Cruising in Canada

August 15, 2010
Lake Ontario = big & deep!

Lexington friends Anne and Ava joined us for the first stage of our Canadian cruise, and it was very special to be able to share that adventure with them!  From Ess-Kay Yards in Brewerton, NY, we headed up the Oneida River section of the Erie Canal and passed through one lock before crossing over to the Oswego Canal and several more locks leading to the town of Oswego on the south/US shore of Lake Ontario.  The weather was terrific, and both Anne and Ava took turns at the helm.  They took to locking as naturals, and it was great to have two additional lines persons aboard!!  After an on-board dinner of grilled kabobs and fresh corn on the cob that evening, we all turned in early for the lake crossing the next day.  Though deteriorating, the early morning weather appeared good enough for the crossing and we had a pleasant and uneventful, though exciting day-long cruise to Kingston, ONT.  Though we have traveled several days on the Atlantic Ocean and through Worlds End on the Hudson has some deep water, we had never cruised for hours, out of the sight of land, AND in water several hundred of feet deep.  It was quite exciting and perhaps just a little disconcerting…  Ava and Anne seemed nonplussed by it all so we tried to be as well, remembering that once it is over one’s head, it really doesn’t matter whether the water is 10 or 500 feet deep! 

Downtown Kingston ONT

Once in Kingston, the fun began.  We had called the city marina early in the day to make reservations and were told, “no problem; plenty of room; come on in!”  Somehow the story changed by the time we arrived and it took much convincing by Carolyn to get them to even let us dock at a slip with electrical power for that night.  Evidently a Bass Tournament beginning the next day would take all of the usual “plenty” of slips in the marina.  According to marina staff, we had some alternatives:  we could hang around the next day and perhaps a slip on the “big boat” dock would open up.  Or, we could leave the slip we had, move to another city-run  marina some 5 miles away and “perhaps” (!!) when we got there, we could find a slip for the duration…  no promises, though, as that marina was now doling out slips on a first come-first serve basis and who knew who might arrive before us.  The undeniable need for a pump out before the end of our stay in Kingston intensified the dilemma:  the marina in which we had a slip had no pump out and the marina we might go to in search of a slip, did have a pump out!!  The long trip across the lake had been tiring, and the wind was whipping up a storm so we decided to stay put for the night, play Scarlett O’Hara and worry about slips and pump outs the next day!!  We snuggled 40 ft. Sojourner into a 30-foot slip with a tiny finger pier, hoisted the required yellow quarantine flag, and Susan disembarked to check us all in with Canadian authorities.  Once cleared, we posted our 22+ digit Canadian customs check-in number in a visible place on Sojourner’s windshield and replaced the yellow flag with a courtesy white and red  Canadian maple leaf.  We were legal, safe and ready to enjoy Kingston and the surrounding area.  With clearer heads the next day, we made arrangements for a pump out AND a slip at the Kingston Marina just the other side of a large swing bridge.

Rideau Canal lock

Anne and Ava were to fly home from Syracuse, so we rented a car to drive them back into the US.  Before that, though, we used the car to see much more of the Kingston area than we would have been able to otherwise.  Perhaps most interesting was the drive out to the Rideau Canal, a favorite waterway for both Canadian and American boaters.  We wanted to see it and assess whether it would be a good boat trip some other time.  Fascinating!!  The lock gates are opened and closed by hand!!  The locks are much smaller than those on the Erie Canal, which in turn, are much smaller than those on the inland rivers trip!  And the Canadian lockmasters actively direct boaters where and how to place their vessels in the locks.  They even raft boats to one another in a lock!…

All too soon, Ava and Anne’s time with us came to an end, and we did a quick, 4-hr round trip between Kingston and Syracuse.  Late the same day, we returned to Sojourner who we had squeezed into another little slip next to a tiny finger pier in the Kingston “Marina”… really a very active boat yard with a pump out, a few transient berths, and even Wi-Fi, if one stands right under the antenna!  But it was quiet, right next to a city park, and we were very pleased to be there! 

Racing Dragon Boats

The boat yard makes rigid bottom, inflatable boats like harbor police and the US Coast Guard use; it also builds large vessels like fire boats.  In fact, we tied up across the way from “Marine 1”, a brand new fire boat being built for the Jacksonville, FL fire department!  We watched with interest as the crew tested her various systems and wondered when and how she would get all the way to Jacksonville FL.  And now we know:  the Jacksonville Fire Chief/Captain and a crew from the boat yard brought her across Lake Ontario, through the Oswego and Erie Canals and down the Hudson River.  And, as noted in an earlier post, we met up with Marine 1 again at Troy NY on her way to Florida.  We missed Ava and Anne but were determined to continue the Canadian adventure, and our new experiences began the next day with Dragon Boat Races being held as a breast cancer awareness fundraiser in the city park next to the boatyard!  The weather threatened to ruin the races all day, but didn’t, and we got to see something neither of us had ever even heard of before!!

