Saturday, July 11, 2009

Peterborough to Georgian Bay (Jul 9 to Jul 16)

On July 9, 1904 the Peterborough Lift Lock opened. On July 9, 2009 (its 105th birthday!) Carolyn Ann was lifted, along with Young America, by essentially the same equipment. There have only been a few modifications during all those years. At 65' it is the highest lift of this kind in the world. Basically, it had two large tubs filled with water. Boats enter each tub, top and bottom. By stopping the top tub slightly below water level, it receives an extra foot of water (144 tons!). The tubs are then unlocked and the extra weight in the top tub forces it down and the lower tub up. There's a lot more to it, but that's the basic idea. Considering the equipment of the time (this was the first time steam power was used in construction in Canada), this was an engineering marvel - and is still impressive today. It felt like an elevator going up. Looking down over the edge was another thing!
Linda and Fred had talked to a lock tender the day before and arranged for him to take some pictures of us locking up. The two boats barely fit in side by side, but we made it. We did a total of seven locks that day - total lift 141 feet. Most were uneventful, but we did meet Ellie the spider in one. You have to understand, during the season these lock tenders work 11 hour days, 7 days a week. They chat with lots of different boaters for maybe 5 or 10 minutes each. Then they have the times where no one is locking through. Their lock stations - often parks - are meticulously kept, but they evidently have time to name the wildlife.
As we approached Lakefield, we passed through a narrow cut made through the rock 100 years ago. Young America had taken the lead here and decided to stop at the marina in Lakefield, while we pushed on to Young's Point. Somehow, lunch had been forgotten during the constant locking and once we got settled Joe started grilling hamburgers for an early dinner. I was really hungry and decided some fries would taste good. A couple sitting by the canal directed me to a "chip truck" for fresh cut fries - which seem to be what people mean when they say Canadian food - that or ice cream, which we went for after dinner.
The area we were in is called Kawartha Lakes. This consists of several lakes connected by channels or canals and often a lock. Evidently even the locals enjoy the scenery here. In many areas the lakes are lined with big houses or small cottages. Many small islands - large rocks? - are home to a single house.
The channel that connects Clear Lake and Stony Lake is referred to as Hell's Gate. It isn't nearly the problem that the Hell's Gate on the East River in NY is, but it still commands respect. The channel winds between islands and rocks - many of which lie in wait just below the surface!
Our goal was to reach Bobcaygeon. As you go through the locks, the lock tenders ask where you plan to spend the night. They'll give advice and call ahead to the other locks. We arrived at Bobcaygeon early in the afternoon and found that there was no room on the walls below the lock. So we locked up and found that there was no room on the walls above the lock. On the way up, the lock tender told us he'd been trying to find us a spot but every time one freed up, someone would jump in. Our back up plan was a marina, so we locked back down. While we were in the lock, one of the lock tenders saw a boat leave from the wall below the lock. Then he moved another small boat forward to make a big enough space for Carolyn Ann. These guys are great!
We stayed two nights and visited with different folks we'd met along the way. Sunday, we decided it was time to leave - around noon. We had loose plans about where we might stop for the night, but we're always flexible. As we passed these incredible limestone walls, we were hailed on the radio. Norm, who owns Beta Omega and completed the Loop several years ago, was offering us free dockage and power for the night. After a quick u-turn we rafted up to his boat. Young America came around the bend a short time later and he asked them to join us.
We took Norm and his wife, Barbara, to dinner at a nearby restaurant with a view of Fenelon Falls. Oddly enough it was a place that served Greek, Italian and pizza - reminded us of Charlie's!
The next day promised some adventure. We went up two more locks to get to Balsam Lake, 840 feet above sea level! According to our guide book, this is the highest elevation in the world a boat can reach going from the sea under its own power. I thought there would be an interesting picture for that, but didn't really see anything. Next we entered the Trent Canal. This is another of those narrow cuts between lakes. This was the narrowest yet. There's even a sign advising that you make a radio call advising that you are entering the area. Of course, very few Canadians turn their radios on, if they have them. The rental houseboats don't have any. A word here about the houseboats. Lots of people rent them - anybody can. You don't have to have any boating experience - and they don't. In Bobcaygeon many of us had more fenders on our exposed side than on the wall side to protect from careening houseboats. So, Joe had made the probably useless security call, and we knew the wide tour boat had already passed through. This canal is so narrow in spots that branches on both sides were mere inches from Carolyn Ann. Young America was up ahead. We heard Fred on his PA. We learned later that he'd told them to move over and stop while he passed. They complied. As they approached us Joe moved Carolyn Ann as far right as possible - up against the rock shoreline. We used boat hooks to hang onto the trees to keep us in place. Unfortunately, I didn't exactly have time to take a picture as it squeezed past us. Soon after the houseboat incident, we arrived at the Kirkfield Lift Lock. This is like the one at Peterborough, except only 45 feet and we were locking down. Joe wanted me to tie up as far forward as possible. I was concerned about him losing track of the brake pedal.

