I have wanted to travel through the locks of the Trent Severn Waterway for many years. We toyed with the idea of renting a houseboat, like so many others, but after some investigation it seems that since they move so slowly we would only be able to see a small portion of the waterway in any reasonable time.
Next thought was to see if it was possible to do it in our boat. It is a 19 foot bowrider, meant mainly for day trips but is very wide and had a nice wide bench seat.
First I had to see if I could sleep in it. I built a folding “table” that would partly sit on the bench and extend its width standing on some legs. I made sure it could be taken apart and stowed during the day. I borrowed some Thermarest inflatable mattresses and bought a foam mattress topper. Using a sleeping bag, it seeded that it would be comfortable enough.
By now I realized that I would be going by myself since there was not really enough room to remotely comfortably sleep 2.
Thankfully the boat came with a fully enclosed cover that is mostly rainproof but with everything up it gets very hot very quickly inside. I cut up some screen material and attached some Velcro to it so I could replace the plastic side windows and get some ventilation when rain was not expected.
The full cover has a lot of windows, so to get some privacy when I would be parked next to other boats I cut up some extra black out curtains that we had. I used Velcro and large clips so that I could hang then on all the windows.
I planned to overnight at some of the locks, which all have washrooms but I would have to spend at least one night in the wilderness so I bought a portable toilet.
To keep some of my food cold I borrowed a power Koolatron cooler. During the day the engine running would keep the batteries charged to run the cooler but a night I was worried that it would drain the battery and I would not be able to start the engine in the morning. The boat is wired with an A/B/both switch so I put the deep cycle battery that I use for my telescope as the B battery. During the night I switched to only use the B battery. In the morning I switched to A to start the engine and then to both to get them charged again.
For navigation I have the Navionics GPS based nautical chart program on my large tablet. It will automatically calculate routes between two points, which I mostly agreed with but you can force to it go where you want if needed. I also had the program installed on another tablet and had backup paper charts just in case. The GPS was a godsend because it would have been very difficult to follow the rather complicated route if I had to steer and try to figure out where I was on paper charts.
Finally I bought some appropriately sized bins so that I could stow all my clothes, food, etc., in the floor ski locker, under the bench seat and a bin in front of the driver’s seat.
I tried sleeping in the boat at our dock one night to be sure I could actually get a somewhat comfortable nights sleep. It was OK but I did need to make some adjustments.
Normally the boat has a large tarp on it when at our dock. We have only occasionally used the full cover when we have been caught on day trips by rain. I left the cover on through a few rainstorms at the dock to really test it. There were a few seams that needed waterproofing and a few places that the runoff needed to be directed but now I was sure that I wouldn’t get soaked during a storm.
I knew that I wanted to get to at Peterborough and see the giant lift lock. After that, towards Trenton, I had read that the scenery was mostly farm land and not that interesting. I figured 2 days each way down and back on Georgian Bay. I had no idea how long it would take me to get through the locks but I hoped that the 6 day pass that they sold would get me from Severn to Peterborough and back.
Now I just needed to figure out when to go. I guessed that I would need about 10 days to do the trip and we have had a lot of guests this summer so I didn’t want to be away for them or take the boat away in case they wanted it.
The trip from our cottage to the entrance to the Waterway at Port Severn is about 400 km with several long stretches that are open to the full force of any waves from Georgian Bay. I know the boat can handle just about anything I would see but it would not be comfortable so I wanted to at least have calm water going down.
I toyed with the idea of trailering the boat to Severn because once on the Waterway I would mostly not need to worry about wind (except for Lake Simcoe). Even though it added days to the trip I am glad I started at the cottage because the scenery down the east coast of Georgian Bay was actually the most beautiful part of the trip.
Finally on August 16 we had the required gap in guests, with at least a short term forecast for calm water. I spent the 15th packing the boat and the early Monday on the 16th, off I went.
Away I go
The first leg of the trip takes me about 100 km to Killarney for lunch.
Going under the swing bridge at Little Current. It is the only way to get on to Manitoulin Island by car. It is a one way bridge so car traffic has to alternate. It opens on the hour for 10 minutes for tall boats to go through. My boat is not tall so I can pass under it anytime.
Passing by the lighthouse just after Little Current. As you can see the lake is fairly calm.
Into the channel at Killarney.
