Our First Cruise, Part 3 – Quieter Times

Atherley Narrow to Snake Island.

From McPhee Bay to Snake Island. Text added to Public Domain Image, NASA.

It was a short sail from the Narrows to McPhee Bay. It was quiet there; we anchored off a sandy shore on a sunny day, the blue water calm, the boat swinging on the hook far enough away for us to enjoy our privacy but close enough to see the assortment of houses that fronted the beach. Our eyes were drawn to one big house which had what looked like the door of a large garage facing the water. Odd, we thought, until we watched the door lift, bend and roll inside and a plane emerge. It moved slowly down what we now realized was some kind of runway to the water and motored out onto the water. We watched it take off with a swish and a chatter of propeller blades, make a large circle overhead and fly off into the distance. But not for long – after what might have been long enough for a flight around the lake it was back and making a smooth landing. All, as far as we were concerned, for our entertainment.

We enjoyed a pleasant day and a quiet night. It was tempting to just sit there a while longer, but practical and necessary things intruded – we needed to pump out our head, and the results of putting that off would not be pretty. And we needed more gas for our engine, just in case we needed to use it, because our cruising time was limited and we had to get home by the weekend.

So it was time for another visit to a marina, this time by and of our own choice. Everything was new to us, so how to choose? The marina on the edge of the provincial park behind us was within easy reach, just across the bay – and the thought of being close to the trees and green of a park appealed to us. Besides, there should be showers there, something else we would appreciate after a week or so on a small boat. We upped anchor and motored across and into the channel in front of the marina. We saw the gas dock; the sign on it promised a free pump out with each fill-up of fuel. Unfortunately, that offer was not meant for such as we; our fuel needs were far too small. A sigh and a laugh and we decided that was fine – we stopped to pump out and get the fuel we needed and got a slip along the channel for the night.

MadGregor 24 sailboat

MacGregor 24, swing keel. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

We tied up, stepped off and meandered around the grounds. We found the showers, looked at the other boats, investigated the rest of the facilities, enjoyed the shade of the trees. It was Richard who later came upon an older man (well, a lot of people looked older to us then – now they mostly look younger) aboard an older McGregor, one from the times before water ballast when they looked and sailed more like our boat.

“Come and meet him,” Richard must have recognized a fellow spirit. Now he wanted us to spend time with him.

We wandered down the dock together and fell into an easy conversation, we standing on the path, he in his cockpit. He told us that he had been sailing here for years and knew the lake well. We talked – about his boat and ours, about where to sail when the wind blew from the east and when it blew from the west, about nasty, choppy wind-driven waves, about places to stop and finally about the mosquitoes which came out in the evening. Dusk was rapidly approaching when we thanked him for his stories and advice and tried to get back to the boat ahead of those mosquitoes. We almost succeeded. We slapped at a whining few as we went into the cabin and locked up tight until the next morning.

Snake Island, Lake Simcoe.

Almost home – Snake Island (larger island at the bottom) and Fox Island (smaller one to the north) in Lake Simcoe. NASA, Public Domain.

It came with good winds from the east, and we set off down the east side of the lake toward home. In my memory, the sun shone and the water sparkled and we sailed past places we had never seen before, at least not from the water. We dropped our anchor late that afternoon off Snake Island, and as we listened to the water lap restlessly against the hull we talked about tales we had been told of people rapping on anchored sailboats. Only the water rapped on our hull. We saw no sign of boats or people, just green trees in the fading daylight and a scattered light or two among them at night. That night we enjoyed our last little bit of solitude, the stars bright above us, before we sailed back to Cook’s Bay.

After we pulled our anchor up early the next morning the weather and the lake were kind to us again. Perhaps too kind. We turned back into the marina and headed for our home dock feeling that strange mixture of reluctance and happiness we would become familiar with when we cruised farther and longer: reluctance to give up the days of sailing, the times of working together, the pleasures of being out on the water (and the challenges too); happiness because we had met the challenges, done what we wanted, arrived home safe and sun-kissed and were off home to be with our daughters again.

Aerial Photo of Cook's Bay, Lake Simcoe

And back in Cooks Bay (aerial view, Joe Mabel, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Generic license).

