Our Quietest Christmas

A fountain in Gran Canaria surrounded by red and white poinsettia, photo by M. Mair

We had known it was a possibility. That was why we had made up Christmas parcels and sent off Christmas greetings to our daughters before we left Gran Canaria – even though we had set off with enough time to arrive in Antigua before the day of celebrations. In theory, anyway; weather and the sea had their own ideas. We had put our drogue out in a storm, we had spent days being becalmed with the sail flapping above us, and while we sat or drifted slowly along time had passed.

So on Christmas Day we were still out at sea, enjoying a quiet day of sailing, a sunny day with enough wind to keep us moving over the waves through a glinting web of ripples. There wasn’t much else to make this day stand out from other days – our one long-distance method of communication, our HF radio, had stopped working properly more months ago than we had realized and we had no SailMail to send or receive good wishes. All was as quiet as it can be on a sailboat underway. It was just the two of us out there on the ocean.

We stood our usual watches, three hours each, scanned the water around us, marked our positions, filled our log book. If there was a Christmas gift, it was being out on the sea on such a beautiful day, one of those days when the water stretches out around you, constantly moving, constantly changing and the wind makes the surface ripple and undulate. When the sky arched unbroken overhead, and the clouds moved under it. When sunrise and sunset surrounded us, our small boat so tiny in that expanse of sky and sea.

The drifter keeps us moving. Photo by R. Mair.

The day passed much as it usually did until it was time for supper. That, at least, could be different.

We had used up all our fresh food by then, the fruits and vegetables bought in the market in Gran Canaria. But we still had a good stock of the kinds of food that kept without refrigeration: rice and instant coffee and milk powder and powdered mashed potatoes, saltine crackers and Maria biscuits and hard cheese, cans of fruit and vegetables and smoked oysters and sardines in oil and sauce and cocktail sausages and evaporated milk, yogurt that did not need to be kept cold, lots of little fruit drinks in tetrapacks, spices. And a last turron, that sweet, nutty, nougaty confection that we carefully parceled out over as many dessert servings as possible when we had it.

Christmas supper (we could scarcely call it a dinner) had to made from the ingredients we had. Turkey sausages were the closest thing we had to turkey, so they would do. No chance of our usual scalloped potatoes, but we could make the mashed potatoes creamier with an extra dollop of powdered milk and some spices. And sweet green peas and carrots would do for the rest of the meal. It was easy to prepare and easy to enjoy, and we sat in the cockpit and watched the sun edge toward the horizon as we ate.

And then there was dessert. No rum-soaked Christmas pudding this year, but we did have a triple-chocolate turron we had saved. Mmm. We savored it.

Sun on the horizon. Photo by R. Mair.

And then, just the same as any other day, it was time for night watches. Christmas Day was over, Boxing Day would pass and with each day we would get closer to Antigua and the ability to communicate with family and friends again. Though that was still a few weeks away.

There have been other quiet Christmases, of course. And Christmas this year was both quieter than usual and with just a nod to those things that have become traditional. But that Christmas was the only one we have spent at sea.

Posted in At Sea, Looking Back, sailing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Tanzer – That Liveaboard Summer

Driving to and from the marina, we saw a ‘Sold’ sign on the big farm on the edge of town that had stood empty for so long. Then signs went up telling the world about a townhouse development that would soon be under construction there. A plan began to form.

“You know, those prices look reasonable. We could manage the payments.”

“I suppose we could find out more…”

“Couldn’t hurt.”

So one day instead of driving past we turned in to the sales office. We looked, we talked, we asked questions, we said we’d think about it.

The wasps that moved into the basement of the house we were living in were a precipitating factor. First we saw one wasp. Then another. Inside. And they were agressive.

Wasp rasping wood, by PJT56, file shared and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

“Where are they coming in?”

Richard found out when he went to check a fuse. I found out when I heard him yell downstairs. A door slammed.

“Found them.” He stomped up the stairs. “Those guys who moved the laundry room never closed off the old dryer vent. The wasps must have come in through it, and now they have a nest in the wall and the fuse box.”

We closed the door to the room downstairs, and sprayed. And sprayed. Risked stings to see how many were left or to get something we needed. Sprayed from the outside at night.

Closed off the vent, and realized that was a big mistake. Kept up the battle, and decided that rather than rattle around in a too-big house we would bite the bullet. We would put down a deposit on one of those townhouses.

