Cruising Guide to the Ottawa River
Lake Deschenes to the Chats Falls Dam

       Note that this cruising guide contains essentially the same the information provided in the Virtual Cruise.
       However, it is present in format that is more suitable for printing out a hard copy.

By Michael McGoldrick

Racing on Lake Deschenes. It can get crowded.
The largest sailing community in the national capital region is trapped within a 27 mile segment of the Ottawa River, but people have learned to make the best with what they have. In fact, they have turned this stretch of water into a self-contained microcosm of the larger sailing world.

This part of the Ottawa River begins with Lake Deschenes in the City of Ottawa's west-end, and it continues up river to the Chat Falls hydro electric dam near the small town of Fitzroy Harbour. It includes a number of well equipped and surprisingly large marina facilities, several strategically placed overnight anchorages, various racing fleets, and over a thousand sailboats, many of which are in the 25 to 35 foot range.

It is unfortunate that a series of rapids in the east, and the dam to the west, isolates this part of the river from any other navigable waters. The rapids are particularly frustrating as they cut off what would otherwise be convenient waterway access to and from Lake Ontario via the Rideau Canal system. At the western end, a hydro-electric dam and other barriers stand in the way of the centuries old dream of establishing a navigable waterway connecting the Ottawa River to the Georgian Bay.

Boats pass each other on Lac Deschênes.
Such limitations mean that Ottawa sailors have become adept at overcoming obstacles preventing access to and from the river. Trailer-sailing is popular for obvious reasons, and this is especially true for those who are anxious to find new competition on various racing circuits. Owners of some of the larger vessels (30 & 32 footers) have resorted to a regular routine of transporting their sailboats to Lake Ontario or Georgian Bay for one or two months every summer. Moreover, those catering to the local nautical trade say that the Ottawa area has more than its share of sailboats that have made it to the Caribbean and beyond.

Whatever the case, the majority of area sailors stay put on the Ottawa River and gladly make the best of what they have. Nothing illustrates this better than the various sailing and yacht clubs which have popped up around Lake Deschenes. These include the Lac Deschenes Sailing Club and Kanata Sailing Club. Both have loyal followings and tend to concentrate on providing services for dinghies and other small boats. The Club de Voile Grande Riviere can be found at the Aylmer Marina on the Quebec side of the river. It has top notch facilities which can accommodate boats well over 30 feet in length.

The Britannia Yacht Club is the oldest and best known club on this part of the Ottawa River. It was established in 1887, and it opened its first clubhouse in 1896 in what was then the middle of Ottawa's summer cottage district. Britannia's yacht basin traces its origins to excavation work from
BYC's old clubhouse which was destoryed by fire in 1918.
an abandoned turn-of-the-century project to harness power from the fast moving waters of the Deschenes Rapids. By comparison, the establishment of the Nepean Sailing Club is a relatively recent development. in 1980, the current site of the Nepean Sailing Club was nothing more than a thin strip of neglected land between Carling Avenue and a shallow corner of Lake Deschenes. The breakwater, boat compound, and park land which surround the NSC clubhouse are all new and were put in place with landfill. The result is a a club which compares favourably with any other in North America.

Efforts to enhance the sailing and cruising potential of the Ottawa River go beyond the various clubs that have sprung up around Lake Deschenes. In order to open up some new and very interesting anchorages, a group of sailors banded together to mark the tortuous channel into Pontiac Bay with over 30 private buoys. They even installed a number of mooring buoys in areas of the bay with poor holding ground. All this was quite a feat considering that the work was carried out by volunteers, and that some of the buoys are held in place with 350 pound weights.

Visitors to area and local trailer sailors will be glad to know that there are good launch ramps open to the public (for a fee) at the Nepean Sailing Club, the Aylmer Marina, and the Port-of-Call Marina. Public ramps exist at Buckham's Bay, Quyon, and Fitzroy Harbour towards the western end of this body of water, and there is always the possibility of finding other facilities, including naturally occurring ramps at the end of public roadways (for light-weight boats).