For the next few years we sailed the Nash hard and as fast as we could get her to go (which was not very fast). At one point Richard tried to get her to point better by tightening the shrouds a little too far, and we had to fix her crumpled cabin side. We tried racing her against other sailboats on Cook’s Bay but rarely made it through the finish line before the marks were removed. When we decided to try living aboard for longer spells we knew it was time to say thank you for the adventures and goodbye. We began the search for another boat, a sturdier, faster boat.

We almost bought a Contessa 26 that lay in a slip behind ours, but bad timing and miscommunication defeated that plan. Instead, we bought a Tanzer 7.5, fixed the Nash up one last time, cleaned her out and put her up for sale. She was a pretty little boat, with her shiny red hull and light grey nonskid on her deck. She sold quickly.

And by the following summer we were ready to begin the next chapter of our boat adventures.

Written by Margaret Mair

August 2020

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Our First Cruise, Part 2 – Rudder Trouble

Choppy lake surface, photo by Josefin Brosche, on Wikimedia

We set out from Carthew Bay for Orillia on a pleasant, sunny morning. The Nash sailed happily along, bouncing a little through the increasingly choppy waves. The wind blew briskly, and then more briskly. We followed the compass heading we had chosen, hoping we had done our work well and chosen right. We did not know this part of the lake, and there would be no markers until we were close to where we were going.

As we got closer I peered ahead, searching for those marks, and breathed a sigh of relief when finally we could see one off in the distance. Right type, right colour, slightly off where we thought it should be. Hopefully it was the right one.

By now the wind was blowing hard, and we were looking forward to finding a quiet dock or some sheltered place. The sailing was no longer comfortable, but we were realizing there was no easy way to reduce sail now. We could take the jib down, but taking the jib down meant being less balanced and the same applied to lowering the mainsail. And being less balanced meant control would be more difficult. As it was the rudder was getting a workout as Richard tried to keep the boat from veering up. And besides, we were almost there. We could see our landmarks now.

And then – the rudder broke. As in the top fitting that held the rudder to the boat broke, being made of plastic and not, we would guess, particularly new. Suddenly the rudder was hanging crookedly at an angle to the surface of  the water, and Richard could not use it to wrestle the boat into staying on course.

“Shit!” He stared down at the now useless tiller. 

“What?” My brain went on pause for a moment.

“I have to get this off, or I won’t be able to use the outboard to steer!” He reached down over the stern and I could see the tension in his body as he began pulling at and twisting the rudder. 

“What about me? What should I do?” Now the adrenaline was kicking in; time for action.

“You’re going to have to get the jib down.”

I looked at the foredeck, bouncing merrily up and down. I had to go out there? Oh, boy…

But – I took a breath and crawled out onto the bow. While Richard wrestled and swore at the remaining attachment, pushing and pulling until he finally got the rudder free, I knelt on the slippery bouncing foredeck and said a few prayers as I pulled at the jib until it finally lay in a wet heap on the deck. When it was finally down and subdued I crawled shakily back to the cockpit.

Rocks Under Water in Glencoe, photo by Neil Aitkenhead via Wikimedia

We were now far off course. I glimpsed rocks underneath us as I crawled, big, solid rocks. Richard pulled at the outboard starter – please let it start.

“Richard! Rocks! We’re over the rocks!” I had to let him know.

The outboard finally came to life. We breathed again, but there was no time for self-congratulations.

“Here. Steer in that direction, toward the channel. I need to winch the keel up.” He shoved the outboard tiller into my hand  and vanished into the cabin, leaving me to do as I was told.

Fear is a wonderful motivator. I learned how to steer the boat with the outboard in a hurry, and it felt like forever until he came flying back up.

“Steer into the wind!” He was heading for the mast.

Right. Into the wind. We had to take the mainsail down. I steered up until the main was flapping. Down it came.

Then we were in the channel, Richard was steering and we were puttering toward a large marina on the east side. The sense of relief I felt as we tied up and Richard went off to get gas and find out whether there was a space for us was immense.

“We can’t stay here.” The gas can was filled, but it seemed there was no space for us.

I felt my heart sink.

“But they said to try that marina over there.” He pointed across the Narrows to a small marina we had not noticed as we came in.

“Okay.” I took a breath. That was a lot better than nothing. “Let’s go.”

So we crossed the narrows and after a little discussion, and after some money had changed hands, they gave us a spot on an outside dock, where the boats that roared past set us rocking. But that was not important. What was important now was finding a way to fix the rudder temporarily so we could get home again and repair it in a way that would make it stronger. We did not want to repeat that experience.

