By: Rick Layzell
With the boat prepped and provisions on board, we began our journey on July 16th. We would run Locks 42–45 and then we would meet up with over 30 boats for the Maple Leaf Marinas Rendezvous. Man was I ever pumped about this trip!
Our ‘planned’ itinerary:
July 16 Marina del Rey to Wye Heritage in Midland
July 17 Wye Heritage to Big Sound Marina in Parry Sound
July 18 Big Sound to the Bustard Islands
July 19 Bustards to Killarney
July 20/21 Killarney to Little Current on Manitoulin Island
July 22 Little Current to the Bad River
July 23/24 Bad River to Port Rawson
July 25 Port Rawson to Wye Heritage
July 26 Wye Heritage to Marina del Rey
There are so many memories and magical moments. Join me as I share a few of my favourites.
July 16 – Going through the locks, just the two of us, for the very first time was a special experience. As a boater it is our job to respect the rules in the locks, readily found on the Parks Canada website. We were fully prepared with masks, knowledge of current distancing guidelines and we knew we wanted to buy a 6-day lock pass. We knew what current services were available at each lock as well as hours of operation. First and foremost, the Park’s Canada staff were amazing. We approached Lock 42 to find a 40’ motor yacht parked in the middle of the blue wall – lesson #1 for all. The blue wall tells staff you want to lock through and all boaters share the blue wall. All the operators had to do was pull their boat forward and we easily could have been docked behind him. We politely educated them on their error, which they totally apologized for. We bought our lock pass, had a great chat with the staff – we told them we had never locked on our own and they were ready with gaff hooks to help us safely get secured in the lock. Lock 42 was a success! The 30 minute 10 km ride up the Severn River is beautiful, albeit narrow, and lined with spectacular properties. The perfectly groomed cottage with the red train is always a treat. Honk your horn at the swing bridge before Sparrow Lake and enjoy the awesome run to Lock 43.
Swift Rapids/Lock 43 is the deepest and most remote on the system. With lots of room on the blue line and a friendly boater on hand to assist, we waited our turn and in under 15 minutes we were once again greeted by friendly staff. You really comprehend the 14.3 m (47’ ) depth when you are down to the bottom and look up – it's a long way up! Swift offers a maximum of 2 nights overnight camping and given it’s remote location it would be a beautiful spot for a quiet overnight.
Lock 44 is the one and only (in North America) Big Chute Marine Railway. We noted lots of turbulence in the water leading to the carriage (staff were hailing warnings) and after watching a boat ahead of us get a little sideways, we knew we needed to be on our game going in – and I still twisted us a bit. Once again, the staff were great and handled us with care. The memory maker moments as the carriage lifts your crew and your boat over the road and down the Chute are fantastic.
We were unable to fit it into our schedule but if you can, don’t miss out on a stop at The Waubic, a fantastic water access fish & chips place.
Lock 45 is next and we had been keeping tabs on Parks’ Twitter page about high water runoff. We arrived to open gates and found ourselves the only boat heading down. The sounds of rushing water going over the dam was evident and about ¾ of the way down I spotted the heavy turbulence that was waiting on the other side of the gate. With a pair of big block Volvo engines and duo prop drives I knew I had the power, I just wasn’t accustomed to using it in close quarters. We exited the lock safely and without issue and I was proud of how well prepared I was for this moment. Sadly, we watched a boat attempt to enter the locks after us and underpowered he went sideways. Lesson here is respect the water and pay close attention to your surroundings.
It's important to note that the channel markers change here. From Orillia to Georgian Bay we had green to our right & red to our left. The moment you pass under the Highway 400 bridge you are red right and green left and there’s no room for error.
We safely made our way over to Wye Heritage Marina and after topping up the fuel tanks and getting a pump out we settled into our pre-booked transient slip on P dock. In all, it had taken us about 6 hours for the run including brief wait times. We made time to walk the entire 800 slip marina, had a great meal at the on site Maple Canadian Pub , enjoyed a stunning sunset, and settled in early ahead of tomorrow's adventure.
July 17- We excitedly left the dock at 10 a.m. to make our way to red marker M14 to meet the Rendezvous. Weather was cloudy at the start of the day, 19 degrees Celsius and 14 km/h winds. With over 30 boats in a convoy we made our way up the small craft route towards Parry Sound. Little Cognashene is where you’ll find the marker that indicates the beginning of the route. Pay attention to your markers and charts and you’ll be fine. One of the first impressions for me was the number of tucked away anchorages -- they’re simply everywhere on Georgian Bay. We had all been directed to keep our marine radios on Channel 72 and the radio friendships began immediately. The maritime radio course I had taken over the winter paid off well during these interactions. Our guides gave great instruction and lots of local tourism tips to keep us engaged and entertained. As you make your way north the iconic Henry’s Restaurant is San Souci there's lots of boats docking, not to mention world famous fish & chips. We entered Parry Sound harbour with over 30 boats in our convoy and our organizers did an excellent job on the radio with instructions. Next lesson, folks – when the marina tells you to hold position in the bay until they call you in, listen! When it was our turn we were advised to prep a port side tie and found two friendly staff waiting to assist with docking. Perfect. Big Sound has added lots of new docks and they have a new wave attenuator on order to limit the amount of waves from boat traffic in the harbour. The small store was well provisioned (water & ice for us) and the washrooms were clean. There are train tracks very close and the trains run at all times day and night, but we didn’t miss a wink. Our hosts welcomed us with a pizza party and a drivers meeting to prep us for the next day's adventure when we would be heading out to the Bustard Islands. Some of the bigger (and slower) boats decided they would make an early departure and meet us there. After running Meant 2 Be at 8–10 knots (12–15 km/h) on its first day I was pleased to be able to be in the ‘faster’ group for the next stage. All in all a great day two on our adventure!
Join us next week for Part 3 for the Bustard Islands featuring a 29 boat tie-up, Collins Inlet, Killarney, Little Current, and more! In case you missed it, don't forget to check out Part One.