Sunday, 16 July 2023

Swift Rapids lock to McLean's Bay - Sparrow Lake

In Which the Crew Visits With Old Friends On The Water and Brooke Puts On Water Skis for the First Time in a Quarter Century! 

The Lock at Swift Rapids is going to be the last tricky lock for a while. Tricky only in that it has such a high rise (47 feet). The engineering here allows for a very gentle lift because instead of the water coming in from the sides as in most of the other locks (causing turbulence that can push you either against the wall or away from it) there are perforations on the floor of the lock and a separate chamber that fills with water beneath that. So, the water flows gently up from the lower filling chamber, through these small holes, and then we are gently dancing in situ like a cherry in a fizzy drink.  

The Lock Gate

Looking down into the lock. It's deep.

Once we are out of the lock, we find the upper lake remarkably calm and very peaceful. The river below was tumultuous, but up here, not even a ripple.

Smooth sailing. Except we're not sailing really.

As we motor slowly along, it reminds me of a time when we were on the ocean in 2007, voyaging from Atlantic City to Manhattan, (after having brought the boat up the Inter-coastal Waterway from Florida). We'd been nervous about being out on the open sea, but once we had ridden out the furious white horses, bouncing around where the out-flowing waterway smashes up against the incoming ocean, we were relieved to find ourselves on a sea of glass. We traveled up the coast about a mile off the vast beaches of New Jersey and eventually, through the haze, saw the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour. It was 108 degrees F. I guess that’s why it was so still.

The Severn River that now widens before us, owing to the dam I suppose, has that calm-before-the-storm feeling. Again, there are no signs of cottagers, nor of any boats at the few docks we pass.

We are going to anchor in upper Sparrow Lake, in McLean Bay. Old friends of Cappie, Jeff & Val Knight, have a cottage nearby and they kindly arranged for us to park a car at their local marina, Sopher’s Landing. (We drove a car there last week.)

We are looking forward to some R&R! It probably sounds odd to people who don’t get to live on a boat, but it feels as though we have been working constantly, and our muscles are sore.  

Before anchoring in the bay, we take the boat four miles down to Lauderdale Point Marina at the bottom of Sparrow Lake. We need to pump out our holding tank and pick up some wine at the agency there. (Maybe the number of times we must empty the holding tank is proportionate to the amount of wine we purchase… Nah.) Again, the lake is eerily flat, but there is a sure sense of imminent rain.  

There is a Thunderbird image in our wake

Once we are ready to push off from Lauderdale wharf, the deluge begins. We wait for the thunder and lightning to ease and then cast off, even though the rain still comes in lashes. I un-cleat the tin boat from our hip and let the tow line play out. Then, whomp! a wave hits at just the right angle and the new clip on the towline bounces off the tow ring, and Tintin goes drifting back towards the mouth of the river!

“Oh no, Captain!”, I bellow.BLUE BLISTERING BARNACLES!

(Cappie note: She didn’t actually say that. It was much more colourful.)

Tintin then gets hung up on weeds against a buoy-line that marks the entrance to the marina. Cappie spins us around and noses the bow of the Mary Mary as close into the weeds as he dares with our four-foot draft while I reach down with the boat-hook extended and, after a bit of stretching, Tintin is retrieved. Need a better clip!

We make it back up to McLean’s Bay, absolutely drenched by the ongoing storm. As soon as the anchor is set and a sodden Cappie comes splashing down from the bridge, the rain stops. Uncanny. Murphy’s law of anchoring.

At anchor, after the monsoon, Cappie heads up to get some ice.

Local cottage kids having a rather wet picnic on their floating picnic table.

Next day. We set out in the tin boat for the landing marina so we can drive to Gravenhurst. We’re on a search for some cable,  a 40 amp circuit breaker, a better clip for Tintin and some more wine.

