Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder


I was walking the docks recently, as I often do, looking at boats when I spotted an AGLCA burgee flying on a trawler. Always curious to meet new folks who share the same cruising passion as us, I stopped by and introduced myself. We had a pleasant conversion about their travels and what I came away realizing was that boaters are no different then anyone else – they have likes, dislikes, favorite cruising grounds, anchorages and more times than naught they vary quite a bit. I guess it’s true that beauty really is in the eyes of the beholder.

The Hewton’s are standing on their deck, which overhangs the Trent-Severn Waterway in Fenelon Falls. They are fellow Loopers and friendly Canadians.

The Horenstein’s were on a boat called Benelle, they are from Jacksonville Florida and were having a fun time cruising the waters of the Great Loop. In our half hour discussion I learned they were much more impressed with the small towns and waters along the Lake Michigan coast than Canada’s Trent-Severn Waterway (TSW) or North Channel. They liked this area so well that they were thinking of staying through the end of the boating season, storing their boat so they could return next spring in an effort to take in more of what Lake Michigan has to offer. I’m from Michigan and agree that Lake Michigan provides a unique experience for boaters. However, the cruising grounds and towns lining Canada’s Trent-Severn Waterway, Georgian Bay and North Channel have been our escape to delve into unknown territory and therefore these Canadian shores have more of a draw from the standpoint of our desire to seek new adventures and explore something different. It’s all beautiful so I surmise that one boater’s preference versus another’s translates into just a friendly difference of opinion.

The beauty we saw in Canada was not just the natural cedar tree lined waterway dotted with cottages and rock-strewn islands but the residents of this little part of heaven are very generous and friendly folks. Lisa made the comment that everyone we passed, whether on shore, park benches tied in a lock or on another boat, waved to us. This is something that’s built into their DNA, they’re just naturally friendly people. By the end of the day though, heading to Fenelon Falls, our arms were beginning to really get sore!!!

These are typical lake cottages we saw throughout the Trent-Severn Waterway.

People in Canada love to fish more than anywhere we’ve been. They fish from their boats, shore, docks and bridges (all the places they wave from of course) and it’s not just the guys out there fishing. We saw couples, kids, families, and grandparents. Everyone fishes! On this trip to Fenelon Falls it really sunk in that we were in Canada when we saw one boy fishing with what I’ll call a Canadian fishing pole. It wasn’t just any fishing pole but a hockey stick rigged up for fishing. Like I said, they love to fish.

Fenelon Falls is home to fellow Loopers Norm and Barb Hewton who we met in Ft Myers, Florida on a boat called Beta Omega. After tying up to the dock that is adjacent to the falls created by the Fenelon Falls Lock (Lock #34) we made our way to the Hewton’s home. As seems to always be the case, and this was no exception, we were greeted with open arms and had a great visit. From Hewton’s riverside home we were able to view our Kismet from the granite bluff overlooking the river, I guess you could say it resembled a small fjord. Such is the beauty of Canada.

As you can see the 5-mile canal before the Kirkfield Lift-Lock does not give you much room to negotiate a pass.

The area after Fenelon Falls brought us to the Balsam Lake/Kirkfield Lock area, which has some interesting aspects to it as it relates to boating. As we worked our way past Balsam Lake, towards the Kirkfield Lift-Lock (Lock #39), we came to a 5-mile stretch of man-made canal. The canal creates a navigation challenge because it is not only long but it is narrow. It was narrow enough that two boats passing each other becomes a very difficult and potentially dangerous task and therefore a securité call is typically required before you enter. The man-made canal was dug into rock, creating a canyon that ascends straight down into the water. Over the years the canal sides have grown back with trees and vegetation, which gives you the feeling of navigating through a gorge.

The Kirkfield Lift-Lock, our second and last pan-style lock on the TSW, is the highest point on the TSW. My research found that it is often claimed to be the highest point on earth to which a vessel can be navigated to from sea level. Whether it’s true or not, once we were securely tied up in the lift, our views were unencumbered and provided magnificent vistas far off into the Canadian countryside. The lift dropped us a thrilling 49 feet as we started to make our descent down the balance of the TSW heading ever closer to Georgian Bay, then only a few days away.

