The Definition of “Unstoppable”

Unstoppable Tracy (courtesy unstoppabletracy.com)

Unstoppable Tracy (courtesy unstoppabletracy.com)

We usually devote our blog to our own adventures. But every now and then someone comes along that you want to introduce to those who read about your adventures just because their adventures are so enthralling.

When I received the email about Unstoppable Tracy from a friend of mine I had no idea what she was talking about. I opened, and read, and went to the information she pointed me towards and discovered who Tracy is and why she’s called “unstoppable’.

And now I want to help Tracy as she reaches to achieve her latest goal. But how?

I write. So I decided to write, to share her story and ask anyone who can to find their own way to help.

Here’s why.

She is the definition of ‘unstoppable’. Tracy was born without complete limbs – but that hasn’t stopped her from taking on all kinds of challenges with resourcefulness and creativity. That includes her latest quest, to be a Paralympic sailor in Rio in 2016. This even though she was born without complete limbs, even though both her legs end above the knee, one arm above the elbow, and on her right hand she has only one finger!

Her sailing began when Catherine Smart, her recreational therapist at the Hugh MacMillan Rehabilitation Centre (now Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab) introduced her to the Independence Afloat Sailing Program. It was the beginning of a transformation – from shy child to determined, creative and passionate sailor, and teacher, and motivator. That spirit of determination and creativity is the basis of her approach to life. And fun. Let’s not forget fun.

That first summer she kept falling out of the boat she was learning to sail. Finding and keeping her balance was difficult at first. Balance found, she spent her summers working her way steadily and determinedly through the CYA CANSail program; then, with a bronze level 4, she became a Sailing Instructor. Along the way she fell passionately in love with racing sailboats.

The strength of that passion has given her the drive to work toward becoming a paralympic sailor, with all the dedication, sacrifice and hard work that entails.

And she has been working hard. She has been competing in world cup regattas across North America. She has been training hard, splitting her training time between Toronto (where she sails out of the National Yacht Club), Ottawa (at the Nepean Yacht Club, with Ontario paralympic coach Peter Wood) and Miami, Florida. In Florida she has been working with Olympic Gold Medalist Magnus Liljedahl (winner with Mark Reynolds of the gold medal in the Star Class at the 2000 Summer Olympics) as part of Team Paradise, a non-profit organization helping Paralympic sailors achieve their dreams.

All her work is paying off in steadily improving results. The next step is to get her own boat, her own SKUD 18. It is a boat designed for two sailors, very fast and very technical, the boat chosen to be used in the double-handed class at the Paralympics. To be successful you have to put in the time to learn all about sail trim, tactics and strategy and put all you learn to use.

Tracy is putting in the time and showing the dedication and perseverance needed to be successful. It’s time for her to take the next step in her development. Right now she’s training in the 2.4mR; the boat that will take her to the next level, the boat best suited for her, is the SKUD 18.

But to sail one she needs to buy one. And for that she needs money. Specifically, $40,000 for her own boat modified to meet her own unique needs. The SKUD18 is more expensive but much better suited to her level of physical ability than the 2.4mR she originally sought funding for.

Buying the boat she needs. That’s where you could help. With money, with connections, with fundraising.

If you doubt her drive and her ability to make the best out of all kinds of situations there are a few more things you should know about Tracy. She’s worked hard to develop the skills she needs to meet her goals: she studied for and received her recreational diploma from Centennial College, a degree in Recreational Therapy from Brock University, a Teaching Certificate from Queen’s University and a Master in Business Administration from U of T’s Rotman School of Business.

And what has she done with all she’s learned? She has climbed mountains in Nepal and won a bronze as a Parasport alpine skier. She has taught primary school children in Mexico, Jamaica, Uganda and Nepal. She has spent time on tall ships, in charge of the educational program of Operation Raleigh, a British-based project designed to expose young people to adventure, scientific exploration and community service on tall ship voyages around the world. She has worked as an Organizational Development Facilitator for Air Canada and Shoppers Drugmart. Her laughter-filled talks inspire others to be the best they can be.

And she gives back to organizations that have given to her: she volunteers at the club where she originally learned to sail, the Queens Quay Disabled Sailing School, and for the Team Paradise Paralympic Sports Club she trains with in Florida.

And now she is working to help Parapan Am athletes coming here to Toronto as Manager of Planning and Integration.

