Days on cruise: 106
Distance traveled: 3.8 miles today, 20.9 miles yesterday
Travel time: 49 minutes today, 4 hrs 47 mins yesterday
Total trip odometer: 2,376 statute miles
For years we’ve been hearing about a piece of engineering brilliance called The Big Chute, more formally known as the Big Chute Marine Railway. This is considered the next-to-last lock (44) westbound on the Trent-Severn Waterway, although it is not a lock. Some engineering genius devised to build this instead of a lock, and it lifts your boat 57 feet.
Construction of the “new” Big Chute was completed in 1977, replacing an older, smaller 1915 version (the first photo above) and it doesn’t operate like any other lock. You park on the blue line, but after that, everything is different. The rail car your boat will board to travel over, then down, a big hill , altogether out of the water, is 80 feet long and 36 feet wide, and can carry boats up to 100 feet long , 27 feet wide and 90 tons with a draft of 6 feet.
The Parks Canada staff who operate this machine are skilled at working the puzzle of figuring out how to load a number of boats of different sizes onto the rail car together, held in place by slings which support the boat as the car travels up and out of the water.
Staff uses a PA system to call boats off the blue line, to board the rail car in the order they want you to fit. The rail car is submerged in the water, you drive the boat to the place they tell you to “park” it, and slings are raised to support the boat in place.
Once all boats are boarded, the rail car goes up the track, out of the water, over the hill, back down the track, and back into the water, where your boat once again begins to float until it is free and can exit the Big Chute rail car. We arrived at the Big Chute yesterday, Friday, and spent a couple hours watching boats ride through so we could understand how it’s done. Amazing!
Fellow Loopers on ‘Bama Belle, Charlie and Lori, arrived at the Big Chute dock a few hours after we did and tied up for the night. The four of us walked to the adjacent Big Chute Marina and had dinner at their patio restaurant, three of us enjoying Big Chute Burgers. The weather was warm and sunny with a bit of a breeze.
This morning it was raining when we got up. We drank coffee on our sundeck for a couple of hours with Charlie and Lori, hoping the rain would subside so we could get decent Big Chute photos. Finally, shortly before noon the rain let up, we traded cameras with Charlie and Lori, and off we went to put Next To Me on the blue line, while Charlie and Lori photographed our passage from land, using our camera.
It was quite something to be on the bow of our boat, three stories up in the air, traveling slowly over a hill from one body of water to another. An ingenious dual-track system for the front and back steel wheels keeps the rail car level at all times. The back 10-15 feet of our boat was hanging over the air at the rear of the rail car, and Cathryn wondered if the slings might be in the wrong place and the boat could fall off the back. Completely silly, as the guys who sling your boat have mostly been doing this for more than two decades and REALLY know what they’re doing!
Ten minutes later, it was all over: what a thrill! We tied our boat to the wall and walked back over the hill to take photos of ‘Bama Belle making her journey over The Big Chute. Afterwards, we pulled alongside ‘Bama Belle in the middle of the lake, and traded our cameras back.
We had planned to finish the Trent-Severn today and enter Georgian Bay, hoping to connect with Dave and Sue on their boat Manana, the nice folks we had dinner with in Orillia two days ago. They’re on their boat tonight, but just for the weekend. By the time we finished our Big Chute journey and had lunch, it was so late we decided we didn’t feel up for such a long day and didn’t want to travel that far.
So when Charlie and Lori announced their plan to go only a few miles to White’s Bay and anchor out for the night, we decided to follow suit. After both boats were securely anchored, we dropped our dinghies and the four of us went to play at the waterfall and rock beach nearby. All of us went swimming to cool off, and the crowd built throughout the afternoon. What a pretty spot!
Finally it was time to return to Next To Me, so Cathryn swam back while Bob drove the dinghy. It’s sunny and warm again late this afternoon, but the breeze is up and it’s not hot like yesterday, so life on the hook again is good!