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