If you wait till everything is in place you may never do the things you love. If you want to remind yourself of all the things you love about sailing you need to get out there and just do it. We know that, and yet we have found ourselves hesitating to go out on any but the most ideal days – days of perfect wind and perfect weather. This summer we decided we needed a reason to go sailing on those not-so-perfect days.
We used to go racing, and would find ourselves out sailing in all kinds of conditions. So after some thought Richard and I decided to go back to racing, but longer races, the kind that don’t involve too many quick tacks and gybes. For starters, we decided to do the LOSHRS (Lake Ontario Single Handed Race Series) 100 mile race, worn out cruising sails and all. We had wanted to do a couple of the earlier, shorter races but we were not ready in time for those. So the 100 mile race it would be.
We knew we had some disadvantages, even in this kind of racing. It’s generally recommended to keep racing boats as light as possible – travel with no more than the necessary gear and whatever else the rules dictate must be on board. We live on our boat, so clearly we have much more than any rules dictate – things like clothes and books and pots and pans and tools and art supplies and solar panels. Racing or not our boat is never going to be light, though we try to keep her well balanced side-to-side and fore-to-aft.
We consulted the rules, read the sailing instructions, prepared ourselves as best we could and on the August 20th weekend we went racing on our own boat for the first time in eleven years. We knew cruising was good preparation for the variety of conditions we might face, but we quickly realized how rusty our racing skills are. We misjudged the start and crossed the line well behind the other boats in our group. Never mind, we told ourselves, it’s a long race and by the end a late start won’t make much difference.
There was a nice breeze and the first leg was a reach, perfect for our boat. We managed to stay ahead of a few other boats until the Gibraltar mark. Once around it we sailed upwind for the Burlington Weather Tower mark and watched the other boats pull away into the haze. The afternoon passed. I napped first, then Richard took his turn. We knew it was best to sleep when you know you can, and high winds and possible thunderstorms were in the overnight forecast.
We rounded the yellow Burlington Weather Tower before night fell. If you have not seen the tower I will tell you it is a very solid structure that rises from the water with a sign on it that tells boats to keep 100 metres away. Not that it’s something a sailor would want to approach too closely (though the cormorants perching on it obviously found nothing to fear). Darkness fell and the air cooled as we sailed for the Niagara mark.
That was when Environment Canada announced a squall watch and Richard decided to put his rain gear on. The winds rose while I took another turn resting below. At about 23:30 I heard the sail flapping and the winch on the cabin top creaking as Richard reefed; less than an hour later the second reef was in and we were surfing along at 6.6 knots.
I came out, raincoat on, to help with the gybe around the Niagara mark. I winched the jib in and leaned to see how it was set. The boat heeled just that little bit more, the rub rail and my hand submerged and a rush of water ran up my raincoat sleeve. Ugh. I sat up, dropped my hand so it would run out again and emptied the water into the cockpit. Then I went to sit on the other side, glad to hear that the squall watch had been lifted. That, of course, was when the squall hit, the boat heeled even more and an errant wave washed over the coaming and soaked me. Since I had no rain pants I had to retreat to the cabin to change into dry clothes and hang up wet things. I informed Richard I would remain there unless absolutely needed until we were in less soaking conditions.
I emerged with the easing of the wind and clouds to take a watch while Richard went below to rest. By then it was my favorite time of day for sailing, those sunrise hours when the sky grows slowly lighter and the world larger. The vane steered and I watched our course, the wind and the water. All was quiet.
After a while I noticed that the once-light skies over land were growing darker. And darker. A little later I saw what I hoped was just a dark haze enveloping the land, stretching from sky to ground. That dark thing kept coming closer, until some docks I had been watching were hard to see and whatever it was was spilling over the water. That was when I woke Richard and told him to come up with his rain gear on.
He came up reluctantly, still tired and I went down to wait until the weather passed. A few minutes later the boat heeled over and rain drops splattered on the ports. The weather gods had sent us one more squall before we finished the race, before the weather settled and we could concentrate fully on sailing toward the finish.
After it passed we realized we had one more problem to deal with: we had the finish mark wrong. That became apparent after we had called the LOSHRS Race Committee (by this point down to the SRO, Graham Dougal), then searched for the mark where we thought it should be. There was none. What to do? Richard marked the start line instead, and we headed there.
Those last nine miles were the longest. The wind grew lighter and we traveled more slowly. As we got close to the finish we looked for a mark on land that would be one end of the line. We did not find it – what we did find was Graham in his brightly coloured coat sitting where, we assumed, the mark should have been. Then we spotted the in-the-water finish mark that was the other end of the line, and sailed for it. Graham’s voice came over the radio: “Into The Blue, we have your finish time.” We had crossed the line. The race was complete.
We took our sails down, motored into the yacht club, tied up then tidied up minimally and went to sleep for a couple of hours before we sailed home again.
First 100 mile race done.
Written by Margaret Mair
A note: the photos here were not taken during the race, but they are of the areas we sailed through! We were too focused on sailing to take pictures during the race.