By James W. Hebert, firstname.lastname@example.org
We wanted to experience cruising and living aboard a small powerboat, without having to buy one, and to visit the beautiful Kawartha Lakes region of the Trent-Severn Waterway. CharteringDISCOVER 1 combined both of these objectives.
As usual, most of the planning and preparation for this trip was done by my wife, Chris. We had talked about chartering a small powerboat that we could cruise aboard for a week. We had extensive experience in living aboard and cruising on sailboats, but no similar experience with powerboats. We were curious to compare the two styles of cruising during a week of vacation we had scheduled for mid-September.
When Chris found Discover Ontario Adventure Inc., a charter company offering twentysix-foot Rinker powerboats for week-long cruises on the Trent-Severn Waterway, our interest peaked. And when we discovered they operated into September (and with reduced "off-season" rates), we were sold on the idea. We made a reservation early in the year, sent off the deposit, and prayed for a warm end to summer!
The 240 mile waterway connects Lake Huron's Georgian Bay to Lake Ontario via a series of canals, lakes, rivers, and locks, and in the process bypasses Lake Erie and Niagara Falls. With the exception of huge Lake Simcoe, there are no open water passages on the route; that would be to our advantage for a late season trip, when the weather might be too extreme for pleasant boating on the Great Lakes.
Cruising the Trent-Severn Waterway imposes limits on both your draft and your height. Vessels are warned that the controlling depth is six feet of water, and the bridge clearance is fixed at 22 feet. Clearly this is not the region for sailboats, who must lower their masts and maybe raise their keels to transit. Limits on length and beam are constrained by lock #45 at Port Severn, with its 23-foot width and 84-foot length.
The Trent-Severn has several distinct regions, but the Kawartha Lakes area is generally considered the most scenic. Here the waterway flows across a string of interconnected lakes, formed in the rugged granite of northern Ontario. The combination of crystal clear blue water with pink granite and pine forested shore makes a beautiful backdrop to boating. And also important, along the route at various locks are small towns where we could find restaurants for dinner every night. We did not plan on doing much cooking aboard on this trip. The towns would also provide an opportunity for walking every day, giving us some exercise instead of sitting on the boat.
The waterway is extremely busy in the summer months, but in September we hoped to find it less crowded. And if the weather cooperated with a few cool nights, we might also find the trees turning to autumn colors.
Normally, 325 miles of driving would take you pretty far north, up to Sault Ste. Marie almost, but today we have a big easterly component to our travel. We head north to Sarnia, cross into Canada at the Blue Water Bridge, and then head east for several hours until we get to Toronto, where the highway swells to 16 lanes wide and untold numbers of cars and trucks. Once past this megalopolis of millions, we turn north again and in less than two hours we are in Lakefield, Ontario, a classic Canadian small town on the Ontanabee River section of the waterway.
We have a three o'clock meeting with Uli Weins at the Lakefield Marina, where our cruise will start. She is waiting for us when we pull up at 2:45 p.m., the only person in the whole marina, in fact, and our boat, DISCOVER 1, a Rinker Fiesta Vee 260, one of only four boats at the docks. Despite the lovely weather, sunny and mid-70's, boating looks like it is already well below the summertime peak in these waters.
|The Rinker 260 was pretty easy to spot in the almost vacant marina.|
|The Lakefield Marina building, perhaps an old train station?|
Uli goes over the boat with us until we are both satisfied with our familiarization. We find the crankcase oil sump is almost two quarts low. Uli runs down to a local gas station to get some oil, which I add thru the valve cover access. We don't seem to have a funnel onboard, so it is a difficult pour to hit the opening. It looks like the previous users have not have had good aim; there is some oily water in the bilge. The engine starts easily from its completely cold condition, always reassuring to a new captain. Uli has also brought us a newly reconditioned propellor, which she adds to the one already in the cockpit locker. "If you damage the propellor, we have to charge you $250," she says. This prompts me to run the drive all the way up and check the condition of the current prop. Hanging on to the swim platform I can just reach the blades; one of them has a little dog ear in it already, and the other two have evidence of contact with something. OK, we're off the hook on this prop. I am glade I thought to check it. With the checkout complete, Uli's off and we're on our own with DISCOVER 1. The cruise has begun.
Our rythym is a little off. For years we've been making trips like this, driving up north on Friday and staying in a motel, then getting the boat on Saturday morning and getting underway. Now it's about four in the afternoon, we're on a strange new boat, in strange new waters, and we are a little pooped from the long drive and loading all our gear aboard. To top it off, Chris is suffering from some allergies and she's is really off her game today. And I am feeling some anxieties about jumping off the dock so late in the afternoon. We usually try to be done with the boating part of our cruising day by three or four o'clock; we never startour boating at that time. And there is that old mariner's superstition about beginning a voyage on a Friday...
"How about we just stay here tonight?", I ask Chris. That would be fine with her, too. We'll hold the boating in abeyance until tomorrow, we decide. We'll just sit here and have a drink, then scout out the town for some dinner. It's a pretty whimpy start to the cruise, but we are here to relax and enjoy our vacation, not to make a passage of it. The marina collects a buck a foot, so it costs $26 to stay. (That is $26 in Candian money; all mention of expenses are in Canadian dollars, unless otherwise specified.)
Right away we pick up on one of the differences in this style of cruising: we're at the dock, we have shore power, and we have a refrigerator. On our sailboat we'd be anchored out, be on battery power, and just have an ice box. In either case, however, we'd have cold beer. After a couple of Labatts Blue's, I am mellowing out. I still have some anxieties about all the new information I have to assimilate to get this boat underway, but they aren't bugging me as much as they were an hour ago.
We have dinner in a Chinese-Canadian restaurant. We have found that every town in Ontario with a population of over 500 has a Chinese restaurant, and they are usually one of the better choices for dining out, especially in the smaller towns. For entertainment after dinner, we drop in to the hockey arena, right across the street from the marina, where there is a game or practice in progress every night.
0430 I am awake. This mid-cabin berth is a little cave-like. You have to crawl into it on your hands and knees. This mattress is a little too thin, and it feels like I am bottoming out. I'm on the wrong side of the bed, too. It doesn't feel right.