So we did, and began the whole process of buying a new home.
The Tanzer became part of the plan. If we did it right, we could time things so that we could take possession of a townhouse at the end of summer (or sometime close to it). And if we lived aboard the Tanzer for the summer that would reduce our expenses and help us save the money we needed for fees and all the other expenses that always tacked themselves on to any real estate deal.

Then the work began. We disposed of moldy boxes kept too long in a damp basement, dispersed some of our goods into the wider world and packed away what we thought we should keep into storage. We shuffled and stuffed and moved things around until they just barely fit into the unit we rented. Then we moved onto the boat with our clothes and a few things we thought were necessary. Life would be simple now, right? Well, not really.

There was a lot to figure out. Practical things, like showers. The ones at the marina were open during their business hours, so one option was trying to be sure we were there when the washrooms were open. But we were both working, Richard closer than I, and had to leave before they opened. And on long or heavy-traffic days I might not make it back before they closed in the evening. What to do? We found an answer: the swimming pool close to where we would be living when we moved into the townhouse opened for lane swimming early in the morning. That meant that most days we could go there for a swim and shower before we went to work. One problem solved.

Public Swimming Pool, by Dedda71, file shared and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Then there was the question of water – with no water supply at the dock and available water being from a well we decided it was best to use bottled water, the kind that you get in those large, reusable containers you fill in the grocery store. Which of course meant we had to find a place to keep the water bottle on the boat – though where we stored it has faded from memory now.

I’ve mentioned that the vee-berth was cosy. This was less of a problem when we were only using it occasionally. But sleeping there every night through a warm summer was an interesting experience – there were nights when keeping the hatch wide open felt like the only way to survive, but that greatly reduced our privacy and was impossible when it rained. We finally invested in a largish green camping fan to try and keep our sweaty bodies cool – which meant one more thing to pack away when we went sailing. But it was worth it.

Interior, from plans on SailboatData.com

Some things were much easier. Our trusty Origo non-pressurized alcohol stove came with us. We bought groceries every few days. We found a laundromat in the closest town where we could wash our clothes. The outboard was balky and did not like running at slow speeds, but it got us away from and back to the dock.

And there was a lot to enjoy. Being always on the water, at a quiet dock surrounded by green hedges and trees. Peaceful nights, stars scattered through the sky above, fireflies flickering in the field across the way. An easy escape out onto the water, to sail, race or go for a cruise.

Fireflies under stars, by Sushantk2212, file shared and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

And getting to know the people around us – Ernie, the carpenter, who fixed things in his daughters’ houses and gave us a beautifully mounted compass; Peter, who invited us to race on his J a few times and was one of my doctors in another life; Karsten, who ran the little chandlery in the marina and shared so much helpful advice and kindness; Eva and Wayne, who became friends, helped us find our Alberg 30 and drop into our lives now from a distance; Patrick, who had a McGregor 26 which he sailed up to and beyond its capabilities, and in whose attic we lived for a short, cold while (but that’s another story); Jack, who owned the marina and gave us helpful advice about boats – the list goes on, and I apologize to those whose names I do not remember or know I’ve missed.

That summer confirmed two things for us – living aboard was possible, and we were ready to go cruising beyond the confines of Lake Simcoe.

But first we would need another boat. Again.

Written by Margaret Mair


Images: Once again, this was from a time before we took many pictures, before the ubiquitous (almost) cellphone made taking photos so easy. So the first image is courtesy of WordPress, others courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, and one via SailBoatData.com.

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

Night Racing on Lake Simcoe

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that our Tanzer was one of the slower boats in the fleet of racers. Its lack of pointing ability was a definite handicap, but at least we crossed the finish line before the marks were taken up – most of the time. We regularly took part in races put on by the club based in the marina, and through the club we learned about a series of races put on by a whole group of clubs around the lake. The series included an annual night race. That sounded interesting. We decided to see what this night racing was like.

Kampenfelt Bay, “Barrie, Ontario” by Dougtone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The evening before our first night race we sailed up to Kampenfelt Bay and arrived windblown and cool at the Barrie Yacht Club. This was new territory for us – for me, not acquainted with the ins and outs of yacht clubs, in particular. We were not sure what to expect, but other sailors were happy to welcome us and answer our questions, an experience we have now had over and over again when racing. Thing is (of course) you don’t know what you don’t know. There were questions we could have asked, but didn’t – we learned from experience instead. It’s a good thing we were lucky in those races, blessed with clear nights and (most of the time) decent winds.

