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Old 18-09-2019, 10:21   #1
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Join Date: Mar 2013
Location: Ottawa
Boat: Hunter 37C
Posts: 35
Trent-Severn waterway in a sailboat - lessons learned

In preparations for going through the Trent-Severn water way with our sailboat this summer, I found very little helpful information that was sailboat specific. Having now completed it (summer 2019), I thought I would share some of my experiences for other benefit.

1) The locking fees are based on boat length, not mast length. This can be a significant savings if you're carrying your mast on the deck. The lowest non swing bridge is about 22 feet so most people need to drop the mast. Depth limit is 6.5 feet from Trenton to Lake Simcoe and 5.5 from Lake Simcoe to Port Severn.

2) Locking fees are cumulative. For example the nightly fee for tying up at a lock can be applied/upgraded to a seasons pass if you stay for more than ten nights, which is the break even point. You don't need to decide in advance which option you want, simply upgrade as you go if you're not sure.

3) Lock staff are VERY friendly and VERY helpful. Great group of people. Who ever does their hiring should be commended. The lock staff will ask you where youíre going and if you are travelling on to the next lock. They will phone ahead and let the next lock know youíre coming and in most cases the lock will be open and waiting for you to enter. They also pass along your lock pass number so that you donít need to give it at every lock.

4) In Trenton you can drop/raise your mast at the Trenton town dock or at CFB Trenton Marina. CFB Trenton is a DIY affair so you need to know what you're doing but its the cheapest option. Trenton town dock was out of commission when went through, so phone ahead of time. Other further afield options are in Bath, Collins Bays (my home port and where I stepped my mast), or even Kingston, all of these are a long day of motoring away.

5) In Port Servern, masts can be stepped at Queens Cove Marina (small boats only, <30 feet but its the closest), Wye Heritage Marina (next closest but is a semi DIY job but very reasonable cost). Other farther options are in Midland and Penetanguishene.

6) Locking down is no problem. Two lock staff will direct you and take your lines (bow/stern), wrap them once around the ascent/descent cables and hand them back to you.

7) Locking up is a different matter. For example the first ten locks starting in Trenton are starboard tie ups only due to the way water enters the locks and will toss you around on the port side. If you have prop walk that pushes you to port then you will have problems. The lock staff do not understand what prop walk is and why sailboats can have such a tough go of it, ending up sideways in the lock! We were only two people on board so had to rely on a rear spring line for starboard tie ups. We reversed our rear dock line such that the bitter end was tied off to the rear cleat and the eye splice was led forward to mid ship. On entering (DEAD SLOW!) when the mid ship person passed the vertical tie off cable that would become the stern tie off, they would slip the spring line behind it and then slip the eye splice of the spring line over the mid ship cleat, then walk forward. As the spring line became taught, they would grab the vertical bow tie off cable and (possibly) fend of the bow/mast from the wall. Once the boat was stationary the captain would go to mid ship and transfer the mid ship spring line full to the stern and then start our social with other boaters. This method allowed for the captain to remain at the helm until the boat was fully stationary.

8) Often the locks are spaced very close together such that you end up locking all day long with the same boats. By the second lock you're all long lost buddies and are chatting up a storm, even having sun downers together in the evening.

9) The hydraulic lift locks (2 of them) are trivial and in fact easier to navigate than the traditional locks.

10) The Big Chute Railway lock is easy but its not evident what they want from a sailboat. They put the sailboats in first and have you motor in (DEAD SLOW!) centred to the front of the lift car. They will have a sling pre positioned at water level that you will gently motor against (ie. you stay in gear). Once the sling is taught and it brings you to a halt, they will raise a second sling at the rear and then have you turn off the motor. You will then be slung up and out of the water. This all happens in the span of about 15 seconds, its a very slick operation and these guys really know what they are doing.

11) Finding an anchorage for the night can be a challenge. We were told by friends that it would not be a problem at all but they had a power boat with only one foot draft. For us, with a shoal keel draft of only 4.5 feet, had more of a challenge. Once you get off the main channel, the depths get very shallow very fast. There we also so many cottages, wall to wall in most places, that it often made for unappealing anchorages, even if we found the right combination of depth and swing room.

12) The channel if very well marked and matched very closely to our chart plotters. We did not run aground at all. We once glanced off something along the side of channel but could not tell if it was bottom or a sunken log. You quickly learn to not look at the depth sounder when you're in the channel because the weeds will often give false echos that will make you change your underwear.

13) Staying overnight at the lock walls were an excellent and a cheap option. The facilities were always clean and well looked after. If you look at all the facilities, infrastructure, and staff involved in running and maintaining the locks, it really is a steal of deal.

14) We bought the Ports Guide for the Trent-Severn system and its well worth the $46 CAD we spent. We were amused by the author's obvious obsession with ice cream as it figured quite prominently in each town's and lock's description.

15) It took us 10 days to complete the system with only two layover days and we did not feel rushed. We motored at around 5 knots. We were on our way to Georgian Bay and the North Channel and based on past sailing experience there, we knew what was waiting for us. So it was easy to for us to pass through some of the scenic spots with 5000 cottages for those that awaited us in Georgian Bay with way fewer or no cottages at all. I'm really glad we did the system but would not do it again in a sailboat. If I did it again, I would buy a power boat (even for one season) and make the system my only focus. There's lots to do at most of the locks, such as, hikes, sight seeing, biking, etc. but we passed by these in favour of making it to the promised waters.

Hope this helps others in their planning.
B25Matt is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 18-09-2019, 10:57   #2
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Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: Boston
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Posts: 20
Re: Trent-Severn waterway in a sailboat - lessons learned

B25Matt, thanks for the great and concise summary. Invaluable. We had played with the idea of doing the Trent-Severn, but our 5.5 ft draft quickly put this to bed. It will be Lake Erie.
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