Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Analysis of a Trip and Becoming Landlubbers

Our final sailing trip is done, the miles are logged, and the boat is sold. The four of us spent 27 days on the boat, logging over 1200 kilometres (660 nautical miles), which translates into approximately 131 hours on the water, or about 5 hours sailing per day. I looked back at our previous sailing trip to the North Channel five years ago and we did about the same number of miles but in half the time, so the pace of this trip was far better. We managed to cover most of what we wanted to see, missing a few spots such as Beardrop Harbour, Winfield Basin, Penetanguishene, Meaford, and Collingwood, but we visited so many other amazing places we didn’t expect to which more than made up for it. The fact is, this area is huge and packed with so much to explore that you could never, ever be done with it, and the ever changing water levels means that new anchorages open up, new beaches appear, the shorelines change and adapt, and it really is a new experience every time. The next time we sail here I could see us taking an entire season and adding in Lake Michigan and maybe even a small part of Lake Superior before returning to the North Channel and Georgian Bay to fill in some of the holes.

It was such a pleasure boating with our buddies Tony and Angela. They are just amazing people and the best travel companions one could hope for. This is now the fourth trip we’ve done with them and I hope there will be many more. The time we spent with the German-Hinds at their beautiful Manitoulin cottage was priceless, and such a nice break from the sailing routine. We have so much in common with them and always enjoy every minute we spend together. I’d love to do a big trip with them sometime too - preferably for 3 months backpacking around Asia. Then, of course, was the incredible day we spent with the Bradshaw family in Parry Sound, where we made some new friends and spent time with old friends on their home turf enjoying the pleasures of great food and excellent company. To top it off, we got to see our friends Ken and Sheila on the final day we were with the Henriques, so although we were out exploring so many new places, it was made so much better by spending time with all these fantastic people along the way. What a trip!

So here I now sit, back at home, in our gigantic mansion of a house compared to the cramped living quarters we’ve occupied for the past month in the belly of Bella Blue, coming to terms with being boatless. Owning a boat is a huge commitment in both money and time. With Bella Blue, every weekend of the year from April to October was spoken for, from spring launch to the full weekends spend on her all summer with our dock family, our extended sailing trips, then the sad month of October where she was dry docked, winterized, covered in a tarp (or several), and put to sleep for the season. But then our schedule would change dramatically. After months of ignoring our Paris and Brantford friends, we’d reconnect and be back into Friday night happy hour at local breweries, Saturday night dinner parties, Sunday day trips around the area attending festivals and exploring shops, and all the festive Christmas activities in December, followed by three months of miserable cold winter, usually broken up with a week in Cuba, then it was back into boat season.

But this year will be different. While the COVID-19 appears to be relatively under control in Ontario, this could turn on a dime, so we are still being cautious, which means no abundance of dinner parties and keeping our social circle very limited. And there will almost definitely be no international travel this year, meaning no mid-winter trip somewhere warm to break up the monotony of the cold months. Our new boatless situation means that we are going to have even more time available for weekend activities so the challenge is going to be figuring out what to do with this time. That is going to be tricky. Perhaps I will take up knitting? Or the crochet? Or maybe I’ll finally get serious about learning Portuguese and focus on that? In any case, it’s not often one is given the gift of time, so we will make the most of it. As far as the next boat, we are already looking, but the logistics of finding, inspecting, and relocating a boat with the COVID restrictions in place will make it very difficult. But who knows what the future may hold?

So here’s to the final adventure on Bella Blue! It was a lovely ride my darling, we wish you well and thank you for all the joy you brought to our lives. Bon voyage!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Little Current to Paris

Ana and I were up at 6am, and by 7 everybody was showered and fed and hauling stuff out of the boat to the dock. I was really proud of the kids as they really pitched in and we were working together like a well-oiled machine. Mark arrived by 8am with histruck and we piled that sucker high, then used a tarp to hold it all together. As usual, everything just fit. We took one last photo in front of Bella Blue then Stella kissed the hull to say goodbye to our beautiful sailboat, then we walked away, without looking back.

We drove 45 minutes to South Baymouth, which is on the south-eastern corner of Manitoulin island then boarded the Chi-Cheemaun ferry which took us to Tobermory in about 90 minutes. From there it was a very nice drive home as we talked with Mark the whole way and learned a whole lot about his career as a police officer, and he gave us some great tips on how to beat the polygraph, frame others for crimes, cover your tracks, lie convincingly in court, select the best ammo, outrun the cops, and avoid jail time. All useful life skills.

We were so happy to have found Mark and Kelly as we really wanted to sell our boat to great people who will take care of her and enjoy her just as much as we have, and we know they will.

By 5:30pm we were home, and by 6 we had Mark’s truck unloaded with our stuff then reloaded with the sailboat stands, tarps, and other bits and pieces he would need for the boat, and he was back on the road for the long drive back to Sudbury. The rest of the evening was spent unpacking and reacquainting ourselves with life on land, then we collapsed exhausted from the day.

Training Day!

We woke up to a glorious, sunny day in the North Channel and after lake baths and Stella’s last big jump off the cockpit arch, we sailed back into the Spider Bay Marina. Mark arrived shortly after that and we began Training Day. I had put together a list of all the things I wanted to show him, which began with boat documentation and training manuals, so while we were doing that Ana and the kids headed into town for a walk and to explore.