” What we need is a Canadian Tire.” After a night’s sleep Richard had thought of a way to fix things. “We just need to find something that will work.” 

Off he went to ask, and came back ready to go.

“There’s one down that way.” He pointed generally west.

“How far? How are we going to get there?” I could see the bridge and the road – would that road take us there?

“Not too far, I hope. We’re going to walk. They gave me directions.”

Well, okay. We set out and duly found the local Canadian Tire. Inside we wandered around, looking through hardware of all kinds. There were many kinds. Finally: 

“There! That would work!” He thought a moment. “Well, it should work.”

‘It’ was hardware for hanging a large, removable hinged gate. Solid black metal hardware that looked similar enough to the fixture on our boat and about the right size for the pintle to fit through it. We bought it and set off back to the boat again.

Rudder with Gudgeons and Pintles, photo by Endrick, via Wikimedia (looking much neater, but similar to our system after we repaired it)

Fitting it posed another challenge for us to figure out. For some reason, the gudgeon (with the hole) was on the rudder and the pintle (with the pin that went through the gudgeon) was on the boat. We would have to change that – the gate hardware could only work with the ‘pintle’ on the rudder and the ‘gudgeon’ on the boat. And one of the fittings was below the waterline. Richard gathered his tools, such as they were, and looked around. 

“Okay, that cleat there is lower than the bow, so that will help hold it down. But that probably won’t be enough – you’ll have to go and sit on the bow while I’m changing it. And we can pile stuff from the cabin around you.” 

He looked at me expectantly. I sighed. It sounded reasonable. Things often sounded reasonable; a lot of the time they were.

And that’s how I ended up sitting with my feet dangling over the bow, looking around. There was a low wall and a path and a one-storey building and people wandering around. Well, perhaps they were actually busy doing something, but if so I had no idea what. There were boats hurrying past. There were distant voices. Time passed. I should have brought a book…

“Okay, that’s done. You don’t have to sit there any more.” Richard was standing behind me.

“We have a rudder again?”

“We have a rudder again.”


We put everything back in its place, and after that we didn’t linger. Orillia is a very nice place, but the narrows were busy and there was a bay not far away we wanted to try anchoring in. We cast off our lines and sailed away to our next anchoring spot.

The rest of our cruise was much quieter, even when the winds blew strong. We saw unexpected things and met someone who could tell us the ways of the lake.  I’ll tell you about that next time…

Written by Margaret Mair, with pictures from Wikimedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license or Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Posted in Lake Simcoe, Ontario, sailing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Our First Cruise, Part 1

Lake Simcoe chart, created by Geo Swan, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 unported license
Created by Geo Swan, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Looking back, that first experience should have put me off cruising, or at least made me seriously question whether this was something I really wanted to do. 

We had two weeks to ourselves, a rare gift. We had our first keelboat, the Nash 20. Yes, it was small, but we could sleep on it, there was space to put a stove and it had a sink and the portapotti version of a head – all the essentials. And so we prepared as best we could to go cruising for the first time – searched out our old camping stove and made sure it had fuel, found ourselves a secondhand handheld non-marine GPS to put waypoints on, bought a chart of Lake Simcoe and a compass, found what looked like some possible anchorages. Come the day we were ready to sail off to new adventures.

There was only one hitch – after all the stowing and packing I looked up and saw that the sky was strangely tinged with green.

“Are you sure we should go?” I did not like the way it looked.

“It’ll be fine.” I did not know it then, but that was my first intimation that when it came to sailing Richard was oddly optimistic. Oddly because when it came to other things that was not his natural state of mind.

So we set off. The wind was blowing nicely and we were sailing merrily along, getting into the rhythm of being out on the water, when I happened to look down Kampenfelt Bay. My heart rate increased just a little bit.

“Look!” I pointed. Richard glanced away from the sails and the water in front.

“Oh, shit.” He saw the dark clouds streaked with lightning boiling up the bay and the white cappped windblown waves underneath. 

“Now what?” Were things about to go pear-shaped?

“Get the jib down, I’m going to get the main; hurry.” He loosened the rope holding the jib up and I hurried forward to the bow to pull it down and fasten it there, using the sheets to tie it down as best I could. He was lowering the outboard into driving position as I came back.

“Here.” He handed me the GPS. “you’ll have to tell me where we are. Go down below. You can do it from there.”

I hurried inside and shoved the hatchboard in; he closed the hatch. In the sudden gloom I clutched the GPS and watched the screen, looking for the waypoints he had put in. The wind hit noisily, the rain crackled on the roof of the cabin. The boat heeled. I sat down quickly, took a deep breath, and checked our direction.

“Go more right,” I yelled toward the unseen cockpit.


“More right!” I was relieved to see the track on the screen change. We motored along. The rain was still pelting down when we reached the next waypoint.

“Left!” I called out.

“Okay.” At least he had heard me this time. We went left a little bit at a time. 

“Enough!” The track wavered and steadied. I waited and watched. We should be approaching Carthew Bay, the first place we had planned to anchor, soon. I hoped. 

“The rain’s stopping.” Richard pushed the hatch open a little. A sprinkling of raindrops came through.

“Do you think it’s safe to come out?” I was tired of sitting in the small cabin, anxious for the fresh air and to see what was happening around us.

“I  think so.” Richard was soaked. The one thing we had not thought to pack was raincoats.

I came gratefully out into the wet cockpit and looked around. We were near the shore, and I could see where it curved into a longish bay with houses or cottages along the shoreline, just a little further on.

“Is that it? Where we’re going?” I asked.

“Should be. Hope the anchoring is good.”

We turned inward to find other boats moored there. We dropped our anchor a little distance away from them, let the rope out, and hoped. 

“I’m going to get dry.” Richard was soaked. “And some tea would be nice.” He went into the cabin. There was a short silence. “Or not.”


“Everything’s wet. The clothes, the matches – the towels!” 

“What do you mean?” I refused to believe my ears.

“Just what I said.” He climbed back into the cockpit as wet as when he had gone in. 

“Now what?” Who cared what had happened? I just wanted to get comfortable.

I looked around. The sun was peering anemically out. Two people were passing by in a small runabout. Maybe?

“Let’s ask them for matches.” I pointed.

“Hello!” Richard waved and called. They looked at us. We must have looked pitiful, he wet and cold, I a little lost. They turned their boat to come closer, but not too close.

“Yes?” The woman looked friendly enough.

“You don’t happen to have matches, do you? Ours are wet.” Richard looked at them hopefully. 

They conferred hurriedly, then hunted around, digging into pockets. A dry matchbook appeared. 

“Here.” The man held them out to us.

“Thank you. Thank you so much!” 

“No problem.” She smiled at us then. He turned the boat and headed toward a store close to the shore. We headed inside to light the camping stove. At least we could be a little warmer even if not dry.

We sat in the cockpit, trying to relax. But as we finished our tea the sky clouded over again. We hurried to pull out the tarps we had brought along in case we wanted shade from the sun and covered as much of the boat as we could. Under their blue-tinted shelter we spent the next couple of days drying up and drying out and returning the boat to normal while we waited for the weather to improve. And then we set out into the next adventure of that adventurous cruise.

Because there was more to come. I’ll tell you about it in the next post.

Thunderstorm over Fogg Damm (which is nowhere near Lake Simcoe; just picture it approaching over the water). Created by Bidgee, licensed for sharing under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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

And Then There Was the Nash 20


Information about the Nash 20 from the Sailboat Data website (click on picture for link)

We knew what we were looking for when we started our next-boat hunt – a boat we could spend a week aboard, if we wanted to; a boat we could use to cruise around Lake Simcoe, since we were close to it; a boat that was not too expensive.

As for where to look, we started our search in the place closest to where we launched the catamaran most of the time, a family run marina on the west side of Cook’s Bay. We had already met Karsten at the small chandlery there, we soon met Jack, who owned and managed the place, and most importantly we had noticed that there were boats for sale in the yard.

As we searched for a sailboat small enough to be affordable and large enough to do what we wanted a pretty little Nash 20 caught our eye, sitting on its trailer with a ‘For Sale’ sign on it, tucked away among larger boats and looking for a sailor to take it sailing again. After the catamaran it looked more than big enough to do what we wanted.

“Swing keel,” Richard peered at what he could see of it tucked up in its case under the boat; later he climbed inside to study the wind-up mechanism. That keel proved useful later, as you’ll see in our next story.

“Doesn’t look bad, as far as I can tell.” He walked around it, looking for flaws.


