Week 29 – Lock Hopping and Captain Fix-it Strikes Again!

Before we get going, I found this video about the Rideau Canal and thought it might be interesting for those who care about this (probably mostly my mom) !

Today we depart from Newboro Lock where we have spent the night and enjoyed the peaceful surroundings of nature and people on boats and who are camping who respect that peace.  A group of us gather to watch a very small weasel or maybe a mink hang on the edge of indecision at the side of the canal.  We can see him take a deep breath and leap into the water, paddling furiously to get across.  The sides of the canal are granite blocks that rise at least 2 feet from the surface of the water and we wonder how he’s going to get out.


Swimming back and forth, I think he is wondering the same thing but finally he figures out how to squirm into the lock mechanism and extricates himself.


He wriggles around on the warm stones drying his sodden fur and grooms himself until he is ready to scamper off to investigate what’s been left by the campers for his breakfast.


We have no set plan today (which turns out to be a darned good thing later on) for where we will end up, deciding to “lock-hop.”  Typically, we choose a place to aim for each day and lock through the locks between the start and finish points.  Today we decide to stop at each lock that has space for us and explore the surrounds and let fate and the water decide where we will end up for the night.

We start out at Chaffey Lock, which would have been a great place to stay if we had wanted an early stop for the night but we are lock-hopping so we get permission to tie up for an hour or so.  We explore their lockmaster museum, which traces the history of the lock and some of the Rideau construction history YouTube has a great video on this but it’s an hour long).  Wandering down the road, we come to the Opinicon Lodge Resort, which our Making Memories Canadian friends recommended as a great family vacation spot.  It is lovely, having been restored and enhanced in recent years to the way it was between 1870 and 1920 when it transitioned from a residence to a fish camp to an inn.


The flowers on the grounds are gorgeous – begonias and spider mums are decidedly happy with the temperatures and humidity levels here.


IMG_5530We continue up the road to discover the Chaffey Lock cemetery, made from the same timbers as the lock itself and marked by one of the three Celtic crosses on the Rideau Canal, commemorating those who gave their lives for the construction of this engineering marvel.  It is a somber reminder that great deeds require great sacrifice.

Finding our way back to our boat, we see a sign that says, “HAPPY chickens – eggs for sale.”  Sure enough we see a lot of very healthy (big) chickens pecking around under the trees and when we spy a sign on an empty office, we go in.  “Eggs in the fridge,” a sign says along with the prices for the eggs.  We deposit the required amount and leave a dozen happy-eggs richer!  Wish I’d gotten some pictures of the sign and the happy chickens but I didn’t think of it until too late!


Departing from Chaffey’s lock, we navigate VERY narrow parts of the canal through incredibly beautiful wooded forests and granite cliffs and come to Jones Falls lock.


We have been pre-warned that this set of three locks can take a long time to lock-through and so we are not surprised when the young park attendant advises that it will be at least 2 hours before they will lock us through due to the Kawartha Voyager’s imminent arrival and she “takes precedence over everybody.”  We have no idea what this means but we aren’t in a hurry and so we cheerfully set out to explore the area.

IMG_5553There is another defensible lock master’s home complete with a young lady in period costume who shares the history of this lock and a little about the original lock master and his family.  The home is not dissimilar to that of some of the lighthouse keeper’s homes that we have visited on our trip though they didn’t have rifle-slit windows!

We explore Kinney’s Hotel, another vintage vacation spot at the foot of Jones Falls and don’t find a Ben and Jerry’s but still manage to find ice cream cones that earn us a hike up to see the dam in an effort to burn off the calories they impart.  It has gotten hot so when we get back to the boat a swim is in order, even though we just saw a snake slide off the dock and swim UNDER water to the bank.  I’ve seen them swim on the surface but never under water before and it’s pretty cool.


The water is refreshing and as we are drying off, we suddenly see what the hold-up is.   The top of a BIG boat is just starting to rise out of the cavern of the middle lock.  It moves into the top lock which is in front of us and as the water raises it, we can see it emerge little by little until we see a mini-cruise ship with its bow folded up so it can fit in the lock.  We now learn that this ship cruises between Kingston and Ottawa 4 times during the season and then does the Trent-Severn, so joy-of-joys, we may see this beast again.  The lock doors open and she emerges, unfolding her bow as she moves past us.


IMG_5560IMG_5561FINALLY, we are in and through the set of 3 locks relatively quickly.


IMG_5572.jpgWe make it to Upper Brewers lock, as the late-comers to a cocktail party already in progress.  The boating community is a very friendly one, even when there are different languages involved. At first, 5 guys are willing to scrunch their boats down a few feet each so we can reach the power outlet (we didn’t ask them to do this) but then one of them offers us an extension cable and we are able to reach the outlet without messing up everyone’s lines, power cables and dinners.

It is fun to watch how some of these folks vacation.  Many do go out to dinner but more tend to stay on their boats and cook there.  We watch the two folks ahead of us prepare their meal. She changes out of a black bikini into a dress.  No, I am not kidding, the woman put on a real dress to eat dinner on her boat!  Her husband threw a slab of ribs on the grill on his swim platform and then dropped potatoes into a deep fat fryer!  She brought a salad and a candle to the dinner table when he brought in the meat and potatoes and at this point, we decide it must be a second marriage that is still relatively new! Or maybe we need to be making more of an effort – not sure which!  😊  Since I wrote this section, last week, we have seen a mother and daughter do the same thing; live in swimsuits but change into sundresses to cook and eat their dinners aboard their Benneteau. Maybe we DO need to make more of an effort!


It’s a good thing Jerry isn’t a picky eater and we enjoy a much less fancy meal, which tastes wonderful to us and is maybe even a bit more healthy!


