Busman’s holiday

Tranquility in downtown Ottawa. Photo by Capt. Dick Allen

By Capt. Dick Allen
For Points East

In Part 1, in the Midwinter issue, Capt. Dick and his friend Lou “Socko” Horton departed Westerly, R.I., bound for Oswego, N.Y., via Long Island Sound, the Hudson River, and the Erie and Oswego canals. At Oswego, Bev replaced Socko as crew, for the rest of the Triangle Loop. Let’s catch up with them in Kingston, Ontario, after an uneventful crossing of Lake Ontario.

Kingston is a lovely city and the Flora McDonald Marina is right downtown. Step off the docks and you’re in the middle of everything. Before you step off, of course, you have to clear Canadian customs. Just pick up a dedicated telephone on the outside of the dockmaster’s hut, a customs agent asks for your passport numbers, your boat registration, and what you have onboard, and you’re checked in.

We didn’t have any firearms, so that made life simpler. Bev had heard that you couldn’t bring uncooked eggs into Canada, so she had hardboiled our eggs. But there were no questions about eggs. However, you can’t bring apples, or dispose of them, in Canada.

The Flora McDonald Marina was the most expensive place we stayed on our cruise, but we needed a day to do laundry and go sightseeing, so we stayed two nights. At least the laundry was free. We took the hop-on/hop-off tour and saw the Canadian Royal Military Academy and many beautiful stone churches.

We were under way at 6:45 on Day 19, just in time to make a 7 a.m. bridge opening. We arrived at the Kingston Mills lock (Lock 46) on the Rideau Canal at 7:50 a.m., but Canada’s historic canal locks only operate between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., so we tied up along the “blue line” for about an hour. Boats signal that they want to enter the locks along Canada’s historic canals by tying up to a floating dock or lock wall with a blue line painted along the edge. Canada’s historic canals have a different atmosphere compared to the New York Canal System. The locks are smaller and more rustic, the gates and valves are all hand-operated by mostly college students, and the waterways themselves are narrower and more sinuous.

The Rideau Canal (www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/on/rideau) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It takes boaters 125 miles through the lakes, rivers and canals between Kingston, Canada’s first capital, and Ottawa, Canada’s capital since 1857. The Rideau Canal is North America’s only canal from the great 19th-century canal-building era that still operates along its original route, with most of its original structures intact. The canal – and the fortification at Kingston to protect it – was built at a time when Great Britain and the United States vied for control of North America.

Canada’s historic canals are operated by Parks Canada. We were fortunate to be cruising in Canada in 2017, when the country was celebrating Canada 150, the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation. In honor of the anniversary, there were no fees for passage through the canals operated by Parks Canada. We bought a seasonal mooring pass (www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/canaux-canals/amarrage-mooring) for $9.80 per foot. Transients can also pay $.90 per foot per night. Ten nights is the break-even point. Anyone taking a more leisurely approach would save money buying the seasonal mooring permit. Electricity is an additional $9.80 per night.

We secured at 6 p.m. on July 14, just above Lock 38 at Davis. My logbook notes it was a “magical spot.” With few exceptions, the locks along the Rideau Canal between Kingston and Ottawa are in rural areas, with corresponding quiet. The 9 a.m. opening time at the locks encourages a leisurely rhythm, providing time to enjoy the surroundings before casting off.

July 15 was a beautiful day with lots of lakes and narrow passages between lakes. By 3:45 p.m., Weak Moment was secured to the bulkhead at a waterfront park in Smiths Falls, between locks 31 and 29A. A Walmart and other shops were a reasonable walk from the boat.

On July 16, we pumped out at the Victoria Campground, then entered Lock 29A. A pleasant day of cruising brought us to Lock 17 at Burritts Rapids, where we dined at the Lock 17 Restaurant. We had a delay on Day 22: We had to wait an hour for the Ottawa’s Pretoria Avenue Bridge during a high-car traffic time, between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. Despite the delay, we were secured to the floating docks along the Ottawa Wall by 6:10 p.m.

Tying up in downtown Ottawa is an amazing experience. Within 100 feet of our berth, a stairway led up to Wellington Street, also known as Parliament Hill. The Canadian War Memorial was just across the square, and the majestic parliament buildings were a quarter-mile away. The Changing of the Guard takes place twice every day, with the red-coated and beaver-hatted Royal Guard marching through the streets to the Parliament parade field.

Day 23 was a fun day in Ottawa, starting with a $4.99 breakfast special, marching with the Royal Guard band to Parliament, and watching the Changing of the Guard. Next was a double-decker bus tour, including a stop at Rideau Hall, the home of the Canadian Governor General, an unusual position still appointed by the Queen of England at the request of the Canadian Prime Minister. The Governor General appears to act as liaison between the government and the people, and he or she travels all over the country.

