Trent-Severn Waterway and Peterborough Lift Lock

132 Days Looping
1,984.1 Nautical Miles Total (2,238.3 Statute Miles)
131.0 Nautical Miles This Week
23.5 Hours Underway This Week
7.2 NMph Average Speed
21 Locks This Week, 125 Total Locks

Monday – Aug 19th – 33.7 NM – 1 Lock – To: Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
Monday we had a nice long lake run on Rice Lake to Peterborough. We only had one lock to do, an it was just before we reached Peterborough. We cast off at 9:00 and headed into Rice Lake. Rice lake is 20 miles long with relatively deep water (20 ft or so). The path through the lake is well marked, and aside from a few channels between islands where there is a 5.5 knot speed limit, we were able to open up the engines and blow out some carbon (Hope that makes you happy Michael!) We ran at about 20 KMph for most of the crossing, slowing down for the speed zones and when crossing a “submerged railway”. There used to be a 2.5 mile long railroad tressel that crossed the middle of the lake. It’s been torn down, but the piers are still there just below the surface. There is about a 150 ft clear area that you have to pass through, it’s marked with two small buoys but you don’t want to miss it.

After leaving Rice Lake, we followed the Otonabee River for the rest of the trip into Peterborough. The first part was lined with dead trees on the banks (which means they could also be floating just under the surface) so we took it slow. Once we got a bit farther along, it became fairly built up with lots of homes and camps so we had to run at 6 KMph again for much of it.

We reached the first lock in Peterborough, Scotts Mills (Lock #19) just after 1:00. We had a short wait for a boat heading down stream to lock through, and being one of the oldest locks on the system, the hand cranks and sluices that fill and drain the lock are very slow. Like many of the Locks on the Trent-Severn, the dam next to the lock was under construction. While we were waiting, we watched several workers in a boat working downstream of the dam, and another worker on the edge taking concrete blocks, and placing them carefully in the water. We were wondering what he was doing, when a diver suddenly popped up and climbed out of the water.

After locking through, we headed into Peterborough, past Lock #20, which we would be going through when we continue on Wednesday, and into Little Lake where our marina was located. In Little Lake they have a fountain in the middle of the lake that shoots a 15″ stream of water 250 ft into the air, we passed the fountain (the wind was blowing away from us so we didn’t get wet), and pulled into the marina at 1:30.

After tying up and checking in, we walked into downtown Peterborough to check it out. Peterborough has a 1960’s feel to the downtown. There are not a lot of old historic structures. The largest building in town is a factory along the river run by Quaker Oats where they make packaged oatmeal and energy bars.

After walking around for a while, after a 65 degree start, it was in the mid 80’s by afternoon so we went back to the boat and cooled down. In the evening we went to a local restaurant for dinner, and then walked through Millenium park that runs along the waterfront on the way back. When we got back to the boat, our neighbor on the next dock the Island Princess III that does cruise tours of the lift locks was just pulling in. As the sun started to set, the mist from the fountain turned into rainbows. It was very impressive!

Tuesday – Aug 20th – 0 NM – In: Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday we had an in port day. We wanted to go to the Lift Lock and watch it in operation before we went through ourselves, and also visit the Museum and visitor center. Parks Canada who run the locks and the canal, has a series of Geocaches that if you complete 4 of them, they give you a special Trent-Severn Waterway Geocoin. Peterborough has a couple of universities and the whole city is criss-crossed with bike paths, one of which follows the canal to the locks. We broke out the bikes and took off down path, across a converted railway bridge, and down to Lock 20 which we passed on the way to the marina. We stopped and watched some boats lock through, it’s pretty much a standard lock. We then went to the swing bridge just after the lock and found our first Geocache. We then rode up the canal and got our first sight of Lock 21, the Peterborough Lift Lock.

Picture two olympic swimming pools, side by side, with large boats floating in them, attached to elevators 6 and a half stories tall. When one goes up, the other comes down. The lock was built from 1898 to 1904 and given the age in which it was built it is an engineering marvel. It is still the tallest lock of it’s kind in the world. Still operational 115 years later with only minor updates for safety and automation.