Lunch at Herbert Fisheries.
My cousins and my family have made the trip here for lunch several times. The fish and chips are great but it sure makes for an expensive lunch when it costs us between $100 and $200 in gas to do the round trip.
Trying to do social distancing by eating in the boat. Most people are being pretty good here.
Moving on after filling up with gas. I usually tried to fill up before half a tank because I was unsure of access to marinas.
My path to the secluded bay I chose to spend the night. From the route you can see that I didn’t take the direct route. I wanted to explore as many nooks and crannies as possible. This path is about 100 km.
First was a bit of open water. It was starting to get a bit bouncy. Then into protected Collins Inlet.
Long and narrow and calm. It’s a bit out of the way but the calm water made it more than worth it.
I usually run the boat at around 50 to 60 kph so it was nice to zip through here. The boat can do about 75 kph but it really starts to eat gas.
Exiting Collins Inlet, the next section was a long stretch of open water. By now it had gotten rather rough, with rolling 2 –3 foot waves. I had to slow down to about 15 kph so this part took a long tedious time. I was also fairly far from shore with no other boats in sight.
As I was heading back into the more protected part of the route some lighthouses appeared on these low rocky islands.
The next part was nice and protected but there were lots of narrow channels and twists and turns. I really had to be careful to be between the buoys.
This was a really beautiful section but, unfortunately, because I was paying so much attention to the GPS and buoys I didn't take many pictures.
As I was getting close to my destination, there was a huge wind farm.
I stayed the night in this long narrow bay protected from any waves. It was flat calm all night.
These shots are from the morning.
I set an anchor at the back and front of the boat and had a quiet night. There were lots of mosquitoes here so I was glad I had the screens for ventilation and that I got them up in time.
I heated up some pre made Kraft Dinner on the camp stove placed on the back deck. I was pretty tired so it was an early night.
In the morning as I was getting up I heard a scratching sound around the boat. Looking out saw a V wave heading for shore and eventually a mink popped out and ran into the woods. I have no idea why it would have any interest in the boat.
On to Parry Sound for lunch with a stop at Byng Inlet for gas. Another 90 km.
Then back out to the open water, again a long way from shore The waves weren’t too bad today so I could go a bit faster.
You really have to be careful that you are on the right side of the buoys. There were some pretty narrow channels even in what looked like open water because of the submerged shoals.
Why would anyone want a place way out on these flat rocky islands.
Once I was back in the protected part of the small craft route there were a lot more cottages.
Some had a long climb up from the water.
It was getting greyer and a light rain started as I got closer to Parry Sound.
This is a picture of the lighthouse on the way back. Much sunnier.
I nice protected bay where boaters were spending the night. (also on the way back)
A quick stop in Parry Sound for gas and then I just sat in the harbour and had lunch with the top up in the rain.
A friend of my brothers had offered to let me spend the night docked at his summer home near Midland which was about another km south.
Heading out the narrow channel south of Parry Sound.
I am not sure why but I didn’t take any pictures along the next section. It was very crowded cottage country.
Here is my berth for the night.
My brother came up from Barrie and we had a nice swim and chat, along with getting pizza for dinner. The grounds of this place are amazing as they are avid gardeners and there were lots of exotic plants and sculptures.
I slept in the boat but they left the basement door open so that I could use their bathroom. I was a bit worried about docking on the open Georgian Bay but the dock faces south and is in the bay for Midland so it was nice and calm all night, after the boat traffic died down.
A calm morning.
Here is my path for the first day in the waterway. Across the bay to Lock 45 at Port Severn, winding my way to Lake Couchiching and Simcoe, then back into the waterway to spend the night at Lock 37 at Bolsover.
Heading across the glassy smooth bay from Midland.
You have to weave your way through a long narrow buoyed channel to get to the lock, just after you cross under Hwy 400.
The locks open at 9 am. I got there about 8:30 . Once the staff got there I went up and purchased my 6 day pass. The cost was $5.10 a foot because the longer you are the less boats they can fit into the lock at a time. You can also get single day, single lock, seasonal or one way passes that allow you to go one direction from either Trenton to Severn or the other way.
in the Severn Lock with one other small boat and a 50 foot yacht. Once he was in far enough for the doors to close his bow anchor was almost hanging over the boat beside me.