But first, we had to tow a small boat with a fishing father-and-daughter duo back to their dock across the bay. Their motor had quit, and they’d been out for quite a while in the choppy waters. We’d both been keeping an eye on them while preparing to depart ourselves. They must have pulled on their rope-starter fifty times before we reached them and they were obviously relieved when we approached and towed them over to their cottage. The girl explained that despite their difficulty that they had caught two bass earlier. Cappie thought for sure they’d pay off their towing debt by giving us one, but no. So, we towed them back to where they’d been stranded, let them loose and took off. (Not really, but a bass would have made for a nice dinner. Lake bass are the best eating fish in the world says Cappie.) 

Towing the Fisher People

Thursday, we drove to Midland to get the new current sensor for the battery and a gizmo so the computer could configure the new inverter/charger properly. We picked up the second car and delivered it to Orillia for the next leg. Soon we will have that R&R. You betcha.

Friday, after installing the new current sensor, and after Adrian figures out how to program the inverter through the new gizmo, with lots of cussing and such, Friend Jeff arrives, and we are ferried to the Knight cottage.

Built in 1920 it has the classic feel of a great old Ontario cottage. Had some of that desired R&R hanging out at the dock with Jeff, Val and other family members, Ali, Pauline & David.

The Knight Family cottage built by Jeff and Ali's grandfather in 1920

The classic cottage piano

The first stage of R&R

Saturday, a very smoky Canada Day thanks to drifting forest-fire smoke, this time from Quebec. We drive to Bracebridge for a concert by Neil Hutchinson, an old high-school chum of Cappie’s. And we have a fantastic authentic Mexican meal at El Pueblito. The restaurant is owned by the woman who served us, and her husband, the chef. Great food.

Sunday, back at the Knight cottage, we test-drive Jeff’s rocket of a Wave Runner that can shoot a daredevil up in the air. (It’s for sale, in case anyone is looking for a Yamaha Wave Runner FX SVHO (super velocity high output) with a dual impeller and RMK (remote control kit) for FlyBoarding…    

We wave a last farewell as we prepare for our near-death experience

This is the kind of stunt you can pull with the impeller on that machine.

Monday is ski-time for me in the morning! I have been keen and just a little trepidatious as it’s been decades since I last attempted to water-ski. But I could not ask for better coaches. Our fantastic, generous hosts are also superlative ski pros!

Thank you to these Knights! And now view the exciting water-ski video below!

                                                   The exciting water-ski video!


Saturday, 8 July 2023

July 7 - Lauley Island to Swift Rapids (Lock 43)

Bos'n’s Notes:

The Mary Mary is anchored at Lauley Island, just north of Port Severn, after having been raised in Lock 45 on Thursday, June 22nd. Very few cottagers are around, and no other big boats, so we decided to hang out for a couple of days to get some swimming in and take a breather after all the preparations for embarkation. Our first attempt to anchor with our 35lb CQR wouldn’t hold. Maybe it landed on a weedy patch. When I dropped the anchor a second time, it held fast very quickly. Mud!

We swam, we had chicken and vegetable kebabs marinated in ginger and garlic. There were no mosquitoes, so after dark we spent a long while out on the aft deck gazing at the stars.


Sunset at our Lauley Island anchorage, Little Lake, Port Severn

There are now some issues with our solar power, in that the various components don’t seem to be communicating with each other. The new inverter believes the battery is low and so shuts it off. The Lithium battery, however, is getting plenty of amps via the solar panels and charge controller.  [For other boaters who are interested in the solar side of things, we have 3 x160Watt panels made by Sunpower, a Victron 100/50 MPPT, and a Victron Multiplus II 3000/120 Inverter Charger].

It is Sunday now. We wake up with thoughts of electrics in our brains and find the boat smells funny. Kind of smokey. It is extremely disconcerting to smell smoke when you have electrical issues. A check outside tells us that it’s not us at all. The wind direction has brought smoke directly down from the Sudbury wildfires, where the Air Quality Health Index rating, according to the Ministry of the Environment,Conservation and Parks, is 24. The Index was originally created to be at a level between 1 and 10.        