The race started in the afternoon, but once darkness fell on the lake only the lights of other boats lit the darkness around us. A few sailed in a pool of brightness, lit up like cars on the road, or like tiny versions of the cruise ships we saw out at sea years later.

A Night Sky, Michael J. Bennet, file licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

We did as most did, and sailed with our navigation lights casting a faint glow on the water; as boats chose their separate courses and lights winked off into the distance it did not take along until we felt quietly alone. Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness we could see well enough to sail; it wasn’t long till I looked up and saw the stars sprinkled through the sky and the milky way floating above us like a scatter of sequins across the heavens. Beautiful. And there was that race when the Northern Lights painted the sky with curtains of luminous yellows and greens. Night was a lovely place to be.

Aurora Borealis caught between the stars, by Ababamov, file licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Sometimes things were a little more fraught. On our very first race we learned that darkness makes it difficult to gauge your distance from flashing lights on the water. I remember we were looking for the buoy we had to round.

“Is that it?” I squinted at a flashing green light in the distance.

“Don’t know. Looks as if it’s moving toward us.”

“Another boat then?” But I could not see any other lights.


We kept watching. Whatever it was grew closer. Suddenly we were passing it – and it was a buoy!

“That’s it! We have to turn.” I panicked. We scrambled. The green light was our mark and beyond it, according to the charts, were shoal and shore. We tacked as fast as we knew how.

“Phew. Well, now we know. It wasn’t coming toward us!” I’m sure I spoke more loudly than I meant to.

“No, We were going toward it.” Mystery solved, buoy found, lesson learned.

It was a lesson that would stand us in good stead in our future night-time encounters with navigation lights. That turned out to be a good thing.

Taylor Lake, Florida, at night, by Philipp Michel Reichold, file licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

There were also lessons in patience, on the still early mornings when we ghosted along in light airs, sure everyone else was already finished. We were tired after a mostly sleepless night, and though the finish line was within sight down the bay it felt almost unreachable when we were traveling so slowly. Grumpiness was setting in and we argued about giving up – that was when it became my job to steer when the wind was just barely there.

How good it felt to finish and be welcomed and know we had done it! A challenge met, though it was small compared to some we would meet later.


Written by Margaret Mair

Note: Since these things were before the times of easy photo taking I have no pictures of our own to share, so I have chosen the closest I can find to the images I hold in my mind from Wikimedia Commons.

Licenses: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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

More Space! The Tanzer 7.5

When it came time to change from the Nash to a bigger boat we almost bought the Contessa 26 we had been eying for a while. It is a lovely, seaworthy boat with a good reputation and this one lay invitingly at a dock not far away. We had heard its owner had moved away and wanted to sell. So Richard got in touch with him, more than once, but his circumstances were difficult, communication was slow and we were impatient – and that’s why we ended up with a very different boat, our Tanzer 7.5. It too was at a dock in the marina, for sale, and easy to buy. We did the deal through Jack, the marina’s owner – and then found ourselves the owner of a boat a little different from what we expected.

A boat like ours – courtesy of AHunt via Wikimedia Commons

For one thing, we had made the deal not realizing that the boat was shoal draft. Its short keel was very helpful for anchoring close to beaches and other interesting shallows – but not good for keeping the boat sailing close to the wind. The ‘if onlys’ came later. If only we could have sailed closer to the wind we would have sailed a shorter distance when tacking toward wherever we wanted to go. If only we could tack better our time on the race course would have been shorter. If only… But we did what we wanted to do anyway.

Then we found out that the hull-deck joint needed some attention – a common thing, we learned, and a job that a friend told us required some care in the doing. He warned us it was very difficult to get the rubber rubbing strip that was over the joint back on if you made the mistake of taking it all off at once (I suspect he might have had some experience with this). Grateful for his warning, Richard devised a plan: he softened sections of the strip with a heat gun, pulled them away from the hull, used 2×2 lumber to hold them out while he drilled out the rivets that held hull and deck together, replaced them with bolts and sealed the whole joint with silicone. Only then would he put that part of the rubbing strip back. That job got done, bit by bit, the first winter we had the boat.