The locks work using only gravity, with no pumps. To raise the boats, the doors are closed and gates are opened at the bottom of the high side. The water flows into the lock until it is level with the high side and the release of pressure allows the doors to open. To go down the upper gates are closed and gates on the lower doors are opened until the water matches the lower level. When closed the doors are angled in towards the upstream side. Then when the water is high on the upstream side, the water pressure forces the doors closed.
On most of the locks the doors and gates are opened and closed by the lock attendants manually turning geared wheels. On the newer, busy locks in the middle of the system they have hydraulic rams to do the dirty work.
To hold your boat steady as you go up or down there are cables draped down the side of the lock about every 10 feet. With two people in the boat, one person at the bow and one person at the stern wrap (but does not tie) a line around a cable and holds it as the line slips up or down the cable.
With only me in the boat, I put extra long line on the stern cleats. As I idled up to whichever side they told me to use I would quickly wrap the stern line around a cable and then drag the end back into the boat and try and grab the cable near the center of the boat with another line before the boat floated away from the wall. Most times I made it but sometimes I had to use a boat hook to grab the cable as I floated away. Then I would just hold both lines until they were done.
After we were up it was out across Gloucester Pond and then through some narrow slow channels. In all the slow spots the speed limit was 10 kph, which was supposed to give no wake but seemed SO slow.
Then to the second “lock” which is the Big Chute Marine Railway.
Up we go.
For us small boats a post rises up in the center to lift a sling which lift the back of our boats. The bow rests on the wooden floor. Personal watercraft just ride on the floor.Very large boats get slings on the bow and stern that lift then completely off the floor.
You can see the cable that pulls the carriage up and over the hill. The tracks for the front and back of the carriage are at different heights to keep the carriage level as is climbs the hill.
The next lock at Swift Rapids has the highest lift in the system. The doors on the low end are simply massive.
Talk about feeling very small when the doors close.
The next section, to Lake Couchiching, was narrow and slow with the 10 kph speed limit except for a short blast across Sparrow Lake.
There were a few empty parts but it was mostly lined with side by side cottages.
The thing I didn’t understand is that a lot of these places had big, powerful, fast boats but they were many kilometres from any place that they could run them at any faster than 10 kph. It would drive me crazy to have to drive that slow for so long to get out to the big lakes.
Tough to pull your boat up here.
An old boat lift that I am pretty sure is not in use any more.
These people had a caboose on their property.
It was wonderful to be able to speed up and cool off once I made it to Lake Couchiching.
When I got to the narrows at the entrance to Lake Simcoe I figured I had better check the forecast. Simcoe can get some wicked storms with very large waves especially with a west wind. It is quite shallow, in that it never seemed to get deeper than about 40 feet, so the waves can build up easily.
It was very hazy and looked like it might be raining in the south. The forecast actually called for a 30% chance of thunderstorms. BUT it was essentially flat calm now and I couldn’t see any thunderclouds. So I just put the pedal to the metal and blasted across as fast as the boat would go.It is about 20 km to the entrance to the next part of the waterway and the direct route takes you fairly far from shore. With the haze, about all I could see was lake and no other boats.
After Simcoe, the next section is man made and is about a 5 km straight ditch with 4 locks in a row. Its about a km in to the first one, all at 10 kph and then once you exit one you can see then next in the distance.
Here I was the only one in the locks and the operators would call ahead to the next lock so that it was waiting for me in the down position and could just cruise right in.
Normally, when filling the locks, they start by only opening the gates a bit so that the in rushing water doesn't bounce the boats around a lot. Since I was the only one in the lock they had me stay at the back so they could fully open the gates right away and the lock fills much faster.
In planning the trip I had no idea how far I could get each day so I just played it by ear. By now it was near 5 pm and I was getting tired so I decided to stay at the next lock, 37 at Bolsover.
Each lock has long walls where you can tie up both above and below the lock. There is a section of the wall marked with a blue line. If you tie up there it means you want to go through the lock as soon as possible. If you tie up anywhere else you can just visit. There are washrooms, picnic tables and small parks.
This is one of the higher ones. You can walk across when the doors are closed.
You can also stay overnight at each lock for $0.92 a foot. You can either stay in our boat or pitch a tent on the parkland. The washrooms are also locked at night with a code that you receive so that only the boaters can use them.
