Wednesday, July 20, 2022


We are under way downbound on the St. Lawrence River, which is also, here, the St. Lawrence Seaway. As I begin typing we're whizzing along at eight knots while making turns for six. While that does not sound like a lot of following current, in the narrows it has been as much as 4.5 knots.

Passing the Seawaymax freighter CSL Welland, well-scraped from locking, as she shoves into the Snell lock. Mural on the accommodation is in honor of the Niagara Games.

Shortly after my last post, we arrived at our intended anchorage, behind a training wall for the old canal system that pre-dates the modern Seaway. The chart showed a skinny entrance to a small basin, but with the bottom here primarily rock and boulder, I approached very slowly and cautiously. A local on a jet-ski came over to say that he thought it was shallower and rockier than charted, and with not a lot of room to maneuver if I got in trouble, we decided to wave off, thus nixing our plans to tender to dinner at a waterfront joint east of Prescott.

Crossover Island lighthouse, now a private residence and replaced by the tower to the right, marks a place where the channel crosses from north shore to south.

We continued a bit further to a side channel that our chart said had a mud bottom and, after first trying a couple of spots that did not work, we dropped the hook (map). The bottom turned out to be mostly granite, which we could see some dozen feet below the surface in the crystal clear water. We dragged the anchor along the bottom until it got purchase, probably in a clump of mud and weeds, paid out a bunch of chain, and called it good. With a steady one-knot current past the boat, we did not move the entire time we were there.

One of the easternmost of the Thousand Islands. We never figured out what the ruins were from.

That put us just an hour from our first lock in the Seaway system, the Iroquois Lock. Pleasure craft lockages run on a schedule, updated each morning, and with the morning lockage running around 10am we figured we'd have an 8am start to arrive, as suggested, one hour early at the pleasure craft arrival and waiting dock. All of the documentation suggested we needed to check the schedule when it came out at 7am before buying our ticket and making the reservation.

Passing the small town of Prescott with its very large Coast Guard station.

That turned out to be false. If you want the morning lockage, you have to reserve it and buy your ticket before 7am, so you are doing it without knowing the actual schedule. Also, it turns out, you can buy it in advance and do not need to do so on the day of transit. Lesson learned; we missed the morning lockage and had to book the afternoon one instead, at 3pm. We may as well have stayed back in Brockville, where there was an easily-accessible grocery store. Oh well.

This is very little movement for some 20 hours at anchor.

Having said that, the five hour delay proved to be fortuitous. While we were finishing our coffee, the forward bilge alarm started squawking. We both scrambled below, with Louise hurriedly moving sewing materials and supplies so I could get under the berth. There are two underwater holes in the hull in that compartment: the place where the drive leg of the thruster enters the tunnel, and an intake through-hull for the washdown pump. I needed get in there speedy quick to make sure were were not shipping water someplace.

It turned out to be more benign, but still serious. A plastic fitting on the washdown system had started to crack and was seeping water, which was dripping slowly into the bilge. I closed the through-hull and we released the pressure from the pump. When I went to tighten the fitting it broke in two. Fortunately, it was the fitting that connects an anti-hammer dead-end pipe into the output line via a tee. I simply removed the tee altogether, fitting a new section of 3/4" hose for the output, so we are back in business, just lacking the anti-hammer. I'll replace those fittings stateside.

Sunset from our rocky anchorage, on a flat calm evening.

This is a key reason we have extra, lower-level alarms in all the bilges. A failure of a downstream fitting like this can have water coming into the boat even faster than just a hole in the hull, being assisted by an electric pump. The washdown pump is relatively small, just six gallons per minute, but the pump for the air conditioning can fill the boat with water five times that fast. We do not leave these pumps running when we are away from the boat.

Descending into the bilge to repair the pump and vacuum the water out took a good chunk out of our excess wait, and we are very glad it happened while we were still at anchor rather than under way. We weighed anchor just before 1pm and were tied to the pleasure craft arrival dock right at 2, an hour before our scheduled lockage, in the pouring rain.

At the waiting dock for Iroquois lock. I had to use the phone at the top of the gangway.

I squished my way over to the telephone you're supposed to use to contact the lock (they don't want you to use the radio), and as I was still talking to the control room a lock attendant came out in a little three-wheel cart to give us instructions. I learned that, reservation system notwithstanding, once we had paid for our ticket we could have arrived at any time and they would have locked us through at next available. Once again: oh well.

Arresting cable rising and preparing to open the downstream gates.

Rather than waiting till 3pm, they locked us through right away. Iroquois is an "equalizing" lock and only has a lift when the lake is in flood. Today the dam sluices were wide open (and small boats can go right under a designated sluice), so we hovered in the lock while they closed the upstream gates and opened the downstream ones, and we were on our way. Between weighing anchor and docking at the waiting dock we were both drenched; Louise put our rain gear and wet clothes in the hot engine room to dry out.

