It All Began With Tubby

Image found on the internet, photographer unknown to me.

I don’t think anyone who knew me as a youngster in Jamaica would have predicted that I would become not just a lover of sailing but someone who found a way to spend two years cruising around some of the Atlantic islands – circling through Bermuda, the Azores and the Canaries and back north to Canada through the Caribbean – aboard a 30 foot sailboat. And not many from my university years either, since I did not sail at all until I was in my thirties. Before that the only time I had spent in a small boat on the ocean was traveling to one of the cays off Kingston in a powerboat, though I loved the water and the sea, loved the voyages taken with my parents on banana boats to England and back when I was young.

Richard, on the other hand, had spent his teenage years hanging around his local yacht club, sailing the dinghy he shared with his stepbrother and crewing on his father’s sailboat in the sea around Montego Bay. He spent as much time as he could racing and just messing about in the dinghy; he loved sailing, but when he first tried to find a way to sail in Canada he was stymied.

I remember walking along the waterfront by one of the clubs along Lake Ontario and trying to find someone to ask about the sailboats we saw out on the lake. The people we finally approached discouraged him. I doubt they saw good club material in the skinny young man with the Jamaican accent and the unruly hair.

And so, having little money and no encouragement, he did not sail again for many years. That did not stop him from talking about it, though, and keeping an eye out for an opportunity to sail again. Then, when our daughters were young, Tubby came into our lives.

It’s safe to say that until we got Tubby I was not a sailor. And after we got Tubby I’m not sure how much I actually learned about sailing, other than how to launch a small boat, put up the rigging, tighten ropes when instructed, sit on one side or another and keep young children entertained while we were underway. But even this was a start, and later I thought I must have absorbed more than I realized. For this we owe the friends who passed Tubby on to us a big thank you.

It all happened more years ago than I care to remember. We had gone to visit our friends Ellen and Harry, who lived in a beautiful house they had built themselves in the country. The subject of sailing must have come up; it’s possible it came up several times.

“We have a small boat,” Harry said. “Come and see. We don’t use it anymore. Maybe you would like it?”

He led us to one side of the house, pulled up a tarpaulin, and there sat a blue-hulled plastic boat. A small enough boat, certainly, but well kept even though now it had grown a little dirty from sitting unused under the large trees by their house. I saw a boat; Richard saw an opportunity to get back out on the water.

“Yes,” he said. “Thank you. We’d love to have it.”

Now we just had to get it home. Funds were short, as usual, but where there’s a will there’s a way. Very shortly after our visit we bought a cheap trailer from Canadian Tire, Richard went to work converting it to suit our needs, and we drove back to their house with the trailer bouncing behind us, put that boat on it and took it home. Richard backed it into a cozy spot behind the shed at the top of our driveway. Then it was time to figure out where we were going to take our new boat sailing.

Tubby was one of those all-purpose, unsinkable, safe-under-almost-all-circumstances boats that you could sail or motor or row. Being smallish, this was not a boat that we expected would take us far. The closest lake was Lake Simcoe, and we had spent time at the Sibbald’s Point Provincial Park beach with our daughters so we decided to launch there. At least we knew the area.

I remember pulling into the parking area, trailer in tow. Then we began what would become our routine. First, while I kept an eye on the girls on the beach, we had to put the mast up, then put the sails and rudder on. Then we backed up to the ramp and into the water. And finally she was floating free and we could go sailing. 

We did not manage to go far – our furthest sail was to Willow Beach, a favorite spot where we could pull Tubby up on the beach and enjoy the clear water – and the washrooms. We found that the boat certainly was unsinkable and safe. It was also slow sailing (though the way the mast bent to spill heavy wind could be an advantage) and hard to row with all of us in it when the wind died. And that’s why we named it, somewhat uncharitably, Tubby. 

It’s not that we didn’t appreciate the good things about our new boat: Tubby did get us out on the water and we used it as often and as well as we could. But in the end it just did not fit our idea of what sailing could be. Richard began to dream of something bigger and faster; my enthusiasm for being out on the boat began to die, particularly when some local children in a small powerboat decided to kick up a wake around us; Our daughters’, I suspect, was never kindled.

It took a small catamaran to get me to love sailing.

Written by Margaret Mair

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And Now It’s Summer

Some things change, some stay the same. The change this summer is that, after a long, cold spring sail, we are docked in a new place to the west of Toronto. No hills, no bluffs, just park and walking trails and water around us. But the change in weather patterns remains, no matter where we are.

High water, photo by M. Mair

The water is high… Photo by M. Mair

A cool, wet spring and a long transition into summer has meant that water levels are high, even now. The water has been staying about five inches from the point where electricity to the docks would have to be turned off. Which is to say, five inches or so from reaching the transformer that provides electricity. Needless to say we have been watching the water levels with great interest…

All that moisture has had at least one good effect. Every plant in the park around us and beyond is green and growing. The flowers have been blooming in abundance, including lilacs, wild roses and all manner of wildflowers that have been left to grow in patches next to neatly mown areas. Butterflies, bees and small birds love these patches. And perhaps foxes too – the other morning a young fox came out of one, flying across the road in front of us in an attempt to catch a squirrel. He was not quick enough; the squirrel ran out from under his feet. I have never seen a squirrel move so fast!

