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 , , , | 4 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.

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

And Now it’s Summer

End of the dock, photo, M. Mair

The end of the dock, photo by Margaret Mair

Early July:

Summer is here. It’s been mostly hot and mostly dry. Around us the insects and birds and spiders are thriving, the trees are maintaining their green (and silvery and deep red) ways, but the wildflowers are growing scarcer, the shrubs are thinner and the unshaded grass, where there is grass, is dry and brown.

This is our third summer back here, and it finally feels as if we’re settling in, not just trying to find our way around and figure out what we want to do and how to do it. Not settling into the ordinary parts of life, like groceries and laundry and such, or the family parts of life, but the sailing part.

Ducklings feeding, photo, M. Mair

Summer is full of new life – here, ducklings feeding under a nearby dock. Photo by Margaret Mair

Before we went away we used to race regularly – club races once a week, a series of longer round the buoy races outside the harbour, a single/double handed series of races between clubs. And I used to race sometimes with an all-woman crew in a series of races for women. Between those and just going out sailing for the fun of it we spent a lot of time on the water.

When we came back re-joining a club (though we loved being part of you, QCYC) was not our best option. There were financial considerations, for one thing; it would also mean spending the summer at one place with one group of sailors, and the winter at another. And that would mean picking up and packing up twice a year.

So we took our place with the liveaboards in this marina, and for a while we focused on figuring out winter living and trying to finish some of the many jobs that did not quite get done before we left Halifax. We enjoyed the park around us. We visited with and helped out family. We saw old friends again. We sailed, but not nearly as often as we used to.

This spring there was a change. We were ready to do more, to sail more. At the boat show we mentioned to the organizers of the long distance races that we would love to do them, but didn’t belong to a club.

Sailing away, photo, M. Mair

Someone (not us) is sailing away. Photo by Margaret Mair

“Oh, that’s no problem,” the cheerful woman said. “You can join the Maple Leaf Club. Then you’ll just need a PHRF certificate.” And she wrote down the URL we needed. It sounded so simple that we put off doing anything about it until the beginning of summer.

It took a couple of attempts to join the Maple Leaf Club. That took us past the first race in the series. Then we needed to track down the right person to measure our sails and sign our PHRF certificate. That took a couple of tries as well. We got the certificate just before the second and third race, but by then we were deep into figuring out the safety equipment we needed to be able to compete. Luckily we have most of it – most cruisers would – but there were some things that had failed along the way as we traveled, like the hand-held VHF radio, or that needed to be cleaned up and upgraded. It seems that now the long distance races are being run under modified ISAF safety rules for offshore racers. That took us past the second race.

There is a little more than a month until the next race, 100 nautical miles around the lake. In the meantime we are sailing as much as we can, trying to get and stay in tune with the boat and be sailing-fit again,as in being fit enough to handle the jib well and tack quickly and efficiently. Being sailing-fit also means being generally fit, so we’re trying to be more systematic about our walking and generally staying strong and flexible.

We’ve had some good sails, and some slow sails, and some no-wind days. We’ve set the vane and enjoyed just being on the water; we’ve also battled those nasty biting flies that lie in wait on windless days and swarm into the cockpit to attack our ankles. Those days we rate in terms of spray bottles: a bad fly day can consume two or three bottles of soapy water as I spray madly in a vain attempt to keep them away. At least we end up with fewer, the environment is not harmed, and the cockpit just needs a good rinse to be very clean…

Early morning sun, photo, M. Mair

Early morning sun on one of our walks, photo by Margaret Mair

Late July:

Last week we hauled Into The Blue and Richard is cleaned and painted her underneath. I had an easy day, sitting on a friend’s boat, enjoying a little time to myself, sketching some designs and doing some writing. Since then we’ve been sailing – oh the pleasure of feeling the boat slide easy through the water – and working on screens that will allow us to keep the boat open and the insects (particularly the wasps) and spiders out. Richard is modifying our original design as I write. For some reason our original designs often need some modification when they move from idea to reality.

