The glorious Rideau

There are a lot of reasons I titled this blog post as I did. For one thing, it is an historic accomplishment. While transiting one of the locks, we got to talking to some of the Canadians ahead of us. All of us expressed astonishment in what sturdy condition these locks remained despite just about 200 years of continuous use. Someone pointed out that it had only taken 6 years to build the whole thing in the 1800’s, and that feat could never be repeated, at least in the same way. For one thing, it would take 20 years to do environmental analyses. For another, nowadays they would just bulldoze a straight line through from Ottowa to Kingston. Because the technology didn’t exist to even consider that possibility in the 1800’s, Colonel By used the natural topography of the land and the existing rivers to plan and engineer the entire canal, and used well known stone craftsmen, usually from Scotland, to construct it. The design and craftsmanship, as well as the beautiful land it passes through are precisely the reasons it is a World Heritage gem.

In addition, I could post photos of gorgeous landscape after gorgeous landscape, rave about the friendly lockmasters in the forty seven locks (but who’s counting) we’ve passed through, and describe in great, boring detail the awesome facilities, like sturdy cleated docks, clean restrooms, some even with showers, and electrical power for a nominal fee that the Canadian government provides for boaters and campers along the way. In the interest of brevity, I’ll try to hold back. But keep all that in mind, and if any of you ever have the chance to  travel the Rideau by boat, DO IT!

Now just a bit about our travels through the canal:

We left the cute little town of Merrickville July 2nd, and stayed overnight at Smiths Falls, about 10 miles away. From Smiths Falls, we headed upstream to a place called Chaffee’s Falls. On the way, we made a few hour detour to “Colonel By Island”. Have I mentioned it has been hot as hell since Ottawa? Let me just say, the East coast’s heat wave was not confined below the US border. There were thus two reasons to detour to that island then—one, because many Canadians love it, and had told us we HAD to see it, and two, because we knew that a swim was critical before we melted. Colonel By Island lived up to its hype. We pulled into the bay where, as usual, there were mooring balls, docks, and restroom facilities awaiting, courtesy of Parks Canada. It was fairly empty of visitors—we think because many people were heading home after the Canada Day festivities. We pulled into an empty dock space, and right beside us were a couple we’d spent some time with in Merrickville. We spent the next few hours dipping into the lake to cool off every few minutes, (our friends just bobbed in the lake on floating chairs without bothering to exit), did a few fun chores like scrubbing Golden’s hull of ICW stains and algae while in the water, and tossing the ball for Hunny so she could swim after it. The water was AMAZINGLY clear, and the perfect temperature—cool enough to be refreshing, but not cold enough flinch at. We swam, sat and drank various cold beverages (I admit, those of us who aren’t captain might’ve had an ice cold Kir Royale), ate a bit of lunch, and chatted idly with our friends. It was really the perfect way, and location, to spend a hot afternoon.

Reluctantly we decided to move on, untied, blew kisses to our friends, and sailed on to the Chaffee Falls lock wall, where we had dinner reservations. No that is not a mistake–we’d heard that a resort across the street from Chaffee, the “Opinicon” offered gourmet meals. We snagged a spot in the shade of a large maple right after we went through the locks, plugged in, turned on the A/C for Hunny, and skipped off to a great dinner. Here is a picture of David in front of “the Liar’s bench” (where people tell fishing stories). Notice how BROWN David is getting!

We decided to stay 2 nights at Chaffee’s since it was so pleasant. On the last morning (of course) we discovered a small waterfall and pool next to the locks that one could dip into, rather than swimming off the end of our swim ladder and worrying about electrical shorts in the water (I’m paranoid). Also on our last morning, we ended up biking on one of the small roads around there—only 6 or 7 hilly miles, but we’re so out of shape, temperatures heated up so fast, and the biting flies so horrendous, that that short ride was plenty.

From there, we headed to upper Brewer’s Mills, another old mill site that had been inundated when the canal was created.

