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

A Slow Flood

Picnic table and ducks.

One picnic table in the water; ducks swimming over a dock in the park. Photo by M. Mair

I don’t know how to describe what we are going through except as a slow flood. First the water rises, slowly and inexorably. Then it stabilizes for a short while; if the wind is from the right direction, if it blows offshore, the level may even go down. But then it creeps upward again. This is how it’s been for weeks now. We watch the water creep up the fixed docks and through their slats, retreat for a short while, then flood back again.

Fixed dock raised and flooded. M. Mair.

The raised section has been raised again. Photo by M. Mair.

So much depends on the wind and rain. A few days ago, when the rain was falling hard and the wind was high out of the east, waves ate more of the shoreline around us. A bench where people used to sit and gaze out over the lake is now in the lake with the soil it sat on, and so are some of the trees that grew close to it on the spit of land that curves around and protects the marina from the lake outside. The public boat launch remains under water. The beach to our east grows ever smaller.

Bench and trees, photo by Margaret Mair

Bench in the water, trees on the edge. Photo by M. Mair.

Some of our floating docks are developing a definite twist as a the chains that hold them reach the end of their scope; the fixed docks are more often underwater than not and many have now been modified to create a raised area down the middle to walk on. The walking area of the dock around the floating houses has had to be raised twice now. Around the marina, the lake and the lagoon where the yacht clubs are plants that once decorated the water’s edge are trying to grow up through the water, drowned roots notwithstanding. And around the lake we’re among the lucky ones.

Fixed docks, photo by Margaret Mair

Docks on the verge. Photo by M. Mair.

At least some of the birds and animals seem to be thriving. Snails take advantage of any wetness to try to cross the paved paths we walk. Birds feed on the clouds of midges or the worms trying to escape the wet earth or the bugs that are thriving in the damp – though some of the places those same birds usually nest are underwater. The lone deer we have seen so far this year enjoys nibbling the now-lush greenery, and fades away easily among the leafy bushes that are thriving on the hill by the road. The squirrels are busy in the trees. One group of raccoons has already found its way on to and been evicted from a friend’s boat, and from time to time we catch glimpses of their distinctive silhouettes in the fading light. Only the mink have been noticeable for their absence.

Debris, photo by Margaret Mair

Debris outside the marina. Photo by M. Mair.

There are official warnings to visitors to take care along the waterfront, like this one from the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority:

TRCA’s Scarborough Waterfront Team is warning of risks due to landslides and shoreline erosion along the Bluffs…The Project Team would like to caution the public who walk along or up/down the Scarborough Bluffs and waterfront areas. The Bluffs have become saturated with water. Landslides are more likely to occur in these conditions. Paths are being eroded, as well as the beach.”

(Ironically part of this is an area where the same body plans to increase access to difficult-to-reach beach areas to the east of us – as far as I can see from their maps if that plan had already been carried through the planned paths would have been affected or destroyed by the rising lake levels and wind-created waves as well as being in the path of possible landslides along the bluffs.)


Wave debris is scattered across a path in the marina. Photo by M. Mair.

These are the same bluffs that tower above us when we walk, less often now, to the nearby beach. Their lower slopes are covered by trees and bushes; above them precipitous bare slopes rise to overhanging lips where grass and trees are visible; bulrushes grow tall along the ditch beside the roadway where water that runs down the road and off the bluffs collects. We know that the clay that forms the bluffs grows more slippery as it grows wetter and we have noticed small slips in a few places. Our sense of caution grows stronger when the rain falls hard. And we notice that the city has recently installed a gate on the road that runs past the yacht clubs to the beach. They have not told us why, but obviously someone envisions a time when that gate may need to be closed.

The bluffs, photo by Margaret Mair

Looking up at the Bluffs. Photo by M. Mair.