0730 Awake and out of bed. The weather looks good. There are a lot of big black and grey clouds, but they are scudding overhead, blowing over, and the sun is shinning. We use the microwave to make some breakfast, and brew coffee in the electric coffee maker. The sun is trying to shine through the clouds, but it is quite windy. We stretch out the morning, both of us seeming a little hesitant to cast off the dock lines and get underway. It has been about two years since we've undertaken a live-aboard cruise, and I guess we are getting a little more cautious about new adventures.
1000 The moment of truth: can we handle this boat? We get the dockmaster to come over and hold our bowline while Chris holds the sternline. There is a strong crosswind on the dock. With the engine warmed up, I put it in reverse and the boat backs straight out of the slip. Hey, this thing handles pretty well.
Underway, the navigation is fairly simple. The channel is marked with plenty of paired red and green buoys. We find a couple of problems with the boat. First and foremost, it is incredibly awkward to send the crew forward to the bow. With the camper canvas up, it is impossible to go forward outside along the narrow gunwales. The only option is to go over the low windshield. It is a long stretch to get over the windshield, and on the other side there is a slick gelcoated deck, without non-skid finish. You have to be agile to manage this, and it would be really hazardous to try in any kind of sea. The windshield doesn't open, as is done on many boats this size. Maybe Rinker fixed this in the next model year; it is a big oversight. Chris is more agile than me, and she manages to get over the obstacle without too much difficulty, thanks to those thrice-weekly aerobic workout sessions.
The next problem is the steering; there seems to be a lot of slop in the wheel, and a big dead zone. The boat rocks back and forth in s-curves as we head north with the wind at our back. I've been driving boats since I was nine years old, but I never had so much trouble holding a course line as with this one. Something must not be right.
The third problem is the throttle; it won't stay at a low speed, but instead keeps slipping back into the idle stop. I'd like to cruise at about 1400 RPM, but the throttle slips back to 800 RPM (idle) at the slightest touch. We've got about five miles to the first lock to get the hang of all this.
We motor slowly upstream, across Katchewanooka Lake, past the Lakefield College School where Prince Andrew once attended, following the well marked channel which shoals to 5-6 feet deep in spots. In less than a half hour we are approaching our first lock at Young's Point. The lower gate to the lock is open and the green light is on, so we motor directly into the lock and tie up to the special vertical mooring cables in the lock.
The locks are all similarly configured with strong plastic coated steel cables about an inch and a half in diameter running from below the low-water level of the lock to the top of the lock walls and spaced about every 12 feet. These cables are held off the green slime of the lock walls by a wooden spacer block, which makes it easy to loop your mooring line around. Tied up like this your boat rises or falls with the water level in the lock while remaining in place along the wall.
|Throughout the Trent-Severn Waterway the locks use these nice plastic covered cables for mooring points.|
After about five minutes passes with no sign of the lockmaster, Chris hails him with a long "Hellooooooooooo" echoing across the deep well of the lock. "Hellooooo" he hails us back and begins to close the lower gate to lock us through. We will be the only boat in this cycle of the lock.
At this point a transiting vessel would have to pay a locking fee, but DISCOVER 1does not because we have a pre-paid season lock pass. This is a big bonus for us as we later learn from other charterers that not all the charter boats in the area provide such a pre-paid convenience.
|We've just been lifted seven feet by the Young's Point Lock, our first on the Trent-Severn Waterway withDISCOVER 1|
The seven foot lift is quickly accomplished with little turbulence, and soon we are on our way into Clear Lake. Here we have about four miles of open water with few hazards, so we get a chance to open the throttle and get the boat on plane. With 250 horsepower, the 5.7 litre Mercruiser engine has no problem getting the cruiser up to planing speed, and soon we are skipping along at 3200 RPM and 25 MPH. Going faster the steering is actually more precise than at low speeds, but the fast pace, the engine noise, and the big wake are all foreign to us. I get a chance to adjust the outdrive trim and to tweak the trim tabs until I understand the effect each of them has on the boat. But we don't feel as comfortable at this speed as we do at 5 knots, so we back down to 1100 RPM (our more familiar pace) and enjoy the scenery.
Things are looking quite spectacular. The sky is filled with big dark cumulus clouds that are hurrying along in front of a 20-25 knot southwest breeze. Fortunately, the sun is shinning brightly, there seems to be no rain coming from the clouds, and we are going downwind. As we approach the top of Clear Lake, the shoreline takes on a new appearance.
|Dark clouds overhead but no rain greet our first day in the Trent-Severn Waterway|
What we are seeing, in fact, is the emergence of the pink granite of the Laurentian Shield, coming out from under the white and grey limestone of the southern region of Ontario. This same geologic feature continues in a huge arc, all the way up to Manitoulin Island and the North Channel. Not surprisingly, the northern end of Clear Lake is dotted with little granite islets and rocks awash, a perfect imitation of the rugged coast and islands of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron's north shore. It is as if we had suddenly transported ourselves to the North Channel.
While the geology is the same, there are some differences. Here, in the Trent-Severn Waterway, your route is well marked with aids to navigation. Daymarks and buoys abound, revealing all the shoals and rocks in your path. And the shoreline is different, too. Here, just about all of it is filled with cottages, some rugged and rustic, and others newer and more pretentious. You're right in the middle of cottage country, as the Canadians call it.
|The proverbial brick boat house, two-and-a-half storeys tall.|
We been underway for about an hour now, and we have gotten a little more feel for the boat and its handling characteristics. This comes just in time. In the four miles ahead we will negotiate almost 40 buoys or daymarks. This stretch is know as Hell's Gate, and it is further complicated by the branching of the channel into Stoney Lake which adds more buoyage on the horizon to confuse you.
|This very large scale inset helps you negotiate Hell's Gate.|
To make things interesting, our course turns 180° and heads back directly into the wind. We've got the full camper canvas up--quite a bit of sail area--which makes the boat rather sensitive to the wind. It does not take too much yawing off course to get the bow blown off the wind when you are only making about 4 knots forward progress in these conditions. At aptly named Hurricane Point the wind is really howling, and we turn the corner into Burleigh Bay which is filled with little white caps.
1210 We are approaching the Burleigh Falls lock, whose lower gate is open but shows a red light. Vessels wishing to transit a lock should moor along the blue striped area of the seawall, so we head for that area. The lockmaster recognizes our boat--a frequent passagemaker on this route--and hails us on the PA, "DISCOVER 1 you can enter the lock."