It is still and steamy this afternoon. The sun is a pale general haze, as if it were a domed bank of fluorescent lights—the depressing kind they had in Zellers, and the sky in all directions is completely blanketed—a patchwork quilt of white-toned greys. It is slightly oppressive with the heat, but also oddly freeing, as it means no intense labour will happen. Nor even gentle tasks like painting the tin-boat benches because, hey it might rain. That’s what I tell myself now, sitting up on the bridge with my laptop. After yesterday’s physically tiring passage up and through Port Severn’s Lock 45, this day of little movement is perfect.

There is really nothing we can do with the electrical issue, as it is the weekend so we can’t get hold of the fellow we bought the components from. Except to feel a sense of inadequacy or worse, guilt, that some step was missed in our installation. I rechecked all of our connections on Saturday, to make sure they are firm, and can’t find a flaw. Cappie is maintaining close scrutiny of the electronic monitoring system to be sure nothing close to dangerous is happening. 

This morning there were other small, long-overdue tasks, like replacing grommet snaps in window covers, fitting a fresh screen on one of the windows, and cleaning one of those long circular mosquito nets that drape over a bed. The net we have yet to use, as there have been maybe three mosquitoes around us so far this season; but in its winter bag, it grew specks of mildew along the hem. Now, out of the sink and dripping, the net is suspended from the end of the boom to dry. The image of it hanging reminds me of a passage in the book Running In the Family, about Michael Ondaatje’s childhood in Sri Lanka: “Walking into that room’s dampness, I saw the mosquito nets stranded in the air like the dresses of hanged brides, the skeletons of beds without their mattresses, and retreated from the room without ever turning my back on it.”   

It does feel a bit spooky here at this anchorage. There is a small sailboat about a hundred yards away which slipped in last evening unnoticed by us until we were star gazing. The mast is stepped, so it’s likely that the sailors are transiting through the locks and have lowered the mast for the fixed bridges. The thing is, we have seen no one on her. All morning and now all afternoon, no sign of life. The macabre side of me wonders if there was a carbon monoxide leak and whoever was in there is no more. I keep thinking of taking the tinny over to call out to them—but it seems rude to do so. Maybe if it gets to suppertime and we still see no one, we might motor over. 


The Mosquito net and the ghostly sailboat

There is a Bald Eagle nearby which flew almost overhead last evening and then perched in the low branch of a White Pine, in full view. A Great Blue Heron flew across our bow this morning, and now we are watching a small snapper circling in the water, and in the distance a Loon teaching eight tiny Loonlings to dive. I hope they don’t meet.


A gorgeous photo by Joan Bendon. Much like the huge Heron that crossed our bow.

Still there are power issues. We decide to raise anchor and head toward Big Chute so we will be close by to lock through Monday morning. We will likely take a slip at the marina there and plug in to Shore Power.

Next post: What th--?! This feels a lot heavier than 35 lbs.


Cappie’s Notes

It was with some relief that we finally spotted the reticent sailor as he motored off to town, probably to re-supply his rum rations. Brooke took a picture as proof that he was, in fact, alive. We thought we’d seen the last of him, but he returned a while later and again disappeared below.

He's Alive!!!

By Sunday afternoon we are prepared to leave for Big Chute. The electrical system has been acting up and we are a bit worried that it might fail altogether. And, so it did:

We were raising the anchor, a process that involves Brooke manoeuvring the boat while I man the windlass, an electric winch that retrieves the anchor rode operated by a foot switch that you push down upon while hauling the anchor rode with your arms. The final push brings the anchor over the pulpit rail and bob’s-yer-uncle.

Well, I am hauling on the line and up from the bottom comes a sunken hardwood log with our anchor firmly in its jaws. It raises up slowly like some horrific, brown sea-beast. I try dropping the anchor and washing it off to no effect. Brooke puts the boat into reverse, again with no effect. And, while we are staring down hopelessly at the massive soaked arboreal, I begin to wonder what we’re going to do if we can’t get it off. It would be too far to drag the piece through the water to a marina to get help. Besides, it must way a thousand pounds. Do we cut the anchor free and leave it behind? Not a good option as these CQR anchors from Scotland cost around a thousand dollars these days. 