Since the beach that we have watched so many enjoy has become more and more eroded it seems likely that the usual summer camps will be curtailed or not take place here, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens about lifeguards and swimming. In the Toronto Islands, we already know, summer camps and other programs and summer attractions will not start until July 31st or later. The city has posted the following notice on its website:

As of June 3, Toronto Police Services will begin lifeguarding some mainland beaches, where possible. Staff will continue to monitor the situation and will continually increase lifeguard levels as beach conditions require it. Public Health will begin posting beach water quality test results on June 6. Beach grooming and cleaning will start when the water recedes and where grooming equipment can access the beaches.”

Beach and lifeguard chairs, photo by Margaret Mair

The beach, with two lifeguard chairs now in the water. Photo by M. Mair.

The longer all this continues the more difficult it becomes for those affected. Homes have been flooded, land drowned, businesses hurt, jobs lost; there has been anger, frustration, attributions of blame, pleas for help. I don’t know how much or what could have been prevented or reduced by planning and foresight, but I do know that the main contributor to all of this is something we cannot control. Unless we find a way to control the rainfall and the weather.

Nature has spoken and we must listen. Until we develop an effective way to respond we can only wait and hope for things to ease soon.


Here is the official description of the situation from the June 2nd communication of the US Army Corp of Engineers:

By the end of May, Lakes Erie and Ontario had received over 150% and 180% of normal total May precipitation, respectively…

All lakes are at higher levels than one month ago. Lakes Superior, Michigan-Huron, and St. Clair have risen 4 to 5 inches since May 2, while Lake Erie has risen 7 inches and Lake Ontario has risen 12 inches. Lake Ontario’s level is 4 inches above the record high monthly mean June level. Lake Ontario’s provisional mean May level was 248.69 ft, which is nearly 2 inches above the prior record high level of 248.56 ft. Over the next 30 days, Lakes Superior, Michigan-Huron, and St. Clair are forecast to rise 3, 2, and 1 inch respectively. Lakes Erie and Ontario are forecast to begin their seasonal decline during the next month, ending the 30-day period 1 and 3 inches lower than their June 2 levels. Note that while this forecast indicates an overall decline of 3 inches by July 2 on Lake Ontario, higher levels may be attained before the decline begins.”

And from the International Joint Commission that monitors and tries to maintain safe water levels:

On 1 June 2017, Lake Ontario was 75.87 m (248.9 ft), 82 cm (32.3 inches) above its long-term average level for this time of year. The level at Lake St. Lawrence was about 28 cm (11.0 inches) above average, while the level at Lake St. Louis was about 22.49 m (73.8 ft), 108 cm (42.5 inches) above average. At Montreal Harbour, the level was 141 cm (55.5 inches) above average.  Downstream, the flooding which has caused evacuations around Lake St. Peter is prolonged. ”. ..

As you can see, Lake Ontario is affected by the lakes and rivers that are part of the watershed or above it and there is flooding downstream. The situation is complex and will not be resolved quickly.

Written by Margaret Mair

Photos by Margaret Mair

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

When Lake Waters Rise

Spring and high water, M. Mair, photo

Spring and high water, Margaret Mair, photo

This year Lake Ontario is high and rising, and rain continues to fall frequently over the lake and the watershed that feeds it. When I last checked (on the US Army Corps of Engineers site) the water had risen 18 inches over the month before and was well above the expected forecast at 247.7 feet. It is expected to continue rising. There have been changes to the levels at which flows through the Moses-Saunders Dam on the St. Lawrence River (between Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York) will be used to lower or maintain levels. Those changes mean that nothing will be done to lower the level unless it reaches 75.53 m or 247.8 feet by about May 1st – tomorrow – or as high as 75.63 m or 248.13 feet by June 1st. As you can see, we are very close to the May level.

Our disappearing beach, M. Mair, photo

Our disappearing beach, Margaret Mair, photo

In the meantime we are seeing the impact of high water levels in the marina and on the surrounding parkland. The popular beach is much smaller right now, and some days looks more like a sandbar, a flooded area, and a much smaller area of sand. It is littered with the kind of debris that appears when higher waters snatch logs and rubbish from the shore in one place and deposit them in another.

