Boating in Canada Archive

St. Lawrence River to Lake Champlain 2007

Cruising by Kayak 2007

by Joe Mullen, Placida Florida

308 miles over 12 days at about 25 miles a day.

We left Florida on August 3rd and arrived in Watertown NY on August 5. Ed built a great kayak rack for his convertible (photo at bottom). We went to the camp site Burnham Point and dropped off the kayaks and gear. We were to meet Muffin and my daughter at Watertown airport at noon. When we got there they had just landed. The plan was for my daughter to drive the car to Vermont where we would finish the trip.

The next morning we started the trip and headed for Clayton NY paddling among the Thousand Islands. Clayton NY is a nice small town on the St. Lawrence that has a fine antique boat museum.

We toured the museum walked around the town had lunch and continued on. The shore is lined with houses of all kinds including a castle. We arrived at the NY state campground at Gring Point around 6 PM, paddling 26 miles. We had our wine and cheese then a nice meal.

The next morning we set out, shortly after leaving I caught something out of the corner of my eye, I couldn't turn around quite far enough and I asked Muffin what was behind me. She looked around, her eyes got big, and she said "holy s*** a ship is coming!". We paddled like crazy and got out of the way of the first of many ships that we would encounter along the way.

We crossed the river and stopped at the town of Brookville, Ontario. Found a ramp and took a walk around the town found a place to have lunch and returned to our kayaks. When we got back we met two local paddlers who had come in from a paddle. The funny thing is that these paddlers had been to Grande Tours and had met us briefly there - small world. We left Brookville and headed out in what was to be a great paddling day with conditions in our favor. At times we were cruising at 6.2 - 6.4 mph. This happens when the river is narrow (when the river is wide, the current has little affect).

We were having a problem finding a campsite and it was getting late. We saw a small landing area near a red house and stoped there.

Right behind where we stopped there was a nice flat lawn area. The house looked unoccupied and Muffin said we should just wait awhile and camp. I was very nervous about this since the house had a 'no trespassing' sign on it. I rationalized and said 'that's just for the house', so we camped there for the night. In the morning there was a large flock of geese with young ones right off shore. We had an early morning breakfast and headed out. Today would be our first experience with the locks. The first lock was the Iroquois lock - kayaks not allowed. About the time we were trying to figure out what we were going to do I saw a sailboat approaching. I paddled over to it and said we had a problem and needed a little help. He said he would be glad to help us and suggest we tie the kayaks to his boat, get in his boat and go through the locks.

This process was very important to us because we used it through all the other St. Lawrence locks with a few arguments and some funny experiences.

After going through the Iroquois lock the shoreline became more natural, pretty, with few houses. We found a nice campsite where there were showers. How nice to take a shower. The next morning we left and headed into a stiff wind in our face. What a difference this made in our speed we had a long hard paddle all day. We did stop at small town, walked around and found a place to have lunch and a beer. The next lock was really two locks spaced 4 miles apart.

When we pulled up to the lock I got out of my kayak and called the lock master and told him we had three kayaks to go through the lock he said no kayaks are allowed. He said we would have to portage, I asked him how long was the portage he said 4 miles. I said, "you got to be kidding". Then he said, "Be creative". There was a sail boat tied at the dock. I told him our problem and told him how we got through the other locks and he agreed to let us tie our kayaks to his dingy and we went through the two locks. What a relief this was.

Shortly after we went through these locks we were now in Canada. It was getting late and we started looking for a campsite. We found a great site, it just happened to be on an Indian reservation, it had a picnic table and had a great view of a bridge.

We had a nice night there and in the morning we had a visit with a herd of cows.

After a nice breakfast of the usual oatmeal we paddled out on the river. This section of the river was less populated and had more places to camp. We passed a number of ships and made good time to our next campsite which was on an island.

We got our usual early morning start seems we got up every morning around six and tried to be on the water by 8. We are now getting closer to Montréal and soon the shores were lined with houses of all shapes and sizes. When you start seeing a lot of houses you know that campsites will be harder to find. We also needed to find a store. As we were paddling along the shore we spotted a small bay that looked like it might have a store there. There was no store. We saw a man working around a small boat and Muffin started asking him questions about a store, where we could camp, etc. The guy said his name was Mickey, and told us to go around the point to his dock and he would help us. When we got there we got out of the kayaks and walked with him to a neighbor who said we could camp on the point. Walking back to our kayaks, the wife came out and said, "No, No! You can't camp here!" She was the boss in that family. Finally Mickey said we could camp in his yard. Mickey introduced us to his wife Rae. They couldn't have been nicer. He asked me what we needed at the store and I told him bagels and jelly. He said, "I'll give you some", which he did. They invited us to sit with them on their deck and offered us beer and snacks. We set up our tents and made our dinner on the dock. The dock had a table and when we got ready to eat Rae sent us down a salad.

We had a 5 mile open water crossing in the morning. We got an early start before winds came up. After the crossing we came across an interesting bridge, which lifted up like an elevator. After passing under the bridge we stopped for a break. We took off heading for the final seaway lock. On the way we had to keep out of the way of ships.

When we approached the lock someone was yelling on the loud speaker in French the only word I could understand was kayaks. Muffin said he saying for us kayakers to get away from the locks. Muffin got on the phone (she speaks French) and explained our situation and how we had gotten through the other locks. The next thing I knew she said let's go and we paddled into the locks. Muffin and I tied up to one power boat and Ed to another.

We didn’t have to worry any more about seaway locks. The interesting part of going through the seaway locks (being towed) is we didn’t have to pay. This always took some discussion with the lock attendants but we won out for the time being. Going through the locks takes time and it was getting time to find a campsite. There was a small town along the shore. We landed at the ramp, and went into town. Bought water and some food supplies. I was for camping right at the ramp but it was decided to take off and explore the shore. The shoreline looked free of houses. As we approached the open land we found it to be posted as a bird sanctuary. We paddled along for some distance looking for a camp site. Finally we found a place that didn’t have a sign, we pulled in and set up camp. My favorite campsites on the trip were the ones we found away from houses.

Montréal was now within paddling distance. The wind was blowing quite hard and we had a long open water crossing, paddling into the wind is tough making for long hard paddling days. Paddling across we often saw large fish jumping. The water was bumpy and we couldn't stop paddling. We saw a small island a little offshore and stopped for a break.

Paddling in the area was exciting and we had lots to see - but had to find the Lachine Canal. We found the entrance to the canal after asking a few people, finding the entrance was a little difficult since there were a number of openings to other canals. I was very excited to see the first lock of the Lachine canal.

The Lachine canal was opened in 1825 to bypass the Lachine Rapids. The St. Lawrence Seaway replaced the canal and now the Lachine canal is a National Historic Site of Canada. The canal passes though old Montréal and has various places where you can stop and explore. We did stop at a farmers market that Mickey told us about, the only thing we bought was thee ears of corn and an ice cream cone. All along the canal are different activities for you to enjoy. At the first lock - the Lachine - we had to pay a one time charge of around $23 each to go through all the locks on the canal. The distance is about 15 miles. The lock attendants at the first lock called ahead so at all the locks they knew we were coming. I think the lock attendants were having as much fun as we were. They were all friendly and interested is us,and we had a great time going though the locks.

The locks have a floating dock that you tie up to as the water goes out, the dock goes down and so do you.

When we got through the last lock it was getting late and one of the lock attendants told us about a ramp nearby where we might be able to camp. We went to the ramp unloaded the kayaks and carried them up a bank to a wonderful site overlooking the river and the city of Montréal.

We decided to wait to set up our tents since we were at a place where everyone could see us. I was expecting someone to come along and kick us out. After dark we set up our tents and I thought we were home free. The next thing I heard was some guy speaking in French and Muffin talking to him, they had quite a discussion, I pretended to be asleep. I heard a lot of moving around and Ed's voice saying wake up Joe we have to leave. We packed our boats got on the water and headed over to a dock where boats tie up to go through the locks. There was a bridge over the dock so we decided not to set up tents just sleep on the dock. No sooner had I got to sleep when a Voice in French is talking to me. He switched to English and said we couldn't camp on the dock but we would be able to camp up on the grass, which was a relief since by now it's about 1 AM. We dragged our stuff to the grassy area and tried to go to sleep, and it started raining. At least I had a tarp over me, and fortunately it didn't rain hard or long. The next event for the night from hell was a very long noisy train going over the bridge. By this time we were all laughing about the turn of events. Funny how these experiences live in your mind forever. We left early in the morning and headed out into some very fast water where we could make 6 knots without too much effort.

We paddled along the shore for a few miles looking for a place to stop for water. We came upon a nice protected inlet where there was a marina. We saw a person on the dock and asked if we could get some water. She said, 'no problem' and told us where we could land our kayaks. After beaching, I opened the back hatch of the kayak to find it full of water. What a relief to find the leak then instead of later, the marina had a store where I was able to buy some "Marine-tex". Ed said he would work on it while I walked into town of Longueuil to get some supplies, wine and batteries. While exploring around the marina I found they had a pool, shower and a restaurant. When I got back to where Ed and Muffin were, Ed said we had to wait for the fix to harden. I said no problem and told them about the pool and shower. We all headed to the pool, took showers and went for a swim - what a find this was. Then we decided to have lunch to give the boat even more time to harden. This was a good idea not only did we have a great time but the boat hasn’t leaked since.

Shortly after leaving the marina was when I discovered that my camera was no longer working, I told Ed I needed his camera to use to finish the trip. At this time we were looking for a place to camp. We did find one on the edge of a bird sanctuary. The next morning when we got out on the river we were really cooking. I sprinted and was able to get my kayak speed to just above 8 MPH. We were cruising at around 6 MPH so we were really covering some miles and before long we came upon the Richelieu River where we turned to head for Lake Champlain.

By this time we had already paddled about 25 miles and started to look for a place to camp. To my surprise the Richelieu River had a lot more houses along its banks. We saw a person on a dock and asked about campsites, he told us where we could find a campground, and after a few more miles of hard paddling we found the campground at a marina.

Paddling on the Richelieu was harder than the St. Lawrence River. The current was against us and so was the wind, you couldn’t stop paddling; if you did you went backwards. For us to take a break we would look for a place in the lee and an eddy. We started early the next morning and had more of the same conditions with the current and wind against us. The scenery started to improve as we got further from Montréal.

We always had to stop for supplies every few days so when we came upon a town we stopped. We stopped at Saint Denis and took a walk around the town to find a store. We were going to have lunch at a restaurant but they took one look at us and said they were closed. I was also looking for a bank as we needed money to go through the Saint Ours and Chambly Canals. I found the bank and we found a small market where we were able to purchase some food items and some more box wine.

After leaving Saint Denis and paddling for a few more hours we started looking for a campsite. We saw what looked like a possible site. There were a few tents and a camper there. No one would get out of the kayak to go and ask so I did. As I approached the camper that I thought might be the office I hear a voice shout at me to go away! I just turned around and left. I didn’t even get excited but we sure had a lot of laughs at that attempt to camp. We paddled along the shore and finally found a nice site in the trees on the bank of the river.

The site turned out to be nice and cozy and very sheltered. We were still paddling 25 miles a day against current and wind and were now approaching the first of the Richelieu canals, the Saint Ours Canal. The river had fewer houses on it and was now beautiful and open.

The canals are now under the Canadian government as historical sites. When you get to the lock there is a dock where you can tie up. Then you go to the office and pay, the Saint Ours cost 95 cents a foot, the Chambly cost $1.25 a foot. The cost is to go through the entire canal system. We told them our boats were 15 feet long and were never questioned. They told me they hadn’t seen any kayaks coming through the locks. These locks were a little different, they passed down two ropes to us, we rafted up the boats and held on to the ropes, the first time they let the water in they opened the gates wide open and the water came in so fast we couldn’t hold the kayaks so they slowed the flow down and we had no problem. They also called ahead and told the lockmaster we were on our way and to take it easy when they filled the locks. Paddling in the canals was fun. The wind and current had little affect.

The Richelieu River is rich in History. Long before the Europeans arrived the Iroquois used the river to get to Lake Champlain and travel back and forth to what is now Montréal. The Chambly canal opened in 1843 and permits boats to by pass a series of 4 rapids between Chambly and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. In the old days they would have horses pulling barges along the canal. The fun part about going through the locks is that they are all hand operated. We were such a novelty that the workers at the locks were taking pictures of us. The last lock located at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu would close at 6:30 PM. We didn't make it so we made camp at the lock. Fortunately there was a nice restaurant across the street. We headed there before we set up camp, as we didn't want another Montréal experience. The next morning we found out that the lock didn't open, so we decided to portage so we could get an early morning start. The portage was short and didn't take long for us to get the job done.

Once out of the canal the river opened up and we were more affected by the wind. We would take our breaks in sheltered areas. Lake Champlain was getting close and we would be there before dark and we were now looking for a campsite. We crossed over the boarder went under a bridge and found a nice campsite near Rouses Point. There was a man and women there having a beer. He asked if I wanted a beer. "Sure", I said, and enjoyed a Sam Adams. We visited with them for awhile trying to find out if we could camp there. He said he saw no problem so we set up camp. Later when I was walking around the area I saw the sign that said "Private Park, No Camping", no anything. It was getting dark so we stayed there and no one came along and kicked us out.

The morning came and the wind was blowing very hard and the forecast for the next few days was 20 to 30 knot winds.

I called my daughter and told her to pick us up on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain near the town of Alburg. We loaded the boats and took off across the lake. The wind was blowing, and the lake was choppy, but with the wind behind us it didn't take us long to cross the lake. We saw a small beach area and decided to land there. We were wet and cold and were trying to figure out where we were, so when my daughter called I could tell her. In a short time a man came out and said we could go to his house and get warm and have some coffee. We didn't hesitate to take him up on his offer. When my daughter showed up we loaded the car and headed for Tom's Marina on Otter Creek. There was a campground nearby, they were full but they let us take showers. After we got cleaned up we all went to the Red mill at Basin Harbour, played horseshoes, then had a nice dinner. That night we all slept on my daughter's boat. The next day was departure day. My son-in-law flew up to pick up Muffin and take her to Great Barrington where her car was. We had lunch at the Red Mill, reloaded the car and Ed and I took off for Florida.

The trip was a lot different from what we were all used to - a new kayaking experience dealing with locks and finding campsites. For the most part the people we met along the way were nice and very helpful, even the guys that kicked us out of our campsites were nice and just doing their job. All the boaters we met at the Seaway locks were very helpful, and we couldn't have gotten through the locks without their help. All the lock personal on the Lachine canal and the Chambly canal were really nice and seemed to have fun getting us through the locks. A great experience to share.

Joe  <>

Kai Nani Across Alone - facebook post excerpt
The trail I was on was a thousand years old, if not more. The explorer Jacques de Noyon, the first European to record Great Dog Portage farther upstream, could only have gone that way over this trail. At that time, the route north on the Kaministiquia to the Dog had been in use by indigenous peoples for millenia. They too could only have passed this way. As would have all the Voyageurs, including Canada’s fur-trading polymaths and explorers like Thompson, MacKenzie, La Verendrye to name but three... Bert terHart, Crossing Canada by canoe (news)