We left Wilson NY on Monday June 6, a blustery day, so had a windy, lumpy trip for most of the way to Port Dalhousie. However T’ai Chi handled it all expertly, like a thoroughbred let out of the stable for a romp in the fields. Her crew took precautionary measures (thanks to the stash of Stugeron from the UK) and lunched on pretzels and ginger ale! The wind was on the nose so we motor-sailed somewhat off course, tacking a few times. However the day was sunny and we felt fine so despite the wind and the waves it was a pleasant enough trip.
We tied up at Port Dalhousie Yacht club just before 5 pm on their visitors dock (free, reciprocal) and checked back into Canada on their customs line. The wind picked up and several storms passed over us in the evening so we were happy to be secure. Liz set to cooking food for the next day while Steve checked out some of the features of our new electronics which had behaved well on their inaugural trip!
We had a good night’s sleep and woke refreshed and ready for the Welland Canal. To put it in perspective, the five Great Lakes comprise the largest and most far-reaching inland waterway in the world. From the Atlantic, ships can travel 2000 kms inland to the edge of the prairies, the bread basket of the Americas.The Welland Canal allows ships to bypass Niagara Falls (which would be difficult to climb) and instead climb the escarpment and continue into Lake Erie. Vessels (mostly commercial) are raised 100 meters (326 feet) by 8 locks in 45 kms (7 in the first 11 kms). Over 3000 ships (lakers, salties, tugs and barges) navigate the canal each year.
Pleasure boats over 20 feet can travel the lock but play second fiddle to the commercial traffic – sometimes being put through at night. There are pleasure boat docks at the beginning and end of the lock but no stopping allowed in between unless at Seaway Welland’s request. The locks are open 24×7 and transit for pleasure boats takes between 7 and 12 hours. Spoiler alert….we took 14 hours!
Our crew, friends Sari, Linda and Chris (and their dog Bica) caught the first ferry from Toronto Island at 6:45 on Tuesday June 7 and drove down to meet us, arriving at 8:45.
We left the dock soon after and entered the Welland Canal an hour later, where we tied up to the Pleasure Craft Dock close to Lock 1.
Steve phoned the Seaway Welland HQ to request transit. The good news – not much commercial traffic scheduled. The bad news was that because of that, they decided to take the opportunity to do some lock maintenance and told us to wait where we were told to enter Lock 1. Steve paid transit fee of $240 at the pay booth there. We drank coffee and ate the blueberry lemon scones, which I had taken out of the oven as our crew arrived. Spirits were high.
Several hours passed. Linda, Liz and Sari settled into a game of iPad Scrabble which helped while away the hours. Finally, at 1pm, we were told to enter Lock 1. We were relieved to be on our way at last, and the first two locks seemed relatively easy and in good shape. We locked through alone. However, before we reached Lock 3 were were told to tie up in front of the lock and wait again. With wind picking up it was not easy to tie alongside the rough wharf on commercial freighter-spaced large bollards but we managed, and enjoyed a lunch of home-made soup. We settled down for what turned out to be another 3 hour wait. The women played scrabble and drank Earl Grey tea while Chris and Steve and Bica (the dog) napped! Civilized.
- Have very large fenders hung really high on the locking side (starboard for first 2 locks, port for rest), and know that they will take a beating.
- You need minimum of 3 crew up-bound – one on helm with engine running to keep boat in good position for line, and two line handlers bow and stern. Our extras were useful polers – pushing us off the lock walls when we crunched up.
- The lock hands drop tied lines over the wall. Motor to them and grab them with hook at bow. Untie and pass one to stern.
- Good work gloves are needed and plenty of iron brew to hold the lines taut and pull them in as the lock fills.
- Coil the lines at the top and be ready to throw them to the lock staff only when gates are open and you have the green light to exit.
We finally entered Lock 3 at 5 pm along with a brand new 50’ Kadey Krogen trawler. It was relatively easy too but we were then asked to pull over before lock 4 and idle to the left of the channel as we waited for a huge freighter to pass out of the lock.
Wind was blowing us onto the rocky bank but Skipper Steve did an admirable job of slow circles and maneuvers to keep us off them. The clock ticked on. And then instead of going into the lock, we were asked to tie up in front of it again….very tricky in the strong winds and widely spaced large bollards – in fact we had to abort, leaving Chris on shore, and as we were circling to try again, Seaway control changed it’s mind and called us in. By the time we picked Chris up, we entered Lock 4 behind the trawler who picked up their bow and stern lines the head of the lock. The locks are very tall and we could not see anyone at the top, or any lines for us.
With increasing frustration, we hung in the middle trying to figure out where to go until we finally saw the guy indicating us to pick up lines AHEAD of the trawler under the waterfall of the tall 50’ gates on Lock 4 – it barely looked as though we had room to squeeze in front of the gates but we did. Sari and Linda, the “maids of the mist” hooked the lines, untied them and passed one back to the stern. As it turned out that was definitely the calmest zone of the turbulent lock once they started filling. Our anger diminished as water started spewing into the middle of the lock behind us.
Locks 4, 5 and 6 are twin flights, double locks one after the other, and are higher – 49′ each. They held us again at the top of the 6th, waiting for a humungous barge and tug to exit Lock 7 and enter the twinned lock beside us.
As we waited, famished we The sun had long set and light was fading as we entered lock 7 at 8:30 pm. We looked back down the escarpment edge at the St. Catharines below, and the flight of locks we had climbed in our boat.
With disappointment we realized that we had been going 12 hours and had transited only one 1/3 of the canal. Skipper Steve stayed on the helm as we broke out the prosecco and Liz served dinner.
We motored on in complete darkness with only a sliver of a moon and infrequent lock lighting for the next 8 miles of the canal, through another lift bridge to the 8th and final canal, where we hovered behind the trawler without lines until we could pass out the other end. We passed under the last bridge and swung onto the rather rickety but thankfully convenient municipal pier at Port Colborne. Some street kids, anxious for tips, helped us tie up. In our exhaustion we thought they were dock hands working at the municipal marina so did not realize they were fishing for tips until they had left. No time for the crew to get back to Toronto….we made up beds in all the berths and hit the sack, exhausted. After coffee and french toast the next day, they caught a taxi back to Port Dalhousie and were home just after noon.
A long but interesting day, made all the more fun by the company of our friends. Big shout-out to Sari, Chris and Linda (and their less useful crew member, Bica) – we couldn’t have done it without you. What might otherwise have been a tiresome and frustrating trip was a fun adventure due to the company we kept! (PS. I hope Buffy stays employed by Seaway Welland as their communications officer – she was terrific).
We were happy enough to spill a day on the free municipal docks at Port Colborne. A steady stream of freighters passed us over that time, but we barely felt their wake as they were going slowly exiting the lock and lift bridge beside us. We were the only boat there on the T of the well worn (aka a little rickety) docks. A public washroom and shower were open. The pilot boat and coast guard were docked nearby so we had plenty of entertainment watching them come and go.
It was a short walk into the town – a sad (as in seen better days) but pretty little Ontario town, with a proud canal heritage. Short walk to a great butcher, a Freshco grocery store (bought some staples), banks and a number of cute shops (including a great kitchen shop) and cafes on Lock street right beside us. We ate delicious fresh-baked tortiere and salad at a quirky café. We enjoyed a walk through that very quiet part of town in the evening.