Canada, Richelieu River and Chambly Canal, including Montréal, Ottawa and Kingston
Continuing north from Rouses Point, NY, Lake Champlain outlets into the Richelieu River. Pass Ft. Montgomery (LDB). There is a very prominent floating sign marking the US/Canadian Border. Shortly ahead on the LDB is the Canadian Customs Wharf, where all boats must stop and check in.
Although Canada is officially a bi-lingual country, some facility with French will be helpful in this region. The first town cruisers will encounter is Ste. Jean Sur Richelieu. There are public docks below the lock. There is a popular 20-somethings pub at that location which the lockmaster said
could sometimes be disturbing. All local businesses will accept US currency at par, but there are a couple of banks within walking distance, so this is a good place to get Canadian Currency. We did experience some excitement over our VISA Card. Apparently, the VISA system link between Canada and the US was down the day we did this, and it took much hand processing, hampered by our lack of facility with the language.
Ste. Jean Sur Richelieu is the location of the first lock of the Chambly Canal, lock 12. The lockmaster here sometimes carries his handheld VHF radio. A cheerful fellow, he worked very hard to be helpful, but his facility with English was weak, and our facility with French was non-existent. Work with him and laugh a lot. Immediately above the lock, in the canal, is a floating dock (RDB) that can accommodate 4 – 5 boats. The dock is across the canal from the village, located along the canal dike and walking trail that separates the canal from the body of the Richelieu River. It is slightly farther from the downtown area, but is scenic and quiet.
At Chambly, QC, visit Fort Chambly. This is a French Revolutionary War period fort representing the 1749~50 time-frame. The docents here did a positively superb job in both French and English. The Richelieu River is an “old world” cruise. It leads north to the St. Lawrence River junction at Sorel, QC. Turn to port, up-river on the St. Lawrence River, for Montréal, or stbd, down-river, for Québec City.
Traveling upbound, approaching the “Old Port” of Montréal, a large Molson brewery is located on the north shore (LDB), then the very prominent Jacques Cartier Bridge, and then the entrance to the St. Lawrence Seaway lock at Ste. Lambert on the south shore (RDB). You will have plenty of time to locate and consider these sights, because due to the flow of the St. Lawrence River over the Lachine Rapids, the river current in this area will approach 4 – 5 knots, and will be against you. If you approach this area along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, outside the ship channel lateral buoys, southwest-flowing eddy currents will actually be of some help. See Skipper Bob for detail on this.
Past the entrance to the Seaway canal at Ste. Lambert, a large and prominent white clock tower is on the north shore (LDB). This tower marks the entrance to the quay where the Yacht-Club of Montréal is located. That clock tower landmark is the Quai de l’Horloge, or “Clock Tower Wharf.” Also called The Sailors’ Memorial Clock, the cornerstone was laid by Edward VIII, then Prince of Wales, on Oct. 31, 1919, as a memorial to Canadian sailors who died in WWI.
Sanctuary and crew stayed at the Yacht Club of Montréal in the Old Port Area. Entering the Yacht Club basin, keep the clock tower to port. When you enter the basin, the current drops from 5 kts to 0 kts, so be prepared for a very abrupt change in water flow; the helmsman will have to come off the power very quickly. There is no tide and no current in the basin, so docking becomes “normal” and “easy.” A little further up river, also on the Montréal city (north) shore (LDB), is a second large marina complex (Port d’Escale) in another former commercial quay.
Upon arrival in Montréal, we suggest the first thing for a first-time visitor to do is locate a tour bus to see the city. This will orient visitors to local points-of-interest and allows one to plan follow-up visits to places of personal interest. A half block from the Yacht Club quay in the old port district is a marvelous 1750s architectural delight, the chapel of Notre-Dame de Bon Secours. We also suggest visiting the Historic Cathedral, the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, and the Montréal Science Center. In the first block above the Yacht-Club quay is a dépanneur, the US analog to a gourmet sandwich shoppe and mini-market.