Departing from Lac Deschenes

The departure point for a cruise upriver will probably be one of the three larger marina/yacht club facilities found on Lake Deschenes, and Mohr Island or Pontiac Bay will likely be the destination.

Leaving the Aylmer Island anchorage at the end
of a hot sunny day.
Before departing, sailors new to the area should note that the prevailing wind for this part of the river is from the west to northwest, meaning anyone sailing up river will probably be working against the wind at least some of the time. Fortunately, the current in this part of the Ottawa River is rarely noticeable (except for people who into serious racing), and water quality is easily good enough for swimming. There are a number of shoals in Lake Deschenes and around Constance Bay, but with a little caution, boats drawing up to 5 feet should not have too much trouble in this body of water. The entire area is covered by Canadian hydrographic chart # 1550.

Aylmer Island will generally be the first heading for boats sailing up river. It is a rather nice little island which comes complete with a beach and small lighthouse. There is something of a spectacular up-river view from the top of the small hill on its northwest side. But anyone romping around on this island should be very careful to avoid the poison ivy by staying on the foot paths and maneuvering around the underbrush (and there can be a lot of poison ivy).

The area south-east of the island is used as a day anchorage, and it is very popular with sailors who wish to stop for a swim on those hot windless afternoons. In fact, an instant community of several dozen boats can suddenly pop up in this area, with many rafted together, as their crews take a break to swim, gam, barbeque, and generally enjoy the summer life. Moreover, the small beach on the south-east corner of the island can be put to good use by sailors who are somehow overcome by the urge to leave their boats and go ashore.

Looking out from the beach on Aylmer Island.
Aylmer Island is also a great place to anchor for the afternoon because it provides people with a front row seat to all the traffic heading upriver or back into Lac Deschenes, and its seems sailors will always spot someone they know. Boats tend to drop anchor in the area between the Island and buoy K-9, but unless it is going to be dead calm, Aylmer is not regarded as a good overnight anchorage.

It is interesting to note that Aylmer Island is an old Indian burial ground. A mass grave site was discovered in the early 1900's when the foundation for a lighthouse was being dug. Several individual Algonquin grave sites have also been found on the island.

Continuing up river will mean passing on the north side of Aylmer Island in order to avoid the shoals found on its south-west side. In a little over six kilometres (four miles) Pinhey Point will come into view on the Ontario side of the river.

Pinhey Point (& Local Heritage Site)

Pinhey Point provides for a pretty little bay which serves as a very popular day anchorage, and a convenient overnight anchorage. Because of its proximity to the marinas and sailing clubs on Lake Deschenes, it can be very busy. This is especially true on Friday evenings when boats pour into Pinhey Point in order to get an early start for a weekend cruise upriver.

Pinhey Point anchorage ( the actual point is on the right ).
Although the area behind the point offers protection from a wide variety of winds, a large number of boats regularly anchor along the shoreline up to a half kilometer downriver from Pinhey Point. These boats will be protected from winds from the south to the west, including the prevailing northwest winds. However, if the winds shift a little more to the north, the waves will start to refract around the point, and these boats may spend a bumpy night at anchor.

While Pinhey Point can fill up quite fast on weekends, it is worth noting that boats arriving in the evening hours still have a chance of finding a nice spot to anchor for the night. This is because many people use Pinhey Point as a day anchorage, and after they are finished supper, they pull up anchor and head home. (Most sailboats can motor back to one of the clubs on the far side of Lake Deschenes in slightly under two hours. Sailing times will, of course, depend on the wind conditions.)

Pinhey Point has a muddy bottom, but it is littered with old logs that have long lost their buoyancy. Although efforts have been made to clean up these old logs, those that remain can still make anchoring difficult on occasion.

