Yesterday was the first day of our Great Loop experience and the next chapter in our lives. For those who aren’t familiar with the Great Loop, it’s a name given to a system of waterways that encompasses the eastern portion of the United States and part of Canada. Doing the Great Loop generally means moving aboard your vessel and exploring those waterways in sync with the seasons. I've included Capt. John's Interactive Loop map for reference.
Our journey began yesterday morning at Gaines Marina in Rouses Point, New York. In reality it began 2½ years ago when we took the first step out of our comfort zone and bought a trawler. At the time we were both focusing on family and careers and weren’t sure how we were going to justify the purchase. Then we started spending time aboard. We cruised to new and beautiful places, met new people, drank coffee in the cockpit early in the morning, watched a lot of sunsets, slept at anchor ("on the hook") and offered ourselves a different perspective. Next thing we knew we were retired and moving aboard Stout to live life differently for a while. And that’s what this trip and this blog are about - changing perspective.
So, yesterday didn’t go exactly as planned… We woke up early, way early, with the goal of reaching Lock 9 in the Chambly Canal for the first of two scheduled openings. We called the Nexus line at 0515 hours to coordinate our entry into Canada at 0600. BUT we’ve spent lots of time preparing and apparently not enough planning and missed the fact that Canadian Customs doesn’t open until 0800. So, we tied off the lines at Customs in a stiff wind - something we’d hoped to avoid - and made a call.
Once cleared through Customs, I climbed to the upper deck to fly the Canadian courtesy flag, which I flew ... oops, upside down.
When you’re heading north the first bridge on the Richelieu is a swing bridge. We got there at 0700, a little behind in the schedule we'd created. Unfortunately, it doesn't swing until 0800. So we circled for a while. The Captain was still frustrated by his early morning encounter with the Rouses Point bugs that can carpet a boat in no time at all, so circling provided a chance for him to blow off some steam and, hopefully, some bugs. We cleared the bridge at 0800 and made our way to Lock 9 in St. Jean Sur Richelieu, which is where you enter the lovely Chambly Canal.
Our delays at Customs and the swing bridge meant we had to wait for the later lock opening – lock hours are closely controlled in early summer. So again we waited, continued the process of unpacking and stowing, and sweltered in the 90% humidity.
We entered the canal at 1330 hours and instantly were reminded of the Canadian hospitality we encountered on last year’s trip. Canal speed is 5 knots, which forced us to slow down … literally. And a funny thing happened. At that speed we could hear the redwing blackbirds and the wind. And watch the ducks with their ducklings and the herons flying ahead to get out of our way. And we began working together to manage the significant west winds pushing us around while locking through. As we did so we remembered that working together on the water is different than it is on land. So we started to adapt, cleared Locks 9 through 4, and headed to the wall in Chambly, Quebec, above Lock 3.
Because it was day 1, there was more in store. When docking at the wall, I found myself casting lines that weren’t attached to the boat, something I have never done before (longish story). Strong winds amplified my mistake. The Chambly Canal crew were beyond gracious, and we tied to the wall for the night without further incident.
But these are all lessons learned. The biggest lesson of all is that we are truly Off the Hook. Our perspective is changing already.