From Montréal, proceed west, up-river. Transit the Ste. Lambert Seaway lock into the South Shore Canal, and thence into and though the Seaway lock at Côte Ste. Catherine. The South Shore Canal is a 14 NM bypass of the non-navigable Lachine Rapids. There is no place to stop in the canal. At Lac Ste. Louis, jog north to the Ottawa River at its junction with the St. Lawrence. This area is broad, shoal and rocky, so mind the sailing line on the charts carefully. Remember, markers in the water take precedence over charts. Proceed to Ste. Anne de Bellevue and stay on the canal wall. Ste-Anne is a charming, small french-speaking town with several good restaurants along the lock wall.
West of Ste-Anne, there is a very large and very unique lock and hydroelectric dam at Carillon. Google this lock and read about it before you get to it. “Officially,” Canada is a bi-lingual country. All official services are “required” to be available in both English and French. However, our experience was that the lockmaster at Carillon avoids, at all cost, speaking English. To him, speaking French only appears to be a point of Provincial and personal pride. Upon our arrival, because of our poor facility with French, we could not understand his instructions, so after three attempts to get him to respond in English, the captain made an executive decision to tie up along a floating dock, on the south side of the lock, to our port. We then got to witness an actual miracle. The lockmaster was suddenly able to instruct us, in quite good English, to please tie up to the north wall (to our stud). I gave him a big smile and salute, and immediately complied.
Above Carillon, on the Ottawa River’s LDB, is Château Montebello. We definitely recommend everyone spend a day or two at Château Montebello. The château is an Internationally renowned conference center. It is the largest log structure in the world, and was completed in just 91 days. The château and the château marina are open to the public. There is a very nice swimming pool, and all boater amenities. It is priced accordingly, and yes, above the regional average. But then again, a lot of the competition is by mooring pass, so heavily discounted if heavily used.
Upon arrival at Ottawa, pass Rideau Falls and the Prime Minister’s Residence (RDB) and the stunning sight of the Canadian Capitol campus greets you as you enter the basin below the famous stair-step fight of 8 locks leading up from the Ottawa River to the level of the Rideau Canal. These 8 lock chambers of the flight are all built as a unit. A potential problem in these locks is that the water level comes to level of literally within inches of the deck combing. Fenders will float out of place, and the hull will scrape on the deck combing. I jumped off the boat to protect our hull in those chambers.
Transit the flight, proceed less than a mile, and tie up along the eastern canal wall. There is room here for many, many boats. Along the south east wall, there is a sill cock that will accommodate a garden hose at the first spot on the wall, if you’re lucky enough to find it available. By attaching hoses together, that sill cock will serve several neighboring boats along the wall. Milfoil and other aquatic weeds are a problem for genset sea strainers all along the Rideau Canal, so mind that carefully. After a few hours in one place, you’ll clear the area near the intake, and weeds blocking the sea strainer becomes less of a problem, particularly if you stay in one place for more than a few hours. DO not leave the boat with the genset running unattended unless you ares sure the weeds will not clog sea strainers. Again, we suggest that first time visitors start their visit to Ottawa with a tour bus to orient themselves to this GREAT city. Did you know the Canadians built the Rideau Canal because they were worried that the precocious adolescent Americans to their south would invade them via the St. Lawrence? Visit the Bytown Museum at the top of the Ottawa Flight-of-8 locks to get the whole story. Other must see POIs include Parliament, the Peace Tower, the Changing-of-the-Guard, and the National Mint. Many excellent shoppes and fine restaurants are to be found in the City Market district.
Depart Ottawa westbound along the Rideau Canal, towards Kingston, ON. The control depth of the Rideau Canal is 6 feet, established by the lock sills. Dally along the wonderful towns of the Rideau… Merrickville… Smith Falls…. Jones Falls…. Brewer’s Mills…. This is English-speaking country, the people are delightful and welcoming, and the cruising is relaxing.
Kingston, ON, is a superb town with a lot to see and do. Visit the “Fortifications,” and definitely visit Fort Henry. We recommend that visitors stay at the Confederation Basin, downtown. Note that Confederation Basin does not accept reservation for the same day. Go figure… Plan ahead… There are good shoppes and restaurants within an easy walk of Confederation Basin.
Canada, Kingston, ON, to Port Severn, ON
From Kingston, ON, cruisers in need of fuel can make a quick day crossing to the village of Clayton, NY. Check-in to US Customs at the Customs Wharf in Clayton. In Clayton, you can fuel and pumpout at US Prices. Clayton is also the home of the fabulous, fantastic, wonderful Antique Boat Museum. A day at this museum will definitely go by quickly. From Clayton, cruisers can either 1) follow Lake Ontario west toward Lake Erie, or 2) return to Canadian waters and follow the Bay of Quinte westward to Trenton, ON. From Kingston, ON, simply proceed westward on the Bay of Quinte. Stops along the Bay of Quinte include the delightful village of Picton, ON, and the small city of Belleville, ON. The Royal Canadian Air Force Museum is
very well done and worth a visit. The museum it located 1/2 way between Belleville, ON, and Trenton, ON. Stay at either place (good marinas at both) and rent a car to visit the museum. Learn the true story portrayed in the 1963 movie, “The Great Escape,” featuring Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough and Charles Bronson.
From Trenton, follow the Trent-Severn Waterway to Port Severn. The TSW is a positively superb cruising ground. Control depth on the TSW is 5 feet. There are some big lakes on the TSW route, including Lake Simcoe. Be mindful of wind, sea state and short term weather forecast when traversing them. Winds are often higher in the afternoon than in the morning hours. Some of the most unusual locks in the world are on this waterway, including the locks at Peterborough and Kirkfield, and the Railway “lock” called the “Big Chute.” There is so much to see, do and enjoy that it will require it’s own separate blog item.
Canada: Canal fees
Fee structures have changed, and continue to evolve. Verify well ahead of time what is shown here as our experience, as this cost is significantly more than found anywhere in the US. There is a modest fee (perhaps $100) for the NY State Canal System. Fees for the Canadian Canals (Locking Permit) and lock walls (Mooring Permit) are much higher; probably $700 – $800 per season.
Note 1: The control depth of the Rideau Canal is 6 ft. The control depth of the Trent-Severn Waterway is 5 ft. Parcs Canada will have you sign a liability waiver if you draw 5 ft. or 4 ft. respectively. There’s no slack in those measurements. The control depth on both canals is determined by the lock sills, not natural bottom features or obstructions. As a statement of boat draft, if you can make these locks, you can make the entire trip. STAY INSIDE THE MARKERS ON BOTH CANALS!
Note 2: Several of the locks on the Rideau Canal have water levels that are within 6″ of the deck elevation of lock copings. In these locks, fenders will roll out from between the coping and the boat. When the chamber is full, there is not enough space for fenders to occupy in order to hold the boat away from the coping. In these situations, especially when crosswinds pushed the boat into the wall, I actually jumped off the boat to hold it off the wall until the water level changed enough for the fenders to do their job.
Canada – The Technicalities
If you plan do go to/travel through Canada, do your homework on the formalities. You will need a passport. Do not take firearms of any kind. Long guns are allowed, but the hassle-factor will generally not be worth it, because you will have no need for them. Limit “ship’s stores” to modest amounts – preferable with seals broken – of wine and hard liquor; and only a very modest amount of beer. Expect alcohol to be three or four times as expensive in Canada as in the US. Meats, also. Free heath care isn’t free. Skipper Bob has a lot of good info on all this, but it may be dated. Do your due diligence, but make very sure you follow all the rules. If you have grandchildren aboard, and they are not accompanied by their legal, custodial parents/guardians, be sure their custodial parents/guardians have provided written, specific and notarized permission for you to transport them into Canada. When we’ve entered with our grandsons, we were never questioned on alcohol, cigarettes or vegetables, but the Customs folks were very, very interested in ensuring we weren’t kidnapping those kids.
To go to Canada “legally,” you will need a Ship’s Radio License and a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator’s Permit from the FCC; about $260 for the two, both good for 10 years. See my discussion of this subject here: https://gilwellbear.wordpress.com/category/cruising-practica/general-cruising/radio-and-radio-operator-licenses/. This is a United States FCC rule-making regulation, which is consistent with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) treaty, of which the United States is a signatory nation. Thus, the same is true if cruising to the Bahamas. US regulation… No one will ask or care about this unless you have some other kind of gnarly legal problem. Then, it could become a huge bureaucratic and legal complication.
Check with your boat insurance underwriter about taking the boat out-of-country. Some policies require riders, others include that coverage (for the “Great Loop,” which for this purpose, you are doing… shake your head “yes”…).