The air changed yesterday – finally (!) – as did our Trent experience. Funny how things happen sometimes.
This morning we temporarily left the canals and rivers for the largest body of water on the Trent-Severn Waterway (TSW), Lake Simcoe, with a 15- to 20-knot wind hitting our bow. And Stout was at her best. This is what she was designed to do.
Tight canals and locks that require us to constantly start and stop our engine are hard on a lumbering old girl like Stout, but she’s performed well despite a few moments of protest, such as disobeying Captain's orders and refusing to shut down her engine in a lock and spitting a little oil out with the engine exhaust water from time to time. In the former situation, they let us lock through anyway. In the latter, we are hoping it is not a precursor to a larger problem, but the Captain has made sure we have a new part if we need it.
Since we started this journey a month ago, the air has been hot, thick and unmoving almost every day. Then the night before last we were tied to the wall at Talbot lock and sat together in the covered cockpit as a blessed string of thunderstorms chased away the old air and made a fresh deposit of lighter, cooler air.
We were happy enough with that but then crossed Lake Simcoe the following morning with the sun at our backs, a strong cool wind in our faces and the opportunity to open ourselves up a bit just like the waterway.
Since my last blog post we made our way from the lock wall at Hastings to the lock wall at Talbot, stopping in between at Peterborough Marina, Islandview Marina near Young’s Point and the lock wall at Fenelon Falls. Our decisions to tie up were made based on several factors.
First, A/C. The heat and humidity have persisted, so we’ve searched for inexpensive locations with power, which are more rare on the TSW than in the Rideau Canal unless you’re in a marina which increases the cost.
The second is availability. During this period we hit a very busy section of the Trent – heavily populated with locks, recreational areas and lots of other loopers – right at the start of a very busy summer weekend. This means that lock walls filled up quickly, especially those with power, and marinas filled up as well. We just happened to get lucky at Peterborough and Islandview and took advantage of the services offered there.
The third is all of the recreational boating. Many local day boats, jet skis and houseboats traverse the lakes and rivers - often at the highest speed possible - and congregate around the locks in this section of the TSW, sometimes prompting a change in plans. So rather than start the day with a destination in mind, we’ve adopted more of a wait and see attitude. This is great except that when you've been running for a full day, are fatigued and options are limited (and its still almost 100 degrees!!), finding a place to stay for the night can be somewhat challenging. We were quite fortunate. In the words of a fellow looper, "you guys always make out!"
A few highlights:
In Hastings we not only found power but were tied up right next to a local pub with A/C where we enjoyed a couple of cold beers and watched the World Cup playoffs with several locals (who were not pleased by England’s loss). One of those locals was Don McMillan (“Mick”) who has lived in Hastings all of his life and went out of his way to share some of its history with us.
The highlight of Peterborough, of course, aside from getting to know some other loopers, was the Peterborough Lift Lock. We walked from the marina to the lock on Saturday to take a look around and understand the locking experience before entering on the boat. Built at the turn of the century shortly after the introduction of cement into civil engineering, this Lift Lock was the tallest unreinforced cement structure of its time. And it still operates as it always has. I’ve provided some pictures and videos, including some that another looper took and sent to us, as well as a couple of links explaining how this lock works. It’s ingenious, really. Also included are pictures of the Kirkfield Lift Lock that we passed through a few days later and a link to some background information. The same idea but different materials (steel versus cement) and a very different experience. I think we felt more secure with the cement option.
The Islandview Marina was a real surprise. This is the first family-run marina and campground we’ve experienced, and the owner very kindly allowed us to tie up overnight at his gas dock after business hours. Tucked into a protected little cove, the marina’s gas dock is right in front of a small family run restaurant, Patio 27. We were hungry from a full day of locking and enjoyed a great meal on the shady deck as well as good conversation with others around us, including boaters we’d met earlier in the day and the restaurant owner and his lovely daughter who was working as a server for the summer.
The marina/campground owner, Keith, is the real deal. He works hard at several jobs, including operating Islandview, and is proud of the family he’s raising and the business he’s built. He also welcomes new guests promising to treat them like family. And he does. The night we stayed there the Captain spent the evening around the picnic table with Keith and his friends comparing life in Canada to life in the US, among other things. Meanwhile, I relaxed in the cockpit and read my book while watching Keith’s kids and their friends play in a huge sand pile, swim and jump off the dock for hours. There were no smart phones or video games to be found. Just kids doing what kids do when they have long summer evenings and the right environment. We’ve had a lot of great experiences on the journey so far, but this was a brief moment to inhabit.
We left Islandview early in the morning so Keith could get his gas dock going. This is the view we woke to.
We left Keith's little piece of heaven and quickly entered Stony Lake. We've been told several times that Stony Lake gets its name for a reason, and it does. Stony = granite. We found it to be one of the most breathtaking parts of the TSW, though pictures can't do it justice.
The Captain found himself navigating around islands of granite, large and small, because they certainly weren't going to move for him. An important navigational marker is Hell's Gate, so named because this is the only channel through which a boat like ours can pass through the lake. It's very very narrow and lined with unforgiving granite which without the proper instruments is hidden from sight. The Captain carefully found our way through, dropping a few beads of sweat in the process, and not from the heat. Here are a few pictures of what it looks like on the surface and of our chart and depth sounder which tell the real story of what's happening below.
We are long past Stony Lake and now find ourselves at the top of Lake Simcoe getting closer to Georgian Bay. The map pictured below hangs on the wall at the Peterborough Lift Lock Visitor’s Center. It’s a great illustration of where we’ve been and have yet to go on this leg of our journey.