Blog post after the first crossing back in 2014
Maybe one day we’ll have a true open water distance race up here in Toronto, and this route would be a logical choice. For now, the gauntlet has been laid down at sub-6 hours for others to beat…
We were in a multi-week holding period to cross Lake Ontario, and we jumped at a rare September combo of south(ish) wind and clear skies. As far as we can tell, Dan has notched the first successful prone crossing, and it looks like Rob’s was the 3rd SUP crossing, and we can confidently declare a new record times for others to chase.
Route: Queen’s Royal Park in Niagara-on-the-Lake to Cherry Beach in Toronto. This is close to the official Marilyn Bell route, but the finish at Cherry Beach carves off a few kilometers. The route skirts the U.S. border to the east and, as we realized driving in, crosses the shipping lane into the Welland Canal – neither was an issue this time.
Distance: Just under 50 km (31 miles). Go ahead and call it the Canadian equivalent of M20 (with less swell), Chattajack (less scenery) and Catalina (less history). Joking aside, this is a big and exposed paddle, and Great Lakes have been known to sink ships.
The conditions were about as good as one can hope for at this time of year, especially the relatively benign south wind. Here are some notes:
Hour 1: The current coming out of the Niagara River gives you a strong push. But, it was also butting into some leftover NW swell from the day earlier. There was quite a bit disorganized water to work through, even though the pace was quick.
Hour 2: Similar to hour 1, but the current and pace are starting to fade. A sailboat cruises by and the guy asks, “I assume you’re out here on purpose, right?” Apparently a salmon also jumped my board and had a go at my legs. M20 and Catalina have sharks. We have salmon.
Hour 3: This was as good as it gets. Very small rolling bumps now from the south that you could catch, and they were lined up roughly where we needed to go. The pace is still quick with the runners and good energy levels. It’s pure fun at this point and, despite the fact that you’re very exposed (25 km out from land N, S or W), there’s not a care in the world.
Hour 4: Wind is kicking up from the West, swell direction is now running across our line and the pace is fading, but still holding around 7:00/km. Some nausea, but calories and hydration are spot on. Time for a caffeine hit too – magic.
Hour 5: Pace is grinding down now with a stiffer West wind and swell. I’ve been on my right side for basically the past hour-and-a-half and am running out of gas. I decide at this point to call the rudder into the game – it slows you down a bit when you don’t need it, but also provides instant relief. The pace improves right away.
Last push: You’re basically staring at the CN tower for 5 hours but it never seems to get any closer. You can almost reach out and slap it with your paddle, but the GPS reminds you that you’re still a few hours out. Then suddenly you’re surrounded by sailboats and start to get some refraction off the island – it’s really happening. Around the point and into the harbour, then smooth paddling into Cherry Beach
NOTL to Toronto is by far the better approach. The current helps and navigation is much easier. Without an escort boat, you’d need some serious compass work and dumb luck to hit the right line going the other way, with no CN Tower to guide you. SPOT Gen3 tracking devices worked as advertised out there where there is no cell coverage – live tracking and all. Conditions will never be ideal – it’s big water out there and the wind changes a lot around here. If you can get a clean radar with a SSE wind, you are golden. But SE winds are probably the rarest breed around here.