We had quite the adventure yesterday in the Welland Canal. It started off at 6:00 am, with our engine not behaving properly. We had to really rev the engine to make the boat go. Dennis noticed this immediately and was quite worried that the engine would overheat. Eventually though, as we approached the holding dock, the engine started behaving properly. At the Port Coborne Marina, we had backed into the slip and it was full of weeds, so maybe weeds had been caught on the keel or prop. At any rate, everything was now working!
At the holding dock, we met up with Goban, this was a 40 foot Hughes from the 1970s. The couple that owned it had just bought it in Sarnia three weeks ago. They were having quite a time with the boat. It was well built, much heavier than ours, but had been in the charter business in the Caribbean for years. The owner was 94 years old and helped Michel get the boat ready. Michel was so worried about him because they were working in the extreme heat (35 degrees!) for hours, but the man seemed ok. The boat had seen better days though. Nothing worked on it! No running water, no refrigeration, the dodger and bimini leaked in the rain, most of the gauges did not work, the sails were old and worn out.
The reason we learned all this was because MIchel and Jane (the couple that owned the boat) were at the Port Colborne Marina just two slips down from us and they came over the night before the Welland Canal adventure and told us all about their trip. First of all, Jane had never really been on a sailboat except for a small one years ago, so for her to take on a three week trip under those conditions, was very admirable. Michel was an experienced sailor and nothing seemed to faze him. They have (perhaps had) a ten year plan to get to get the boat ready for their retirement.
At the holding dock, we explained to Michel that our engine was not quite right and he laughingly said, “It is good thing we are here – we may have to tow you!”
We then called the Seaway Welland lockmaster and he gave us the green light to get through the first lock. We were thrilled! Sometimes it takes 16 – 17 hours to get through the locks. We would probably be through in six hours, the weather was cool and we didn’t have to go through with a big boat. It was just Goban and the Split Crow.
The first lock (Lock 8) was so easy. We dropped only four feet and didn’t have ropes to hang onto. We then had to motor for almost twelve miles through the canal before we reached the rest of the locks.
Everything was going very smoothly until suddenly we could hear shouting and Michel calling the Split Crow on Channel 16 (the emergency radio channel). We looked behind us and could see billows of smoke coming out of their boat, and everyone waving their arms frantically. (Goban had aquired tow helpers – Myrna and Charlie – to get them through the locks). Dennis answered the radio and Michel told him that the boat was on fire! We headed back to help and by the time we got to them, everything was under control. We called the Seaway Welland lockmaster and told him that we were going to have to tow Goban. So, we towed them along for a while. Here is a picture of them – notice how nobody is really looking too worried!
The lockmaster told us to get to a certain point, then tie up along the wall and get the boat fixed. Most likely, you cannot tow another boat through the lock system.
So, we tied up and found out what happened. Michel had heard a bunch of alarms go off (water temperature, engine overheating, etc) and simply turned them off and carried on. Within minutes, the engine had overheated and smoke was coming out of the cabin. Michel ran down with the fire extinguisher and opened the engine cover and realized that all the antifreeze and coolants had blown out of the engine. The smoke was actually water vapor. It did look quite spectacular though!
Here is a picture of Dennis with the Goban owners after he helped them out.
We called the lockmaster to let him know what was happening and he then contacted us on our cell phone. Dennis went over to help and refilled the engine with coolant, checked the water pump to make sure water was coming out of it (there was a little bit, not much but a little bit) and the engine started. We called the lockmaster back and he gave us the go ahead to proceed. We set off again, with Goban following. Suddenly, we heard more shouts and when we looked back, their little dog was running alongside the boat on the dock! Michel turned in, grabbed the dog and set off again! By this time, we were hysterical with laughter! What a situation!
We eased into the next lock and the lockmaster asked Michel if he was planning on leaving the dog behind. Apparently, they captured this on camera. Hopefully, we won’t be featured in a training manual dealing with what NOT to do while going through the locks.
The next couple of locks went smoothly. The two of us were able to handle the boat and there was not too much turbulence. Then, as we were heading to Lock 2 (the second last lock), we got another radio call from Goban that their engine was overheating and that they needed to be towed. So, we circled back and tried to get the towing rope, but it was all snarled and knotted. Charlie and Myrna frantically unsnarled it while we went around them again. Meanwhile, we called the lockmaster on channel 14 and Dennis explained the situation. He told us to tell Goban to call him immediately. Michel called in and the lockmaster told him that he had to call in if there were any problems. It was just luck that a freighter wasn’t barreling down the channel.
We crawled up to the lock, towing Goban and let them go just before we entered. Dennis said that if he couldn’t untie the rope safely, he’d have to cut it. We didn’t want it going around the prop!
We successfully dropped another 40 feet and started out of the lock, when Michel’s engine would not start! Good grief! Dennis radioed the lockmaster and told him that he would tow Goban out of the lock. Meanwhile, Goban was bouncing around sideways and running into the wall. We started BACKING UP in the lock towards Goban. Dennis said, “They better have that rope ready!” Miracuously, Goban’s engine started and they limped out of the lock. Only one more to go!
The last lock was actually anti-climatic. Both boats went through easily. We looked for the first place to tie up and got off the boats. Originally, we were going to head to Port Dalhousie (and we’re sorry to have missed it) but there was a strong wind warning out for Lake Ontario (25 knots) and we were so tired that we decided to stay put for the night. We were safe. Goban however, carried on. They said that they could sail to Port Dalhousie. They called today though and let us know that they made it safely!
In all, we had been a little worried about the Welland Canal and hadn’t slept well the night before. Thank goodness we didn’t know what was in store for us! We dropped 328 feet in a span of eight hours and had a great adventure along the way. Hopefully, today’s ride to Toronto Island will not be as exciting!
Here are a couple of pictures of us going under the QEW.