Thursday, August 7, 2014

What a month this has been, what a rare mood we're in...yes, we're in love with Looping and the wonderful, kind, warm, generous people of Canada.  Since the last post, we've completed all 45 locks on the Trent-Severn Waterway, including two lift locks (Peterborough and Kirkfield) and the "Big Chute" Marine Rallway, cruised Georgian Bay, and reached Killarney, entry to the North Channel. We wish we could spend months just in Georgian Bay, and folks tell us the North Channel is even more beautiful.  Sadly, we can't see everything we'd like to in the limited time we have, but we're making the most of our days here.  

Internet reception in this part of Ontario - the northeast portion of Lake Huron - is spotty and usually weak, taking us back 10 or 15 years. Yes, there was life without 24/7 television, hourly fixes on Facebook, email, and texting, and we've learned that exploring bays in the dinghy, quiet evenings "on the hook," reading, and going to bed early have their own rewards.  We've spent several peaceful days at anchor waiting for fair skies and calm winds, with dinghy trips to pick wild blueberries as we explore rocky islands adding to the ambience.

Pictures tell the story best, and these are in no particular order.
Fraser Park Marina, downtown Trenton. The owner/dockmaster was terrific at fitting boats into the harbor space, and Midas could walk right off the boat to the park.  
We mailed our absentee ballots for the Georgia Republican primary from Trenton on our Independence Day, after celebrating Canada Day on July 1st at our previous stop. 
One of the prettiest locks - quiet and peaceful. We tied to the top of the lock wall - no shore power, but access to the immaculate washrooms, and a great place for Midas to run. He made four friends the next morning.

 Typical canal or waterway work barge. We saw several of these along the waterway, which is managed by Parks Canada. The Lockmasters were universally helpful, ably assisted by college students working at the locks for the summer. At Lakefield,  Lock 26, Mike left his cellphone on the paper towel dispenser, after telling himself, "Be sure to put that back in my pocket when I dry my hands." Four or five miles later, he realized he had not followed his own instructions. A call on Marian's cell to the Chamber of Commerce gave us the phone number for the lock. The summer assistant checked immediately, found the phone, and passed it on to another Looper, telling them we would be at Buckhorn Marina. Coyoon, hailing port Delchambre, LA, dropped it off the next morning, and when we reached Killarney, they were   
                                                                                            docked next to us. Captain Dave met us as we tied up 
                                                                                            saying "No more cell phones for you, Mike."  
                                                                                            We joined them for a wonderful dinner Saturday night 
                                                                                           and waved farewell as they headed to another night on 
                                                                                           the hook in the North Channel.
In Campbellford, another location where we stayed at the town dock, Midas met a huge Great Dane, Mr. Spock. Our stay ithere  included a visit to Canadian Tire for a replacement boat hook; hanging out at a local pub, the Stinking Rose, where we were made welcome while we used their wi-fi; laundry (of course); and a visit to the Butter Tart Factory - sinfully delicious mini-pecan pies. The coin laundry is barely visible behind the mural below.
Midas found a pacifier along the way, and we couldn't resist this photo, taken at Campellford Town Docks. In most places, the town docks are a great deal - lower cost/foot, shore power (or "hydro" as the Canadians say), clean showers accessed only with a code provided by the dockmaster, and located near the center of town, within easy walking distance of restaurants, a laundramat, and sometimes a grocery store. The Trent-Severn Waterway is truly boater-friendly, with truly beautiful scenery and unique, interesting towns.
We spent two days in Peterborough, where Harbor Hosts Freya and Don, who live at Stony Lake but keep their boat at the City Marina, hosted about six Looper couples for "docktinis." Everyone brings something to share and the adult beverage of their choice, and we trade experiences, information, adventures, and mishaps.  Every Looper has a tale to tell, and we're making real friendships as our travels connect and re-connect us along the way.  Freya had provided tote bags filled with information on the Waterway and guides to the towns we'd pass on our journey.                                                      
Peterborough's Museum and Archives had an exhibit on Freemasonry, which included portraits of notable Masons, such as Winston Churchill, King George VI, and Mozart!  Who knew?  Since Mike is a Mason, we decided to go - especially because it was free. We also found the perfect 11th birthday gift for our granddaughter Camille, and when we talked with her on Facetime today, she told us that she really loves it.