Again by ourselves in the lock, we are lifted from the Burleigh Bay/Stoney Lake/Clear Lake level up to Lovesick Lake, an enormous 24 feet higher.
We motor out of the lock and tie to the seawall (beyond the blue stripe area) on the downwind side of the lock entrance canal. It's time for lunch and a potty break.
This is another nice feature of cruising in the Trent-Severn Waterway: you are not far from an easy shore side mooring and a bathroom. You pretty much perpetually have your fenders out and rigged, so tieing up at the seawall is a very simple manuever. There is no fussing with the anchor, getting it set, hauling it back aboard. There is no strain on your holding tank, either, with nice clean restrooms available every few miles.
Lunch is Ham&Cheese sandwiches, and they are delicious. Thursday night, Chris baked a small ham in the oven at home. I was quite surprised to see her fussing with this on the night before we were to leave on a cruise, but now I see the payoff. We have this delicious ham to slice sandwiches from for the whole week. It tastes much better than cold cuts. This was a very good idea, and one that we'll probably repeat on our next trip.
1300 Back underway, motoring into strong headwinds across Lovesick Lake. It took a couple of tries to get off the seawall, where we were pinned by the 25 knot winds, but we finally coordinated our efforts and escaped.
More headwinds as we cross Deer Bay and Lower Buckhorn Lake. We are veterans at locking now, and our boat handling and line handling in the lock is much better than it was a couple of hours ago.
Our string of perfect synchronization with the lock cycles ends, and we have to wait for a boat locking down. We tie along the blue stripe on the seawall and wait.
Again, the lockmaster recognizes the boat, but this time he hails us with a request: "DISCOVER 1 you may want to back out of there and wait outside. There is a houseboat coming down and he may need extra room due to the wind."
This is a good idea. We back out and idle while the houseboat fights the crosswinds. Then we enter the lock (alone) and are lifted to Buckhorn Lake level. We were heading for the last open spot on the non-blueline portion of the seawall (where you can stay overnight), but before we can lock up to it, a downstream boat arrives and grabs it. The lockmaster intervenes and gets the boater to move a bit closer to the other boats tied there, opening up a slot for us.
|Eleven feet separate Upper and Lower Buckhorn Lakes, producing a torrent of white water over the dam.|
1530 Finished with Engines. Hobbs Time 1054.5 (I just found the meter.) There are about a dozen boats staying the night at the lock. It costs $0.45/foot, but it is free for us because our boat comes with a prepaid seasonal docking permit, another nice feature of this charter operation. I twist open a few Labatts, and Chris takes a little siesta--her allergies still bothering her. I am in fine shape, except that I almost sprained my ankle on the companionway. There is a two inch high lip at the base of the doorway, and as I was putting my foot into the step I landed right on the lip instead of the flat portion of the step, sending my ankle over in a painful twist. Fortunately, it is just a little swollen, not sprained. With any new boat, you have to learn where all the sharp corners are.
The clouds blow out, the winds die down, and it becomes a beautiful Saturday evening, one of the last of summer in this region. We relax on the boat. I'm into a good book, ironically another sailing journal like this one, kept by a Great Lakes freighter officer, Mark L. Thompson, A Sailor's Logbook.
Buckhorn is a cottage country town. There's a pharmacy, a little grocery, a bakery, an LCBO (beer, wine, liquor store), several restaurants, and various inns, resorts and cabins for rent.
|Around the Kawartha Lakes the soil is a little rocky. That's me in the lower left of the picture.|
We have dinner at Mainstreet Landing, sitting outside at a table just a few feet from the lock canal. I get the house special hamburger, made from the typical Canadian mystery-meat, but this time buried under a huge portion of fries and onion rings. Chris just has French Onion Soup, then Cherry Pie a la mode. You can tell she is on vacation, and plus not feeling good; she wants "comfort food." Dinner runs a modest $20.
Back on the boat after dark, we save our batteries. The boat has three: #1 and #2 are house batteries, and #3 is reserved for starting.
The refrigerator is running off the house bank. The selector switch is set to BOTH. That's not how I'd run it, but if this has worked all season on the boat, why mess with success? But just in case, we have everything shut down and are reading by flashlights.
There is a heavy dew this morning after a cool overnight. We head for breakfast at the Cory Inn, about 100 years old and now no longer an inn but still a restaurant. Their sign says "BREAKFAST from $1.95 Weekends"
By the time we are done, breakfast is $17.45 with tax and tip. I guess all that fresh air makes you hungry.
1000 We get ready to leave. I check the oil; still on the full mark. I find a loose retaining nut in the cable steering and tighten it. This takes some of the slop out, but there still seems to be a little bit of play left.
1015 Underway. The steering has less slop, but now it seems even harder to stop the boat from making s-curves while going slowly. Yikes this thing is harder to steer than a sailboat!
After an easy cruise across Pigeon Lake, we continue upstream to Bobcaygeon, pronounced Bob-KAY-Jun. We questioned one of the locals about how to say it, thinking there might be more of a French sound to it like Bo-Cah-jHon, but he corrected us. "This is Ontario, you know," he pointed out.
We stop at Gordon Yacht Harbor Marina to take advantage of their convenient gas dock. The gas gauge is still on FULL, and I am getting suspicious. "Does the gauge work?", I ask myself. We top off the tank, but it will only take 12 litres ($9.00). We make a deal to throw in two showers at their bath facility ($5), and we both freshen up. It is a warm sunny day, especially considering the latitude and the date.
1315 The Bobcaygeon lock opens for us and we proceed toward it. "DISCOVER 1 you'll have to lower your antenna to get under the swing bridge," hails the lockmaster. He recognizes us on sight, too; this boat does get around!
1445 We reach Fenelon Falls, but we don't lock through. We tie up below the lock at the last spot on the seawall. There is quite a crowd of boats here. We thought the wind might be calmer below the locks, but this time we've guessed wrong. It's not the wind so much as the turbulence from the discharge of so much water from each lock cycle. There is a steady stream of boats through the lock all afternoon, and each time the lock dewaters we get rocked around. Fenelon Falls is a bigger town, with a main street, traffic lights, and street lamps. They have the lamp posts decorated with attractive banners like the one on the left.
|Sunset at the dock in Fenelon Falls, your author and the charteredDISCOVER 1.|
Quite a few antique boats come to the dock. They're mainly out on afternoon cruises on this pleasant Sunday, and Fenelon Falls is a good destination for an ice cream cone. A 34-foot pre-war Chris-Craft looks to be in perfect shape. Later a 1954 Chris Runabout stops in, another wooden beauty.
