Downhill Slope

It’s all downhill from here, so to speak.  Today we crossed Balsam Lake. At about 600 feet above Lake Ontario it is the highest point of the Trent-Severn Waterway.  From here we slide back down about 300 feet to Lake Huron, then let the rotation of the Earth push us west through Lake Superior to the Apostle Islands.

We are 71% through the T-S and are glad we took our time.  The scenery is stunning, the towns cute and the people exceptionally friendly.  We will be back to visit again.

Leaving Fenelon Falls in the rain, we motored west through some of the narrowest canals to date.  Blasted out of solid rock, the banks are solid and unforgiving.  The rocky bank shelf is visible to the right side of this photo.

Kirkfield (3 of 22)

Material removed to create the canal is stacked up along the canal, forming a tall berm.

Kirkfield (1 of 1)

Loons were our companions along the way, seeming much less shy than those we see in the Apostles.

Kirkfield (2 of 22)

The banks are dotted with tiny waterfalls.

The narrow channel does not leave much room for passing.  We saw this fellow coming from 1/2 mile away, allowing time to chat on the radio.  We established that each knew how to drive a boat and slid over to our respective sides for a very slow pass.  Our starboard side was brushing the trees!

Kirkfield (8 of 22)

Kirkfield (9 of 22)

Kirkfield (10 of 22)

No clue.  But cute.

Kirkfield (1 of 22)

The 16 mile, 2-lock day brought us to the Kirkfield Hydraulic Lift Lock.  Very similar to the Peterborough Lock, this one let us down 49 feet rather than up 65.  However, entering this lock was more exciting: we were driving Endeavor out into a tub suspended in space.  The only thing separating us from a major boo-boo was the gate at her bow.

Kirkfield (5 of 22)

This gull rode down with us.  Maybe they find it entertaining also.

Kirkfield (6 of 22)

Kirkfield Lift Lock Video

When the lock was modernized, in the 1960’s, this tunnel under the canal was added…

Kirkfield (17 of 22)

… the ceiling of which is growing stalactites.

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The lock controller sits between the lifts, high above the action.

Kirkfield (19 of 22)

The lock engineering is fascinating.  Each tub (caisson) lowers into a dry well that is below river level.

Kirkfield (15 of 22)

The well gate has to keep the river out, then swing out and down to allow boats to enter or leave the caisson.  When the gate is down the caisson seals the well.

Kirkfield (12 of 22)

Each caisson is lifted on a 7.5 foot diameter shaft that telescopes out of a casing sunk deep in the ground.  The water pressure that drives the ram upward is held inside by 13 rings of packing (think massive o-rings).  The Up caisson presses down on its ram, forcing water through a pipe connecting the two rams.  A valve between the two controls the water flow.

Kirkfield (13 of 22)

We were curious about the stands laying on the well floor (above).  They are used to support the caissons for maintenance.  To stand them up, the crew loops the chains over the wood beam in the slot shown below.  The caisson is then raised, pulling the stands to their feet.  The caisson is then lowered onto the stand.

Kirkfield (14 of 22)

I was curious if the hydraulic system between the rams leaks.  If so, when the heavier caisson reached bottom there might not be enough water in the rams to lift the other caisson to the top.  The lock master told me that it does indeed leak and they have to pump in additional water every other lockage or so.  While simple in concept, the locks are a very complex machine to manage.

The job was even more complicated prior to the 1960’s modernization.  The system had no electronic controls and was operated with water pressure through valves and equipment like this intensifier pump.

Kirkfield (22 of 22)

The two hydraulic lift locks are amazing machines and have satisfied my inner nerdness.


Peg is the queen of packing.  I’d put her up against anyone in the art of stuffing stuff into spaces so tight that the underlying molecular structure is compressed.

On a boat this is a good thing, except that she has not figured out how to reduce mass, thus creating dense pack rat modules.

The most interesting boat we’ve seen on the Trent-Severn is also good at stuffing into small spaces.

Meet the Kawartha Voyageur, a 45 passenger, 13 crew tour boat built specifically for this waterway.  She has a few tricks for getting herself into small spaces.