“So, let’s talk to Jack.” And it was agreed between us.

When we talked to Jack we learned that purchasing the boat also meant we had a slip for the next summer – convenient, since we had no idea where we would keep it. We consulted our finances to make sure we could do it and before too long the Nash was ours. 

Now it was time to go to work. Although I had had a glimpse of it with the catamaran when we replaced daggerboards and the trampoline, this was my real introduction to the fact that every boat we purchased, no matter how good the shape it was in, would have work to be done – if not right away, then certainly later as we learned how to modify things to match what we needed and expected. And that kind of work is apart from the regular maintenance that all boats need…

The first two winters after we bought the Nash 20 we would come up to the marina on a Friday night, hook the boat on its trailer up to our Volvo station wagon and trundle off back to our shop in Newmarket. There was just enough space to put it inside so we (mostly Richard, in the beginning, while I wandered around picking up stray bolts, sweeping up oily dust mixed with unidentifiable bits of things and generally tidying up) could work on it in comfort, warmth and privacy.

We set to, and quickly learned one of the first rules of boat work: Everything involves more than you think and takes longer than you expect. When each Sunday afternoon rolled around, more quickly than we wanted, we would make the trip back to the marina so the shop was clear for work on Monday.

First there was the swing keel and it’s mechanism to check and service. Richard studied how it worked to figure out how best to do that – this was one of those times when being a mechanic came in very useful. The pin needed to be firmly in place and the keel to move smoothly on it; the cable to wind it up with needed to be in good shape and the winch serviced and ready to do its job. 

Then there was the underside to clean and paint with anti-fouling. ‘Clean’ sounds so simple, but as those who have done it will know it often involves sanding and wiping before you can paint. It’s the kind of cleaning that is a dirty job. 

The mast and rigging needed inspection – we needed to learn what to look for. When, as we prepared the boat for painting, we found that one of the tabs that held the chainplates had come loose Richard bolted both chainplates on from the outside with carriage bolts, a clean and simple fix. 

The inside needed to be cleaned – who knew there were so many nooks and crannies in such a simple layout, and that out-of-the-way areas could accumulate so much grime? We cleaned and painted and embarked on the project of making this boat our own in the same way we’ve made all the boats we’ve had ours, by cleaning and inspecting and taking things apart and, little by little, getting to know every inch of it. Doing that has always paid us back well.

One of the things we did (you’ll understand why when you read the story of our first cruise) was to find a good nonskid paint and use it to repaint the deck – and cabin outside – a light grey. And another was to tackle painting a hull for the very first time – we painted our Nash a bright, shiny red. It looked beautiful.

And we added a camping stove we’d had a while, so we would have something to cook on. We decided food and clothes would be most conveniently stored in plastic bins we could easily move onto and off the boat, and figured out how to fasten the bins down so they would stay in place while we were sailing. We used our sleeping bag and pillows to make a comfortable bed in the vee-berth. We figured out the workings of the portapotti that was, somewhat inconveniently, tucked beneath our sleeping area. 

We took our first cruise in the Nash, made our first visit to a pumpout, met our first storm, spent our first nights aboard in close quarters. We learned to fix all kinds of things (some better than others, depending on the circumstances), navigate with compass and charts, anchor out, deal with many unexpected events. And I learned more and more about sailing, the nuts and bolts, hair-raising and wonderful parts of it.

Though I’m surprised, looking back now, that I continued so happily after that first cruise. It must be either the optimist or the adventurer in me.

I’ll tell you all about that next time…

Written by Margaret Mair

Picture courtesy of Sailboat Data (edited).
Posted in Lake Ontario, Looking Back, Ontario, sailing | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The Sea Spray (Our Catamaran)


Picture courtesy of Sailboat Data, a treasury of information about sailboats of all kinds. Click on picture to visit.

Sometimes the right boat comes into your life at the right time. A boat that’s affordable, one that’s a lot of fun to sail, one you had not considered before.

If it were not for Tubby we might not have begun sailing together at all. But there was a limit to what we could do with our small, slow boat and we had reached it. The pleasure was going out of being on the water.

Then we went for one of our Christmas visits to family in Florida and while we were there, thanks to Richard’s sister, we had the chance to rent a Hobie catamaran. We put it in the water, climbed on and set off across the blue waves off Key Biscayne. The sun shone, the wind blew kindly, the boat sailed briskly. It felt good.  I came off the boat smiling, and we returned it reluctantly at the end of our time. 

