The Trent-Severn Waterway was built for industry and trade purposes and today is traveled by thousands of Canadians (plus hundreds of non-Canadians) each year during the summer months. Like the Erie, it was blasted and dug without much mechanized equipment. Just a lot of sweat and hard labor.
Jennifer and I appreciate the kids’ hard work, continuous attention, and patience going through so many locks. The novelty wore off after the first dozen or so locks we completed on the Erie. Each locking experience, which on average takes about 20-30 minutes, is just a little different – wind, current, number of boats, manual versus hydraulic, up versus down, wall surface, sluice position, etc. Each time in and out was also another opportunity for the captain to practice docking and undocking.
The lock staff on the Trent-Severn, like on the Erie Canal, were expert, informative, friendly and helpful. One big difference in the Trent system, however, is that each lock has at least two, and often three or more, staff members assisting boats. That’s very helpful in getting lines wrapped around, or unwrapped from, the lock cables.
First day we traveled to Campbellford and tied-up to a wall and explored the small town on foot, though nearly everything was closed since it was already later in the evening. Next morning before pushing off, Jennifer and the kids made it over to Dooher’s Bakery for some of the most delicious donuts we’ve had along the way. We decided we’d run most the day so we could make it to the town of Peterborough.
Another day, another lesson learned. I didn’t realize we’d need to drive so slowly much of the day. At about 50 tons, we displace a fair amount of water so even at 7 knots can create a sizable wake for a fisherman in a small aluminum skiff. Appreciating the peacefulness of a morning alone with rod and reel, we always slow for fishermen. We also had to slow down as we passed through cottage communities. And because of our 5+ foot draft, we also had to slow down in shallow areas since faster speeds create a phenomenon known as squat where the stern will sink lower in the water, adding to our draft.
We departed Campbellford at 8:15 am, since the locks don’t open until 8:30 am, and didn’t finally tie-up at the Peterborough Marina until nearly 8:00 pm. It was one long day for the captain and crew. Canal driving requires a lot of focus because the route is narrow and the bottom unforgiving. The marina management and staff were amazingly helpful, especially since the last dockhand was scheduled to leave at 7:00 pm. We called ahead, and they were kind of enough to stick around – especially helpful because of a stiff breeze that kicked-up when we approached the docks.
Peterborough was worth the wait though. Peterborough has a nice historic downtown filled with small shops, cafes, book stores, camping stores, coffee houses. We found two different farmers markets too, and Jennifer stocked-up on all kinds of good eats to keep the crew energized. We also enjoyed an evening by the river, watching a group of professional and volunteer actors in a local theatre group called Shakespeare Street Theatre perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We listened to music in the park twice and heard a terrific Canadian blues band called Fathead playing at a waterfront venue. We also rode our bikes along the Trans Canada Trail, visiting the local zoo, bookstore, and the captain’s favorite…the Home Depot!
A highlight of our stay in Peterborough was a visit from friend Asha who lives in Toronto, about a 90-minute drive. Asha brought all kinds of local and healthy treats for us. We had a lovely visit, and Asha and Jennifer spent a good part of the day talking about health, nutrition, and slowing down the pace of life. We also walked together over to the Peterborough lift lock to see what we had in store upon our departure.
We brought a tennis ball and the five of us spent an hour playing catch. Seems Asha doesn’t get to do that back in the fast-paced working world of Toronto. Asha also supported Daria’s budding jewelry business, buying lots of things as gifts for family and friends. Asha later sent us an e-mail letting us know she couldn’t really part with any of the bracelets, so decided to keep them all for herself! Asha, thanks for traveling to visit us, we had a wonderful day and hope to stay in touch.
We also met another family with kids doing the Great Loop. As far as we know only three couples with kids are doing the Loop this year. The Parrents, who recently completed their trip in Michigan and the Fallons on Inconceivable who are about as far along as we are. We spent a great day visiting with the Fallons and their son and daughter. We toured the impressive Canadian Canoe Museum together, went tubing behind Mudcat, and the kids went bridge jumping with the Fallons on a nearby railroad bridge. We look forward to seeing the Inconceivable crew along the way.
Because of traffic on the waterway and the after-effects of an electrical storm, our next day on the water lasted eight hours. And we only traveled seven miles! In fact, we’d taken our bikes to just about the same place just the day before. But, that’s just boating and we used the time to work through more American history in the kids’ textbooks. We were lucky to find a place to tie-up, and we even found some WiFi and the kids were able to then spend a few more good hours that evening focused on math and science homeschooling. A good learning day for all onboard.
Next day we tied-up at the Buckhorn lock, thanks to assistance from the helpful crews aboard SeaMoore, Bade Boomer, Jeremiah, and Dream Catcher – four other boats also on the Great Loop. Thanks especially to Carlton, our friend from Alabama, for being air-traffic controller and landing us in a good spot on a narrow runway with a good amount of boat traffic.
