of weed! The engines are cooled by water that comes from outside, and there are special baskets to catch any fish or plant life that gets sucked through the hose. Dick took off the strainer and emptied a salad bowl full of weed that had packed into it. Then he took off the hose that leads to the strainer, and pulled out a whole lot more weed! On the assumption that the problem was likely to be the same for the other engine, he took a look, and sure enough, yet more plant life! We were very fortunate that both of the engines did not overheat. I suspect that trying to paddle Nine Lives would have been a pointless exercise.
The lock was very pretty, and while Dick sorted out the engines I watched a group of summer campers prepare and launch their canoes for an overnight outing.
The last exercise of the day was a staircase of 3 locks, preceeded by a single lock, for a total of 4 in quick succession. We gathered quite an audience, some of them very chatty, asking where we had come from and where we were going. Tonight, a well deserved dinner out at the hotel dining room, and then on to Kingston tomorrow.