Fenelon Falls (5 of 6)

Passengers take 5-day trips from Peterborough to the Big Chute Railway lock, stopping along the way like any cruise ship.  She tied up a few spaces behind us for a couple of hours today here at Fenelon Falls.

Fenelon Falls (3 of 6)

A comfortable foredeck, with retractable awning, lets passengers watch approaching scenery.

Fenelon Falls (1 of 1)

To shorten up and fit into the Trent-Severn locks, that bow section flips up against the forward bulkhead.  The solid canopy at the stern also lowers on parallelogram legs.


In her normal mode, she is too tall for many of the T-S bridges.  So, like a turtle, she pulls in her head by collapsing the wheelhouse and lowering the radar arch.  The top of the wheelhouse, edged by the lip just above the steering wheel symbol, slides down over the bottom portion, covering the symbol.

Fenelon Falls (4 of 6)

The Captain then sticks his head out a hole in the top and steers the craft.  With the current high water levels, they told us they had just 4″ clearance on some bridges!

Solid engineering, that.

Almost Hump Day

Two more Locks and we’ll be at the highest point on the Trent-Severn, almost 600 feet above Lake Ontario.  On the far side of Balsam Lake we begin descending toward Lake Huron.

With cloudbursts about every 30 minutes, the day has been moist.  After a 24 mile, 2-Lock trip we settled in at the popular stop of Bobcaygeon.  A nice, welcoming little town with a proliferation of black squirrels, a proliferation of goose poop, the largest shoe store to ever grace a small town and a high number of rental houseboats.

Lock 32 (4 of 5).jpg

Bobcaygeon also boasts one of the most specific eateries I’ve seen.  After eating at the place in Peterborough that offered 107 varieties of Poutine, I was eager to see if this place offered dozens of grilled cheese variations.  Sadly, not open, but the reviews on Yelp look promising.

Lock 32 (3 of 5).jpg

Houseboat watching has become a sport for us.  Here at Bobcaygeon we watched an almost doozy.  A boat, like the one beyond the swing bridge below, was motoring up the channel toward the Lock (behind camera).  The driver was oblivious to the fact that the closed bridge in his way was shorter than the roof of the boat. A lot of screaming from boaters on the docks got him to stop just shy of hitting the bridge.

I really need to start wearing our Go-Pro camera all the time.  I’d look like a dork but the number of views I’d get on YouTube would be awesome!

Lock 32 (5 of 5).jpg

Dam Machine

The hits just keep coming. It could be that we attract chaos, but we’ve seen 3 houseboat accidents in 2 days.  The latest was today as I waited to catch dock lines for an approaching rental boat.  The elderly man drove straight into the end of the lock entrance wall, bashing in the port bow and almost knocking his wife off her feet.

Lock 30 (10 of 10).jpg

We have about 62 miles to go before we’re out of the rental zone.  Fingers crossed and eyes open!

We went quickly from moderately beautiful River region to stunning Lakes region.  Within a mile we were surrounded by rocky islands, minimal current, interesting zig-zag courses with narrow gaps…

Lock 30 (7 of 10).jpg

…babbling rapids…

Lock 30 (5 of 10)

…and even St. Peter’s On-The-Rock church.

After a 10.3 mile, 2-lock day we tied up at Lock 30 on Lovesick Lake.

Lock 30 (8 of 10)

The lock is in an ideal setting for rock lovers like us.

This lock is unique in that the only access is by water… the lock masters come to work by boat.  Until the 1960’s the lock master and his family lived here each season without benefit of telephone, indoor plumbing, or electricity.  Dang, Canadians are a tough breed.

Interesting Machine Department:  Newer dams have sliding gates that regulate water flow.  The dam at Lovesick Lake is an older type.  Water flow is reduced by dropping heavy timbers into a slot in the dam.  This machine is used to add or remove the timbers.

Dam Machine Video

Crossing the island we found another old machine…

I have an almost maniacal urge to start pushing buttons on the lock control board.

We’re settled in for the night with one other boat, Stephen and Michel on True North III.  We had delightful docktails with them, learning about each other and swapping travel tips.

Michel is a retired psychotherapist.  Maybe she can cure me of this newfound fear of rental houseboats!



Current Events

Cruising, it is said, is long periods of monotony broken up by moments of sheer terror.  We had one of those moments today when Endeavor came within inches of being smushed.