Driftwood, Margaret Mair, photo

Driftwood, Margaret Mair, photo

Along the lakefront water has crept up the rocks to plants that normally grow well above it. This means that it covers gently sloping areas that were bare before, and the increased shallows create curling waves that foam or crash against the rocks whenever there is wind. In some places they are breaking against bare soil that rises vertically above rocks that used to provide the area with some protection from erosion.

Waves off the beach, M. Mair, photo

Waves off the beach, Margaret Mair, photo

Higher water has made the entrance to the marina wider and shorter. Today the winds are gusting to 50 km/h and wind-driven waves off the lake are coming well inside the marina entrance, breaking against the rocks on the outside and creating a swell inside. All the boats, with the probably exception of those in the clubs on the far side of the small island, are rocking and rolling – the closer they are to the entrance the more they are moving.

We are tied up to floating docks, and happy to be. But there are fixed docks in the same basin, and today some of those are being swept by the water whenever there is surge, leaving twigs and leaves behind as evidence for those who don’t happen to observe it as it happens. Although we have not checked to see how they are faring – walking is not easy for me when the wind is blowing hard – there are places that are lower than those docks.

Bird on a wire, M. Mair, photo

Bird on a wire, fixed dock behind, Margaret Mair, photo

The water is also high under the concrete pod at the heart of the marina, with its restaurants, washrooms and laundry room. There are pipes under the pod which carry water and electricity to the docks; they are still above the water, except for one drooping cable we can see. The pipes that run from the pod to land are not quite as high, however, and the water has been lapping at them. At this point there is little we can do except watch the situation.

Goose on rock, M. Mair, photo

Goose (the rock it is standing on is usually above water), Margaret Mair, photo

There is a storm water management pond in the park that is designed to clear sediments from the runoff from some part of the city’s sewer system after rain, so that water entering the lake is cleaner. I know that its effectiveness is affected by heavy runoff; I’m not sure what the effect of high lake levels is on the movement of water through its pods, but it seems logical to assume there is some.

So far the approach for most has been to wait and see. There are reports of flooding along the downtown boardwalk, damage being repaired (and repeated, I expect) along the beach in Ashbridges Bay. The news that lake levels could go higher still is making its slow way through the news media here, but the official view seems to be that we’re just fine. No need for the kind of sandbagging taking place along the New York shore. And no real grasp of all the effects here as the water continues to rise?

I guess we’ll have to wait and what tale time will tell.

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This is a changeable season. Today it is raining, drops leaking down the cover. At least they are still mostly outside our increasingly leaky plastic! Yesterday was different, a good day for starting some of the jobs we have to do outside. The sun was shining and the temperature under our cover was summer-like. Outside it felt warmer than it has in a while, so warm that on other boats barbecues were out and winter covers coming off. Spring must really be here, we thought. We enjoyed having the cabin doors open all day, letting light flood into the cabin. Even the sound of Richard grinding paint and non-skid off the deck to repair cracks underneath seemed an indication that summer cannot be too far away. We were getting the boat ready for the sailing season!


When we walked past the marina building earlier today we heard birds chirping and cooing (it is spring, season of billing and cooing, after all), and caught a glimpse of a long-tailed duck just as it dived neatly below the surface of the water. Sparrows perched on the wire barrier along the walkway and flew away as we drew near. We noticed a cardinal trying to nest in the cabinet of one of those large barbecues some people leave here over the winter, the kind they like to have close to their dock and convenient for summer gatherings. In the park we saw robins and red-wing blackbirds and grackles and, of course, gulls. We heard, then saw, small woodpeckers drilling for bugs in the trees, heard owls hooting and watched swans swim gracefully and a cormorant surface with a fish in the marina basin.


The willows were dressed in their spring green, and there were buds on almost all the other trees. The evergreens were greener than ever. The trees on the slopes of the bluffs are thinner than they were, though, after the winds and rains of winter. It’s easy now to see dead branches and dying trees, white and bud-less among the others. The grass was green as well; it’s becoming greener with each rainfall. Bulbs were sending leafy shoots up from their homes underground in the marina gardens; flowers should follow soon.