Sluices open on the dam. You can see the two small-boat openings, raised higher than the rest. One each for upbound and downbound.

Our charts showed a free overnight dock in the small community of Morrisburg, and even though it was still raining and a bit windy, we were looking forward to grabbing our umbrellas and walking to dinner, only our second since clearing in. Alas, it was not to be. While reviews said there was a minimum of eight feet alongside, our crowd-sourced charts showed just six, and it's hard to know what the lake level was for either one. I approached cautiously, but had wildly varying sounder readings that did not match the chart, and we waved off out of an abundance of caution. In the wind and rain we could not see the bottom through the normally crystal clear water.

Only later did I learn why my sounder was going crazy and the bottom, after rapidly shallowing, stays almost flat the rest of the way to the dock: We were driving over the submerged remains of the old canal and part of its Lock 23, and what used to be the town waterfront before the lake was flooded in 1958. My charts in many US impoundments show such submerged features, but here they were just (poorly) represented by soundings. This site has a great aerial photo on a calm day where you can see the submerged ruins out in front of the Morrisburg dock; it's the last photo on the page.

Baie Commeau passing us on her way out of Eisenhower lock. We were so close I could not fit the whole ship in frame.

We continued downriver and tucked in behind a shoal, dropping the hook in a spot that the chart said was mud (map). In this case it was correct, a silt deposit from a side creek, over the top of what used to be the shoreline before the flooding. We finished up the last of our leftovers, glad to have them since we were now out of fresh food as well, the consequence of preparing to cross the border.

Yesterday morning we weighed anchor after a leisurely coffee and headed for the Eisenhower Lock, just eight nautical miles downriver. En route we passed a phalanx of Quebecois sailboats motoring upriver; we surmised they came through on the same lockage and were headed for the lakes. I adjusted my speed to arrive at the pleasure craft dock just before the gates opened to let a large upbound freighter out.

Federal Bering passing us just before we head into the chamber.

Our chart showed a very narrow entrance and small basin at the very short pleasure dock just deep enough for Vector. But as I was headed through the narrow entrance, a large sign came into view that said the depth was less than six feet. This area is above an inundated roadway, not something we wanted to hit. I immediately applied full astern and we backed out into the channel, just as the Baie Commeau started to ease out of the lock.

We quickly crossed over to a wide spot off-channel on the other side and called the Seaway on the radio to explain the situation. They were very understanding, informed us that we would have about an hour wait as they uplocked another freighter, and gave us permission to drop the hook there in the wide spot. We figured this temporary hook to wait for lockage fell under the transit guidelines, just as the pleasure dock would have, that did not necessitate clearing in and out of the country.

We had an audience in the visitor gallery for our lock-through. Boat behind us got a bit sideways.

While we waited, the Federal Bering passed us close aboard, and afterward we had the green light to enter the lock. The US locks use a floating bollard system, just as in the Corps of Engineers and TVA locks on the Western Rivers, which is very straightforward and easy for us. A motor yacht behind us, who had arrived at the pleasure dock after we anchored, had more of a struggle. A lock attendant came by on a three-wheeler to collect our payment; we had a receipt from for the US$60 lockage fee.

Floating bollard. Vector rides down on just one short line like this.

A short canal connects the Eisenhower lock to the Bertrand Snell lock; as we arrived at Snell we had to pull off-channel for about fifteen minutes to wait for yet another freighter to finish uplocking. Once again we had the green light and pulled right in behind him, and again we waited several more minutes for the motor yacht to square away. I chatted with the lock attendant about pleasure craft horror stories; in the morning a motor yacht had tried to squeeze into the lock in front of a cargo ship.

Waiting for the Algosea to shove out of the Snell lock.

As we were waiting to lock down, another freighter, the Algosea, was just pulling up to the downstream guide wall. Somehow we had managed to arrive at the one traffic jam of the day. It ended up taking us two and a half hours to lock through the pair, including waiting. In between locks we passed another half dozen pleasure craft going the other way, this time mostly power boats.

Maybe hard to tell in this shot, but these few travel trailers are together on a tiny little island, with no bridges or ferry landings. We assume delivered by landing craft.

It was only a short trip downriver from the lock to the tip of Cornwall Island, where we left the US for the last time, until we arrive in Maine. As we passed through the narrows under the International Bridge, we were doing 9.8 knots while making turns for just six. At the junction buoy we made the turn back upriver to Cornwall, facing an average of three knots on our way to the marina.

Our charts showed low depths in the marina basin, and so I called them before arrival to double-check they would have enough depth for us and exactly where we were going. They literally told us they had "seven feet guaranteed." Nevertheless, no sooner had we pulled out of the river current and into the basin than the sounder registered 5.6'. It was a mix of soupy mud and weeds, not hard bottom, and so we just maneuvered into our slip as if plowing through pudding. All's well that ends well and we were tied to the bulkhead at "Marina 200" (map) by 2:45.