Heavy rains continue to push water levels on the Trent-Severn Waterway higher.  Dams spill more water and river current between the locks increases. In some spots we battled upstream against a 3.5 mph current.  In those areas even the buoys were fighting to stay upright.

Lock 27 (8 of 9)

Our 14.5 mile, 6 lock trip today brought us to Lock 27 at Young’s Point.  Endeavor is now 523 feet higher than Lake Ontario.

There is talk at the locks of possible closures, but hopefully those should be behind us.  By reaching Lock 27 we are now entering the Kawartha Region and will be traversing a series of lakes not much affected by current.  Cruisers behind us on the “River” section are more likely to be affected.

Lock 27 (1 of 9)

The waterway was not designed for large barges and has a decidedly cozy feel.  During the trip today we passed through some of the narrowest canals to date.

Lock 27 (3 of 9)

Lock 27 (2 of 9)

By the time we passed Lock 26 we were racing not only possible river closure, but also oncoming thunderstorms.  Moments after Endeavor tied up below Lock 27 the skies opened up and we got pounded.  Wind currents over 45 mph, torrential rain and hail.

In the middle of this came the almost smushing.

Lock 27 (9 of 9)

On the western half of the Trent-Severn rental houseboats are popular.  That’s one of them ahead of the Kawartha Voyageur, a local cruise liner in the picture below.  The houseboat, 52 feet long, is dwarfed by the Voyageur.


Lock 27 (4 of 9)

There is one crucial difference between the two:  The voyageur is piloted by a professional.

The only requirement for renting the houseboat is a valid credit card.  They don’t even require the “Pleasure Craft Operator’s card” needed by other boaters in Canada.

So, about the almost smushing: at the peak of the maelstrom the lock doors opened.  Rather than sit safely in the lock until the storm blew over, the houseboat driver decided to exit into the wind and rain.  Into the heavily flowing river current.  Into the narrow gap between Endeavor and the opposite wall (we were tied where the lock master told us to be).

The driver is at the bow of the houseboat. He steered so that the bow of his boat would go between the two objects, totally ignoring the fact that the wind was pushing his stern across the gap at us.  Peg and I were already at the bow to try and fend them off.

After loud screaming and animated gestures we got him to reverse his many ton craft just a few inches short of crushing our port bow.

One of his passengers came over later and apologized, saying the captain didn’t realize the wind could push like that.  I’m assuming the captain was too embarrassed to come himself.

The entertainment for the day was not over yet.  Once the storm passed and that houseboat moved safely on, we locked up and tied to the upper wall.  There we joined Stephen and Michel, of the boat True North III, watching the rental follies.

This heron spent the afternoon on a concrete pier just across the canal from us.  At first we thought is was fishing, but soon realized it had also found a front row seat to the follies.

Lock 27 (5 of 9)

Performers for the afternoon kept us in stitches. None of the incidents were caused by either current or wind… there was none at that point.  Among the finest:

  • Another houseboat got crosswise at the lock entrance, almost ramming the wall with its bow.
  • A Carver Motor Yacht smashed its stern into a concrete pier when its driver forgot which way forward and reverse worked.  Lucky for him actually: he could have hit the gap between the piers and gone over the dam.

Lock 27 (7 of 9)

One event we did not see, but heard of through lock personnel:  a day earlier a houseboat got in trouble above Lock 26 and was stopped from going over the dam by safety cables.  The waterway operators had to shut upstream dams to slow the current enough so the houseboat could be pulled free.

Who needs reality TV with this kind of free entertainment?

To all you competent captains out there, I salute you.

Lock 27 (6 of 9)

The rest of you captain wannabes, please stay away from us!

When in Rome

Poutine:  French fries smothered in gravy, smothered in mini cheese curds, smothered in melted cheese, optionally smothered with an entree of choice.

Poutine:  A sinful pleasure.  We are atoning for the BBQ Chicken and Pulled Pork versions.

Poutine:  See Whistle Stop Cafe, Peterborough, Ontario.  Purveyor of 107 varieties.

Poutine:  The reason Canada needs national health coverage. Locals tell us one needs to limit Poutine infusions to avoid shortening one’s lifespan.

