The general rule of boat navigation is green-right-go and red-right-return. It sounds simple, but sometimes I have a hard time figuring out whether I’m coming or going. Such is my dilemma as I meander through the coloured buoys that mark Canada’s Rideau Canal on my Le Boat 45-foot Horizon Cruiser. The Rideau River stretches before me, the water’s glassy surface offering a mirror image of the ragged shoreline, heritage homes and orderly farms.
Our journey is a road trip, but on the water – a self-contained journey ideal for a couple or a family.
Domestic tours and road trips to quieter, more isolated destinations are what we hear tourism will be like coming out of our current travel shutdown. Our journey is a road trip, but on the water – a self-contained journey ideal for a couple or a family. We set our course and encounter things at our own pace, with no worry about finding accommodations; our cruiser is like a floating villa. You can visit the beautiful communities and parks along the waterway, and the cafes, restaurants and pubs if you wish. Or, you can eat on board and simply marvel at the wonderful scenery.
Captain your own Le Boat cruiser
For fifty years now, Le Boat has allowed visitors to access Europe’s most spectacular waterways. Two years ago, Le Boat brought its unique brand of luxury rental yachts to North America, turning them loose on the Canada’s Rideau Canal. My wife and I are travelling aboard a Le Boat Horizon Cruiser 4. It’s so expansive that we do not have to interact if we don’t want to – but, of course, I do cherish her navigational input.
Our smartly designed vessel comes with four cabins, each with ensuite bathroom, a spacious fully-equipped galley and a dining area with big windows allowing plenty of natural light. The upper deck has a barbecue, wrap around seating and lounging chairs. Bridge controls can be switched from up top to below in case of inclement weather.
For such a large yacht, it is surprisingly easy to operate, even in the narrow locks, with side-thrusters and an ingenious wrap-around bumper system. The boat’s speed is capped at 10 km an hour to control rambunctious skippers such as myself.
Navigate your way along Parks Canada’s Rideau Canal
One of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century and a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Parks Canada National Historic Site, the Rideau Canal, is the oldest continuously-operated canal system in North America. Traveling this attractive waterway, you’ll be able to unwind and take in spectacular nature, picturesque towns and lively cities.
We had started our journey at Le Boat’s new base in the community of Smith Falls; the hardest decision of the whole trip was whether to head south through the bigger lakes on the Rideau chain towards Kingston, or northward through the narrower river passages towards Ottawa. A lover of river travel myself, and because I had explored much of the Rideau Lakes before, we decided on a course towards Merrickville and the agricultural wetlands south of Ottawa.
Exploring the charming villages
Upon embarking, we make a little side trip to one of Ontario’s most historic, photogenic and best-preserved stone villages. The Town of Perth is situated in Lanark County, about 100 kilometres south of Ottawa and about the same distance north of Kingston. Most of the downtown has been designated a heritage district.
Perth’s unrivalled stone heritage must be credited to the builders of the Rideau Canal. Canal mastermind Colonel John By brought in a number of Scottish stonemasons to Canada to work on the stone locks and lock buildings. When the waterway was completed, many of these masons stayed and applied their skills to their new homeland.
From Perth we set a course east to Lower Rideau Lake and then north through a winding passage and more locks to the beautiful town of Merrickville, known as the “Jewel of the Rideau,” with its 19th-century stone architecture that spans both banks of the Rideau River. We grab a bite at the Yellow Canoe Café and then tour the Blockhouse Museum, built as a fort in 1826 when the village was a strategic military centre. After a scenic meander through several more locks, we moor for the night at Burritt’s Rapids Lock in a light drizzle and dine in the yacht’s spacious, sheltered galley.
From Burritt’s Rapids to Long Island Locks is a long reach that offers 21 miles of uninterrupted cruising, passing through a stretch commonly referred to as Millionaire’s Row, before reaching Long Island.
North to Ottawa
Tonight, having reached Ottawa, I am flipping steaks on the barbecue on the boat’s open-air upper deck, while enjoying a glass of wine and a beautiful view of the city. Le Boat allows us to dock in Ottawa and enjoy exploring the city’s experiences restaurants, museums and attractions.By the Parliament buildings, a final set of eight flight locks, a stairway of watery steps provide a spectacular drop to the Ottawa River, but we must turn south and make our way back to Le Boat’s Smith Fall’s base.
Canal and river travel offer peace and relaxation – a way of slowing down the pace of life, of taking time really to see the world around us. On waterways like the Rideau Canal, there are a steady spattering of locks to keep the boater busy, but otherwise there is little to interfere with the quiet enjoyment of the country.
The pace of our Le Boat Rideau journey is wonderful. One of the pluses of cruising on a private luxury yacht is making our own schedule. We decide if we want to use the optional onboard bikes and kayaks to explore the charming rural communities or duck into quirky shops or linger at waterside pubs and restaurants to sample the local beers and fine cuisine. The changing scenery and characters we meet lead to new adventures and discoveries around every bend.
Since we’re not only passengers, but also captain and crew, we can indulge every whim to explore. And, take the time to figure out whether we’re coming or going.
What’s appealing to the over-50 traveler?
- For such a large yacht, it is surprisingly easy to operate. Neither experience nor boating license is required, just an orientation at departure.
- The journey is the perfect travel vacation coming out of the Covid-19 situation we have been facing; it is a self-contained journey, ideal for a couple or a family.
- No worry about finding accommodations; our cruiser is like a floating villa.
- Though no boating license is required and the boats are fairly easy to operate, some experience in boating, charts and navigating is definitely an asset.
- Wi-Fi and cell phone connectivity in the countryside may be spotty.
- The yachts have stairs and narrow passages that would be a challenge for those with mobility issues.
IF YOU GO
Photo credits: All photos by James Ross unless otherwise credited.
Additional suggestions of things to do in Ontario:
The author paid a media rate for his voyage on the Rideau Canal. All opinions expressed are his own.
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