We arrived on the downstream side, took a bunch of photos, then climbed up to the top of the lock to the upstream side to do our second Geocache and watch some boats lock up and down. On the down side, was a 40 ft cruiser and a small C-Dory boat. On the upside was a pontoon boat, and a canoe with 20 grade school kids who had paddled up to the lock from Peterborough, and where taking a ride up, then back down.

The lock operators loaded the down side, it was neat to watch a boat pull into what is basically an infinity pool, with the exposed edge 65 ft up! The two down boats got settled, and they closed the door. Then they had to wait 15 minutes for the kids to paddle up the waterway into the lock. Finally they closed the lower lock door and the lockmaster came on the intercom and announced they would begin “The Transfer” Oooooooo! We watched as he threw some switches and punched some buttons… Nothing. He did a reboot of the panel, and again nothing. After playing with buttons and chatting on his radio for about 10 minutes, he jumped in his truck and drove to the bottom. A few minutes later, the locks started to move, we could hear them on the radio and they had to take it up “inches” at a time. The transfer completed and the boats exited the lock. Phew! Glad that wasn’t us!

We rode the bikes under the lock, yes, UNDER, there is a roadway that passes directly under the main lock chambers, and to the visitor center. In the visitor center we walked around and viewed the displays on the construction of the lock. At the time, it was the largest concrete structure built, it has no rebar it’s a solid pour. All of the construction was done with hand and some steam power. Quite amazing! We left the visitor center and rode the bikes up to the other side of the lock where there was another Geocache in our series. While we were there, we saw them successfully transfer a couple of boats.

From the lift lock, we rode back down along the canal to the Parks Canada administration center next to lock 20, and got the last Geocache in the series, then rode back to the boat. When we returned it was almost 4:00, we put away the bikes, and I took a walk to the local marine supply and a sporting goods store looking for some propane tanks without any luck. When I got back, we walked to the snack bar at the marina and had something cold to drink before dinner. I checked in with the marina staff and found that they sell propane tanks there at the marina! What luck! We also got word that they had closed the Lift Lock due to a “maintenance issue”, so we were not sure if our plans to transit tomorrow would work out.

For dinner we walked back through the Millenium park to the Brick House, a micro-brewery burger joint for dinner.

Wednesday – Aug 21st – 29.2 NM -11 Locks – To: Buckhorn, Ontario, Canada
I woke up early 5:30 and checked on Twitter to see if there were any updates on the Lift Lock. Overnight they had tweeted that they expected the lock to be open for normal operations. Super! We got the boat ready and pulled away from our slip at 8:00 and went to the fuel dock to top off with diesel and pump-out. While we were taking on 200 gallons (which takes a about 30 minutes) we chatted with the dock hand and mentioned that we were Geocachers. She had seen references to it but did not know what Geocaching was. We explained it and she got really excited! We gave her the sign-up info and Brenda showed here the Geocaching App. When the tanks were finally topped off, we pulled away from Peterborough and approached Lock #20 Ashburnham. We had visited this lock the day before on the bikes and, aside from being old, it was a pretty standard lock. We arrived at about 9:10 and called the lock. They told us there was a down-bound boat and that we would have to wait. It took about 30 minutes for them to get the boat through, mostly because the lock (and the staff) was slow.

We got into the lock at around 10:00, and it was 10:15 by the time we cleared the swing bridge that is just after the lock. About 500 ft after the swing bridge is a swinging railroad bridge that is normally in the open position. We’d passed it yesterday on the bikes, and it looked operational, but not often used. As we approached, I heard ringing bells, and saw that the crossing lights on the road next to the bridge were flashing. The bridge hadn’t started to move yet, and there was no evidence of a train waiting, so I put on a bit of speed, and we zipped past the bridge. We then rounded the corner and got our second view of the Peterborough Lift Lock (Lock #21). We wanted to claim our Geocaching prize for doing the 4 lock related caches so we pulled over to the dock at the visitor center and tied up the boat. The Lock attendant came over and said that it would be 15 minutes before we could load, which worked out perfect for us. We walked up the hill to the visitor center turned in our punch-card and were rewarded with a beautiful Geocoin!

