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ContinuousWave: Trips and Rendezvous
Lake Erie, Leamington, Ontario
|Author||Topic: Lake Erie, Leamington, Ontario|
posted 11-14-2013 12:57 PM ET (US)
I had not been to the Ontario port town of Leamington in more than 20 years. There had been a substantial improvement to their marina some time ago, but they had the misfortune of a tornado coming right through there in 2010. I was also curious about radio reception from there of vessels in Lake Erie transmitting AIS signals. It was a pleasant afternoon, and even though this trip involved travel to a foreign country, I thought it would be a good afternoon drive and road trip.
I crossed the border at the Ambassador Bridge. The customs and immigration facility on the Canadian side has a single NEXUS lane, which is marked by a very obscure and small sign. Fortunately, traffic was very light and I could find the NEXUS lane. I entered Canada without much delay, although the agent seemed rather skeptical about my trip. I explained the purpose was to visit Leamington and take a few pictures.
From the bridge toward Leamington the highway is under substantial renovation, and it appears to be headed toward a much enlarged roadway with limited access and no traffic lights. At the moment there are four lanes open, two in each direction, and traffic lights at major intersections. Traffic congestion was not much of a delay around 2:30 p.m. I turned onto Hwy-3 to Leamington, entering by a traffic circle. Having driven in Ireland a few years ago, I have become acquainted with traffic circles on major highways, so this somewhat unusual feature in North America did not confuse me.
In Leamington I found my way to the marina by following the main North-South road to the shoreline. There is a very nice small boat harbor there now. Leamington is also the terminus of a vehicle and passenger ferry to Pelee Island. That dock is separated from the recreational boat harbor. There is also an offshore break wall that I did not recall from earlier visits. Years ago I used to come to Leamington so I could stand on the end of their long pier and have a 180-degree horizon to the water, which I needed for taking some celestial observations for my U.S. Power Squadron NAVIGATOR course. The new break wall has messed up the pier as a vantage point, as it interrupts the horizon line for a large segment of the arc.
The marina has plenty of docks, and I would expect that some must be available for transient boats. There is also a good boat ramp there, and parking specifically for trucks and trailers. I found a good spot in the parking lot where I could set up my AIS station, and listened for ships for a while. Strangely, I received nothing, other than the AIS Base Station signals from the close-by tower of the Canadian Coast Guard and the signal from the ferry a few hundred feet away. There were several other cars, presumably locals, also enjoying a pleasant afternoon view of the water. Here are two views:
From Leamington, I drove west along the coastal highway, arriving at Kingsville, a smaller town about seven miles away. There is a good harbor at Kingsville, but it appears to be completely oriented to serve a fleet of commercial fishing vessels and another Pelee Island ferry service. I did not see any indication of recreational boat facilities here. There was no sign of a launching ramp or any small boat docks. I drove to the end of large wharf and took this view looking back to shore:
Darkness was coming, so I did not extend my investigation to visit Colchester, another port town about ten mile west from Kingsville. The main highway veers away from the coast in that region, and I wanted to get back before it got completely dark.
Returning to the USA took much longer than I anticipated. I was delayed on the bridge about 30-minutes. Being unfamiliar with the layout of the booths, I could not get to the NEXUS lane due to traffic congestion. I approached a non-NEXUS booth, but it was apparently configured with RF-ID readers, as it read both my enhanced driver's license from Michigan and my NEXUS card. This seemed to be of no use to the agent, who grilled me about my identity, where I lived, who owned the car, and where I had been. He interviewed me about the exact time I crossed into Canada and where I had gone. I thought this was all quite strange. I am certain that all of that information was already provided to him by my RF-ID cards and by the logging of my entry into Canada a few hours earlier by the Canadians. I am also stunned he could not discover the name of the registered owner of my car. With all the billions that have been spent on Homeland Security, this guy seemed to be operating with no more information than would have been available to someone in his role when the bridge opened in 1929.
When I explained I had driven to Leamington and taken a few pictures of the marina, the agent showed disbelief. I further explained that I was retired, and I enjoyed driving to various boating areas. He wanted to know if I had the pictures with me. I reached down to the center console of my car and raised my small digital camera. I though that might end the inquisition, but he was still on the hunt.
Next, he asked me to shut off the car, give him the keys, and open the trunk. Then he asked what he could expect to find in the trunk, saying something like, "Am I going to find anything in the trunk?"
I presumed he meant, would he find anything unusual or illegal in the trunk, so I replied, "I don't know."
This set him off. "You said this is your car, right? Is there anything in the trunk? Any alcohol?"
"Yes," I replied. "It is my car. And I don't think there is anything unusual in the trunk. I really don't recall what precisely is in there."
At this point the agent was holding my car keys, my driver's license, and my NEXUS card. I was feeling vulnerable.
He walked to the rear of my car, opened the trunk lid, and disappeared from my view. I assume he poked around in there. I was trying to remember what might be in there. As I recalled, there was a blanket, a couple of plastic milk cartons--appropriated decades ago by someone else from a milk company truck; I am innocent!--and some jumper cables, flares, and other car emergency stuff.
When the agent reappeared in my view, he then began to thump the car body sides in the area of the trunk, apparently sounding them for contraband. I was thinking, "Jeez, like testing a Boston Whaler hull for air pockets in the laminate." To my good fortune, the sounds of the thumps on my FORD body panel must have had the proper timbre. The inspection seemed to finally end.
I got back my car keys, my NEXUS card, and my driver's license. In 50 years of crossing the border, this was the most detailed questioning I have ever received, and the first and only time an agent searched my vehicle. Then the final insult: I had to wait briefly in line to pay the $5 toll for the bridge. It seems that toll collection has been moved to the USA side for both directions of travel.
This all happened about 6 p.m., and I was wondering if that were a shift change time. Perhaps this agent was just coming on duty and had a head of steam, or maybe going off duty and needed to meet some quota for searches. He searched the car in front of me, and, considering the extremely long time he spent with the car in front of that guy, he must have given those border crossers a very detailed examination, too.
It was amazing to me that the facilities at this crossing were so awful. The signage is terrible. There is no good control of lanes and booth routing. The NEXUS lane cannot be approached without being delayed by traffic for the non-NEXUS lanes. And this is at one of the busiest border crossings in North America. The facilities there are shameful and inadequate, compared to those that are in place in Port Huron-Sarnia. The whole Detroit-Windor-Amabassador Bridge transit is substandard. There is clearly a need for expansion and modernization here. I recommend avoiding this crossing if at all possible. If unavoidable, cross in daylight so you will have a chance to see the mostly unlighted signs for the NEXUS lane, and don't cross around 6 p.m. on a night when there is a hockey game in Detroit.
posted 11-14-2013 04:12 PM ET (US)
He thought you were a mule.
posted 11-14-2013 05:38 PM ET (US)
Hi Dave--I do recall one item in the trunk. I should have told the curious border patrol agent that he would find the old blanket that I used to wrap up my dog to carry her to the vet about five years ago after she passed away.
posted 11-15-2013 11:46 AM ET (US)
The launch ramp fee at Leamington for 2104 is $13. Transient dockage will be $1.75/foot, with taxes additional. The fee brochure shows the ramp in use during boating season, and suggests that it will be a very busy place. Two boats are shown on the ramp and eight or nine boats await their turn while idling nearby.
In walking distance from the marina I did not observe too many restaurants. There are two or three bars and taverns adjacent to the ferry docks, a short hike away, as well as a little take-out or pizza place. The main part of downtown Leamington is quite a hike from the marina, about two miles away.
Launching from Leamington will give one good access to Point Pelee and to Pelee Island.
The prevailing winds in summer are probably from the southwest. That likely explains the construction of the offshore break wall. It probably cuts down on the surge inside the harbor break wall considerably.
We have been contemplating a visit to Leamington as a possible weekend destination. After seeing the sorry state of the facilities at the Ambassador Bridge, I have lost some of my enthusiasm for hauling my boat there on its trailer. It might be much simpler to launch on the USA side and cross by boat.
posted 11-15-2013 11:55 AM ET (US)
As I understand it, the Ambassador Bridge is privately owned and, I guess, its approaches too. The could explain why they are in such poor condition compared to the Blue Water Bridge at Sarnia. Next time, for fun, take the tunnel and see if the infrastructure is any better.
posted 11-15-2013 12:24 PM ET (US)
Using GOOGLE EARTH and its street level view to refresh my memory, I found these eateries nearby the marina:
Ray's Rib House--"Bar & Grill": generally good reviews on Trip Advisor.
Gaspard's Cafe--"Burgers-Footlongs-Sausage&Bun" Not reviewed.
Burgess Refreshments--a walk-up to window take-out place; good reviews for their ice cream on Trip Advisor.
Waterfront Restaurant--a sit-down restaurant by the shore with a patio; poorly reviewed on Trip-Advisor.
It is my experience that restaurants that are adjacent to ferry terminals tend to have a captive market of people waiting for the ferry, and may not be the finest eating establishments in a particular port town.
posted 11-15-2013 12:50 PM ET (US)
ASIDE: It appears that my entry to the USA I describe above occurred at what the Homeland Security or government of the USA calls a "Ready Lane." The Ready Lane seems to be a hybrid lane that is not restricted to only NEXUS-card holders, but it does provide for reading of RF-ID cards. I noticed that the lane showed me the familiar display of having read two RF-ID cards as I approached, that is, it had read my NEXUS card and my Michigan enhanced driver's license.
