When Lake Waters Rise

Spring and high water, M. Mair, photo

Spring and high water, Margaret Mair, photo

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

Our disappearing beach, M. Mair, photo

Our disappearing beach, Margaret Mair, photo

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

Driftwood, Margaret Mair, photo

Driftwood, Margaret Mair, photo

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

Waves off the beach, M. Mair, photo

Waves off the beach, Margaret Mair, photo

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

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

Bird on a wire, M. Mair, photo

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

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

Goose on rock, M. Mair, photo

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

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

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

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

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



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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


Written by Margaret Mair
Photos by Margaret Mair

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

Flashback February?

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

Harbour, Las Palmas, photo by R. Mair

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

Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.

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

Gabinete Literario, Las Palmas, photo, R. Mair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas decorations, Las Palmas, photo by R. Mair

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

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

Across the Atlantic.

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

Sunset at sea, photo by R. Mair

Sunset at sea, photo by R. Mair

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

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

Between Las Palmas and Antigua, photo, R. Mair

Between Las Palmas and Antigua, photo by R. Mair

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

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

Jolly Harbour, Antigua, photo, R. Mair

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

Posted by Into The Blue February, 2007

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

Goodbye December, Hello 2017

Early December morning, photo, M. Mair

Early December morning, photo by M. Mair

Every winter is different, and it pays not to take anything for granted. “Be prepared” should always be the motto of the sailor and the liveaboard. That said, so far so good this year…

This past December was a windy, relatively warm month. The temperatures did not dip often or much below freezing and there was no snow to speak of until the week before Christmas (though it did not linger long enough in the city to give us a real white Christmas). It was so warm we saw a boat or two out on the cold lake waters well into the month, long after we had put up our winter cover.

Someone's sailing, photo, M. Mair

Someone’s sailing, December morning, photo by M. Mair

We walked in the park most mornings, until that week when the snow fell. After that the footing became uneven and then slippery, and now there’s ice under the trees where the paths are shaded. We check the paths from time to time because this is a beautiful place to walk, especially early in the morning when the slanting rays of the sun highlight details you might not notice otherwise. After a windy night the waves roll in and break against the rocks or on sandy beaches that have been uncovered as the lake finds its winter water level.

Ice on the public launch basin, photo, M. Mair

Ice on the public launch basin, photo by M. Mair

This year it seems lower than usual. We can gauge the level of the lake by looking to see how much of the rocky breakwater is exposed, which rocks are no longer covered by the water, how high above the water the fixed docks are. The thing that affects me most is the angle of the ramp from the docks to the main building and land. As the water falls it becomes steeper and steeper and by now going up or down is a challenge for anyone having to transport anything heavy to or from their boat. A smaller challenge for me, but I find myself leaning into it when I walk up and holding on to the rail when I walk down.

The wind is up, photo, M. Mair

The wind is up, photo by M. Mair

With winter come chilly winds – from the east, the north-east, the north-west. We don’t notice them as much this year, except when the boat rocks or we have to walk along the dock in the gusts. Our new and improved boat cover is proving more stable and quieter, and since we replaced our dock lines they don’t creak and groan the way the old, less stretchable lines did. So now we need to check the forecast and make our best guess about what is really happening before stepping outside, and if it’s blowing strongly enough I use Richard as a windbreak or hold on to him when we’re walking along the docks!

Winter sunrise, photo, M. Mair

Winter sunrise, photo by M. Mair

Christmas came and went quietly. We took the minimalist approach, since most of our celebrating was off the boat. But we were happy to see others take a different tack. Some decorated with lights under their covers that shone and flashed and blinked and made the nights merry. Some had cheery wreaths on their winter doors. I even saw a tree in one cockpit. Cards were given and on one boat we saw them strung across the window, and many Christmas or holiday greetings were exchanged.

