Completing the Trent-Severn transit

From Swift Rapids we continued through some very scenic areas, cottage industry has a whole different meaning these parts! Cottage after cottage after cottage….. some very quaint and rustic, some are monstrous mansions, hardly worthy of a cottage misnomer, but cottage just the same! Some have boat houses, some have sea planes in front, most have boats tied; it’s a very interesting cruise! The channels meander around the cottages perched on rocks lining the channel, some of the passes are pretty narrow, although depths in some areas were over a hundred feet; but the channel is well bouyed, and currents are moderate and very manageable.  As we move west, we see more granite since we’re in the area of the Canadian Shield, an area of pre-Cambrian rock about 3.9 billion years old that surrounds Hudson Bay. The rock isn’t rocks, but rock that makes up hills, valleys, and comprises whole building lots! For us as cruisers, it’s significant in that it also makes up the waterway, and of particular concern for us, the bottom! Granite vs. fiberglass….let’s not challenge it!

Beyond Lock 43 is Big Chute, the marine railway designated Lock 44, but is in fact, not a lock at all! The link provides complete information regarding the history of the lead-up to the creation of the railway, as well as the Swift Rapids and Port Severn Locks. The approach to Big Chute is not particularly unusual, one might expect to see a lock, but instead sees the carriage with the framework and perhaps a boat or two sitting on the carriage. It’s an unusual sight! We held off for one loading, then made our way over to the blue line and onto the cradle. The staff working the lift are very professional, and seem to know exactly what they’re doing. We moved into position and nudged Maerin onto

the platform with the direction of the operator(s). It was very odd to feel her slide onto the hard bottom, and then the operator asked me to back off just a foot or two, and we floated free just long enough for them to pull up on the straps and we were solidly in position as the carriage started to move forward and upward. The floor of the carriage carries the weight of the boat on the keel, the straps provide stability. Even our stabilizer fins and full keel, typically a hang up with travel lift straps, wasn’t an issue. The railway carriage has retractors that pull the straps back so they’re completely recessed during loading. Just weird, as the cradle came up the incline and out of the water! The trip is only a few hundred yards from one body of water to the other, with a rise of about 65 feet in the center, then back down the other side. The carriage moves slowly and smoothly, the movement provided by cables that run under the carriage and across the incline. Just a marvel of engineering ingenuity!

Having cleared the carriage, we got the “all clear” OK from the operator, and we simply motored away from the lift. Quite an operation, but very organized, and smooth. The folks operating the equipment know what they’re doing, and the whole fascinating process went without a hitch.

From Big Chute, we traveled the picturesque last section of the Trent-Severn waterway to Port Severn, Lock 45, the last lock on the system. Built as a temporary lock, it’s the smallest on the system, so it’s frequently a bottleneck. Boats coming from the upper waterway side have a large area to stage or wait a turn through the lock, however the lower reach is relatively short and narrow, and beyond the reach the channel is very narrow, and contains very strong currents. Because the lock is so small, only one large boat can be accommodated at a time, with other smaller vessels packed in along with the larger boat.

As a consequence, we had to hover in the harbor awaiting our turn. Not a big issue, but the wind was starting to kick up, and manuvering into the lock can be tense. It wasn’t a problem, and the lock staff are very quick to take a line and help. We were set tight in the lock, and other, smaller boats were sardined around us for the 12 ft. drop. No issues, however exiting the lock required threading through the boats on both sides of the lower lock walls waiting to lock up, with the wind piping up, under a swing bridge, and into the channel beyond that is just over a boat width wide, not terribly deep, and LOTS of current, passing under the #400 highway bridge! Very little room for any lateral error, and most certainly NO room to pass another boat! Standard procedure is for larger vessels to broadcast a VHF securit√© call when exiting the locks so that approaching vessels can delay entering the channel in the calmer, wider area beyond. We had no problems transiting the troublesome section, but it requires full attention and careful steering to stay in the narrow channel!  This canal travel ranges from idyllic lazy drifting to heart-pounding terror!  But it’s a great experience!

We cleared the obstacles without incident, and with a few more securit√© calls, moved through the remaining narrows to enter Georgian Bay! Simply beautiful! The area rivals the “Thousand Island” area of the St. Lawrence river basin, and is know as the “Thirty-thousand Islands”. Not an exaggeration, LOTS of islands here!

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