Right now we are sitting at the top of the Black Rapids lock in the Rideau Canal. The Canadians really know how to preserve their historic waterways and make them available for enjoyment by everyone. Since arriving here yesterday afternoon, we’ve shared this spot with other boaters, people fishing off the wall and nearby dam, young lovers taking an evening stroll and a Muslim family who came down to pray. I can hear traffic, so I know we are close to some hub of human activity, but it doesn’t matter here. We are surrounded by water, lots of green space, birdsong (this will always be an important part of my boating experience) and others looking to enjoy the moment.
When I last checked in, we were still at the wall at Sainte-Anne’s and had decided to stay a second day. It's a real gift to be able to be spontaneous. In the morning we stepped the mast, a daunting experience. Let me explain. The mast on our boat rises to 24+ feet and houses many of the instruments we use in navigation, weather monitoring and communications. When you are traversing inland waterways, it’s extremely important to understand the height restrictions imposed by fixed bridges, etc. The Rideau Canal begins right in the center of Ottawa, so of course there are many bridges across the Canal that allow city traffic to flow. We need to be able to pass under those bridges, which means we needed to lower our mast.
If I were a 250-pound wrestler – no problem. But I’m not. I’m a pretty capable, 55-year-old woman whose upper arm strength has diminished embarrassingly. Nevertheless, the Captain has been engineering this problem in his head for weeks (months probably) and came up with a solution. A solution that we deployed for 3 or more hours in the surprisingly hot morning sun while tied to the wall at Sainte-Anne’s, and we successfully lowered the 500+ pound mast to below 22 feet, the height of the lowest fixed bridge in the Canal. If you wish to see the process, you can click through the following pictures.
We spent the next few days cruising the Ottawa River, and the only thing we had to worry about were wakes created by boats passing us by, which is most boats because we are the tortoise in the tortoise and the hare tale. But that’s okay with us. The river is beautiful, and an uneventful day is as welcome as an active one. We spent the next two nights at marinas to do more laundry and position ourselves for an early morning lockup from the Ottawa River to the Rideau Canal.
Our stay at the Chateau Montebello Marina provided an opportunity for a brisk early morning walk!
We tied up at the wall below Ottawa Locks 1-8 on the 28th at 0800 with the goal of locking through when the locks opened at 0900. Our original plan was to then moor just above Lock 8 in Ottawa’s city center and stay there until the Canada Day celebrations on July 1. But after spending an evening in the city and knowing that a serious heat wave was forecast for the next week or so, we decided to passage through Ottawa and spend more of our time in the Canal. Absolutely, the right decision.
Locks 1-8 (a much larger staircase than Chambly) are historic and deserving of appropriate respect in that you are met by Parks Canada employees who have a friendly and casual attitude about locking through, but you really need to know your boat and understand what you’re doing on the way up from the Ottawa River into the city. We locked through with another vessel we had encountered in Chambly. We chose and were permitted to lock through on the starboard side, which meant we needed to have our fenders properly deployed on the right side of our boat with lines ready at the bow (front of the boat) and stern (back) to wrap around the cables affixed to the wall inside the lock. We’ve done this several times, and I’m very confident in our locking ability, but when you’re locking through in a small space with another boat, you have to have your act together. Lock 1 was great but 2 and 3 not so great. We got it together again at Lock 4. From there on, it was a great arm and ab workout for a couple of middle-aged people trying to stay off the couch.
So at day's end we traversed 12 locks with many more to come in the Canal. This part of the Canal is hard to describe. It’s this oasis in the middle of a town or city that you might hear but don’t see, and the people who pass through here all seem to be looking for the same thing – a place to take a breath and slow down. I've provided a couple of great links that show the rise and fall profile of the Canal and the villages and locks along the way.
We've slowed down a lot. For the time being, we plan to take this part of our trip at a snail’s pace. Today we might do one or two lock stations and then tie up for the day. With the heat wave upon us, we understand we might even be able to swim. Or, if we’re feeling the need to move on, we might cruise to the next one, village or lock, or the one after that.