Along the beach waves were forming, telling us that there was wind somewhere. Spring has been a very windy season so far, but then so was winter. There have been days when the wind has whipped up curling waves off the park beside us, and we have seen surfers in their black wet/dry suits bobbing in the waves. Those days, walking to the parking lot, we can see the waves explode in a shower of foam against the breakwater behind the docks closest to the lake. There have been many nights we’ve rocked in the swell those waves create after they break at the marina entrance and rolled in the wind gusts. At times like that things are a lot quieter once we’re in the boat, but we still hear the sound of wind and rain on the cover and the creak and groan of ropes and dock when the weather is at its worst.

Sometimes just walking along the dock has been an adventure. There have been a few times when the wind was high enough to make Richard lean into it and concentrate on keeping his balance as he walked; when I, less able to keep my balance, kept a firm grip on his elbow or his coat to steady myself. On the windiest days, the days when the rigging on other boats sings and covers flap noisily, I prefer to stay on the boat except when it’s absolutely necessary to leave. Those are the days I check the weather apps at least a couple of times an hour, hoping things will change sooner rather than later. I’m always happy to see those days pass.


Sometimes they don’t pass quickly enough. There was the day I was sitting inside the boat, waiting for the wind to drop and working away on the computer when I heard a sudden loud crash that lifted me out of my seat. What was that? Was it on the boat? It didn’t sound like something hitting the deck… Richard was off the boat, and I almost went outside to check. The way the boat was rocking made me rethink that notion. Richard would be back very soon, I thought, and besides there was nothing I could do with the boat tossing around and the docks moving the way they were.

Richard saw the problem as he came down the dock. Turns out the wind had picked up our hard nesting dinghy, which he had tied down on the dock across from us, and slammed it down hard on the dock – and on a dock cleat that happened to be in the way. At least the dinghy did not continue across the dock, into the water and away (I’m not sure how we would have retrieved it) but there was damage to the hull. Dinghy repairs were added to the spring job list, and now the process of fixing it has begun.

The damage from the most recent windstorm was much less, though we did lose our much-appreciated motion-sensor light (yes, we have one of those, to help us see when we’re getting off the boat on dark mornings and back on in the dark of evenings – or rather we had). That happened when a sudden hard gust made the boat heel and tore the door in our cover from Richard’s hands at the same time. It opened very fast and a bit more than designed for, and as it did so the handle broke the light’s mount. It knocked everything except the screw that used to hold the light on our winter railing into the water before going on to make a small hole in our cover. We fixed the cover with the last of this season’s red tape. We have reluctantly said goodbye to the light.


As for the water, we’ve noticed it is very high this spring. The fixed docks tell the tale: usually it is well below the fixed dock close to the floating homes, low enough for the birds to swoop underneath the dock to hide, but now it is higher than the bottom of the two planks along the sides. The bleach-bottle-marker in the water by the dock next to us usually spends all winter and much of spring bobbing at the surface but is well below it now. The public boat launch has been in the process of being upgraded; the water is almost up to the top of the newly installed retaining walls. After the recent rains rivers are high and this can only make the lake levels higher; we shall see whether it overtops those walls or not. At least high water levels should make getting in and out of the marina easier – unless, as the color of the water after each wind storm suggests, there has been too much silting at the entrance. We’ll know when the first boats go sailing, and that’s still several weeks away.

So far it has been a very interesting spring. Wonder what summer will be like?


Written by Margaret Mair
Photos by Margaret Mair

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

Flashback February?

Today it’s snowy and windy. For the past month we’ve seen far too little sun – days have been short and skies have been grey. So my thoughts turned to sun, and then to sea and memories thereof, and I decided to repost this from our other, older cruising blog. From December 2006 and January 2007:

Harbour, Las Palmas, photo by R. Mair

Harbour in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria; photo by R. Mair

Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.

Las Palmas is not one city, but many. Within it lie older towns, such as the Cuidad del Mar created when the area was being settled in the fifteenth century. Different areas are dominated by different styles of buildings – you can walk through modern apartment buildings into an area of elegant, balconied facades and then into the heart of the old city with its narrow cobbled streets and buildings whose walls lie right along the roads. Within walking distance of the anchorage and marina you can take your choice of visiting the busy commercial area and municipal market to the north east, walking north to swim or walk the beach at the Playa de las Canteras, or heading west or south west to visit the parks and museums of the Cuidad Jardin or Cuidad del Mar. There are areas of beauty, well-groomed promenades and striking sculptures, but stray too far from the main streets around the port and you are aware that the dangers of a city lurk here too.

Gabinete Literario, Las Palmas, photo, R. Mair

Gabinete Literario, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, photo by R. Mair

But then as soon as you arrive you are aware that this is a bustling city, complete with not two but four rush hours when traffic jams the highway along the waterfront – as in Spain, many businesses close in the middle of the day then open again in the afternoon. The beach by the anchorage was a busy place too, especially afternoons and weekends. But most days all would grow quiet as evening progressed into night, kayakers ended their training sessions, sailors out of the Club Nautico or the Club Varadero ended their practices, and basketball or soccer games in the facility on the beach ended; only the port remained busy as ships and tugs and pilot boats came and went. Sometimes we could hear the reverberations from their engines echoing in our boat. After everything else grew quiet, unless the weather was nasty, the beach and its surroundings were the playground of the restless youth, parking their cars by the Real Club Nautico or walking down the stairs from the street. Some mornings you could see that the graffiti makers had been at work – some social commentary, a few pieces of art, a lot of tagging. Late at night or early in the morning a tractor would groom the sand and the garbage bins would be emptied; then the beach would return to its daytime self, home for fishing boats and workshops and marine sports clubs and visited by a few local bathers and fishermen.

Parque de Santelmo, Las Palmas, photo by R. Mair

Parque de Santelmo, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, photo by R. Mair

We usually took our dinghy into the beach when we went ashore, and it was because of this that we were lucky enough to be invited into a workshop where one of the local wooden racing sailboats was being constructed. Using a combination of gestures and our minimal Spanish and his slight English, we learned that they had almost finished planking the hull, and would be caulking and painting soon. This was a boat similar to the ones we had seen sailing in Arrecife – races between them are part of the sailing calendar, and help to keep the art and craft of constructing them and the skills of sailing them alive. Using a lateen rig and crew for ballast means that they sail very differently from the boats we are used to.

Time ashore included time spent at the Club Maritimo Varadero, where for a minimal fee we enjoyed the pool, sauna, showers and the pleasant club house with its wi-fi access – nice way to get to the internet, and less expensive than buying drinks everyday at the bar down the road – though some people might have preferred that alternative. We also found time to visit the Las Palmas Casa de Colon, where he is supposed to have stayed when he put in here to do repairs (that sounds familiar!). One room has been made into an interesting and well done replica of part of the inside of one of his ships; other rooms illustrate aspects of the history of the times, and there is a small exhibition of art from the sixteenth to the twentieth century with some very intriguing pictures. It was interesting that any visits to the Azores do not seem to have been recorded here!

Catedral de Santa Ana, Las Palmas, photo by R. Mair

Catedral de Santa Ana, walking toward Casa de Colon, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, photo by R. Mair

Las Palmas takes its sailing seriously. Cruisers find a home here with access to all kinds of services and stores, and the Real Club Nautico is a centre for serious racing as well as training – while we were there they hosted Laser and Tornado championship races with sailors from across Europe competing. In the same complex as the marina there are other clubs, including one which houses a fleet of the Canaries lateen rigged racing boats, and was being used as a departure point for a rowboat getting ready to cross the Atlantic. Like us, many cruisers wait until the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers has left to come here to provision and prepare for a crossing to the Caribbean, so we had the pleasure of seeing again many friends and acquaintances we had met in other places. And of meeting new friends.