1830 Dinner in town, where Chris picks--of all places--a sports bar where we try their nachos. A walk around town after dinner turns up quite a few other choices for dining that we might try next time.
2000 Reading by flashlight in the cockpit; too warm below. There's very little breeze tonight, and it feels more like mid-July than mid-September.
Monday morning reveals several errors in judgement made by staying below the falls:
With a big head of water like here, there is, of course, a waterfall. I thought we'd have a pleasant sound from the rush of the water. We do get that, but along with it comes a very low frequency rumble from the hydro-electric generating turbine. It comes through like those annoying sub-woofer speakers that soon-to-deaf people have in the trunks of their cars. You can't quite hear the tone of the thing, but the pitch is so low it is on the verge of being felt more than heard. That is the sensation from the hydro generation plant. Not the best place for a restful night's sleep.
We have a new paradigm for staying at a lock: stay above the lock and on the side with the bathrooms!
0845 Warming up engines after breakfast at Tim Hortons, one of the safest places to eat in all of Ontario.
0900 Leaving Fenelon Falls and heading back downstream. Switching the navigation reminder so Green is on the right side. We follow the paired buoys out into Sturgeon Lake, where we meet 1-2 foot waves rolling up the lake from the south.
|The three essentials for navigation in the Trent-Severn Waterway: binnoculars to find the buoys, a very handy reminder to determine which side to leave them on, and the Small Craft Route Charts.|
Although the waterway is quite sheltered in comparison to the open waters of the Great Lakes, we still like to check on the weather every morning. Today the skies are cloudy and overcast. Will we have rain? We have three sources for weather info:
FOR LAKE SIMCOE (i.e. a marine forecast) winds South 15-20 knots decreasing to Southwest 10-15 knots this evening; showers and mist patches, risk of thunderstorms this morning, ending this afternoon, then fair.
FOR THE PETERBOROUGH REGION (i.e. a shore forecast) cloudy with periods of rain. Winds south at 30 kilometers/hour. High 24 (78°F), UV Index 2.3. Rain diminishing to showers overnight. Risk of thunderstorms. Low 13 (56°F). TUESDAY cloudy with sunny periods and isolated showers. High 21 (72°F). Precipitation Probabilities: 80% TODAY, 80% TONIGHT, 30% TOMORROW.
GEORGIAN BAY Small Craft Warning in effect due to winds. Winds South 15-25 knots decreasing to Southwest 15 knots this afternoon, then increasing to Southwest 15-25 knots tonight. Showers ending this afternoon, then fair.
OUTLOOK: Moderate to Strong Southwesterlies diminishing to Moderate Westerlies. MAFOR 11426 11430 12510 14530. Waves 1-2 metres.
SYNOPSIS At 1030 a Northwest to Southeast Ridge, central pressure 1028 millibars through southern Alberta; a 1001 millibar LOW 200 nautical miles west of James Bay extending to Ohio...(this is our rain maker)
We are cruising southward on Sturgeon Lake. This part of the lake makes a nice long stretch without hazards, and it fits onto one chart page. In some places you need a new chart every twenty minutes, so you are always fiddling and folding the paper charts.
The government charts for this region are excellent. They are arranged in very large scale (1:20,000) strip charts, and organized into three to five chart sets, each set covering about twenty miles of the waterway. They are also rather expensive, but very thoughtfully Discover Ontario Adventures has included a full complement of them with the boat.
Chris is doing some reading in the cruising guidebook. Our destination, Bobcaygeon Lock, is the oldest of the 41 locks in the system. It was built in 1833. The guidebook is a nice adjunct to the charts. It gives you aerial photographs of most locks and marinas, and it includes information on shoreside facilities like restaurants and stores. Like the charts, a copy of the guidebook comes with the boat.
Back on the lake, we cruise eastward along the southern shore, about 200 yards off the beach in 20 feet of water. We are in displacement mode, running at 1800 RPM and making 5-6 knots, about the fastest we can go without digging the stern in and throwing a huge wake. We guess at the speed because it does not show up on the speedo, which seems to operate only above 15 MPH.
We remove the clear side panels to the camper canvas so we can get a better view of the shoreline homes and cottages. The canvas consists of a bimini top, which you wouldn't want to remove, and a large back panel that seals the whole aft cockpit in a tent. We usually take this down while underway. There are clear side panels, which we pretty much leave on, and a clear front piece that extends from the windshield upward to the bimini. This can be partially zippered open and rolled up, or unsnapped and removed completely. Since you have to go over the windshield to go forward, we have been removing the front section while underway, although today it is a little cool in the morning and we've put it back up after leaving the dock. We are getting much more comfortable with the boat, although at these slow speeds its steering requires considerable attention to produce a straight courseline.
1115 We are approaching Bobcaygeon at our slow cruise speed of only 1400 RPM when we are passed by a 34 foot FBSF going at quite a clip and throwing a big wake. We undergo our most violent roll of the whole trip as we cross his wake.
I don't know when I will overcome my wake guilt. When we have tried to go along at higher speeds, I continually turn around and check our wake. When I see how big it is, I feel guilty that I am throwing off so much of a wake, causing discomfort to other boaters, maybe damaging the shoreline, not to mention all the energy it takes to set all that water into motion---all this--just so we can move at 20 knots instead of 5-6 knots.
Who is in such a hurry or whose time is so important that they can create this chaos in the wake of their passing?
1130 Tied to the seawall, we just finish restoring all camper canvas when it starts to rain.
We are docked upstream of the lock on the side with the bathrooms.
Lunch is another round of Ham&Cheese sandwiches, Vernors, and pretzels. The weather deteriorates into a steady drizzle all afternoon. We don our foul weather gear and take a walk into town, just across the street from the lock. Bobcaygeon is another real town, with a big grocery store, plenty of restuarants, and quite a few art galleries and gift shops.
1600 One fantastic advantage of this boat over sailboats; you can relax topsides on a rainy day instead of being captive below decks. We are sitting in the comfortable padded chairs of the cockpit, enjoying the view, free from even a drop of rain under the camper canvas. This is vastly improved over the boom tent awning on the sailboat.
