Wednesday, August 23, 2017
CRUISING THE RIDEAU CANAL - OTTAWA TO KINGSTON
Our route for this blog
Friday August 11, 2017: As most people know, it's recommended we walk 10,000 steps per day. When boating, this can be rather difficult, especially if you anchor out. When we get to shore, we really enjoy walking about, seeing things and also getting in the much needed exercise. While in Ottawa, it’s fair to say we over did it. I remembered my iPhone keeps track of your exercise and checking our activity for the three days in Ottawa revealed we walked 48,323 steps. It included both vigorous walking as well as strolling and stopping at galleries and museums. We’ve concluded the vigorous walking is easier. The standing and slow strolling seemed to bring on the aches and pains to our less than youthful bodies. Mmmm, the joys of aging.
We had another perfect summer day to depart Ottawa along the historic Rideau Canal. Initially, the canal winds its way through downtown Ottawa, passing parks, walking trails, lovely homes and stately trees through dead calm waters at a peaceful 4 nautical miles per hour. Gradually the homes get smaller as you pass through suburbs and eventually you get to rural land and farms interspersed with cottages and summer homes.
Rideau Canal in downtown Ottawa
Homes along the Rideau
Mid morning we were at Hogs Back Locks 11 and 12. We had to tie up on the Blue Line where boats wait to transit the lock. Two boats were coming down the pair of locks as we waited. Fran and I were standing on the dock monitoring the progress so we’d be prepared to untie Tug’n and enter the lock when it was our turn. As the lock staff opened the valves and let the water out of lock 11, the usual water turbulence began and thankfully we were standing right beside Tug’n monitoring to be sure she was safe. With no warning, suddenly both our docking lines started to rapidly slide off the dock cleats. Alarmed, I dashed for the bow line and Fran went after the stern line. I managed to re-secure the bow line and Fran yelled I should get aboard and start the engine as she could not get the stern line back around the cleat. As I started the engine, I radioed Wings urgently asking them to come and help Fran. Bob jumped off Wings and was right there helping Fran get the stern line secured. Moments later, Jan called out as the stern line on Wings also slid off the dock cleat and the boat started to swing rapidly out into the channel towards a collision with Tug’n. It was too late for Bob to grab the stern line and he called out to Jan to start their engine to try and get Wings under control. By this time, the lock staff had closed the lock valves and the water calmed down, just as Wings swung towards the stern of Tug’n. With the calmer water I was able to fend off Wings to avoid a collision. We were shocked to hear the lock master say, “Oh, this happens all the time” in a rather nonchalant manner. We have been tying boat lines to dock cleats for many decades and have never experienced anything like this. The cleats on this lock’s blue line were a rather unusual style and ineffective, creating a dangerous situation where boats and crew are put at risk. I will be writing Parks Canada recommending they remedy this situation. In the meantime, we managed to calm down and successfully get through this pair of locks without further incident.
The rest of our day was uneventful. We transited a total of 8 locks and travelled almost 34 nautical miles to Burritt’s Rapids lock for the night. The grey line docking at the lock (for overnight docking) was almost full and it took a little shuffling of boats to fit Tug’n and Wings on the dock. One boat we met there was a 34’ Sea Lord named Scott Free that we’d first met in 2004 at Trident Yacht Club in the Thousand Islands. It’s usually the boats I remember first. Owners Bob and Denise were surprised at the details of our first encounter that I recalled as they had no recollection of the get together. Funny how the mind remembers.
Saturday August 12, 2017: We had some rather heavy rain overnight, giving the boat a good rinse. The morning was cloudy and humid, with the promise of sun and cloud and possibly more showers later in the day. We took the first locking through and were on our way to Merrickville, a rather short 6 nautical mile run.
As mentioned in an earlier blog post, the Rideau Canal was constructed as a military measure to provide a more secure route between Upper and Lower Canada (Kingston and Montreal) undertaken after a report during the War of 1812 that the United States had intended to invade the British Colony of Upper Canada via the St. Lawrence River. Thus, the combination of the canals on the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal provided an alternate route for communications and supplies between Montreal and Kingston, well away from the US boarder along the St. Lawrence.