We’d like to help her. Wouldn’t you?

You can. You can donate through GoFundMe, at http://www.gofundme.com/unstoppabletracy or directly through her website http://www.unstoppabletracy.com/. And/or share her story with others who can.

We know she will appreciate every bit of help offered, small or large.

 

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Meeting Ticonderoga

Ticonderoga in Lunenburg, Photo by R. Mair

Ticonderoga in Lunenburg, Photo by R. Mair

To understand why we go forward it helps to look back, and this summer we’ve been doing some thinking and some backward looking.  So many things have come together to take us to where we are now.  Things like this:

It was a sunny day with the winds blowing nicely, between 15 and 18 knots. The first boat to complete the Miami to Montego Bay race was racing to the finish. She was pretty, she was wooden and she was fast – so fast that the local ski boat couldn’t get past her. She was taking full advantage of the wind, flying lots of sail: the main, the mizzen, a spinnaker, a jib and a mizzen staysail, five pieces in all. Watching her cut through the water was breathtaking.

Richard was watching. It was 1965, and he was fifteen years old. It was a sight he never forgot and talks about still. The boat was the classic yacht Ticonderoga. She is still racing today.

Her speed was remarkable, but to this boy from Jamaica her interior was sheer luxury. As a member of the Montego Bay Yacht Club Richard had the chance to go on board, and of course he took it. It was the first time he had seen a sailboat with a television set on board, and a real shower. And he could see that she was immaculate inside and out, her spars beautifully varnished, the whole boat lovingly maintained.

He compared her to his father’s boat, Olympia. She was wooden too, thirty feet to Ticonderoga’s seventy-two, narrow, basic, locally built, every piece of wood painted. She was built for the sea and the trade winds that blew in Montego Bay, built to cut through the waves, a capable boat. In some ways she was very similar to the Alberg 30 we have now, though she was even narrower.

Olympia raced against Ticonderoga, once, shortly after that classic win. Both boats took part in the Lucea to Montego Bay race that was part of the local regatta. Richard, his father and some of their friends sailed up to Lucea the day before the race – they had no lights on the boat, and no desire to sail at night. They had no anchor light either, and no head, and the only cover they had at night was dacron sails which were no protection against the cool damp air. So, as you can imagine, it was a rather uncomfortable night they spent at anchor. No doubt the crew on Ticonderoga were much more comfortable.

The race next day was exciting. The winds were blowing 18 to 20 knots, on the nose. The conditions suited Olympia, and she cut through the water as she was designed to. Ticonderoga was, needless to say, much faster than Olympia. So they saw her sailing away at the start, and by the time they got to the finish she was moored and tidied up and her crew were off the boat.

The whole experience left Richard with lasting memories that have become part of our shared story, and even now we keep an eye out for Ticonderoga when we travel. If we happen to see her, as we have in Halifax and Lunenburg, we swing past (by land or sea) to enjoy the beauty of her and pay our respects to a truly special boat. Once, after he saw her come across the line, well before he knew what owning her would cost or mean, Richard dreamed of owning her. Now he is simply happy to see her well-cared for and still racing.

Long may she enjoy the care of appreciative owners and dedicated crew, so that others may enjoy her too.

A little bit more about Ticonderoga:

Ticonderoga was originally Tioga II of Marblehead, a 72 foot classic ketch designed by L. Francis Herreshoff to be a day sailer for Harry Noyes and built by the Quincy Adams Yacht Yard in Massachusetts in 1936. Her furnishings included two showers and a cast-iron bathtub, a fridge and freezer, and a heating system. She was heavy and low on her lines, but proved fast and sea-kindly, and was soon being raced.

Her second owner bought the boat but not the name, and was inspired by the pencil he was holding to name her Ticonderoga (thereby including her old name in her new one). He and subsequent owners continued to race her, and she set course records in races on both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Then things changed radically: in World War II she was painted grey and did duty as a patrol vessel along the Eastern coast of the U.S. Understandably this was hard on the boat, and by the time she left active duty she was not in the best of shape (though still well cared for, as Richard saw).

It took some years, but in 1988 she was given a full and expensive restoration by her owner at the time, Bob Voit, at Southampton Yacht Services in England. The work done then has been the foundation for the work that keeps her beautiful and seaworthy now.

Last time we saw her it was obvious that her current owner, Scott Frantz, has continued to look after her with love and sail her with respect and passion.