Since we are cooped up on the boat while it rains, I can't provide much of a travel log of our explorations. Instead, I dig into the owners manual for some more information about the boat. Rinker Boats was founded in 1945. This boat is a 1993 model of the Fiesta Vee 260 series, but it wasn't commissioned until April of 1995. The fuel capacity is 75 gallons, and the engine is a Mercruiser 5.7 litre Bravo II outdrive with 250 horsepower. The boat's length overall is about 28.5 feet if you include the bow pulpit and the swim platform.
The Helm Station has a nice stainless steel wheel, gauges for BAT VOLTS, MPH, TACH, TRIM, OIL PRES, FUEL LEVEL, and a Compass. The gauges are all individual meter movements and nice looking. They are not assembled into an automotive-style dash, something I personally hate on a boat. I don't want to feel like I am driving a Buick, for heaven's sakes. The throttle, gear shift, and trim controls are contained on a Quicksilver single lever control. The helmsman's seat is adjustable fore and aft, and it can also be rotated around the pedestal mount. Unfortunately, it seems a little low, and the height is not adjustable. To show you how low the seat is, when you stand at the helm, the metal handle of the adjuster hits you in the back of the calves, unless you slide the seat forward to cover it, and then the seat hits you in the back of the calves!
The deck finish gelcoat looks good, but the non-skid is a little strange. Rather than having molded in a pattern to the decks in strategic area, it looks like the non-skid was just sprayed on. The non-skid consists of a strange glob pattern, which at first glance looks like there is beaded up water on the deck. It does offer some traction improvement over the glossy finish, but it is not quite up to the tight diamond non-skid pattern found on Boston Whalers or S2-Yachts, two boats that I am familiar with.
Pretty much everything mechanical and electrical on the boat is located in the engine compartment. This is nicely accessible from a very large opening in the rear cockpit deck. You might say the whole rear cockpit floor folds up toward the transom. The edge of the opening is formed with a fairly deep drain lip and two half-inch diameter drains, one on either side, drain water overboard from the hatch and cockpit.
With the hatch up, there is good access to checking the oil and other fluids. You can visually check the level in the potable water tank, but you cannot see the waste holding tank. Three batteries, a shorepower battery charger, a hot water heater, isolation diodes, and a battery selector switch are also in the engine compartment. You also find the aft bilge pump, the outdrive trim hydraulics, the trim tab hydraulics, the fuel tank and fuel pump, the fuel lines and fuel tank vent lines, the closed loop cooling and hot water heater plumbing, and the raw water exhaust system. And then there are the steering cable ram, and the hydraulic power assist steering rams and their fluid lines and reservoirs. In all, there is a lot of equipment contained down there, more than you'd find on our comparatively simple raw-water-cooled diesel engine sailboat. Fortunately it all seems to be working well.
Going below decks requires you to negotiate the companionway, which is a little narrower than one would like. And once below decks, this raised deck cruiser does not have full headroom in the cabin. Except for the little area under the companionway, you have to stoop over while below.
In the cabin there is a head to starboard, tucked in under the helm station and dash. Except for the limited headroom, the head is adequately large for its purpose. The galley to port has a small sink and a single burner alcohol/electric stove. Beneath them is a AC/DC refrigerator. The fridge automatically switches over to shorepower if available, otherwise it runs off the house batteries. Inside the fridge I finally found the ON/OFF switch, so I could shut it off and prevent deep discharge of the house batteries. I don't think at the slow speeds we have been cruising that the engine alternator has too much spare current for both refrigeration and battery charging. The weather has not been too hot, so we've just left the fridge OFF except for an hour or two during the day. It is keeping the beer and pop cold, although the ice has melted in the ice trays.
Relaxed cruising like this eases the strain on you and the boat. With nice shoreside restrooms, you won't be getting much use of the boat's head. Except for those 3 a.m. visits, you may not use it at all. It would probably take a couple of weeks to fill the waste holding tank at these rates. And the trash bin doesn't get very full either. You can dump your boat garbage at trash bins provided at most locks. We used to accumulate so much trash and garbage when out of port for a week with the kids that we would resort to stowing it in the inflatable dingy and towing it behind us! No chance of that here.
It would not be impossible to cruise here in a really small boat. You could sleep aboard or stay at motels, and take care of your meals and bathrooms on shore. You might be able to pitch a tent and camp at the locks; I don't know for sure but it looks like its possible.
Of course, we are here in "shoulder season." I think this is a British or Canadian expression, and it refers to the soreness in your shoulder from trying to sleep on a boat during the cool evenings. Just kidding!
Shoulder season also brings lower rates for boat charters, motels, and other accommodations. Besides the lower rates, there are fewer boats, eliminating the wait and hassle at the locks and competition for overnight docking on the seawalls. And with the kids back in schools, we have sighted zero jet skies. Hooray! If the weather is pleasant, as it generally has been, this can be the perfect time of year for a cruise up here.
1700 Still raining and still dry in the cockpit of DISCOVER 1. We got the alcohol stove working and made afternoon tea. The open flame should help drive some of the moisture from earlier today out of the cabin. We are cooking with alcohol because there is no shore power available at the lock seawall. I think this is an intentional omission by the government operated locks, since it keeps them from competing with the many private marinas along the waterway that do offer overnight docking with shore power tie ins. With the short season those marina operators are probably struggling as it is, and they would not appreciate the government of Ontario being in direct competition with them.
1830 Dinner at the Big Tomato. This is an excellent restaurant a couple of blocks north of the lock. Chris has the sizzler plate of vegetables in a soy/chili sauce with asian noodles; very tasty. I have their gourmet pizza on a hard thin crust. Very good. We save the last two pieces for lunch tomorrow and finish the stir fry.
2000 More rain and wind, and to go with it an annoying wave slap against the hull.
0700 There is a heavy dew this morning, but fair skies. The stove top coffee tastes great. We walk down to the hardware store to buy a funnel for adding alcohol to the stove. We are enjoying these shoreside walks everyday. Sometimes when cruising you get stuck on the boat and don't get much of a chance to walk for days.
|A heavy dew and fog give a slow start to our morning at Bobcaygeon Lock. Just as I snapped this, Chris said "Don't take my picture."|
The stove is a Kenyon Alcohol/Electric One-burner stove. It really works quite well, better than the older Origo stove we had on the sailboat. The burner starts with just a chafing dish flame from liquid alcohol in a small reservoir, but as the heat from the flame warms the burner, more alcohol evaporates into a gas. The gas escapes through a series of circular jets arranged around the central burner, and soon your flame expands to all eight of these jets. It seems to provide more BTU's than we are accustomed to, and it boils water for the coffee in a hurry.