Having screens feels more important as the heat and humidity show no signs of diminishing. We have finally had some rain and thunderstorms, and more rain and thunderstorm are promised over the next few days. If the drops fall as hard as the first showers much of the water will slide over the land and end up in the lake, carrying sediment and garbage with it. But there will be enough left to help the plants and creatures who have been craving water.

Beach after the rain, photo, M. Mair

Beach after the rain, photo by Margaret Mair

We did manage to collect some rain inside the boat when the first rain and thunder-storms came. This was because we foolishly left our hatches open on a very hot day while we went up the hill to watch our grandson play soccer. While we were away the dark clouds gathered, the rain fell heavily and the thunder rolled over us. We were soaked, the game was called and we fled home to assess the damage.

Coming down the hill we saw muddy water rolling down the ditches beside the road. Twigs and leaves littered the corner where the water had swept across the road. The puddles on the level part of the road were huge. The heavens opened again as we parked, and we decided to wait for the worst of it to pass. A few minutes would not make any difference.

When we did get to the boat we found the steps down into the cabin and floor beneath them wet. We shed our own wet shoes and dried that part of the floor before we went forward to see how wet our bed was.

I usually put an umbrella over the hatch when I open it, and fasten it in place with bungee cords to prevent it from blowing away. It looks a little odd, but I have my reasons – I began doing it the day a bird left a calling card on our bed when the hatch was wide open. When we got back this time the umbrella was still in place, and I’m sure that’s why the bed was not nearly as wet as it might have been. There was a soaked patch in the centre, but it had not spread out to either side. It also helped that we still have the fleece covering on our bed, since the fleece held the water and little of it leaked through to the sheets beneath.

So all we needed was a few things hung to dry and sheets and our clothes in the dryer, and we were dry again…

Here’s to rain that falls more gently and at night, and as many days spent sailing as possible.

Just passing by, photo, M. Mair

Just passing by, photo by Margaret Mair

Posted in Living Aboard, Ontario, sailing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Memory of Whales

Atlantic northern right whale, US government photo

Atlantic Northern Right Whale, courtesy United States Federal Government

This memory begins with a day out at sea. We were sailing from South Carolina up the east coast to Halifax, bringing Into The Blue back after an abortive attempt to sail south. It was sunny, there was not much wind, we were moving very slowly and glad to be moving at all. The only engine we had was an outboard we could not use at sea so it was the wind, or nothing, that propelled us.

We might not be moving much, but other creatures were. In the distance we could see birds circling, and the shimmer of breath as dolphins broke the surface. At least we thought they were dolphins – it was hard to tell at that distance.

It had been a long journey, full of waits for bad weather to pass. I was tired now and I wanted to be moving along, making good progress on our way home. I wanted to know that soon we would be at our mooring, and could rest easy knowing that we had made it safely there. I loved being at sea, but there was somewhere else we needed to be – and should have been weeks ago. After all the waits and worrying I wanted quiet, stability, real rest after the night watches and storm watches and treks up inlets to safe harbours and finding ourselves in strange places we needed to find our way around.

Right whale breaching, US Federal Government

Right Whale Breaching, photo courtesy of the United States Federal Government

The great dark head, spotted with grey, broke the surface not far from the boat. A small beady eye seemed to peer at me, I could smell the wet breath. After a moment the right whale opened its huge mouth, and I could see the baleen filling it. It seemed to lie at the surface for minutes. Then it dived and was gone.

I was completely surprised. I stood braced, a knee on the cockpit seat, tense, my heart beating hard. My eyes strained to catch every detail. In that instant I wanted to understand and remember what was happening. My ears were alert for odd sounds, the sudden catch of breath – the whale’s and my own. I held tight to the lifelines and just stared.

Richard was off-watch, down in the cabin. I finally pulled myself together to call to him, but by then all that was left was the turbulence in the water – the whale was gone. He came hurrying up into the cockpit at the sound of my voice, alert and ready to deal with whatever situation had arisen.

“What is it?”

“A whale!”

“A whale? Where?”

“Gone. Already gone.” I pointed to where it had been. “It was huge!”

“What kind?”

“It must have been a right whale. I think.”

My heart was still beating hard. It took a while to calm down. If I’m really honest I would tell you that this was one of those situations that I had always dreaded. I could not imagine how I would deal with the sudden appearance of a whale larger than we were close to the boat. What would I think, how would I feel, what would I do. Drifting along with no way to change direction was my particular fear – what if the great creature should be there, right in front of us, and we could not avoid it?

I need not have worried. Looking back on this memory now I can see that I never realized until I actually met a whale how strongly I would feel a kinship to them. There is an intelligence in their eyes, an evaluation of you as you are gazing at them, a sense that you do not want to be found wanting. Their size is intimidating, but their intelligence offers a way to come to know them in their natural habitat as you never could by reading or studying.

A sense that grew even stronger when we were visited just a little later by a pod of orcas on their way to join the birds and dolphins feeding in the distance. When an orca looks at you feel you have been examined and evaluated, that they really are considering what you might be…

Orca, photo by Christopher Michel

Orca, Photo by Christopher Michel


Written by Margaret Mair

Pictures courtesy of:

Orca: Christopher Michel [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Right whales: United States Federal Government (This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States Federal Government under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code. See Copyright.)

Posted in General, Looking Back | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Spring is Flirting With Us

Spring, photo by M. Mair

Spring, A Clear Day – photo by Margaret Mair

It’s spring. And that means that the weather is unpredictable.

Three days before I sat down to write this the trees and grass and docks were covered with ice after a day of freezing rain. Everything was slippery. We looked at the forecast and spent the night before up the hill and away from the boat to make sure that we would be able to do what we had committed to doing that day. Even after a bout of sunshine there was still ice on the docks when we came home.

Ice and snow, photo by M. Mair

Ice and Snow, photo by Margaret Mair

Fast forward a couple of days. The sun shone brightly. Under our winter cover the temperature was positively tropical. We kept our cabin doors open most of the day, and enjoyed the influx of light and warmth. When we went for a walk in the park it was full of other people also enjoying the weather. The air was that particular kind of clear that deepened colours and made the light on the tree branches glow.

How quickly things changed. Early the next morning a thunderstorm woke us. The wind began to pick up and misty drizzle rolled through. Then came the showers. Wind-driven water chuckled against the hull. The boat rocked and rolled when the wind gusted, and the cover moved on its frame. We built it flexible, but that didn’t mean we liked to see it flex and sometimes lift a little. The gusts were as high as 80 km/hr – less than we had in the worst winter storm but more than usual. On the other hand we weren’t here when that winter storm came through and we were here to see and feel the spring one.

Spring, misty day, photo by M. Mair

 Mist and Rain, photo by Margaret Mair

The weather keeps cycling. Today was a cold and sunny day, perhaps the most popular kind of day so far. Snow and sleet are expected over night. The forecast for tomorrow is rain and warmer.

I suppose we should just be glad that so far this season nothing has blown off or away from our boat. Though we did notice that someone else has lost a large black fender, the kind that bigger boats – many of the bigger boats here – use. The last time we saw it it was still floating around the marina, going where the wind took it. And we should be happy that the worst of the waves stirred up by the wind have not come round the breakwater into the marina, thanks to the wind direction. Though the bottom of the lake close to shore has been well stirred up and the waters there are an odd beige.

Best enjoy the good days, get through the bad days and look forward to summer and sailing…

Sun in spring, photo by M. Mair

Sun in Spring, photo by Margaret Mair

Written by Margaret Mair

Posted in Living Aboard, Ontario, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 5 Comments