The information in this section is courtesy of ClassicSailboats.org. Visit them to learn more!

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A Stop in Cobourg – And Then We Arrive in Toronto!

Anchored in Cobourg Harbour, Photo by M. Mair

Anchored in Cobourg Harbour, Photo by M. Mair

The end of September was rapidly approaching, the nights growing cooler. We were close to Toronto, and getting closer with each jump. Soon we would be there.

We said goodbye to Waupoos at about five that afternoon. The forecast was for winds out of the north and north-west, good sailing winds for heading toward Cobourg. This time the forecast was pretty accurate, and most of the time we had the winds that were forecast.

We worked out way out of Prince Edward Bay south through the islands leading out to Lake Ontario. Among them the wind was fluky, affected by the land. Shortly after dark Richard had to do some precise steering between shoals. Then we were happily clear of hazards and out on the open lake, where he could set the windvane and let it do the steering. Which made it easy for us to stand watches through the night, one awake while the other slept.

We sailed that way most of the way to the harbour in Cobourg. We only motor-sailed the last mile when, after dying for a short time, the wind came up on the nose and the water grew choppy. We could still have tacked our way to the mouth of the harbour, of course, but Richard was tired and hungry and ready to arrive, looking forward to eating breakfast at anchor. We took the sail down outside the harbour and motored in, avoiding the silted, shallow area on the west side we had been warned about.

Cobourg Harbour, north west side, Photo by M. Mair

Cobourg Harbour, north west side, Photo by M. Mair

We motored past a green, hard chine sailboat, already anchored; we didn’t see anyone on her while we were there. We dropped our own anchor further in, and Richard put the dinghy together and went in to the office to register and pay the anchoring fee. $12.00 plus tax, and it gave us access to showers and washrooms and laundry facilities. Then he borrowed one of their bicycles for a quick trip to the grocery store to get those supplies we’d been needing. And the cupboard was not quite so bare as before.

Cobourg walkway, Photo by R.  Mair

Cobourg walkway, Photo by R. Mair

As soon as he came back he started the generator, charged the batteries first, then ran the heater. Ah, the comfort. And then, necessities taken care of, we looked around. There were people filming on the harbour wall – we could see rental trucks, people with cameras and light diffusers and mikes, hear calls of “Rolling!”. Two young people briefly sailed a Cl16 from the public dock, a couple came past in kayaks. Other sailboats went out from and came in to the docks on the other side of the wall. A busy place.

Beach in Cobourg, Photo by R. Mair

Beach in Cobourg, Photo by R. Mair

It was the end of the season and leaving times were flexible, so we spent part of the next day walking around Cobourg, taking pictures of things that caught our fancy and exploring. We walked through parks and along the beach, past the campground full of RVs. We found the International Rotary Park, dedicated to Dr. Robert and Ann Scott in celebration of their work toward the world wide eradication of polio. Its brightly-coloured banners look and move like butterfly wings. We passed the statue of a man, coat on, hat in hand – and a rolled piece of paper tucked neatly between hand and hat. We found the Cobourg art gallery, and many stores with punny names. Walking back we spotted a local bakery and bought some very tasty bread.

Cobourg's Rotary International Park, Photo by R. Mair

Cobourg’s Rotary International Park, Photo by R. Mair

Richard called ahead to arrange a berth for us at Bluffers Park Marina. We were going to travel through the night, something we often do when the distance to be travelled is just a little too far to be sure we can reach it comfortably in a day. With a berth arranged we could arrive early without worrying about whether we could contact staff. Then we pulled the anchor up a little before 5:00 pm and set off for Toronto. Finally on the last leg of our journey.

Sunset over Lake Ontario, Photo by M. Mair

Sunset over Lake Ontario, Photo by M. Mair

Our last sunset of this journey was a blaze of glory over the lake, magenta and gold and deep, deep reds that the camera could not capture. A beautiful sight to mark our last evening. Night fell softly.

There was not much wind. We motor-sailed, maintaining about three knots most of the way, Richard trying, as usual, to use as little battery as possible. He had put the generator away before we left, but as the wind died he pulled it out again, and kept it out until we were close to the marina. Out on the lake we stood night watches again; Richard was kind and allowed me some extra sleep, though officially we were supposed to be doing two hours on, two off. When I woke from my last off-watch we were getting close to our goal.

