Going the Distance

Published in the July 2013 Issue July 2013

A 27-day voyage on a pontoon? It better be a very nice boat. When Richard Caza and Natalie Dionne decided to take travel 1,240 miles from Baie des Brises, Canada, to Georgian Bay, they knew they needed a boat that could keep up. That’s exactly why they went with Princecraft.

“In the past I have had a sail boat, personal watercrafts and a 21-foot speed boat,” says Richard. “But since 2009 I have owned a 27-foot Princecraft pontoon with a 300hp 5.7L inboard engine. I bought a Princecraft because of the quality of the product and because of the power.”

This journey took the Canadian residents through Thousand Islands, Lake Ontario, the full length of the Trent canal and Lake Simcoe. At night, their routine varied from staying in a marina, tying up to a deserted island or dropping anchor in a secluded bay.

“We met another couple from Quebec who were on their brand new cruiser. Once the gate of the lock opened up, they joked with us that they would probably see us again in two days once we reached the other side of the lake,” says Richard. “I trailed behind them for a few minutes before really pushing down the throttle. You should have seen their face when we passed them!

A few hours later, they caught up to us and said they would never make fun of a pontoon again.”

A mechanic by day, Richard specializes in electronic engine control. Natalie is an early child educator who works in a daycare center. Together this adventurous couple spent their days traveling by boat, but they made sure to stop and enjoy the sites along the way. They visited riverside villages, heritage sites and saw amazing landscape.

“In the past, pioneers traveled by water way, which means there is a lot of history along the way,” said Richard. “We would start our days at dawn. Depending on where we spent the night, we would either have breakfast aboard or nearby, pack everything up, fold down the top and off we would go.”

Once the couple finished with that journey, they knew it wouldn’t be their last. In February of 2012, the couple was dining with close friends Frank Fucco and Natalie Chiasson, when the discussion turned to their next big adventure. Frank and Natalie own a 2001, 19-foot runabout boat and usually spend their time sailing on Lake Laurentian, which is a rather small body of water. Richard invited the pair to join them on a summer pontoon trip, even though they had no boating experience on a large body of water.

“We invited Frank and Natalie to travel with us to make the expedition more fun,” said Richard. “We also wanted to introduce our friends to the pleasure and excitement of boating on a large body of water.”

Planning The Trip

Before the group departed, they developed an itinerary and established refueling points, points of service in case of a breakdown or emergency and places to sleep safely at night in case of low temperatures. Based on his previous experiences, Richard led the way in planning meals to maximize the space onboard so it would not be cluttered with useless stuff. He also advised his friends that lightweight jersey material clothing is sufficient 95 percent of the time, so you only need one set of warm clothes in case of unexpected weather. Plus they had their Princecraft pontoon, which they felt was the perfect pontoon for distance travelling.

“Our pontoon is well-equipped for travelling. It has a large fuel tank, depth finder, GPS, rear table, toilet and a high-end sound system,” said Richard. “We also added a pop-up enclosure and front cover.”

With good organization, the group could last for days before heading to shore. “We had enough gas for six days on the water, but we also carried enough drinking water for eight days,” said Richard. “Our pontoon is equipped with a toilet and a sink that could be used for four people in two boats.”

The Departure

The group departed on July 12, 2012 from Lake St-François

“My pontoon was already at the dock and functional since late May,” said Richard. “After correcting minor problems, Frank’s boat was ready to depart. Good mechanical condition is essential to a pleasant journey.”

Richard pointed out that it can become a financial nightmare if a boat breaks down during the trip. Luckily, he’s a mechanic by trade and makes all the repairs himself.

The women checked the provisions onboard while Frank and Richard made a last look at the safety equipment and fuel, oil and water.

Once everything was perfect, the group made a final check on the weather and wind conditions.

“They were saying wind conditions of 35 miles per hour with gusts up to 40 miles per hour,” said Richard. “This was no problem for me because I have a 27-foot Princecraft pontoon, but with Frank’s boat being only 19 and half feet, we knew it was going to shake it but we had to start somewhere.”

