North Shore Lake Ontario

Our trip across the north shore of Lake Ontario included stops in Cobourg, Whitby, an anchorage in Toronto’s Outer Harbour and a crossing to the entrance of the Welland Canal at Port Weller via a stop over at Port Dalhousie in St. Catherines.

June 20, Sunday: west Murray Wall to Cobourg (24.5NM)

After a very calm night on the wall we awoke to a beautifully still morning and were on our way by 7:30 am. As water levels were so low in Lake Ontario this year, most of Presqu’ile Bay was 7 – 9’ even in the channel. The weeds here are a problem at the best of times but this year they almost come to the surface and are in the channel as well. We reversed 3 times before making it out in the lake, in order to shake the weeds of keel, rudder and prop. With Vitae’s big wing keel, she is like a plough gathering the weeds along the way and holding onto them. Our speed kept dropping and there was no wind to have any sail out.

Finally, we made it to about 20’ of clear water just past the point. One more reverse and we should be able to clear the weeds of. As Dave reversed I saw 6 big long, green snakes of weeds come out from under the stern. But I also noticed the engine labouring and thicker exhaust coming from the wet exhaust. We pulled back to an idle and gave it a minute, checking the prop shaft inside and taking engine temps. All seemed good, but the engine could not turn the prop in forward. Weeds must have gotten tightly wrapped around the prop and the only way to get them off was to go into the water. It was calm and the water clear, so not really a big deal you think. We popped the thermometer into the water and it came back reading 9C. Brrr! I brought Dave his bathing suit. He had volunteered right away, no way was I going to argue with him.

We had put an anchor down just to be safe and Dave climbed down on the stern swim platform and then down the swim ladder. He had goggles and a boat hook and could kind of see the prop from there without having to let go of the ladder. He could only stay in the water for a few minutes at a time before it got too painful, but with 4-5 attempts he managed to get the prop cleared and we were on our way again. We also threw the main up and motorsailed for a while. Eventually, we had more wind and were able to add the jib and turn of the engine travelling at 5 1/2kn.

We reached Cobourg at about 3pm. Our old home port from 2016 to 2018. Last time we had been here was in the Spring of 2019 on our way from Bowmanville to Gananoque, where we were building our new home that year. You may recall water levels were way above normal in both 2017 and 2019. The Cobourg marina had been without power for many months both those years as their power boxes were too low on the docks. They moved them in 2020 and now they look ridiculously high as the water levels are 4-5’ lower, but better safe than sorry!

The wall, were you could previously get reciprocals is so high that it would be impossible to dock safely. Also, since 2021 the Cobourg yacht club is not able to offer reciprocal spots on this wall, as the City of Cobourg has revoked their agreement with the Yacht club. No more reciprocals in Cobourg, sad but true.

After stopping for a pump out we let them know we would be anchoring for one night and then taking a slip on the end of G-Dock the next. Even anchoring the marina charges $15.50 a night and transient dockage is $1.90/f. Cobourg is a beautiful spot on the north shore of Lake Ontario. It’s the only viable stop after you leave Presqu’ ile especially because Port Hope and Oshawa no longer allow pleasure craft, Bowmanville has real issues with depth for sailboats this year and Newcastle had a lot of silting in the channel. Cobourg has a stunning beach (which was still closed on weekends due to Covid), and all amenities are close to the harbour. Unfortunately it’s also one of the more expensive marinas. If you need any parts there’s a great chandlery, “Dean Marine”, up Third Street and Dean is an old salt with lots of invaluable knowledge. He’s helped us many a time with the right parts, great advice and his charming personality, plus he’s got a really cute canine mate named Rosy.

Once anchored we got to try our new foldable Oru kayaks. It probably was a bit of a show us doing origami on the deck of our boat. These kayaks are good for tens of thousands of folds and are apparently very puncture and abrasion resistant. They are super light, even I can easily lift the 12’ kayak over the lifelines. They fold up small enough to fit through the companion way and don’t take up much space in the quarter berth. They are very nimble on the water and stable enough to get in and out from the swim platform. We were quite impressed and happy with our first paddle. The real test will be once we get to the North Channel, as we love quietly gliding through smaller waterways instead of taking a noisy and cumbersome dinghy. Over the last winter we had decided against getting bikes to store on the boat and had started looking for a couple of kayaks that would work. Our friends at our favourite outfitter store Wildrock” in Peterborough suggested the Oru as the best choice today and we took their advice. Thanks Jon and Scott !