Looking out from the public launch ramp, Photo by M. Mair

Looking out from the public launch ramp, Photo by M. Mair

We doused sails not far out, and Richard got ropes and fenders ready. There was a crew dredging in the entrance, but also lots of space to get past. We followed the directions we had been given, found the dock we’d been assigned, tied up and tidied up. Then it was time to go to the office to check in, to phone and text family to let them know we’d arrived. Richard took care of one, I of the others.

Then, as always, it was time to explore. We were back in Toronto, but at a marina that was new to us. We knew there was a hill to be climbed to get to anywhere. Richard set out to check it out. Path partway, no sidewalks but some space to the sides, steep enough to be a bit of work to climb. We were going to get fit.  The buses we would be taking were at the top.

TTC bus stop, Photo by R. Mair

TTC bus stop, Photo by R. Mair

At the top he turned right. The first useful place he found was Canadian Tire, a store which, as our Canadian readers know, sells much more than tires. Then, a bit further away, a plaza with a bakery and a fruit and vegetable store – plus a needed pharmacy. A little further, and there was a branch of our bank. Over the next few days we found other stores we needed within walking distance, between half-an-hour and forty minutes away if we walked briskly.

By the path, Photo by M. Mair

By the path, Photo by M. Mair

The staff at the marina was helpful, people at nearby docks friendly and happy to share information. Not only had we arrived, we had arrived in a good place. Now it was time to take a deep breath and settle in for the next adventure – or maybe I should say begin the adventure of settling in.

Because life is always full of adventures, travelling or standing still.

Written by Margaret Mair

Photographs by Richard Mair and Margaret Mair

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Overnight Through Thousand Islands to Waupoos

Deep to the shoreline, Photo by M. Mair

Deep to the shoreline, Photo by M. Mair

We left our friends waving from the dock in the Iroquois marina. Sailing up the cut the trees displaying their colors reminded us autumn was fast approaching. It was a beautiful day. Out on the river there were lots of small powerboats running around from here to there – wherever those might be. The sun shone. The weather was kind. We had chosen Prescott as our first stop, and found good anchoring outside the town.

Old Light, Prescott, Photo by M. Mair

Old Light, Prescott, Photo by M. Mair

We passed a quiet night (except for charging batteries, which as usual meant getting up to change charger plugs and refill the generator with gas when it ran out). In the morning we tried a breakfast cake we had found on our shopping trip while we were in Iroquois, at the grocery store close to the marina. We had been eating our oatmeal most of the trip, and were growing tired of it. Change is good – and so was this. Especially with cheese.

Full Moon Night off Prescott, Photo by M. Mair

Full Moon Night off Prescott, Photo by M. Mair

After breakfast we raised the anchor and found our way to the Sandra S. Lawn Harbour to get gas. We didn’t see the gas dock right away, so I radioed to ask for directions. It was well inside the marina, but easy to get to. A little tight for maneuvring, but the young lady there helped ease us away from the dock and we were quickly in and out.

Gas bought we set out for Brockville. It was a motor-sailing kind of day. We used about 25 amps to motor, plus the full main, and were able to sail in shallower areas where the current was less strong. Which got us to Brockville by early afternoon and left us plenty of time to settle into the anchoring spot we had chosen close to Skelton and Mile Islands. The chart said mud, we saw weeds; but the anchor grabbed and held, and that was what we needed.

Along the Waterfront, Photo by R. Mair

Along the Waterfront, Photo by R. Mair

The river had been getting deeper as we approached Brockville; in some places it was deep right to the shoreline. We began to see a lot more sailboats – at docks, on moorings, in marinas or on the move. The shore where we anchored was filled with houses and docks; some docks had boats at them, some brightly coloured chairs on them. We saw powerboats and pontoon boats and a houseboat, and that afternoon there were lots of powerboats cruising by. The islands on our other side were rocky and full of trees and bore their names on signs.

Skelton and Mile Islands, Photo by R. Mair

Skelton and Mile Islands, Photo by R. Mair

We settled in, charged batteries and planned the next part of our course. And watched the sailboats come out to race.

Brockville, Evening races, Photo by R. Mair

Brockville, Evening races, Photo by R. Mair

This was our point of departure for the Brockville Narrows. We were looking for sufficient wind from the right direction to get us through easily. The forecast for the next day was for good winds, increasing to strong winds out of the north briefly overnight and moderating again by the next morning. The best winds for leaving on looked to be close to noon, ten to fifteen knots out of the south.

