Omemee, Ontario - The long, watery road ahead looked daunting. For neophyte sailors like ourselves it was intimidating, but we couldn't stall any longer. We had meandered about, drinking coffee, laughing nervously and tidying up our space for the umpteenth time, but we needed to face facts. It was time to cast off.
We placed our toddler, Mady, securely in her playpen. With our teenage daughter, Alana, on the stern and myself on the bow, my husband, Phil, turned the key in the ignition and the engine rumbled to life. We untied the mooring ropes and with a push against the dock we were finally on our great, houseboating family adventure.
Just the evening before, we had carefully watched a safe boating slide show at Egan Houseboat Rentals, located in Omemee, just west of Peterborough. The purpose of the presentation was to give us enough marine savvy to get behind the wheel of a 32-foot houseboat. In 30 minutes we learned about houseboat manoeuvring, charts and locks.
At the end, we felt a little more confident that we wouldn't end up marooned on an island, just like the S.S. Minnow, in the middle of the Trent-Severn Waterway (although that story might be a good one to add to the waterway's colourful history).
Stretching 240 miles from the town of Brighton in eastern Ontario all the way north to Port Severn, the Trent-Severn's purpose was to establish a commercial shipping route from Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay. That was a great idea, but by the time the waterway was complete (it took 87 years to build), railways and highways had become the preferred means of transport in Ontario. Undeterred, the Trent-Severn simply reinvented itself as a recreational area and today attracts thousands of boaters, cottagers and tourists each year.
Part of its attraction can be found in the 44 locks that sprinkle the Trent-Severn from start to finish. They make the navigation of all the interconnected rivers, lakes and canals much easier by allowing boaters to get around the changes in water levels.
We'd chugged slowly northward after leaving Youngs Point that morning and felt confident after successfully negotiating Hells Gate passage, a narrow scenic route that wasn't hellish at all.
Now Lock 28 at Burleigh Falls was within sight, and we hoped the lockmaster wouldn't be able to see the apprehension etched on our faces. Luckily, we had the whole lock to ourselves. Phil expertly manoeuvred the houseboat against the lock wall, where Alana and I easily looped our lines around the black cables running up and down the wall.
The enormous steel gates closed and the lock quickly filled with water, effortlessly lifting the houseboat 24 feet straight up.
We'd executed our first "lock through" without injuries or damage to the boat, and we were elated. It was time to relax and take in our surroundings as we continued on to #30, known as Lovesick Lock.
Lovesick Lake got its name from a relationship gone wrong, but don't let the moniker colour your perceptions. This part of the waterway is dotted with islands covered with windswept pine trees, rocky ledges and great fishing. It's a dramatic panorama meant to be taken in slowly from the deck of a houseboat.
After navigating through Lovesick and stopping for a picnic just outside the lock, we were now on Lower Buckhorn Lake. Our intent was to reach the town of Buckhorn and Lock 31 by the afternoon and secure a spot for the night on the popular lock wall. Once safely moored, we hopped off to visit antique shops, stop for an ice cream and snap pictures of the fisherman at Buckhorn Dam.
We left again early the next morning and began the last leg of our trip, which would get us back on terra firma permanently.
Casting off was uneventful by now, and both Alana and I were hopping off and on the houseboat as if we'd been doing this all our lives. After negotiating the Gannon Narrows, we found ourselves in the heart of the Kawarthas on Pigeon Lake, with its lovely grassy water meadows.
We continued south until we sighted Egan Marine - which signalled the end of our trip - with a bit of melancholy.
The houseboat had lulled us to sleep with its gentle swaying motion for the past two nights. We had talked and played together, bringing out good old-fashioned board games, without the distractions of television or computer, and we had learned how to work together as a family.