Glorious cruising!

Two weather days after enjoying the Kingston Dragon Boat  Festival, we headed westward along a series of bays and channels just north of a line of islands between the mainland and Lake Ontario.  This route is shorter and more protected than travelling in Lake Ontario proper and is well known for providing some of the best cruising in southern Canada!  We certainly were not disappointed:  it was gorgeous [tho’ very difficult to photograph…]!!  In a day of absolutely glorious cruising, we passed through Quinte Bay, Collins Bay and Adolphus Reach, before heading up Long Reach passage into Picton Bay, a fjord-like body of water.  It narrowed gradually to a virtual point, and there we found Picton, a picturesque town of about 4,000 known for local artisans and their crafts.  Here we learned our Kingston experience with small slips and even smaller docks and finger piers might well be the rule rather than the exception in Canada.  The marina had only one other boat even close to our size, and it had already monopolized all the slots on the face dock.  That left only 20 ft. slips with 6 ft. finger piers for us.  We picked one and tied up as best we could, but most of Sojourner hung out beyond the protection of the dock and pier.  We were thankful for calm weather because in a strong wind, she might well have pulled the pier and the entire dock right out!  We spent a delightful afternoon enjoying the sights of Picton and the next morning indulged ourselves with a leisurely breakfast at “Tip of the Bay” before heading back out the “fjord” and on to Trenton.  The marina at Trenton had the same small slips we had experienced elsewhere, but it also had tie ups along a substantial concrete wall.  Normally, we’d not choose to dock along a solid wall, but that was certainly preferable to playing Gulliver on the finger piers of the Lilliputians! 

Trenton ONT

Trenton is the beginning of the Trent-Severn Waterway, a 300+ mile system of rivers, lakes and canals that stretches from Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, including some 44 locks.  To get to Stony Lake, the original destination for the family summer holiday, we would have traveled through 27 of them, including the famous Petersborough Lift Lock, the world’s highest hydraulic lift lock.  Quoting from the Waterway Guide, “…a hydraulic lift lock works like a simple balance beam scale.  A boat enters a huge tank shaped like a giant cake pan.  Parallel to that chamber, but 65 feet up on a huge piston is another chamber, a twin to the tank below.  The water in each chamber weighs 1,500 tons (330,000 gallons).  When the upper chamber is filled with an extra foot of water (1 foot equals 130 tons) the increased weight in the upper tank forces the lower tank, boats and all, to rise on its piston, while the upper tank sinks down.  It does not matter how many or what size boats are in each pan; the boats displace their own weight.” (!!!!!!!)  Sounds fun, aye?!

Collins Bay

It was at Trenton we learned of Doug and Sarah’s passport renewal problems, and after debating briefly about entering the Trent Severn Waterway and going at least a couple days along it, we decided to simply turn around and head leisurely back to central NY for a family gathering there.  The Canadian waterways comprising the inland passage along Lake Ontario are wide, reasonably deep, and without significant currents or tides.  Small towns, farms and rural pasturelands only occasionally dot the essentially unpopulated and forested shorelines.  Even though we traveled at the height of the summer, we saw only a few other boats and a couple passing ferries along the way.  We did pass Tumbleweed on her way to Picton, but for the most part, we had the waterway to ourselves.  On our last day cruising in Canada, we had to outrun an afternoon storm coming in off Lake Ontario, but other than that, we thoroughly enjoyed a very leisurely return trip…until we got out on Lake Ontario, that is.  The storm we outran passed over but before going on its way, it whipped up the waters of the Lake and even though the weather the next was sunny and without wind, the Lake itself was still quite choppy.  The weather forecast indicated the Lake would “lay down” as the day progressed so we decided to make our crossing.  As it turned out, the Lake did not calm until late in the afternoon so we bounced our way all the way from Kingston ONT to Oswego NY!  

We love cruising in the Canadian waters we were able to visit this summer and look forward to returning to that area again.  Next time, in addition to going west along the Trent Severn Waterway and the Murray Canal to Toronto, we hope to head east on Lake Ontario toward the St. Lawrence River to visit the Thousand Islands area, and then on to Montreal and Quebec.  We could also take the Ottawa River to Ottawa and then return to Kingston via the Rideau Canal and Waterway we visited with Anne and Ava.  Needless to say, there is more to see than one could possibly do in a single trip!  In discovering our love for this area, however, we have fulfilled one of our initial boating goals:  to find out where we truly like to boat so that we might return there in the future.  We have enjoyed everywhere we have boated thus far:  the inland rivers and waterways of KY, TN, MS and AL definitely have their own charm; the coasts of Florida offer sparkling blue waters and gorgeous beaches; the remoteness, wildness and salt marshes of GA, SC and much of NC are incomparable; and of course, one could cruise the Chesapeake forever!  That said, we think we want to concentrate our cruising in the northeast, at least in summers!  In the best of all worlds, we would spend the summer months boating in the Northeast and the winter months, in southern Florida and the Keys!  We shall see what the next boating season brings….

