Mon, Jul 23. Departed the Portsmouth Harbor Marina in the morning even though it was calling for rain. Turned out to be beautiful and we were on our way to the historic Rideau Canal and another new adventure. The Rideau is in its original condition from when it was built in the early 1800’s and is a World Heritage site. The lock operators open, close and operate the locks by hand cranks. Most of the lock attendants are University students that operate the locks in summer. They are all friendly, professional and very helpful.
This would be our first Canadian locks which are older, smaller and more crowded. The route to Ottawa on the Rideau is 125 miles long and we will be transiting 49 locks over the course of the next week with the first flight only 5 miles out from Kingston. A flight is multiple locks lined together and our first flight would be 4 locks in a row taking us up 45’ in elevation. We would also be buying our seasonal lockage and mooring pass which is unlimited passage and mooring (free walls) at the first lock. We had to purchase a lockage decal for both the Tiara and the dinghy and a mooring pass just for the Tiara. It isn’t cheap but it does give you access to the free walls and many have electric / shore power.
Loopers advise to travel during the weekday as weekends are very busy on the water and in the locks and July is a big vacation / holiday month for Canadians. When we arrived to the first lock, there were already 5 boats in front of us on the blue line and 2 pulled up behind us. There is a blue line and a gray line. If you are tied to the blue line, it lets the lockmaster know that you plan on locking through. If you are on the gray line, it means you are staying put for a few hours or for the night. If you arrive late in the day when the lock is about to close, the lockmaster may allow you to overnight on the blue line if the gray line is full but you have to be prepared to move when the locks open in the morning.
The lockmaster came down to tell us that he would take the first 5 boats and then the last 3. They usually put boats on either side of the wall and cram us in the lock but since we had the dinghy hip-tied, they would not be able to put someone next to us. Did I mention crammed? The first group got in the lock and as soon as they were in the second chamber, we were brought in so only had to wait about 20 minutes. The first flight of 4 locks took us about 90 minutes and it was hot & muggy. So much for rainy or overcast. One funny tidbit was that we had read or heard that in CA you were required to wear your life vest so Bob and I showed up wearing ours. Of course no one else had theirs on so we looked like a couple of rubes so quickly disposed of them.
The canal is supposed to be dredged to a minimum of 5’ but lack of rain can lower this and we saw some skinny water on our first day. We completed 7 locks our first day, which is too much as you are exhausted at the end of the day. But the anchorage we selected for our first stop was spectacular. Most of the boats locking through were planning to stay on the free walls but we opted for a secluded cove called Morton Bay. The entrance to this bay was real narrow as you navigated through the granite boulders but then it opened up. There were a couple of boats rafted off when we entered but they soon left and we had this beautiful spot to ourselves. Loons, Ospreys, high rock cliffs, a few homes and little fish that nibbled at your fingers and toes while swimming. After the long hot day, we so enjoyed diving into the clear cool water. Not as clear as Lake Ontario but still clear. A peaceful and serene evening with grilled salmon for dinner. Life is good!
Tue, Jul 24. Took our coffees on the dinghy for a morning cruise to explore the cove which is quite long. We were treated to a mother loon fishing and feeding her one offspring. We cut the engine and sat and watched her with the binoculars for quite some time. We are so enthralled with the loons and their calls since neither of us were ever exposed t0 them in NYC or FL. Got back to the boat and got ready to get underway. Pulled up anchor and it was loaded with mud and weeds which took us 15 minutes to clean off before we could get going. Left our secluded spot and continued on Rideau and to our next flight of 4 locks known as Jones Falls. When we arrived there were 3 houseboats waiting and no room on the blue line so we hung back but then were waved in. Once again, they packed us in and in order to fit as many boats as possible, we had to tie the dinghy off the back but horizontal against the swim platform. Made it through all 4 locks with no problems and enjoyed talking to all the other boats in the lock for the next 90 minutes. They were all amazed that first we had boated up from FL and second that we tow a dinghy that has a 90 hp engine. The big houseboat next to us only had a 50 hp engine so they wanted to know how fast our dinghy could run. We do not know wide open throttle speed but had it up to 30 mph.