Green and growing, photo by M. Mair

Green and growing… Photo by M. Mair

It also had another, not quite so welcome (to us anyway) effect. The midges came out in abundance, early. The purple martins, however, were (and still are) very happy. They have been swooping and diving as they feast on any and all small flying insects, and the spiders have been doing their part to collect the tiny, annoying winged creatures. At least when and where we let them; a boat full of spider webs is not pleasant to live on. As for us, we closed our mouths and ducked our heads each time we had to walk through a cloud of them and tried to remind ourselves that every creature has its place. Just not in noses or mouths.

The geese laid their eggs early, and the goslings grew rapidly. They took to parading around in groups of adults and goslings, inside the club as well as through the park in general, stopping to feed on nicely mown lawns and leave their calling cards behind with no care about where some foolish human might want to walk. They paid far more attention to dogs and Rusty, the Bengal cat, moving off the grass and docks and into the water rapidly whenever they hove into sight.

Gaggle of geese, photo by M. Mair

A gaggle of geese (and dinghies), photo by M. Mair

Now, though, they have made themselves much scarcer – because the swans have hatched two cygnets, and once that happens they do not tolerate the geese being around. The swans had been swimming around, curved wings lifted just above their backs, reminding me of decorative vintage bowls. It is a display that is both pretty and threatening, telling those who pay attention that this is their territory and we are only tolerated here. We knew that they must have cygnets when we heard and saw them flying low across the water toward some unseen target, necks stretched, heads down, looking large and menacing, in full protective mode. Never mess with a swan.

Swans rule, photo by M. Mair

Swans Rule, photo by M. Mair

We have had only one coyote sighting here, not surprising since they are creatures that love the shadows of dusk and dawn. This lone, hungry-looking animal was out before dusk, perhaps in search of the geese we saw grazing happily a little further along the road. Evening often seems to find waterbirds taking to the water to rest, safe from coyotes and other land predators.

Where we are we look out at the park we are in. The spit behind our boat is a favorite place for walkers and runners, families and groups of friends and people walking dogs to visit. Photographers come to take pictures of lake and birds and scenery; people pose themselves and their dogs on the rocks of the breakwater. And we enjoy watching them all.

Photo of a photographer, M. Mair

Photograph of a photographer, by M. Mair

One of the reasons we moved this spring was because we decided we would be able to finish more races if we were close to where they finished. So far we’ve had two races in the series we’ve been doing for the past couple of years. We finished the first (in sixth place) but not the second. There should actually have been three races, but between the flooding caused by the high water and bad weather plans for the second and third races had to be changed and changed again. So (sigh) our second race was in light winds and our heavy jib flopped uselessly, needing more energy to fill it than there was wind. We limped home after too many hours of drifting.

Limped because, as we discovered, there was a problem with one of our battery banks. That was soon cured, once we had time to take the floor up and see what was happening underneath. And it was a very good thing we took the floor up since we also found out that our bilge pump had blown its fuse and there was water accumulating down there… Fuse replaced and bilge pump having done its job we are now floating a little higher in the water. Maybe that will help us sail faster next time!

New bed, photo, M. Mair

A new bed, photo by M. Mair

Since we were dealing with that we also took the time to do some of those regular maintenance jobs that never go away. Jobs like resealing the chainplates, and tracking down the source of a couple of leaks and fixing those. Then, prompted by a gift of foam from a friend, we thought we might as well redo our bed. Taking the old one apart and creating the new one ended up being a day long task, but we are happy with the improvement. No sags, easier to get out of, and with enough air space underneath to discourage mold. Now what else will we redesign?

Oh yes – and we managed to find and buy an electric car that will suit our needs, to go with the electric motor in our boat.

Now we just have to figure out lighter, newer sails…

Wild roses, photo, M. Mair

Wild roses, photo by M. Mair

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Where Did Summer Go?

Summer has flown past. Where did those mostly hot and humid months go? They seem to have vanished in a flurry of things that we wanted to do and things that needed to be done. We started with things we wanted to do; in June we went racing in the LOSHRS (Lake Ontario Short-Handed Racing) series, first ‘around the buoys’ and then in an unfinished (for us) race to Youngstown, New York.

Wind on the water, photo, M. Mair

Wind on the water, photo by M. Mair

In that first race, our start showed just how rusty we were. We grazed the marker at the pin end of the line and had to make a circle as soon as we had cleared it and the other boats, losing valuable time. But we had a good, brisk wind, brisk enough for us to set off with a reef in our mainsail and keep it in until we turned for the finish. The sailing was busy and (on our boat) wet, the lake bumpy – and so I took no pictures. Just imagine waves and wind and boats nicely heeled over…

This was the shortest of our long races. In the longer races you never know where your competitors are. Everyone has their own opinion about how best to cover the distance, when to tack and where to find the best winds. When we are racing we see other sails out on the lake that may or may not be those of other competitors; sometimes we are passed by other boats flying the yellow LOSHRS flag off their backstay. But often we are on our own, sailing along as best we can until we approach the finish line. Even then we might be on our own, though in this race there were other boats approaching the finish line with us. We finished third in our class.