I decided to stay above the lock so that I could get a slightly earlier start tomorrow. My parking spot for the night. One other boat joined me and they tented.
In the morning is was quite foggy but it burned off quickly. This also meant that the boat top was covered in dew so I had to wipe it off before I put it away.
My path for the day.
Off I go on a beautiful calm morning across some small interconnected lakes
For most boats, this swing bridge would have to open but with the top down I could just squeeze under it.
An interesting bridge.
Up until now I had hardly seen any big boats going the other way.
Into another long, slow, man made channel.
To the Kirkfield Lift Lock.
This is a smaller version of the Peterborough Lift Lock. I stayed overnight here on the way back..
There are two huge tubs mounted on giant pistons. They just add about 1 foot of water to the current top tub. The extra weight over the lower tub causes the tub to start dropping. As the pistons are connected the water in the one is forced into the lower one causing it to rise. At the bottom they let the extra water out until they are balanced again.
Once in the tub, since the water level around you never changes as you move up or down, there are no cables and you can just grab the handrail along the side.
Once they start moving it only takes 45 second to complete a cycle.
In I go.
It’s not so impressive when you approach from the high side.
Kirkfield is the highest elevation lock in the system. For now on I will be going down in the locks to lower level water.
Into another long narrow channel. You should never pass someone in these channels. They seem even narrower when you squeeze by a big boat going the other way.
Then back out to more interconnected lakes with lots of cottages.
At this place, they really liked to sit outside. SO many chairs.
I encountered my first rental houseboats near the Fenlon Falls lock.
At the Buckhorn lock, this huge houseboat (note the hot tub on the top), caused a long slow down.
When he entered the lock he somehow got himself jammed sideways across the lock. This is a busy lock so there is lots of staff but it still took about 20 minutes to get him straightened out.
As it was obvious that the captain was unsure of him, everyone watched very nervously as he exited.
More high speed lakes to blast across.
It got so hot that at one point the tablet that runs the GPS navigation app overheated and shutdown, even though I have it mounted in a shaded cover with white paint to try and deflect the heat. Since I was not comfortable proceeding without it, I took a break and put the table into the cooler to help it recover. It wasn't long before it would start again but had also brought a small 12 volt fan so I plugged it in and aimed it at the tablet for the rest of the day.
I decided to spend the night at the Young’s Point Lock, number 27. BY now it was almost 5 pm and the locks close at 5:30 on weekdays. I tied up and went to talk to the attendant but he told me that their washrooms were broken. He said I should go on to the Lakefield lock. He also gave me the washroom code there in case I didn’t make it before the close closed and the staff left.
It’s only about 7 km but there were a bunch of slow section so I did arrive after 5:30 but thankfully there was still someone there because I found out they had showers and she gave me the key. It’s an extra $3 charge but it was really worth it. The last days had been extremely hot and it is even worse sitting down at the bottom of the locks with no wind to help. It was a great feeling to get cleaned up.
They have a huge wall here for parking but there was only one other boat sending the night.
My brother had been recently biking near here and recommended that I walk to a nearby bakery.I didn’t do it because I just didn’t feel comfortable leaving the boat full of expensive electronic stuff out in a fairly isolated area. I saw other people do it but I rationalized by saying that my man purpose was to see the locks and I could do the touristy stuff another time.
As I said my ultimate destination was Peterborough. Lakefield is only about 16 km from Peterborough harbour but I would have to go through 7 locks to get there. They are also the slow manual locks. It was another very hot day and it took almost 3 hours one way.
I convoyed from lock to lock with this other boat.
I am not sure what the flags meant on this but I loved the netting to keep the kids safe.
Passed by Trent University.
To the top of the Peterborough Lift Lock.
We had to wait for this tour boat to exit the lock. It travels up from Peterborough, goes up the lock, up the canals a short way and turns around and comes back.
We actually had to wait for it to come back and join us for the trip down.
My spot was right at the front.
I pulled over at the bottom to take a few pictures.
It turns out I should have just followed the tour boat out back to the harbour. Just a short way farther along there is a very low swing bridge just before the last lock into the harbour. Even with the top down there was no way I was getting under it. Normally the people at the lift lock phone ahead when boats are coming so that someone mans the bridge but because I stopped no one saw me leave so I got to the bridge (which I did not know about) and had no idea what to do.