On our boat we decorated with a string of solar-powered lights around the edges of our hard dodger and hung cards on the grab rails inside. These latter, as you might guess, were not conveniently placed for those times when the boat rocked and a hand flew automatically toward the rail. We enjoyed them for a while and then took them down. We’ll leave the lights up, though, to brighten the rest of our winter nights. All we’ll need is enough sun during the day to charge their battery.

Morning light, photo, M. Mair

Morning light, photo by M. Mair

Today the wind is blowing hard and the boat is rocking. But the days are growing longer and if we’re lucky the clouds will stay away – most of the time anyway.

Hope they stay away from you as well, and you’ll find this new year a good one.

Written by Margaret Mair

Posted in Lake Ontario, Living Aboard, Ontario | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Under Cover for Winter

This will be our fourth year wintering on our boat, and each winter so far we have put up a cover only to find that there were things we would like to improve. The first year we left the mast up and the frame was not well spaced – and we had the ice storm. That year we kept making repairs as icicles fell of the rigging and the cover collected snow and ice and sagged in some places. The second year our frame was a little too light and very flexible and the string that ran under the keel and was supposed to hold the plastic down rode up, encouraged by the shape of the underside of the boat. That cover moved every time there was a windy day, letting rain and snow underneath and on to the deck. The third year we made the middle support too high and did not fasten the wood along the rub rail that was supposed to hold the cover down down strongly enough. The wind got underneath and tried to lift the whole thing up several times.

To sum up: the challenges, we learned, were to build a cover that stands up to the wind, does not allow snow or rain to accumulate, gives us space to go forward along the deck to do things like put water into our tanks or tighten dock lines, and stays down and in place in even the windiest conditions. Each year we’ve managed to do a little better by solving the problems of the year before, and this winter we planned to keep improving.

Over the summer Richard had time to consider what he could do differently, particularly to keep the cover as a whole in place. By this fall he had decided on a way to fasten the cover down more securely. He started by using metal brackets to fasten a foundation of 1 x 3 pieces of wood, outside and alongside the rub rails, to the stanchion bases.

Here is a picture of how he did it:

Winter cover detail, photo by M. Mair

At the bottom you can see the metal bracket holding the lower part of the frame to the stanchion base. Photo by M. Mair

On top of that a wooden foundation he built a low frame of 1 x 2s. He screwed uprights on to the foundation 1 x 3s beside each stanchion. They are about the same height as the stanchions, except for the longer ones where he wanted the door frame. Then he connected the uprights together with horizontal 1 x 2s, creating a solid base for the rest of the cover.

Once that was in place he attached grey plastic conduit pipe to the wooden base with screws, as you can see above. The pipe bends into a curve above the boat. That curve is what keeps the rain from puddling or the snow from collecting on the cover and sheds wind. The lengths of the conduit vary, creating a cover that is highest in the middle of the boat and lowest toward bow and stern.

Wood fastened to conduit, photo, M. Mair

Wood fastened to the conduit with small screws through the pipe and ends of the wood, photo by Margaret Mair

To the conduit ‘ribs’ he attached a 1 x 2 wood ‘backbone’, pieces joined to make it long enough. It runs down the middle of the boat and holds the ribs in place. Lower on the curves he put more horizontal pieces of wood, to help the cover keep that rounded shape. All the wood was attached with screws – that is also new this year.

Frame, photo by M. Mair

Frame with ‘ribs’ and ‘backbone’, photo by Margaret Mair

Once the frame was finished he attached 6 ml plastic: vapour barrier to the pipes with red tape and stapled it to the wood, to cover the boat in. He put red tape over the places where the plastic was stapled to the wood to prevent it from developing holes around the staples. Then he took advantage of every calm, dry hour he found this windy fall to heat and shrink the covering so that there are no dips for rain or snow to accumulate in. Calm and dry because when the plastic is heated it becomes softer and can stretch in the wind and rain prevents it from getting warm enough to soften and shrink.