We had to wait for this swing bridge along the Trent-Severn to open for us; the Midas Touch is too tall. Some bridges open on request; the bridge as we entered Parry Sound opens only on the hour and half hour, and it turned out that we're about two inches higher than the bridge clearance.  Fortunately, Parry Sound has an auto/marine parts store which had a replacement bulb and cover for the anchor light. Unlike the lockmasters on the Trent-Severn, the bridgemaster here was not particularly helpful. We now know the exact height of the boat, and we won't make that mistake again.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
Most Looper say that Georgian Bay and the North Channel are the "sweet spots" of the trip. They are absolutely right.  We've seen hundreds of beautiful sights like this one, with more to come as we cruise the North Channel from Little Current toward Drummond Island, where we'll re-enter the U.S.
Two of Midas's "cousins," waiting for their dad to make a beer run at Severn Falls, waited patiently aboard their boat. We've seen many Golden Retrievers on our journey through Canada, and the light cream color is fairly common here.  These guys really wanted to get off their boat, docked right across from us, to play, but they stayed aboard until we reached the Big Chute railway. Mike asked the skipper which marina he recommended for Severn Harbor, and it's a good thing he did. After walking to the other possibility listed in the Trent-Severn Waterway guide, we knew we'd made the right choice. (We were in search of the Ports book, but none of the marinas within walking distance had it in stock. We needed the exercise, anyway.)
Before we entered the Big Chute railway, Lock 44 on the Trent-Severn, we tied up briefly along the blue line, the designated waiting area at each lock.  Midas's new friends from Severn Falls were off the boat, and MIdas made an unauthorized exit - just stepped off the boat onto the walkway to join his friends.  Fortunately, he returned promptly when Marian called "Midas! Come!"
It was time to enter the cradle and position Midas Touch in the straps for our ride down the chute, behind the two Goldens.  The Big Chute is an amazing experience. Mike carefully maneuvered our 38' boat, with dinghy secured by davits, into the cradle, with guidance from the lockmaster. He even climbed down a service ladder to check our propeller and hull - still in good shape.  We're just beginning the descent in this picture.
We spent two nights at Driftwood Cove in Severn Harbor before entering Georgian Bay - a chance to do laundry and gather local knowledge from boat neighbors George and Tracy, both retired Toronto police officers who have cruised Georgian Bay for years.  We visited their boat to go over charts, and Tracy drove Marian to another marina to buy the Ports - Cruising Guide to Georgian Bay and the North Channel, an essential resource with information on anchorages, marinas, things to see along the way, blueberry recipes, and much more. While we walked to a nearby marina, Tracy had called another one, located the book (at a lower price), and left a note on our boat - just one more example of the kindness of the Canadian people we've met all along the way.
The gathering spot at Driftwood Cove, where we were warmly welcomed by several couples who keep their boats here. Later the same evening, the venue changed to an upstairs screened porch in the clubhouse for more good conversation.  (It's also the location of excellent showers, always welcome.)
Tracy and George recommended visiting Beckwith Island at least as a stop for lunch. We liked it so much that we spent our first night on Georgian Bay anchored here.  Another family on the beach told us about a path to the other side of the island, so we did a bit of exploring. 
The water here is so clear that you can see the bottom, and Mike took advantage of this to swim under the boat to inspect the hull again. We had strayed out of the channel after exiting Lock 45 and lightly hit a rock. A nearby boater, seeing we were off course, hailed us on the radio and offered assistance. When we told him our destination, he offered to lead us part of the way to Beckwith.

Our next stop was Pittsburgh Channel, at the top of Go Home Bay. We spent two nights in this quiet, secluded anchorage, where we all took a swim. The water was refreshing, and so clean that we grabbed our shampoo and shower gel and bathed in the creek, saving the water in our tank for cooking and coffee.
Midas has become an expert at boarding the dinghy from the aft deck.  We help him down the ladder to the swim platform by supporting him between his front and back legs, but he can now climb up the ladder all by himself.  He looks forward to going ashore to explore and "get busy," and we enjoy watching him check out each new spot.
Water shoes are good for climbing rocks, and Midas goes up and down steep ones with ease.  His tail wags as he absorbs all the new smells and sights, and we can see his pure joy.

When Midas sees water, he naturally wants to swim, and all it takes is a stick thrown into the water to let him know he has permission to jump in.

After we secured the anchor in Pittsburgh Channel, we took the dinghy farther up, to an area too shallow for Midas Touch, and found these beautiful water lilies. They grow in many of the smaller streams and still waters in Georgian Bay and the North Channel.