On the other hand we were surprised (and pleased) to find the mast easy to raise and lower once we learned how to use the gin pole that came with the boat. The system turned out to be very efficient and the mast itself was light enough for the two of us to manage easily, whether we were raising it, lowering it or moving it into a good position for winter storage. Though there was the time the boat moved unexpectedly on the water as we were putting it into storage position and I thumped straight down on one knee at the bow with the mast on my shoulder. That hurt. But my first thought was: at least the mast did not go overboard! We all have our priorities.

The boat also came with a self-tacking jib. That intrigued us at first. We went out sailing with it, tried the sail at different angles, experimented with how it set and tried to figure out the best way to get some performance out of it. But it just was not large enough to get the boat moving the way we liked and we soon abandoned that jib in favor of the larger genoa that also came with the boat. A little more work, but the boat sailed a little faster! Again, priorities.

The Tanzer 7.5 Layout

At the time we might have been a little too focused on the main reason we bought the Tanzer – more space. It was much roomier inside than the Nash. I’ve since learned that a person’s sense of roominess is directly related to the size of the boat they are leaving! The Tanzer cabin only had about 5 ft 8 inches of headroom, which was enough for me to stand upright but meant Richard had to duck his head. No problem; after all, there was all this space for sitting inside and besides, Richard could stand with his head through the hatch when looking out or using the galley. And there was always the openness of the cockpit.

Having a built-in galley with its stove, ice box and sink, was something we had been looking forward to. The Tanzer’s was across the aft end of the cabin and had its idiosyncrasies as well as its conveniences. It’s main disadvantage was that everything was placed so that we had to step onto the smooth fibreglass counter beside the sink to go down into the cabin and it was ‘slippery when wet’. After we had slipped on it a few times Richard put wood strips across the area. That helped.
Other things we discovered as we used the boat more and more. Yes, there was a very cozy vee-berth to sleep in. But it was so cozy that when we finally used it we found that both of us had to turn over at the same time and it was impossible to sneak out of bed to the nearby head without disturbing the other sleeper. This is important – it affects the sleep of both people.

The hatch over the berth was wonderful for letting light and air in, but did nothing for privacy. And began to leak after a while. We tried different ways to stop the leaks – different sealants, applied first around the acrylic and then after removing the acrylic to rebed it. We even took the whole hatch to an auto glass shop to see whether they could fix it. Nothing worked for long, except the canvas cover I finally made for privacy! In the end we came to the conclusion that the acrylic itself was probably too crazed and needed to be replaced – but by then we had found our next boat…

And there’s a hatch just like ours… – courtesy of AHunt via Wikimedia Commons

The head was also a new and interesting experience, especially when compared to the simplicity of the portapotti on the Nash. It was our first real marine head, and it came with all the qualities sailors associate with those very necessary pieces of equipment. Smell, maintenance, fear of over-filling the invisible waste tank… Richard did the maintenance, including replacing the joker valve that prevents the backflow of waste into the bowl after it’s flushed, and we avoided any traumatic overfilling – but the smell was an ongoing challenge, even after we took to using the Headomatic blue flakes Karsten at the small chandlery recommended.

None of the disadvantages felt important at the time. The Tanzer was fun to sail, and now that we had it we used it as much as we could. It was big enough to invite people to come sail with us, family and friends. When we had holidays we could do more cruising in more comfort. We went racing, and not just with the sailors from the marina; we entered a series of interclub races. Because of that we did some night racing. And one summer we even lived aboard – but that’s another story.


A note: when we had the Tanzer taking photos was much less convenient than it is today. We have no pictures of our boat, so instead I’ve used pictures from the internet. Although the boat you see here is basically the same, there are differences: our boat had a faded blue stripe, our outboard was certainly less shiny (and possibly less reliable) and we fastened our stored mast directly on the pushpit and pulpit.

Pictures of the Tanzer 7.5 Sailboat named Somerled made available under Creative Commons CCO 1.0, Universal Public Domain Dedication by Author Ahunt

Line drawings of hull and interior via https://sailboatdata.com/sailboat/tanzer-75

Posted in Lake Simcoe, Looking Back, Ontario, sailing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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 , , , | 9 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

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments