Saturday, 8 August 2009

A Day on the Water

When this rainy summer provides you with a rare sunny day, you take advantage of it. And so, when the view out the window corresponded with the forecast one day last week, we hurriedly packed up sandwiches, a cooler of frozen water bottles, maps and I threw on a bathing suit, we hitched up the boat and chugged off to our favourite launch onto the Rideau Canal system.

It was a glorious day; a bit windy but sunny and promising warmth. We decided to stay off the wide and probably pretty rough Big Rideau lake and, instead, headed downstream toward Ottawa. This route takes you through a series of locks, some in the town of Smiths Falls and onto the Rideau River as it winds its way toward Manotick and Ottawa. I slathered sunscreen onto the vulnerable spots, JG put industrial strength blocker onto his ears and nose and we cruised down the first part of the Rideau to Poonamalie Lock.

This is a shady and beautiful spot and several pontoon and houseboats were tied up there for the day, leaving little space for down bound boats to tie up on the lock approach. And JG has been having rouble with the throttle lever on the outboard being stiff and sticking before going into neutral. And so we were approaching a small space at a relatively brisk pace. I reached for the quay bollard with the boat hook just as he decided the approach was too fast and put us into reverse. And the boat hook slid through my sunscreen slippery hand, poised for a moment over the water, gave a derisory glug and sank.

Some kind folk on the wharf roped us in and marked the spot where the boat-hook had gone down. A helpful gentleman from one of the houseboats ran and got his 8' reaching pole; he could see ours but it was in water deeper than he could reach. JG rolled a blue eye at me and said, 'You had better dive for it.' Ah, well. I did a couple of duck dives beside the spot Mr Helpful was marking and I got down to the bottom alright, even with 50 lbs of fat to pull with me, but I could not find the wretched pole. When I came up the second time empty-handed, Mr Helpful came into the water with me. If I could do it, so could he, he said and down he went and up he came with the pole, a yard or so off where I had been diving. JG and I were very, very grateful. And when Mr Helpful and I clambered back into our boat, we were both bleeding. Zebra mussels on the walls, the lock master informed us with some amusement.

Luckily it was a fine day to sit in the boat and drip dry. And a fine day to cruise through Smiths Falls where the docking slips and camp grounds beside the canal were full of happy vacationing folk who all waved at us cheerfully. There were not, however, any boats proceeding with us. And so, when we came to the deep hydraulic lock in Smiths Falls, we went down in solitary splendour. It is a long drop - the new lock replaces three older ones, now converted to a fine waterfall landscaped with flower pots.

There are only a few modern locks on the Rideau System, due to the efforts of concerned canal lovers protests when the first few were converted. It is now a world heritage site and Colonel By's handiwork is carefully preserved, leaks and all.

The historic locks are wood, as shown, and are operated with a system of geared gates driven by muscle power. There is a lock master at each lock or series of locks and the muscle power is supplied by bilingual summer students in green shorts and amazing sneakers. One of the prettiest is Old Slys, a double lock, where you look out into the sky from the top of the first one. After that comes Edmunds, the farthest we had ever previously gone, and then Kilmarnock. We went that far, still all alone in each lock, but were worried that we would miss the last lock through at Poonamalie so we turned there and started back.

I had put a shirt on over my bathing suit but had not buttoned it up. And, suddenly, I noticed that I had a very sore spot on my upper chest. I guess I had washed my sunscreen off in the water because I had a nasty burn along the top of the bathing suit. As I write this, days later, it is still peeling and hurting and annoying me greatly. Must never forget to reapply the gook after being in the water. Snarl. (YD is not allowed to comment on this, hear me?)

As the light gets longer in the late afternoon, to my mind things become more beautiful than in the stark glare of noon. This is a photo of Poonamalie lock as we entered it on the homeward journey. And if getting sunburned is the price I had to pay to be there, it is worth every itchy minute.


  1. Not a very leisurely boat trip, but certainly an eventful one! You got doses of Vitamin D and exercise along with your recreation this time.

  2. looks lovely (and I'm sure that's what the asian fellow above me had to say, as well, just in more words/characters)

  3. I agree with MP. It also looks like you are doing very well with your new camera. I'm wondering where the shot is of you in your bathing suit on the bow of the boat ;P

  4. Aside from the mishap, it all looks grand.

  5. No 'I told you so' from me ... I have a burned and peeling nose. Again.

    Wish I were there to dive!

  6. Why is it that that top of the chest area gets burned so quickly? I always make a point of keeping it well covered if I'm going to be out for a long time. But aside from the burn and some scratches, it looks like a lovely, spontaneous day!

  7. What fun.
    You need a few battlescars after such an expedition.