The next day we went through a bridge called Hole in the Wall - for obvious reasons.
Soon after that, we entered Lake Simcoe, the largest lake on the Trent-Severn. The water was an incredible green, which turned to brown as we entered Beaverton for the night. The next day, we crossed Lake Simcoe and entered the Severn River, the last portion of the Trent-Severn. Here was another narrow area which had been cut through the rock 100 years ago - without the aid of machinery. We only had two locks for the day, but one was a 47 foot drop. Many of the locks have power plants attached to them along with nice waterfalls or spillways. Along the way I've mentioned we tie up at locks and that some have power. In Canada, they don't call it power - it's "hydro."
Next stop was a place called Big Chute. We'd really been looking forward to this. The Big Chute is a marine railway that moves the boat from one water level to another - a 57 foot drop in our case. The original railway was built as a temporary measure because it was cheaper than building the necessary locks. This picture shows the old rails going down the hill into the water. At one point they started to build the dam and locks, but abandoned the project and instead built a new, larger railway. On this one the front and rear carriage wheels run on tracks that are at different heights, keeping the bed of the carriage level. The carriage drives out into the water until it is partially submerged. You drive your boat onto it and they use slings to hold the boat in an upright position. Carolyn Ann, having a pretty much flat bottom, didn't need much help. The slings don't actually lift the boat, though. Once all the boats are secure, the carriage moves along the tracks - across the road - and then down the hill.
It is an awesome sight and not as scary as I had feared!
One interesting note: we had noticed a lifeboat on the side of the carriage and asked about it. They told us that if the hydro goes off while they're in the water, there's no way to get the carriage back to land. The staff used to have to swim back in that event. That led to a big discussion about a massive power outtage in Canada that left boats stranded on the carriage part way down the hill. They had a ladder to get people off, but one man wouldn't leave because his irish setter was on the boat. They finally found someone with a labrador that had a life jacket. They put the jacket on the setter and were able to hoist it off the boat. The dog came down with four legs splayed out into the waiting arms of another boater to whom it became very attached.
Carolyn Ann didn't make it into the carriage alone, but Joe enjoyed talking to the police officers in the boat ahead of us. After we reached the bottom, we needed to get into position to take pictures of Young America coming down - as they had for us. I walked up to the top observation point and kept looking for Joe down where Fred had been stationed previously. Finally I spotted him at the bottom of the chute in the police boat! The officer, who goes to Panama City, FL for iron-man competitions, was going our way and escorted us through some tricky areas.

At Port Severn we locked down for the final time - for a while, at least. We've now entered Georgian Bay which promises to be a high point of the trip - how many times have we said that?

If you'd like to see more pictures, follow the link to our picasa albums: (it's not always updated at the same time as this one, but I catch up eventually!)

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