Peterborough Hydraulic Lift Lock: Lock 21 is One of the niftiest, most efficient mechanical wonders ever. Introduced in 1904, the lock lifts and lowers two tubs of water (Caissons) on water powered vertical hydraulic rams that look much like those in a car repair garage.

The caissons have a watertight (mostly) gate at each end. One gate on each caisson is opened to allow boats to enter. The gates are closed and one additional foot of water is added to the upper caisson. That added weight causes the the upper caisson to move down, forcing water through underground tubes and pushing the ram of the lighter caisson up. Boats exit and the cycle starts again. One tub up, one tub down. This game of aquatic Whack-A-Mole happens with no external power needed, just weight of the water flowing from the river above. Vertical tracks in the towers keep the caissons stable.

Lock 21 (12 of 19)
Peterborough Lift Lock Video

Lock 21 (15 of 19)

Lock 21 (2 of 2).jpg

Lock ‘n Paddle:  An event at the Peterborough Lift Lock where Canadians stuff as many kayaks and canoes into the two tubs as possible.  Then the tubs are lowered/raised to the midpoint, where the assembled mass sings Oh, Canada! and Happy Birthday (Canada) to celebrate the 150th year of this wonderful country.  They even let the odd Americans, like Peg and me, join with our kayak.  166 craft fit in our tub and 162 in the other.

Due to the event, they asked us to leave Endeavor at lock 20, 1/2 mile before, where we spent last night.  After the event we locked back down to her with a happy, chattering fleet of Canucks. Later in the afternoon we locked up through 20 through the lift lock.

Lock 21 (10 of 19)


My philosophy on rainy days is to keep moving.  If there is no particular attraction at our current location we might as well use the icky day to put us someplace interesting on the next sunny day.

Thus, we shoved off from Hastings today while other loopers stayed put.  We covered 38.5 miles and two locks during a day that went from soggy to sunny.


Much of the day was spent traversing Rice Lake, a thin basin with many small islands.  After turning off onto the Ontonabee River, we headed for Peterborough.

Many well-kept summer cottages line the waterway.

Lock 20 (1 of 1)

This owner has a novel way of taking their dock up for the winter:  remove the decking and winch the whole structure up like a lift bridge.

Lock 20 (2 of 6)

The heavy rain last night has the dam operators releasing much more water than normal.  Swirling current that the lock entrance is the usual result.  Another result are these spillways that we passed, 20 feet to starboard, exiting lock 19.  Tis a very good time to have lots of boat speed to whiz on past.

Lock 20 (5 of 6)

Local kids use an abandoned rail bridge as a diving platform.

Lock 20 (6 of 6)

A crew from the Peterborough Marina took the Log-Ness monster out of the Harbor.

Lock 20 (3 of 6)

Peterborough Harbor has the tallest fountain of its type in the world, Centennial Fountain.  The Marina personnel call it “a gigantic boat wash”!

Lock 20 (4 of 6)

While fueling at the marina we met James, Nancy, Lucas and Marcos of Living Life.  They are Gold Loopers, having just closed their loop here at Peterborough.  The quartet made the journey aboard a Catalina 27 sailboat.  Their blog is here.  Ironically, James and the boys made it to Lock 17 on the Erie the day we got stopped at 16.



Catching Up

After a couple of days of Internet issues a little catching up is in order.

Three nights at Campbellford was restful and a good setting to celebrate our anniversary.      Our celebratory dinner was grilled burgers and “Devil’s BBQ” chips that left our lips tingling for hours.

The town is very welcoming to boaters and, after having the first two days to ourselves, a flotilla of loopers arrived.  The crew of Serenity arrived to continue our hilarious grudge-match of Phase 10.  Endeavor still holds the cup but Jim and Jan are improving with each game.

Hastings (1 of 9)

Campbellford boasts the world’s largest coin, a tribute to the local man who designed the Canadian $2 “Toonie”.

Campbellford (11 of 11)

Heavy rainfall in the area has the Trent River running high.  A bike ride to nearby Ranney Falls showed the volume of water flying by.

Campbellford (5 of 5)

Campbellford (1 of 5)

Campbellford (1 of 11)

Our shower sump pump (on the right below) died a few days ago and I found adapters at a local hardware store to substitute our wash down pump in its place.  The wash down pump is normally in the anchor locker and used to spray mud off the anchor chain as the anchor is raised.  Not a problem up here in the Great Lakes.  As you might guess from the size the difference the new pump is overkill, but we have again achieved suckage!

Hastings (1 of 1)

Yesterday we were on the move again, covering 22 miles, 6 locks and 133 feet up to the town of Hastings.


The trip provided a few interesting challenges.  The entrance to Lock 15 was between a dam/falls and a hydro power plant.  Water rushing from the falls create a wicked cross-current, visible below.

Hastings (2 of 9)

Just above the lock the power plant intake threatened to suck the boat in.  The lock masters warned us to go full speed and we were past quickly.

Hastings (3 of 9)

Later we passed through another flight lock at Healey Falls.  Above the locks we lashed Endeavor to the wall and explored the falls.

Hastings (6 of 9)

Hastings (4 of 9)

Hey, guys, she’s all mine!  That’s my dam girl!

Hastings (5 of 9)

Hastings boasts the world’s slowest merry-go-round.

We met the owners of this cottage and no, you do not want to slow down!

Hastings (8 of 9)

Flights Are Fancy

Flight: a set of stairs or an escalator.

Applied to locks, flight means two or more locks either connected or in quick succession. Endeavor passed her first first set of connected flight locks today: locks 11 and 12 at Ranney Falls, near Campbellford, Ontario.

These dual locks share a common middle gate and must be traversed in sequence.  Locks 11 and 12 lifted the boat a total of 54 feet.

Campbellford (1 of 4)

Due to the high lift, the middle gate is massive.  The dark waterline from the light blue paint down to the concrete sill is the depth of the second lock when the middle gate is opened.  We thought the symmetrical water leak stain was interesting, sort of Christmas tree or arrowhead pattern.  (We’re both pretty literal on Rorshach tests!)

Campbellford (2 of 11)

The depth above the sill is important to deep draft boats.  The Trent-Severn waterway is generally shallower than the inland rivers or Erie Canal.  If a boat drafts more than 5 feet the captain is supposed to sign a waiver acknowledging the danger to his/her craft.  We have seen brief 5 foot depths along the way.  No problem, of course, for skinny water Endeavor, but our monohull friends will want to pay close attention to depth.

The taller the lock, the greater the pressure difference between the lower and upper pools.  Thus, when the valves are opened the water flooding the lower chamber turns it into a boiling cauldron.

Campbellford (3 of 11)

Flight Locks 11 & 12 Video

Looking back from the upper lock gives a better perspective of the altitude difference.  The lower lock wall and lower river are visible.

Campbellford (4 of 11)

Campbellford (2 of 4)

The Canadian Parks system provides some excellent placards explaining everything about… oops, I mean ABOOT the waterway.  Pretty fancy, eh?

Campbellford (4 of 4)

Our pace is intentionally slow.  Today we covered only 5.7 miles, climbing 88 feet through 5 locks for a new total of 31 miles and 232 feet above Lake Ontario.  The waterway is more winding than the Erie Canal, incorporating finger lake systems connected by man-made canals.

We will be staying here at Campbellford 3 nights.  The town has excellent tie-ups along the canal, providing electricity, water and fast WiFi.  They also have a buy-two-get-one-free deal on docking.

Tomorrow Peg and I will celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary.  There is no-one I would rather be journeying through life with than my precious mate.




On the seventh day Dad rested.

Well, not so much rested as motored 18 miles to “Percy’s Reach”.  Then made a PB&J for lunch as we waited for another boat to lock down.

The Trent Severn locks generally flush directly into the entrance, so what looks like this…

Percy Reach (2 of 3)

…turns into this for a few minutes.

The best strategy while waiting for a lock to open is to throw a line or two over the small bollards on the entrance wall.  This will hold the boat in place amid the turbulence.

Then, after locking up, tying up, tidying up and fueling up, he rested.

Although not necessarily an enduring symbol of our 40 year love, Peg’s inscription in the lock wall slime was nonetheless adorable.  (Peg Hearts Don, with Smiley Face)

Percy Reach (3 of 3)

Lock 8 - Percy Reach (2 of 2).jpg