0930 Locking through. Just downstream of the lock we stop again at Gordons Yacht Harbor Marina for gas and another shower. This time we add 36 liters, about 10 gallons, at a cost of $25.
|By late morning we are in bright fall sun after fueling and a shower at Gordon Marina, just below the locks in Bobcaygeon.|
1030 Departing the marina, gassed and bathed. We have a pleasant cruise through the connecting lakes, heading for Buckhorn Lock where we plan to stop for lunch.
|Besides all the red and green buoys, some hazards come with their own (bilingual) sign.|
1230 We are enjoying lunch while tied to the seawall. As the noon hour was coming on and we were both getting hungry, we were still about five miles from the lock and idling along at 4-5 knots. At that rate, we'd be eating lunch after one o'clock. Too late, we decided. We got up on plane and passed three houseboats, beating them to the lock. That is one advantage of this power boat; you can get somewhere in a hurry if you want to. So much for our wake guilt complex.
|Lockmaster Bob Johnson: If he had a dollar for everyone who asked him about that red 1974 Porsche 911, he could afford a new one.|
The lockmaster entertains us with tales. He's been at Buckhorn, one of the busiest spots, for some time and he's seen everything:
"There used to be this houseboat charter operation upstream a few miles. They had hundreds of boats. They'd turn the first guy loose at 4 p.m. on Fridays, then one after another behind him. Nobody knows where to go, so they all follow the leader, eh? About 5 p.m., every Friday, we'd see the first one come around the corner, then a whole line of them coming after him. This is their first lock, so we get right on the PA with them. Most of the time in summer, by then on a Friday, there is no place for them to stay overnight at the lock; we're full by one-thirty. So we ask them (on the PA), 'Would you like to Lock through?'
" 'ThreeBuoys houseboat number fifty-seven, give us a wave if you'd like to lock through. We have no overnight dockage available.' Then we help them with the boat and the lock. Sometimes we see four or five boats coming, but only two or three make it to the lock. It's the Buckhorn Triangle. We don't know where they go!"
"Of course those houseboats are filled with people. Too many to have fun sometimes. I've seen marriages go bad, friendships end. Three couples and all their kids on one houseboat. The men come up here; you don't need to be a Ph.D to tell they're not having a good time. 'How's it going, boys?' 'Get me off this boat and on a bus to Toronto' they all say. This is the worst trip of their lives. Then the wives come down. You though the guys were unhappy."
After lunch we take a quick walk around the lock area, walking across the top of the dam where the torrent of water rushing through beneath us gives Chris a scare. Then we lock down into Lower Buckhorn Lake.
We are finally at ease with the boat. If we cruise at 1800 RPM we get enough engine and prop torque to take the slop out of the steering, we are just below planning speed, yet we have a manageable wake.
We are running downwind toward Lovesick Lock, with a strong following breeze which funnels into the narrows of the lock and builds to 25 knots. This is going to make the approach a little tricky.
We try to snag a mooring bit on the upwind side of the approach seawall, but we miss. Then we are blown off the seawall and forced to go into reverse and try to get back into a position to approach the upwind seawall again.
The lockmaster fills the lock and opens the upper gate so we can enter. We motor in, this time going for the downwind side. I tell Chris to stay in the cockpit and put the sternline on first. This will stop our forward progress in the lock, and the wind will hold the bow against the wall until we can get forward to make it fast to the lock.
The lockmaster comes over to take our bowline, which he retrieves himself with a boat hook while muttering something about us not being ready. Compared to the gregarious fellow at Buckhorn, these guys are a little gruff.
The strong wind on the upper side of the lock has negated our new theory on where to moor overnight; we stay at the seawall below, which at this point we have (happily) all to ourselves. Lovesick Lock is unique on the waterway in that it is built on an island. We thought we'd have some privacy out here, away from the rest of the boaters and the little towns. Apparently, we are not the only ones with this idea. By 5 p.m. almost every inch of the seawall is filled with boats.
Joining us below the locks are two boats cruising upstream together, a 20-foot cuddy and a 27-foot trawler. There's two couples and three dogs between them. They look like experienced cruisers.
|Along the seawall at Lovesick Lock there's a full house of boats on a Tuesday afternoon in September.|
A mega-Houseboat--a huge 45 footer--locks through heading downstream, tries to find a mooring along the shoreline, then returns to the seawall to stay overnight. More company. As he approaches the seawall, I lend him a hand and take his lines, tieing him up a strategic distance away from us so we retain a little of our privacy at the now crowded lock. Another houseboater joins us along the blue-line portion of the seawall. It's getting pretty crowded here. Above the locks, the seawall is also full of boats, rocking in the strong breeze off the lake.
At 1530 the lockmasters depart via boat downstream, the only way to exit since there are no roads out here. The lock is part of a series of dams--five of them--that stretch across the lake from shore to islands to shore and contain the upper lake about four feet above the lower portion. With the exit of the lockmasters, we have the whole place to ourselves (and the other boaters from the eight other boats staying here).
Chris and I go on an exploration of the various connected islands and dams. It is quite amazing that they just leave us here with free run of the place. (The do lock up the controls that operate the lock gates and valves.) In the U.S., there would be double razor concertina wire to prevent us from getting close to anything. Here, we just walk across the little catwalks atop the lock gates, across the tops of regulating dams, onto adjacent islands, wherever we want to go. We wander around for an hour, exploring the uninhabited islands.
1830 Dinner aboard tonight with wine courtesy of Uli and Werner Weins, the boat owners and the husband-and-wife charter company. We just have some spaghetti and bottled sauce, along with some fresh bread and a salad, but there is something about dining in the cockpit of a boat, in the open air, moored at a little island in the middle of miles of fresh water wilderness that transforms the meal into the best one of the whole trip.
2130 Star gazing on deck. We spot planes and Low-Earth-Orbiting Satellites, but we don't see an aurora borealis.
0800 We wait for the morning sun to rise above the trees so it will clear the dew off all of the boat canvas. I have been admiring Saugatuck IIa Manaro 27 with a 6-cylinder Volvo diesel and duo-prop outdrive. The owner says that it cruises at 25 MPH with only 5 Gal/Hr fuel consumption. It was built in Richmond, B.C.; it looks like a very nice boat.
