Finishing the Trent Severn

Dawn at Sparrow Lake

We spent a peaceful night at Sparrow Lake in an idyllic bay called Duck Bay.

We needed our rest because the next day was going to be one of the most exciting days of our trip yet.

We were going to do the Big Chute Railway or as everyone calls it, “The Big Chute.

It can carry several boats on a large platform braced by cables and straps operated both with electric cable reels and hydraulics on a railway that goes over the top of a hill down around seven stories in elevation to the water below.

If that sounds complicated, you would be correct.

The Big Chute, entering the water for another load of boats

Someone once said, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and the Big Chute fills that definition to a “T”.

There is nothing pretty about it, it’s built for functionality alone.

Loading boats in The Big Chute

Five well trained operators are needed to run it.

The Trent Severn Waterway has had several people retiring recently, and with the issues caused by COVID it’s been difficult keeping the Big Chute staffed with experienced staff to run it on the weekends.

If your boat can sit flat on the ground without impacting your propellers and rudder, they will take you at any time.

The Big Chute crossing a road

If you have some configuration requiring special treatment, or if you are wider or heavier than a certain size, you needed to wait until Monday to go.

Boats loaded and being taken to the other side down about 7 stories in elevation.

We had heard this, so we planned our arrival time at the Big Chute to be later in the afternoon on Monday.

We left Sparrow Lake after a rather quiet and peaceful night at our anchorage, and headed to Lock 43 at Swift Rapids.

Lock 43 is the deepest lock on the Trent Severn, at about five stories in elevation. There are two double locks we already went through that were higher, but the individual locks were closer to three or four stories, not five.

We arrived and were the first ones locking through for the day.

By now, locking was pretty standard for us, as we had our procedures down. We locked through without an issue, except it was a bit unnerving how far down we dropped before stopping.

Selkie exiting Lock 43, the deepest lock in the Trent Severn. Photo by unknown

As we exited the lock, the operators informed us about a cruise ship coming through, the Kawartha Voyageur.

The Kawartha Voyageur a cruise ship on the Trent Severn Waterway. It is basically a 4 story building on a barge sized to just fit in the smallest lock on the Trent Severn… with its bow folded up.

Like the Big Chute, it’s not pretty to look at but it’s very well suited for its intended purpose. The people on her enjoy their time cruising the waterway in grand style.

The Kawartha Voyageur is built to barely fit through the smallest parts of the Trent Severn Waterway, but is big enough to take several dozen passengers on a several day trip exploring the Waterway.
The Kawartha Voyageur, and how she barely fits in each lock, bow folded up or down.

Hearing about the Kawartha Voyageur coming our way made us plan to make sure we were not in a narrow section of waterway so that we could pass each other.

Thankfully, we passed each other just fine.

We continued on another couple of hours to the end of the waterway where the Big Chute was.

By the time we had arrived, we found that the backlog of larger boats had cleared.

We pulled up to the wall where they organize which boat gets loaded where.

I wanted to make sure the lock staff knew about Selkie’s stabilizers (2 fins that stick out of the hull that when activated, keep Selkie from rolling too much), as there was a chance of damage if they supported Selkie in the wrong place.

They assured me there would be no problem, and that I should get ready to load.

So we did.

The crew did a great job with Selkie snuggling into her perch on top the Big Chute.

And off we went.

At the top of the hill
Looking forward
Looking back up the hill

It was a pretty rough ride as there is no softening of the suspension on the Big Chute.

Entering the water on the other side

We bounced up the hill, across the road, and down the other side, every vibration and shake the Big Chute felt being transmitting into Selkie.

There is no suspension on The Big Chute, making for a jarring ride

The ride took less than 2 minutes, and it was almost anti climatic when we were gently deposited back into the water.

Once we were underway, we proceeded to the last lock, Lock 45.

It’s the smallest lock in the Trent Severn… which means it’s the smallest lock to go through so far for us.

We locked through with no issues.

Just like that, we were done with the Trent Severn.

Looking back, I felt some emotions that surprised me.

I felt a strong sense of accomplishment doing something not very many people do.

I also felt a sense of arriving home, as we were in Lake Huron waters, in the Great Lakes, where I spent my formative years learning what cruising was all about.

I was home.

The Trent Severn Waterway was an experience I look forward to repeating in the future. Now we know where the good places are and where the bad karaoke is, and will do even better next time.

We continued on to Midland Ontario, where we would be berthed the next three nights, which gave us time to give Selkie, and both of us, a little attention.

I have more adventures to report on soon.

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.

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