The water can be a mirror in the early morning or at dusk, when the wind has died away, or it can be rippled and sometimes rough depending on its speed and direction. Weather forecasts often determine whether we cruise or stay at anchor another day.

You can get to Henry's Fish Camp on Frying Pan Island by boat or seaplane, but not by car, and some Loopers dock here overnight. We had lunch (more fish & chips for Mike, a chicken wrap for Marian) and followed the trail from the restaurant to a small store at the nearby marina.  Mike says he's had better fish & chips, but the hospitality was great, the servings very generous, and the trail was beautiful.


Marian and Midas on the way back to Henry's.  Look closely at the picture below. See the Fox Snake?  It looks like a rattlesnake, and it creates a rattler-like sound by swishing its tail in the leaves.  We showed the photo to several local people to confirm that this is not a rattler, but we didn't get any closer.   

On the left is Playfair, a schooner used by a sailing school. We followed it through a very narrow, twisting channel and figured that if this boat, about 70 feet long and with a deeper draft, could make it, so could we.  We met its sister ship anchored in The Pool when we reached Baie Fine (pronounced Bay Fin) a week or so later. The crew was mostly teen-agers or college students, and they were having quite an adventure.

Below, sunset at Free Drink Passage, where we anchored for the night after pausing a short while at Dead Island (where the Indians, called First Nation in Canada, buried their dead) to wait out a short but intense rainstorm.  

Typical lighthouse on Georgian Bay; in the past, the lighthouse keeper and his family lived on the island, accessible only by boat.  Today, the light is automated.

In the eastern part of Georgian Bay, many of the islands have cottages, the weekend/summer homes of people from Toronto and other larger cities.

Below, one of the narrow passages we navigated in Georgian Bay.  While we cruise the Bay and the North Channel, we simply tow the dinghy behind us, then pull it to the swim platform to board and overnight. Hauling it up with the block and tackle is not that hard, but it's an extra step we don't need to take for the time being.

When the wind picks up and the rain starts, Midas joins Marian on her seat beside Mike on the upper helm.  When skies are clear and the water is calm, he's usually snoozing on the deck between the two side benches.  Midas has appointed himself as our official watchdog; when we slow down for a fishing boat or to make our way through narrow channels, he moves to the bow to help navigate and watch for rocks just below the surface. He's also Marian's anchor raising and lowering assistant.
We chose the French River Main Outlet instead of the Bustard Islands, and we're glad we did. We spent a quiet night at the top of the channel, then dinghied through the rapids at the top of the channel when we took Midas ashore.  On the right is McIntosh Fish Camp, which was deserted. The Ports guide says they will prepare a home-cooked dinner with a 24-hour notice. We left a message the day we arrived, used one of the docks to take Midas ashore evening and the following morning, and saw no one. Midas found a great tug toy, a large knotted rope, and tried to bring it along the morning we left.  Maybe the camp is deserted because Canada is experiencing an unusually cool summer - long sleeves, sometimes jackets, and jeans instead of shorts and tee shirts, at least in the mornings. 

One of the rock islands in Hopewell Bay, another favorite anchorage.  We're still eating blueberries Mike picked when we explored, usually on delicious Canadian ice cream.  Nearly every town we visit has at least one ice cream shop, and each region has its favorite brand; Kawartha long the Trent-Severn is our favorite, so far.  

The second day in Hopewell Bay, Mike and Midas went ashore for more blueberry picking while Marian stayed on the boat to read.  Oops! Mike's glasses fell off in the blueberry bushes, and he dinghied back to the boat to collect Marian to help in the search.  He firmly told Midas "Stay!" when he left, but MIdas apparently thought he was being left behind.  He swam from shore to a smaller island halfway to the boat and climbed to the top, looking for us, then swam back when we returned to look for the missing glasses, which MIke quickly found half hidden in the blueberry bushes.  From there, we rode to another small island, from where we took the above photo, and Midas swam along behind from the grassy area in the middle of the picture, at least 200 yards. After exploring on land and rocks and all the swimming, he was a pooped pooch.
 Wild blueberries are small, but they taste just as sweet as store-bought, and gathering them is lots of fun as well as good exercise.
There are more pictures to download, more stories to tell, more places to see, more waters to cruise. For our next blog, we'd like to answer any questions you have.  Please add a comment to let us know what you want to know about Looping, then look for the information in our next post. We'll also try to figure out how to post our videos, including our trip across the Big Chute Railway.  For now, it's time to explore Little Current and plan our next few days aboard Midas Touch.