The Kraken Log, just under the surface (you'll have to click on it to see how menacing it was)

 At this point I realize that the windlass is no longer functioning! That anticipated electrical issue has happened and we have no power for the winch. We return to our efforts. Brooke comes up with the idea of putting a rope sling under the log, securing it and raising it, to slacken the anchor chain. If we can't loosen it onboard, then we’ll get into the tin boat with our hatchet and hack away at it . I cringe at the thought of the pain involved in this. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that as, sensing that we were drifting into shallow waters, I returned to the bridge and put her into reverse. Looking down, Brooke encourages me to keep going and with a final swoosh the log let’s us go and sinks back down to the muddy depths. The Kraken has been killed. We motor off.

colossal octopus in color
A Wikipedia photograph of an actual Kraken

Arriving at Big Chute, we tie up at the public dock there and plan to spend the night, awaiting Monday morning when we will be allowed to lock through. Frustrated and a little deflated, during the evening we mull over the seeming impossibilities of repairing the electric system and the winch. There is a marina at the top of the lock, so we leave the boat and climb the small mountain that leads up to the marina's restaurant, and sit with a beer and a hot dog, bemoaning our misfortune.

Looking down on the Big Chute Lock Rail car


At this point we think we have no power and no way of anchoring. Both not only inconvenient but also dangerous. It looks like we may not even be able to lock through anyway as mounting storm fronts and the threat of lightning make using the train car that carries you up and over the hill impossible.  Trapped.

We spend the night, and next day the skies clear long enough to get us onto the lift with the tin boat in tow, and, after a ride that really is quite thrilling, we find ourselves at the top of the lock. We phone the marina and arrange for a slip for the night. We then get in touch with the fellow that sold us this system at Marine Solar Innovations. After one of several conversations on what to do we decide to use the stop gap measure of turning on the emergency bypass switch that allows us to continue to use the battery. This is doable but not preferable as it means the battery monitoring system (BMS) is not engaged, so that the battery could either overheat or die altogether--if it isn’t closely monitored by other means. Still it's better than sitting in the dark. And with the bypass we discover that the anchor windlass wasn't broken, just under-powered, so we are no longer anchor-less. Things are looking up.

We decide not to stop at Big Chute Marina, and instead motor on to Lock 43, Swift Rapids, the tallest single lock in the system. We arrive late in the afternoon. There is an incredible flow issuing from the dam there, and the narrow passages leading to Swift Rapids had given us several strong currents to battle against.

Approaching the Dam and Lock at Swift Rapids


The next day another section of the dam was opened to release all the water from the rainstorms and the flow was even greater. Thankfully we didn’t have to beat up against that flow. When they opened that second sluice the water downstream was so intense we learned it  washed away a beaver lodge.


Rainwater down the rocks at our Mooring below Swift Rapids Lock

We have arranged with our electric supply guy to meet up with him to acquire a new Current Sensor along with a device that allows us to program the inverter/charger for our lithium batteries. These are solutions to our problems that should get us back to normal but that we would never have known of ourselves. A problem that has emerged in our dealings with this otherwise exciting company is that they sell us the stuff but don't warn us about certain vulnerable components (such as an often faulty Current Sensor) and instead assume that one knows about all these other things necessary to make everything function properly.  At any rate, there is hopefully an end in sight, and once we get to the head of Sparrow Lake where one of the Vulvi is parked, we drive back to Penetang, meet with the supplier, and get our fixes. It coincides with the plan to move the other Volvo from Penetang to Orillia...a lot of driving coming up. We have driven the car engines way more than the boat's.

Next installment: Will the Bos'n speed across the water without a boat?


The view from the top of the Swift Rapids Lock of Mary Mary, moored on  the wall.

Our first grilled supper is here by the Swift Lock wall.

We were planning to morph these photos together so it would look like we were at the table together, but who has time for that?