Le Circuit


Launch: We began and ended our cruise at the north end of Seneca Lake, at Seneca Lake State Park, Geneva, NY.

Nearby campsites: Sampson Lake State Park, located on the western shore of Seneca Lake south of Seneca Lake State Park

We checked on the internet for more information about this circle route and discovered that Parks Canada calls this cruise Le Grand Circuit Nautique -- a beautiful name for 800 nautical miles of scenic waterway. This is a great cruise -- spring, summer, or fall, but especially scenic during the fall color season.



-----There's something about a circle, or at least curves, that is very pleasing to the eye. Perhaps this is because Nature creates most designs using circles and arcs. It seems that straight lines and squared corners are the stuff of engineers -- of human, not natural design. Oh, of course, there are exceptions -- but imagine a bird made of straight lines and right angles, or a human face constructed by an engineer. And so it is that El, in particular, loves cruising routes that create circles -- circumnavigations.

----- For most of the summer we had been cruising New York's Finger Lakes and the western reaches of the Erie Canal -- new water for us. But, by mid-July, the temperatures and humidity of this record-breaking summer in western New York had forced a retreat. We headed for the mountains of Colorado and for the past several months had been camping in the high country. Now, in early September, we had returned to western New York to continue our Erie Canal cruise, now to the eastern end. Our old engines had over 2,000 hours of service and required replacement. So, we contracted a local Honda dealer who expertly installed new engines on Halcyon and checked them out . We were ready to continue cruising.

-----In preparation, we scanned books, charts and Internet for up-to-date information on the Eastern Erie. It had been thirteen years since we last traversed these waters. Suddenly El looked up from the computer and exclaimed, "Le Grand Circuit Nautique."

----- "The what?" I had never heard the name before, and my French is rusty to say the least.

----- "Le Grand Circuit Nautique," El repeated. "Look - Parks Canada has a circle route they call Le Grand Circuit. Since it's a circle, you can start anywhere. For us, we'd start here on the Finger Lakes, head via canals to Oswego, NY, cross Lake Ontario, traverse the Rideau Canal to Ottawa, down the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers to Sorrel, turn south through the canals of Quebec to Lake Champlain, south out of Champlain via canals to the Hudson River, then we would travel the eastern Erie Canal and voilá -- home to the Finger Lakes."

----- "How long a trip is it?," I queried, concerned since it was now the twenty-eighth of September.

----- "Let's see -- 44 miles to Baldwinsville, 80 more to Kingston, 141 along the Rideau, 112 to Montreal from Ottawa, 110 to Lake Champlain, 98 down the lake to Whitehall, 55 miles to the Erie, and then a final 140 miles to the Finger Lakes." Her fingers punched in the numbers on the calculator. "About 800 nautical miles -- and that would be a little more than 920 statute miles, and with some puttering around, we could probably figure on a 1,000 mile cruise."

----- While El was doing the calculating, I was looking for closing dates on the canals. "Well, the Rideau closes on October 12th -- that's two weeks."

----- El was calculating, "265 miles from here to Ottawa, so we need to average about 20 nmiles a day -- leisurely." She's the risk-taker in our duo, remember.

----- "The Chambly Canal, linking us to Lake Champlain closes October 14," I said with a frown.

----- "OK, that's about another 222 nmiles, and we have 16 days total -- that means we need to average about 30 nmiles per day to clear the October 14 date for the Chambly. What about the New York canals below Champlain and back to the Finger Lakes?"

----- "They close on November 15, so no problem with their closure -- what do you think about clearing Canada in a little over two weeks? Will that be too fast a trip to enjoy the cruise?"

----- "Thirty miles a day, mostly in protected water, shouldn't be hard to average."

----- "What about snow? Let's check with Terry. He's a local and perhaps knows the weather risks this time of year," I replied, still looking for a possible way out of what seemed a long, and perhaps too late in the year, cruise.

-----We talked with Terry that night. He was blunt -- "I'm putting my boat away for the winter next week -- season's over."

-----"Perhaps this year will be different," El said hopefully. "Been a mighty hot summer, so maybe it will carry over into the fall."

-----"Maybe," Terry mumbled quietly. "Maybe ... but I'm taking my boat out next week."

Our Future?

-----We talked together that evening.-"It's fall, and the leaves are just starting to turn. When will we be back this way again during the height of the fall color season, and if we are, how would it be any different, in terms of canal closures, than this year? Don't want to put off something that later we may regret."

----- El has a most engaging grin when she knows she's dangling a carrot in front of the rabbit, or in this case of close timing, the rabbit in front of a greyhound. She watched me pondering and knew what I was thinking ... "If the weather turns sour, we can always turn around or if timing gets impossible for the Chambly, we can leave the Circuit at Montreal and return to the Finger Lakes via the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, and the Oswego Canal. What's the worst that can happen -- some cold?" She smiled as she began packing supplies into Halcyon's storage bins.

----- Well, I could imagine a lot worse, thinking of crossing Lake Ontario, cruising down the Ottawa River with vast open stretches of fetch ... and then, the St. Lawrence River -- difficult any time of the year with long reaches open to the wind. The river current often opposes the wind and creates huge rollers that even make the 'salties' blanch. And then there is Lake Champlain, with long miles of open lake ...

----- "Ontario in the fall," El continued, "Imagine the fall color." She has wonderful ways of changing my imagination from the grim to the beautiful. "Let's do it -- should be marvelous with the fall colors, and most folks are off the water now."

----- El could probably sell me the Brooklyn Bridge, with her logic, fall back plans, and "why not?" attitude. After all, it's her fault we're on Halcyon at all.

-----"OK," I said with some tredipation in my voice, "let's give it a try ...We can always turn back."

The Route

Finger Lakes - -Cayuga/Seneca Canal----Western Erie Canal----Oswego Canal----Lake Ontario----Rideau Canal

Ottawa River----St. Lawrence River----Richelieu River/Canal Saint-Ours/Canal Chamblay----Lake Champlain

CChamplain Canal----Eastern Erie Canal


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