Richard focused on wind and sail, photo, M. Mair

Richard focused on the wind and sail, Photo by M. Mair

Though there was lots of wind for our first race there was not nearly as much for the second. The morning started well enough, though we found it a little off-putting to hear a faster boat approach from behind and then watch its dark sails disappear into the distance. Unfortunately the wind dropped while we were still mid-lake. We decided to wait and see if it would return, if it would be strong enough to set us sailing again so we could get there in time for the dinner we had already paid for. But no.

All is calm, photo, M. Mair

All is calm, Photo by M. Mair

From time to time we heard other boats calling the race committee on the radio to announce they were retiring. Some were going to motor on to Youngstown, others were returning home. Come late afternoon, only halfway there, we too called in our retirement, turned on the motor and headed for home. We considered going to Youngstown and racing back the next day, but the forecast for that day was much the same as for this one and there did not seem much joy in repeating the same experience. Sailing is fun; drifting not so much.

Back to Toronto in the evening, photo by M. Mair

Sailing back to Toronto in the evening, Photo by M. Mair

A week after the Youngstown race-that-wasn’t we were over at National Yacht Club for the Syronelle, an annual Alberg 30 tradition in which a team or teams of American sailors come up from Chesapeake to compete against Canadian Alberg 30 sailors in Canadian boats lent for the occasion. It is always a weekend of food, fun, conversation and – oh, yes – sailing. Very competitive sailing. This year the weather only allowed one day of racing instead of the hoped-for two, but that just meant more time to swap stories, enjoy the company of other sailors and eat. Richard crewed on The Answer V; they did well until he noticed a detached chainplate and they headed back to the dock rather than risk losing the mast.

Richard taping before we paint, photo by M. Mair

Richard taping before we paint, Photo by M. Mair

Then it was time to do some needed boat work. At the beginning of July, in the midst of some of the hottest weather of the summer, we hauled the boat out of the water to paint the hull above the waterline. We sweated away in coveralls and masks as we sanded and filled and sanded and washed and then, the moment of truth, painted. We were rolling and tipping a new-to-us paint on a hot day; the first coat was a mess, hardening before I could tip it properly (Richard was rolling). We sanded again, leaving the paint unevenly distributed over the hull. Then Ed, manager of the marina yard and someone who knows these kinds of things, told us about thick foam discs that fit between the sander and the sandpaper and allow the sandpaper to follow the contours of the hull. Thank you, Ed. Those discs saved us aggravation and time.

Repairing crack in the hull, photo by M. Mair

Repairing a crack in the hull, Photo by M. Mair

Two sandings and two more coats of paint and we had the finished product. It is beautifully shiny and looks very good if you don’t examine it closely. We have become accustomed to our boat now being a different, slightly darker blue from the color we had before… Once that was done we covered the boot stripe at the waterline with two coats of black anti-fouling paint and were ready in time to be back in the water two weeks after we hauled out.

Our shiny new color, photo by M. Mair

Our new color (and everything reflected in it), Photo by M. Mair

We fit in other jobs. Some of the work was delayed by an infection in one of Richard’s fingers, now healed. After the hull, our next biggest job was putting new wooden inserts in the tops of our cockpit lockers. Richard cut and measured and fitted and adjusted before he put the inserts in – and the wood, which we had been given, promptly warped. We were at a loss about what to do. But after talking to someone who knows wood far better than we do (you never know who you might meet at a party) we understood our problem and found a solution we hoped would work.

The problem: in search of a non-slippery surface we had stained the wood and left it unsealed. When it rained and then things dried the moisture in the wood was no longer even – water stayed in the wood underneath while the sun was drying the top and the uneven moisture was making the wood twist. The solution: to allow the wood to flatten and then seal it, so that the moisture content remained even. If we could not have our first wish, our second was for something that needed minimal maintenance. Richard sealed the wood with resin, using a UV resistant hardener. Time will tell how well it holds up – and I will tell you more about the whole experiment in time.

In the middle of August, we competed in the LOSHRS 100 mile race, or tried to. Once again we started with a good wind, and it stayed with us until early evening when we reached the Burlington weather mark. There it made a very complete exit. We floated very slowly away from the mark, looking for any sign of wind. After gliding and floating for another four hours we finally joined the ranks of the retirees and once again headed for home.

There was a lot more wind when the Albergers met at National Yacht Club to sail Alberg 30s for the Great Lakes Championship. There was so much wind, in fact, that the race finished more quickly than expected and Sam (the boat that was the rabbit in the rabbit start) claimed victory. I was very surprised when Richard returned so quickly from crewing on Jazz. I had barely had time to read some of my book…

Sailing to the race, photo by M. Mair

Sailing to the race, Photo by M. Mair

Our final race of the season was in September, another LOSHRS race, this time to Port Dalhousie. We sailed over to PCYC the day before, using our drifter to keep us moving along in the light wind. On the way we talked about what to do if there was not much wind on the day of the race, knowing that a buffet dinner waited for those who could finish the race in time. Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy social time with the other competitors?

This race followed the pattern of the earlier races – good wind in the beginning, dropping partway through. There was enough to keep going, slowly; if we kept racing we might finish by about ten, much too late to enjoy the buffet. We had not finished enough races to make this one count for anything. We decided to retire, turn on the motor and go to the dinner.