The guide at the visitor center called up to the lock to let them know we were ready, and they said that they were ready for us to load into the chamber. We untied the boat, and pulled up into the giant bathtub at 10:30! We were the only boat going up, but we had to wait for about 10 minutes while they loaded two down-bound boats into the upper chamber. The Lockmaster came on the PA system, welcomed us to the lock and said that the transfer would start shortly. A few seconds later, we felt ourselves start to rise. It was amazingly smooth! Hardly a ripple in the water. The ride up takes about 90 seconds. It was cool to watch as the boat rose higher and higher. We waved to the down-bounders as we passed mid lift. We got to within about 5 feet of the top, and the lift stopped. We could see the operator in the control tower, and like the day before, he was pushing buttons and turning switches like mad! Ok, we’re stuck in the elevator, 60 ft in the air! After about 10 minutes of trying to get the lock to move, he came on the PA system, and informed us that they would have to “adjust” the weight in the lower chamber by opening some sluices in the top door and dump water into the lower chamber (oh and they might get wet). The sluice doors opened and two huge streams of water cascaded out about 60 feet and into the lower chamber adding water and weight. After after a few minutes, the lift started to move again, and we finished our lift! We pulled out of the chamber at 11:00. Our original plan was to turn around and do take the ride down and back up, however given the issues with the lock we didn’t want to push our luck and get stuck at the bottom again.

Note: We heard that they closed the lock again shortly after we went through for several hours, and for part of the next day. On Saturday, they plan a “Paddle the Lock” event where they have a couple of hundred kayaks and canoes all cram into the chamber to try to set a record for the most boats in the chamber. This year, they will do it at night with lights on all the boats.

Our original goal for the day was clearing the Lift Lock and heading to the town and lock called Bobcaygeon about 35 miles and 9 locks ahead. Given the delays going through Peterborough, we were not sure that we’d make it, but as there were a number of locks we’d be passing through we had options for stopping early.

We cruised through the middle of Trent University on the outskirts of Peterborough, a very architecturally interesting place. 4 miles beyond the Lift Lock we came to Nassau Mills (Lock #22) a 14 ft lift. This lock is modern and mostly hydraulic so we got through this one pretty quickly.

Next was Otonabee (Lock #23) with a 12 ft lift, just a half mile later, the door was open and we pulled right in for another quick lift. Parks Canada is doing a massive dam re-construction project on this section of the Trent-Severn canal and there was a lot of construction activity next to the lock. The lock staff however still kept their lock looking great with beautiful flowers. As we pulled out of the lock, there were divers in the water so we had to make a wide swing and take it slow as we passed.

Two and a half miles later was Douro (Lock #24) again being late in the season paid off as we were able to pull right into the lock with no wait for a another 12 ft lift. In their garden, they had painted flat rocks with the Flag Alphabet for Welcome. Very cute.

A mile on and we reached Sawyer Creek (Lock #25) and again they were open and waiting for us, and again there was a lot of construction on the adjacent dam. After our 10 ft lift, we met a canoeist that was heading down stream. Usually, canoes and kayaks have to portage around the locks (carry their boats) but because of the limited access due to construction and low traffic, they were putting him through the lock right after we left. The lock staff told us that there was another boat already in the lock at Lakefield Lock, less than a mile ahead that was waiting for us, so we “slightly” exceeded 6 mph, the speed limit, to get there so that they would not have to wait too long.

When we reached Lakefield (Lock #26) which is a 16 ft lift, the other boat was in and waiting so we pulled in beside them and they water started rising before we had fully tied off and before the back doors were closed! I guess they were in a hurry for lunch! When we were approaching Lakefield, we could see a huge smokestack and were wondering that it was for. As we reached the top of the lock, we could see that it was the Savage Arms company, a Canadian manufacturer of rifles and shotguns. We pulled out of Lakefield behind the other cruiser which was a family from Ontario and down a long narrow channel, and passed some very interesting houseboats before entering Katchewanooka Lake.

