Monday, July 23, 2012

Orillia to The Big Chute, Through Port Severn and the end of the Trent-Severn Waterway.

We pulled out of Orillia about 8:45 am with beautiful clear skies with mild winds to head up to The Big Chute. We first crossed the length of Couchiching Lake to once again enter a cut canal. This took us through several smaller lakes including Sparrow Lake which I think was a particularly lovely place. For the next several hours we traversed more of these canals connecting between several natural rivers. The going through here was slow as there were more of the ever present home docks with boats within just a few boat widths of the center of the channel and being courteous American boaters we would slow down to just above idle speed so as not to cause any disruptions. And as it was a Saturday there were lots of people out on the water either in boats, sitting on their docks or in the water swimming.

About three-quarters of the way to our final destination for the day we came to the largest single lock on the Trent-Severn, Swift Rapids lock. There were several dozen boats tied up to the walls or maneuvering around in the deep pool just before it all waiting to take the forty-seven foot plunge down into the Severn River. As we waited in the pool outside of the lock walls the lock was filling up bringing a few boats into the pool. Then a bunch of the boats of all shapes and sizes entered the lock for the ride down in a very orderly fashion directed by the lock master using a loudspeaker. As the boats entered the lock this left the walls almost empty. The blue wall, the wall where a boat is to officially line up to enter the lock, filled up quickly. The general mooring wall opposite the blue wall was empty. None of the other boats hovering around the pool were going there. So I turned Why Knot’s nose towards it and made a beeline towards the wall. I basically butted in line. One smaller boat got to the head of the wall before me and a couple of small boats followed suit and tied up after us.
Get in line!!!!
This is a big deep lock. And it was very busy. The lockmaster was squeezing boats in there like sardines in a can. The lock personnel in Canada are to say the least experts at their craft and boats moved in easily, took the trip down, took on only a few boats at the bottom and started its way back up. During this time I took a short trip to the lock office. Our goal for the day was to get to one of the walls on the top side of the Big Chute marine railway and moor for the night. (I’ll get to The Big Chute later.) I asked the lockmaster in the office if she could call ahead to see if there was space for us there. She did and reported that the walls were available as there were only a few small boats tying up there for a lunch break or to visit the railway. I guess I am just naturally charming because when it came time for our turn to enter the locks she called us in first to be in the front of the lock indicating that she wanted to make sure we had a head start on the other boats to get to the wall. Nice.

Out of the lock our path then on was entirely on the Severn River. It was a winding affair and again there were lots of homes and swimmers along the shore line so again we couldn’t really let her rip, so to speak. But we did make our way to the upper pool of The Big Chute. There was a perfect spot on one of the walls there but there was a little fishing boat tied up there. There were a couple of day boats on the other side of the wall and another looper in a trawler in front of the position I was aiming for. They saw us coming and figured out where I wanted to go so they untied the fishing boat and swung it to the other side of the way out of the way. I pulled into the wall and we tied up for the night.

Ok. The Big Chute. For the uninitiated the story goes like this. Down in Lake Huron there are lamprey eels, the kind that bite onto other fish until the eels basically suck the life of the fish. They are obviously not wanted up in the lakes and rivers of the Trent-Severn region. But there needed a lock. So instead of building a lock they built this crazy railroad for boats. At either the top or bottom of the railway line boats enter the railway car and basically get strapped into place. When all is secure the train lifts out of the water on tracks and goes up or down this steep hill to the other pool. It’s crazy.

I can hear the dialog at the original planning meeting.
Fisheries Minister: Ok, how are we going to get boats from one level to the other without letting the eels into the upper level?
Fred: Why don’t we let the land be the barrier?
Fisheries Minister: Good thinking. But how are we going the get boats from one side of the land to the other?
Fred: How about building a marine railway where we lift boats out of the water slung into a giant railway car and ferry them across the land to the other body of water?
Fisheries Minister: (long pause)  Ok. Anyone else have an idea?

Well, Fred’s idea stuck and that is what they did. And as I write this post on Sunday, July 22, 2012, we are going to venture onto The Big Chute marine railway ourselves this morning. After that we have one conventional lock yet to go. That is in Port Severn, the western terminus of the Trent-Severn Waterway. We will be done with it. It has been a great journey with forty-four locks, beautiful scenery, wonderful people and plenty of great memories to hold onto.

I recorded a video of our own ride on the railway. As soon as I polish it up I will put it on
youtube and send the link to you.

Looking back from Why Knot after we traveled down the hill on the Big Chute Marine Railway

Port Severn

The last lock on the Trent Severn...waiting in line.

That's a wrap! We have gone through the lock, have exited the Trent Severn and Georgian Bay is next.

It is going to be short day for us. We are going just about 15 miles or so to a marina in Midland, ON. To be frank, we are both pretty exhausted. Neither one of us has slept very well lately, and we think a pause for a few days will do us both good.