The canal work started in 1826 and was completed in the spring of 1832. Its primary purpose was military, but no attacks from the US ever occurred. The canal quickly took on a commercial purpose as it was easier to navigate than the St. Lawrence River. The Rideau became a busy commercial artery from Montreal to the Great Lakes until 1849 when the rapids on the St. Lawrence were tamed by a series of locks and commercial shippers switched to this more direct route. The Rideau Canal also served as the main travel route for tens of thousands of European immigrants heading westward.
The construction of the canal was supervised by Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers. Private contractors such as future sugar refining entrepreneur John Redpath, Thomas McKay and Robert Drummond and others were responsible for much of the construction. The majority of the actual work was done by thousands of Irish and French-Canadian labourers.
Colonel By decided to create a blackwater canal system instead of constructing new channels. This was a better approach as it required fewer workers and was more cost effective to build. However, the total construction bill, including land acquisition, came to 822,804 British Pounds. Given the unexpected cost overruns, John By was recalled to London and retired with no accolades or recognition for the tremendous accomplishment he’d achieved.
Unfortunately, as many as 1,000 workers died from malaria and other diseases and accidents. The men, women and children who died were buried in local cemeteries. Funerals were held for the workers and the graves were marked with wooden markers, which have since rotted away, leading to the misconception that workers were buried in unmarked graves. Memorials have been erected along the canal route, most recently with the Celtic Cross Memorials in Ottawa, Kingston and Chaffeys Lock.
The Rideau Canal was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1925 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, recognizing it as a work of human creative genius. The Rideau Canal was recognized as the best preserved example of a slack water canal in North America on a large scale demonstrating the use of European slack water technology. It is the only canal dating from the early 19th century still operating along its original line and with most with its original structures intact. The Rideau Canal, now 186 years old, is something to really marvel at and it is gratifying to see the recognition the canal construction has now received, shedding light on the brilliance of Lieutenant Colonel John By as well as the sacrifice of the many labourers and their families who lost their lives during the construction of the canal.
Today the canal is easily accessed by recreational boaters, cottagers, fishermen and tourists and many communities exist along the canal because of all these visitors.
Well preserved stone buildings in Merrickville
By the time we got to the three locks at Merrickville, the sky was dark and threatening and during locks 2 and 3, the skies opened and we got thoroughly soaked while tending our lines. Shortly after we were tied up at the overnight docks at Merrickville, next to the dam. Merrickville is a lovely little village that was founded in 1794, well before construction of the Rideau Canal. William Merrick settled here, attracted to the site by its water power, He built a dam to power his grist, saw and carding mills. When Rideau Canal construction crews arrived in 1827, Merrick’s Mills as the village was known, was already a thriving community. After the canal was completed, the excess water once again turned the wheels of the mills and the improved transportation system caused a surge in commercial activity. Today the village still has many fine, well maintained examples of its original stone structures, plus interesting ruins of its original mills. There is also local expertise in wooden boat maintenance that continues to be well used. The area is a favourite stop for boaters as well as cottagers and tourists.
We enjoyed a light lunch at Harry McLean’s Pub, followed by a walk about town, cut short by more dark clouds coming our way. Severe thunderstorms were forecast and they arrived on time, with torrents of rain, winds up to 36 knots and thunder and lightening all around. Less than an hour later, it had all cleared out and we played a game of Sequence with Bob and Jan over Happy Hour.
Serious storm coming right at us
Later, just at dusk, the lock master came by to warn that they may have to evacuate our area as he was expecting an order to open up the dam to allow excess water out of the system, creating an extra strong current where all the boats were moored. A half hour later, in the dark, we were given instructions to move the boats around to the Blue Line tie up at the top of the lock. The space was tight and we had to raft two and three deep. It was all done in a very orderly manner and within an hour we were all tucked away for a very quiet night. That was a first for all of us.