Onshore, Pinhey Point is home to an 88 acre heritage site. Hamnett Pinhey was an English ship owner who came to Canada in 1820. He was granted a thousand acres on the Ottawa River for his services to the King as blockade runner during the Napoleonic wars. He quickly transformed this land into an estate which he called Horaceville, after his eldest son. At one time it included a mill, a church, a store, barns, and a manor house.

The Greek Isles?  No - a view from Pinhey Pt. onshore.
The manor house has survived in relatively good condition and is open for tours from Wednesday to Sunday throughout the summer months. The rest of the time people are free to roam around the grounds of the heritage site where they will find picnic tables, public toilets (outhouses), a children's play structure, and a bandstand which has been erected by the City of Kanata.

The Pinhey's Point Foundation organizes events and historical exhibits from late June to the end of August, including the "Children's Discovery Days" (on most Sundays). Most of the events and activities are free, but donations are appreciated. Also note that people should not attempt to land at the site's small dock facilities in anything bigger than a dinghy or tender.

The Port-of-Call Marina lies five kilometres (three miles) past Pinhey Point, and it is the last facility of its kind when heading up river. It was briefly known as the Clearview Marina in the late 1990's, but ownership of the facility has reverted back to the Baskin family, and it now goes by its original name. It is a full service marina where it is possible to fuel up on gasoline (but not diesel) or have a mechanic look after any engine trouble. Their phone number is 613-832-1414.

Baskin's Beach is almost next door to the Port-of-Call Marina and is located just south of Twelve Mile Island. It provides for an indent along the Ontario shoreline which can be used as an overnight anchorage on those occasions when the wind may be blowing from the south or south-east. Onshore, the Britannia Yacht Club maintains a park for the use by its members for camping and picnics.

Looking east from Baskin's Beach.
Boats continuing upriver will pass on the south side of Twelve Mile Island and head toward the buoys which mark the approach to Constance Bay. However, this can be a little tricky because there are shoals on both sides of this part of the Ottawa River, and the buoys can sometimes be hard to spot. Fortunately, there is a set of range markers on shore at Baskin's Beach to help boaters negotiate these waters.

For sailors who may not be familiar with range markers, they should look back at the shoreline next to Baskin's Beach once they are a little past Twelve Mile Island. A fairly large red range marker should not be too difficult to spot. There is a second marker at a slightly higher elevation in the background, but it may be obstructed from view on a boat that is not on the right heading. People may find it necessary to alter their heading to one side or the other until the second marker comes into view. Lining up the lower and higher markers over one another will indicate a safe heading for sailing through this part of the Ottawa River to Constance Bay.

History and an Anchorage at Sand Point

Constance Bay is a prominent feature on this stretch of water. Sand Point is located in the northwest corner of the bay, and the area just south of it is a very popular day anchorage for those who like to stop for a swim. While the point remains a distinguishable landmark on the river, it is far less impressive than the large sand bluff that used to exist on this spot during the days when the Ottawa River was the major fur trading route into North America. Historical notes indicate that by the early 1900's much of the bluff had been carted away for "building purposes".

Like Aylmer Island, Sand Point has provided evidence of an earlier Aboriginal presence on the Ottawa River. Human bones have been found in the sand, and these are believed to be the remains of an Iroquois war party that suffered a surprise attack by French fur traders along with their Aboriginal allies (most likely Algonquin and/or Huron).

The anchorage is located in the area south of Sand Pt.
As was the practice in those days, the Iroquois had posted a sentry on the sand bluff overlooking the river. However the Iroquois encampment had already been spotted by nearby fur traders and their Aboriginal allies. Under cover of darkness, they decided to launch a preemptive strike against the superior and larger Iroquois war party. In the middle of the night they took to their canoes and quietly landed at the southern end of Constance Bay. From here the French fur traders and their allies made their way overland back towards Sand Point. This brought them behind the Iroquois camp. Their nighttime attack apparently caught the Iroquois completely off guard.