Although I thought they were a little gruff yesterday, the lockmasters are OK guys, I decide after chatting with them for a while this morning. I comment that summer must be quite nerve wracking for them, with the volume of boats, but they respond by saying that this time of year they have more trouble with the boaters. "In June or July or August, they're all on holiday and mellowed out," they tell me, "but this time of year the boaters seem harder to get along with."
He's been having a little row with a houseboater who has been complaining:
The dockmaster explains to the (American) boater that they try to minimize the impact (of the lock operation) on the wilderness environment, that's why the don't leave a zillion lights on, etc. "We have trouble even getting a sign put up," he says. "People want the area left the way it was."
After the other boats leave, we finally get underway, taking a slow transit of Lovesick Lake. Then we lock through at Burleigh Falls, going down 24 feet.
"How far'd you get?", ask the lockmaster. He remembers us from Saturday.
"We got up to Fenelon Falls," I tell him.
"That's pretty good," he says, very complementarily. He's a nice guy. "Looks like the fresh air has done in your mate," he chides, as Chris is lazily holding the bowline while reclining on the cushioned foredeck.
|By the end of the week, locking through had become a pretty laid-back operation.|
Below Burleigh Falls, we diverge from the main channel and go into Stoney Lake. For every lake in this region there are a couple of famous hockey players with big cottages. Stoney is no exception; it's the summer home to several well-known NHL players.
On Jupiter Island, itself a rather well-known shrine among canoe enthusiasts, there is a public dock, and we are thinking of staying there overnight. We pick our way among the rocks and islets of Stoney Lake and find the dock on the NE tip of the Jupiter Island. Three big houseboats are tied up there, crewed by a bunch of friendly folks from New Jersey. We were hoping for some solitude, but it looks like we're not the first to find this spot, either.
We just stay for lunch. The locals going by in their boats send big wakes at us, rocking DISCOVER 1 quite violently as she sits tied up. The floating docks are very low, and we fear that the fenders will slip from between them and the hull.
After the last of the Ham&Cheese sandwiches, we cast off and explore more of Stoney Lake, looking for the well known Viamede Resort.
The buoyage confuses us for a minute, but we get our bearings and approach the resort, which is easily seen on the north shore, via a little marked entrance channel. Their dock lies exposed to the open lake. There is a strong SW breeze blowing, kicking up a little chop. "I don't want to spend thirty dollars to stay at those docks," I complain to Chris, "we'll be rocking all night."
We agree to pass by Viamede, so we go back to the main channel, rejoining it just as it threads through Hell's Gate. While there are plenty of rocks and shoals, there are plenty of buoys and daymarks. We make it through without much excitement.
Once in Clear Lake, we do get some excitement when we just skirt the eastern side of a nasty two-foot shoal known as The Spoiler. The buoy marking it is strangely placed about 250 feet away. I don't understand the placement, but luckily we avoid any grounding.
We lock through at Young's Point, and tie to the seawall below. Oops, strategic error: there is a fairly busy highway bridge right in front of us. Oh well, the traffic cannot be as bad as at Wallaceburg, where we once spent the night almost under a very noisy bascule bridge with grated pavement on a major truck highway.
The weather had been clouding up, but by 3:30 p.m. it is perfectly sunny with a nice breeze. Too bad all the locks are now closed, or we could continue. However, I have just run out of gas today, and I am glad to be done with navigation early.
We scout the gift shop at the lock (excellent) and the restaurant (looks very promising) east of the lock. We'll have dinner there and just relax a bit. We need daylight to read, so that is what we do most of the afternoon.
1800 A big cruise/tour boat pulls up and twenty people get off. They make a bee line to The Old Mill Restaurant. That should overwhelm the kitchen for an hour.
1850 We walk across the rapids below the dam via an iron and steel Pratt Truss bridge built over 100 years ago and now used only for foot traffic. We see a discarded package of cigarettes, left by a teenaged girl who was flirting with several boys on the bridge about a hour ago. We also spot a mink scampering along the rocky shore of the river below the dam. "I don't think the local kids understand how nice they have it here," I say to Chris. They're living in an almost pristine fresh water wilderness, in attractive little towns with industrious honest people, yet they toss their cigarette box trash on the ground! Kids!
The Old Mill Inn (pictured above) is a restaurant and a Bed and Breakfast. The big group we saw is an elder hostel group on a tour, and they are staying overnight. As we sit down, they still haven't ordered dinner. We get our order in just ahead of them.
Chris has salmon with a maple, soy, and ginger glaze. I have pickerel in some sort of sauce. Accompanying the fish are wonderful vegetables (carrots, zucchini, spaghetti squash or rutabegah) and roasted new potatoes. Plus grapes in the pickerel sauce. Everything is good, especially the salmom. The pickerel could have been a touch more done for my taste, but it was good, too. We split a wonderful garden salad filled with greens and no iceburg lettuce.
After dinner an Irish Coffee tops off the meal. Total cost, with taxes and tip, $53. Very nice. Our best (shore side) meal of the trip.
Canada is a real potpourri of people. Our charter boat hostess Uli is from Germany, as was our waitress in Buckhorn. A local woman walking by the locks today said hello with a Swedish accent. The general store in the little town here at the lock is run by a woman from Texas. Her customer, a local fisherman, was from South Africa. Except for a couple of the lockmasters, we've hardly run into a native Canadian!
The traffic noise from the bridge was not a problem last night. By midnight it was practically non-existent.
The morning weather round up has wind from the North at most of the reporting stations. That sounds like cooler temperatures, but the precipitation probabilities are zero percent today and tomorrow. There is nice fair weather ahead for us.
We are slow to leave this morning, since we know we are on the last leg of our trip and our destination is just a short distance south. From here to Lakefield there are no locks to negotiate. We have been talking about going down to Peterborough to transit the big lift lock there, but that will mean getting through six locks going down there and the same six coming back. That's a lot of locks and may not be possible to do in one day with the shorter hours of operation in effect at this time of the year. So we settle for just a slow cruise down to Lakefield.
We reach our destination before noon, stopping first just below the municipal marina at a little commercial wharf that has a fuel dock. An upstream boater along side their pier in a small runabout warns me that there is not a lot of water. "You may want to trim up a bit if you're coming in here," he yells to us. That is a great tip. I trim the outdrive up as far as I can. We also spot a big rock in the water just downstream of the dock. Boy I would have hated to bang up the prop just as the trip ended!
The fuel pump is not attended this time of the year, and we have to walk across the road and roust someone from the marina to come down and pump the gas. The fellow that does come over to service us is quite a card. He has a few choice comments for us, and expects complaints about the high price of the fuel, $0.759/litre ($2.85 / gallon). He attributes the expensive fuel to the liberal government, with a few choice words for the French Prime Minister of Canada that I can't reprint here.
He does unravel one mystery for us. We've noticed that often we've been forced to pay cash because many of the local merchants do not accept MasterCard credit. They all seem to have VISA, instead. "Why is that?," we ask him. The answer has to do with the banks that support the cards; MasterCard is offered by the French-speaking banks, while VISA is provided by the English-speaking banks. That explains it! It's that old Anglo/Franco rivalry, still at work.
Our gauge shows the fuel tank down to 3/4, and to get it back to FULL takes about 90 liters of fuel at $0.759/litre ($70). I stop just as I hear the fill pipe start to whistle. The sign at the dock says "Last Gas before Peterborough," and the pricing reflects it.
We are off the fuel dock and over to the Lakefield Marina. First we come along side the seawall for a pump out. We just get tied up when the attendant appears. This is our good fortune because normally no one is here at this time of the day. A problem with the door locks on the bathrooms has necessitated a special trip down to see what is the matter. For $15--the most we've ever paid for one--the attendant pumps out the modest accumulation of our holding tank. For $26 more we are privileged to be guests of the marina overnight. The lock on the men's bathroom is still broken, but someone will be by later to fix that.
We make the short move from the pump out to our assigned berth, and that wraps up our boating for this trip. We have the rest of today and until noon tomorrow, but DISCOVER 1will spend it right here at the dock. We grab some lunch and take some gear off the boat to our car.
For our afternoon entertainment, we drive the ten miles down to Peterborough and visit the lift lock. The lift lock is quite amazing, and we have the good timing to arrive just a few moments before a boat passes through. We get to watch the lift in operation. It is quite surprizing how fast the huge tanks of water and boats move up and down.
The Information Center for the Trent-Severn Waterway is located here, as well, and we tour its museum exhibit. We also enjoy a thirty minute film about the history of the waterway, and browse afterward in the gift shop. They have some cool shirts and polo's, but are sold out of everything in my size.
We get back up to Lakefield by late afternoon. For dinner we settle on a carry-out pizza from the Pizza Hut just down the street from the marina. We've got plenty of beer on board to go with it. A medium pizza with a couple of items on it costs over $16 here in Canada. I wonder how a working class guy affords to live in this economy. We are getting a big boost via the currency exchange, so that $16 pizza really only costs us about $10.80-American, but that doesn't help the locals.
The weather is quite strange this afternoon and evening. We seem to be stuck under the edge of a huge bank of clouds. To the west about five miles is a vast stretch of clear skies, but we've been in grey stratus clouds all day. The wind remains from the north or northwest, and looks like it will blow all night.
That is bad news for us. The marina is on the south shore of a little widening in the waterway, giving just enough fetch to get some wavelets going. They come marching in, hit the concrete seawall, and bounce back out, creating a nasty little chop of waves and standing waves right at our dock.
Before sunset we jump off in the car again for a drive up to Buckhorn. We poke around a nice marina there, strolling the docks and looking at the boats. There are a couple of old wooden Chris-Crafts in absolutely perfect condition, safe from the sun in covered boat wells. They look wonderful and remind me of my youth when that was the kind of boat you saw everywhere.
Back at the boat, it is a rough night for sleeping. The waves slap noisily off the hull chines, reverberating like a drum inside and keeping us awake half the night. We should have stayed for free at the seawall on the lock on the other side of the river. There would be no waves over there, but also no hot showers. We needed the showers, so I guess they were worth $26; the night in the marina was certainly not.
The Hobbs Time at the end of the trip was 1068.5 hours. Since I didn't notice the meter before we started our cruise, I am guessing that we put about 4-5 hours on the engine the first day, making our total time run about 18.5 hours. We spent about $105 on fuel, making our cost per hour about $5.67. That is a little more than our sailboat, but not quite as bad as we thought it might be. Factoring in the currency, we get down to just under $4/hour (American), which seems quite affordable, considering all the fun we have had.
When we come topsides this morning we feel the effect of that north wind: the air is colder than it has been all week. Temperatures are slow to rise this morning, and there is a very heavy dew on the boat. Eventually the sunshine warms things up and it is another beautiful day. We take our time cleaning up the boat and removing our gear. We finish up just before noon, when Werner Weims arrives to check the boat out with us. He is just as nice as his wife, Uli, and we have no problems.
For a boat in charter service for five years, DISCOVER 1has held up quite well. There are a few nicks and bumps, and a couple of things have broken over the season that will need minor repair, but in all the boat is in quite good condition considering the heavy use it gets. Werner attributes the generally good treatment by charterers to the high deductible. You are on the hook for a $2,000 damage deposit, and that makes most people think a little before smashing up anything. Today, everything is in fine shape, and we conclude our charter on very good terms. We've got the boat bristol, and there's nothing that's been damaged during our week. The bottom line on the charter for us: great--we'd do it again anytime.
Finally, just at noon, we are off the boat and back to the car. Farewell Trent-Severn, we had a blast. Now we drive north to visit some relatives near Ottawa. Along the way we enjoy more beautiful scenery and dozens of lakes. They all look inviting, especially Lake Kameniskeg, a very big body of water farther north.
After a brief but very happy visit with our relatives, we head back to Michigan, this time taking a detour through Algonquin Park. There are millions of acres of wilderness here, with opportunities for boating, albeit probably best in a canoe. Farther south we drive through the Muskoka Lakes, another collection of beautiful waters, and then finally past heavily populated Lake Simcoe. All of these look like possible destinations for next year's boating adventures. We'll keep you posted!
The 1999 Boating Trip Number Two Boat........"DISCOVER 1", 1993 26-ft Rinker Fiesta Vee Cruiser Motor.......MercCruiser 5.7L V-8, Bravo Two outdrive Crew..........Jim, Chris Duration......7 days Dates.........September 10 - 17, 1999
Copyright © 1999 by James W. Hebert.
This article first appeared September, 1999.
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