The Big Chute

We left Orillia Monday morning.  The water was still pretty crowded as this is a big vacation week for many before school starts after Labor Day.  We had a pretty short day planned.  We just planned to cross the rest of Lake Couchiching, go through Lock 42, cross Sparrow Lake and go through Lock 43.  After that we’d arrive at the Big Chute.  The three other boats we were traveling with wanted to stop there for the day.  We wanted to at least tie up for awhile and watch and talk to the people working the lock about the size and placement of our boat on the chute.

The locks were very busy and we were still towing the dinghy so it was a pain pulling in, and having to get the dinghy pulled astern of the boat and tied up so it wouldn’t drift into others’ way.  Thankfully it was just two locks.  At this point I was ready to be done with locks.  We pulled out of Lock 43 and made our way to the Big Chute.  The Trent-Severn has been beautiful and interesting but has also been very stressful for Ben.  But he’s been excited about the Big Chute since we started the Loop!  He shouted “there it is!” when it came into view.  We got tied up with the other three boats on the floating docks and went to watch the show.  There were at least a dozen boats on the blue wall waiting for their turn, and the operators were loading 4-6 smaller boats at a time through the Chute.  They were loading them two per row and fitting 2-3 rows of boats at a time.  We decided we’d stay put for the night as well.  We were pretty sure we’d have to go through alone and it just seemed simpler to do that first thing in the morning.   We watched from our side of the lock as they loaded boats in.  Then we stood underneath the large train like car as it traveled up and over the road we were standing on, and then down the hill, 58 feet to the bottom where the car and all of the boats were put back into the water and floated off.  It’s an incredible feat of engineering.  There are steps all the way to the bottom so we could walk all the way down and watch the entire process.

Once the lock operators did the last run through of the Chute for Monday, Ben was able to talk to them about our boat.  He verified where the sling marks are to hold the boat in in the chute and where our props and shafts are and how far they hang down.  At that point I suggested we move over to the blue wall.  This is the waiting wall where they call you into the Chute.  So, Ben hoisted the dinghy back up to the flybridge, we untied lines and moved over to the blue wall for the night so we’d be first in line in the morning.  Two of the other three boats we were with followed suit and lined up behind us.  We arranged with Tom and Ellie from Raffamugin that they would take pictures of us while we were in the Chute and then we’d pull over and tie up on the lower side and take pictures of them.  They are the boat we’ve been traveling with for a week or so now that led us through the very shallow narrow parts of The Ditch.

At 9 AM they called us into the lock.  They told us to go to the middle of the chamber in the back.  That meant we were indeed going to be alone since they didn’t call anyone in before us.  We were all pretty excited.  Even me, who was a little nervous about the whole thing.  The girls threw on their life vests and went out to the bow to sit out front for the ride.  Ben pulled in slowly.

We’ve had mostly good lock operators on the Trent-Severn, however we’ve also had a few that were a disaster that loaded the lock wrong and caused a few close calls.  The people working the Big Chute are top of their game.  They call out foot by foot how much further to slowly pull forward.  They know exactly when to have us stop so that our running gear is off the back and the slings line up properly on the boat.  The whole ride goes really quickly.  We were all surprised at how much of the boat was hanging off the back end.  Ben thinks about 15 feet were hanging off the back!  But the slings were on and with the running gear hanging off the back, the bottom of the boat could rest on the bottom of the car.

We quickly were lifted out of the water and crossed the road and then it was time to go down!

The girls asked if we were tipping forward.  I said no, we’re just going down 58 feet on a railroad track on our boat.  EEKS!  Towards the bottom they asked if they could run to the back and watch from there.  I never made it to the back to watch so I’m glad they did.

All of the build up and excitement was over in a short seven minutes and off we floated into the water.  We quickly noticed that the dock on that side didn’t have space for us.  We felt terrible but had to keep going and not stop to take pictures for Tom and Ellie.  Back to the stressful boating.  Right out of Lock 44 (Big Chute), we knew there was a blind, sharp turn with a very strong current and only room for a boat going one direction. We’d read all of the instructions and knew we had the right of way, Ben made our security call before entering the channel, we read the Danger sign at the entrance and in the strong current swept us.  At this point in the trip the scenery has changed to narrow passages cut through granite.  The walls are steep and beautiful but boy was that current strong.  Thankfully that passage was short and we made our way to Port Severn and Lock 45.  The LAST LOCK on the Trent-Severn and the LAST LOCK of our Loop!  Wow!

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Before going through Lock 45 we tied up to the temporary dock here for a couple of hours.  Friends we met in Great Guana Cay in the Bahamas live here, right by the lock!  Brian came to pick us up and took us to their house to visit for a few hours.  It was great to see Brian and Maureen again and catch up.  Their house is right on the water, across from the lock practically and just beautiful.  We had lunch and visited and when we noticed the winds picking up considerably we headed back to the boat.  They have a lot of local boating knowledge of the area as well so Brian gave Ben lots of tips.

Lock 45 is the smallest lock on the Trent-Severn and therefore controls the size of traffic on the route.  We untied in the wind and went to wait on the blue wall for our turn.  There was a sailboat waiting as well.  It was hard to hold position in the wind and Ben told them to enter first.  I knew we wouldn’t fit with them but he wanted to wait and see.  As soon as they were in it was obvious we couldn’t both fit (yes it’s that small!) so we tied up and waited for them to be lowered and the chamber raised up again.  Once we got into the lock chamber and tied up we could breathe a minute.  It was calm inside and an easy drop.  However Ben knew it was a slalom course upon our exit.  First, the sheer volume and current of water pouring over the dam really affected the exit from the lock.  We could see it from above the lock and Ben was prepared.  The water really shoves you around and it’s a good thing we were the only boat in the chamber.  Directly following the rushing rapids starts the slalom course of buoys.  We had been warned by fellow loopers that their boat was bouncing off the buoys because the green and red are so close together they were only separated by a distance the width of their boat.  Ben made it through without bumping any of them and breathed another sigh of relief.  We were done with the Trent-Severn.  We were done with locks!

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We made our way the short distance to Midland, ON, pulled into Bay Port Marina and tied up.  We planned to stop for a day or more, meet with the manager who does a route briefing and planning session for the Georgian Bay with loopers, and just relax a bit.  The marina had a pool and multiple playgrounds.  There was a lovely bike path into town and we enjoyed walking into town a few times.  We ended up staying three nights because of weather.  The kids got to swim on the hot day and then a cold front moved in.  We had a couple of nice dinners in town, spent more time with Tom, Ellie and their dog Maddie, and had a very helpful route planning session with Mike from Bay Port.  He set us up with a good plan, charts for our route and a lot of local knowledge.  We had the scheduling trick of having about a week to spend in the area before returning to Bay Port next Thursday. At that point we will drive home for the weekend and leave the boat in Midland.  So, we had an excellent route set for the week to anchor and visit Hope, Christian and Beckwith Islands with their turquoise clear waters and white sand beaches, along with plans to also anchor in Beausoleil Bay, visit Honey Harbor, and anchor in Frying Pan Bay.  Midland was a great stop for local knowledge, grocery shopping and just relaxing for a few days!

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