Sitting at the top of the world hoping the lift pan doesn’t spring a leak!

We made it to the Gamebridge Lock (Lock #41), on this side of Lake Simcoe where we tied up to the lock’s wall for the night with our friends Rick and Mary from another Kismet, also from Michigan, whom we had been traveling with for several weeks. Our dockage was out in the country next to a pasture with cows roaming the countryside near an early season cornfield. We took advantage of the remaining daylight to swim under the boat to clean the weeds off the prop we had collected during the days travel. We had so much vegetation attached to the prop and shaft that our motoring capabilities had become very cumbersome, so much so that it felt like we had a bent prop. After several dives the removal was complete and the next day all was back to normal. We spent an enjoyable evening playing games with Rick and Mary taking pleasure in the purple haze over the countryside and a spectacular sunset.

Boats typically tie up to the lock walls while transiting the TSW, as shown here in Gamebridge.

Our trip from the Gamebridge Lock to our anchorage, this side of the Big Chute, took us through two more locks and a gorgeous countryside as we worked our way to the end of the TSW and the last lock. Not wanting to rush things we chose Lost Channel, a few miles before the Big Chute Marine Railway Lift-Lock, to anchor for a few days. Our Lost Channel anchorage was surrounded by a large number of well-protected coves that one could spend weeks exploring. Even though there are cottages intermittently lining the shore they are tucked up behind trees, which made our experience seem like we were sequestered in a more remote, wilderness setting.

From Lost Channel we spent hours in our dinghy exploring the endless coves, being amazed at every turn how wonderful it all was. On one such trip we made our way to the Big Chute Marine Railway Lift-Lock (Lock #44). We docked our dinghy and ventured by foot over to the lift so we could gain some first hand knowledge watching other boats being lifted out of the water and down the 60 feet to the waters below on the other side. Lisa describes the Big Chute this way: “boats are loaded onto a carriage contraption that moves up a hill, over a street, toward a cliff that descends 60 feet down to the water. All this begins even as boats are still getting settled into their sling.”

A slight breeze, blue sky and otters at play made Lost Channel a relaxing place to call home for two days.

The Big Chute operates on an incline plane to lift boats out of the water on one side, onto a cradle with a drop of 60 feet on the other side. The Big Chute is the only marine railway lift in North America and has been in use since 1923. I felt more comfortable, after our visit by dinghy, knowing how the Big Chute worked and what to expect when we made our trip the next day. Let the fun begin!

Back at our Lost Channel anchorage we spent a relaxing afternoon soaking up the sun and tranquil surroundings. Only an occasional fishing boat zipping by on the way to their favorite fishing hole interrupted the still of the water. It was so quiet we almost missed the playful antics of a family of otters as they swam near shore. There were four of them that provided us entertainment during happy hour. It appeared that the dad otter was harvesting sticks and branches for their otter house. He’d swim under water for about 100 feet; his head would pop up out of the water to carefully find the perfect branch to haul back to the house where mom otter would supervise the construction process (sound familiar?). As mom and dad were working away, trip after trip the two children otters were off splashing in the water playing tag with each other. Once in awhile the mom otter would swim over to rein them in to enlist their help back at the construction site. The kids helped for a few minutes but then were back off doing backstrokes and playing tag with each other. This otter family amused us for the better part of an hour, which gave me time to reflect on how our kids did much the same when it came to household chores when they were young.

Lisa getting set for our Big Chute ride!
The Big Chute lift carries a boat down to the lower level, as spectators watch on the steps nearby. These boats are being lifted up to the higher level. The Big Chute can lift boats up to 60 feet long.

The next day we approached the Big Chute with confidence as we were lifted out of the water. Twenty percent of Kismet hanging out of the back of the carriage made for an exciting ride as we descended the 60 feet for a short ride to our 110th and last lock of this part of our Loop. Overall, the TSW was as unique, interesting, rewarding and beautiful as any waters we’ve had the pleasure to navigate, but that’s for you to decide once you make the trip because I firmly believe “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”