We made it to Georgian Bay! As I write this, the Captain and I are at anchor, sitting in the covered cockpit enjoying a full-blown summer rainstorm. This is only the third day without sun we’ve had since leaving Vermont, and it’s a welcome change. We are totally surrounded by raindrops pounding on the surface of the bay while the wind gently swings us back and forth.
We completed the Trent-Severn Waterway on Saturday and spent the last three days at Queen’s Cove Marina in Midland, Ontario. We had some work to do – oil change, alternator belt change (unexpected), cleaning, provisioning, etc. Now that we are out of the canals and rivers for the next month or two, we also needed to raise our mast. We enlisted the help of two strong young marina employees, and the mast came up much more quickly than it went down when the just two of us lowered it before entering the Ottawa River.
For the next three or four weeks we will be exploring Georgian Bay’s “thirty thousand islands” which extend over a hundred miles and are part of the Canadian Shield.
We’ll be spending more time at anchor in the coming weeks, which will get us closer to the natural environment we’ve come to experience and provide more opportunities for swimming. With the mast up, we can now access our dinghy again and expect to use it to explore places too narrow or too shallow for Stout. We’ve been told to expect encounters (distant, I hope) with bears, moose, deer, otters, osprey, maybe an eagle or two, a wide variety of fish, snapping turtles and snakes, including some that swim. Yes, I said swimming snakes. They aren’t venomous, but I can’t think of anything much worse than a swimming snake. I’m going to face my fears and swim anyway, though you can bet I’ll be swimming with my eyes WIDE open. And the Captain will be getting in the water first …
This part of our journey will take us along the small-craft route, and in addition to enjoying the scenery, we’ll be focused on avoiding contact with submerged granite. There’s a lot of it around here. There’s also a lot of local knowledge and a willingness to share it. Last night at Queen's Cove Marina we spent over an hour and a half with Robin reviewing and highlighting our charts. Robin runs the marina and is an incredible resource to any boater wishing to explore Georgian Bay. She is not only generous with her time and knowledge, but she created an itinerary for us and even loaned us her car for a quick provisioning trip that included pizza(!) for dinner. We haven’t had pizza since moving aboard.
But before I fully shift my attention to Georgian Bay, I need to share a few more highlights of the Trent-Severn Waterway. After writing my last blog post, we spent a couple of days at the Port of Orillia. This is a really nice city marina and a good stop for us. The facilities are great, including immaculate, well-appointed washrooms (private bathrooms with showers) and new washer/dryers available for use at no cost. Both have become real luxuries. Also, if you stay two nights, the third is free, which is a bonus because the rates are already very reasonable. Orillia is a pleasant little town with just the right offering of restaurants, bakeries (which I avoided) and shops (which I did not).
From Orillia we cruised through two more lakes – Couchiching and Sparrow, both beautiful – and our final locks at least for a while. Lock 43, Swift Rapids, is the deepest single chambered lock on the TSW (47-foot drop) and you find yourself in quite a chamber when you lock down and all the water empties out.
And then there’s the Big Chute Marine Railway. What a hoot! When these canals were being built in the early 1900s, they had to do a lot of blasting in some areas. When constructing the Big Chute, it’s as if they encountered a huge chunk of granite and decided enough was enough, they’d just go over it. And they did and still do!
We got to the blue line (the waiting area for locks) early on a Saturday morning expecting it to be busy on the weekend. There was one other boat in front of us, Hoolegan, a looper boat with whom we’d already shared some locks. Their boat is about the same size as ours, and we were told initially that we would have to lock through separately. But a last-minute change in instructions directed us to the rear position on the railway, with Hoolegan in front.
Here’s what happens at the Chute. You cruise into the “chamber,” and while you are doing so, they (the wonderful Parks Canada people) are lining up giant slings that will hold your boat when the water is drained. The slings are attached on each side to a frame that moves on rail wheels along a track. Once you are positioned, the slings slowly lift you up and the water drains. You then ride the rails from one side of the road, up and over it and then down a steep bank on the other side of the road and back into the water. I’m including a couple of videos, of course, and if you’re not curious, skip them. But if you have any degree of engineering, railway or boating nerd in your bones, I suggest you take a look. I have to admit to some initial trepidation. But it was easy, especially with the great instructions we received, and will definitely go down in our books as a cool and unusual experience.
After the Chute, we had one final lock to get through and then out into Georgian Bay. In just 5 weeks of cruising, we've passed through a total of 103 locks. Enough blogging about locks, right?! We’re ready for some open water.
Well, the rain has now stopped, the sky is clearing, the Captain is trying his hand at fishing and I’ve just poured myself a glass of wine. Time to return to the moment and appreciate where we are.