As a general proposition summer sunrises in Canada suck, because they occur well before normal people are awake. But at least they don’t discriminate against crappy marinas, so we got to watch one yesterday when we headed off towards the fearsome Welland Canal. To borrow from Cotton McKnight—one of the greatest sportscasters in ESPN 8 history—the Welland “separates the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys, the awkwardly feminine from the possibly Canadian.”*
Moments after untying, we immediately noticed a complete lack of steering. Hmmmm. This isn’t good. Locks without steering seems kind of dangerous. Fortunately a few fits and starts and reverses later the rudder disgorged all the weeds and order was restored by the time we tied up at the pleasure craft waiting dock behind Foolish Dream.
Erin was surprised to learn that she couldn’t tow her dinghy through one of the world’s largest commercial seaways, but with some pluck and Dana’s help she hauled it aboard. Doug and Brian sat on Tumbleweed and clucked, Brian being the experienced dude we hired to satisfy the three-person crew requirement.
The cargo ship that threatened to slow us down mercifully stopped before Lock 1, so off we went at 9:00. Here’s the thing. The Welland Canal southbound takes boats 326 feet up to Lake Erie. Eight locks, although because as discussed below Lock 8 doesn’t really count, the first seven average 47 feet of lift. These aren’t those friendly little locks where cheerful college kids chat endearingly while you go up or down a few feet. They aren’t the biggest we’ve seen, but given the surface area it takes a long time to fill these monsters.
All whilst Dana and Brian held crappy polypropylene lines that the lock guys threw down. The same lock guys run from lock to lock to throw those crappy lines down. One of our guys coincidentally was named Guy.
What really must suck is trying to hold a 740-foot ship carrying 28-thousand tons of widgets using a 3/8-inch slippery line. So instead someone invented automated suction cups that clamp and center the big boys in the locks. Way cool.
A few miles in we met our first ever double flight of locks, meaning two flights of three, going opposite directions. By the time we popped out the top we essentially had scaled Niagara Falls, ten miles to the east.
This canal is such a spectacle that they actually built a spectator platform. We waved to the nice people on our way by.
After Lock 7 we dropped Brian off a few miles from his house. Great guy. Knew all the tricks. Huge help.
Did we mention that the Welland is a commercial waterway?
But this isn’t a just photo of us passing Baie St. Paul. It’s mostly a distant photo of Bridge 11, also known as the Allenburg Bridge. The Allenburg Bridge is famous because of that time in 2001 when the bulk carrier Windoc smashed into it. Turned out the bridge operator was drunk and lowered the bridge just in time to shear off the aft high stuff, including the pilothouse and smokestack.**
Amazingly nobody was hurt and despite a fire that took a while to extinguish, no fuel or oil escaped. Presumably the bridge operator didn’t escape but we couldn’t find any info about what happened to him.
A bit further south and a bit more recently, in 2020 the Alanis and the Florence Spirit rammed each other head on, which frankly seems impossible in the era of, you know, VHF radios. We start talking to these boats in plenty of time to learn their intentions, for the express purpose of preventing Tumbleweed from becoming a hood ornament. A game of chicken seems quite foolish indeed.
Wait a second here! What the hell is a pontoon boat doing in the lock-protected seaway?
This actually is the Port Robinson Ferry, which takes passengers across the canal. In the old days, the Port Robinson Bridge served the same purpose, with the added advantage of carrying car traffic. But then in 1974 the cargo ship Steelton hit the bridge as it was lifting.
Our man Brian actually was on the scene and showed us a bunch of pictures he took. Anyway, the people in charge apparently concluded that a small pontoon boat would serve the Port Robinson populace as well as any bridge, so now there’s not one.
Shortly before Lock 8, the Redhead sits in a confusing set of logistical decisions. She dropped a load with no contracts for return cargo, so apparently has been waiting for weeks in Port Colborne with her fingers crossed, which doesn’t sound like a profitable strategy.
As for Lock 8? Easy way to finish a long day. Our first float-through lock since Nova Scotia’s Canso Canal three years ago. Nice.
The lock dudes said we did the fastest passage of the year so far. We’ll take it.
At the same time, we left Port Dalhousie at 6:45 a.m and hooked into Sugarloaf Harbour Marina in Port Colborne at 5:45 p.m., with not much relaxing along the way.
The totem pole with the hand-painted driftwood says we’re about 60 nautical miles from Erie. Pennsylvania. USA. Unlimited high-speed data. However, the predictors of such things say Lake Erie will be blessed with high winds and big waves until Saturday. So we ain’t leaving before Saturday.
*In a related pseudo-historical footnote, “Dodgeball was invented in 15th century Chinese opium dens, Timmy.”
**We came through yesterday, so obviously claim no credit for photos of the various disasters that occurred before yesterday. We’re just including them because they’re cool, and to prove that we basically spent eleven hours in mortal peril.