Sunrise in Merrickville
Nine boats rafted at blue line
Torrent of water being let through dam
Sunday August 13, 2017: An almost daily chore on the Rideau Canal is checking the water intake sea strainer for the main engine. The canal system has many areas of thick weeds and it is impossible to completely avoid them. Finely chopped weeds will make there way past the exterior strainer on the hull and get captured by the large, in-line strainer on the large intake hose for the engine. Cleaning the strainer is a five minute job, but essential if you want to avoid having your engine overheat at a very inconvenient time.
Today, we made our way from Merrickville to Smiths Falls, a five lock, 12.5 nautical mile run on a perfectly lovely summer day. There were no ill effects of yesterday’s heavy rain in the area we cruised. Smiths Falls was named after Thomas Smyth, a United Empire Loyalist who in 1786 was granted 400 acres in the present day location of the town. The town got its start with construction of a small mill. When Colonel By arrived to construct the canal, he ordered the mill closed and settled for 1,500 Pounds, one of the largest claims made by mill owners on the canal. The disruption to industry by the canal was temporary and before long, Smiths Falls grew rapidly following completion of the canal.
Smiths Falls is the one location on the Rideau whose lock structure has seen the most change. Originally, three locks cover the 36’ drop in water level. Numerous modifications were made over the years to address mechanical and structural issues. Eventually, after much debate, the original three original manual locks were replaced with a single lock with hydraulic controls in 1973/1974. While many opposed the change as it deviated dramatically from the original character and charm of the manual locks, structurally this change was certainly needed.
Back in May, 2017 at a TD Retiree luncheon, I met up with a former TD colleague named Mary, who had heard about our Down East Circle Route and our plan to be on the Rideau Canal this summer. She invited us to join her and her partner Roger at his cottage on Big Rideau Lake for a get together when we were in the area. As pre arranged, Mary came to Smiths Falls and picked up the four of us for the half hour drive to Four Winds Point on the east shore of Big Rideau near Portland.
Roger’s family have had cottages on Big Rideau for 8 generations and he is a great source of historical information on the area. While there, we enjoyed a swim in the wonderfully clear water of the Big Rideau Lake, refreshments on their screened in porch and a magnificent dinner around their large dining table. Mary and Roger had invited neighbours Matt and Audrey to join us for dinner. Matt was retired from the Canadian Coast Guard and we had a wonderful time exchanging stories about our trip and hearing his stories from his time in the Coast Guard. Just before dark, Roger drove us home to our boats in Smiths Falls, each with a custom cap on our heads with a Four Winds name and logo on the front . Having a land based day at a cottage with friends was a wonderful change in pace for the four of us.
Bob, Mary, Roger, Matt, Fran, Stephen & Jan
Monday August 14, 2017: We stayed put in Smiths Falls today, enjoying a great breakfast at the close by Roosteraunt, a location recommended by Mary. This was followed by grocery shopping and a trip to Canadian Tire. Later, I tackled an important boat maintenance chore. Keeping clean oil in your engine is of paramount importance to it providing you with long life and trouble free service. The combustion process creates contaminants in the engine oil and the life of the engine oil and the engine can be extended significantly by use of “by-pass oil filtration”. This is a large, external oil filter element through which the oil passes slowly, removing far more contaminants than the standard, full flow on-engine oil filter. As we were now at the 200 hour mark this summer, I chose today to change the filter element. If done carefully, this can be a 15 minute job. If you make any sort of oil mess it easily became a one hour job. That’s what I had today - a one hour job. But it got done and I can now feel good that our Cummins diesel is enjoying a pampered life so to speak.
The rest of today was relaxing - reading, a stroll into town for an ice cream and some photo taking and not much else. I love these days.
Tuesday August 15, 2017: It’s another beautiful summer day on the Rideau. We are up early and ready to lock through first, right at 900 hours. There are three of us, Wings, Tug’n and a 30’ Oceania trawler, identical to the one my Dad used to own. The owner of this trawler is from Montreal and he’s extremely enthusiastic about his boat, describing it as the perfect layout of interior accommodation and exterior practicality. It’s fun listening to him rave about his boat and think back to my Dad’s enjoyment of his Oceania.
