by Peter Lenihan

The rain never arrived yesterday although the sky did sneeze a couple of times which had me reaching for my rain gear...false alarms!  

With the winds very very light (too light to make headway against the current), I decided to motor around and take advantage of the relative tranquility afforded by the almost eerie absence of the plastic powerboat gang. It appears that they take weather forecasts more seriously than I.  

As I slowly puttered along past the rows of silent quays all boxed in by these plastic powerboats my thoughts drifted around until finally coming to rest on the awareness of the extremely low water being experienced up in this neck of the woods. Wishing to explore further the implications of this low water state, I eased my Micro out of the channel and headed toward some interesting nooks.  

Now, normally our water levels in springtime would be about a meter and a half over chart datum and boaters can safely go just about anywhere without charts right up to a beachhead. Not such a bad thing however an awful lot of boaters seem to forget that the water level generally goes down as the summer wears on and this leads to some expensive repair work to propellers and lower units for those not carrying charts! Today, the water level is a scant 39cms(15 1/2") over datum and the big boys better not leave the channel!

My first nook was the bank of the original canal, dug for use by the French and British during the fur trade. This little canal, no more then a glorified trench really, would later become the Lachine canal and serve as the gateway for opening up the rest of Canada. Pointing my bow toward the banks, I idled in toward the location of the Hudson Bay Trading company's' fur warehouse. This large fieldstone building served as the "end of the line" for the many couriers de bois (trappers) as they made their way down the Ottawa River and then down the St. Lawrence (the little stretch known as Lac St. Louis) with their canoes piled high with beaver pelts. Thanks to the efforts of various agencies, the building remains intact pretty much in its' original state and one can easily imagine the relief felt by the trappers when they would finally lay eyes on this structure after months of nothing but forests and streams.  

I was a mere 20 feet from the shore when the first dull thud announced the arrival of the bottom. With virtually little headway on, my Micro came to a gentle halt. Looking over the sides, the rock strewn bottom was wonderfully visible through the knee-deep water. Thanks to the early time of season, the weeds have yet to grow to obstruct ones view! Thanks also to the fact that the boat draws more than the engine, no harm occurs to the propeller!  

Finding myself temporarily "anchored", I reached into the cooler for something wet, cracked it open and sat down to enjoy the view. With little effort, my thoughts were filled with imaginary scenes of the banks crowded with large canoes and men shouting as they hustled their pelts into the warehouse to be sorted. It must have been an exciting moment with the air filled with the busy sounds of French, English and Iroquois voices! Unfortunately, the air must have also been filled with the ubiquitous mayfly and though the couriers de bois have long since vanished into the mists of history, the mayfly lives on to pester romantic fools drawn to the rivers edge. As I take my last gulp of wet and the boat becomes covered in lusty mayflies, I decide to "weigh anchor". 

Starting the motor, I put the gear into reverse. Then, as I make my way forward, the boat slowly sinks by the head, the keel kisses the rocky bottom goodbye, and we slowly proceed backward toward deeper water.  This particular maneuver is one which I have used time and again when I have accidentally or intentionally embraced the bottom. It has never failed me and is due to the pronounced rocker of the Micro bottom combined with the full length keel that rises up to almost zero at the bow. The robust construction of my keel (see Pouring a Micro Keel) gives me the confidence to do so with impunity.  

Once back in deeper water, I head off toward the newly restored lock gates of the later Lachine canal. This is the canal built to handle commercial shipping headed toward the Great Lakes and built to circumvent the nasty Lachine Rapids. Last used in the very early '70s, its' demise was singled with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1958.Today,thanks to the financial support of three levels of government i.e.; public funds, it is undergoing a major refit and will see use again as a pleasure boat canal.  

As I approach the lock walls, I am at first impressed with the attempts to re-create the style of construction through the use of cut rock blocks. No poured concrete here!  Inching further into the lock chamber, I notice that the gates themselves however, have been made from huge bits of pressure treated lumber. No sickly sweet aroma of creosote to tickle the memory!  Pity really, although I suppose the environmentalists applaud the absence of creosote leaching into the water.........

In short time I have come to the very end of the lock chamber and find myself staring up at the huge gates which effectively block my way. Not wishing to linger any longer than necessary (there may be construction men about and the canal is not yet "officially" open!) and slowly going deaf from the echoing rattle of my motor on the rock walls, I put both the motor and helm hard over.  As if pivoting on a pinhead, my Micro spins a neat 180 within her own length and we point our noses right back out the way we came in.  A very handy technique! 

As the walls slide by, my eyes see the ever broadening vista afforded by the approaching opening to the canal.  What a treat! This must have represented an exciting vision for the earlier passengers as they made their way Westward.  What adventures and wide open sceneries awaited those weary European eyes as they were carried ever deeper into the heart of this vast land yet unspoiled by the busy activities of industry and commerce.  With their thoughts filled with stories about the "wild savages" who live in animal skin tents and wait in the thick underbrush to ambush the white man, it must have been exciting indeed!

Fortunately, they all remained safely ensconced within the tight quarters of their cabins, far from the dangers, thanks to the overwhelming presence of......................the mayfly!  And thanks to a reasonably full and very cold cooler, I can remain calm enough to enjoy the luxury of puttering around in my Micro right through hordes of those pesky critters! 


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