We left Montreal early to fill up the “gaz” as they say here and still make a 10AM lock opening with a gaggle of other boats transiting at the same time. Hitting that timing was important as the locks on the St Lawrence are commercially focused and the lockmasters have no problem with pleasure boaters waiting 5 to 6 hours to pass when there’s commercial traffic.
Our relatively large group and light commercial demand meant we “sped” (the term is used loosely here as there is a SIX knot speed limit over the 9 miles between locks) through the two big locks.
Between waiting, locking and transiting the whole ordeal took about 4 hours. What the heck, it was sunny and we were boatin’! There are worse things in life!
After the second lock we took a right out of the commercial zone and back into the recreational boating arena as we headed out of the St Lawrence and into the Ottawa River via yet ANOTHER lock.
We decided to stop on the free wall for the night just before the St Anne lock. Very cool little town with a great boardwalk and tons of little restaurants along the lock channel.
Today, we roared off at 11AM in hot pursuit of a group that had left at 9AM. We had our first experience rafting with French Canadians in the lock. Communication was fine as B used her Sprench and N spoke slowly and loudly! The Canadians were amazed we’d coaxed our boat 6,000 miles around the loop so far (that’s right we have officially cleared the 6,000-mile mark!).
Nothing like 25mph+ when trying to catch trawlers! We caught ‘em and passed ‘em and shared the next lift at the Carillon Lock and Dam.
At 65′, the Carillon Lock has the biggest lift in Canada (it does in one chamber the work of 8 earlier locks…yay!) and is the only lock in North America where the lock doors go up and down versus swinging open and shut. The thing is a cavern!
From the lock we headed up to Le Chateau Montebello, which happens to be in the town of Montebello; the site of Canada’s biggest annual rock festival (which we learned was underway as we came up the river). Not the kind you throw, but the kind you attend in a black t-shirt, piercings, and boots. This little town of 1,200 has 80,000 to 100,000 people in it! There were tents all over the place and lots of LOUD music.
Seems like everyone’s got a black t-shirt on and they’re listening to bands like Wu Tang Clan sing songs the extent of which are lyrics like “M…’fer, uh huh, uh huh” while prancing around on stage! Those are the ONLY lyrics! Sorry, what IS that? Oh wait, our age is showing.
OK, won’t bore you here with the travails of internet and Verizon’s definition of “unlimited” data in Canada, but suffice it to say we gotta’ post when we have Wi-Fi, or it isn’t getting done.
Bonjour mes amis! Comment allez vous? Yes, greetings from French-speaking Canada. After more than 5,800 mile We have now entered the reputational “money shot” part of our Loop – the part everyone says is the BEST! After two nights at Gaines Marina enduring occasional rain squalls and up to 40 mph winds (a 40’ sailboat was blown ashore overnight), we steamed out under fair skies and headed three miles north to the Canadian Border en route to the Chambly Canal.
Once through the border we headed up the Chambly Canal, the entirety of which is a national historic site. The canal covers only 19km (OK we’re switching to euro measures…… aaagghh can’t do it, I meant approximately 12 miles!) with an 80’ drop, but includes nine locks, multiple swing and drawbridges and requires about four hours to transit (in part because the max speed limit is 10kph).
At one point we went through three locks structured like stairs for a total drop of 30’. We literally exited one lock directly into the next and then into the next. Tons of people watching, so we worked hard to look like we knew what we were doing! You might think the whole process would be maddening, but it was fun. What a completely different boating experience. This waterway handles up to 150,000 boats per season, but fortunately we’re here pretty early so we “zipped” right through.
The canal was built in the early 19th century to increase trade by linking Montreal and New York.
The locks themselves opened in 1843 and remain basically as they were originally built. The lock chambers are small (could only handle our 30’ boat and our friends 44’ at the same time), have small lifts and drops and are manually operated by literally cranking on a hand crank to open and shut the doors.
Of course, the most interesting part of the experience is dealing with the language (“ecluse” is French for lock) when approaching the lock…. I mean ecluse. N simply speaks English slowly whereas B likes to chatter along with the lock operators in her Franco-Spanish. Unfortunately for N, he’s the only one willing to go on the radio!
The good news for us is Canada is celebrating 150 years of lock and canal operation this summer so all our lockage is free and a permit allowing us unlimited mooring at state parks was only $200. By comparison, that cost could have easily been $40/night!