Bev and I hopped back on the tour bus to go to the ByWard Market Square, an open-air market full of produce stalls, restaurants, bakeries, and other shops. After lunch, we returned to the boat to escape the heat of midday. Another highlight was the “Northern Lights” history of Canada light show, projected on the front of the parliament building every night during the summer of 2017.

Leaving Ottawa and the Rideau Canal is an experience. From downtown Ottawa the canal descends through eight locks connected end to end. Before entering the locks, one transits a tunnel under Wellington Street. As one enters the uppermost lock, the fabulous Fairmont Chateau Laurier rises on the east side of the canal, its balconies often lined with spectators watching the canal traffic. Once in the first lock, one travels lock to lock, arriving at the Ottawa River, some 79 feet lower and an hour and a half later. The end of Day 24 found Weak Moment anchored in the mouth of the South Nation River where it enters the Ottawa River – a beautiful spot.

Shortly after noon on July 20, we entered the Carillon Lock, the largest lock we’d transited so far. The Carillon Lock has a lift of 66 feet and overhead lift gates rather than the swinging gates we’d been accustomed to. The Carillon Lock also had a floating dock inside the lock for boats to tie up to. The lock staff was on the dock to help with lines and sell ice and cold drinks.

At 4:45, we’d passed through the smaller lock at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, which also had floating docks. Lock walls just east of the lock are popular with boat crews that enjoy canal-side bars and restaurants. Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, a Montreal suburb, is another place to tie up to see the city, without having to fight the current to get to the downtown Montreal marinas. Buses and trains run regularly to downtown Montreal.

July 21, Day 26, was a good day exploring the city. Lunch at the SeaSalt Ceviche Restaurant & Bar was expensive but good, and we were treated to marching bag pipers and a color guard ceremony in front of the Palace Royale. The Notre-Dame Basilica was magnificent, and, unusual for a church, the stained-glass windows in the sanctuary depicted the religious history of Montreal, not biblical scenes.

From Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, we joined the Saint Lawrence Seaway just west of Montreal, sharing the waterway with oceangoing ships and passing through two really big locks. Three hours after leaving Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Weak Moment arrived at the Côte Ste Catherine Lock on the South Shore Canal portion of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Thirteen pleasure boats and one large tour boat transited the lock together. Later in the day, we waited with at least 20 pleasure boats while two large ships cleared the St. Lambert Lock – one headed west, the other east.

Saint Lawrence Seaway locks are not part of the Parks Canada system and must be paid for separately. Each lock has a floating dock with a telephone-booth-style pay station. The fee for the two locks on the South Shore Canal portion of the Seaway is $25 Canadian for each lock. Boaters can also pay in advance online, but must turn in their receipts to the lock tenders.

After traveling a day by water, Weak Moment was still only minutes away from downtown Montreal by car, albeit on the other side of the city. That night was spent at the Longueuil Marina, also known as Port de Plaisance Réal-Bouvier on Active Captain. This was one of only three nights spent in marinas on the entire trip. The other 40 nights were spent at anchor or at lock walls or docks.

Just after noon on July 23 we arrived at Sorel, Quebec, where the Richelieu River and canal head south from the Saint Lawrence Seaway. After entering the Richelieu, we knew there was no such thing as a slow pass in Quebec.

The river is narrow at that point, with multiple bridge abutments and industrial bulkheads. Three cigarette boats didn’t let the narrow channel, or the boat traffic, slow them down. Then, shortly after those speedsters passed, a 45-foot motor yacht climbed up my transom, and when I pulled over into a slight indentation in the river bank, its skipper gunned his engines and went by throwing one of the biggest wakes I’ve seen from a pleasure boat. Happily, the wake action improved as the river widened. By 4:30 we were secured to the south wall of the Saint-Ours Lock, also known as the 10th lock of the Chambly Canal.

Shortly after noon on Day 29, we entered Lock 1 on the Chambly Canal, and we cleared Lock 9 and tied to floating docks in the village of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu by 5:20 p.m. Despite some rain, traveling through this narrow, winding canal, with its rustic but elegant locks, was a joy.

The following morning, we wandered through St. Jean and found two grocery stores and a NAPA auto-parts store, where we bought a new windshield wiper. After muffins and coffee at Tim Horton’s, we were back at the boat and under way by 11:30. St. Jean appeared to be undergoing a complete waterfront makeover, boding well for future visitors.

Our return through U.S. Customs, at Rouses Point at the north end of Lake Champlain, was painless. We tied to the floating dock, carried our registration and passports up to the open-air reception station, and signed a simple form. The whole process took no more than a half-hour, and by 6:15 we were anchored behind Nichols Point in The Gut.