Vector in the mud at Marina 200, Cornwall.

That was just early enough for me to get the e-bike on the ground and head off to the Walmart Supercentre less than two miles away for some much-needed provisioning. It took me a while to navigate the different packaging, nomenclature, sizing, and brands here in the Canadian market, but I found most of what we needed. The Walmart only sells beer and not wine, so I also made a stop at the LCBO store for a box of plonk. Well, maybe it's good, but they had no box wine that I recognized, so I had to just guess. Wine is spendy here; I dropped CDN$38 on a 4-liter box, and bottles that I recognized are about double their stateside prices here.

Setting up carnival rides for RibFest, with the band shell in the foreground.

It was dinner time by the time I returned home and offloaded the booty, and so after stowing the perishables, we walked up Pitt Street to Schnitzels, which had the nicest-looking patio. They had some nice drafts and a varied menu. I could not resist trying the eponymous dish, and so I ordered a Caesar salad with pork schnitzel as a protein add-on; it was quite good.

This cute little playground and water park are on the waterfront.

We took advantage of our first marina since Poughkeepsie to top up the water tank, do all the laundry, and get the recycling off the boat. It was a nice stop, and I enjoyed my ride around town and through the waterfront park, where the carneys are setting up for this weekend's RibFest, which is the big summer festival in Cornwall. I saw a few smoker trailers parked around town on my ride.

The last electric locomotive in Cornwall.

This morning we dropped lines to time our arrival at the Upper Beauharnois lock an hour early for our 4pm lock reservation. Or so we thought. The Seaway Pleasure Craft guide that we've been following offered no hint that the two lift bridges before the lock would not open except on some bizarre schedule; the bridges have been automated since the guide was published and no longer are staffed. We had to hunt around to find the latest information, which is on a much newer page on the Seaway web site.

The marina staff moved this plastic coyote around. It seems to be doing a good job of keeping the geese off the lawn.

What we learned after arriving at the first bridge at 2pm is that the next scheduled lift would be at 3. We dropped the hook onto solid rock 40' down (map) and let it catch on whatever it could to wait it out. Even though we found a published schedule, and an electronic sign on the bridge (exclusively in French) that agreed with it, the bridge started lifting a full 15 minutes early, and we scrambled to get the anchor back up in time to shoot through just as the light turned green. The following bridge, scheduled for 3:45, opened even further ahead of schedule, at 3:25, but we were wary from the last one and had pressed to be early ourselves. We arrived just as the light turned green and plowed through a sea of power boats going the other way.

The channel passes between these concrete walls, which are anchors for ice booms that are extended to the shores when needed, just before the Beauharnois Canal.

Instead of arriving at the lock an hour early as planned, by keeping our speed up we arrived just at the scheduled time and headed straight into the lock on a green signal, with four other boats that had been at the waiting dock. We were very glad not to have missed the 4pm lockage.

The first of two lift bridges about which we were ill-informed.

Just as with our transit of the Welland three years ago, the Canadian locks do not have floating bollards, but you instead tend a pair of lines that hang down from the wall. As with the Welland, a pair of summer interns set the lines and handed them down to us, pulling them back up when done. They brought the same lines with them to the Lower Beauharnois lock, to which they drove just ahead of us in a van. It was all so familiar.

From my line-handling position on the foredeck I had a close-up view of the giant suction cups that are used to hold ships in position during lockage. Three pairs of these along the lock wall allow for a touchless passage.

It was past 5 as we exited the lock, and we were ready to be done. I had scoped out an area where I thought there would be some silt, immediately adjacent to the small community of Beauharnois. After exiting the locks we made a hard turn to starboard, cutting across the outflow of the powerplant running perhaps six knots, and proceeded about a mile further to drop the hook (map). The lake is glass calm tonight and we had a nice dinner aboard.

We are, of course, now well past our point of no return and are fully committed to completing the Down East Loop. We pulled the trigger on the expensive insurance endorsement for the trip just before heading to the Iroquois lock. The strongest currents are still ahead of us; the good news is we are getting fantastic fuel mileage.

Tonight's sunset in Beauharnois, QC, over a calm lake.

Tomorrow we have two more locks before we exit the Seaway system. When we exit the St. Lambert lock we will make an immediate about-face, similar to yesterday's turn to Cornwall, and make the uphill climb to downtown Montreal. The chart says we will fight current that builds from three knots up to about six; the marina told us it's actually running 6.5 or so. That's our cruise speed; I will have to advance the throttle to Flank which is normally close to nine knots; it might take us 45 minutes or so to make the final mile to the marina. We shall see. We've booked three nights, and are looking forward to seeing Montreal. Allons-y!

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoying this voyage! Lots of adventures ahead.


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