We love being out on the water and the weekend before last was set to be a three-days-of-sailing weekend, so we were looking forward to it. We had entered the last of the series of LOSHRS races, with hopes that the wind would be kind and we would have a good sail to Port Dalhousie on Saturday and back to Port Credit Yacht Club on Sunday. We watched the forecast all week, hoping for good winds, but as the weekend grew closer the only thing promised was light ones. Our boat is heavy and our sails old, so conditions would not be ideal. But we went anyway.
We set out mid-morning on Friday to travel to PCYC in time for the race meeting that evening. It was one of those calm days when the sky is leaden and the CN Tower rises above a city caught in a foggy, smoggy cloud. But there was enough wind to motor-sail comfortably, so motor-sail we did and got there in good time to relax and enjoy dinner before joining the other skippers and crew gathered on the patio for the meeting.
We slept well that night and woke in good time Saturday, went for a walk around the club and the yard where J24s were gathering for a week of racing, then searched for a source of coffee before the race to Port Dalhousie. We left for the starting area with time to spare, circled past the committee boat and were acknowledged, found a quiet area to wait for our start. Our adrenaline might have been high but the race started slow, in light winds. Boats jockeying at the start had to work to stay clear of one another. Some in different starts found themselves trying to clear the line together; one boat tried flying a drifter that pulled it sideways in front of us. A little chatter and some maneuvering later we crossed the start without mishap or ruffled feelings then tacked over closer to shore in hopes that as the day grew warmer we might benefit from a land-effect breeze.
Our strategy seemed to work. We tacked our way across the lake, slowly and then less slowly, wishing we had a bigger, lighter foresail to help us on our way. The day passed, the sun set and evening came. When it became obvious how late we were going to be we tried to radio the Port Dalhousie Pier Marina office to say we were coming and ask for a dock assignment, but there was no response. We kept going. We were two miles away at about 20:00 when the wind died away again and the information on the chartplotter suggested we might arrive some time the next morning. That was when we looked at each other, decided we needed sleep more than finishing the race and chose to hope that maybe, against the odds, tomorrow we would find there was more wind and we could have a better, shorter race. We phoned the race committee and officially retired. By then we had sailed thirty-nine miles to cover twenty four of the twenty-six miles of the course between Port Credit and Port Dalhousie (did I mention our boat does not point at all well in light winds?); now we turned the motor on and went straight toward the finish and the marina.
Arriving at the marina in the dark proved more challenging than we had expected. According to the chart there is a flashing white light at the end of the canal by the marina, and a flashing red light by the entrance to the marina. We could see the flashing white light at the end of the canal, but where was the flashing red light? We edged forward slowly, thankful that everything except the chartplotter was on night settings and we could see outlines of things along the shore – sort of. We peered forward into the moonless night.
Finally we saw what looked like the end of the wall outside the marina, and turned to go toward it. We zoomed the chartplotter in to try to make sure we were in the right place – at least according to the information it had – as we moved along the wall. It placed us just outside the marina. At last we saw the lighter shadows of the unmarked entrance, turned, and went in. The red light that should have helped guide us in was there – we could just see the shape against the night sky – but it was not working.
Inside, not sure of where we should be going or what dock we should be on, we motored in and along one dock. There were a lot of boats, and it was difficult, in the dim light, to see where there were boats and where there were none, so finally we circled back and came in to an outside dock that was clear. Messy, as in you could tell the birds had been roosting there, but clear of boats.
We had signed up to attend the end of race dinner but it was long over, so we made ourselves a snack-type supper after we had plugged in (one advantage of racing your home is that you always have supplies on board), then took some time to decompress before we settled down to sleep. As we were falling asleep it occurred to me that it would be a good idea if some of us good old boats had a late-arrivals party in conditions like the ones we had that day…
Next morning we stepped out of our cabin – and were greeted by a friendly voice. Laurie Ann and her family were on the boat next to us, a Grampian Classic 31 ketch named Azura, their first boat, their entry to the world of sailing. She offered us photos of our boat, taken as the sun came up and we were very quick to say yes. She had already googled Into The Blue and found this blog. Now that is what I call efficient.
I try to walk every day – it helps me maintain my balance after Ramsay Hunt. The walk from the end of the dock to the main marina building was Sunday’s version of going for a walk. There was no time for more, since we did not have a much time before we had to go out to the start line. Back at the boat we reversed out of the slip (in a circle that took us into the main channel, because of the way the bow wanted to go) and motored out to take our turn going past the committee boat, tidying up lines and fenders as we went. Then we focused on staying out of the way of other boats until our start.
It was another slow and windless start; we got past the line on our second attempt, after dodging other boats and just behind a competitor in another (later) start. Away from the line we started off sailing closer to shore before tacking out, watching anxiously for wind ripples on the water. It was slow going. A patchy fog developed low over the water. We could see the sun peeking over the top and glimpse blue sky. From time to time we heard horns sounded by other boats and we used our own horn occasionally, when the fog closed in, to signal our position. In or out of the fog we could not find consistent wind, though we tried. If we were to finish the race and get back home in reasonable time this was likely not the wind we were going to be able to do it in, but we kept going for a while anyway.
At noon we looked at our position, reassessed our prospects and came to the sad conclusion that it was time to withdraw and sail for home unless we wanted to get there very late at night (or very early the next morning). We made the call to say we were withdrawing again, turned the motor on and turned our bow for home.
We motor-sailed across the lake, using our engine to help us point higher and create a pleasant apparent wind. The fog faded away; the lake was clear in the middle and it was not until we were close to Bluffer’s Park that we saw fog lying low over the water again, curving upward toward the sun like the bluffs themselves. We watched other boats disappear into it, but once in it ourselves we found it had only a few dense patches – for the most part we could see far enough and clearly enough to sail safely, though we did put our navigation lights on where it lay most thickly, just in case.
We had hours of travel and a lot to talk about along the way. Sails for one thing – ours are old and need to be replaced – but which one should we get first? We decided a new main had to be top of the list. And – what size of foresail might have worked better on the kinds of days we had just had? Larger, obviously, but what kind of penalty did we want to pay for having that larger sail? What weight fabric could we get a larger foresail made of? And then about sailing more, for another thing, since there is no substitute for actually being out on the water to keep eyes, ears and reactions sharp.
We arrived at Bluffer’s as the sun was beginning to edge downward. A friend took our bow line at the dock, and we landed safely, tidied up, and used the previous evening’s dinner money to be decadent and buy a pizza. We were hungry and it disappeared very quickly. And so ended a weekend full of sailing, leaving us tired and content. We had spent a lot of hours out on the water doing what we love.
Written by Margaret Mair
Photos by Margaret Mair and Laurie Ann March