Docks and more docks, Photo by R. Mair

Docks and more docks, Photo by R. Mair

So the next day we left our anchorage about noon. The winds we got were light; when they did pick up we were able to do some slow sailing. Then they died off, and we motor-sailed. We passed islands and more islands – small, larger – and every one that could accommodate a building seemed to have at least one on it.

Island Home, Photo by M. Mair

Island Home, Photo by M. Mair

We started off following the small craft route, then switched to the Canadian Middle Channel to avoid a too-low-for-us bridge. We travelled steadily but more slowly than we’d hoped, and as night was falling we found ourselves through the Narrows but in a place with few good anchorages. So rather than try to anchor in a risky area in the dark we decided to keep going.

It was interesting – in the dusk and darkness we encountered a powerboat travelling fast without lights and later two others hurrying along the channel in the dark. At least they had their lights on. There were unlit buoys that showed as lit on our chart, and buoys not marked on our charts would suddenly appear off our bow. Lights on shore, some of them coloured, made it hard to find the lights on the water we were looking for. Nerve-wracking.

But there we were, threading our way through the Thousand Islands in the dark, watching for those buoys and marks and watching our course on the chartplotter like hawks. We went under the Thousand Islands Bridge in the darkness; our friends had warned us about the swirling currents around it, and they were right. We steered this way and that, working to keep the boat on its course.

As we came through the cut between Grindstone and Leek Islands we ran into some rough water. High winds on the nose were funnelling between them. The boat tossed around, Richard concentrated on steering. Then we were through into the Canadian Middle Channel, and all the way to Kingston the wind was on the beam, the waters relatively calm, the sailing smooth and fast at over six knots. By a little after midnight we were passing Kingston, where we had thought we might stop, and setting our bow for Waupoos.

But there the smooth sailing ended. As soon as we were out of the shelter of the islands (and finally out of the St. Lawrence River into Lake Ontario) we had to deal with waves driven across the lake by the wind. They made our ride very bumpy and wet. This was one night that Richard had no problem staying awake! He was much too busy to fall asleep. I stayed awake too, as leaks inside reasserted themselves. The plaguey new vents we had installed in Halifax leaked mightily, even when closed, and places where we had used a less expensive sealer recommended to us by friends in Halifax decided this would be a good time to let water in.

Now the boat, driven by the wind, was going fast and pounding. Two reefs in the main and the small jib weren’t enough to slow her down – sometimes Richard had to let the main off. Even with the waves slowing us down, we covered fifty miles in a little over nine hours. During those miles the water pounding across the boat moved the dinghy strapped on our bow from its place. We would discover what else it had moved later.

The waves began to diminish as soon as we got to the shelter of Prince Edward Bay, and by the time we dropped anchor in the shelter of Waupoos island the water was wind-ruffled but wave-free. This time we adding drying out to the list of after-anchoring activities. As soon as we had recharged the batteries we used the generator to run our small, oil-filled electric heater. The weather was cool and rainy now, and its heat would keep us comfortable and help us dry out.

Off Waupoos Island, Photo by M. Mair

Off Waupoos Island, Photo by M. Mair

We were sheltered from the wind, but it was forecast to change overnight. It wasn’t forecast to be very strong – if the holding was decent there would be nothing to worry about, and in any case we were planning to move across closer to the marina the next day. The holding was not quite good enough. The Bruce anchor dragged during the night. We were tired, so rather than pull the anchor up and set it again Richard moved the boat and we set the plough so that the boat lay between the two anchors. Then, just in case we stood anchor watch for the rest of the night. All remained well.

The next morning we tidied up and moved closer to the marina. It has a breakwater made from tires, low in the water and marked. We chose our spot according to the depths on the chart, further away than we needed to – later we found out that there are places where the depths are deeper than marked. Local knowledge.

That’s when Richard began to put the dinghy together and discovered that when it had moved, one of the seats stored underneath it had moved right off the boat. The middle seat. We had nothing to replace it with (that’s now a job for spring or summer), so now two in the dinghy would now make it a little less balanced than it had been.