Although the area south of Sand Point does not offer quite as much protection from the prevailing west or north-west winds as some other spots along the river, numerous boats do use it as a fair-weather overnight anchorage. One of its advantages is that it is relatively free of the hoards of mosquitoes that plague many other anchorages along this waterway. A gradually sloping sandy bottom which extends a considerable distance from the beach makes for easy anchoring. Boats approaching this area should keep an eye out for a rather long sand bar which jets out under the water from Sand Point.

Buckham's Bay is right next door to Constance Bay, and is a rather odd formation on the River. It is a long narrow bay - two kilometres long, but only about 250 metres wide along its entire length (800 feet wide). Moreover, the west side of this bay is flanked by a fairly steep hill.

Because of its unique shape, it offers good protection from everything except a northwest wind. While boats do use it as an anchorage (the far end) when the wind is blowing from a southerly direction, there are reports that they have to put up with the wake generated by the many powerboats that zoom in and out of the bay. Some people have suggested that the number of powerboats in such a confined area means the water in Buckham's Bay may be a touch less clean than other parts of the river.

Boats heading into Buckhams' Bay should be careful to avoid the shoals which guard the east side of the entrance to this body of water. And because of all the powerboat traffic, sailors should make use of a good anchor light when dropping the hook for the night. Finally, the layout of this bay mean that it may be difficult to anchor very far from houses or cottages, and boats may not have very much privacy.

Mohr Island - "a very pleasant island".

Dropping Anchor at Mohr Island.
Mohr Island is just around the corner from Buckham's Bay. It is regarded by many as the premier anchorage on this body of water. It offers good protection from the prevailing winds (from the west to northwest) and it has a muddy bottom which makes for easy anchoring. The island is strategically located towards the western end of this part of the river and its anchorage can accommodate a dozen or more boats.

The anchorage is located in a small bay on the east side of Mohr Island. While there is usually plenty of room on weekdays, it can become fairly crowded at the end of the day on busy weekends. However, when the forecast calls for a relatively light breeze from the direction of the prevailing winds, a good number of boats can be found anchoring out a considerable distance from the actual bay at Mohr Island.

Off Mohr Island - at dawn.
These boats are anchored in the
area just east of the bay.
It is also important to know that Mohr Island can become very crowded with mosquitoes shortly after sunset. There are few signs of them during the day, but the minute the sun goes down, insect screens take on a whole new importance. Some sailors have theorized that Mohr Island is the breeding ground for half the mosquitoes of North America.

There is a long history to Mohr Island's reputation as a safe and convenient spot to overnight. Records indicate that Samuel de Champlain spent a night on the island while exploring the Ottawa River during his search for the Northwest Passage. Despite the mosquitoes, Champlain described it as a "very pleasant island". Royalists among us may be interested to know that, when he was Prince of Wales, King Edward VII visited a trading post at Crown Point, just south of Mohr Island on the Ontario side of the river.

Mohr Island is often the turn-around point for people out on a short cruise and who are anxious to return to their home base on Lake Deschenes. However, the final ten kilometres (six miles) of the river remaining before the Chats Falls Hydro Electric Dam has more to offer anyone who cares to push on.

Doing so means passing through the Woolsey Narrows and under high tension wires suspended high above the river. This is the narrowest part of the Ottawa River between Lake Deschenes and the Chats Falls Dam, and it is one area where the current may be noticed, especially in spring or when the dam is spilling large amounts of water. It is also interesting to note that this part of the river seems to be a little more remote, and it can give sailors a sense that they are getting away from cottage country.

Passing under the high tension wires.
The high tension wires which cross the Woolsey Narrows are supported by 125 foot towers, although it is obvious that the wires sag considerably lower than this at the mid-point over the river. From an onboard perspective, a lack of depth perception may give the optical illusion that the boat's mast will come close to touching these electric power lines. All of this can be quite entertaining if an unsuspecting passenger is allowed to believe that the skipper is unsure if there is enough room for the mast to safely pass under these power lines.

