Boats of the Rideau

The August long weekend is one of the busiest times of the year on the Rideau Canal. If you're the patient type, it's a great time to go through a few locks, camp out for a few nights, and check out the local scenery, wildlife and boats, as Katy and I did this weekend. We'll start off with the boats....

We took my five-metre runabout, Sunset Chaser, for this trip. Dock space and lock space are both in short supply on the Rideau, but there is plenty of room to pitch a tent at the lockstations. Taking a small boat means we're virtually guaranteed to get a spot in the lock (we can raft up against almost anything) and we have a much better shot at getting good dock space. At Chaffeys Locks (photo below), we had about 8" of clearance ahead and astern in this spot, up against a nice solid dock and only a few metres from where we pitched our tent. (The wharf across the lagoon is commercial space, reserved for a tour boat.)

Sunset Chaser docked at Chaffeys Locks

Here's a good selection of boats, all lined up to lock down the flight at Jones Falls (click for 4500px panorama). The express cruisers (second from left, and the big blue one at the back right) are- inexplicably- a common style around here. They do not tend to run well in the no-wake zones that make up about half of the canal system, and the long, fine bow is an inefficient use of space when you're paying by the foot and dock space is scarce. This style is better suited to the more open areas of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers, or the Great Lakes, where their longer hulls and full-planing bottom can be used to full advantage, providing good speed in harsher conditions. There are plenty of runabouts and cuddys of 5 to 7 metres or so- three are waiting on the blue line in this photo. Stock 8 to 10 metre cabin cruisers are also in abundance; like the express cruisers, they don't handle no-wake zones well, but are much easier to handle (and to find dock space for).

Boats lined up at Jones Falls

The blue boat on the right (slightly distorted by the panorama stitching above) is "Chuckles", an electric tour boat that cruises between Jones Falls and Chaffeys Locks. Captain Lance keeps this beautiful craft trim and Bristol-fashion, and her efficient hull and electric drive system are a perfect match for this canal. In the no-wake zones, she can pass almost anything else with barely a whisper, and her oversized outboard rudder allows the boat to make the tight turns needed to get around in the lockstations.

Tour boat "Chuckles"

Tour boat "Chuckles"

Tour boat "Chuckles"

A more typical Rideau cruiser is this Carver. They're a popular marque in this area, and pack a lot of accommodations for their length. This build-upwards style, with plenty of tankage and elaborate systems, produces high bottom loading- too high to plane efficiently, and some of these boats pack plenty of power (twin diesels at 400+ hp each would not be uncommon) to try to coax them to higher speeds. Many of them suffer, like the express cruisers, in the no-wake zones where their high-speed hulls do not perform well. This style, though, has a centre of gravity somewhat farther forward than the express cruisers, and seems less prone to excessive bow rise- a problem that often results in the express cruisers being unable to find a suitable speed, as they're going too fast for safety on these small lakes by the time they level out. On most of the Rideau, these boats rarely come above idle speed for more than a few minutes, and the high flybridge offers the captain a good view in the tight canals. The one below is in its element- anchored in a quiet cove, away from the chaos of the lockstation piers. A lot of boats around here have the canvas-and-plastic enclosures seen on this one's flybridge; a better option, in my opinion, would be to either build the boat with a glass pilothouse or omit the clear plastic entirely (it distorts the view ahead, scratches easily, and ruins the look of the boat). The popularity of this general layout, with a tall centre saloon, aft cabin and high flybridge, is indicative of its overall suitability for canal conditions. Lower-speed trawlers, sharing this same accommodation layout but with more efficient hull shapes, are ideally suited to the Rideau canal.

Carver motoryacht

Houseboats of varying sizes are also a common sight on the Rideau system. They range from the crude Winnebago-on-pontoons we're all familiar with, to hefty liveaboard-friendly canal cruisers such as this older Georgian Steel vessel....

Steel houseboat in Rideau lock

to larger, more luxurious multi-deck models (the waterslide is a nice touch).

Houseboat at Seeleys Bay

Finally, there's the Big One: the 120-foot cruise ship Kawartha Voyageur, designed to be just about the biggest ship that can go through the Rideau and the Trent-Severn.

Cruise ship Kawartha Voyageur

To fit into a Rideau lock, her bow hinges upward under the influence of a large hydraulic ram. This is not a fast boat, and there are few concessions to hydrodynamic efficiency in her hull design. She's meant simply to be as big and as stable as possible, given the dimensional constraints of the canal systems.

Hydraulic bow on Kawartha Voyageur

Even with the bow folded up, she's a very tight fit in the lock. Bow and stern thrusters are essential on a vessel this size in such tight quarters, especially considering that the windage of all that superstructure isn't really balanced by anything below water (the allowable draught in the locks is only 1.2 m). The antenna arch and aft deck cover are also on hydraulic rams, allowing the ship to clear the fixed bridges on some parts of the Trent-Severn and the Rideau.

Kawartha Voyageur in lock at Jones Falls




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