Lake Champlain was the first open water we’d experienced since our mirror-flat crossing of Lake Ontario, and we started Day 31 bucking a southerly wind and a steep chop. At 11 a.m., we anchored in a bit of a lee at Port Kent, N.Y. and relaxed until 5 p.m., when we decided to seek out a better lee for the night. By 7:10 p.m., we were anchored in the still waters of Willsboro Bay, a deep indentation with multiple marinas.

Cable ferries on the Champlain and Chambly canals require extra caution because the ferries are pulled across the waterways by cables attached to shore. It’s hard to estimate the depth of the cable in relation to your distance from the ferry, so give them a wide berth.

Without a stop for fuel, we might have made it through Lock 12 on the Champlain Canal, which would have put us at the pleasant free docks at Whitehall, N.Y. As it was, we arrived at Whitehall and paid for unsatisfactory accommodations at the Whitehall Marina. Showers with no hot water were the biggest disappointment. Those lingering in Whitehall should note that the historic Skene Manor, on a hill overlooking the canal, has a 4.5 Trip Advisor restaurant rating.

We went from Lock 12 through Lock 3 on the Champlain Canal on Day 33, arriving at the free docks in Mechanicville, N.Y. – in the Hudson River – at 4:20 p.m. Mechanicville also provides free water and electric, and has showers and a covered picnic area overlooking the dock. We checked Trip Advisor for local restaurants and decided to try Bubbles Restaurant, with a 4.0 rating.

A short walk, through a generally depressed area, brought us to Bubbles Restaurant, which didn’t look like a great place for dinner. But, to our surprise, the food was excellent and the prices were low. We ordered the small portions and still had leftovers to take back to the boat. If we return to Mechanicville, we will go back to Bubbles. On the way back to the boat, we stopped at a liquor store, CVS, Rite Aid, and Family Dollar. What more do you need?

On July 29, we were under way at 8:25 a.m., and had cleared Locks C-2 and C-1 and, once again, were secured at the Waterford Visitors’ Center by 10:30 a.m. We walked to the laundromat and the Hannaford supermarket, and were back sitting under the trees on the bulkhead by cocktail hour.

On Day 35 we finally got to try the famous Don & Paul’s Coffee Shop, a Waterford landmark, for breakfast, and it didn’t disappoint. Two eggs and toast cost $2. Underway at 9:00 a.m., by 9:35 we had cleared the Troy Lock, the last lock of our summer cruise. Just south of Albany, we saw many bald eagles, and, with no adverse weather predicted, we anchored in the stream at the Saddlebags Anchorage, just off the Hudson, at 4:20 p.m.

Having learned a lesson about bucking the current on our first day on the Hudson River, on Day 36 we waited for the tide to start to ebb before getting under way. We made good time, and the tide had just started to flood when we anchored midafternoon, just south of Pollepel Island. Two bald eagles soared overhead as we set the hook.

On Aug. 1, we passed the Tappan Zee Bridge at midday, and had an exciting ride down the Hudson, past Manhattan, as the fast ferries made their afternoon commuter runs. By 5:30 we’d anchored in the calm basin behind the Statue of Liberty.

We waited for the flood tide through Hell Gate on Aug. 2, getting under way at 12:45 p.m. At 2:00 p.m., we were doing just over 9 kts through Hell Gate, gaining at least 2.5 kts over our slack-water speed. From the Throgs Neck Bridge to Oyster Bay, Long Island Sound was solid with menhaden, making one wonder whether they’d travel south, through the East River and New York Harbor, or east and around Montauk Point, to reach their winter grounds off the Carolinas. Oyster Bay was a long way off our rhumb line, but it was a great anchorage on a rainy, breezy night.

On Day 39, I contacted with my friend and lobster-conservation colleague Jim King, who has a dock on the east bank of Mattituck Creek. Jim’s lobsterboat was out of the water, so he offered us a berth for the night. We enjoyed a great meal with Jim and his wife Dianne at CJ’s American Grill in Mattituck, putting a fine finish on our summer cruise.

Aug. 4, 2017 was Day 40 of our Triangle Loop cruise, which ended with a short trip across Long Island Sound to a waiting berth at Mystic Shipyard East, in Mystic Conn. The whole trip had been magical, and it was the cruise of a lifetime for Bev and me.

Capt. Dick Allen’s boating career includes service on landing craft in Vietnam, on the first offshore lobster trap-fishing boat, and on the last Lampara herring seiner in San Francisco Bay. He operated inshore and offshore lobsterboats, ran the glass-bottom nature-cruise boat Night Heron on Point Judith Pond, and skippered the pilot boat Olympic out of Snug Harbor, R.I. He has plied the Intracoastal Waterway often.