After a few hours of travel the next day, we sit at the foot of Kingston Mills and can see the last lock lowering a boat that looks familiar. Sure enough, here come Mario and Claire again (we met them in Carillon lock and have leap-frogged them ever since).  They pull over and dock and we chat in our tortured half French-mostly-English way about the Thousand Islands.  These were not in our original plans but Claire says we HAVE to go see at least a little bit of them.  They show us which islands they love and off they go to try to get through the bridge in Kingston that only opens on the hour.  We now have a new plan for the next day.  So we settle in, watching boats come down the locks and families fill the docks, teaching their kids how to fish. The rain starts to pitter patter, spitting enough water to send the families running for home and we turn in.


The next morning, we fuel up outside Kingston, make it through that bridge and arrange to replace our batteries, which have been giving us fits with all the start up and shut down that is required inside in the locks.   Ivy Lea, in the Thousand Islands becomes our destination for batteries and we turn into the St. Lawrence seaway which looks night-and-day different here than it does north of Montreal.  There it looked a lot like Newark. Here it almost looks Mediterranean in its clarity and color.  It is not blue and not green but a mixture and it is crystal clear.  You can see the rocks and the creepy green weeds at the bottom 25 feet down and it is gorgeous!


And the islands are amazing – pink granite in many places with everything from tiny shacks to palatial mansions and everything in between.  Some perch precariously on single rocks and others spread out over large islands.  This is an amazingly beautiful area and reinforces the fact that while it is good to have a plan, it is better to listen to seasoned travelers and take their advice about what to see.


Many of these islands are part of the Parc Canada system and so our pass allows us to use docks, mooring balls and facilities on the islands at no cost which is sweet!  Jerry diagnosed a bad battery terminal and fixed that while we were under way this week but that wasn’t all of the problem (again, glad he had a spare).  The life of our port battery is about shot and he spends a bunch of hours hauling batteries in and out and getting us operational again.  It is nice to hear him turn the key and the engine come immediately to life!


After, replacing our batteries, we find a nice cove at the top of Hill Island and anchor in 8 feet of water but as we let chain out, we end up over 30 feet of depth.  They say that these islands were once mountain tops which is why you can go from 150 feet of water to 3 in seconds.  We must be very vigilant as we go through here.  The man who helped us fuel up told us that he hit a rock that broke his rudder and sent his prop up through the hull of his boat and he had to ground her to keep from sinking.  OUCH!  We are being VERY careful.


Our neighbors for the night are a house perched on a rock that has a 3-boat garage (really!) and a family of swans.  We get a swim in and then it starts to rain again.


The next morning, we pull up an anchor that is totally snarled in the creepy green weeds that I wouldn’t put my feet down to touch while I was swimming the night before (Tammy, I’m thinking of you!).


The day promises rain but we visit Boldt Castle anyway and the weather holds off a little while for us, thankfully.  George Boldt was friends with all of the who’s who of the gilded era and managed several prestigious hotels including the Waldorf in NY.  He and his wife Louise loved the Thousand Islands and George built Boldt Castle for his wife, intending to give it to her on Valentine’s Day.  Unfortunately, she died that January and broken hearted, he never finished the Castle or set foot on the island again.

After years of neglect, the property is now being systematically restored by the Thousand Island Bridge Authority and it is a tribute to what you can do when “money is of little importance” (George Boldt’s words to his architect).  We take a photo for a family and the lady tells us she has been coming here since she was 10 years old and that she has watched as each year they complete renovations of additional rooms during the winter.


 It really is a gorgeous property and there’s no wonder it is one of the most visited historic homes in the US.  The weather turns more windy with severe thunderstorm warnings and we wait it out on the dock after touring the castle and the historic yacht house.  Eventually it clears and we are able to safely move on.


We spend the next couple of rainy days in the Thousand Islands exploring the town of Gananoque (Ganna knock way) and Aubrey Island waiting for the sun to return (If we come back, Milton, MacDonald and Mermaid might be on our list to stay at).  We got a glimpse of the color of the water our first day out of the Rideau when it was partly sunny and are dying to see its color when there is direct sunlight on it.  It isn’t green and it isn’t blue but is somewhere in between – maybe similar to shining a light through layers of emeralds and sapphires.


The islands that are part of the Parc Canada system are really nicely maintained for public use.  There are docks and sheltered coves on many of them, nicely appointed campsitesthat have a fire pit and fire wood (due to the rain the fire ban has just been lifted) and there are even composting restrooms on some of them.


People that we meet have been vacationing here for years and I can definitely see why they come back year after year.  The scenery is magnificent, people are generally congenial and fairly considerate as they share space with you and the water is like nowhere else I have ever seen.  Unfortunately, my photos just don’t do its color and clarity any justice at all.



We end this week moving from the Thousand Islands, in the St Lawrence Seaway, to the Bay of Quinte, in Lake Ontario.  We look forward to a reunion with our Snowtarian friend, Hans Wiemer who has kindly found a home for our boat in Trenton so that we can leave it here and go home for a few days to attend to some issues that need our physical presence there.


When we return we will be starting the Trent Severn Waterway, the 386 kilometer waterway that connects Lake Ontario with the Georgian Bay region of Lake Huron and we are very excited about this.  Well, I am. I think Jerry is dreading all the starting and stopping of engines that the 44 locks of the Trent Severn will demand. I have figured out a system to protect my poor bruised legs from the pressure of pulling an 11 ton boat onto a lock wall and am grateful for my zip tied noodle-pads!


Those 44 locks, include 36 conventional locks, two sets of flight locks, hydraulic lift locks at Peterborough and Kirkfield, and a marine railway at Big Chute which transports boats between the upper and lower sections of the Severn.  Here’s a video for those of you who want to see some of this!

Our pictures will follow next week or maybe the week after since we will be home for a few days!

Categories: Cruising

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