Dinghy Cruising/Camping on the Ottawa River

The Ottawa River is well suited for dinghy cruising.
A series of strategically located islands in the Ottawa River between Lake Deschenes and the Chats Falls Dam suggest that this body of water is ideally suited for anyone wanting to go cruising in an open dinghy with overnight camping stops.

Before reading any further, you should know that I have never cruised the Ottawa River in an open dinghy. The smallest boat I have sailed up river was a 18.5 foot Sandpiper, but it has a nice enclosed cabin. (This article started off as a response to a question on a local newsgroup.) I should also indicate that while all the islands I will refer to are completely uninhabited, I do not know whether any of them are privately owned or if there are any regulations concerning overnight camping on them. However, from what I can see, I do not believe that anyone cruising is a small dinghy would have problems camping on these islands for an overnight stay.

Aylmer Island

Aylmer Island is an obvious destination for anyone sailing from the eastern side of Lake Deschenes. Many people are familiar with it as a handy destination for day outings. It is a rather nice little island, but anyone romping around in its underbrush should keep an eye out for poison ivy (and there can be
Aylmer Island.
lots poison ivy). There is something of a spectacular up-river view from the top of the hill on the back side of island. There is also evidence that teenagers may use the Aylmer Island for parties during evenings on weekends, and don't forget that it is an old Indian burial ground! Whatever the case, the goings-on at Aylmer Island may be subject to greater scrutiny by the authorities because of its proximity to the large urban centres. The island itself falls within what used to be Kanata (now Ottawa).

Twelve Mile Island lies approximately 15 kilometres (9 miles) upriver from Aylmer Island. This is the longest leg between any two islands on this part of the Ottawa River.
The docks at Pinhey Point.
If you do make Twelve Mile Island your next destination, you will pass Pinhey Point at about the half way mark. You may want to stop at Pinhey Point to have lunch or simply to visit the heritage site. Being in a small dinghy, you will be able to tie up at the site's small dock. On shore you will have access to a nice large public park. Although no overnight camping is permitted here, the park is equipped with picnic tables and washrooms. If it is raining (heaven forbid), you will have the option of eating your lunch under the cover of the bandstand erected at the site by the City of Ottawa (but the bandstand cover may not be erected every year).

Twelve Mile Island

When leaving Pinhey Point you will be in easy striking distance of Twelve Mile Island. It is just a little past the Port-of-Call Marina. If the river level is high, the surface area of Twelve Mile Island may not be greater than that of 40 foot yacht. Nevertheless, it's a real island complete with a small Coast Guard light house. If you decide to overnight here, make sure your tent has good mosquito screens because there is a bit of a marshy area in the vicinity of the island.

Mohr Island is only 11 kilometres (a little over six miles) upriver from Twelve Mile Island. Mohr's prominent U- shape anchorage will soon come into view to anyone approaching the island from the east. A good spot for setting up camp may not be immediately obvious because Mohr is a fairly large Island. In fact, it is actually two islands - it is divided by a creek which flows into the U- shaped anchorage. From what I have been able to see, Mohr is entirely covered by a thick forest and has no paths or large clearings. I tried to walk through a part of it once, and at times, I felt like I was cutting my way through the Amazon Jungle.

Mohr Island

People setting up camp on Mohr for the first time may want to consider doing so on the wedge of land on the south- west corner of the U-shaped anchorage. There are a few small clearings here and I have seen tents set up in this area on a couple of occasions. Wherever you do set up your tent and secure your dinghy for an overnight stay, be sure to calculate for the possibility that the river level may rise or fall by as much as eight inches if the water flow through the Chats Falls dam is suddenly increased or decreased. Also be aware that once the sun goes down, you will be inundated by mosquitoes. Some boaters have theorized that Mohr Island is the breeding ground for half the mosquitoes of North America.

From Mohr Island you will have to travel another 10 kilometres (6 miles) to get to Pontiac Bay. Along the way you will be able to stop at Quyon. A public park surrounds the area in the immediate vicinity of the village's small dock, and supplies are within easy walking distance.

Pontiac Bay

Once in Pontiac Bay you can set up camp on one of the small islands in the south, south-east corner of the bay. In fact, most of the southern end of the bay appears to be public land, although I am not sure of this. On one of the islands you may come across a tent or two that are being used by kids from the nearby Tim Horton Youth Camp for overnight camping trips. When setting up camp in Pontiac Bay, remember that the river level can fluctuate by as much as a foot because of the effects of the dam. And like Mohr Island, mosquitoes will make their presence known the minute the sunsets.

Certain areas of some of these islands come within jumping distance of the mainland, and you will generally find that you can move on and off these islands by foot. This can come in handy because there is lots of room to roam on the south side of Pontiac Bay, and there are some good hiking opportunities for anyone who is interested in climbing the hill leading to the top of the Chats Falls Dam.

One of the small Island in Pontiac Bay.
Pontiac Bay is full of shallow spots and underwater obstacles. This is a real concern to keelboats that must carefully follow a twisting channel into the bay. Obviously, this is less of a problem for small boats that are able to pull up their centre boards and kick up their rudders, but there are rocks in Pontiac that can still catch the bottom of a dinghy. Small boats may also be exposed to danger in their approach to this part of the river by strong currents that may develop if the dam is in the process of releasing large amounts of water. However these currents should not present too much of a problem for boats heading directly into Pontiac, especially if they stay relatively close to the Quebec side when approaching the mouth of the bay. Nevertheless, it should be stressed that anyone approaching and sailing into Pontiac Bay does so entirely at their own risk.

Fitzroy Provincial Park

When sailing this end of the river, you may also be tempted to stop in at the Fitzroy Provincial Park on the Ontario side just opposite of Pontiac Bay. The park's small dock is located roughly between Alexandra and Kedey's Islands (both of these islands are inhabited).
If you do decide to head over, be warned that you are almost sure to encounter the currents from the dam if you cut across the river between Pontiac Bay and the Fitzroy Provincial Park. In fact, any boat navigating its way around the south side of Alexandra Island will likely have to contend with the effects of the dam. People have reported that these waters can become quite dangerous if the dam is spilling large amounts of water. You may be better off avoiding this area in a small boat unless you are sure of what you are doing and know what conditions you will be dealing with.

It may be possible to reach Fitzroy Provincial Park safely by approaching the area from behind Alexandra Island. This means passing between Alexandra Island and the Ontario shoreline. I have never attempted this and do not know if it is feasible. The chart indicates the water between the island and the mainland is very shallow ranging from 1 to 4 feet (with some rocks).

I have never put into the Fitzroy Provincial Park by boat, but I have gone camping there by car. I can report that it is an attractive park which offers a variety of nice private camp sites. You may want to phone in advance of any visit to confirm the procedure for checking into the park by boat. For more information, call 613-623-5159, or see the Fitzroy Park Web Site.

For more information about dinghy cruising in general, see the "All about Dinghy Cruising" on the Hostellers Sailing Club website.

Text, photos, & maps by Michael McGoldrick.
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