I finally walked the short distance down to the lock and someone came and opened it for me.
My final destination. I just took a picture of the giant fountain in the harbour to mark that I had made it.
Since there was nothing I really wanted to do here I just cruised around and decided to head back to Lakefield (and the showers).
Back through the first lock out of the harbour. I loved the garden on the back of this boat. I guess he never goes fast or in rough water.
We proceeded through the locks as a convoy of 5 boats. Boats dropped off as they reached their destination until I was the only one left going to Lakefield. There was one very deep lock where the doors already open so we went in and tied up but no one came out to run the lock. We tried yelling several times and finally had to phone them. I am amazed the phone worked that far down in the lock. I think the staff were just too comfortable in the nice air conditioned office and never noticed us come up river.
Back at Lakefield there were a lot more boats tonight.
I had a shower as soon as I got here because it had been like a sauna in the locks. Then I had to have a another one before I went to bed because there was no wind to keep me cool.
The guys across the way really liked to talk. One of them had that deep announcer voice that just seems to carry forever. I couldn’t hear a word his friend said but I could hear every one of his. Learned way too much about his life.
People’s behaviour here made me think about all during the trip people were acting like Covid was not a thing anymore. People from different boats would walk up and sit at a neighbour's picnic table to have a chat. No mask or distancing. You’ll notice here that I stayed on the opposite side from everyone else.
All through the trip almost no one wore a mask. Sometimes you could see that people were trying to keep their distance but not very often. I tried to keep myself safe by mostly staying in the boat but getting gas you have to get out while they fill your tank. On the dock I could usually keep away from everyone and always wore my mask when going in to pay but I sure stood out. I hope everyone was double vaxed because they sure weren’t being very cautious. Even the National Parks attendants at the locks!
Another beautiful, calm but again very hit day to head back.
A church for cottagers, only accessible by water.
This huge catamaran (had to be at least 50 feet long) crowded into one of the lock with us. So much space for just a young couple.
Back into the lock at Fenlon Falls.
I though I would tie up here, walk around and maybe get an ice cream.
BUT the only ice cream place I could see had about 15 people in line, no masks and not much distancing so I just grabbed my first really cold drink in a while (a Pepsi from Subway) and moved on.
I spent the night back below the Kirkfield lift lock, along with three other boats. One was a large yacht, 3 guys were camping, and the couple in the other boat (similar to mine) were sleeping in theirs as well.
I got there early enough that I sat and watched in action a few times before they closed.
My path for the day.
The next morning I joined a convoy in that straight set of locks out to Lake Simcoe.
Lake Simcoe was again calm but it was clearer now and I could see other boats so it was a normal speed crossing.
Once I was back in the slow section above Lake Couchiching, we bunched up at the first lock and then I was part of a long convoy.
I was in the convoy until we came to a low swing bridge. I could just lower the top and squeeze under while everyone else had to wait for it to be open. It is much nicer to be by yourself because you don’t feel the wake or smell the exhaust from the boat in front of you.
Then back over the Big Chute Railway.
The big boys get two straps.
I spent the night moored below.
It was a long walk up to the washrooms. These tracks are from an earlier version of the marine railway.
My path for the day.
The next morning I wasn't sure how far I would go. I got up and waited for the last lock at Severn to open, then I head north along the coast of Georgian Bay. I didn’t take the detour into Parry Sound and took more direct routes along the coast so I got to the spot where I had spent my first night at only pm.
There are no more pictures for the rest of the trip because I used most of the ones I took going home earlier in the post.
The lake only had a slight chop on it and in the open sections I could still go at my normal speed, sort of hopping from wave crest to crest.
I decided that I would just head back to the cottage today. I git back to Killarney at pm.
I probably should have stayed there for the night. Once I got past Little Current there is a long open section which by now had very large waves. I had to slow right down to avoid damaging the boat. It was very tedious crossing. Once I was past that my route was sheltered enough that I could again go at speed but it was still pretty bouncy.
I left Big Chute at 8:30 am and got back to the cottage at 7:30 pm so it was a long 11 hours and about 350 km in the boat but it was worth it to get a nice long hot shower and my own bed again.
So I was gone 8 days and 7 nights. I really enjoyed the trip and it was a checkmark off my bucket list. It would have been nice to have someone go along with me but it was pretty crowded in the boat as it was.
A great trip!