Quyon Revisited

Sailors who cruise beyond Mohr Island know that the small Village of Quyon is one of the easiest places to put ashore on this part of the Ottawa River. The approach to the village dock is straight forward, and once tied up, most everything of significance is an easy 5 to 10 minute walk away.

First time visitors to Quyon should be sure to head for the docks towards the east (on the right hand side). The structure on the left side serves as the landing for the local ferryboat. There are no problems when approaching and tying up to the outside of the cross-dock. However, when the river is low, people will want to keep an eye out for a few shallow spots if they decide to go on inside to tie up on one of the three finger docks. (Note that Quyon added the finger docks a number of years ago for the convenience of transient boaters, but they may not be installed every year.)

Also noteworthy is the fact that Quyon's waterfront has changed insofar that the Quyon River (more like a large creek) has found a new opening. It now flows into the small bay next to the village docks, whereas in the past, its mouth was a little farther east - closer to the Woolsey Narrows. The result of this change is that much of the small bay next to the docks has filled up with sediments flowing from the new mouth of the Quyon River. It's all pretty easy to see and poses no real problems for boats headed for the Quyon dock. It is just a matter of being aware that none of this shows up the current edition of chart #1550.

Downtown Quyon.
It is possible to tie up at Quyon for an overnight stay, but be warned: the locals use the docks as a waterfront playground. It is not unusual to find kids (and even adults) swimming or fishing off the dock next to your boat. It may be possible to get used to this, but it is another matter when it comes to the noise from the local ferryboats. Two boats often operate in tandem, and their diesel engines make a real racket when approaching or leaving the ferry landing. Unfortunately, they will be heard operating well past sunset on busy nights.

In the immediate vicinity of Quyon's dock is a nice park with a good assortment of play structures for kids. On weekends and many weeks days, a french-fry truck can often be found nearby doing a brisk business with people waiting to take the ferry.

Sailors experienced with this part of the Ottawa River know that the main reason for stopping at Quyon is to replenish supplies. A five minute walk straight up the road to and from the ferry leads to a Stinson gas station which includes a laundromat and convenience store. At this one location it is possible to stock up on ice, basic foods, gasoline, diesel, propane, as well as beer, wine, and hard liquor.

The Quyon waterfront.
At the Stinson gas station, it is simply a matter of turning right to walk down Clarendon Street, the main road in Quyon. Within 5 minutes it is possible to come across a post office, the McCann's Chips (hotdog stand), Lynn's Cafe Restaurant, a Bank of Montreal (may only be opne a few days of the week), the Village Dollar Store, and such landmarks as Gavin's Shamrock Bar. The cuisine at Lynn's Cafe is okay, but the restaurant does offer a relaxing terrace for the dining pleasure of it patrons. A Community Health Clinic and doctor's offices are also within easy walking distance of the docks.

Unfortunately, the Home Hardware Store which had been in business in Quyon for over 30 years was forced to close in 1997. Moreover, the Marché McCann, which took over from the bankrupt BoniChoix grocery store, has also closed its doors.

The Chats Falls Dam and power generating station can be seen in the distance from the Quyon Dock. Although this stretch of water was largely ignored by sailors for many years, it is one of the more interesting and challenging parts of the Ottawa River.

It should be noted that versions of chart #1550 dated before 1996 show that the waters between Quyon and the dam are dotted with cribs that were left over from the days when the Ottawa River served as a logging river. In reality, these cribs are no longer there. The Coast Guard had them removed during the summer of 1993. Apparently, they have been cleared to a depth of approximately two meters from chart datum, but some people with deep keels remain nervous when crossing the former location of these cribs. It is interesting to note that the Coast Guard crews created a new island with all the residual material from the dismantled cribs (in a shallow area very close to the Quebec shoreline).

Pontiac Bay will be the destination for most of the boats heading into this section of the river. The entrance to the bay is located on the Quebec side of the river just before the dam. When boats get close enough to see the entrance to the bay in the distance, they will start to head for the point of land immediately to the west (the right hand side) of the generating station. They will stay on this heading until they are even with the northern tip of Alexandra Island, and then turn to starboard and head to the approximate centre of Pontiac Bay. People should ready to spot the buoys which mark the entrance to the bay and should proceed with caution - dead slow. Note that these headings are approximate, and they should be confirmed with the nautical chart. Moreover, sailors should be keep an eye out for currents which may develop if the dam is spilling large amounts of water.

Pontiac Bay - a challenging anchorage.

A spectacular sunset in
Pontiac Bay is located on the Quebec side of the river in an area just west of the Chats Falls Dam, and its various anchorages add a whole new dimension to cruising on this part of the Ottawa River.

Pontiac Bay is relatively secluded and has the potential to rival Mohr Island as the premier anchorage on this part of the Ottawa River (and almost as many mosquitoes). It's numerous anchorages can offer protection from winds in a variety of directions, and, with the notable exception of Cadenza Cove, they have mud bottoms. Boats have to use moorings at Cadenza Cove because the bottom of this anchorage is almost all bare rock.

The south side of Pontiac Bay provides for anchorages which are as isolated and picturesque as parts of Georgian Bay. Onshore, this area of the bay offers some great hiking opportunities, especially for anyone interested in climbing the hill to take a closer look at the dam, dykes, and control gates. (Keep an eye out for poison ivy when hiking in the wooded areas.)

The view from the southwest corner of the bay.
In recent years the solitary nature of the area has been affected by the fact that more boats are finding their way into the bay and by the operation of a Tim Horton Youth Camp on Pontiac's north-west shoreline. Despite these developments, the bay still has an abundance of wildlife and retains its rustic beauty. In fact, it is possible to see deer at the water's edge in Pontiac Bay early in the morning.

It is unfortunate that a number of under water obstacles make navigating into Pontiac Bay a chancy proposition. To help overcome this problem, a loosely knit group of individuals styling themselves as the "Friends of Pontiac Bay Coterie" have installed private buoys to help mark the twisting and tortuous channel into the bay. These buoys are BBQ propane tanks painted green or red, and they may not be visible until one is almost in the bay (and the red and green paint may be a little faded). It should also be stressed that several seasons of winter ice will cause some of these buoys to move from their assigned locations, although there are periodic efforts to reposition the wayward markers. (WARNING: Navigating into Pontiac Bay can be difficult, and there are a number of areas where boats can easily go aground and get stuck. Anyone navigating into Pontiac Bay does so entirely at their own risk.)
[ Click here for more information about navigating into Pontiac Bay ]

Although Pontiac Bay is difficult to get into, it appears to have been more navigable in the days before construction of the dam. In the 1800's, steam boats measuring a hundred feet or more in length would routinely make their way into the southwest corner of Pontiac Bay to deposit passengers travelling further up river. Here people would make their way around the Chats Falls on the "horse railway", which consisted of an open coach pulled by two horses over approximately three and half miles of track. At the other end of the railway people boarded another steam boat to continue their journey up the Ottawa valley.

People may also be interested in going ashore in the southwest corner of Pontiac Bay to see the rock-cut, the only evidence which remains of an early effort to construct a canal around the Chats Falls and
The Rock-cut - a very short canal.
eventually open up a navigable waterway from the Ottawa River to Georgian Bay. Work on this rock cut took place between 1854 and 1856 and was abandoned once people realized that excavation methods of the day were no match for solid precambrian rock. Almost half a million dollars was spent excavating a few hundred feet of what was supposed to be a three mile canal.