I do not recall any markings that designated the lane as a Ready Lane, and from this I can't see how anyone else in line would have known it was to be used only for RF-ID identification. There is an explanation of Ready Lane use at
The above suggests that if a lane is designated a Ready Lane, it should not be entered unless you have the appropriate RF-ID cards. I did not see any sign or a warning like that. Even more curious, the Ready Lane is described as being an option designed to speed your travel across the border. On the night I used the Ready Lane, the passage through that lane was markedly slower than on adjacent lanes not set up for the RF-ID devices.
posted 11-17-2013 01:27 PM ET (US)
Please note: What follow is a long sidebar that has nothing in particular to do with boating, but is related to my trip to Leamington. Feel free to ignore it completely.
While driving to Leamington I was listening to WOUM, a very powerful FM broadcast station, still allowed to run about twice the normal power and use a very tall antennas due to being grandfathered by the FCC. As a result you can hear WUOM at ranges of 100-miles. It really gets out. It came in loud and clear all the way to Leamington.
The program I was listening to featured a number of interviews, each a few minutes long. One that immediately attracted my attention was with Rolf Peterson, a professor we have met twice, each time when visiting Isle Royale National Park. He spoke about moose population trends.
Another segment was an interview with a professor of political science from Hope College, a small school in western Michigan. The interview was on the topic of a recent article he had written about the effects of college education on migration of people and their view of community. This interview was so interesting that later, when home, I searched and found the original essay.
The essay is published at
The radio program interview can be heard from
In the interview the author uses the phrases "centralized cash economy" and "a cash-nexus economy". He also mentions the Bowdlerization of the word "community." In the essay, the author writes:
The region around Leamington is the part of Canada which is the southernmost. It is also blessed with very fertile soil. As you might suspect, for those reasons this area has a very strong agriculture. The entire region is filled with farms. With probably the longest growing season of anywhere in Canada, Leamington has been the center of the tomato farming business for over a century. The main employer in Leamington is Heinz. There is a large plant there dedicated to making ketchup and other tomato products.
After posting my initial article about Leamington, I got an email alerting me to the news that Heinz was planning to close their plant there.
The article quotes a spokesman for Heinz saying, "Heinz fully appreciates and regrets the impact our decision will have on employees and the communities in which these factories are located."
There seems to me to be some irony in the timing of my visit to Leamington, the closing of the Heinz plant, and the broadcast of the interview lamenting the inculcation of the global view over the local view.
posted 11-17-2013 02:18 PM ET (US)
To clear confusion in two areas:
I don't believe that the primary inspection booths displays are setup to determine who owns the entering vehicle (it's been 10 years since I, uh "worked" in that area), only if there's a flagged plate. A flagged plate could be for outstanding warrant for an individual that either owns or is known to utilize that vehicle. Belief is that it's a little too much unneeded data at primary; send to secondary if there's unanswered questions.
Second point: There's minimal cross border linkage (if any) between inbound vehicles (boats, too) databases. Trying to achieve that mission get get pretty mind-numbing, as we're dealing with federal data sharing between two countries. Think treaties, Washington and Ottawa, mind numbing minutiae and bureaucrats. BTDT.
However, sooner or later there will be a system in place that CPB would be alerted or given a list of the boaters that cleared into Canada, but either forgot or didn't bother to clear back into the US. I don't think ya want to be on that list.
Trying to explain to a CBP officer who could show up at your door in the middle of the winter, and were surprised you answered the door, since their records didn't show inbound, but multiple trips clearing into Canada, would not be my idea of a fun evening. On second thought it may be my idea of a fun evening, but not yours.
posted 11-17-2013 03:44 PM ET (US)
Border crossing at Sarnia-Port Huron is much better than at Windsor-Detroit, for the traveler. It is probably better for the CBP agents, too. Maybe that explains the difference in the border crossing experience for all involved. Yes, best to stay off any lists complied by federal agents of any kind.
posted 11-24-2013 02:11 PM ET (US)
The border crossings in Vermont to Canada seem a lot more efficient than the ones in Michigan. I had passports but my kids used their birth certificates. My wife dropped her wallet in a Tim Horton's parking lot during a blizzard on the way home to the States. Fortunately my sone observed and we quickly turned around and recovered. I can't imagine the hassle we would have had getting back home!
posted 11-24-2013 06:49 PM ET (US)
It may be due to the Sarnia / Port Huron bridge(s) handle a very large amount of international commercial traffic.
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