Today is a two lock, 14 mile run out into Big Rideau Lake to Murphy Point Provincial Park and an anchorage in Noble Bay After anchoring and lunch, we launched or dinghy and headed out for some fishing. It was a delightful afternoon during which we caught a few bass, but no keepers. But it was great to be back out fishing as it has been quite some time since we last went out fishing.
Once again, conditions were ripe for a late afternoon thunderstorm and it arrived as scheduled with lots of rain and thunder & lightening all around us. Later, it cleared for a lovely, peaceful evening at anchor.
Wednesday, Thursday August 16 & 17, 2017: Today we did a short 5 nautical mile cruise to Colonel By Island. Originally in the 1890’s, a fishing camp named the Angler’s Inn was located on the island and their patrons revelled in the luxury while using guides to fish the Rideau Lake by rowing skiff. In 1949, US business tycoon Danny Arnstein bought the island and built the existing cottage on this island. This flamboyant character moved in fast circles with the likes of Paul Anna and David Niven whom he’d entertain here on the island.
Tug'n at Colonel By Island
Parks Canada bought the island, which now has several large docks plus moorings for boaters to enjoy the island setting. Unfortunately, the unusual, flat roofed cottage has fallen into disrepair, but the property is lovely with many mature trees to provide one shade to sit under. We spent a lovely day and a half there, doing some boat projects, fishing and enjoying the company of many Quebec boaters. I’ve now started on my fall, washing and waxing routine. This year, I’m spreading the effort out and today I worked on the pilot house roof, which gets an enormous amount of sunshine. I had to compound most of it to restore the shine, followed by a good coat of Duragloss to restore it to a proper finish. On the fishing front, over two outings, Fran and I caught five bass with one (Fran’s) being a keeper. It was cleaned and in the freezer while we collect enough for a fish fry.
Sunset at Colonel By Island
Late Thursday, the wind picked up from the south causing increased wave action at our dock. The overnight forecast suggested stronger winds from the south, so we made a decision late in the day to move for more protection, ending up at the Narrows Lock, between Big Rideau Lake and Upper Rideau Lake. Shortly after our arrival at the lock, the rain started and we enjoyed a quiet evening at this well protected location.
Friday & Saturday August 18 & 19, 2017: A few days ago, we’d made reservations to stay at the village of Westport on Upper Rideau Lake. It is a favourite of boaters, cottagers and day visitors from Ottawa, Kingston and the surrounding areas. While the forecast was mixed with the strong possibility of rain, we enjoyed two lovely days there. Westport has a great town dock between the shoreline and a man made island just off the shore. There is a long dock along the shore of the small island as well as a set of floating docks and there are lots of picnic tables on the island under the shade of some large trees. On shore there are several good restaurants, a great bakery, a grocery store and numerous boutiques and shops catering to the cottagers.
Tied up at Westport Public Dock
A bonus for us was Westport’s 11th Annual Music Festival on Saturday. What a wonderful treat this was. Nine bands were booked to perform in two separate venues. There was a kids venue, vendors selling locally produced products and food, a horse drawn wagon giving free rides around the village and more. From noon to 1830 hours, we managed to see some of the performances of 7 of the bands and we were very impressed with what we saw. Performances included the Kingston Ceili Band, the Tom Savage Band, The Grace Babies (excellent Funk), A Fellow Ship (a Toronto Indie Folk band) and Kasador (Indie Rock). The highlight was Miss Emily, whose band included Gord Sinclair and Rob Baker from The Tragically Hip. What a marvellous, professional performance. No trip on the Rideau is complete without a visit to Westport. We love the place.
Lunch at The Cove Restaurant watching a band
Tom Savage Band - lovely setting
The Grace Babies (funk)
A Fellow Ship (Indie Folk)
Miss Emily with Gord Sinclair & Rob Baker of Tragically Hip
Travelling along the Rideau in one direction, we begin to see many of the same boats and owners over and over again. So, it’s great fun to enjoy the company of fellow boaters along the way.
