Sunday, July 22, 2012

Georgian Bay

Everyone who has been here before told us that the Georgian Bay was the most beautiful freshwater cruising ground in North America. After a week of cruising around, I'm more than willing to agree with them. We left Midland in the morning, on a beautiful sunny day, passing this mural painted on the Archer Daniel Midlands grain elevators in the harbor on our way out. Midland has supported the creation of a number of murals in town, some just decorating the buildings, others displaying some of the local history. This particular one commemorates the arrival of the Jesuits to preach to the local native tribe (known as First Nation peoples to politically correct Canadians) in the early 1700s. Of course, since this particular tribe no longer exists, I'm not sure that the First Nation folks would necessarily be delighted to be reminded of this momentous event, especially with a 60 foot tall mural.

Midland mural
The section of the Georgian Bay we are in is called the 30,000 Islands. It is estimated that there are actually more than double that number of islands in the bay, but I suspect they got tired of counting. Of course, there is always the issue of what constitutes an island, so they decided to stop at 30,000. Many of the islands are big enough have several houses on them. Canadians refer to this area as "cottage country" and have been building summer homes on these islands for over 100 years. It seems like every Canadian we have spoken to has a family cottage somewhere on the water up here. Many of the cottages are accessible only by water. And some of them are "four season" cottages which means they are accessible by snowmobile in the winter when the water freezes. You can usually tell a four season cottage by the size of the wood pile near the back door.

Longuissa Bay
Our first anchorage was a short trip from Midland in Longuissa Bay. We passed many cottages tucked into islands on our way to Longuissa, but there were none on the shores of the anchorage. Apparently this is a good thing, because it seems that there can be tension between boaters and cottagers up here. Each group is here to have what the tourist guides refer to as "an authentic woodlands experience" and neither seems to believe that the other should be part of that experience. Boaters want pristine shorelines and cottagers want uninterrupted water views. Oh well.

Since it is prime vacation time right now, we have developed a pattern of leaving one anchorage in the morning after breakfast, traveling for 12-15 miles and pulling into a new anchorage early, usually before noon. This means we arrive before most, if not all, of our fellow boaters and we are happily anchored in the prime spot before it begins to get crowded. Actually, although we have had other boats with us in all the anchorages, none of them have been crowded. There are so many places to go, if a boat pulls in and finds other boats, there is always somewhere else to check close by.

Down Time in Echo Bay
Our favorite anchorage so far is Echo Bay. This bay is part of a provincial park so there were no cottages and lots of wildlife. We even put our toes in the water. The surface water is warm, but apparently it gets cold quickly. Ron actually dived in from the boat and he said as his hands hit the water, he was thinking "maybe this wasn't such a good idea." We had gone ashore earlier and picked up a park publication which described the phenomena of "cold shock," where you fall in the water, your body shuts down blood flow to your extremities to preserve your warmth, you begin involuntary hyperventilation to try to re-establish blood flow, and you end up drowning because you ingest too much water. Fortunately, none of the above happened to Ron, but he came out of the water right quickly.

The pictures don't do justice to how pretty it is up here with pine forests coming down to the water line. Nor can you capture the sounds of the loons calling at sunset and the flocks of geese organizing the themselves for the night. It is spectacularly beautiful.

Echo Bay
While we were in Echo Bay, we took the dingy for a two mile ride to Henry's Restaurant. Henry's is a local fish restaurant and seaplane airport. That's right, the restaurant is a licensed seaplane airport, served by five commercial airlines. Of course, the planes are only big enough to carry a couple of people plus the pilot but the food is worth the trip. In addition to seaplane parking, the restaurant also has docking room for about 40 boats. All this is because you can only get to this place by water or air. The employees live in dormitories there at the restaurant during the season because the nearest town of any size (and it is not much of a town) is more than 12 nautical miles away. The fish and chips were to die for, served family style, with a big bowl of french fries and a platter of battered pickerel (a local fish). We loved every mouthful.

I'm writing this from Parry Sound, the largest town on the Georgian Bay and the last good provisioning spot. As we head further north, the towns get smaller and further apart and the grocery stores get smaller. We've loaded on ten days worth of food and tomorrow we strike out for more anchoring. I'm not sure when the next WiFi will happen but you will hear from us then.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Transmission trouble? Again? Really?!?