So we are really on the international leg of our journey now. The St Laurence Seaway and Montreal will be next up. A toute a l’heure!!!
We were starting a leisurely breakfast on board when N spotted some friends of ours across the lake steaming northward…. OK, they were going about 10mph, but that’s steaming in a trawler! We’d gotten ahead of them a few days before and planned to meet up in Burlington, VT about 30 miles up the lake, but since we go closer to 30mph there was no rush; drink coffee, do some laundry, chit chat on the dock and then power up about 11:30 and still nearly beat them there!
Lake Champlain is a mammoth lake separating NY and VT. The north end of the lake has NY’s Adirondack mountains on one side and Vermont’s Green mountains (home of the Green Mountain Boys of revolutionary war fame). As a North westerner you gotta call these things HILLS rather than mountains, but it’s nice to see some elevation and they are very pretty on both sides of the lake. Of course, we’re totally in all fresh water now, but while its super clear, it’s also super cold so no swimming for us.
It turned out last weekend was the Burlington Jazz Festival so there was a lot of live music around and the docks were packed; so crowded we had to take a mooring ball on Saturday night rather than tie to the dock.
Interestingly, much of the crowd on the water was Canadian and French-speaking Canadians at that. Sacrebleau! We’ll need to brush up on our high school French to get through these locks coming up…. We have to translate boat names now too.
Again, we found ourselves in a largish town, reasonable marina, and NO internet. What is up with that!? We’ve consumed all our 4G data on our phones and jet pack hence the blog delay. It is painful to do this stuff at slow data speeds! C’est la vie…. Whoa, the conversion is on!
We left Burlington on Monday to explore some islands on the lake and get ourselves staged for a border run this weekend (we need to consume some of our alcohol to meet the limits into Canada).
First stop was for an overnight at a state park on Burton Island. The park had slips for 100 boats! The ranger told us they fill up on summer holiday weekends including many French Canadians enjoying “le weekend” as one says a bit further north. As it turns out there were only four other boats when we were there.
Next day we were off to explore multiple little islands and possible anchorage spots. Of course, ANY stop must be a “Z-certified access” pee stop (although B has had some recent success with Z peeing on the mat on the swim step) so not every spot is good after closer inspection.
We had every intention of anchoring tonight and found several nice spots along the way, but rolled the dice one too many times as the last place we checked out just was not going to work for Z so to the nearby marina we went.
So, some Albanian (isn’t that what you call someone from Albany?) comes up to me on the dock and says “gee, doesn’t it rain a lot in Seattle?” I said, “Whaddaya talkin’ about!? The rain here has been relentless!” The only bright spot is B discovered a heretofore unrealized electrical engineering skill; her careful placement of sponges in combination with our newly re-waterproofed bimini top has kept all our power on throughout the deluge. We used to trip out the breakers on one side of the boat after about 30 minutes of rain while at the dock, but no more (touch wood). That’s the good news. We still have mysterious leaks we have yet to figure out, but at least they don’t impact general operations, other than the occasional drop on N’s side of the bed! Still can’t figure out how that can possibly happen!
After a day of errands (and watching streaming video on blisteringly fast internet… yes there was some redemption) in rainy Albany we were up early and headed north on the Hudson under once more leaden skies.
The Weather Channel app’s radar seems to be remarkably accurate around here so we knew it was going to rain before we got to our next destination, but gee, you gotta’ keep moving.
There are a few big course decisions you make when doing this Loop. Stuff like taking the Mississippi versus the Tom Bigbee Waterway (we did the latter), or crossing Florida at Lake Okeechobee versus rounding Key West (we did the latter) and now we have another; taking the Erie Canal to Lake Erie and points west, or heading north through Lake Champlain to Montreal (we’re doing the latter). The Big Y was ahead of us today (it’s the header photo for this post). Most bigger boats take the Erie because of the 17’ air draft limit on the Champlain route, but we laugh at 17’ and only begin to slow when we see 14’ clearance.
All this rain impacted the canal system as well and parts of the Erie are closed for a few days so several large boats were tied to the wall at the entrance to the first lock on the Erie. As for us, we were onto the unaffected Champlain route and back to rockin’ and lockin’ up the canal…. and there are a lot of locks; we had to clear four over about 5 miles to get to our next stop in Schuylerville, NY.
