This is update #8 as we cover Fred and Sidonia St. Germaine's trip along The Great Loop in their Nimbus 405 Coupe. Links to the other updates are below.
Sidonia and Fred had just arrived in Peterborough Marina in time for the midweek concert held during the summer months. Peterborough is the largest town along the Trent-Severn Waterway, with a population of over 81,000. It was a technology and manufacturing center for well over 100 years, with such companies such as Rolls-Royce, Siemens, General Electric, Quaker Oats, and Pepsi building a presence here. While some of these companies are still operating in Peterborough, in recent years there has been a shift toward service industries and tourism.
Among its many highlights, Peterborough is also known as the gateway to cottage country.
A major industry that started in Peterborough in the late 1850s was canoe building, and the Peterborough Canoe Company was founded in 1893. By 1930, fully 25 percent of all workers in Canada’s boat building industry worked in Peterborough. And with the opening of the hydro-electric generating station (which opened before the one at Niagara Falls), many companies located here to take advantage of the cheap new power source.
There are numerous museums, galleries, indoor and outdoor theaters, and other attractions. Unfortunately, cruisers passing through on their Great Loop don’t really have ready access to what the city has to offer, and the crew of Last Item were no different. Based in a marina, they are detached from the otherwise interesting attractions, nor do they take much time to explore.
“Peterborough is the largest town on the Trent-Severn Waterway. On Thursday, July 7th, we rode our scooters up and down the streets but never found anything of real interest to us other than a lovely park along the waterfront.
“For the past several days, we have seen large trees either uprooted or broken off along the waterway, some landing in the water and some on land. When we asked some local boaters across from us, we learned that about a month ago an unusually large storm had come through the area. One person was killed, and power was out for a week for many people.”
One of the remarkable highlights of the Trent-Severn Waterway in Peterborough is the Peterborough Lift Lock, which opened in 1904. It is Lock #21 on the waterway and the highest hydraulic lift lock in the world.
“We were at Lock #20 for the first opening of the day with three other boats. Peterborough Lock #21 was our first hydraulic lift lock.
All four boats squeezed into the 140-foot-long chamber (called a caisson), resembling a giant bathtub. There is an identical chamber next to it, but it is 65 feet above us. Once they close the back gates of both caissons, the upper caisson is filled with a foot more water than the lower caisson. The difference in weight lets gravity move the upper chamber down while the lower chamber rises. Within about two minutes (the fastest lock in the system), we rose 65 feet. Everyone on the boats were really excited about being in such a unique lock. There is another lift lock ahead of us, Kirkfield Lock #36, which we’ll see in a few days.
(Seen below: Almost to the top of the 65-foot rise in the lift lock.)
“In six and a half hours, we locked through eight locks and traveled 16 miles. We cruised at five knots on the Otonabee River, went through Lake Katchewanooka, Clear Lake, and into Stoney Lake.
The other three boats in our little flotilla continued to Buckhorn. But we already knew that the lock wall there was full of boats.”
One of the many revelations when traveling in company with other boats is seeing how the crews handle the many different situations encountered. Whether navigating swift waters such as Dodds
Narrows off Vancouver Island in British Columbia or picking a way through the shallow waters of Little Bahamas Bank to reach Mangrove Key from West End, the many shapes and layouts of cruising boats routinely switch between making something easier or more difficult.
Such was the observations with Sidonia and Fred on their Nimbus 405 Coupe.
“After being in the locks with other boaters and seeing what some of them must go through when locking up, we really appreciate our boat and how easy it is to handle. We watch others climbing up and down steep ladders from their flybridges, trying to grab the cables before their boat’s stern floats out into the middle of the locks. We’ve seen no accidents, but it seems a bit chaotic.
“We planned to anchor in Stoney Lake, which is full of little islands. Fred found a quiet spot between Pompadour and Halls Islands. It turned out it wasn’t quite as quiet as we thought. There were several small aluminum boats with outboards running at full speed through the area. We had only been anchored for a couple of hours when a man in a boat came by and encouraged us to move to another spot. He said on Friday nights there are lots of parties and noise as people run around in their boats till midnight and beyond. We were right in the path of a frequently used route.
“We took his advice and moved to another spot nearby. After dinner, though, another boater came by and told us the same thing and suggested a safer anchorage. Once again, we hauled anchor and this time tucked into the southern end of Juniper Island away from any possible busy routes.”
Stoney Lake is about 20 miles long and has more than 1,000 islands. The lake is a primary location for summer cottages although there is an increasing number of full-time residents. In addition to being part of the Great Loop, it is very popular with thousands of fishermen during the season, who fish for largemouth bass, walleye, bluegill, and Northern pike.