We arrived at the Port Dalhousie marina in good time to go to the buffet at the yacht club next door. We walked across a dark parking lot to the brightly lit doorway and found ourselves at the end of a long line of people lined up to pay. The line went along the bar, and some people used the opportunity to buy drinks on the way past. We found ourselves at a table with fellow competitors we had not met before, enjoyed a pleasant conversation and our dinner and were back at the boat in time for a good sleep.

Foggy morning, photo by M. Mair

Foggy morning off Port Dalhousie, Photo by M. Mair

We got up the next morning, but the wind did not. We went out to find the start line in a fog and when it lifted found ourselves surrounded by other boats that were mostly, like us, trying to keep their motors going until they absolutely had to turn them off. Flags went up and came down, the horn sounded, our start came and went and we drifted around hoping to stay out of the way of the other boats. Finally we decided to withdraw from the race, even though the forecast said the wind would come up at about noon.

Drifting start, photo by M. Mair

A drifting start, Photo by M. Mair

And it did. Which meant that we had a pleasant afternoon sail and arrived home before sundown.

The weather stayed warm for a few more weeks and we kept talking about going out sailing again but somehow it didn’t happen. Now the weather has turned colder and Richard is working on our winter cover. We went for our winter coats and boots so we would have them on the boat, and it’s been cold enough the past few days to actually wear them.

I guess winter is coming after all.

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It’s Been a Long Winter…

Birds on the ice, sunrise; photo by M. Mair

Birds on the ice, as the sun rises. Photo by M. Mair

At first this post was going to be about the first months of this year. A simple post, an account of what life on board has been like. But more and more time has passed;  “life is what happens…” And so it has been. Happening, that is. As we hunkered down in our boat, listening to the wind rustle our cover, feeling the boat rock in gusts, hearing the occasional slip-slide of gathered snow, the drumming of rain, the trumpeting of the swans, life kept happening. We helped look after our grandsons, spent days with one or other or both when they were sick, visited and chatted with family and friends, worked on this boat we live on – and then, suddenly, unexpectedly and much too soon Richard’s brother died and life was emptier.

We drove down to be with family in Florida and stayed much too short a time – just time enough to be with family and friends and to join the celebrations of the life of a good, kind and open-hearted man much missed by all who love him. And then we were back home, missing him just as much here as we did there.

Looking out from the spit, photo by M. Mair

Looking out over the lake, from the spit. Photo by M. Mair

And still life continued and continues to happen. We have our daily routines, more or less. We have work to do on the boat, because there is always work that needs doing. We have changed the settee in our cabin yet again, trying a new way of creating a mould-defying distance between the cushions and the surface below them, and choosing cushions that are completely washable in any decent washing machine. We put in a new foot pump to replace the one that had decided to stop working (as in began to leak in an unfixable way), so that after weeks of making do with a water container designed for camping we can use the water from our tank again, and while we were about it we installed a new water filter.

Richard has done some work on a small soft patch on our deck. Actual finishing work and repainting is waiting for suitable weather, and that is taking its time getting here. Spring, when will you really come? And we’ve been taking a fresh look at paint for our cabin sides and the non-skid portion of our deck, as well as checking our options for replacing our cockpit lockers’ wooden inserts and for repainting our hull. Still more jobs are lurking in the wings.

We are looking at ways to re-make the bed in our vee-berth – again. Larger jobs are being discussed, though they will have to wait until we can spend a night or two (maybe more) off the boat, or until it is hauled. And of course, space being at a premium, as soon as it looks as if we will finally have warmer weather it will be time to unpack the summer clothes, pack away our bulky winter ones, and finally put away the winter boots we keep tripping over. Meantime some scrutiny has revealed shirts that have reached the point where some will become rags and others will become soft bags that are easy to store.

We will wait (impatiently) for better weather and warmer days; there is no other choice. In the meantime, here is a pictorial record of the past few months in this place we call home.

Frosty mist over open water, photo by M. Mair

The air was cold, and a frosty mist rose from the open water. Photo by M. Mair.

The winter was blustery and cold. January and February brought their share of snow and ice and east winds. The short days meant we were more likely to see the sunrise; on sunny days the light was clear and bright. On windy days the rocks by the water became coated with ice as the waves rushed up against them. The birds gathered in groups, as if seeking warmth in each others company.

Birds at the boat launch, photo by M. Mair

Birds at the boat launch – swans, geese, ducks. Photo by M. Mair

March teased us with warmer weather that suggested spring. The trees started to put on their spring green, especially the willows, and for a breath of time the grass was green. Ice and snow disappeared from the paths. And then the cold and wind came again and the grass turned brown. Since then it has felt as if winter and spring are slogging it out; first one wins, then the other. And yet…

Birds in the trees, photo by M. Mair

Birds in the trees, photo by M. Mair

The birds are nesting and courting, ignoring cold and wind, ice and rain. A cardinal flaunted his redness in a bare-branched tree. On one of our walks we glimpsed a red winged blackbird, just one.  We’ve seen robins, swallows and mourning doves strutting and calling and nesting, as well as ducks and geese courting. The swans seem to keep a more discreet distance.