The Blue Moose in Waupoos, Photo by M. Mair

The Blue Moose in Waupoos, Photo by M. Mair

Richard went in first, to buy gas (as usual) and check things out. He found the marina much as we had remembered it from the last time we had been here– friendly, laid back and helpful. But he also found that the cafe and the cheese shop we had been looking forward to patronizing were closed, early for the season, because the cool weather had affected business. The Blue Moose lingered under the trees, but the Blue Moose Cafe had not lingered long enough for us to visit. Though Richard did manage to get the last package of cheese from the marina store.

Public dock in Waupoos, Photo by M. Mair

Public dock in Waupoos, Photo by M. Mair

What to do? We decided we would move on by late that afternoon; we needed groceries, and there was no convenient place to get them nearby. We went in to the marina that afternoon to use the showers and do laundry (payment on the honour system), wander around and enjoy the self-guided cannery tour, see what was new since our last visit. The air was clear, the light beautiful, encouraging us to take pictures. If it were not for needing groceries and knowing that the sailing season was rapidly winding down we would have lingered longer.

View through the trees at Waupoos Marina, Photo by M. Mair

View through the trees at Waupoos Marina, Photo by M. Mair

Instead we were back on the boat by about three that afternoon, getting her and ourselves ready to sail again. Winds were forecast to be good for sailing on to Cobourg. Would they be? We were going to find out.

Written by Margaret Mair

Photos by Margaret Mair and Richard Mair

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There Were Electric Motor Problems – Because of Us!

Electric Yacht Motor, installed, Photo by R. Mair

Electric Yacht Motor, installed, Photo by R. Mair

You’ll know if you’ve been reading along, following our travels, that we converted from a small diesel to an electric motor before we began our trip. As we’ve described our journey we’ve talked a lot about our struggles with currents and their effect on our motor and batteries.

It’s time to confess: we were a large part of the problem. It all began when we ordered the motor.

It started when we sent the weight of the boat to Scott at Electric Yacht. We should have sent the weight of the boat fully laden (of course, that’s always more than you think on a cruising boat). Instead, we sent the weight of the boat empty. More weight creates more work for the motor and affects the gear ratios that work best. So when Scott set the engine up using our information the gearing was wrong.

The gearing makes the motor drive the prop at the right speed to move the boat efficiently – the engine turns faster than the prop, gearing reduces the speed at which the prop turns in relation to the engine. In our case there wasn’t enough reduction in the gearing to deal with the difference in weight. And that meant that the motor couldn’t turn quickly enough to perform at its best.

This also affected the cooling of the motor. The right ratio between engine and prop will make the motor turn in the range that’s most efficient for cooling. If the gearing meant that the motor couldn’t turn fast enough then the fan couldn’t give us optimum cooling.

And then there was the change between what we were planning to do when we ordered the motor and what we ended up doing. We thought we were going to be sailing up and down the American east coast, on the ocean, going into and out of inlets when we needed shelter or access to supplies, maybe doing some between-island hops if the opportunity arose.

We routinely wait for a suitable tide and current to enter or leave an inlet. If we had done what we originally planned currents would not have had the same impact. So we asked for the motor to be set to run at a continuous 20 amp draw, which we knew would get us in and out of the longest inlet we would use.

But as we all know, life changes and plans with it. Getting to Toronto became a priority, and going up the St. Lawrence a way to do it. Even after we had decided to sail up the St. Lawrence we weren’t sure, until we were there, how much extra current draw we were going to need to overcome the currents against us. It was a chance we decided to take.

That was how we found ourselves in currents on the St. Lawrence where we ended up regularly drawing 45 amps instead of 20. In the most challenging situations we used 55 amps to get the power we needed, and the motor overheated. Which would not have happened if it had been set up differently.

Scott did encourage us to test the system wide open and at its limits when we were first using the motor, and we should have. At the time we didn’t have an efficient way to recharge our batteries, so we hesitated. Which meant that we didn’t fully test the motor and current draw on the batteries until we were underway. And then we really tested them!

We’ve learned a lot as we travelled. And Scott has been there to answer our questions along the way. Now that we know what we know we’ll get the gearing changed over the winter, and use this summer to test the new setup (and that’s a great excuse for just spending time out on the water, though we do prefer using our sails).

And we should mention the things we really like about our motor: clean, quiet, simple controls, lots of torque, low maintenance, very responsive in the conditions we had originally envisioned… And no diesel smoke. With the other engine we had rather a lot of that.

