To celebrate both of us turning 80 and our 60th wedding anniversary, my husband, David, and I took a long-distance cruise on the Down East Circle Route. The journey took more than 2,000 miles from New York Harbor through the Erie Canal and the St. Lawrence River, around Nova Scotia, and down the New England coast, ending back in New York Harbor.
Don’t forget to read part one and part two.
Part III: Brockville, Ontario, to Montreal
July 6-7: Brockville, Ontario
We had beautiful weather for a short cruise to Brockville, our first stop in Canada at the end of the Thousand Islands area of the St. Lawrence River. Our journey took us past Alexandria Bay, Boldt Castle and the lovely homes on the American side of the river.
Before reaching Brockville, we passed Singer Castle on Dark Island, built more than 100 years ago as a luxurious hunting lodge by Commodore Frederick Gilbert Bourne. Open to the public, it’s reportedly beautifully maintained and furnished, but we saw only the exterior as docking facilities were too small for The Bottom Line.
At the large Brockville marina, we docked on a long wall next to a park area and checked into Canadian customs by telephone. They wanted detailed information about our boat but did not ask for passport numbers. When asked if we had liquor on board, David replied that we had a “stocked bar.” That answer was sufficient.
July 8-9: Prescott, Ontario
The weather cleared after a night of thunderstorms, and we departed Brockville for our next port, Prescott. Continuing our leisurely cruise to Montreal, we planned several stops along the way. Since Prescott was less than two hours from Brockville, we timed our brief journey perfectly to avoid the showers that arrived later that afternoon.
Prescott’s small marina presented a challenge for docking The Bottom Line. (Our 58-footer was too large for many small marinas, which best accommodate boats under 40 feet.) With excellent dock help and David’s skillful piloting, we had no mishaps as we turned into the narrow channel and found our waiting slip. The marina was in a beautifully landscaped city park with plants, trees and a small amphitheater. The amphitheater’s schedule suggested it was a popular summer entertainment venue.
July 10-13: Morrisburg, Ontario
On another beautiful day, we left early to cruise to Crysler Park Marina, five miles downriver from Morrisburg in a national park. Assigned an end slip next to the river, we had an unobstructed view of the boats and ships going past. The setting was lovely, with tree-lined banks, flocks of Canadian geese swimming near us, and well-maintained facilities. Although there was no shopping nearby, we were stocked.
Crysler’s Farm, once located nearby and now submerged by the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway and its massive dams, was the site of a decisive battle in the War of 1812 between the British and U.S. armies. The U.S. sought to capture Canadian forts to thwart military assistance to British soldiers in New England. Although the U.S. forces outnumbered their foes, the British won the battle and caused the Americans to retreat from Canada. Today, this battle is reenacted daily in Upper Canada Village, which comprises numerous buildings and homes from the 19th century that were saved from the deluge.
We spent a day exploring the site, enjoying the crafts and skills demonstrations, and dining at the Willard’s Hotel, once a popular inn for travelers. Dressed in 19th-century clothing, the waitstaff was pleasant, and the food—simple, basic fare—was delicious.
July 14-15: Cornwall, Ontario
We arose early for a 7 a.m. departure. Although we couldn’t find the exact schedule online or in our cruising guides, we’d been told pleasure craft were admitted to Eisenhower Lock at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. We arrived at the lock entrance at 9 a.m. and followed check-in instructions.
We docked the boat in an assigned area without help. I walked on a swaying pontoon and climbed the stairs to a call station. Learning that the lock would open soon, I quickly reboarded, and we returned to the lock entrance area.
After entering the lock, we found a completely different docking procedure from the Erie or Oswego locks. Thankfully, with assistance from lock personnel, we tied to bits that lowered as the water receded more than 35 feet. The considerable turbulence made it difficult to maintain control of the lines and keep the fenders in place.
Only a short distance from Eisenhower Lock, we entered Snell Lock (there was no initial check-in) and encountered a similar situation. Both massive locks were built to accommodate large commercial tankers en route to the Great Lakes or the Atlantic. Thankfully, we were alone in both locks, sparing us the anxiety of possibly hitting another vessel if our lines (or theirs) became too loose.
David and I agreed that the lock check-in procedure was difficult and inefficient. All necessary information could have been transmitted by the electrical signs or speakers. Fortunately, we had no wind during docking. In a good wind, the unsteady pontoon would have been exceedingly dangerous. I would have had to crawl on my hands and knees to maintain my balance!
Before we left Crysler Park Marina, I had consulted with another boater about the route to Cornwall, our next stop. Comparing charts, he and I agreed we could take the shortcut through Polly Gut without difficulty. One guide mentioned a 24-foot bridge in the area, but we couldn’t find it on our charts. We only saw a high Seaway International Bridge noted. I called the marina in Cornwall, described my intentions, and asked if the bridge would be a problem. They assured me it would not.
After exiting Snell Lock, we turned into Polly Gut and encountered the strongest eddies we’d ever experienced. Fortunately, we had sufficient depth and could avoid most of them. After several miles, we were ready for the starboard turn to Cornwall when we saw the Seaway International Bridge; hiding behind it was the lower span we had hoped to avoid. Our guidebook had been accurate; the marina had been wrong. We reversed and headed to Cornwall via the longer route.