So far, the Nimbus Coupe has been running great. But the next morning, when Fred got ready to make coffee, he could not start the generator. Scratching his head, he pulled out the manual and read the troubleshooting chapter. Then he went into the engine room, checked the oil in the generator, and looked for an override switch which he could not find. It was Saturday, so there was no one to call for advice.
Frustrated, he started the main engines, then pushed the start button for the generator, which started right up. Problems that come and go without explanation are one of cruising most frustrating challenges.
“After leaving Stoney Lake, we cruised through Lovesick Lake, Upper Buckhorn and Lower Buckhorn Lakes, Pigeon Lake, and Sturgeon Lake, all connected by narrow channels. Stoney Lake reminded us of the San Juan Islands because of the lichen-covered rock formations, but there are so many more very small islands here. We wound our way through these islands and wondered how people could possibly have done this before GPS.
“The walls and lock at Buckhorn were jammed with small boats, wave runners, houseboats, and more. People lined the lock walls to watch boats pass through. The lakes now were much busier, with waterskiers, wave runners, and speed boats pulling kids on inflatable toys. It was a warm, cloudless Saturday and everyone was out to enjoy it on the water.
“After six hours, we went through our sixth lock of the day, Fenelon Falls Lock #34, and arrived in Sturgeon Lake at the village of Fenelon.
We have now transited more than two thirds of the locks in the Trent-Severn Waterway. We are in no hurry, though. We heard that Lock #44, the Big Chute, isn’t working because of staffing shortages caused by retirements and Covid. Word has it that the lock may reopen on Wednesday. And it is only Saturday.
“There was no room on the wall, so we went back into Sturgeon Lake and anchored not far from the lock. We planned to go back when we saw an empty spot on the wall. At five o’clock, we thought the lock was closed for the day and we could tie up on the wall at the blue line waiting area. However, when we got there, the lock master told us the lock would stay open until 6:30 as it was a weekend. We retraced our steps and re-anchored. No more than fifteen minutes later, a local came by and told us there was now room at the wall as several small boats had just left. Up came the anchor again and we got a spot on the wall thanks to another nice Canadian.
Fenelon Falls is one of many quaint villages in the region, and a wonderful place for summer tourism and those who come to enjoy the cottages around the area.
The village has a revitalized downtown and there are shops, bike paths, lots of outdoor activities, museums, and restaurants for every appetite. Like many towns along the waterway, it relies on those who come by boat or car to enjoy the waters and islands, as well as to see the mini “Niagara Falls” in the limestone gorge.
What is particularly interesting in this part of Ontario and particularly in locations such as Fenelon Falls is that the when the Covid pandemic shut down tourism, many chambers of commerce in Ontario got together and decided to take on the challenge of restarting tourism in more modern ways that offer an enticing tourism experience driven primarily by digital media. The Fenelon Falls & District Chamber of Commerce now have online resources designed to attract people to come and enjoy themselves in their special town.
For the next several days they stayed put, as did other Loopers waiting for the backlog to clear at the Big Chute. They rode the two blocks to Murthy’s Lockside Pub & patio for lunch, followed by a leisurely nap on the boat. Later they rode the scooters over to Garnet Graham Beach Park, a large city-run recreational area along the water’s edge.
“There were groups of people everywhere, picnicking at tables or on blankets spread on the grass. Children ran around in the spray pool and others played games provided by the park. We saw kids jumping into the water from an unused swing bridge. It was a delightful sight.”
Another observation they had was that despite the fact there is water everywhere, boating takes a backseat to the tremendous interest in cottaging. The surrounding natural beauty is the obvious attraction and why so many people choose to spend their summers here. Every house or structure along the water is considered a cottage, no matter if it is 900 sq.ft. or 10,000.
Many of the downtown shops in Fenelon Falls cater to people decorating the interiors of their cottages and ‘bunkies,’ which the locals call the separate small guest houses (or tiny homes) alongside the main cottage. Like the camps one finds along the shores of the lakes in Maine, some of the cottages have been in the family for generations, some are close to 100 years old. Most do not have insulation and are built on top of sandstone.
Another thing they noticed was the difference in wildlife from what they are used to.
“Boating in the Pacific Northwest means we see lots of wildlife. So far on this trip, other than birds, we have seen only turtles and a muskrat. Today, we saw a mink with a fish in its mouth. It must live in the area as we saw it two more times.”
