A very busy boating day on a busy long weekend in August. This was filmed during our return trip homeward to Lake Simcoe, coming back from Georgian Bay. Location is at the top side of Lock #42, Couchiching Lock, of Ontario’s 240 mile long Trent Severn Waterway.
The weather had been forecast for strong winds and potentially heavy thunderstorms, so we were eager to get back to our home port before the worst of it hit. As luck would have it, we made it back mere minutes before a big storm rolled through! Click on this link to see what that looked like, as well as more footage from this part of the trip – https://youtu.be/2GslNAotBh4
Be sure to visit us at http://BoatsBeachesAndBars.com/video_store.html for information on purchasing our exclusive Trent Severn Waterway feature DVD/Blu-ray that takes you from the beginning at ‘Mile Zero’ in Trenton, Ontario, and through to Port Severn at the north west end at Georgian Bay. Take in the beauty and adventure as we cruise all 240 miles of the highly diverse waterways and see the many wonders of the world’s highest lift locks, take a ride over North America’s only marine railway, visit the communities along the way and so much more!
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“If it’s your first time driving to The Keys, ya gotta go along Card Sound Road!”
That was the recommendation we received from a totally unexpected source, and one that I’d like to pass along myself. It’s worth a little side trip if you are ever to drive to and through the Florida Keys.
Heading south on US1. Turn left here.to take the Card Sound Road route.
Roughly a week before we were to depart from a month long stay in Fort Lauderdale and continue southward, we were visiting Flamingo Gardens, a wildlife sanctuary and botanical gardens, just west of town. During a brief talk with one of the staff feeding the rescued birds, the discussion turned to the pungent smell. Not that it was an offensive smell, just very heavy. It brought to mind what a tropical rain forest might smell like and that’s when the talk turned to our upcoming trip to The Keys.
Before I get any further with this story, I want to make sure I don’t turn you off with any thoughts of a ‘smelly’ or ‘pungent’ Florida Keys experience, so don’t worry. Apart from one or two spots in the Lower Keys where we came upon some dead seaweed stuck along a stagnant shoreline, this chain of islands (or ‘Keys’) has no more smelly sea shore than probably anywhere else in the world. And that’s all part of the charm of being on the edge of an ocean.
Road Less Traveled
When driving south to The Keys, one will head down the Florida Turnpike to it’s southern terminus at Florida City. At this point, it merges with US1, which then continues right down to ‘Mile Zero’ at Key West.
When I was planing our own drive there, I had us following that same route, as it it is the most direct. Fortunately, this little side track only adds about 15-20 minutes to the trip, so it’s not going to hold anybody up. Plus, it’s more in keeping with our laid back, easy going style of traveling. After all, we are grandparents now, so we gotta start acting the part ;-)
Southbound on Card Sound Road.
After turning off of US1, we continued southward on what could be described as a secondary road. It’s well maintained and we are able to cruise along at about 45-50 MPH, but clearly not designed for the heavy traffic one would find on US1 when heading into Key Largo. A more ‘out of the way’ vibe is how I would describe the feel of the road.
One Dollar Sir
Roughly a third of the way along, there was an unexpected toll booth – again, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The toll was a whole one dollar and took about as long to get through as it did for the attendant to mumble ‘uh-huh’ when I said thanks and have a great day. I’m guessing the thrill of being in The Keys wasn’t as strong for him as it was for me. Or maybe it was the imminent threat of crocodiles crossing the road at this point that was keeping him on edge ;-)
Toll booth, complete with a ‘Crocodile Crossing’ sign. Fingers and toes inside the car at all times, kids.
How About a Drink First?
For those who couldn’t possibly carry on any farther – or had better intentions for the $1.00 toll, there is a bar right beside the toll booth. Alabama Jack’s was busy the day we drove by, with vehicles of all sorts parked on both sides of the road. There was even a couple of boats tied up to their docks.
According to their web site, they are only open daily from 11:00 am to 6:30 in the evening. Being located on the edge of a swamp, the mosquitoes apparently make the prospect of hanging around past sunset not much of an option. Maybe it’s the short hours that cause locals as well as passersby to want to get in before lights out. . .
Alabama Jack’s restaurant and bar.
As tempting as it might have been, we decided to carry right on through past the bar. Just a little south came into sight the reason for the toll; a long causeway stretching over Card Sound proper. I’d say that it was one dollar well spent as the view was pretty nice. We would learn shortly afterward that this was only the first of dozens of ever increasingly awe inspiring views of the blue-green waters of the Florida Keys.
Driving on the causeway over Card Sound and our first of many ‘overhead’ view of the Florida Keys.
