continuousWave--> Sail-Logs --> Rideau Canal 2007 --> Day Seven

The Home Stretch.


Date:Friday, June 22, 2007
Weather:Cool and cloudy
Winds:Fresh breeze
Departure:Hurst Marine
Distance:21.5 miles by water
Elevation:280.4 feet above Great Lakes Datum

Morning at Hurst Marine

The north winds have brought a much cooler morning, and we have a heavy dew on the boat. With several boat towels (old towels we keep aboard) I wipe up all the droplets from the topsides. We are about 23 miles from the end of the waterway, and we should reach Ottawa by early afternoon. There is not much to keep us at the dock this morning, and we get underway comparatively early.

The Long Stretch

This segment of the Rideau Canal from Lock 17 at Burritts Rapids to Lock 16 at Long Island is known as "The Long Stretch." It covers about 26 miles with no locks, the longest lock-free segment in the passage. We cruise along admiring the shoreline, passing Kelley's Landing, another very small marina and store facility with a long history on this waterway run by descendants of the Irish workers who helped to build it. Then past Manotick, another marina with some transient docks available. As we head north, the river splits into two branches around Long Island. We hold to the east, the navigable passage, and soon we arrive at our first lock for the day.

Long Island Locks 16, 15, 14

Each lock station is run by a Lockmaster, and each has been quite personable and unique. Long Island is no different, and our Lockmaster here seems about our age, mid-fifties, and perhaps a bit of an old hippie. He runs an efficient operation, and soon we are dropped 25-feet in a stair step of three chambers. By now we have learned that there is some science to the design of these multiple lock chambers, and the amount of lift or drop, as well as the size of the each chamber is kept quite equal. In this way when lowering a boat, the water from the upper chamber will nicely fill the lower chamber, as it will be of nearly the exact volume needed. This tends to minimize the amount of water needed to cycle the lock. A lock system like this can only work if there is a continuous supply of water from its upper levels available to flush downward and through the lock system. By keeping the volume of water in each chamber well matched, the lock can operate using the least amount of water.

Photo: Long Island Lock, Rideau Canal
Long Island Lock dropped us 25-feet in a stair step of three chambers.

Below Long Island, two things happen: the river runs a bit more in a gorge setting, and for our chart we have to turn to the very last sheet of our packet. We are truly on the home stretch now.

Black Rapids Lock 13

Close to noon we approach Black Rapids, where we decide we to stop for lunch. This decision was motivated by the news on arrival that the lock was out of commission--temporarily--for some electrical repairs. This station is one of only three which have been "upgraded" to electrical operation, and now something has gone awry with one of the relays or valves. Two electricians from the engineering department have arrived to see if they can sort it out. We break out our lunch on shore at a picnic table, but a little shower arrives to sprinkle rain on us, so we have to retreat back to the boat.

Just as we finish up with our lunch, a 39-foot Sea Ray comes downstream from above the lock. This is, literally, a brand new boat, and the owner and family have just picked it up from Hurst Marine. They are in a hurry to proceed back to Quebec, and, in a burst of French, negotiate a deal with the Lockmaster and electricians. They'll open the lock for a cycle while they continue working on the relay problem. We cast off and join the blue-hulled Sea Ray in the lock chamber.

Ottawa International Airport is just to our south, and the sky is filled with large jet planes taking off and landing. The scenery on the banks of the river is becoming more urban, and instead of cottages we see stately homes or large businesses. We are now just on the outskirts of Ottawa.

Hogs Back Locks 12, 11

Three more miles of river winding in a gorge and we reach Hogs Back lock station. As we approach we cross over a little bay filled with a long string of small floats, organized in a very rectilinear fashion, but for what purpose we cannot deduce. Later we learn they have been set to mark lanes for a race of large war canoes to be held this weekend. We join the big Sea Ray in the lock. The skipper is doing a good job piloting his new boat with a great deal of help from his very enthusiastic daughter, whom we judge to be about 15 years old. She stands guard on the stern with a long boat hook, pushing the boat away from the lock walls as needed. His wife handles the bow line, and we hear the deep groan of a bow thruster which helps position the big boat in the lock chamber. We drop down 14-feet and exit the lock into a true canal, a ditch with stone sides dug from here to the Ottawa River, while the natural course of the Rideau River runs to the south and towards the Rideau Falls over which it tumbles down in a cataract to the same destination. The Sea Ray proceeds ahead and at a good clip, towing behind it a fair amount of wake which then rebounds back and forth between the parallel walls of the narrow canal, creating quite a bit of turbulence. We lay back a bit to let some of it dissipate before going ahead.

Harwell Locks 10, 9

The setting here is very beautiful, and the lock seems to be in its own little rural park without much intrusion from the urban environment that surrounds it. It might even be a good place to stay overnight for us, as we have been thinking of altering our plan which calls for us to stay in downtown Ottawa tonight. As we have been approaching Ottawa, Chris has been asking each Lockmaster about the advisability of staying downtown on the sea wall overnight. As we have been getting closer to Ottawa, the reports have been getting more negative, with a suggestion that it might not be the best choice for us. We decide to press on and see for ourselves.

A short distance ahead the canal opens into Dows Lake, where the city has a pavilion with boat rentals, restaurants, and transient dockage. We give it a look from afar as we continue down the man-made canal toward the ultimate end point. At this point along the canal's north shore there is a park and walking path. The south shore has a busy highway, filled with traffic. Several major highway bridges span the canal. At the Pretoria Lift Bridge we discover that our radio antenna is about two inches higher than the bridge's 10-feet of clearance, but the antenna is a flexible steel whip of small diameter, so there is no damage done to either the bridge or the antenna. Beyond this bridge the canal makes a 90-degree turn, then heads straight as an arrow for downtown Ottawa.

As we approach the end of the waterway, we pass under a series of large bridges, then stop short to tie to the sea wall as the canal goes under the very large overhang of the Confederation Square Bridge. There is a line of boats (the blue 39-foot Sea Ray included) awaiting entrance into the Ottawa Locks, a staircase of eight chambers which descend 79-feet to the Ottawa River below. (The level of the Ottawa River is 134 feet above Great Lakes Datum.)

Cycling through these eight locks will take about two hours, and we do not see any point in going down them just to return with two more hours of time spent. We make our little boat secure, and walk over to see the locks ourselves.

Unfortunately you cannot walk along the canal from where we are directly to the locks themselves, and we have to walk up several flights of stairs, cross Confederation Square and its very busy streets filled with cars, then walk back down a long flight of steps to reach the lock station. The locks are quite busy, filled with tourists observing the operation, filled with a full chamber of boats cycling down, and filled with many people just walking along the pathways toward the river below. We happen to overhear an interesting exchange between a tourist and the Lockmaster:

Referring to the very cramped and hemmed in location of the lock station between the many buildings, bridges and streets, a tourist asks, "Why did they build the locks right here between all these buildings?"

"When they built the locks," the Lockmaster explains, "there was nothing here. They were, literally, the first thing that was built here."

In a lull in the activity we ask the Lockmaster (who happens to be the youngest one we've met along the way) about his recommendation regarding staying downtown overnight on the sea wall. He offers his sincere advice, which is to advise against it. We push him for more details, and he restates his advice with more emphasis:

"No, I do not recommend it," he says. "That's based on one hundred fifty police reports in the past year."

That closes the deal for us. We won't stay there. Our small boat is just too easy to board, and too hard to lock up. Apparently even Ottawa, which by all appearances is a beautiful and clean city, is afflicted with modern urban problems such as homeless people roaming around at night. The location of the canal under all the overhanging bridges makes it a popular spot for the homeless and others to gather at night, and they have apparently been known to help themselves to items from boats moored there, or to even untie them and cast them off into the canal. We did observe that several of the other boats moored on the sea wall were secured with locks and chains to the mooring bits.

We have a very brief look around downtown Ottawa, to which we plan to visit tomorrow by bus, and then we return to our boat, cast off, and head back upstream. We go to Dows Lake Pavilion, and seek a transient berth there for the night.

Dows Lake Pavilion

We have already made reservations for a slip at Dows Lake for tomorrow night, but this change in plans is sending us there a day early. Chris tries to reach the marina via cellular telephone, but is greeted with a recorded message. We keep sailing on, hoping they can accommodate us. In about an hour we approach their docks, with a very strong wind greeting us from the west. It is blowing about 25-MPH!