Old growth and new, photo by M. Mair

Old growth and new, promise of spring; photo by M. Mair

A pair of geese have been trying to nest around the docks – so far we have seen them on the biminis of boats, on the docks, on the roof of a float home. Considering they will need easy access to the water for themselves and their goslings their liking for high spots seems a little off the mark. We did see them by the water in the park, but no doubt there are too many people for them there. Wait till they see all the boats at the docks in the summer!

A fat young raccoon slipped under the dock gate and walked uneasily in front of us one spring-like day, no doubt prospecting for food and a good place to live. Tonight we saw it again, on one of the boats with a currently absent owner. The deer are feeding on what forage they can find; we saw a doe with two fawns by the path up the hill and two adults grazing, mostly unnoticed, by one of the park roads. From time to time we’ve seen a mink’s paw marks, in snow on wintery days, wet on the docks when the temperatures are warmer.

Deer among the trees, photo by M. Mair

Deer among the trees (look closely, and you’ll see two). Photo by M. Mair

The water in the lake is high for this time of year. Until this last storm it was not disastrously high, though it was high enough for us to be keeping a watchful eye on it and to pay attention to any erosion whenever the wind picked  up. We keep hoping for less rain than we’ve been having and watching both the weather and the information shared by the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence Board. The Board has taken advantage of ice conditions on the St. Lawrence to let out as much water as they can this winter  and are forecasting lower levels than last year (please!) but they cannot control the weather. Oh how we have wanted the rain to go away, or at least fall more moderately…

Erosion, marina entrance, photo by M. Mair

Erosion by the marina entrance, photo by M. Mair

This past weekend was the ice/wind storm. For two days the wind blew hard; after the ice pellets and freezing rain came the rain. On Friday we did all our errands; on Saturday we hunkered down and waited. By Sunday evening we had been rocking and rolling for hours, our winter cover was moving in the gusts, and our cover door had blown open twice. At some point the upper panel in that door blew out. The second time it flew open we tied it shut. Sometime in the wee hours of Monday morning the power went out and we woke in the dark, slightly chilled. Richard put on coat and boots and went to pull out the generator and set it up so we could run our smallest electric heater; I wrapped the sleeping bag around me and checked what Toronto Hydro had to say on my phone. The ‘outage’ was all around us and rather large. By about eight the power was back on – thank you, Toronto Hydro workers and intrepid tree clearers – and we were heading out to face the day.

On our way up the dock we passed boats with covers that have been damaged or almost completely blown away. A dinghy had blown off the stern of a boat; a dock cleat was torn out. There was debris in the water, small branches and garbage. Our e-bike was on its side, its cover blown off. The water was high along the fixed docks.

Trees down on the Bluffs, photo by M. Mair

Trees down after the storm, photo by M. Mair

Since then we’ve begun to realise how much damage the storm has done. The waves carried debris from the lake side over to the dock side of the spit that protects the marina, and in some places it picked up small stones from an eroded area and deposited them higher on the land. More trees have lost the soil around them, and are falling into the lake. On the hillside there have been slides, including one where a large tree complete with its roots slid down and toppled some smaller ones. In places broken branches litter the ground. Up the hill we’ve heard about and seen trees that have fallen or have lost large branches. And that is just where we are.

Slips and slides, photo by M. Mair

Slips and slides, photo by M. Mair

And of course the lake is high; how could it not be, after all that rain?

What will the summer bring?


Text and photos, copyright Margaret Mair

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Winter Has Come Calling


Winter is upon us. Temperatures have dropped; this past week they hovered below zero, and then rose above again for a few days. The snow on the docks and all around us in the park fell, melted and came back again. For a while the ice lay smooth on the water, and those among us who love hockey and skating were beginning to create rinks to play on – at least until rising temperatures melted the ice away. Now even though its cold again the water is moving and what ice there is is broken.

Others (like us) have been running bubblers to create open water around their boats and are grateful for the days or nights they’re not needed. The days are short now, the solstice just past, and the sun, when we see it, hangs low in the sky. Any warmth is treasured.

As we walk toward the main gate in the mornings we hear sparrows chattering in the leafless trees and see them pause to perch on the wire of the fence before they swoop down under the concrete pad we walk on. In the morning we see geese and ducks gathered at the edge of ice, thick or thin, as close to open water as they can get. Several more swans have come to join the family who make their home here and some mornings we have seen them, bottoms up and heads underwater, feeding by the boat launch.


Most of the boats are hiding under their winter covers now, covers that keep the snow off their decks and add a little extra warmth on a sunny day. We have had days and nights when cold, blustery winds rock the boat – our cover gives us more shelter from them, too, and we’re glad we got it up in the calmer intervals we were granted this fall. At night Christmas lights twinkle under many, adding a little more cheer. Our own little lights are solar powered and a little anemic after grey, snowy days, but they give us pleasure.


During those blustery winds our stern rope somehow worked loose from its cleat on the boat. By chance we were not there when it happened, and it was a call from the marina (thank you, Michelle) that alerted us to the situation and sent Richard hurrying back. Worried about the time it would take to get there, he asked one of our friends to take a look at what was happening. She put a fender between our stern and the dock beside ours to prevent any damage from their meeting. They had become rather closer than they should have been! Thank you, Brenda.