The first stop off the lock on Cornwall Seaway was about an hour and a half away but when they reached the middle of the lake the waves were between 4 and 5 feet high.

“I heard Natalie screaming in their small boat,” said Richard. “But it was nothing compared to what we were facing on Lake Ontario.”

After getting through, it was time to find a place for dinner and to spend the night. The group decided to spend the night on the water in the shelter in between the islands of a beautiful bay near Guannanoque. They attached the two boats together and threw out anchors. It was 34 degrees that night, but the group still had a memorable dinner.

The next morning after breakfast, the two couples had to make some decisions. Based on how the runabout had handled the day before, they had to decide if they should follow the shorter route, which would take about eight hours. But this would mean they would be fully exposed to the big waves of Lake Ontario, which could be anywhere from 5 to 15 feet high. Or go with the second option, which would be 16 hours in a protected but narrow passage, where the weatherman was proclaiming calm wind. Since some were still apprehensive, they decided to take the protected route.

Hotel Pontoon

Once they finished for the day, they decided to stay at Marina Picton for the night. That particular marina allowed for a nice shower, plus other conveniences that you start missing when traveling.

“For Natalie and me, our boat suits our needs very well. When our bed is mounted, it’s the size of a king bed,” said Richard. “For Natalie and Frank, the first night on their small boat had not been comfortable so they opted to stay in a small motel near the marina.”

After breakfast the next morning, the adventurous duos took off again.

Within five minutes, Frank passed too close over shallow mud and took steel wire into the boat’s propeller.

“When he had this breakdown, I approached his boat and has determined from the rear platform of my pontoon that its propeller was slightly damaged,” said Richard. “I temporarily straightened it with pliers and I told him that if he felt any vibration, then it would have to be replaced. Luckily there was no vibration.”

The group traveled for about six hours to get to the city of Trenton where they joined the Murray Canal, which gave them access to Lake Ontario through the bay. The Murray Canal is about six miles long. Known for being beautiful and quiet, it seemed like the right choice, but before they reached the end, the wind has set in. Richard consulted Frank and Natalie and everyone agreed to proceed. The Murray Canal ends in a bay of Lake Ontario, which is protected from the waves.

Not So Calm

But on this particular day, things weren’t so calm. By the time the boats arrived, the weather had taken a major turn for the worse. The couples spotted a large cruiser ahead and were shocked to see the waves were much bigger than that boat. At the same time, they noticed a Canadian Coast Guard aircraft, which started revolving around them. The plane turned out to be their salvation and helped direct them to safety.

Richard motioned for Frank to follow in his wake, which allowed for the Princecraft pontoon to break up the wave because it was a lot bigger than the runabout. The waves were between 8 and 10 feet high and not a drop of water affected the pontoon. But Frank was forced to close the open deck on his boats as the wave came crashing in from the bow.

Trying to follow his GPS, Richard was able to see the entrance sign posted for Wellington Marina. Thankfully, everyone made it safe and sound. But Frank and Natalie had quite the experience on their first long-range boating trip. Because the wind was spiking up to 55 milers per hour, the group had to wait two days before leaving. Staying at the beautiful marina made it more of a vacation and the couples enjoyed the down time.

On the third morning the wind had dropped and it was decided they would leave before the forecasted wind for the next day set in. The group bravely decided to take the shortest path home, which led them through the unprotected part of the great Lake Ontario.

“Our return to Kingston should take have taken about six to eight hours in my estimation; if we ran full throttle all the way and for some time we would lose the land view which isn’t optimal,” says Richard. “The average speed of this part of the trip would need to be 48 mph which is very fast.”

They made it through this stretch of the trip with no problems. Total time for the trip was eight days, but it generated enough excitement to last a lifetime, especially for the couple with no previous experience. For Richard and Natalie, it was exactly what they were used to and fulfilled their need for adventure.

“The overall lesson is that it is possible to navigate comfortably with a well-equipped, large and safe pontoon,” said Richard. “Plus the pontoon has the advantage of lower maintenance and operation cost. Pontoons are perfect for long trips.”

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