For almost the entire day, we’d been limited to 5.5 knots (6 MPH) due to speed restrictions as the channel is very narrow and they are experiencing erosion problems so it’s a strict no-wake policy. When we reached the lakes, we had hoped to make up some time by going fast. NOT! The lakes here are filled with islands and rocks that are either just above or more worryingly just below the surface. On the map they look like big open lakes but most have the 5.5 knot speed restriction as you have to pick your way through a minefield of rocks and boulders keeping very aware of the markers.

We also started to meet many Houseboats. The area called the Kawarthas has many large interconnected lakes and there are over 20 houseboat rental companies. Most of the people renting houseboats are inexperienced, and the houseboats, unlike the “Le Boats” we’d seen on the Rideau canal, do not have rubber bumpers around them. They are essentially campers on pontoons with big flat sides and are very susceptible to wind. We already knew that we’d have a long day, but with the extensive speed restrictions, having to play dodgem with houseboats, and the locks, we decided that we would not try to get all the way to Bobcaygeon Lock, but would stop at Buckhorn Lock instead.

At 2:30, after about a 5 mile run, we reached Youngs Point (Lock #27) a 7 ft lift. After Youngs Point Lock we entered “Clear Lake” and there were a few spots where we were able to get up to 8 knots, but only for very short periods.

The next lock in the line is Burleigh Falls about 10 miles after Youngs Point. In between Clear Lake and Burleigh Falls is Stony Lake. Stony Lake lives up to its name, it’s full of large, partially submerged boulders. This is where the Loopers on Summertime Blues, that we’d most recently met in Campbellford,had run aground on a submerged boulder and severely damaged their boat costing them over 4 weeks and thousands of dollars in repairs. We picked our way through the channel watching the markers carefully and just taking our time. Stony Lake is beautiful with many small islands with beautiful cottages on them. It is also the location of St. Peterโ€™s on-the-Rock, a quaint church built on an island where the only access is by boat. We breathed a sigh of relief when we reached Burleigh Falls (Lock #28) and exited Stony Lake without incident.

Burleigh Falls is a larger lock with a 24 ft lift (it was originally two locks #28 and #29 but was combined when it was rebuilt). We went through and into Lower Buckhorn Lake.

When we go to the top of the lock where the tie-ups were, it was filled with houseboats, and given that we still had a few hours to go to Buckhorn lock our destination for the night, we started to get worried that we might not be able to get a docking spot. Lower Buckhorn lake, was pretty much like Stony Lake, full of narrow channels between rocks. Just a mile on, we reached Lovesick Lock (Lock #30), which is unique in that it is on an island and therefore remote, we thought that this might be an option for the the night, but as we approached we could see the houseboats had already filled the walls, and others were tying up to trees on some of the nearby islands.

We went through Lovesick which is only a 3.5 ft lift with a few other boats and into a more open section of Lower Buckhorn Lake. We were able to make up some time here as the water deepened and there were no speed restrictions. 6 miles later, and just 30 minutes before the locks closed at 5:30 we reached Buckhorn Lock (Lock #31). As we turned the corner and saw the lock, our hopes of spending the night there were dashed. It was a circus of houseboats. The docking walls were full, there were houseboats sideways in the channel. As we locked through the 12 ft lift, and chatted with the lockmaster about docking space, he said they were full up, but that if we came back after 5:30 we could tie up to the waiting line if there was still space. While we were lifting, a houseboat pulled into the channel in front of the lock pouring smoke out the back. The lockstaff ran over thinking the boat was on fire! Turns out there was someone on the back cooking hamburgers on a “CHARCOAL GRILL” !!! (Note: houseboats mostly use gasoline engines, the fuel tank is in the back of the boat, right under where he was cooking) We got out of there as fast as we could!

