Couchiching RR Bridge – Rant

I wrote this in Orillia shortly after the event. Here it is, unedited.

A lot of people work along the waterways.  Lock tenders and bridge tenders are for the most part friendly and helpful. 

I have to vent about my recent experience with the operator of the CN Rail bridge just above the Couchiching Lock on the Trent Severn waterway. He has been aggressively unfriendly and unhelpful. Maybe recounting my experience will help me to stop stewing about it.

This isn’t my first encounter with the same person.  In 2020 I was heading towards the lock in Mazurka with about 90 minutes left before the lock closed.  I approached the bridge, gave the sound signal, waited for at least five minutes with no response, signalled again and waited.  I may have signalled a third time.  Then a guy came out of the shack, glared at me, and told me he couldn’t open because a train was coming, and that I wouldn’t make the lock, and I’d have to backtrack to Orillia, about ten miles away.

I decided to anchor for the night in a little cove tucked off the channel about a mile from the bridge.  I was suspicious of the guy’s claim about the train.  About 45 minutes after I was turned away – still no train – a big motorcycle pulls up on the frontage road.  It’s the bridge tender.  He started by asking if he could help me.  I replied that I didn’t think he could, and that set him off. He harangued me and threatened to call the OPP.  I told him to do what he had to do and retreated to the cabin.  He eventually rode off.  There was no train until later.

The next morning I returned to the bridge, and he was outside.  No acknowledgement, but he had to open for upbound boats coming from the lock just as I arrived, so I got through.

I’m happy to report that Escapade just fits under the bridge, so didn’t think much about this earlier experience until Saturday, when I was coming up from the lock.  I got under the bridge, and a few minutes later my motor quit.  I dropped anchor here within sight of the bridge, and with the dinghy ran a stern line to shore so that there was lots of room for other boats to pass.  This is a no wake speed zone.

I was there all afternoon trying to diagnose the issue, and had arranged for Sarah to bring me some electrical parts that evening. At that point I was fairly confident that I could leave under my own power at some point. When the lock closed I knew there wouldn’t be any more boat traffic through that section, so I was completely ok with spending the night there if necessary.  I wondered if the same guy was still tending the bridge.

He was. At early evening canal closing time I was working in the engine room and heard someone calling from shore.  Big pickup.  Within 30 seconds I knew he was the same guy.  I decided to not engage, and didn’t say much as he launched into a tirade about how I couldn’t stay there, etc.  I patiently and clearly told him that I was disabled, actively working on fixing the issue, did not need to be towed, and did not need anything from him.  He told me if I was still here when he came back he would call for OPP and a tow.  I told him to do what he had to do.  At one point I interrupted to ask who he was and what jurisdiction he had.  He identified himself as working for Parks Canada.

A couple of hours later – it was near dark now – he appeared again.  I was trying hard to ignore him.  He yelled that the police and tow boat were on their way.  I gave him a thumbs up, and went back inside. 

At that point he actually called the OPP.  I could hear his conversation, as he was standing on the bank talking into his phone.  That set me off.  I really lost it, and came back out and yelled some obscenities at him, then closed my door and retreated.  After a bit he drove away.

About an hour after that I came up from the ER to find a set of headlights pointed straight at me from the access road. I ignored them, thinking it was the same nutter. In hindsight it may have been OPP, but nobody identified themselves.

It was close to 11:00 pm when the towboat showed up.  They had been instructed to tow me by the OPP. I gave a brief recap on the situation. They called the OPP, a car visited, and eventually we all agreed that I wasn’t in any danger or presenting any danger to others. They left, and I was able to have a decent sleep.

The next morning when I was still unable to start the motor I called the towboat back and was towed down to Orillia.

To satisfy myself that I’m not alone in my extreme displeasure over this guy’s behaviour I looked at Active Captain reviews for this bridge. Here are a few comments:

“We arrived at 9:07 and it didn’t open until almost noon!”

“Inconsiderate poor operation!”

“Gave three horn blasts as I approached at 0900. As we slowly approached I saw man enter the building. Didn’t look our way, so I didn’t know if he saw me. Waited five minutes, and no communication. I gave a single blast if the horn. Door immediate opened and the man screamed “if you blow that horn one more time, you’ll sit there all day.” As I apologized and try to ask a question he went back in the building. We waited. After awhile, he returned carrying a gas can, but did not look our way or give any signal or instruction. He moved a few things on the left side of the tracks, then walked across the bridge and repeated the process. Still no signal to us to wait or turn around or??? Walked up the stairs to the bridge shack. More waiting. Finally heard an engine start which is evidently the bridge mechanism. We waited for the bridge to open at which point he came back outside and screamed at us to hurry up through the bridge, then returned into the bridge shack. Quite possibly the angriest Canadian I have ever seen.”

That last one sums it up.

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