The good news is the lockmasters radio ahead so each lock is prepared for your arrival and there’s not a lot of waiting around. Also, this year the NY and Canadian canal systems are celebrating 200 years of canal operation so all our locking is going to be FREE on these upcoming legs. BTW, while these canals were originally for commercial traffic (the kind that traveled by barge pulled by a horse on the shore), these locks are nothing like the locks on the bigger rivers today. Traffic is primarily pleasure boats and/or much smaller barges.
It’s unbelievable, but as we approach bigger and bigger cities the internet coverage gets worse and worse so we burn through our 4G data about one week into the four-week cycle doing this blog. N called Verizon to try and buy more 4G, but no go. Seems cell providers are the last bastion of socialism and you can’t get unlimited data 4G speeds (if you know different please let us know) at any price without buying another device. OK, OK, I know, enough of the technology rant!
Most of the boats on the dock at Delaware City planned to leave around 5:30AM to catch the tide and associated currents in Delaware Bay (it’s what you do on a seven-knot trawler or sailboat), but the morning started really foggy and many delayed their departure. Those that did leave got yelled at by commercial traffic over the radio for being dumb. Our plan was unaffected; leisurely breakfast, walk dog, leave by 10 and still beat everyone to the next stop!
Delaware Bay can be really nasty weather wise and there is a hopping tidal current, but the morning was nice by the time we left the dock, turned the corner and headed down the bay to the Atlantic. We now had New Joisey (not a typo…. accent) on the port side and the tidal push had us thundering down the bay at 30+mph towards Cape May. We passed everyone that had left before us.
Upon reaching Cape May “we” decided to take advantage of the “calm” seas and head north on the outside to make some time. It might have looked calm, but it’s still the North Atlantic now and N had his hands full between negotiating swells and addressing the needs of a near-mutinous crew. After an hour we took the opportunity to change course and dive back onto the ICW to partake in a far calmer journey (both on the water and on board).
From Atlantic City we’re within 40 miles of NYC! Of course, we could do it the “hard way” (on the ocean), or the “easy way” (on the ICW) although you MUST do some ocean either way. We opted for the hard/easy way with some ocean and some ICW.
We started with the ocean, cut into the ICW at Barnegat Point then went back to the ocean at Manasquan to Sheepshead Bay on Long Island.
You might wonder what N does alone on the bridge while the crew’s below on these ocean stretches. Here’s a sample to the rhythm of Commander Cody’s Hot Rod Lincoln.
Have you heard the story of the great boat race When trawlers and sailboats was settin’ the pace. That story is true I’m here to say I was drivin’ a brand startin’ with Bay.
A mercruiser sterndrive gives her “some” pop Comes with a flybridge so you can drive on top. It’s got eight cylinders; uses them all It’s got trim tabs, don’t porpoise at all.
With fuel injection and underwater exhaust With stainless duo props you can really get lost. It’s got a dinghy on the back, but I ain’t scared Life jackets are good, and we got flares.
Pulled out of Cape May one early ‘morn Fog was liftin’ a new day reborn. We was boatin’ through the tidal cut Passing fishermen comfortably sat on their butt.
All of a sudden in a wink of an eye A big ‘ol trawler passed us by. I said, “crew, that’s a mark for me!” By then the transom was all you could see.
Now the crew didn’t mind bein’ behind, but as for the cap’n he was out of his mind. Put his hand to the throttle and man alive, Power came on with a list to port side.
Wound it up to nearly three times ten My speedometer said that I hit top end. My hand on the throttle like lead to the floor. That’s all there is and there ain’t no more.
Now the crew all thought I’d lost my sense And those channel markers looked like a picket fence. They said, “Slow down! I see a wave!” Cap’n said just go below and try to be brave.
Took a roller; waked a boat, Throttle on just stayin’ afloat. My boat was sprayin’ the portside cans. Crew yelled out stop being a “man”.
Roostertail was comin’ from out of the back When I started to gain on that trawler hack Knew I could catch him, thought I could pass By now the crew was callin’ Cap’n an ass.
We had waves comin’ from over the bow. Feel the tension. Man! Super wow! I said, “Look out, crew, I’ve got a license to fly!” And that trawler slowed down while we passed portside.
Now all of a sudden she started to knockin’, And down in the troughs she started to rockin’. I looked ahead; a monster roller a comin’, Kept power on ‘cause my motor was hummin’
The wave caught us across the bow, Bikes stayed put, not sure how Crew came up from down below Said that’s enough, can’t we just go slow?
