Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. -Charles R. Swindoll
The difference between adventure and adversity is attitude. –Janet Evanovich
August 19-25, 2022
There are times with the cruising lifestyle when things happen beyond your control that stop you cold. Weather is probably the first thing that comes to mind. You have no choice – other than being stupid, which isn’t a good choice —but to submit to Mother Nature’s capriciousness. Boats break, because that’s just what they do and no boat has ever improved with age on its own. And waterway locks break, which is exactly what happened to us on the Trent Severn at The Big Chute.
So the story here is not about the Big Chute breaking, because when you were designed a hundred years ago, rebuilt almost 50 years ago, and boats in that time have gotten bigger and heavier and you’re moving way more of them, then things are going to break. Shoot – most humans start falling apart long before 50. The story is about taking lemons and making lemonade. Looper Lemonade. And the first ingredient is the other Loopers with you.
Marooned Day 1
The Best Laid Plans: Interrupted
Departed the Swift Rapids Lock (#43) excited at the prospect of doing one of the most unique locks in all of North America: the Big Chute Marine Railway. The second to last lock on the Trent Severn Waterway (TSW), the boat would actually be traveling high and dry over land via rail (with us on it) across a road, complete with arms coming down to stop road traffic with bells and flashing lights, then deposited back in the water at the bottom of the hill. This would be finishing the TSW in style.
It was a short run on a beautiful Friday morning, winding through rocky shoreline and small islands laden with cottages. We were greeted at the Blue Line dock with unwelcome news from other Loopers already there: the Chute was broken and waiting for the mechanic’s report. We all stayed busy with our own boat projects, but remained hopeful it would be fixed later in the afternoon. Various noises emanated from The Chute most of the afternoon, none of which sounded good. But the silence was more foreboding. Mid-afternoon we got the bad news: the hydraulic pump would need to be replaced. But first they had to find a new hydraulic pump, because Amazon doesn’t stock pumps for 50 year old locks that are the only one in all of North America.
There were eight boats halted there at the lock: Inconceivable, Child of the Sun, Moon Dragon, and Odyssey, and See Level were on the blue line. JAMMS, Perikana, and Optimistic were in the small marina a couple hundred yards from us. While disappointed, we all agreed that at least no one’s boat was broken in the making of this delay.
Thus commenced the making of Looper Lemonade.
Time to set aside our disappointment, so we kicked off the Weekend of Waiting with an outdoor movie on See Level’s expansive bow deck. Five other crews joined us for a screening of Stardust under a starry sky. Okay, so there was a large side of bugs attracted to the projector light along with the stars. But the movie was a hit, with all the ingredients to take one away from any worries: a love story, magic spells, a unicorn, Robert DeNiro in drag…
Marooned Day 2
One Of Us Escapes
The Lockmaster came over in the morning with a non-update impersonating an update: still broken and still looking for a replacement pump. But of course it’s the weekend, so doubt much will happen. Will just have to wait until Monday.
Our buddy boat, Inconceivable, volunteered for a daring foray to The Other Side of The Chute,– which is really just an overly dramatic way of saying they were the only boat small enough to hire a hydraulic trailer to haul them out and truck them to the next lock. They had a wedding to attend in a week, and the uncertainty of our predicament left them in a bind. We saw them off the dock about 2:30, and soon received a text they had splashed successfully and gone through the final lock of the TSW! The now Stranded Seven celebrated their successful escape, taking comfort in the knowledge The Other Side of the The Chute actually did exist, and settled in for the rest of the weekend by resuming boat projects and chores.
Time to assess our plight. Group conclusion: we were not in dire straits. Have another glass of Lemonade, and lets go get ice cream at the little restaurant in the marina.
Docktails happened. Moon Dragon came boat to boat with homemade applesauce cake. People read, swam, walked around, and chatted with visitors and each other. More boat projects. We were all going to have the cleanest boats on The Loop by the time we get out of here.
Dave and I went kayaking, exploring a little passage that took us into a lake. Transiting the short, shallow throughway we passed a multi-family, multi-generation gathering at what must have been a vacation rental. We found ourselves surrounded by half a dozen of the teenagers in kayaks, clearly their first time paddling anything, as they goofed around and involuntarily went all different directions. Their carefree silliness and banter with their elders on shore was in a language we didn’t understand but still made us smile; laughter transcends language barriers.
Marooned Day 3
Pragmatism and A Little Jesting
Group Sunday breakfast at the little marina restaurant. All still in good spirits. Everyone is starting to do the math on how long they can wait it out, what Plan B is, decision points, assessing supplies and holding tank levels, etc. True to Looper mentality, everyone is shifting into pragmatic mode and managing the problem.
I think everyone was a bit relieved to hear others were doing the same. We went back to joking about our plight and someone dubbed us Big Chute Castaways. No one wanted to be Gilligan, so we went with the Tom Hanks version instead.
Epiphany: We needed a Wilson.
Since no one had a volleyball on their boat, someone mentioned using a fender which was a perfect adaptation for the situation! I was on a creative mission using what could be found on a boat, and by mid-afternoon had discovered yet another use of duct tape.
Everyone got a laugh and had their turn with pictures on their boat. In the meantime, I was already plotting various photo opportunities with Wilson Fender. I posted a pic of Wilson on the Great Loop Facebook page.