We went to the town of Midland after we left the Trent Severn. There are very few towns of any size on the Georgian Bay and Midland is the first of the available reprovisioning stops. Since it is high boating season up here, we have reverted to our usual behavior of pulling in somewhere for the week end and leaving the water and anchorages for the locals who have to work during the week.

Jim changed the oil in the engines while we were in Midland and while he was running the engines after the oil change he noticed a "coffee grinder" sound coming from the starboard transmission in idle, like something was loose in there. Not good. So rather than leaving Monday morning, as had been our plan, we pulled across Midland Harbor to Bay Point Marina to have their mechanics take a listen to the transmission. Yup, they agreed with Jim, it sounded bad in idle. Interestingly enough, the sounds quit if he rev'd the engine higher.

Do we need to replace the transmission? We are already the only Endeavour Trawlercat to have ever needed to replace a transmission and now the second one is gone less than a month after the first? Really? Just to make it all more interesting, there is no replacement transmission available in Canada. Are we looking at another drive down to New Jersey to pick up another transmission? Can you take a Canadian rental car to the U.S.? Can you come back over the border with a $2,000 boat part in your trunk? Spirits were a wee bit low on the good ship Down Time.

Fortunately, Jim has cultivated a slew of support people over the years, folks he can call when he has a problem he can't figure out. This time he called a guy at Mastry, the company that sold the engines for this boat to Endeavour. He recognized the problem immediately, even describing the symptoms to Jim before Jim had a chance to describe them himself. A simple tweak of the idle RPMs and the problem disappeared. Hallelujah!

Tomorrow we're off to the Georgian Bay anchorages. Wish us luck!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Big Chute

The trip from Orillia to the Georgian Bay includes the last four locks on the Trent Severn Waterway. One of these, Swift Rapids, was built in the 1960s and is the deepest, single standard lock on the waterway at 47 feet. We were going down and it takes eight minutes just to let the water out of the lock. But the highlight of the waterway is Big Chute, a railway lock that connects two bodies of water by carrying boats over a 57 foot hill on a railway car. That's right - a railway car.

Railway car

I was standing on the road as the car passed me heading down to pick up a boat when I took this picture. If you look very closely, you can see two people standing next to the ranger station in the middle of the picture at the bottom. That gives you some perspective on how big this thing is.

The reason they built this type of connector was to contain an invasive species of sea lampreys that had spawned in the Georgian Bay. They didn't want them to get into the lakes of the waterway. Since fish can and do lock through with boats in a conventional lock, they decided to drive over the hill rather than cut through it.

Hill that Big Chute traverses
The way this works is that the rail car drives into the water, then boats drive into the car. 
Headed down to pick up boats

Boats entering submerged rail car

Small, flat bottom boats and jet skis just sit on the bottom of the car and the riders hold on to the sides. Larger boats are held in place by straps that the lock staff adjust as the boats drive into the car.

Rear boat held by straps
Because Down Time is a catamaran, a boat with two hulls, they sat her on the bottom of the car resting on her hulls. We have metal struts protecting the propellers at the back of the boat that can't take the load of the boat, so they put us in the back of the car and actually left the last eight feet of the boat hanging off the back to protect the struts.

Once the car is loaded, they just drive it over the hill, into the water on the other side, and the boats re-float and drive away.

Up with a full load
At the top of the hill
Re-entering the water on the other side

Driving away from the submerged car
This is the way it looks from inside your boat while you are crossing.

As I said, we were at the back of the car, so we didn't get the really great views. But that was fine, I found it nerve-wracking enough from the back. The rail car rumbles along, bouncing and rocking a bit and I found every little twitch scary. I was convinced that we were going to fall off the back although, of course, they do this six times an hour, all day long, many times with boats bigger than ours and don't drop them.

The mechanism that pulls the car over the hill is a series of cables. The car is built with two sets of wheels that run on independent tracks. This keeps the car level as it climbs and descends the hill.

