Crossing Lake Ontario

Crossing a big body of water takes some planning.

In order to cross, you need to watch the weather.

You need to arrange for a dock space at your destination.

You need to know how to report to Customs when you arrive and before you do anything else.

You need to be aware of other traffic, particularly big commercial ships as it’s surprising how they can sneak up on you.

In other words, you need to plan.

In case you think a lake isn’t a big body of water, let me introduce you to the Great Lakes.

Lake Ontario, the furthest east and last of the Great Lakes in terms of water flow, is much like her sisters. It is smallest in surface area, but is larger than Lake Erie in terms of water volume.

An interesting fact is that the land surrounding and under Lake Ontario is still rebounding from the weight of the glaciers.

Some estimates have the land around the St. Lawrence Seaway rising at a rate of 12” per century.

Ontario, like 3 out of the other 4 Great Lakes, was formed primarily by glaciers during the ice age.

Ontario, like her sister lakes, is to be respected as storms build up quickly over the forests and pastures of the Canadian province of Ontario.

There are around 200 commercial ships lost in Lake Ontario over the past couple hundred years.

It’s estimated that a total more than 6,000 ships have sunk in all of the Great Lakes, with a loss of life of more than 30,000 sailors and passengers.

The most recent big tragedy was the Edmund Fitzgerald sinking close to Whitefish Bay in Lake Superior with a loss of 29 sailors back in the 1970’s. Gordon Lightfoot wrote a song about that. It’s one of my favorites.

I’ve had a bit of experience when the Great Lakes turn ugly.

I spent one summer as a deckhand of one of the Mackinac Island ferries, the Straits of Mackinac II.

The Straits of Mackinac II: some of my best memories of a summer job was as a deckhand on this ferry

We were one of the few ferries that would run in any sea state, and I remember a couple pretty bad days due to bad weather.

Of course, when the weather turned bad on the island, everyone would want to get off the island at the same time, even when fewer boats were running.

Not only fewer boats were running, but we reduced our capacity to only the lower deck as we needed to keep our center of mass on the boat as low as possible to help stability.

We would depart the dock and start the trip over to Mackinaw City. I would hand out bags for seasickness and the passengers’ eyes would get big.

Once we were in the Straits of Mackinac we were committed to the crossing.

A gale strikes the eastern shore of Lake Michigan

I remember seeing a few waves close to one story and very close together. That’s a very violent sea state for a 110’ ferry, but the Straits of Mackinac II was built to take it.

Even with that knowledge, it was still very disconcerting being a deckhand responsible for a few hundred passengers.

Invariably, people would start yelling (I call it yelping), like when you’re on a really bumpy airline flight. It’s far from pleasant.

The sea sickness would start, and by the time we got to calm waters, quite a few people had lost their lunch or their drinks or their fudge or any combination of the aforementioned.

We’d offload everyone, helping the wobbly ones off the boat.

And then we’d turn around for another load.

On the way back, we’d break out the fire hoses and wash the partially digested effluent out the scuppers and overboard.

And then we would do it again until everyone was safely off the island.

Back to our trip: We arrived in Oswego, New York Friday afternoon and tied up on the wall in the harbor. It was a very blustery day, making it pretty difficult to lock through the last 3 locks into Oswego.

We could see the waves breaking over the breakwater at the entrance to Oswego Harbor. It was a very blustery day, and no one was venturing into the lake. I certainly did not want to.

We were watching the weather for the appropriate weather window. It turned out to time perfectly with our arrival in Oswego to go the next day. We could rest in Canada.

The Saturday we departed was forecast with light winds and waves 1-2 feet. The weather was forecast to get rougher the next day, so we went for it.

Our track on Nebo from Oswego to Kingston

As it turned out, it was an uneventful crossing. It took 7 hours to cross from Oswego to Kingston, Ontario in Canada.

But the seas were beautiful and clear.

Our first view of Canada

No one got sea sick.

Because we planned for it.

We pulled into Kingston, and docked successfully.

We checked into Customs via phone. We were allowed into Canada with no issues. Ok, we were a little over on our liquor allotment but they let us in anyway.

Because we planned for it.

I’ll provide more updates later, as there were a couple of unplanned events that have happened since our arrival into Canada. Stay tuned.

By Tad Sheldon

I'm a retired Silicon Valley Technologist and Director. I teach skiing as a 4th (5th? 6th?) career for fun, and am passionate about Boating. I'm even more passionate about my family and friends. I volunteer occasionally for non-profit Boards, and currently serve as the Secretary of the Board for Western Division of the Professional Ski Instructors of America / American Association of Snowboard Instructors.

5 replies on “Crossing Lake Ontario”

Another great blog entry Tad. Having grown up on and having a fondness for Lake Erie I am well aware of the fast moving and violent storms that can come upon one quickly. Happy to hear you have crossed Ontario safely! Enjoy your stay in Canada.


Was trying to figure out your ultimate route. Guessing the plan is up the St Lawrence then out toward Prince Edward and around Nova Scotia back to the Atlantic?


Actually, Don, we are taking two years to do the Great American Loop. I posted about what it is early on in this blog site but you can also Google it to see what it is. Basically circumnavigating the eastern 3rd of the US.


Tad, great tale. The fire hoses brought back memories of a much smaller event after a Sunday afternoon sail with some guests who had tender stomachs. As crew I had the duty of clearing the decks. You nicely described part of the sailors lot that many accounts gloss over.


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