Vapor barrier, photo by M. Mair

Vapor barrier on frame, not yet shrunk. Photo by Margaret Mair

Then there is the door that makes it easy to climb on and off. The aft side of our door frame is close to the stanchion I can see through the cabin window. It is strengthened and held in place by one brace on the inside of that stanchion and another brace on the forward side that runs to the wooden frame on the other side of the boat. That brace is high enough for there to be space for anyone going forward to duck under easily.

The door itself is made with a wooden frame of 1 x 3s that is kept square by metal brackets. It is a rectangle with a 1 x 2 across the middle where a simple door closer is mounted. We did not design it: three winters ago our neighbour, Jeff, gave us a door he no longer needed to use in that year’s cover. That old door was very practically designed, right down to the way it was kept closed, so we used it as a pattern.

Door latch, outside, photo by M. Mair

Door latch from the outside, photo by Margaret Mair

If you look at the picture of our door closer you’ll see that above the brace in the middle of the door Richard mounted another piece of wood on two blocks to make a narrow opening. The outside handle for the door/slider is a piece of wood long enough to grab easily that fits through that opening. Inside the latch is made of a horizontal piece of wood that slides over the door frame to keep the door closed and slides off the frame when we want to open it. The latch is held in place by a wood block attached below the handle on the outside. A small metal handle on the inside makes opening and closing the door from the deck easy. To make it easier to open and close after the wood swelled Richard just added some washers under the screws as spacers.

Door latch, inside, M. Mair

Door latch from the inside, photo by Margaret Mair

We are almost weathertight now – there are only a few finishing touches left. The door needs rubber to seal it against the frame where the cover is not flat, so that snow will not find it’s way in through any gaps, and the handle needs painting (on the next sunny day that we’re actually here) so that the wood will not swell when it’s wet. But we are already enjoying the warmth under the cover on a sunny day and the pleasure of being able to step inside out of the wind and rain (and soon, it seems, snow).

I guess we’re as ready as we can be.


Written by Margaret Mair, with technical input from Richard Mair

Photos by Margaret Mair

Posted in Lake Ontario, Living Aboard, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

A Weekend Full of Sailing

Richard at the helm, photo, M. Mair

Richard at the helm, photo by M. Mair

We sailed to Port Credit for the start of the last two LOSHRS races on a sunny September Friday. The wind was behind us most of the way, so we poled out the jib and rocked along. We did set off a little later than we had planned, after lunch instead of before, but we arrived in good time to go to the race meeting and to enjoy a latish supper upstairs. We claimed our yellow series flag from the organizers, also set up upstairs, and declined the engraved coffee cups, a decision we may later regret. But anything we take we must find space for, and space is always at a premium.

The rest of the story of the weekend was a tale of two very different races. Race one (race five in the series) was Saturday, sailing from Port Credit Yacht Club to Port Dalhousie, about twenty-five miles. Race two was back to Port Credit the next day.

We set off in light winds on Saturday, and except for an unplanned dip over the line before our start and a subsequent circle back behind it we had a relatively good start. Obviously we are still rusty, but at least we did better than in the 100 mile race. The flag dropped, we recrossed the line and were off.

The water was lumpy and the wind too light to give us much drive if we sailed close-hauled. For a while we sailed further off the wind than we wanted just to keep moving. Then the wind started to pick up, and we were able to sail a little closer. That was when Richard realized that each time he got the jib trimmed just so and the boat started moving well the sail would lose its shape. Frustrating. Finally the wind picked up to the point where we had to put one reef in, then a second one. Then we found we had to sail off the wind again because the jib was so stretched we could not flatten it.

Rain came and I retreated into the cabin for a while. After the rain the wind dropped again to a point where we should have been able to sail with just one reef in the main. Unfortunately that old sail is also stretched and the excess belly in it made the boat heel too much for speed and comfort. ( In hindsight it would have been better to sail with that one reef and let the sail off in gusts, and to sail more loosely so we could keep the boat speed up. But that was then and this is now, and you know what they say about hindsight.)

Rain clouds, M. Mair

Rain Clouds, photo by M. Mair

While the boat was well heeled over we were reminded that we need to reseal the rub rail. Water came through in some places and dripped down behind the (luckily waterproof) insulation, exiting close to the floor. Not much of it, but enough to notice. After that Richard decided not to drive the boat quite as hard. I expect he was thinking about the clean-up that might follow.

So we kept going on the same course but further off the wind than was best. Finally it was time to tack. As the bow came around the knot attaching the sheets to the jib caught on the shroud, the jib flapped, caught on the winch on the mast and ripped. I saw the sky through a half-moon shaped hole, but there was nothing much to be done at that point. We were just lucky that it was close to the end of the race.

We tacked back for the line. We could see bad weather coming; what we could not see was the mark that should have been in line with the committee boat. Graham, the PRO, came on the radio and told us just to sail for the marina passing close to the committee boat. The mark had moved.

We asked if we had crossed the line as we drew closer to the Port Dalhousie Marina, where we would be staying overnight (along with most of the race boats), and were told yes, head in. Shortly after that the committee boat also headed in under dark and threatening skies; we could see the approaching rain and knew that there was the threat of thunderstorms. Richard went forward to pull up the lazyjacks so we could drop the main, and as the rope moved over the reef in the sail the mainsail also ripped. We now had two repairs to do.


The marina was, shall I say, interesting. We tried to call in and there was no response, but we headed in and found ourselves a berth anyway. There were plenty to choose from, so we looked for one with relatively little in the way of goose droppings on the finger. Richard went in to say we were there, the second-to-last boat to arrive, and to pay for our slip. The thunderstorm arrived shortly after he came back. We thought about going out, but with all that weather we decided to have a short nap instead. We woke up to wet darkness. We had everything with us, so we made supper, ate and went to sleep.

The next day we were up early and out on the deck trying to repair the holes in our sails. We had very little sail tape left – we’ve been repairing these old sails for a while. We used the rest of it on the jib, and then had none left for the main. We looked for alternatives, tried band aids, packing tape and then red tape, but none stuck on the damp sail. Finally Richard hunted his heat gun out from the bottom of one of the lockers to dry the sail, and the red tape stuck well enough for us to hope it would carry us through.

We were among the first out of the marina. The mark for the start had been changed and was further away. The wind was supposed to be lightish and behind us; the forecasters were right about the light part. The lighter boats were able to get going and those using flying sails quickly put up their lightest, biggest foresails. We struggled. After three hours we had only traveled five miles, and we suspected that was partly because of the current in the area. If we kept going at that pace we would be late back to Port Credit and it would be impossible to get back home from there at a reasonable time. Reluctantly we made the decision to withdraw and sail for home instead. Going directly from where we were would only be a little longer than going to Port Credit.


Laker on the horizon, photo by M. Mair

We notified the race committee, furled the jib, turned the motor on and waved goodbye to the crew aboard a boat not far away. After that we moved along steadily. At one point it rained, and once again I chose to stay dry in the cabin, but there were also hours of sun and at times a light wind that we could use to motorsail. A distant laker passed, a couple of flies tried their luck ankle biting, we saw other sailboats in the distance. As it grew later we used a little more power, and arrived at Bluffers just after the sun went down. Light still lingered in the sky and red clouds were reflected in the water of the marina as we turned into our slip.

It was a good weekend of sailing, in spite of not doing the second race. 16 miles to Port Credit, a 25 mile race, 5 miles of trying to sail and 28 miles of motor-sailing. We covered 74 miles all told and spent a lot of hours out on the lake.

More interesting than sitting at the dock!

Written by Margaret Mair

Posted in Lake Ontario, Ontario, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

It was a Long Race

Richard, looking forward. Photo by M. Mair

Richard, looking forward. Photo by Margaret Mair.

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.

Gibraltar mark, photo, M. Mair

Passing the Gibraltar mark, Photo by Margaret Mair.

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.

Bow wake, photo, M. Mair

Bow wake, Photo by Margaret Mair.

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.

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