Sunday August 20, 2017: We made a mistake today and departed Westport for Newboro Lock, forgetting it was still the weekend. As it turns out, this lock is the busiest on the Rideau Canal. There were rental houseboats with 1st time operators, pontoon boats, fishing boats, cruisers and more, going in both directions through the narrow channels at each end of the lock. Chaos reined. We managed to tie up on the grey line and go for a walk into the village of Newboro to visit Kilborn’s Store - famous with boaters and cottagers for their shoes and clothes. From our last visit 10 years ago, it seems they are now catering much more to women shoppers than men, so my look about was short, but Fran found some bargains.
House Boat Alert!
Newboro is the highest point in the Rideau Canal system. As of this lock, we start our downward trek to Kingston on Lake Ontario. After lunch, we found the basin on the upper side of Newboro lock jam packed with boats and decided it was best to depart. The lock master put Tug’n and Wings into the lock first, followed by a multitude of small boats. One operator hit forward gear instead of reverse, causing a small collision injuring one boater’s foot. After we pulled out of the lock onto Newboro Lake, four of the noisy, go-fast boats tore past us and on to the next lock. That got us reading our cruising guide looking for a nearby anchorage so we could stay clear of the weekend chaos at the locks and we found a lovely spot at Stouts Lower Bay where we swam, enjoyed happy hour in our cockpit and marvelled at the contrasting peace and quiet we’d found. Brilliant recovery.
Loons: The lakes along the Rideau Canal are packed with loons. I think these are our favourite birds. They are mates for life. When you see a pair with their chick, the parents are extremely attentive like a real family unit. They constantly watch out for each other. Their haunting calls send chills down my spine. These birds are a real feast for the eyes and ears and we’ve been observing them day after day. What a precious treat.
Loons close by our boat
Monday August 21, 2017: This morning’s plan was a half day stop at Chaffeys Lock to explore its surroundings and visit the Opinicon Resort. The Opinicon is a landmark resort on the Rideau. Originally built to house workers building Chaffeys Lock, it was re-done in the mid 1800’s as an Inn and later became a fishing club. In 1921 it was returned to hotel services and families have been coming here for generations. In 2012 it was up for sale and in 2014 it was auctioned off with the winning bid going to Fiona McKean and her husband, Shopify CEO Tobias Lutke. McKean’s childhood memories of afternoon boat trips along the Rideau for ice cream at the Opinicon General Store drove their purchase decision - love, not logic. Word spread quickly and the local community rallied around to help.
Along our route, we must have heard from a dozen people about the resurrection of The Opinicon and how we should visit it. We also read great YELP reviews on the dining room service and food. We now consider ourselves experts at dining out for lunch, so how could we not try The Opinicon. It turns out that on this Monday, the dining room was fully booked for lunch (very strong local support), so we ate in the shade of the outdoor veranda with a lovely breeze and views of their great property with its top notch gardens and huge maple and oak trees. The menu had lots of good choices and the food was fantastic. I must write a review on YELP - a very worthwhile stop.
The original look of Chaffey's Lock (a lot less trees)
Gardens at The Opinicon
New reception at The Opinicon
Before departing Chaffeys Lock, we also toured the small museum in the original lock masters house and saw a fascinating video created by the locals on what life was like in Chaffeys Lock years ago, when steamers took tourists up and down the Rideau, with ladies in their long dresses and men in their suits. There were also lots of clips of the great fishing history of the area.
Afterwards, we continued on through Opinicon Lake and Sand Lake to the famous Jones Falls Locks. I believe yesterday and today’s run from Westport to Jones Falls covers the most picturesque and beautiful section of the Rideau Canal system. The lakes, bays, islands, channels and locks are drop dead gorgeous. I don’t believe there is anything on the Trent-Severn that rivals this area for sheer beauty.