You can never have enough boats!
Playing in the Cobourg anchorage – Vitae in the background

June 22, Tuesday: Cobourg to Whitby (37NM)

There had been some serious gusts up to 50kn while we stayed an extra day in Cobourg to wait out the weather. Naturally, waves were still higher in the morning up to 1m as we departed at 7:00 am. It was overcast and cool at 16C but we were able to sail with jib and main in a 10-12kn nw wind. Waves were still coming from the sw though and made for a bumpy ride bashing into them.

Closer to noon the waves started to get less but also the wind decreased. After motorsailing a close-hauled course at 5 kn we arrived at Port Whitby Marina at 2:36pm. This marina is one of the few to offer a free night reciprocal. Its well protected and slips on the south side of Pier 8, the first long dock you come to as you enter, are deep and easy to get into. Marina staff are friendly and helpful so ask about depth if you are concerned.

Tim and Dale joined us for a walk on the gorgeous Waterfront Trail to the east of the marina. It passes through numerous parks, picnic areas with beaches and splash pad. We worked up an appetite and came back to the boat to enjoy the dinner Tim and Dale had brought. They came with everything, even paper plates and plastic forks. Homemade sundried tomato hummus with crackers, pulled pork on a bun, garden grown salad and Sweet Marie Bars and cookies – yum! Thanks for an excellent meal guys.

June 23, Wednesday: Whitby to Toronto Outer Harbour (24.5NM)

After a short little walk to Metro in the morning – we had run out of Milk – and filling our water tanks up, we left a little later around 9 am. The seas were like glass and there was no wind so we motored for the first little while. The temperature was 16-18 C with some fluffy white clouds. Mmmh, “fluffy” is probably not the official term, but hopefully the reader will indulge me. All I cared about was that they indicated pleasant weather.

Approaching Toronto and the Leslie Spit

The wind picked up a little to ssw 8-10kn and we sailed close-hauled at 6 kn right into the Outer Harbour of Toronto. We hooked east around the Leslie Spit, past the Multi Hull Club and into the end of the Bay. Navionics mentions it as “Downtown Anchorage” right by Tommy Thompson Park. Even in strong winds coming from s or sw, you are sheltered in here. The bay isn’t huge but it’s deep right to shore on the south end, where you find the most shelter from sw winds. The hold is good if you wait for the anchor to settle before you set it. Pay out lots of rode as depth is 20’ or more. Because the spit was man made, there’s some rubble on the bottom, but with a bit of patience your anchor will find mud and dig down into the clay below. We spent 2 nights here and really enjoyed our time.

Across the anchorage is a small beach for getting to shore with the dinghy and we picked up friends to bring to the boat for another lovely dinner.

The blue dot is Vitae anchored by Tommy Thompson Park, Toronto Outer Harbour Marina is immediately to the east of it.

There’s lots to explore here and we would have stayed longer had we not wanted to cross Lake Ontario and get through the Welland Canal. The scenery is kind of surreal as you have abandoned and working factories, lots of background noise from the bustle of the city, yet you also have lush greenery, wetlands, quiet inlets and trails and beaches along the spit. In the evenings we were never bored watching rowers, paddle boarders, or outriggers using our boat as part of an obstacle course.

We dinghied over to the Multi Hull Club and visited with friends Shane and Andrea, whose catamaran “Carpe Diem” was docked here. The club also offers 2 nights reciprocal but it might be on a mooring ball. There’s no water on the docks here, but they have a nice club house with fire pit and showers. Its a very friendly, down to earth club and they welcome all types of boaters. Andrea and Shane love cruising the Great Lakes and also plan to take “Carpe Diem” south, hopefully next year. Just recently they have started their own distribution company for sailing equipment. Check out Indie Marine for some well tested marine products.

On Thursday we took the dinghy to the club and secured it at their dock to go for a run out the spit. There’s a plethora of trails paved and unpaved, all are bike friendly and there’s no cars. It’s about 6km from the multi hull club to the end of the spit via the paved main trail, but in total there’s probably more than 20 km in trails. Bolder beaches might afford a quick dip but there’s lots of concrete and rebar on some of them. Tom Thompson Park is a bird watchers paradise and dogs are not allowed at all here.

Trails along the Leslie Spit

Another interesting landmark is the “Hearn”. It’s the giant smoke stack and abandoned factory building that dominates you western views from the anchorage. The R.L. Hearn Generating Station was the site of Canada’s first 100MW steam turbo generating station. It expanded to 1200MW and produced electricity from 1951 to 1983. At one time it produced up to 10% of Ontario’s power. Today the Portland Energy Centre next to provides 550MW but the “Hearn” has become somewhat of an urban tourist attraction. You have probably seen it in movies whenever a scene calls for an abandoned factory or warehouse. Apparently, some concerts have taken place here as well, but it’s not a safe site and some accidents have happened.

“The Hearn” – Sunset from our anchorage

June 25, Friday: Toronto Outer Harbour to Port Dalhousie (St. Catherines) (26NM)

On Thursday a small weather window opened to let us get across Lake Ontario before some heavy winds were forecasted for the weekend. It would also make it easier to be ready to do the upbound passage on the Welland Canal on Sunday or Monday and have our friend Shane help us. Upbound travel on the Welland happens on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, so the only time you have 2 consecutive days is Sunday, Monday and you do need at least 3 people to hold lines and manoeuvre the boat safely – in fact they won’t let you traverse upbound with less than 3. More info on the Welland canal on the next page.

Port Weller doesn’t offer much for overnight berthing – you are not allowed to stay overnight at the pleasure docks inside the canal entrance and Port Weller Marina to the east looked shallow and exposed. Port Dalhousie, St. Catherines looked much more appealing.

We hoisted the anchor at 9 am (again just a little mud at the end of the chain and a bit of clay on the anchor, pretty easy). Winds were not favourable coming from the S to SSW most of the day, so we motored, waves were 1/2 m but diminishing to .3 m as we got closer to the southern shore of Lake Ontario. SOG was only about 4.5kn as we were bashing into the waves. By 3 pm we got into the channel of Port Dalhousie and the Yacht Club.

Some of the info posted along the older Welland Canal

Dalhousie Yacht Club offers one night reciprocal and is situated on both sides of the channel. The Port of Dalhousie has a charming waterfront which has seen major investments over the past years. Both sides of the channel have large concrete piers for strolling and boat watching, there’s a large beach to the east, splash pads and picnic gazebo, trails all along the waterfront and quaint restaurants and shops. Historically, this port is significant because it served as the terminus of the first 3 Welland canals build in 1820, 1845 and 1889. The port is also home to The Royal Canadian Henley regatta. The Heywood Generating Station is located at the south end of the Port so be aware of the current flowing out from the dam.

View north of the port from the hydro dam

We had called Dalhousie yacht club as they don’t have a lot of space for transients and it was going to be quite windy from the south. They let us dock at the west side right along the pier between the club house and the fuel dock. What a great spot right in the middle of all the action. We could even order from the yacht club restaurant and have it brought to the boat. Definitely a place to stay awhile, if you have the time. We booked a second night which was reasonable at $1.50/f. Lots of fenders and lines were out for the 30kn gusts on Friday as well as Saturday.

Having our own appetizer in front of the Dalhousie Yacht Club
Vitae at the yacht club

Saturday morning we walked the 1.5 km to Goemans Lakeshore Meats (excellent smoked pork chops which we would enjoy after our 16 hour day on the Welland). Right next door is a bakery. No Frills is across the street and on the way back we hit the beer store all on Lakeshore rd. Very efficient!

Our friend Shane arrived early afternoon, dropped off his bag and then drove his car down to the Sugarloaf Marina in Port Colborne. This was were we were going to tie up after the Welland canal. It’s about 45km away from Port Dalhousie, so Shane had brought his electric scooter to get back to the boat. It was a test for how long his batteries would last. He made it about 25km and got close enough to get an Uber for the rest of the trip. With all the work and worry about shuttling transportation done, we had a great dinner and a few drinks but settled in early to be rested for what awaited us the next day. I must admit I was nervous, but also excited to leave Lake Ontario behind and have our boat lifted the 99.5m (326’) over the Niagara escarpment, bypassing Niagara Falls and finally reaching Lake Erie. The Welland is 43km long and consists of 8 locks, numerous lift bridges and tunnels below it. Most of the locks are about 80’ wide, 766’ long with a lift/decent of 43-49 feet.

June 27, Sunday: Port Dalhousie to Port Weller then Port Colborne (31NM)

6:55 am and we started out on our pass over to the entrance of the Welland canal. It was overcast but humid and winds were still from the S, gusting in the 20th with more wind in the forecast. Waves were about .7 m. We moored at the pleasure craft waiting or staging docks at the east wall at 8:30.

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