Side trips expand a short day on the water.
|Date:||Wednesday, June 20, 2007|
|Weather:||Cooler and cloudy|
|Distance:||14.9 miles by water|
|Elevation:||390.9 feet above Great Lakes Datum|
We have a very relaxed and slow-paced morning, for we do not have far to go today by boat. Smith Falls has a few attractions we want to see, and after breakfast we walk over to the Rideau Canal Museum, just on the other side of the river. A modest entrance fee is charged, and we spend an hour or so walking through the four floors of exhibits, learning more about the history of the canal as we go. Outside there are more displays, including a couple of young Canadian gentlemen in British Army period dress. We have a long conversation with them as they are well-informed about the corps of 300 Royal Sappers and Miners who oversaw the construction of the Rideau Canal 175 years ago. Around noon we depart the dock and motor just a few hundred feet over to the next lock.
Ironically, here at Smith Falls where the Rideau Canal system has its headquarters, the original flight of three chambers, Locks 30, 29, and 28, are no longer in use. They have been bypassed by a single new lock, 28A, which provides 26-feet of lift (or drop in our case) in a single chamber. This lock has also been converted to electrical operation. The old locks are right alongside, and perhaps could be restored to use if desired.
Downstream of Lock 28A represents a new milestone in our passage, for we have now run off Chart 1513 and have to change to a new pack of small craft charts, number 1512. All of these charts are extremely well drawn and give excellent detail. While the waterway is marked with hundreds of buoys and its main path is quite clearly presented so that perhaps one could traverse it without the benefit of these charts--particularly so later in the year when there would be plenty of other boats to follow--I enjoy having them along so much that I could not think of making the transit without them and all the additional information they provide.
Just below Smith Falls we see a large motel-style building on the north shore, but based on its appearance and the somewhat dilapidated condition of its wharf, it does not appear to be open for business. It is built in the Holiday Inn style of the 1960's and has perhaps six floor of rooms which overlook the canal, but unfortunately all appear unoccupied. Some workers seem engaged in cleaning or renovations, or perhaps are closing up the place.
We only have about a mile of travel before we encounter two more locks at Old Slys, which drop us down a total of 16-feet. Just beyond the lock and past the railroad overpass, we pull over to the GRAY line wharf and stop for lunch. After lunch, we tidy up and secure the boat, then hike up the hill into the industrial south side of Smith Falls for a visit to the Hershey Chocolate factory.
After about a half-mile hike, we arrive at the Hershey Chocolate factory, unfortunately just minutes after three large tour buses full of school children have pulled up to the visitor center. The youngsters huddle and mass in a long queue at the entrance. Using an old sailor's trick, Chris and I walk around to the EXIT and enter the visitor center by the backdoor. The factory tour is a self-guided one, and we stroll though the confectionary on an enclosed overhead walkway, watching thousands of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups being created each minute. The real story here is a sad one. The plant employes about 400 to 600 people from the Smith Falls area, but Hershey have announced it will be closing in about a year. Production of Hershey's chocolate will be shifting to Mexico. The impact of this on the economy of Smith Falls will be significant, and the jobs lost will not easily be replaced. Later in the trip we will see some signs in stores urging "Boycott Hershey's Chocolate" and it is not hard to understand that feeling. After fifteen minutes on the tour, we return to the visitor's center, were every imaginable chocolate product is available for sale. We can't resist the temptation, and we buy two small bags of dark chocolate. Hershey throws in a free sample for each of us, huge Oh Henry bars. Back at the boat with sore feet--I should have changed from my boat shoes for that long walk--we cast off and resume the trip.
We drop nine more feet in the single chamber lock at Edmunds. There is a large dam here, holding back the Rideau and creating these staircased steps in the river's descent. Below Edmunds the river opens into a broad lake about a half-mile wide. Outside the buoyed channel it is weedy and marshy, and the marshes are a bird sanctuary. Adjacent to the river are farms with fields of rich soil. Three miles ahead is our next lock.