Staying in one place gave the couple time to socialize with other Loopers, something that is difficult when one travels every day. So, when the situation calls for a break from traveling, one must make the best of the opportunity. It is one of the joys of cruising.
“As we enjoyed drinks in the cockpit for happy hour, we invited another Looper couple, who happened to stroll by, to come aboard and join us. They are Ron and Nancy on ‘Flying Colors’ from Minnesota. We were surprised to hear of their different style of boating in Minnesota. They spend their time in the St. Croix River, which has sandbars. The water is deep right up to the sandbar, so boats put their bows on the sand and secure their sterns with anchors to the beach.
“After a nice visit with Ron and Nancy, we returned to nearby Murphy’s for dinner. It was a very nice day.
“The next morning, Monday, July 11th, we wondered through town, looking for a bakery we had heard about. We ended up going across the canal to the White Cottage Cafe where we had a marvelous cherry cream cheese Danish.
“In the afternoon, we went to the Maryboro Lodge Museum, which began as a private estate in 1823, then became a tourist camp and boarding house and is now a museum. It has lots of interesting old tools and machinery, photographs, furniture, and clothing from the 1800s. It also has a room full of fun toys for children. It was just the right size, and not overwhelming.
“At 4:00, we joined five other Looper couples for ‘docktails’ at one of the picnic benches along the wall. We had a great time telling boating stories and more with some very nice people. We hope we will see some of them again as we continue along our way.”
While many of these people expected to leave the next day, the weather turned sour and rain and increasing winds forced the prudent cruisers to stay put one more day. It was a smart decision.
“I think the Loopers here with us feel that if we must stay somewhere because of a lock problem and/or bad weather, Fenelon Falls is a pretty nice place to be. It has the museum, the park, restaurants, boutiques, the necessary stores, shops and bakeries and everything is within easy walking distance.
“Tomorrow is supposed to be the day that the Big Chute, Lock #44, reopens. There is a backup of boats waiting at the lock and points along the way leading up to it. We could get there in two days but we will make a longer trip of it to let some of the backlog clear out.
“There is only one lock left after the Big Chute and then we’re about finished with the Trent-Severn. It has been such an enjoyable waterway, we hate to see it end.”
The following day, the Loopers left. After another cherry cream cheese Danish from the White Cottage Café, Last Item also left Fenelon Falls, bound for the remainder of the Trent-Severn.
Kirkfield Lock #36 is the second of the two hydraulic lift locks in the Trent-Severn. Sidonia thoroughly enjoyed the two lift locks.
“Though the regular locks are not difficult, the ‘big bathtub’ locks are so easy. No need to tend your lines and you’re down (or up) in two minutes. Lock #36 was the first lock where we entered at the top and were lowered instead of raised. On entering and looked forward, it was a bit like looking across an infinity pool as you see nothing but air beyond the gate. Once out of that lock, the water flows toward Georgian Bay and the channel markers are reversed, green to starboard, red to port.”
Once through Talbot Lock #38, they also noticed a changing landscape. There are fewer trees and one can see cultivated fields. They knew there was a lot of agriculture along the Trent-Severn from aerial photographs in the guidebook but from the deck of a boat it was difficult to see through the thick vegetation that lines both sides of the canals.
Another comment Sidonia made was when they cruised elsewhere in the world, they would never think of moving with fenders hanging over the sides. It is considered such bad form.
But throughout the Erie, Oswego, and Trent-Severn canals, everybody does just that. It isn’t worth the effort with such short distances between locks. In fact, the only times they pull aboard the fenders is when they cruise at 24 knots, which has not been very often since leaving Lake Ontario.
“We said goodbye to the really nice people we shared our locks with, Bill and Diane on ‘Odyssey,’ as they were continuing on while we chose to end our day just before Lock #40. As usual, we found the grounds on either side of the lock nicely groomed for a park-like setting. Along one side of the canal was a solid line of brown eyed Susans, lupine and Queen Ann’s lace. Prettier than a florist’s bouquet.”
The couple made it across Cameron Lake and Balsam Lake, then Mitchell Lake and Canal Lake. They followed narrow waterways several miles long connecting the lakes. The water is so shallow in these narrow waters their depth sounder stopped registering the depth at 3.5 feet under the transducer, which is a couple of feet below the waterline. At times, it also seemed tree branches would brush against the boat as they passed by, but they never touched.
By now, of course, the couple knew some of the other Loopers also on the same route. And every so often they would come across a boat they recognized.