When he did get there Richard retrieved our stern line from the water and put it on the dock. Then he had an interesting problem: how to get on to the covered boat to refasten it when our door was about three feet away from our dock. He has not learned how to walk on water…

Of course most of our tools, including our knife, were on the boat. In the end, reaching from the other dock, he used a key from his pocket to start and his fingers to enlarge a hole in the cover he had so carefully constructed, at the stern, and scrambled through it into the cockpit. Then he booted up the engine to get Into The Blue back to our dock (leading us, after it was all over, to contemplate another unexpected advantage of electric engines; they don’t need to be winterized and remain full functional no matter what the season).

Next problem: how to get the stern rope back into place without further disturbing the cover. Once the boat was back against our dock he ran a rope through the door to hold her there. Then he attached another rope to the stern cleat, and dropped the end of it into the water through the space for the original stern line where it floated behind the boat – out of reach.

To get it to the dock he cobbled together a piece of aluminum pipe we just happened to have on board and our already interesting, one-of-a-kind, created-on-the-fly boathook. Together they were long enough to reach the line if he lay on the dock. That line, once retrieved, he taped to and used to pull the stern line back to its cleat. After he re-fastened it he tied another smaller rope around both line and cleat. Just in case.

And all this while I waited and wondered what was happening, until finally the text arrived that let me know that all was well and things were back to normal. I did not get the full story until later, which was probably just as well. Better to picture that climb on board after I knew it had been successfully done.

There are, thankfully, other, gentler forms of excitement. The restaurant in the middle of the marina is busy with Christmas parties and other events, and will be until New Years. Cars arrive filled with decorations, others disgorge nicely dressed folk arriving for various festivities. The parking lot fills and empties, and if we are lucky we return from wherever we’ve been at one of those emptier times and find a good parking space close to the marina. If much snow falls there won’t be much choice about which part of the parking lot everyone uses, though. The snow gets plowed into the back section of the lot closest to the lake, making that part unusable.


Other people may shovel driveways and sidewalks. Here there are docks to shovel and ice forms around the boat if it is cold enough long enough. There is theory and there is practice, here as elsewhere. Everyone is supposed to shovel in front of their boats, but much of the time Richard, rising early, does at least one pass of the dock from our finger to the gate so that I can get from one to the other safely and comfortably. For which I am very grateful (and so, probably, are others). On the other hand others shovel while we are out and about, so it all tends to work out in the end.

On foggy fall and winter days the moisture hangs heavy in the air and the sunlight is filtered through a grey haze. Mist flows across the face of the bluffs and hides the houses that peer down from on top. On snowy days the air is filled with a whirl of flakes that dances in front of your eyes and makes your world feel a little bit smaller. Those days the cold, grey lake is hidden too, until the mist evaporates, the fog lifts or the snow stops and we can see the horizon again. But even when the sun shines, these days the water looks icy cold.


We would prefer less moisture, more evaporation. This year we have been watching how high the lake is and wondering about winter storms and the continuing erosion along the spit that protects the marina. The higher the water the higher the waves reach when they come – and we have already lost enough earth and trees. Once the road along it that now runs close to the lake’s edge was in the middle, but no more. If there was a reason to hope for cold and a freeze up along the St. Lawrence, this is it: once the ice has formed strongly more water can safely be allowed to flow out, Lake Ontario will be lower and lower water means less damage.

What the lake will do we can only wait and see. Nature follows her own bent, and we try to accommodate her whims.


Meantime – it’s snowing again, and it looks as if we’ll have a white Christmas here. Your celebrations and your weather may well be different – but whatever and wherever you celebrate, from both of us to all of you, may this be a time of celebration, of good fun and good memories.


Written by Margaret Mair

Photos, Margaret Mair

Posted in Lake Ontario, Living Aboard, Ontario, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Wishing for just a little more wind…

We love being out on the water and the weekend before last was set to be a three-days-of-sailing weekend, so we were looking forward to it. We had entered the last of the series of LOSHRS races, with hopes that the wind would be kind and we would have a good sail to Port Dalhousie on Saturday and back to Port Credit Yacht Club on Sunday. We watched the forecast all week, hoping for good winds, but as the weekend grew closer the only thing promised was light ones. Our boat is heavy and our sails old, so conditions would not be ideal. But we went anyway.

Off Toronto, photo, M. Mair

Off Toronto on a leaden day, photo, Margaret Mair

We set out mid-morning on Friday to travel to PCYC in time for the race meeting that evening. It was one of those calm days when the sky is leaden and the CN Tower rises above a city caught in a foggy, smoggy cloud. But there was enough wind to motor-sail comfortably, so motor-sail we did and got there in good time to relax and enjoy dinner before joining the other skippers and crew gathered on the patio for the meeting.

We slept well that night and woke in good time Saturday, went for a walk around the club and the yard where J24s were gathering for a week of racing, then searched for a source of coffee before the race to Port Dalhousie. We left for the starting area with time to spare, circled past the committee boat and were acknowledged, found a quiet area to wait for our start. Our adrenaline might have been high but the race started slow, in light winds. Boats jockeying at the start had to work to stay clear of one another. Some in different starts found themselves trying to clear the line together; one boat tried flying a drifter that pulled it sideways in front of us. A little chatter and some maneuvering later we crossed the start without mishap or ruffled feelings then tacked over closer to shore in hopes that as the day grew warmer we might benefit from a land-effect breeze.