The next day (6 July) we aimed for Kingston, former capital of Ontario and the official end of the Rideau. After passing through a couple of locks, we entered the “River Styx”, and then “Colonel By Lake”. By that time we were surprised to find the wind steadily increasing (we’d gotten lulled into complacency by being on a canal and LIKE FOOLS HADNT CHECKED THE WEATHER!!!! By the time we’d approached our last series of locks at Kingston Mills, the wide, shallow lake we were on was terribly choppy, and the winds were gusting to 20-30. We noted that the first lock in the series was set right at the edge of the lake, thus allowing little protection from the weather when entering. We spied the lock wall (dock) just before the entrance, where we’d normally expect to tie up while waiting, but noticed that because there were already several boats docked, the remaining docking space was only about 6 feet longer than our boat. Realizing we would have to squeeze in between two large boats already bouncing in the strong wind and waves, we hesitated. Someone from shore hailed us on the VHF and told us it’d be about a half hour before the lockmasters could open the lock gates. We blew aimlessly back and forth for a bit, trying to decide whether to risk docking at the wall anyway, just try to get out of the wind into a marginally more sheltered bay nearby that unfortunately was tightly ringed with shallow water and rocks so didn’t allow much margin for error, or just say “screw it” and return 20 miles the way we’d come and take shelter back at Brewer’s Mills. The wind by that time was howling, and the sun was behind a cloud–the scariest conditions we’d been on so far–and I have to admit I was petrified. Just as we’d decided to turn tail and retreat across the white capped lake, the lockmasters appeared and started opening the gates, so we gritted our teeth and decided to go for it. We communicated via VHF with the other (docked) boats, and determined the order the four lockmasters wanted us to enter. A 40+ foot trawler went in first, and we had the thrill of seeing them bouncing and rolling with the waves that entered the lock with them, yet managing finally to secure themselves on their port side. Then it was our turn. Keep in mind that the entrance to the locks is narrower than the lock chambers– there are huge wooden gates attached to concrete abutments at the entrance; after entering, we would have to somehow slide sideways in order to hug the lock wall on our port side behind the trawler just ahead of us. I honestly don’t know how we managed without destroying our boat or someone else’s. We attempted to enter the lock through the center of the channel, but the wind and waves wanted to slam our stern against the entrance to our left. Luckily David has had enough experience by now, and we have the advantage of having two widely spaced hulls and engines, that he was able to maneuver them skillfully enough to avoid that potential disaster. As soon as we entered I threw the bow line to one of the waiting dock masters, ran back and gave the stern line to another. Then I ran back to the bow, took the line that the lockmaster had in the meantime run through a cable along the wall, looped it around a cleat, and hung on with all my might. Meanwhile David put both engines in neutral, ran down, took the stern line that had now been secured, and tied it off. Then he ran down, turned off both engines (a requirement in all Canadian locks) and ran back upstairs to keep monitoring the stern line AND the other boats now entering. The other two boats entered on our starboard side. We had another scare when the stern of the boat mooring just next to us was blown and bounced frighteningly close to our starboard side, but at the last minute the captain was able to bring his stern back to the correct side of the lock and get a line to the waiting lockmaster. The gates were finally closed, the water started calming, we all looked at each other, and went down to change our pants.

The remainder of our trip downriver was thankfully uneventful. Kingston Mills locks turned out to be another series of four staircase locks (one lock leading immediately into another); with each transit down, the effect of the wind was lessened, and by the time we were spit out into the tiny bit of canal we had to travel, it was calm and peaceful. Who would’ve thought? An aside: the Kingston Mills locks are known as “the infinity pool locks” because the height of the water in each lock is so incredibly high, the water pours over the top of the lock wall, and so resembles an infinity pool from above:

Doesn’t look so bad, does it?

After leaving the locks, David and I proceeded on to the town of Kingston, where we had reservations at a marina in the middle of downtown. Just before the entrance of the marina, there was a low bridge that needed to open before we could pass. Since this happened to be a bridge serving a busy highway, it only opened on the hour. We estimated that we might just make the opening, rushed as fast as we could, but despite our frantic attempts to go faster, missed the opening by 15 seconds.

While spinning in circles aimlessly, wondering what to do for an hour, we glanced to our right and saw a boatyard offering diesel for sale. We mentally shrugged and decided to kill some time by filling our fuel tanks. The young men (boys) pumping our fuel were very friendly and personable. After hearing of our hard luck, and of our intended destination, they convinced us just to find a place somewhere right there in the boatyard basin. We circled around the basin a few times–getting kicked off one dock (it turned out to be a private space in front of a condo) and trying to lasso a cleat in the wind at another slip, bickering the entire time about guiding the boat more expertly (me) and how easy it should be to lasso a cleat from 10 feet away in the wind (David). We finally found and settled into a slip, with help from our “boys”, right in front of the workshop.

Staying there turned out to be a fantastic decision. For one thing, the price was right (free). For another, the boatyard was only a few blocks away from the expensive marina we’d been headed towards, so the location was just as central–we had access to a well-stocked grocery, a hardware store and multiple restaurants, but because it wasn’t located in the center of downtown, our location was quieter and safer. And docking in the middle of a real working boatyard was fascinating! The yard workers proudly pointed out the gorgeous boats they’d constructed that were waiting to be shipped all over the world–Taiwan, Florida, Massachusetts. You could see boats everywhere in the process of construction or repair.

In addition to those positives, there were fairly clean restrooms and a shower available for our use–the night watchman innocently shared the door code so we could enter whenever we wanted. The only slight disadvantage was a lack of power, but since we have a fairly quiet generator, that was not a problem. Even the weather cooperated–it was MUCH cooler, so much so that we could leave Hunny while we went out to dinner.

A “busker’s festival” (“busker” = street performer) happened to be occurring that very weekend, so we spent one full day walking around downtown and enjoying a variety of jugglers, musicians, acrobats, comedians, and most often, combining all of the above.

The act below, “Kilted Colin” (in green) was hilarious.

Yesterday we headed to Clayton in the US of A, mainly because the hassle of staying in Canada for more than 45 days outweighed the minimal trouble it would be to enter the US for a day or two and then return. After presenting ourselves to US Customs electronically (using an app–it took about 5 minutes, and we were cleared for entry–right from the comfort of our salon!) we strolled around the cute, but touristy, town of Clayton, visited their huge antique (wooden) boat museum, grilled teriyaki for dinner, and fell into bed.

Right now we are heading to Boldt’s Castle, a sight we were told not to miss. Prepare for more pictures next time.

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