We decided ahead of time that we didn’t want to do as many locks as the day before so after our flight of 4, we found our next secluded anchorage off of Birmingham Island. There were a few small boats fishing from time to time but no boats anchored anywhere to be seen. Another beautiful protected cove with more loons to entertain us. It did rain most of the afternoon and evening so we just hung out and relaxed.
Wed to Fri, Jul 25 – 27. Departed our cove with plans to travel to Portland where our friends Dick & Sandi from St. Petersburg on Amazing Grace were docked for some service work. We met Dick & Sandi last year at the AGLCA rendezvous in New Bern, NC and have visited them at their home in St. Pete. We spent 3 delightful days with them at Len’s Cove Marina sharing meals and playing games. Bob and Dick would play Chess; Sandi and I would play Mah Jongg which she had taught me to play when we were staying at their home. We all hopped in the dinghy one afternoon and crossed the bay to explore and swim. The small town of Portland had one restaurant (which we ate at several times), a liquor store, post office and small grocery store all within a 10 minute walk.
Sat, Jul 28. Said farewell to Dick & Sandi and departed Portland. The next lock was Smith Falls and 20 miles away. On our way to Smith Falls, Bob and I decided that while Ottawa was a great city that everyone said was a must, we weren’t sure we wanted to travel up another 32 locks, spend a few days there then turn around and transit 49 locks back to Kingston. So decided that Smith Falls, at the halfway mark would be our turn around lock. We docked at the free wall and while we were on our way walking to provision at the Walmart, we met this lovely Canadian couple, Paul & Louise, from Ottawa. They were on their way home and had just bought a 32 Sea Ray in the 1000 Islands and were bringing it home. We all hit it off straight away and ended up doing our shopping with them (they had a cart with wheels and carried our case of water!) so invited them back to the boat for docktails. Paul is a policeman in Ottawa and Louise a law clerk so we all had lots in common and enjoyed a great evening together and hope they will visit someday in Florida.
Sun, Jul 29. Departed Smith Falls and made our way back to Big Rideau Lake and took a mooring ball at Colonel By Island which is owned by Parks Canada. We spent a lovely and lazy afternoon and night on a mooring with some swimming and exploring via dinghy. The mooring balls here do not have floating pennants (lines) to grab and attach to your boat so are a bit more challenging to grab. There is a ring on the ball so it is best to approach the mooring ball from your stern / swim platform and thread a line through the ring then walk it up to the bow and tie off. Bob and I nailed it on the first pass and were quite proud. Some of the other boaters weren’t quite as lucky and it was more of a challenge for them to get moored up.
Mon, Jul 30. Destination today would be Jones Falls which would take us through 4 locks but stop before the flight of 4 locks at Jones Falls. It is really interesting transiting the locks. Usually you talk to other boaters in the lock and also people that are on the lock walls that are watching the process. Of course, most of the boaters were from Canada so they were quite interested in that we were from Florida and wanted to hear all about the Great Loop. We stopped at the free wall on upper Jones Falls and friends Dick and Sandi were down through the locks and docked at Hotel Kenny. We met them for dinner at the hotel and enjoyed a delicious dinner. Since we had caught up with them while they were locking through, we took some photos of their boat in the process.
Tues, Jul 31. We transited the flight of 4 locks at Jones Falls and had delightful conversations with Michel & Clare from Montreal on “Festina Lente” whom we had met locking on the previous day. They are planning to do the Loop next year and had recently attended an AGLCA rendezvous. Our destination today would be a short run to the anchorage at Morton Bay. We had enjoyed this cove so much on the way up so invited Dick & Sandi to join us there. We both dropped our anchors and enjoyed a spectacular day swimming, exploring, playing games, and grilling out. At evenings end, we did have some unusual excitement when we noticed heavy black smoke coming from the shore. Bob and Dick took the dinghy over to see what was happening and discovered that a boat was on fire which ultimately burned to the waterline and sank. At one point the boat started drifting in our direction, and Sandi and I started the engines on our boat to pull up anchor and move the boat but it drifted back to shore. The boys came back to retrieve Sandi and I so we could watch the fire boats try to put the fire out. Exciting evening and exciting week. Stay tuned