Our mainsail, photo, M. Mair

Our mainsail, photo, by Margaret Mair

Our strategy seemed to work. We tacked our way across the lake, slowly and then less slowly, wishing we had a bigger, lighter foresail to help us on our way. The day passed, the sun set and evening came. When it became obvious how late we were going to be we tried to radio the Port Dalhousie Pier Marina office to say we were coming and ask for a dock assignment, but there was no response. We kept going. We were two miles away at about 20:00 when the wind died away again and the information on the chartplotter suggested we might arrive some time the next morning. That was when we looked at each other, decided we needed sleep more than finishing the race and chose to hope that maybe, against the odds, tomorrow we would find there was more wind and we could have a better, shorter race. We phoned the race committee and officially retired. By then we had sailed thirty-nine miles to cover twenty four of the twenty-six miles of the course between Port Credit and Port Dalhousie (did I mention our boat does not point at all well in light winds?); now we turned the motor on and went straight toward the finish and the marina.

Sun setting on way to Port Dalhousie, photo, M. Mair

Sun setting behind the boat on the way to Port Dalhousie, photo, Margaret Mair

Arriving at the marina in the dark proved more challenging than we had expected. According to the chart there is a flashing white light at the end of the canal by the marina, and a flashing red light by the entrance to the marina. We could see the flashing white light at the end of the canal, but where was the flashing red light? We edged forward slowly, thankful that everything except the chartplotter was on night settings and we could see outlines of things along the shore – sort of. We peered forward into the moonless night.

Finally we saw what looked like the end of the wall outside the marina, and turned to go toward it. We zoomed the chartplotter in to try to make sure we were in the right place – at least according to the information it had – as we moved along the wall. It placed us just outside the marina. At last we saw the lighter shadows of the unmarked entrance, turned, and went in. The red light that should have helped guide us in was there – we could just see the shape against the night sky – but it was not working.

At the dock, Port Dalhousie, photo by Laurie Ann March

Into The Blue at the dock, Port Dalhousie Pier Marina, photo by Laurie Ann March

Inside, not sure of where we should be going or what dock we should be on, we motored in and along one dock. There were a lot of boats, and it was difficult, in the dim light, to see where there were boats and where there were none, so finally we circled back and came in to an outside dock that was clear. Messy, as in you could tell the birds had been roosting there, but clear of boats.

We had signed up to attend the end of race dinner but it was long over, so we made ourselves a snack-type supper after we had plugged in (one advantage of racing your home is that you always have supplies on board), then took some time to decompress before we settled down to sleep. As we were falling asleep it occurred to me that it would be a good idea if some of us good old boats had a late-arrivals party in conditions like the ones we had that day…

Next morning we stepped out of our cabin – and were greeted by a friendly voice. Laurie Ann and her family were on the boat next to us, a Grampian Classic 31 ketch named Azura, their first boat, their entry to the world of sailing. She offered us photos of our boat, taken as the sun came up and we were very quick to say yes. She had already googled Into The Blue and found this blog. Now that is what I call efficient.

Heading out to race, photo, Laurie Ann March

Heading out to race, photo by Laurie Ann March

I try to walk every day – it helps me maintain my balance after Ramsay Hunt. The walk from the end of the dock to the main marina building was Sunday’s version of going for a walk. There was no time for more, since we did not have a much time before we had to go out to the start line. Back at the boat we reversed out of the slip (in a circle that took us into the main channel, because of the way the bow wanted to go) and motored out to take our turn going past the committee boat, tidying up lines and fenders as we went. Then we focused on staying out of the way of other boats until our start.

Laker anchored near Port Dalhousie, photo, M. Mair

Laker anchored near Port Dalhousie, photo by Margaret Mair

It was another slow and windless start; we got past the line on our second attempt, after dodging other boats and just behind a competitor in another (later) start. Away from the line we started off sailing closer to shore before tacking out, watching anxiously for wind ripples on the water. It was slow going. A patchy fog developed low over the water. We could see the sun peeking over the top and glimpse blue sky. From time to time we heard horns sounded by other boats and we used our own horn occasionally, when the fog closed in, to signal our position. In or out of the fog we could not find consistent wind, though we tried. If we were to finish the race and get back home in reasonable time this was likely not the wind we were going to be able to do it in, but we kept going for a while anyway.

Richard watching the jib, photo, M. Mair

Richard in jib-watching mode (off the Bluffs), photo by Margaret Mair

At noon we looked at our position, reassessed our prospects and came to the sad conclusion that it was time to withdraw and sail for home unless we wanted to get there very late at night (or very early the next morning). We made the call to say we were withdrawing again, turned the motor on and turned our bow for home.

We motor-sailed across the lake, using our engine to help us point higher and create a pleasant apparent wind. The fog faded away; the lake was clear in the middle and it was not until we were close to Bluffer’s Park that we saw fog lying low over the water again, curving upward toward the sun like the bluffs themselves. We watched other boats disappear into it, but once in it ourselves we found it had only a few dense patches – for the most part we could see far enough and clearly enough to sail safely, though we did put our navigation lights on where it lay most thickly, just in case.