Catching Up

August 6, 2010

It’s been a long time and much has happened since our last posting!  That missive highlighted the first, weather-driven portion of our trip south at the end of summer, but we haven’t really shared anything about the summer’s adventures or why we headed back southward along the Atlantic seaboard.  We’ll cover both here and in another posting to follow shortly.  There are big changes on the horizon, and after we finish with the summer’s experiences, it will probably be time to cover them in some detail…  But first to this summer:

Oneida River from Ess-Kay Yards

As noted earlier, we arrived at Ess-Kay Yards in Brewerton NY, Sojourner’s northern “home,” more than two months earlier than last year, and we did not intend to stay very long.  The original plan was to finish the Great Loop.  To accomplish that we needed only to cross Lake Ontario into Canada, transit the Trent-Severn Waterway into Georgian Bay on Lake Heron, travel down Lake Michigan to Chicago and the Illinois River down to the Mississippi River.  At that point we would have completed a circle around the eastern portion of the US on water!  After crossing our wake on the Mississippi (finishing the Great Loop), we planned to retrace our steps on the Ohio and Cumberland rivers into Kentucky and after a month or so there, to move on down the inland rivers and waterways to Mobile, AL, the Gulf of Mexico and Florida for the long fantasized “winter in the Keys”.  Unfortunately, BP and the Gulf oil disaster changed all that.  Once the spill occurred, we began re-evaluating and eventually decided to go only as far as the Trent-Severn Waterway in Canada and then return southward along the now familiar Atlantic seaboard route.  As disappointed as we were, our decision left much time to explore and play in both central NY and along the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario and we loved it!

Sue's new hot rod!!

Headquartered again just off Lake Oneida, we enjoyed spending much time with our Syracuse friends.  At Sue and Susan’s Lake House we lounged away afternoons reading by the shore, discovered “new” muscles kayaking, roasted marshmallows on lakeside bonfires, and learned (sorta) to drive Sue’s new ATV!  We also spent fun time with Maurie and Dominique in town and even got to “babysit” their very large, wonderfully loving white poodle Zazie for a weekend!  With Susan and Sue, we headed up to Cape Vincent on Lake Ontario for a 4th of July gathering and then with Maurie and Dominique we experienced the very best of the New York State Fair, including the world famous butter sculpture!!  Everyone came out to Brewerton for cruises on Lake Oneida, aft deck brunches, lunches, and cocktail parties as well as spins in the dinghy on the Oneida River.  We feel so fortunate to be

Launching the dinghy

able to enjoy the company of such good friends for extended periods of time.

About halfway through our stay in Brewerton, Lexington friends Ava and Anne flew to Syracuse for the first segment of our Canadian cruise.  Before that adventure got underway, however, we all played tourist in Central New York:  we visited the Women’s Rights National Park at Seneca Falls and Skaneateles Lake where Carolyn once lived.  And we had an aft deck luncheon and lake cruise so Lexington and Syracuse friends could get reacquainted and enjoy some time together.  [see next posting about cruising in Canada].  We were also fortunate to have some cruising friends stop by Ess Kay while we were there.  Susan and Slade of Sojourner NY came by on their way to the Thousands Islands area.  Unfortunately, bad weather pinned them down twice on that trip though neither time was at Ess Kay!  We did drive up to see them at Oswego while they had to wait almost a week for the locks to re-open after a series of particularly heavy storms.  And we finally connected with Floyd and Linda of Tumbleweed who we first met on our very first day of cruising, seemingly years ago, as we all braved the Mississippi River!  Earlier in the season, they led the way up much of  the east coast until we passed them at West Point on the Hudson River.  Then we stopped at Ess-Kay, and they caught up withus.  They too went on to the Thousand Islands before continuing on the Loop, but boat trouble stopped them entirely for quite awhile.  Once Tumbleweed could get underway again, they decided it was too  late to continue on the Loop this year so they returned for a several week stay at Ess-Kay, before leaving Tumbleweed there for the winter and returning home to Wichita, KS.  It was great to have them as neighbors during much of our Ess-Kay stay and to be able to share our family and friends with them as well!  [summer in NY pix].

Team Tumbleweed wins!!

The last big event of the summer was the family holiday with Doug, Sarah and grandsons Isaac and Owen.  Originally scheduled for a week at Stony Lake about halfway through the Trent-Severn Waterway in Ontario Canada, the gathering actually occurred at Susan and Sue’s house on Tuscarora Lake about 30 miles from Brewerton.  Problems with expired passports precluded the Canadian gathering, but great fun was had by all nonetheless!  The boys got to swim and kayak in the lake as well as enjoy “cruising” on Sojourner on Lake Oneida.  Their favorite activity was riding in the dinghy.  Floyd and Linda challenged them to a dinghy race on Oneida River, and the boys (with parents aboard) almost won!!