We tie up at the T-dock on the end of their main pier, and are soon greeted by a friendly staff member. They have space for us for the night, but we'll have to move over to another slip, as they have reserved this one for a boat coming later this afternoon. We re-board our boat, restart the engine, and move to the new slip. This requires a rather dicey backing maneuver, which I though I was handling quite well until the 25-MPH wind catches our bow and starts to blow us toward the boat in the adjoining slip. This grabs everyone's attention, including the dock attendant to whom I have just handed our stern line. She is watching the excitement on the bow and not restraining the boat's sternward movement. The wind is now blasting us backwards. My attention shifts back to the stern when I hear the cowling of the motor slam hard into the dock face. A burst of forward thrust solves that problem, and Chris fends off the bow, helped by a push from the owner of the other boat who has come on deck to defend his topsides. In an instant the panic is over and we are in. The scuff mark on the cowling wipes off with a bit of spray cleaner. No harm, no foul.

The Pavilion at Dows Lake would be a great place for us to stay, except for one small problem: the bathroom and shower facilities are in the process of being remodeled and are closed. As a very poor substitute they have installed two deluxe porta-potti's, which unfortunately are available for 24-hour access by the public. We can work around the porta-potti situation by using the rest rooms in the two restaurants at the pavilion (when they are open), but there are no showers. We are very lucky that the weather has turned cool. If we had arrived hot and sweaty from a day in 90-degree sunshine, the situation would be much worse.

The boat can be put to rest now, as we will only be moving it about 100-feet from this slip to the haul-out ramp on Sunday. This further explains our selection of Dows Lake as a terminal point: it has one of the only boat launch ramps around for many miles.

The marina staff, particularly a young fellow named Eric, are very helpful. They assist us with all sorts of advice: where to get a bus, where to walk for dinner, what places to see in Ottawa. They are very courteous and friendly, even if their marina only has a porta-potti at the moment.

After we settle down at the dock and relax for a while, we hike off in search of dinner. We cross Prince of Wales Drive and take Preston Street for a few blocks, entering the Italian section of Ottawa, where there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. Going on advice from the dock staff, we visit the Pub Italia, a very crowded and popular spot with a huge selection of beers and some excellent Italian food on the menu.

Following a very good and not too expensive dinner--I had a meatball sandwich baked into a small loaf of bread and a giant 20-ounce Belgian wheat beer and Chris has mussels--we stagger back to the boat. The weather is holding fair, even though we have brought our foul weather gear along just in case. After a week of boating and more or less living outdoors, we have no problem getting to sleep, and by 10:30 p.m. it is lights out in the cabin.

Around 1:55 a.m. I am awakened by loud music. It seems the upper deck restaurant over at the pavilion just a few yards from our bow has quite a party going, and the music has reached new levels of loudness. A new song starts, one with a very heavy and repetitive bass line. I look at the luminous dial of my wrist watch in the dark. "It's almost two o'clock," I think to myself, "they will have to shut this down soon." (This is based on my conception that all civilized places in North America shut the booze off at 2 a.m. nightly.) I am laying awake in the v-berth for what seems like an unbelievably long time, while the same song continues to be played. They must have a live band, as no recording could go on for so long. I check my watch: now it's 2:35 a.m. My God, that same song has been going for over 40 minutes. Finally, mercifully, the song ends, the bar shuts down, and quiet slowly returns to the marina.

Hours, Gallons, Miles

Here are the sailing data from today at arrival at Ottawa Locks:

Instrument data:
LOG = 141.4 miles

HOURS = 3.8
GALLONS = 15.1
MILES = 21.5

GPH = 3.97
MPH = 5.65
MPG = 1.42

Here are the sailing data from today at arrival Dows Lake:

Instrument data:
LOG = 145.0 miles

Hours = 0.7
Gallons = 2.5
Miles = 3.6

GPH = 3.57
MPH = 5.14
MPG = 1.44  (foul current)

The nine-day narrative continues in Day Eight.

Copyright © 2007 by James W. Hebert. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited!

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Author: James W. Hebert
This article first appeared July, 2007.