We had seen that there was a marina just a mile into Buckhorn lake and decided to try that instead. We called the marina on the phone but they office closed at 4:30, We decided to cruise past anyway. When we pulled up, there were a couple of guys putting gas in a boat. We asked if they had transient space and they said that they didn’t work there, and the marina was closed for the night. We noticed that there was an open spot on the front dock of the marina beside a boat our size. We circled out into the lake trying to decide what to do, do go back to the zoo, or do the pirate sailboat trick and dock after closing. Given that there was a good chance that there was not going to be space at the Lock anyway, we decided to take our chances at the marina. We pulled into the slip, tied off and kept an eye out for someone to come running over and kick us out. There were two guys sitting by the boat sheds who looked our way but seemed uninterested. We got tied up and found a plug to run the A/C system. I walked to the office just to check if someone was there, but all was dark. Barry, one of the guys sitting by the boats came over and explained that the staff had left early for a funeral, but that he was sure that it would be fine for us to stay and pay in the morning.

Feeling better about crashing the party, we settled in and cooked dinner on the boat, then went to bed early after a VERY long and stressful day!

Thursday – Aug 22nd – 27.4 NM – 2 Locks – To: Fenelon Falls, Ontario, Canada
After a stressful day on Wednesday, we had a shortish day on Thursday. We decided to go to Fenelon Falls where there was a very active Harbor Host and a mooring wall with power. I woke up around 6:00 and was able to catch a very nice sunrise across the lake. We had to wait for the office to open so that we could pay for our nights moring. I checked in around 8:00 and the accountant said that the “dock guy” who took payment for mooring and fuel should be in by 9:00. As I was walking back to the boat, a sailboat from Michigan that had done a quick pass last night pulled in looking for fuel and a pump-out and we chatted for a little while. 9:00 arrived and the dock guy still had not shown up. About 9:15 he finally showed up and we paid for our nights mooring (we got a deal because he felt bad about being late). He also showed us a large rock at the end of the dock we were on that we probably would have hit leaving! The water was so clear, that he just pointed and said, “There it is.”. We backed out of the slip, being careful to avoid the rock, and went out into Buckhorn Lake.

We passed a few more islands that the Anhinga (Commerants) had destroyed. I was talking with a local and found out that years ago, the water here was tea colored and murky with only about 2 ft of visibility. Then the Zebra Mussels arrived brought in by boats that moved from lake to lake. The Zebra Mussels ate all of the debris in the water which caused the water to clear, and water plants that need light and used to only grow in the shallows, to grow in deeper water. This caused the small fish population to explode, which reduced the habitat of the Sturgeon, Bass and other large game fish that need open water to run. The small fish attracted the Anhinga who eat both the fish and the zebra mussels. The Anhinga population exploded, and they took over islands, covering trees with their poop, and killing all plant life on the island. Now the Zebra mussel population is declining because of lack of food. They hope that that will cause the water to get less clear and kill the deep water plants and reduce the small fish population. Nature seems to be re-balancing herself.

After crossing Buckhorn Lake we approached Pigeon lake. As we were approaching the cut, we heard a radio broadcast from our old friend the Kawartha Voyageur. It was just coming through the narrow cut in front of us so we throttled down and let her pass through first. We got a toot and a wave of thanks from the captain and lots of waves from the passengers.

We reached Bobcaygeon (Lock #32) and the lock walls were full, so we were glad that we had not pushed on last night. After the lock, we were into Sturgeon Lake. We went past a very unique looking boat, it’s a camper on pontoons. We’d seen some interesting retrofits, but this is a commercial RV that is half trailer and half pontoon boat, very cool!

Just before reaching Fenelon Falls and Lock (Lock #34 this used to be #33 & 34 but has been combined), we entered a narrow cut with lots of homes perched on the cliff sides, then passed Fenelon Falls, and into the lock. This lock is a 24 ft lift. As we were lifting, we told the lock staff that we wanted to spend the night, they said the wall was pretty full but that several of the boats were just there for the day. As we came out of the lock, we started looking for a mooring spot but didn’t see any. As we were heading for the waiting wall on the opposite bank, a small boat pulled out and left about a 40′ spot. We need 44 ft with the swim platform and the anchor, but, we’re only 38 ft at the water line. There was a gentle current and only a light breeze, so, we decided to try to get in. The owner of the boat behind came out to help, we pulled up next to the spot, and checked, The swim platform would be under the anchor of the boat behind, and we just cleared the anchor pulpit of the boat ahead, so I kicked in the side thrusters and we slid into the spot! We got tied off and were in!