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A Week on the Loop
By Julie Shea
Posted on 7/11/2017 11:42 AM
Over the years, many very hospitable Loopers have offered me the opportunity to join them for a stretch of the Loop. Finally, the stars aligned and I had a week available and a willing host! Following is a journal of my week on the Loop.

Day 1 – Brewerton NY
On Sunday, June 25th, I flew into Syracuse to join Michael Martin of Curtis Stokes and Associates as crew aboard The Perch. Repairs were completed on The Perch just in time and she splashed back into the water at Ess-Kay Boat Yard in Brewerton, NY the night before my arrival. After a sea trial on Sunday afternoon and some provisioning, we were set to drop the lines on Monday morning and start my week on the Loop.

But first, a Looper rite of passage – Docktails! We joined the other Loopers at Ess-Kay (Fins, One Eye Dog, Hour Plan, Mosey III) for shared snacks, drinks, and Looping stories. What fun!

Day 2 – Brewerton to Oswego, NY
The Perch is a Silverton 410, giving us the ability to be a “go fast” boat. But as we continued on the Erie Canal, we happily puttered along at “trawler speed”, being careful to obey the 10 mile per hour speed limit on the Canal, but more importantly, going even slower to avoid waking any of the many docks and boats along the edges of the Canal.

We soon arrived at my first lock, Lock 23, on the Erie Canal. I’ve heard for so long about locking through and finally, I was experiencing it! The Perch is a tall boat, and the walkway at mid-ship is quite high above the waterline, so it was a long reach downward to grab one of the ropes with a boat hook. Soon enough, we were secure against the lock wall and ready for a short trip down seven feet.

Next, we turned into the Oswego Canal to continue our cruise towards Lake Ontario with seven more locks ahead before we would reach Oswego, NY. Lock 1 on the Oswego has both ropes and cables, but with the Perch’s height and the water above its normal depth due to recent rains, the cables were too far below us to reach them with a boat hook, so we stuck with ropes to hold the boat against the lock wall. As we approached Lock 2, the sky turned gray and we could see lightning. It became apparent that I would experience another “rite of passage” for Loopers, locking through in a monsoon-like downpour while the lightning flashed and thunder boomed. In Lock 5, with the cables still too low to grab with a boat hook, Michael suggested I throw a line around a bollard. Easier said than done! After trying a few times, I gave up and grabbed the rope. (I know many Loopers have experienced this frustration!) At the next lock, however, I was determined and managed to lasso the bollard on the first try! Woo hoo! Beginner’s luck, but I’ll take it!

We arrived safely in Oswego and tied to the wall. No power or water, but it’s priced accordingly ($1 per foot). The best part? We were right outside Alex’s restaurant, which has a large open-air dining space and bar, as well as a large inside dining room. We had the pleasure of dining with Loopers from Tag Team, One Eye Dog, and Sea Saga.

Day 3 – Oswego, NY
With the weather looking far from suitable for crossing Lake Ontario, we lazed about in the morning, catching up on email and other tasks. The rain continued, and we moved The Perch and One Eye Dog to spaces along the wall with power and water that had been vacated by sailors saltier than us who were planning to cross the Lake. With the whole day ahead to explore, we walked across the bridge into the heart of Oswego where there are a few small museums, interesting shops, eateries and plenty of cafés offering coffee and pastries. Michael also dealt with one of the necessary chores while Looping – laundry. We found a candy store that had chocolate covered-anything-you-could-ask-for. As I ate my way through Oswego, I started to understand why so many Loopers say they’re joining Weight Watchers as soon as they cross their wake.

On the walk back to the boat we ran into Charlene and Danny from Ellis Island, and both Fins and Hour Plan, who were with us in Brewerton, had caught up with us and were tied to the wall in preparation for departure across the Lake tomorrow. We also ran into Observer, who came in tied to the wall in Oswego as well.

The day in port also gave us time to research where to find the best butter tarts when we arrive in Canada. There are many, many opportunities to sample this Canadian favorite!

Day 4 – Oswego to Trenton
We awoke to a chilly 55 degrees this morning and prepared to drop the lines at 7 a.m. Since The Perch can go fast when she wants to, we expected the 74-mile run across Lake Ontario to take about three hours. Then onward to Presqu’ile Bay, the Murray Canal, and the Bay of Quinte, and finally, arrival at AGLCA Sponsor, Trent Port Marina. It was a bit of a bumpy crossing starting out from Oswego with about three-foot swells. We watched as Observer, like most Loopers, turned eastward to shorten the open water crossing and enter Canada through Kingston. But we followed One Eye Dog directly across the Lake towards Trenton. After a short bout with seasickness (my own fault—I knew it would happen but failed to take precautions), the Lake settled and we approached Canada. As a South Carolina Lowcountry boater, where 10 feet of water under the keel is a lot, I was amazed as I watched the depth finder reach several hundred feet! And, I had to laugh when Michael suggested I steer around a “low spot” that was charted at 33 feet. We completed the crossing of Lake Ontario and headed into Presqu’ile Bay towards the Murray Canal. The Murray Canal is not charging fees this year as part of the Canada 150th celebration, which in a way, was disappointing, because the method of collecting fees on this canal is for the bridge tenders at the two swing bridges to stick out a coffee can attached to a pole for the boaters to drop $5 into! I was hoping to get a photo of One Eye Dog, still in front of us, paying the fees.

The Murray Canal led us to the Bay of Quinte, where we consistently found the water to be five to seven feet above charted depths due to all of the recent rainfall. But even with the extra water, there are several low spots to look out for. The channel took us around the bay and into Trenton where we tied up at Trent Port Marina.

The marina is only in its second year, and the facility is first-rate and built with all the amenities, including Kawartha Dairies ice cream on site! The boaters’ showers are second to none, with individual bathrooms. Laundry is on site and is free (they even provide the soap) and there’s a grocery store just across the street that carries the long awaited butter tarts! About 20 Looper boats were tied up at Trent Port, so not surprisingly, docktails started about 5 p.m. I saw many Loopers I’ve met at past events and met some new ones as well. The food and wine were plentiful. It was an absolute blast!

Day 5- (Still) Trenton
I've broken the biggest rule about Looping. Never have a schedule. I'm scheduled to fly home Sunday and Michael needs to leave the boat for a week to fly to parts unknown to work. Between being in a fairly remote area, being a few days behind where we thought we'd be because of repairs and weather, and because Saturday is the Canada Day holiday, we've reached the end of the line for this trip. There's no place further up the Trent-Severn that we can get to, in the time we have left, that has slips available and rental cars to get to the airport. So we made the decision to stay here at Trent Port Marina.

But just because we're stationary doesn't mean I'm not having a great experience of life on the Loop. Today we ate poutine (French fries with brown gravy and cheese curds), visited the National Airforce Museum of Canada, stopped at Rachel's Butter Tarts (pro-tip: try their new flavor--Bacon Butter Tarts!), and then went to Lock 1 and Lock 6 by car. The lock tenders were so friendly and knowledgeable and they even let us turn the wheel to open the lock doors! The day ended guessed it! Docktails! But this time on the porch at Trent Port Marina with live music, which they have every Thursday.

Day 6 - Trenton (with a side-trip to Peterborough)
Since the boat wasn’t going anywhere, we drove by car to what was expected to be one of the highlights of my trip, the Peterborough Lift Lock. It didn’t disappoint. We had an absolutely amazing day! We were treated to a "behind- the-scenes" tour by Parks Canada's Manager of Canal Operations, Chad Buchner, who many of you know from our Spring Rendezvous.

The Peterborough Lift Lock has a unique history and still operates in nearly the same manner it did when it was designed 100+ years ago. When it was constructed, it was the largest freestanding cement structure in the world, and today it is still the largest hydraulic lift lock in the world. The lock has two identical bathtub-like chambers. Each chamber sits on a ram with a shaft sunk into the ground that is filled with water. The two shafts are connected with a pipe and crossover valve and the chambers are guided up and down by rails connected to the sides of the concrete towers. The lift lock operates on gravity alone, with no external power source needed. When the gates open on the chamber at the top of the lock, an additional foot of water flows into the chamber and the extra weight makes it heavier than the lower. When operated, the cross valve is engaged and the heavier upper chamber pushes down on its ram forcing water from its shaft, through the connecting pipe, and into the shaft of the lower chamber. The force of the water entering the lower shaft pushes up on the lower chamber’s ram, raising that chamber up to the top position.

We were able to go inside, under, and on top of the lock. We even got to stand underneath the chamber while it lowered. And, I had the honor of operating the lock to lock through a tour boat, and then two Looper boats, Islandia and Miss Utah!

The Peterborough Life Lock is unique and amazing. It’s worth your time to tie up and explore the visitors center that tells the history of the lock, and to walk to the top of the lock to watch other boats lock through. It’s also worth your time to take the ride up (which is the direction Loopers are going), and then turn around and go back down to get a completely different view point. Of course, that requires a third trip to go back up, but when will you have a chance to experience something like this again? Take your time. Do it all!

Ed, the lock master, was so friendly and knowledgeable. Both Ed and Chad took the Loopers’ cameras and snapped pictures of them at the top of the lock. Chad even scaled a railing to get a better angle for Miss Utah! We can't thank Chad and Ed enough for their hospitality! They were both so generous with their time while we smiled from ear-to-ear during the tour. We also want to thank Parks Canada for their sponsorship of AGLCA! The Peterborough Life Lock is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience not to be missed!

Day 7 – Trenton to Toronto to Buffalo (by car)
It’s Canada Day! We spent the morning getting The Perch ready to be left for a week or so, and then walked across the bridge to the park where the Canada Day festivities were happening. Experiencing a small-town festival seems to be another Looper rite-of-passage, and this one was fun! Vendors offered all kinds of food, crafts, and more food! There was also a strong-man contest, a firefighter challenge, and cable wake boarding in a nearby pond. I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of the “VIPs” on the risers that included members of the military, a local pageant winner, and other local dignitaries. It was certainly a slice of small town North America!

The logistics of getting from the boat to the Buffalo Airport were a bit challenging, especially with no rental cars available locally due to the holiday. But we found there are shared shuttle vans that will take you from the more remote parts of Ontario to the Toronto airport (and vice versa), which might be helpful for Loopers to know about should you want family or friends to meet you along the TrentSevern. From the Toronto Airport, we rented a car and drove across the border to Buffalo where we made a brief stop at Niagara Falls and watched the Canada Day Fireworks.

While my week on the Loop didn’t include as much cruising as I had expected, I truly experienced life as a Looper. Weather and other delays are part of the lifestyle. Those same delays can lead to experiencing historic sites, festivals, restaurants, and other hidden gems you hadn’t considered. I’m extremely grateful to Michael Martin of Curtis Stokes and Associates for inviting me aboard to crew for a week. I can’t wait to get back on the Loop! I'll be out there again soon!
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