Christmas decorations, Las Palmas, photo by R. Mair

Christmas decorations in one of the squares, Las Palmas, photo by R. Mair

Winds out of the south helped us make the decision to leave when we did. Unable to get our HF radio repaired (how we missed being able to talk to Herb), we planned to leave with other boats who would be talking to him. But they were in the marina, and the weather that encouraged us to leave encouraged them to stay – as well as the fact that last minute repairs to one of the boats were not complete. We left the harbour early in the morning on December 16, motoring into swells that were already increasing, and set off to begin our journey to Antigua with two days of sailing in lumpy seas and good winds.

Across the Atlantic.

When you set out on a longer voyage you cannot predict what kind of weather you will meet. As it turned out we did meet some heavy weather on this voyage, but only twice and only for relatively short times. Our first Friday out the winds began to build, and the seas grew higher through the day. By afternoon we were sailing with trysail and tiny jib, and the waves were high enough to interfere with the windvanes ability to steer. The coming night would be moonless – making it difficult to see the waves and steer the boat through them. For the first time, we put our drogue out, and were glad to find out it worked very well. The night was far from peaceful, with water slapping the boat from behind and beside, but we could close up the hatch and rest inside in some comfort while the storm blew itself past us, and as usual by next morning the weather was much calmer. Our only other brush with heavy weather was the day we ran into some “convection activity” – high winds and pelting rain, and it caught us with our jib poled out trying to make the best of the lighter winds preceding it. Richard steered until there was a break and we could get the pole down; then we hove to and once again let the bad weather pass. And afterward the sun shone again and the sea was as calm as if the weather had never been.

Sunset at sea, photo by R. Mair

Sunset at sea, photo by R. Mair

If we had two days of bad weather, that means we had twenty-six days of good weather. The winds blew a little more or a little less; the waves were a little higher or a little lower. When we could we flew our biggest sail, our drifter; other days we travelled with our sail reefed. After New Years Day we spent the rest of the journey with a reef in our sail – that was the day part of our boom track broke off the mast (the boom was attached to it at the time). Richard made temporary repairs, using the part of the track still attached to the boom, and we travelled a little more slowly the rest of the way.

If New Years was a little more eventful than we liked, Christmas was peaceful. We sailed quietly most of the day, stood our usual watches, and made ourselves a special dinner which we topped off with sinfully delicious triple-chocolate turron. Our only regret was not being able to be in touch with family and friends, especially our daughters. But we had decided that waiting until after Christmas to cross was simply to increase the chance of facing bad weather in the Canaries, and higher waves at sea. As we found out from friends, we were right about the bad weather. And it helps that we like being at sea.

Between Las Palmas and Antigua, photo, R. Mair

Between Las Palmas and Antigua, photo by R. Mair

It is difficult to describe what it is like out there. The water stretches out around you, constantly moving, constantly changing. Waves run across waves, and wind makes the surface dance. Occasionally another ship or boat breaks the vista – but we saw very few this trip. The sky is arches unbroken overhead, and you see the clouds move under it and the weather as it comes across the water. Everything is vast; away from the many small distractions of land there is a sense of privacy, time to explore your own thoughts, a sense of how little we are in relation to the world we live in. Sunsets and sunrises surround you, the stars overhead fill the sky on a moonless night, the moon provides more light that you are aware of when surrounded by manmade lights. You spend time standing watches, navigating, changing sails, cleaning, maintaining, taking care of yourself and the boat. Time passes, and then as your journey comes to an end you have to make the adjustment to dealing with shore life again…

We knew the end of our journey was coming when, two days in a row, tropicbirds came to visit us, and we saw frigate birds soaring on thermals high above the water in the distance. The wind picked up during the night before we made landfall, bringing us close to the island in the early morning darkness. We hove to, and in the hours before daylight passed to the south of Antigua. Come daylight we sailed again, and made landfall in Jolly Harbour on the morning of January twelfth. We were back in the Caribbean.

Jolly Harbour, Antigua, photo, R. Mair

Jolly Harbour, Antigua, looking out, photo by R. Mair

Posted by Into The Blue February, 2007

Posted in Looking Back, sailing | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments