I moved my Tanzer 22 from Toronto to Crystal Beach on Lake Erie through the Welland Canal
In these 5 pages I give information that I wish I had had before I left and talk about the trip.
- CURRENT PAGE Getting Ready to Cross Lake Ontario What do you need. What should you know. Is your boat ready. I had never crossed the Lake and the prospect was scary to me.
- Our Crossing of Lake Ontario. Navigating to St. Catharines and Port Dalhousie which are not visible from Toronto, was not obvious to me.
- Getting ready to go through the Welland Canal Useful Info. Before we went through we had a lot of questions and finding information was difficult. Some useful links and some of the things we found out.
- Going through the Canal to Port Colborne (lots of photos). This is a day I will never forget.
- Port Colborne to Crystal Beach was a pleasant trip.
- Some of the photos I took No information but nice pictures.
Preparing to Cross Lake
Ontario by Sailboat
Navigating from Toronto to St Catharines/Port Dalhousie
Port Weller, which is where the Welland Canal starts, and Port Dalhousie are communities which are part of St Catharines. They are almost due South of Toronto. Port Weller is just East of Port Dalhousie.
You can chose to navigate straight across from Toronto to St Catherines. It is about 27 km. It is also possible to take the longer way around following the shoreline. Providing the weather is clear you are never out of sight of land. It is quite a lot longer than the 27 km going directly across though.
Navigating by Compass
If you are navigating using a compass a bearing of 158 degrees from Toronto will be quite close. Adjust this depending on where you are starting from. We were measuring from Ontario Place.
The law says you should have charts of the areas you are sailing in. I have charts of the Toronto Area, The whole of Lake Ontario, and I bought a chart of Port Dalhousie for the trip. We used both the Lake Ontario and Port Dalhousie charts in trying to sort out what we were seeing. You should also have charts of Lake Erie if you are planning to navigate there. Since there are shallow areas this is also useful.
The Crossing is about 27 kilometres and if there is any mist or fog you will not be able to see the shores of St Catharines till you are well on your way. The Toronto skyline is quite visible behind you if it is clear enough.
There are almost no landmarks to navigate to by sight. The best bet is the Brock University Tower which is a big rectangular building that becomes visible when you near St Catharines. Port Dalhousie is further east (left) than the tower. We had binoculars and these were very useful. When you are closer there are white lighthouses at the entrance of Port Dalhousie. The Welland Canal is further East than Port Dalhousie. Neither Port Dalhousie nor the Welland Canal are very obvious from the water. It looks like a big landmark on the chart but from the water it's almost invisible. The chart of port Dalhousie was useful when we got close enough.
You can watch for freighters and they will show you the way in the canal. They just seem to disappear into the shore.
My Radio has a built in GPS. One of the features is the ability to set way points and to navigate to way point. I was able to put in the coordinates for St Catharines and the display had a little dot and an arrow showing where we needed to go. All we had to do was to keep the arrow pointing towards the dot (our way point). Once we could see the Brock tower (a rectangular building on top of the hill) we could navigate by sight. Many cell phones and tablets also have gps ability so that is a really useful way of knowing where to go.
Wikipedia has coordinates for various locations. They are in the upper right hand corner of their web page.
Cell coverage is not reliable across Lake Ontario. A radio is a much more useful instrument and if you are planning to cross Lake Ontario, consider getting one and getting licensed. (Remember you must have a license to operate a radio.) It is useful to check weather, to call forward to boat clubs or marinas, ask for help and it is really useful in the Welland canal to talk to the bridges and to the scheduling people.
Listening to the radio is also fun in the Canal to figure out what is happening. They monitor channel 14.
I use the GPS function as much as the radio so that's a nice feature if you are buying a radio.
Outboard Motor and Gas
Before you head out Have your motor serviced.. My motor had been working well and I had changed the oil and gas. After we had been underway for a while, I started the motor to full strength and it started sputtering and coughing. It would only work at low speed. In particular check the carburettor for gunk!! Modern gas has alcohol and this causes trouble with outboards. Always use marine grade gas. Shell sells it. Even though that's what I always use, my carburetor has gotten gunked up.
According to the mechanics, the openings for the gas are very small in the 4 stroke engines and can easily be clogged, or partially clogged.
I plan to learn how to take apart my carburetor so I can service it in case of emergency.
Bring enough gas to do the whole trip by motor if you have to. According to the Mercury website, my 6 Horse 4 stroke engine can use 2 litres an hour at full speed. We got better mileage than that but it would not do to run out if you got blown out of course or had to fight strong winds. The total mileage, including the Canal, is about 70 km. Add a few detours to marinas and idling waiting for boats to go by and you might well have a 90 km trip. Bring some motor oil and an extra spark plug just in case.
I calculated an estimated maximum of 24 hours of running if the whole trip was motoring, and brought 50 litres of gas. This turned out to be way too much since we did not run the motor at full across the lake and there was never much wind.
Hull speed for my Tanzer is only about 6 knots (about 11 km per hour) or so and my motor does not need to go at full speed to reach this.
Get you Boat Ready
This trip is no longer than a day trip, so the regular preparations apply. Sails, lines, head, anchor and rode, lights and other safety stuff are all the usual things. The Welland guys like it if you have a radar reflector. I carry navigation lights that can be clipped on the boat since I have not re-wired my boat up yet. I do have a battery that can recharge my radio though. If you motor, 3-4 hours will get you there in quiet conditions, if you are going at 6 knots, in good conditions, sailing is usually longer since conditions are rarely perfect.
Having a strong flashlight is a good idea. You may well find yourself going through the canal at night. There are sometimes long delays as you wait for larger boats to go through.
Have good bumpers ready to attach to your boat. The Canal is hard on boats otherwise. I had 8, 4 on each side so I did not have to move them. In the first 2 locks, the boat is attached on the starboard side, the next 5 are attached on port side and the last one is not attached.
Check the weather before you set off and check while underway. Lake Ontario can be really nasty and can blow up quite fast.
Prepare the Humans
You should have a certain level of confidence sailing your boat. You need to know how to handle her in a storm, how to reduce sail, how to dock safely. Your crew should also be somewhat proficient.
Have enough food and lots of water and sunscreen. You can fry on the water without this. Have foul weather gear just in case and sunglasses and a hat. Gloves are useful.
How Long Will it Take?
Toronto to Port Dalhousie is about 27 km. Depending on your hull speed it could be 3 or more hours. Count on more rather than less. If you are sailing then allow more time. 6-7 hours are not uncommon according to folks at my boat club who regularly sail over. If conditions are bad then allow more time.
Where are you Staying
Unless you are in a great rush to go up the canal, you will likely plan to stay the night and set off in the morning. The canal stays open 24 hrs a day.
There is Dalhousie Yacht Club inside port Dalhousie. Photo of entrance on left. If you have reciprocal arrangements with your boat club then that's a good alternative, they don't take reservations but you can call and find out what your chances are. There was some trouble with the dock/shore erosion so check before you just show up.
There is a marina to the East of the port entrance. Left side of the photo as you are coming from Toronto. Instead of going into Port Dalhousie, you go east past the lighthouse and go into the marina. It's just before the long spit of land that is the entrance of the canal. I chose this because I hoped there would be more of a chance to get work done on my motor. The cost was about 44 dollars for the night (2014). Port Dalhousie Pier Marina Inc. Ducks, geese, and just about everything else, Lovely sunset and sunrise.
Port Dalhousie Pier Marina uses channel 68 for Radio contact. Phone: (905) 646-5515.
They have the usual amenities but no restaurant open when we were there. It's a pretty half hour walk to town. They have power but we had to use a power cord adapter thingie that plugs into the high power outlet and give you a regular outlet at the other end. Useful for making coffee and charging batteries.
When you talk to them before setting off on your voyage, find out what their radio channel is and you can get directions to the proper mooring as you come in.
It takes about 30-45 minutes to motor into the Welland canal entrance from Port Dalhousie. Just head east to the tip of the point. You may not sail inside the Canal, you are required to motor. I think the speed limit is 6 knots.
As you motor in you will eventually see the first lock, the Government dock where you register is to the left. Don't go as far as the locks.
Don't forget your camera
It is quite humbling and spectacular scenery inside the locks so take a few pictures.
As in any sailing, many things can happen. If you decide to cross lake Ontario and go through the Welland Canal, make sure you and your boat are ready, have all the safety stuff in place and have a reliable crew. Bad things can happen. Enjoy but be prepared for trouble.
Check prices and fees, they can change quickly. I don't think the gps coordinates will change though.