That evening was a sad one for us because we learned our loyal and much-loved fifteen year old doggie Ginger had passed away. We told the kids the next morning, while in the town of Bobcaygeon, and they went through a wide range of emotions. We were all sad and talked a lot about how Ginger was a great rags to riches story since Jennifer had found her on the streets some thirteen years ago. Between Oma, Pappy, Sima, Doug, Rosa, and Florencia and her family, Ginger had a lot of people who took good care of her and showered her with lots of treats, scratches, walks in the park, and love.
The next two nights we tied-up to lock walls in remote rural settings and brought out the grill so the captain and chief engineer could eat some local, organic, grass-fed steak and chicken aboard this mostly vegetarian vessel. Jennifer and I went for a few long runs in the country-side, and we also took the kids on long evening hikes. Jennifer and I joke that sometimes we just need to stop the boat and let the kids run. Lately they’ve been challenging us to foot races. They’re both quick as can be.
Though we live in quarters probably the size of a small apartment (square-foot wise that is), we’ve had most the Bahamas, America and now Canada as our backyard. We’ve never felt cramped or crowded. We met a couple recently who remarked that Muddy Waters was just like a beach bungalow, with books everywhere and water views on all sides. We like that description.
Next day, we crossed Lake Simcoe and tied-up at Bridge Port Marina in the town of Orillia. We brought out the folding bikes and hit the town, spending a few hours in two local bookstores. The kids have been reading like mad for the past few months, knocking out a thousand or more pages a week. They’ve been staying up later and later, buried in their books.
In Orillia, we also met a vacationing boating couple our age with two young girls, and Daria spent the next day and a half fishing and catching crawfish. Keenan only joined the girls when they decided to play a game of chase. It’s always great for the kids to see other kids. Gives them a break from us and also from the adult-world they’re around most the time.
After a long run the following day, we made it through what’s known as the Big Chute, a railway car that lifts boats out of the water and raises or drops the boats a total of nearly 60 vertical feet. Standing on the bow pulpit and looking over the edge was a thrill for the kids. Though it was over in a few short minutes, I think it was the highlight among all the locks. Because the winds were gusting above 30 knots on the Georgian Bay, boat traffic was backed-up in the Waterway, as big groups of boaters remained at Port Severn. We decided to tie-up at the public dock just at the bottom of the Big Chute (called Lock 43).
As happens so often, we met lots of interesting folks on the docks. We chatted with the Canadian couple in one nearby boat, and Keenan and I ended up playing guitar and bass with the husband while Jennifer and Daria chatted with the wife who’s a professional artists. A week later we ran into another couple who’d heard about our evening of art and music from that same couple, their good friends. The boating community is small that way.
After clearing the final lock at Port Severn the next morning on a clear and sunny day, we headed for the town of Midland to re-stock our supplies of fresh produce. We also brought out our bikes and took a beautiful ride along the coast to Port McNicoll. Daria and Keenan claimed not to be racing, but it looked that way to us when Daria took a pretty spectacular spill on a wooden bridge. No bad bumps but a fair number of cuts and rasberries. All’s well now though. And fortunately she was wearing her helmet.
A word on biking helmets. After a few weeks early on of listening to the kids come up with every excuse not to wear their helmets – it’s the countryside, you didn’t wear them, it messes up our hair, it’s not cool, and so on – the captain issued a decree that there would be time in the brig for any more helmet whining. At one town earlier in the week, Jennifer took Keenan to see the latest Harry Potter movie, so I decided to take Daria to lunch. For some reason she had a, ahem, bee in her bonnet that day about bike helmets, and I told her she’d have to walk if she didn’t want to wear her helmet. So instead of donning her plastic shell, she walked her bike the entire mile or so to the cafe. Suit yourself I told her as I rode slowly next to her. On the way home she buckled-up and hasn’t said a word about it since…
Parked just behind us at the town dock in Midland were our friends and fellow Loopers Marc and Shelly aboard Rock Chalk. We met them in Charleston, South Carolina when we had our memorable experience with the swift current while trying to leave a marina. They parked their boat, an Endeavor power catamaran, in Annapolis for a month to fly back to Texas to attend their son’s wedding, and here they’d already caught up to us!
We have a hard time leaving the places we like. And we like so many places. I suppose that’s why so many retired couples end up taking a few years to complete the Loop. They find a great place, stay, leave their boat for the winter, and then return when the weather warms to move on.
Having completed the Trent-Severn Waterway and filled-up with lots of good veggies and fruit, we were ready to begin exploring the area in the Georgian Bay known as The Thirty Thousand Islands. From the charts it looks like there are many many more thousands of small islands just below the surface waiting to greet the bottom side of our hull. We’ll try not to make those particular islands’ acquaintance.