Low sun and fog off the Bluffs, photo, M. Mair

Low sun and fog off the Bluffs, photo by Margaret Mair

We had hours of travel and a lot to talk about along the way. Sails for one thing – ours are old and need to be replaced – but which one should we get first? We decided a new main had to be top of the list. And – what size of foresail might have worked better on the kinds of days we had just had?  Larger, obviously, but what kind of penalty did we want to pay for having that larger sail? What weight fabric could we get a larger foresail made of? And then about sailing more, for another thing, since there is no substitute for actually being out on the water to keep eyes, ears and reactions sharp.

We arrived at Bluffer’s as the sun was beginning to edge downward. A friend took our bow line at the dock, and we landed safely, tidied up, and used the previous evening’s dinner money to be decadent and buy a pizza. We were hungry and it disappeared very quickly.  And so ended a weekend full of sailing, leaving us tired and content.  We had spent a lot of hours out on the water doing what we love.


Written by Margaret Mair

Photos by Margaret Mair and Laurie Ann March

Posted in Lake Ontario, Ontario, racing, sailing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Summer Tale


After a spell of pleasantly warm weather the summer days recently turned hot and then cool again. But no matter what the temperature we have seen (and felt) a lot of moisture in the air. There has been frequent rain, and a surprising number of thunderstorms, their clouds crackling with lightning. The storms roll through on the edges of each weather system that passes, and often herald a sudden change in temperature.

The trees and vines and wildflowers on the hill and in the park around us love these conditions and they are growing merrily. Cones are hanging from the tips of the large pine trees’ branches. The sumac flowers are blooming a deep red above their drooping leaves. On the hill dead tree branches hide among the leaves and blossoming wildflowers line the path, though in some places they are being overgrown by Dog-Strangling Vine. I don’t know about dogs, but this vine does overwhelm and strangle small plants.


In places the paths we walk along in the park come much closer to the edge of the lake than before. The spit along the outside of the marina is much narrower than it once was and its edge is unstable. Here and in the park some trees are tipping raggedly over the edge, others are growing stubbornly among the rocks and still others have fallen into the water and been washed away. I am trying to find out whether there are plans to restore any of the land and the protection it affords, but so far I do not know.


Despite the rain and thanks to the effort of the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board (they control water flow through the Moses-Saunders Dam and balance the needs of those on the lake and downstream, as well as commercial shipping) the water is finally going down. Fixed docks have been emerging, looking washed clean after their long immersion, and along the shore the now mossy rocks and weathered construction debris originally used to build it up are visible where the sandy soil has been washed away. The geese and ducks are happy, since they have safe places to stand that are out of the water but not of the land. And the ducks have more algae to feed on.


In between the bouts of rain Richard has been working on repairing our side decks and part of the cockpit floor. It has been a dance with the weather – needless to say fibreglass does not cure well when rained on, and since it is not really waterproof it’s best to finish it with paint or gelcoat as soon as possible. Sometimes as soon as possible is a couple of days later, but so far so good. There is just the cockpit floor to finish, and then we’ll be almost ready for the insurance survey that is to be done next week, this being that fifth year when the insurance company requests it. A good thing we had started the repairs before we knew or we would be really scrambling now.

Repairs to the side deck were much easier without the mast in place, so we waited till they were done to put it back up and put our sails back on. That did not stop me from moving some of the stuff that had taken up residence over the winter out of the boat, or packing our winter clothes back into the ‘cushions’ that line our main cabin berth. In a fit of tidying I cleaned up corners, threw out what we should not have kept in the first place and moved a few things into our dry-land storage. We are just about at the point at which it would not take long for us to be able to go sailing without too many forgotten things sliding onto the floor (there are always things you forget before the first time out).

After some discussion we did not take our heaters off the boat, and these past few days we’ve been glad we made that decision. We have had some cool days and cooler nights. Richard reminds me that it’s August; I say that August ought not to be cold!

Our latest innovation – or should I say my latest? – is a couple of pots of herbs, growing, a-la-Pinterest, in yogurt container pots held in plastic sweet cider bottles with the tops cut off and modified to fit on a piece of batten that is hanging from the knobs that hold our window curtains. Intrigued? We went away for a week, and though I used hemp wicks to keep the soil moist the plants were not happy when we came back. I’ll take a picture when they look happier – or perhaps when I replace them! And since I’m not at all sure that the arrangement will survive a hard sail we’ll probably leave them behind when we go racing weekend after next. Just in case. I just have to figure out where we can put them, especially since our dinghy is still in need of repairs and not in the water.


Then there is our tailor-made fitness program developed specifically for (and by) us. It consists of walking up the hill to our favorite coffee shop, a trek which we have decided should just about walk off the calories we consume there and induces a slight shortness of breath into the bargain. We have been rising later recently, but since we really enjoy those warm muffins at Seraphia we try to make sure we get there early enough to get them. Walking down doesn’t count in the same way – it doesn’t challenge our legs or our lungs as much as walking up does. We had planned to add in lots of sailing, but that will begin with the sail to our first race. The best laid plans…

Now, let’s see: what else do we have to do before we race? Run those reefing lines, make sure the lifesling is properly secured, check our safety equipment, check our navigation lights – time to start that list.

We’ll report back after all the excitement.


Written by Margaret Mair

Photos taken by Margaret Mair

Posted in Lake Ontario, Living Aboard, sailing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment