Traversing the Big Lift and Big Chute to Georgian Bay
We were headed to Ontario’s Big Lift and Big Chute Locks en route to Georgian Bay from Peterborough. Most of us Loopers were concerned about how to maneuver our boats in these enourmous lift bridges. In the city of Peterborough, on Little Lake, the Otonabee River Trail runs along the waterfront and parallels the main street, which is lined with all the stores and restaurants anyone could want, including a Boater’s World. The marina was filled with Loopers, many of whom, like us, were anxious to get a look at the hydraulic lift lock. We heard plenty about boating Ontario’s Big Lift and Big Chute Locks to Georgian Bay.
On our way back to the boat we sampled beer and barbecued ribs at a festival in a nearby park. We had a laugh when we ordered a couple of Church Key beers, a local Ontario brew whose motto is “Drink religiously.” Later that night we joined a crowd toting bag chairs into the marina park to see a free concert of the Stampeders, a local 1960s rock-and-roll group. The show was topped off by an impressive finale of fireworks.
The next day, we were happy that we knew just what to expect at the hydraulic-lift lock, and our passage was a non-event. Once we secured our lines, we were just passengers. The shoreline simply disappeared and when we reached the top, a gate swung down into the water, the front end of the elevator opened and off we went.
Making friends with Canadian boaters
It was pouring rain as we approached the Lakefield marina, and the dock attendants were busy. So, we found our own slip and pulled in. Bill and Kate on the houseboat Sultana caught our lines and asked where we’d come from. When we said Peterborough, Bill responded, “Anyone who has run five locks and only traveled eight miles in a day needs a drink; come on aboard.” We were happy to oblige.
Bill and Kate were just the latest of many cruisers we met along the way. Later, we visited Sea Time and Just Enough, 31- and 27-foot Sea Rays, respectively, also on the Loop cruise. We had affectionately named them the “Bullet Boats,” because they always blew by us (after a gentle pass). For dinner, we joined the crews of Katie Sue, Island Fever, and Easy Livin’ at the Thirsty Loon Pub in town to celebrate the long, tedious day.
While our days were “locked” into a schedule dictated by distances and destinations, socializing along the way was totally spontaneous. As we visited with our many new friends, we were surprised to learn that circumnavigating the Loop was the first extensive cruising many of the others had done. And the size and scale of their vessels was impressive, most being in the thirty-six- to forty-five-foot range. Several of these people were first-time boat owners.
Beautiful lake country and bountiful boating
As we traveled further west, we saw more rocks, many with a striking spread of orange lichen carpeting their surface. Some had cottages perched on top, while others were barren. Such outcroppings became even more of the landscape as we made our way to Bobcaygeon, between Sturgeon and Pigeon Lakes. At night we marveled at the cobalt blue dark skies in Canada often studded with stars for as far as we could see. We used our binoculars to see the amazing panorama above us.
TIP Our firsthand experience using binoculars on a boat: Binoculars are vulnerable on a boat. An unexpected roll from a passing boat wake can send binocs onto a hard deck surface or worse, bouncing off the boat. To protect binoculars, stow them near the helm so they’re readily available but tucked in a safe cubby that prevents them from being damaged.
Approaching the narrow entrance of the Bobcaygeon Lock, we were startled to see a low swing bridge we hadn’t expected, just as quickly, we were relieved to hear the lock tender say, “Approaching trawler, let me swing the bridge for you and then come on in.”
As we progressed through the lake region, we stopped periodically to throw the engine into reverse and then forward to spin off the grass that kept winding itself around the prop. We eased into the second hydraulic lift lock at Kirkfield, and as we exited, noticed that the navigation markers had switched because we were now locking down to Georgian Bay.
The shoreline changed to one of Christmas trees and stands of cattails, and when we reached Lake Simcoe, we were struck by the crystal clearness and color of the water—it was Canada Dry green. Just before reaching Port Severn, we maneuvered through a run of narrow, rocky cuts, where many of the ledges were covered with purple, gold, and white wildflowers.
The Big Chute, or railway lift, at Port Severn was the last lock. Picture driving your boat onto a marine railway, then being lifted out of the water, traveling over a road and being lowered down a cliff into the water. We waited at the blue line until we were called, and then the transit happened so fast and efficiently, it was over before we realized what was going on. And we entered the Small Craft Route to Georgian Bay and the North Channel.
- Lake Ontario to Trent Severn Waterway
- Boating the Small Craft Route of Georgian Bay
- Boating Ontario’s Big Lifts, Locks and Rocks
- Boating Chesapeake Bay, NJ Shore to New York Harbor
- Great Loop Cruise Primer
Gene and Katie Hamilton are veteran sail and power boaters and award winning boating writers. They are authors of Coastal Cruising Under Power and Practical Boating Skills. They are members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.