Written by Margaret Mair

Photo by Richard Mair

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Squeaking Through the Last of the St. Lawrence River Locks

Along the banks, motor-sailing to the Snell Lock, Photo by Margaret Mair

Along the banks, motor-sailing to the Snell Lock, Photo by Margaret Mair

Yet again we found ourselves busy dealing with currents and winds and stressful circumstances, and forgot to pick up a camera for too much of the time. So in lieu of the pictures we could have taken we offer you a mixture of word pictures and pictures taken by others and licensed under Creative Commons, as well as some we took ourselves when we found a quiet place to rest.

When we set off toward the American locks at about 8:00 that morning we had no idea what was to come. Our batteries were fully charged when we started, and since there was not much wind (then) we motor sailed, planning to save our batteries as much as possible for when we would need their power in and between the locks.

It was a surprise to find ourselves battling currents a lot of the way, currents that grew stronger as we came closer to the Snell lock – in some places as strong as three knots. When we took a good look at the charts we could see why: not only were we in an area where the river was narrower but there were other rivers flowing into it and adding their current to the mix.

We had enough wind to make us heel a little, but not enough to overcome the current. This meant we were drawing on the batteries more than we wanted to, but couldn’t use the generator to recharge them (the generator doesn’t operate well at an angle). So we were hoping that there would be a pause at the pleasure craft dock when we got to the lock, giving us time to put some charge into the batteries. Things didn’t work out that way.

Eisenhower Lock, from Wikimedia Commons

Eisenhower Lock, from Wikimedia Commons

By the time we were approaching the Snell lock, sails down, we were already feeling frazzled. We missed seeing the pleasure craft docks (they are behind the approach wall on the right side, tucked well out of the way of the ships that slide along the wall as they approach the lock). We called into the lock on channel 16 to ask for directions, were told to call in on 17, did so and were told the lock would be ready for our approach momentarily, to come in and go to bollard 1 at the far end.

The system in these American locks is different. There are no ropes descending from above. Instead there are floating yellow bollards in numbered slits in the wall that move up and down with the movement of the water in the lock. They make using the lock very easy for a vessel like ours; you go to the assigned bollard, loop your ropes around it and hold them, then get ready to fend off as necessary. As the lock fills your boat and the bollard rise together to the top. Very simple. The only challenge for me was holding on to the ropes when the water tugged hard against the boat. I solved that by wrapping my rope around a stanchion in the next lock, the Eisenhower – when we finally got there.

We arrived at the top, and handed over our payment for the two American locks. Then we were through the gates and beginning the trip through the pool between them to the Eisenhower Lock, about 2.7 miles. And that’s when things got a little too interesting. We found ourselves travelling into an un-forecast and increasingly strong west wind, dead on the nose.

We had to motor. At least we were level, so we started the generator to help us maintain some charge in our batteries. But because we had to use more power than usual to battle the head wind we were putting much less charge into our batteries than we were using. And our motor seemed to be overheating. Between that and the lack of juice from the batteries it was giving us less and less power. Richard tried turning it off and then immediately back on again and nursed it as much as he could. But there were times when we were making no progress at all – a very uncomfortable feeling when you are expected to be able to maintain a decent speed.

By the time we were halfway between the locks the batteries were dumping (that’s when the voltage is lower than what’s needed to run the motor properly, and the batteries are down much further than they should be and going lower). We knew it was going to be close after battling the currents before the locks and the headwind between, and it was. But this ended up being much closer than we liked.

How did this happen?  When we consulted Steve at Electric Yacht he explained that our meter is not accurate when we are charging the batteries and running the motor at the same time. The charging voltage is always higher than the actual voltage, and the meter reads the higher voltage – which explains why we ran out of power more quickly than we expected.

At one of those points where progress simply stopped Richard called the Eisenhower lock (another channel, 13) to ask whether, under these circumstances, we could pull out a sail. But that’s strictly forbidden in any circumstances. Instead they offered to let us stop and tie up against the approach wall going into the lock while the motor cooled, as long as it would not take too long. There would be commercial traffic later.

The linesmen came down to help us, but as we approached and the wind became less we were able to move more easily. We decided to press slowly on (something I’m sure they preferred). As we moved into the lock we moved more out of the wind and movement became even easier, though still very slow. We were again directed to bollard 1 and floated up to the top of the lock, where Richard asked if there was any place close by we could safely anchor.

That’s when we learned another of the differences between the Canadian and American locks. The American pleasure craft docks are small, but they are also safely out of the way of oncoming ships. So they told us we could stay on the pleasure craft docks overnight, something that’s not allowed at the Canadian locks. And the linesmen met us there, took our ropes and pulled us into the dock against the wind. They had offered to turn the boat around using the lines so we could leave more easily in the morning, but with the wind blowing hard it seemed a much better idea to stay as we were and turn ourselves around when we were ready to leave.

As soon as we were well tied up and tidied up Richard went to sleep. A good thing to do at the end of a long and stressful day. I de-stressed in my own way – by reading. Later we checked weather the way we used to. On this voyage our phones have become the devices we go to when we’re looking for information, and our apps and the internet are what we use. But now that we were in U.S. Territory our phones were on roaming, making their use an expensive option. Use of the VHF radio, on the other hand, was free. So we listened to weather on that instead, and planned our course for the next day. At that point it looked as if Iroquois would be another day away.

Later, too, we heard ships approaching the locks scraping along the other side of the wall…

Ship transiting Iroquois Lock, from Wikimedia Commons

Ship transiting Iroquois Lock, from Wikimedia Commons

The next morning at about 8:00 we made sure there was no traffic into or out of the lock, backed away from the dock and swung ourselves around (we seem to like that time for leaving). We came out from behind the wall into a good wind from the north, a perfect wind direction for sailing to where we were going. What a difference a night can make.

After a brisk sail we found ourselves at the Iroquois Lock in good time to go through that day. We waited for three commercial vessels to lock through. This is a much faster process than at the other locks because the difference in height from one side to the other is much smaller, sometimes non-existent. Once they were through we went into the lock behind a large and expensive-looking power boat, and not much later we were exiting our last lock and heading toward the marina close by, a marina we had learned about from internet friends we were looking forward to meeting there.

If it were not for them we might have missed it. The marina entrance isn’t obvious, at least not to us, though it’s well enough known to its summer residents and the many boats that come to winter on land there. There’s a weather-beaten sign on the shore and a cut beside it, and once you’ve turned past the sign you stay in the middle of the long cut, passing rocky pools on the way to the buoys that mark the entrance to the marina itself.

Sun sparkles in the Iroquois marina, Photo by Margaret Mair

Sun sparkles in the Iroquois marina, Photo by Margaret Mair

At the end of the cut the water widens into a lagoon. And there you find docks surrounded by former farmland and watery channels. It’s attractive, quiet (or it was while we were there) and peaceful, and we would never have known it was there if we had not been invited to visit by our soon-to-be flesh-and-blood friends. They gave us a gift we didn’t even realize we needed.

Leaving the Iroquois marina, Photo by Margaret Mair

Leaving the Iroquois marina, Photo by Margaret Mair

They helped us find space and time for a pleasant rest, shared good food, good conversation and good music and offered us a needed pause before we continued on toward what we were told would be our next hurdle, the currents of the Brockville Narrows. And then there would be a wild ride through the Thousand Islands on our way to Waupoos.

*****

 Written by Margaret Mair

Some photos taken by Margaret Mair

Eisenhower Lock image: This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.

Iroquois Lock image: McCleary’s Spirit, a jet-fuel barge apparently, is being pushed by the tug, William J Moore, through the Iroquois Locks. The water was even that day on both sides. Picture by Mac Armstrong from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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A Christmas Wish (and a short break)

Margaret Mair, Sail Through The Season, Christmas 2013, Original art

Margaret Mair, Sail Through The Season, Christmas 2013, Original art

It’s Christmas time, and even though we arrived in Toronto at the end of September on our blog we are still on our way up the St. Lawrence, heading for the last of the locks and adventures still to come. Considering the weather and the cold, we’re glad that’s only on our blog! It’s icy, cold and there are many without power here now. Including us; we’re off the grid – or rather the grid has gone off.  This is one of those times when it’s an advantage to be cruising sailors.

We know we still have more of our journey to share with you, but we’re going to take a (very) short break and use this blog post just to say:

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays – whatever you celebrate, we hope you enjoy time spent with those you love and those who love you, creating good memories.

All the best to you!

Written by Margaret Mair

Picture based on original art by Margaret Mair

Posted in General, Ontario | Tagged , , | 4 Comments