And then there were six. The crew of Optimistic apparently wasn’t very, and they left to return down the TSW and the Erie to the East Coast. But we were joined on the blue line by Destiny, so we were back up to seven.
Marooned Day 4
With Monday, hope rose that we would get more definitive info. We sort of did. They had found a new hydraulic pump, but they couched this information with caveats: it 1) had to be shipped, 2) had to be modified, and 3) had to work. Hoping for the end of the week, with no official update expected until Thursday morning. Nothing to do but continue waiting.
Also with Monday, I woke to discover my Wilson Fender Facebook post had reached almost 500 likes!!! Seriously??? Didn’t expect that. Everyone seemed to immediately get the Castaway reference. I decided that social media is a very weird thing. Apparently Humor Flavored Looper Lemonade is the best.
Everyone laying low today due to rain. Dave resumed work on his Coast Guard Captains certification. Encouraged by how much people seemed to like Wilson, I plotted more fun with him. Mood amongst the Castaways is one of acceptance – as if there was a choice.
With no easy access to potable water, everyone shifts to conservation mode. Overcast days today and tomorrow mean solar may not fully charge, so we run the generator for an hour or two and unplug any unnecessary electronics. We have a camping solar shower on the deck, but it’s lukewarm at the end of the day as our days and nights grow cooler.
Marooned Day 5
Contact with the outside World
The silence at the Chute is becoming deafening. A touch of paranoia creeps in at the edges as we wonder if lack of staff visibility means they are abandoning their posts and we will be forgotten, left to fend for ourselves. Oh wait — we already were fending for ourselves, and doing a darn good job of it
The Odyssey crew had a friend who is a local cottage owner, and Rob generously offers to drive us the 15 miles into town for groceries. We are on our last day of yogurt and could use more soft dog treats because Roxy ate a whole bag last week when I accidentally left it within reach, so I join three other ladies and take him up on his offer. He encouraged us to stroll down the two blocks of downtown Coldwater, which proved to be a very quaint town with remnants of their recent annual steampunk festival. Never would have come here if we hadn’t been stuck, so this is a plus. The short excursion was an incredible morale booster for the four us that went, one we hadn’t realized we needed. Fresh fruit and veggies help also.
Wilson continues to get likes with his posted antics.
Ice cream social on the blue line! Ice Cream is an important ingredient in Looper Lemonade. The touch of paranoia hovers on the edges once again, as I think I see furtive glances as people check out their neighbors bowl. Could it be they are assessing who might be the tastiest should we need to resort to cannibalism? Hmmm….
Marooned Day 6
Anticipation as we are told that the new pump will arrive today! Signs of activity in the afternoon with the arrival of several Parks Canada trucks, followed by a flatbed with a crane. Excitement as we watch the broken pump get craned out and the new one hoisted up. Lots of noise as they test. They work past regular hours, but depart with still no word if it is fixed. We all rig for a morning departure, hoping these actions will be taken by the Great Loop Gods as a vote of confidence and they will make it a reality.
The original Facebook Wilson post tops 750 likes, quite possibly the most that duct tape has ever received. Shoot — that’s more likes than I’ve ever had, which means duct tape is more of an ‘influencer’ than I am. Several people want one of their own, and one guy suggests a whole line of Wilson Fender fenders. Seriously, people.
Marooned Day 7
High spirits among the Big Chute Castaways here that we might get out today, plus the discovery that the original Wilson Fender post has topped 1000 likes. The Parks Canada guy looked a bit alarmed as the Castaway Mob swarmed off the boats at the sight of him coming down the dock. He confirmed that they were going to start moving boats this morning!
The two boats left in the marina moved over to the staging area. The carriage moved into the water and they called for the first boat. Child of the Sun blew his conch shell in celebration as we all scurried to our boats. Moon Dragon moved into the now-operational carriage first. See level, being the Fat Cat that she is, was called in behind Moon Dragon. Both of us had Wilson Fenders hanging prominently off our bows.
Suddenly we were moving out of the water to the beat of the railroad crossing bells. Very weird to look down from the boat deck and see a road with cars and people stopped, taking pictures of us. Less than ten minutes later, we floated out of the shoot and were on our way. The Trent Severn was back in business, and we were back on The Loop.
We proceeded the mile to the final TSW lock, its open doors awaiting us as the first boat arriving from The Chute in a week. I realized the power of a Wilson when I saw the smiles of the lock staff as they saw him hanging from the bow railing and the lockmaster came forward to greet us, acknowledging Wilson by name. Lock spectators pointed and took pictures of Wilson, but at least they did not ask me to step out of the picture. Even heard a “Willll-suuuuhn!!!” or two from those gathered.
Two hours later we were backing into a slip at Bayport Marina in Midland. The local boat owner next to us – who was not a Looper – mentioned he’d seen a picture on Facebook of a Wilson some people had made from a fender. I simply pointed to a spot three feet from his right elbow.
Ultimately, the original Wilson post garnered over 1500 likes. While that may not be a lot by Kardashian standards, it’s still quite an accomplishment for red duct tape.
Epilogue: We retired him once we got to Midland. He had served a useful purpose among the Big Chute Castaways as a key sweetener in our very own flavor of Looper Lemonade. My hope is that he also will inspire others to start squeezing the lemon of misadventure to make it an adventure as they travel the Loop — or just life in general.