Cables inside the lock house

Cables running into the tracks

It was an interesting experience. I'm glad it was a one time adventure, although plenty of local boats go through it multiple times every summer. I guess experience makes it easier. Even the lock tenders admitted they see so few boats like ours they are not as familiar with how to load and carry them as they are with the Sea Rays and Rinkers and other boats that the Canadians typically own in this part of the world.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Bobcaygeon to Orillia

We've had a pleasant, eventful week since I last posted. Our friends, Rob and Carol Harris from Miami, joined us in Bobcaygeon and rode with us through the canal to Orillia. It was a great section of the canal for guests because we had a little bit of everything, from quiet, rural locks to busy waterfront towns. Rob and Carol arrived June 30 and the next day was Canada Day, Canada's Independence Day. We were a little concerned about finding a place to tie up because it was such a busy boating day, but we got lucky and arrived at the lock wall in the town of Fenelon Falls right after our friends on Viking Star, a 46 foot Nordhaven, pulled out. Since they are ten feet longer than we are, they left us a nice spot.

Fenelon Falls was a happening place. We were tied up below the lock. Above the lock is the preferred  place to tie up because you have access to power and water, but above the lock was crowded with both boats and people. Strolling along the upper lock wall, staring at the boats and boaters was a major tourist attraction all afternoon. It was much quieter where we were. The town put on a very nice fireworks display to celebrate Canada Day, although this far north when they say the show "starts at dusk" they mean around 10:20 PM.

From Fenelon Falls we went to Rosedale, a rural lock with no town nearby. But it did have a nice walking path in the woods which Rob and Carol and I enjoyed exploring. Other boaters staying at the lock warned us about the bear who came each morning to check out what goodies might have been deposited in the trash cans. We never saw the bear, but we did see these scratches on the trash can liner. They were probably put there by a raccoon, but we're saying it was the bear.

Bear damage?
The next day was full of adventure. We started by going through the narrowest passage on the Trent Severn Canal. I'm not sure this picture does it justice, this section is so narrow I think we could have touched the trees on both sides from the boat. Fortunately the cruising guides warn you about this and we planned to go through this section the day before the Karwartha Voyageur came through. Remember the Karwartha Voyageur from a previous post? If you ran into her here, you'd have to back up, there would be no way to get around her. Actually, she broadcasts a warning on the radio when she enters this section, so you know not to enter until you see her come out.
Narrow passage

Can you see the problem?

After you get through the narrows you arrive at the Kirkfield Lock, another pan lock just like the Peterborough Lock we wrote about earlier. The difference is that in Kirkfield we were going down. In Peterborough when we pulled into the lock we were actually facing the lock structure and when the pan arrived at the top we were pulling out into the river. In Kirkfield we were pulling into the pan which was suspended 65 feet in the air. My job in the locks is to tie the lines around the lock cables while Jim drives the boat, so I was the one standing on the bow of the boat as we pulled up to the edge of the world. It was a little spooky. After we got tied up, Carol and Rob came up the bow to see the sights and Carol agreed that the experience was very different from the bow than it was from the cockpit.

Looking 65 feet down from the bow of the boat
After Kirkfield we went through another Trent Severn feature, the Hole in the Wall bridge. This bridge was constructed across Canal Lake in 1905 and their solution to leaving access for boats was this strange little 28 foot arch.

We ended the day at the Bolsover Lock where we were treated to a show by a local wild mink. There was a line of logs in the water, tethered together with a wire that provided the visual warning of the dam near the lock. The mink was fishing in the water in front of our boat and when he caught his fish, he carried it home by running across the logs and jumping from log to log when there was a break between them. After he got his first fish home, he came back for more fishing, but we never saw him catch another fish. He was amazingly fast, too fast for pictures I'm sorry to say.

The other thing we found at Bolsover was the art of a local carver. We walked to a local cafe for breakfast and found these fabulous carvings in the yards between the lock and the cafe. The cafe owner told us they were done by a man who lives near the lock who just started carving ten years ago when he moved to Bolsover. These are just some of the pieces we saw.
Bear in overalls
Three bears in a yard
Carved otters at the dock

Not all the local art was quite as high-brow. We also saw this creative example of beer can art.

Leaving Bolsover the next morning, we went through five locks in three miles, then crossed the biggest lake in the canal, Lake Simcoe. Apparently Simcoe can act up with weather rather quickly, with the winds creating waves in excess of 8 feet. We had a nice calm crossing, with just a little bit of wind at the end as we pulled into the city marina at Orillia. From here, the Harrises left us to return to Miami and our next guest, Ron Westbrook, arrives later today. Only four more locks to go, then we're in the Georgian Bay, which everyone tells us it the most beautiful cruising ground in North America.