Jones Falls has a single lock, followed by a turning basin and then a flight of three locks. It presented Colonel By with a very challenging situation. The good news for Colonel By was there wasn’t an existing settlement to deal with. The bad news - a very long rapids that descended from Sand Lake down about 57 feet through winding channels over a one mile distance to what is now Whitefish Lake. The contract was assigned to John Redpath (Redpath Sugar). Water control requirements demanded a very major dam be constructed at 60 feet tall and 217 feet wide. It was constructed of enormous key-shaped rocks that were 6 feet high, 3 feet wide and 2 feet thick from rock quarried and rough-hewn in the town of Elgin and dragged by teams of oxen to the construction site. The stones were moved in winter over frozen ground, but the masons receiving the stones had to thaw them to before attempting to shape them, to prevent fractures in the cold. It was brutal work in the mosquito infested area, but the dam was built without a hitch and it is now over 185 years old. Impressive!!
Two of four locks at Jones Falls
Eclipse of the sun at Jones Falls (moon blocking most of the sun)
Passing through these locks, much of the lock walls contain original stone forcing one to contemplate the manual labour required to construct them. It really is an engineering marvel to behold. Punctuating our passing through the Jones Falls locks was a partial eclipse of the sun, significantly dimming the bright sunny day for 20 minutes or so. Another bonus on a great day.
Shortly after exiting the lock we were anchored in Morton Bay on Whitefish Lake. It’s a lovely, long and somewhat narrow anchorage with a high, rugged cliff on one side and a thick tree covered shoreline on the other side. We enjoyed a swim, BBQ dinner and the company of many loons who seemed very comfortable with our presence and often came quite close to our boat. Precious.
Manually operated ferry boat (pull cable by hand)
Manually operated wooden swing bridge
Tuesday August 22, 2017: As forecast, we woke up to a cloudy day with lots of rain to come. We were underway by 0745, forgetting there was a swing bridge to get by before the next lock. The Rideau has a number quaint, hand operated wooden swing bridges along its route, most of which get regular usage. After a half hour wait, at 0900 sharp, the bridge attendant dutifully swung the bridge and we were on our way again as the rain continued. We easily transited the two locks at Upper Brewers and the single lock at Lower Brewers.
The final set of four locks was at Kingston Mills, about 4 miles north of Kingston. The wind was getting a lot stronger when we arrived and tied up at the blue line. The locks were closed as one up bound boat was transiting the flight locks. As we waited, the wind got stronger and darker clouds were approaching. A check of the weather radar confirmed a thunderstorm was bearing right down on us. As the up bound boat finished and exited the last lock the thunder roared and torrents of wind and rain were upon us. To our total dismay, the lock master waved us in and the boat in front of us started his engine, undid his lines and moved off the dock, narrowly missing Tug’n. Bob and I looked at each other and easily concluded we should not enter the lock. Bob went to advise the lock master of our decision and he promptly closed the lock down. How strange…
About an hour later, the weather had calmed down and we continued through the four locks without incident and on our way to Kingston. A further half hour delay occurred at the busy Bascule Bridge where the Cataraqui River spills out into into Lake Ontario, as it only opens once per hour. After that, we were into Kingston’s Confederation Basin in no time. However, the wind had since picked up again to a good 25+ knots and landing was going to be tricky. Luckily, the dock master assigned us slips behind the hotel giving us a little break from the wind.
About a week earlier we were trying to set up a time to meet with good friends Ray and Rachael in Kingston and an earlier phone call today settled on a dinner get together on Tug’n at 1700 hours. About 20 minutes before the allotted time, the skies opened up and a deluge of horizontal rain began to fall in the now 30 knot wind. Miraculously, at 1700 hours, the worst was past and our happy hour and dinner proceeded as planned. We had the most wonderful get together and were treated to a scrumptious salad (mostly from Racheal’s garden), Fran’s salmon fettuchinni & bruchette and Rachael’s marvellous mango moose for dessert.
Dinner with Ray and Rachael on Tug'n
What a celebration we had, as our arrival in Kingston completes the circle of our Down East Circle Route. We still have to get Tug’n home to Penetanguishene on Georgian Bay, but as of today, we’ve completed the circle and that feels like a great conclusion to our boating adventure that we started planning in the summer of 2015. How wonderfully satisfying.
Stephen in Kingston
Kingston, home of the Tragically Hip