Beautiful Marina 200 in Cornwall sits in a spacious park near the downtown area. Our dockage had lovely views in all directions. After a good rest, we ventured about six blocks to shop at the small but active mall nearby and walked several more blocks to a recommended restaurant. We loved Cornwall’s charming downtown area, excellent marina, and friendly, helpful people. We enjoyed sitting on our deck and watching the flocks of geese and robins—larger and fatter than those we see in Texas—gather on an adjacent hill.
July 16: Montreal
Waking to a beautiful, clear morning, we left Cornwall before 8 a.m. on calm water to reach Montreal—70 miles and four locks away—by nightfall. Our GPS indicated that we would arrive at our destination before 3 p.m. Impressive homes lined the river’s shores. The area appeared prosperous with two large aluminum manufacturers, a large and bustling port, and a trade conduit on the river. After an enjoyable, leisurely cruise, we reached Beauharnois Lock a few minutes before noon.
Beauharnois Lock is really two locks, both down-locking. As instructed, we docked and checked in by telephone. We paid by credit card and gave the ticket to a lock attendant. The light board indicated that we would be delayed until 3:30 p.m. As we waited, another smaller boat with three young men docked near us. One of the men, Michael, came over and talked to David. He said that when the lock opened, we would go first, and they would follow, tying to our starboard side. We couldn’t see the necessity of rafting in a huge lock with plenty of room, but Michael said it was standard procedure for this lock. At 2:30 p.m., a large freighter emerged from the lock, and we were allowed to enter.
Like Michael said, we were required to raft with their boat on our starboard side. As the stern of our boat tended to move out as the water level dropped and I wasn’t strong enough to prevent it, we weren’t a good anchor for the other vessel. Michael boarded our boat and came to my aid. He remained with us through the next lock, which we entered immediately, and again helped us. He and his friends were enjoying a vacation day, and he insisted it was great fun to assist us and see our boat.
At 4 p.m., we had to decide whether to stop at a marina or continue. Because the weather was great, we only had two more locks, and commercial traffic had been light, we thought we could make our destination easily in three hours—well before dark. Before long, we could see the Montreal cityscape in the distance.
We approached the final two locks via a long canal with a 6-knot speed limit. Slowing down, we reached Ste. Catherine Lock in time to see the green light turn red and the massive doors close. Michael had said we didn’t need to check in or buy a ticket, so we didn’t have to dock the boat and could just pay cash to the attendant.
We waited and waited. Eventually, we saw a massive bridge silhouette rising above the lock doors. Then we waited some more. With nowhere to attach a line, we had to employ our bow thruster frequently to remain in position. Two hours after our arrival, a supertanker slowly emerged, and we could finally enter.
Unhappy with the movement of our stern in the locks, David and I devised a different plan. Although our stern cleat can only be reached by bringing a line through the small opening on the aft deck, it would be a more stabilizing location for the rear dock line than the midship cleat. After catching the forward line, I would quickly secure it to the bow cleat and then rush to the aft deck to pull through the rear line. David would take my place, and I would return to the bow, untie the line, and hold it tight as the boat descended. To our delight, this plan worked perfectly and kept the stern in place near the wall.
We had another wait at St. Lambert Lock, the final one on our journey. It was after 8 p.m., and the sun was starting to set. Taking advantage of the delay, I went to the galley, put chicken breasts in the oven, and prepared some vegetables; we would be too tired to go out for dinner once we made it to the marina. Frequent use of the bow thrusters kept us in position as we waited. Forty minutes later, another tanker came out of the lock, and we entered. Employing our new procedure, we handled the boat efficiently as it slowly descended.
It was now dark. We had never run The Bottom Line at night and had never been in the vast Montreal basin before. A strong current and turbulence made it difficult to consult our chart. GPS was our only guide, but to our dismay, the display began to dim.
We saw city lights in the distance as we neared an island entertainment park across from our turn in the river. We passed a sea of lights from boats anchored in front of the park. Within a minute, we learned why: Fireworks began to explode overhead. Although it was an impressive show, we wanted to remain focused as we dodged the many boats and sought to maintain our course.
As we slowly moved forward, a police boat hailed and told us to stop. No one could leave until after the fireworks. At this point, David and I started to laugh. Determined not to become frustrated by the day’s events, we decided to consider this an adventure!
It was past 10 p.m. While we waited for the fireworks to end, I consulted the GPS manual, found the solution for our display problem, and fixed it. Now we could navigate to our marina!
The fireworks ended 30 minutes later, and we moved downriver through the darkness with hundreds of other boats. The current and boat traffic created considerable turbulence. Calm in a crisis, David skillfully and patiently steered our boat through the mayhem. Using the famous Montreal Clock Tower as our marker, we determined our marina’s exact location.
Old Port of Montreal is nestled between commercial docks used by tour boats and cruise ships. We had remained in contact with the marina staff, so they expected our arrival and assigned us an excellent slip next to the marina’s back wall. It was nearly midnight. After a challenging day, we’d made it safely to Montreal, our final port for this first part of our journey. We celebrated our achievement with dinner and several glasses of wine.
The journey resumes in Canada in Part IV of the “Octogenarian Odyssey,” out in Spring 2023.