Fitzroy Provincial Park (Ontario) is located on the east side of the Chats Falls Dam. It offers a variety of good quality camp sites and has space available most of the time. The Park's main beach is located opposite Kedey's Island, and a smaller children's beach is located in the area roughly opposite the opening between Kedey's and Alexandra Islands. Park officials say that it is possible to check into their facility by boat. However, this option may only be applicable to people in canoes as there is seldom more than two to three feet of water around the park's dock.

It much the same story for the town dock at Fitzroy Harbour. The area surrounding the village dock is very shallow and littered with rocks. And despite the presence of Coast Guard buoys, there is no evidence of a continuous channel leading to the town on the southwest side of Kedey's Island (a fact personally verified by the author of this website in a 25 foot sailboat with a swing keel). It may be hypothetically possible for a small cruising boat with a retractable keel to reach Fitzroy Harbour when water levels are unusually high. But generally, this area is not recommended for anything larger than a small dinghy.

The Chats Falls Dam (and dangerous waters

Control gates at the Chats Falls Dam.
Prior to the construction of the dam and power generating station, the Chats Falls accommodated a 35 foot drop in the river, and consisted of a series of chutes running from what is now the eastern end of the dam all the way to the western-most corner of Pontiac Bay. In their natural state the Chats Falls were quite a tourist attraction. In the years leading up to World War One it was fairly common to see large steam boats (paddle wheelers) heading up river with their decks full of sightseers.

Needless to say, the Chats Falls were obliterated by the dam which was completed in 1932. The dam's generating station has a capacity of 224,000 horsepower, and it is interesting to note that the combined capacity of all the power generating stations along the entire length of the Ottawa River (including its tributaries) exceeds 4 million horsepower.

Dyke on the west side of the Dam.
Inset: Author of this web site looks on the other side.
Although not as picturesque as the original falls, the dam and it facilities are still interesting to visit. Crews of boats anchored in the southeast corner of Pontiac Bay often climb the hill to get a first hand look of the control gate, spill ways, and the dykes on the western side of the dam. However, people using this route to get to the structure will find that it is a challenge to get a look on the other side of the dam, as demonstrated by the inset in photo to the left. (Although it may not be evident from the photo, I was precariously balanced on top a 10 foot post when I finally got to look over the dyke.) By going ashore in the southwest corner of Pontiac Bay (near the rock-cut), it is possible to get on the dyke. People can then walk along the top of the dyke towards the control gates for a commanding view overlooking the Ottawa River below the dam.

The Chats Falls Dam can also pose a danger to boats exploring this end of the River. Obviously, boats should not go anywhere near the base of the dam in front of the generating station where there can be severe turbulence and strong undertows. Generally, boats entering or leaving Pontiac Bay will not come close enough to the dam to be at serious risk. Nevertheless, very strong currents can quickly develop when the control gates are releasing large quantities of water from the reservoir. The danger appears to be greatest for boats passing in the vicinity south-west of Alexandra Island. There has been at least one report of a 30 foot sailboat suffering serious damage when caught by such a current and driven onto rocks on Alexandra Island.

The Chats Falls - steel engraving by W.H. Bartlett, 1840.
The dam can also play funny tricks on the water level on this end of the Ottawa River. Because it is so close, any significant fluctuation in the amount of water being released by the dam can change the water level by as much as a 12 to 15 inches overnight. The same changes may only translate into a difference of a couple of inches over a 24 hour period further down river. Anyone navigating into very thin water to reach a favourite anchorage may want to consider how they would get out if the water level was to drop a foot overnight.

Obviously, the Chats Falls Dam represents the end of the line when cruising this stretch of water. From here it is a matter of heading back to one's home base, which, more often than not, is one the major marinas/yacht clubs in the eastern end of this part of the river. A return trip between Lake Deschenes and Pontiac Bay means covering 88 kilometres (54 miles), a distance that will satisfy most people out on a short cruise.

Text, photos, and maps by Michael McGoldrick.
Web published, 1995.
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