“Ron and Nancy on ‘Flying Colors’ had already locked through Lock #40 and were tied to the wall below. They walked up the steps to our level and visited with us for awhile.
“All the locks have names, and most are named for the town they are in or nearby. We caught the first opening of Thorah #40 the next morning at 9:00am.
“We flew across Lake Simcoe, entered Lake Couchiching, and were safely docked at the Port of Orillia marina by 11:30. I really thought we were going to go aground as we churned up mud getting to our assigned slip as it was so shallow around the marina. The marina itself is a very nice facility, with new dock surfaces, collapsible cleats, free laundry, and very nice bathrooms and showers. And, of course, a nice staff.
“Roger and Marilyn (‘Uncle Wiggley’) were docked here as well. They came over for happy hour and Marilyn brought us some decadent butter tarts. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with them. Coincidentally, they had previously managed Spanish Key in the Bahamas, a place with which we were quite familiar.”
Orillia is a large city in Ontario with a population of 33,000. It is located between two connected lakes, Lake Couchiching and Lake Simcoe. Known for its attractions, museum, and art exhibits, these things are not close to the marina, so Sidonia and Fred did not take the time to do much exploring. They were looking forward to the Big Chute, and the end of the Trent-Severn Waterway at Port Severn.
“There is a swing bridge with a 14-foot clearance before one reaches Couchiching Lock #42. We caught up with ‘Uncle Wiggley,’ waiting for the bridge to open. A large electronic sign read ‘Next Opening 9:45ish.’ We got a kick out of that. But that was a half hour from now, and Fred thought we could make it under the bridge.
“He had me take the controls while he stood up on the bow to watch. We went under the bridge at less than a snail’s pace and just barely ‘twanged’ the cell phone booster antenna as we passed under the bridge.
“From there, we traveled through Sparrow Lake and the Severn River. The landscape felt like we were on a mountain lake. Pine and fir tree needles blanketed the ground around the cottages, and large, rocky outcroppings were visible in the narrow river and canal.
“After Couchiching Lock #42 and Swift Rapids Lock #43, the eagerly anticipated Big Chute was in sight.”
Big Chute Marine Railway is the only marine railway of its kind still in use in North America. It is a vital connection in the Great Loop, taking boats in individual 80-foot cradles up and over the land to
Georgian Bay. The current railway began operations in 1978.
Interestingly, there were plans in the 1960s to replace the Big Chute with a lock between the river and Georgian Bay. However, the invasive sea lamprey was discovered in the waters at the base of the railway. These creatures were devastating the fishing industry in the Great Lakes, and efforts to keep them from migrating further proved ineffective. A marine biologist soon discovered, however, that any lampreys that attached themselves to the bottom of boats on the railway fell off after a short distance.
So, authorities decided the railway was a very effective way to prevent further lamprey migration. In 1976, a new, enlarged railway was built to handle the ever-increasing boat traffic.
“It was not a very reassuring looking piece of equipment as it rumbled down the slope toward the water. It is old and rusty. We were the only boat waiting to ‘climb aboard.’ We were beckoned slowly forward until we were situated properly over the two slings. The slack was taken out of the slings, until we were firmly held in place, and all was ready to make the 600-foot ride over the hill to Georgian Bay.
“The Big Chute started slowly moving up the hill, leaving the water behind. It is engineered so that boats in the chute are always level. The chute clanks, jerks, and rattles, and sounds and feels a little scary. And there were quite a few people there to watch and take photos and videos with their cell phones. I sat on the bow and took my own photos while Fred took photos of me on the bow.
“When we reached the crest and started downhill, it was quite exhilarating. People below were calling out to me, and I asked if someone would email me a photo of us in the chute. One woman said she would, and I gave her our email address.
“As we exited the Big Chute, the people watching us cheered and waved. We felt like we had just split the tape at the finish line of a big race. It’s strange but both of us felt a little emotional. We’re not sure why but possibly because the Big Chute signifies that we are nearly the end of the Trent-Severn Waterway.
“We wish it would go on longer but there are more adventures ahead.
“We soon docked at Starport Marina near the village of Port Severn.”
See you next time.
Here are links to the LAST ITEM's previous Great Loop updates:
Update #1: Let's Go On The Great Loop!
Update #2: "Last Item" Begins The Great Loop
Update #3: Up The Hudson To Waterford
Update #4: Last Item Heads To Rome
Update #5: Big Water Ahead As LAST ITEM Heads to Oswego
Update #6: A Taste Of The Thousand Islands
Update #7: Into The Trent-Severn Waterway
Update #9: Georgian Bay
Update #10: North Channel