Oh yeah! That got your attention. Now you know why we haven’t been blogging. Seriously, our bimini top has been something less than water impermeable and we’ve been watching little gaps of light getting ever bigger on the seams (I think that happens when you cruise at 25). At the same time, N has become increasingly frustrated he “cheaped out” and didn’t get the front plastic windows re-done during the last canvas job so we decided to get some work done while we were in DC. In another “technology is amazing story”, N googled canvas repair guys in DC while we powered up the Potomac, found one, scheduled him to meet us at the dock and had the project underway while we enjoyed DC.
DC was the ONLY stop we pre-planned on this entire journey. We’d booked a spot at the Washington National marina last October to be sure we had a berth. Believe it or not we had our little Bayliner tied up where Carly Fiorina and her husband normally dock their 60’er.
I kid you not! The marina was really not that fancy, but we were in the shadow of the Washington Monument and an easy walk to everything.
Of course, the BIG reason to come to DC was to attend son Kaj’s graduation from graduate school at Johns Hopkins SAIS (school of advanced international studies).
Kaj will be starting a job in Shanghai later this month so it was good to spend some time with him over this past week.
OK, so there wasn’t much boating this past week so we went with pics. We’ll go back to more narrative as the journey continues. From this point forward we have no dates to hit or places to get to so your guess is as good as ours where we might end up each day!
The weather finally broke on Tuesday so we hustled (left by 10:30AM) off the dock at Crisfield and headed for Smith and Tangier Islands. It was great to return to good weather with sunshine and calm seas. It’s amazing how quickly stuff can change on the water. We didn’t really have a specific plan other than wanting to explore each spot. Both are tiny islands about six miles off-the Eastern Shore in Chesapeake Bay with Smith Island being part of Maryland while Tangier is in Virginia. The economies of both islands are very reliant on the crab and oyster business and most residents work as “watermen” (what we would call fishermen in the PNW). From our previous post, you’ll know that Crisfield was a huge seafood processing community on the Eastern Shore…. well, much of that seafood then and today come from the watermen on these islands.
We arrived at Smith Island first. The island was first charted in 1608 and settled in 1686. It’s clearly seen better days.
There’s only 190 residents across three separate small towns all within about three miles of each other. Our first stop was Ewell. While B thought it might be a great place to stay and write the great American novel, N was less enthused. The island “wakes up” for the season on Memorial Day (primarily because the tour boats only start visiting then) so there was not much going on…. in fact, there was nothing going on except a bunch of clean-up.
The hurricanes hit these low-lying islands hard and there’s not a lot of money for recovery so these past few days we’ve been feeling compelled to spend some money in each of these struggling communities; both on the Shore and particularly the islands. Before leaving we found the only restaurant open and had lunch. What do you eat for lunch in a Maryland seafaring community? Maryland crab cakes!
We then headed the short distance to Virginia(!) and Tangier Island.
Seems like every community has their own claim to some kind of #1. In Tangier’s case, they were once the #1 seafood producing community in the world…. measured by lbs produced/capita. Tangier Island also has the distinction of being the place from where the British launched their attack on Fort McHenry in 1814 one result of which was the penning of the Star-Spangled Banner. Now THAT is a fun fact!
Tangier’s population was once over 1,200, but has now dropped to 500. Even so, it was significantly livelier than Smith Island in part because boats from the mainland visit throughout the year.
We stayed at Parks Marina; the only marina in town and owned and operated by 87 years old Mr. Parks. B was delighted with his flirting as we secured our lines. The mind reels at what might happen to N should he be caught one day in a similar repartee with a woman nearly 30 years his junior!
Very cool vibe on the docks, but there was ZERO internet and ZERO cell coverage.
In the words of Joni Mitchell “…. you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone….” Made us realize how much we depend on technology for info this on trip. Charts and stuff were fine, but we were blind on weather as we couldn’t get a clear radio signal either. The wind picked up again in the morning and we were hesitant to leave without wave and weather news so N paced the dock talking to watermen about the sea conditions as they returned from that morning’s crabbing. We really didn’t want to do a 20-mile crossing in four foot waves.
One might imagine Chesapeake Bay as a benign “bay” but it’s a massive body of water where you can’t see one side from the other with currents, shallows, shoals, and some very big waves when the winds are going.
We need to be vigilant in paying attention to our charts and depth sounder…. N has tried to cut the occasional corner miles off shore around some point just to see the depths spool down and force us back out to the middle!