We motor into the open lock chamber at Kimarnock, which will provide only a modest two feet of drop, but we are surprised with news from the Lockmaster.
"How far are you folks planning on going today," he asks us.
We reply that we intend only to reach Merrickville, about nine miles downstream with no intervening locks, and that we will probably stay above the lock for the evening.
"That's good," he replies, "because there is a problem at lower Nicholson, and the lock is closed for repairs."
This news takes us completely by surprise, and we inquire further about when this happened and how long the lock is expected to be out of commission. We are more or less just past the halfway point in our trip, and, if we cannot reach Ottawa by Saturday, we will have to make some serious alterations in our plans. I guess we had not given any consideration to the potential for the lock system to have a problem, and it was not a contingency in our trip plans.
The problem at lower Nicholson--some loose masonry in the lock sill--was just discovered an hour or so ago, and engineers are working on it. The lockmaster telephones ahead to get the latest. He says they're de-watering the lock chamber, then they'll have to make repairs and let the cement cure. The engineers think the lock will be back in operation on Thursday afternoon, but this fellow adds that Friday morning might be more likely.
We mull over our plans and options. Even if we have to turn around, we decide we might as well continue on to Merrickville. It is a more attractive place to spend the night than return for a second stay in Smith Falls, and we have high hopes for the skill and speed of the canal engineers.
Below Kilmarnock the river widens in some stretches and we can get on plane. Running faster actually improves our fuel economy, as we can get up to 2.0-MPG at a nice planing speed, while at no-wake speeds the best we can produce is about 1.6-MPG, and often less than that.
We arrive at Merrickville in the late afternoon, a bit upset with the news of the lock closing, and it takes us a few minutes to sort out where we want to spend the evening. Eventually we tie up on the BLUE line wharf above the lock, with permission from the Lockmaster, as no traffic is expected to follow us for the day. This is one of the advantages of cruising at this time of the year. There are few boats and there is plenty of space available. We had thought of staying below the locks, where we'd be closer to the bathrooms, but the Lockmaster cautions us that the trains are noisier there and the mosquitos can be a problem. We take his advice and stay moored adjacent to THE DEPOT, a store run by The Friends of the Rideau, which sells all manner of books, maps, and other paraphernalia related to this historic water way. Chris buys a Rideau Canal 175th Anniversary commemorative flag, and in the unique red color trim, which is only available here.
Merrickville is a fabulous little village or town. Its buildings all seem to date from near the same era as the lock construction (1830's) and they are similarly built with cut stone. To entice the Scottish stone masons who built the canal to come over to the wilderness of Canada, the British made land grants to them, and many stayed on and built houses--in stone--along the canal. Merrickville must have been a popular spot for them. The town is filled with shops and fine restaurants occupying these beautiful old buildings. For dinner we have a choice of several very good places, but we choose an old inn with a Dickens theme, Gad's Hill Place. After delicious appetizer plates of mussels and shrimp (at two-for-one price), Chris orders haddock while I have a delicately prepared salmon entree. The food was excellent--this is a great restaurant. The decor is equally attractive and entertaining, too.
The weather has been deteriorating, and it looks like rain is headed our way. The wind has blown itself out, and we have a very still evening tied to the wharf. Unfortunately this brings aboard an invasion of mosquitos, and it becomes impossible to read in the cabin. We spend most of the night on patrol for buzzing mosquitos who are attacking us relentlessly, while we listen to the doppler shift of the horns of many large trains which rumble past at close range.
Here are the sailing data from today:
Instrument data: ENGINE HOURS = 0338.5 GALLONS REMAINING = 17.4 LOG = 96 miles Today's increments: HOURS = 2.3 GALLONS = 9.3 MILES = 14.9 Today's averages: GPH = 4.04 MPH = 6.47 MPG = 1.6
The nine-day narrative continues in Day Six.
Copyright © 2007 by James W. Hebert. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited!
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Author: James W. Hebert
This article first appeared July, 2007.