“That was fun!” I’m sure there was a big smile plastered across my face.

“Yes, it was.” Richard looked happy too.

We thought that was that – maybe we would be able to do it again next time we visited; if we had to wait for that, so be it.

But then my mother came to visit us in Canada at the end of the following summer. Her visit took us out of our normal routine and away from our usual haunts.  One day, on our way home from a visit to downtown Toronto, we noticed a small catamaran with a ‘for sale’ sign on it sitting in a driveway by a duplex.

“Look – a catamaran for sale!” I pointed.

“Wonder how much it costs?” Richard glanced quickly at it.

“We could look at the sign…”   

“Yes, why don’t you look?” My mother spoke from the back seat.

So Richard pulled over. We noted the phone number, contacted the owners the next day and met them the weekend after. Things moved quickly after that and we soon became the proud owners of a blue Sea Spray 15. We towed it home and it joined Tubby in the backyard of our Newmarket house.

By now our daughters were off doing other things – dancing, playing music, riding and working with horses – so we were sailing on our own. That was a good thing. This was a boat built for two; there was not a lot of room on the trampoline and four bodies maneuvering  would have been awkward. We planned our sailing time for when they were busy with their own pursuits.

Even without the girls we began by launching the catamaran from the Sibbald Point Park beach. There was a lot to get used to, but this at least was familiar. We rigged it for the first time on the trailer and floated it off into the water, hauled ourselves aboard, set our sails and headed out. It did not need much wind to get it going, and those first excursions we had good wind, went out and around Georgina Island, blasted along a good distance off the beach, ventured out into the lake. This was fun! 

Our second time out we heard a ‘crack’ and looked behind us to see part of one of our daggerboards floating there. We replaced that daggerboard, and then, a few weeks later, the other one. That winter Richard learned how to make daggerboards that would take the speed we sailed at; he wrapped the new ones in fibreglass.

Now that we were sailing more we began to look for free places to launch. We drove around the southern end of the lake whenever we had a chance, looking, and one day we came upon what was obviously a well-used informal ramp at the end of a road beside a marina. That quickly became our favorite place to launch, waiting our turn among the fishing boats and smaller power boats that used it as well. Its main drawback was the presence of sharp-shelled zebra mussels and the occasional aluminum pulltop waiting to cut unwary feet. 

Then we invested in wetsuits, so that we could sail more comfortably for longer. The water was cold and we were moving fast, leaning out over the water and into the spray as we balanced the boat with our bodies to keep it as flat as possible. When we tried to find a way to take lunch out with us we quickly learned that even if a squishy fabric lunchbox with no hard corners to hit as we moved declared itself waterproof it definitely did not mean it – at least not when there was spray flying over the boat and soaking everything. Coping with those conditions was a lot to ask of our bodies every weekend day but we went out as often as we could. 

Over time we found more places to launch from and sail in. One of our favorites was Thornbury Harbour. We discovered it while camping close to Collingwood – we brought our catamaran and trailer with us and would go sailing while one of our daughters worked at or visited the horse show in Collingwood. The people we met there were friendly, we were directed to a dressing room where we could change into and out of our wetsuits comfortably, the launch ramp was easy to navigate. The Georgian Bay water was cold, beautiful and deeply blue; except for the cold, we loved it.

We sailed that catamaran hard and fast for about four years. One windy day on Cook’s Bay we sailed so fast that the water rose in rooster-tails off our rudders and we passed a surprised water-skier. He promptly fell off his skis. We laughed. 

But that was also the day the mast mount moved out of alignment and we came very close to having the mast come down suddenly while we were out there blasting around. We were completely unaware of the danger until we came back to the boat launch to take our mast and sails down and saw what had happened. After that we fixed the mount, talked about what might have happened and began to consider other boats and other ways of sailing.

We dreamed of exploring further and sailing longer, of being out on the water for more than a few hours at a time. We decided we wanted to go cruising, and this was not a boat we could cruise on. It was small. It was physically demanding to sail well.Most of the time we sailed in wetsuits to stay warm, and on colder days we did not sail at all. There was no cabin, no way of carrying much gear, no way to travel dry. 

It was time to take a look at a different kind of boat.

Written by Margaret Mair.

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

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