Now that we are seasoned pros at this, I’d like to pass along the very same recommendation we received ourselves; If it’s your first time driving to The Keys, ya gotta go along Card Sound Road :-)
Having departed our last stop at Fenelon Falls, we continue east toward Lake Simcoe. Before reaching Simcoe, there are a few more locks to go through, including the impressive Kirkfield Lift Lock. This is the second lock of it’s type on the system as well as the second highest in the world, with the one at Peterborough being the highest. You can learn more about that one in the part two of this series. Right now, enjoy this video from one of our own passages through Kirkfield to see how it works;
Just beyond the village of Gamebridge, the Trent portion of the Trent Severn Waterway meets Lake Simcoe which is, by far, the largest body of water along the system. From this point, the Small Craft Route follows a north-east path towards the Atherley Narrows and Lake Couchiching, a trip of roughly 15 miles. Although many people traveling the waterway simply pass right through Simcoe, there is a great stopover location to check out on the way.
Lagoon City is situated just east of the small-craft route, approximately eight miles north of Gamebridge. This master planned community began with the creation of ten miles of canals and lagoons designed exclusively for all waterfront homes and condos. Also located here is Lagoon City Marina, a full service facility where transient boaters can tie up for a day, week or more. For those requiring service work or haul out, there is a 35 ton travel lift, on site mechanics and access to a complete selection of parts. They are also the first place offering mast stepping for sail boats coming off the waterway.
Some of the 277 boat slips at Lagoon City Marina.
Jewel of The Trent
Just north of Lake Simcoe sits one of the most popular destinations in the area; the Port of Orillia, on Lake Couchiching. With 222 transient slips, Orillia continues to live up to its reputation of welcoming boaters from near and far. More than simply a spot to tie up, the Port hosts regular events throughout the season, including boat and cottage shows, waterfront festivals and the always enjoyable ‘Christmas in June’. During that weekend long event, boats are decorated to various themes with many participating in a nighttime ‘Parade of Lights’.
Overlooking the docks at the Port of Orillia
With its quaint, old downtown situated just steps off the docks, there are endless choices of things to do and see and probably one reason that many visitors try to arrange an extended visit here. The close proximity to major highways also makes it perfect for crew changes. It’s no wonder that Orillia is called ‘The Jewel of The Trent Severn Waterway’.
Exiting the top of Lake Couchiching, we enter the Severn section of the Trent Severn Waterway. Only three more locks lie ahead before reaching the final one at Port Severn and the end of the system.
The Severn River quickly transcends from rural countryside and gentle shorelines to a decidedly more rugged landscape, with dramatic Precambrian rock formations covered by spruce and pine trees contributing to the stunning scenery. Although this stretch can be traversed in a day, each of the locks offers its own special surroundings, so try to spend an afternoon or overnight at any or all of them.
Cruising down the rugged Severn River on a beautiful summer day.
Swift Rapids (Lock #43) doesn’t have any road access, so it is peaceful location offers pretty tie up options both at the top & bottom. It also features the highest lift of any of the conventional locks, with the deep lock chamber dwarfing any boats making the trip through.
Next along is the famous Big Chute Marine Railway. Although not a true ‘lock’ in the orthodox sense of the word, it instead carries vessels up and over the 60 foot change in elevation by way of a massive cradle set on railway tracks. It’s quite a show to watch the big machine partially submerge to allow boats to get on for the trip. Once secured by a series of adjustable straps and blocks, boats are then ‘portaged’ over land to reach the other side. This system is the only one of its kind in North America and can carry vessels up to 100 feet long!
Loading up a boat on the Big Chute Marine Railway.
Here’s a video I put together showing us passing through Swift Rapids lock, going over the Big Chute Marine Railway and heading on to Lock #45 at Port Severn – the final lock on the system;
End of The Line
The final stop on this journey is Lock #45, at Port Severn. Beyond the public docking alongside of the lock itself, Port Severn offers a number of tie-up options for boaters, most within sight of each other. Whatever your overnight destination is, you can walk to each of a number of restaurants, ranging from a simple burger to five star fare. If you need a break from the boat for a night or two, there are three establishments that offer rooms or suites where you can enjoy all the comforts of home, while keeping an eye on the boat!
No matter how long you spend venturing along the Trent Severn Waterway, or how many times you visit, there is sure to be a lifetime of wonderful memories. And a lifetime of longing to return to this special, historic gem.
I hope you will have a chance to read all four parts in this series to learn a bit more about the lovely Trent Severn Waterway.
Have look at the introduction to our ‘Cruising The Trent Severn Waterway’ video production. This 76 minute long feature is now available both as a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack, or a convenient digital download. Feel free to visit our site at TheWaterway.ca for more information on the video, as well as the entire Trent Severn Waterway.
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