Mark and I went through all of the manuals, discussed training and licensing requirements, then later went through all of the boat systems, with Stella helping out by creating a video of these that I’d be able to send to Mark for his reference. We then all went out on the water and showed Mark how to undock the boat, use the chart plotter and other instruments, anchor, went through some basic collision avoidance rules, then had lunch near Picnic Island. An afternoon sail ensued, and we had nice steady winds to show Mark how to use each of the lines, trim the sails, and maneuver on the water under sail. It wasn’t until 5 or so that we returned to the marina and gave him the helm to practice docking - probably the most difficult part of boating, and he did exceptionally well. Lastly, we motored over to gas dock for a final pump out and to explain the fueling process. As we approached the gas dock Ana simultaneously overestimated the length of her legs and underestimated the distance from the boat rails to the dock surface and crashed to the dock after leaping off the sailboat. But she did something like a judo breakfall, then a masterly stuntman roll and popped right back up with nothing but a scratch on her ankle. The strange thing was that there was nobody there to witness it, and Ana usually saves her docking fails for when there’s a huge crowd of spectators. After she brushed herself off she said to Mark, “So that’s not exactly the best way to come into the gas dock!”

We finished up training day around 6:30pm and we were all thoroughly spent, plus my throat hurt like hell as I was definitely not used to talking all day long. Stella had done some research on the local food scene and guided us to Elliott’s Restaurant where we had fish tacos, pizza, and nachos, then finished it off with desserts - ice cream and an amazing bread pudding, all delicious.

Despite being exhausted, once back at the boat we continued the packing that Ana had already started and worked together to gather and bag all of the stuff on the boat that we were taking with us. And there was a lot - about the equivalent of 20 black garbage bags, and by the time we were done there was so much stuff piled up that Magnus had to sleep on the floor and Stella could just squeeze into her berth and sleep on the edge of her bed. That was it - our final night on Bella Blue.

Rous Island

Sailboats are strange creatures. They have a personality all of their own. They have guarded secrets, mysteries, rituals, protocols, and it takes you a very long time to familiarize yourself, never mind actually ever really understanding, why things work the way they work on a sailboat. Take, for instance, our boat’s barbecue grill. It is a simple device - really just some stainless steel welded together with a burner and grill, and it runs off one of those little green propane tanks. You should be able to turn on the gas, light it up, throw on your food, and cook it until it’s done. But that’s not how this sailboat grill works. First, you turn on the gas. Then you stick a BBQ lighter into the ignition hole near the burner and flick it on. Nothing happens. You can smell gas. So you light it again, and you can see the flame, but still nothing happens. It’s only when you get your arm or head or any other body part sprouting hair close enough to the grill that it ignites and scorches off whatever hair is left from the last time you lit the grill. You then have to press on the temperature control knob to give it double the gas and really get it burning, but half the time it will simply flame out, then you have to light it again, and that usually doesn’t work until you use your other still-haired arm to light it. Sometimes it will then run for a while on its own, but as soon as you put your food in, it simply will not stay reliably lit unless the lid is left open a crack using, what I call, the sacrificial wiener. I tried explaining this whole thing to Tony last week and his first comment was, “Doesn’t that hurt?” Now it doesn’t specifically have to be a wiener (and definitely not your wiener) - it can be an edge piece of whatever you are cooking, but unless there’s a chunk of food sticking out, it simply does not work properly. But it’s all part of the never-ending fun and adventure of living on a boat.

After listening to the 9am Cruiser’s Net channel 71 boaters briefing from Roy Eaton (see https://www.lcyc.ca/cruisers-net for a great story of Roy’s 15 years of broadcasts) I went for a walk downtown while the rest of my gang was getting ready for the day, and by 11 or so we were pushing off the dock for a short 4.5 mile run to Rous Island, a nice anchorage just west of Little Current. It was a very windy day, but sunny, and the anchorage was calm and empty. We got anchored then spent what I think was the most relaxing day of the trip - we swam, jumped off the boat, played frisbee from boat to dinghy, caught a few perch, went for dinghy rides, listened to classic rock, and Ana and I even had naps in the cockpit while the kids left us alone. It was glorious, and such a great way to spend the last real day of the trip. Nearly every day of this adventure has been full, with a mission or goal in mind, but the goal today was just to relax and have fun and that’s exactly what we did.

We stayed overnight at the anchorage and went to bed early, as we needed to be back in the marina by 9 the following morning to meet the new owner Mark and do a full day of Bella Blue training. The end was near.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Heywood Island to Little Current

Today’s blissfully short ride of 8 miles to Little Current was going to feel like a walk to the bathroom compared to the miles we logged yesterday. The morning was calm and beautiful and the anchorage looked much less dangerous during daylight hours. Last night there must have been a huge mayfly hatch as the boat was covered in bugs this morning, which is unusual for this area as we’ve been finding the bugs are really only bad for an hour or so at dusk, then during the day you just get the odd deerfly or horsefly nibbling on your ankles or toes. I spent half an hour with the bucket and brush cleaning off the buggage, trying to get the boat back into pristine condition. The kids and I then had our morning lake bath in the warm and still surprisingly clear 25 degree water.

As we were getting ready to depart, I was pulling up the anchor and the kids were in the cockpit looking around. All of a sudden Magnus says, “Dad, I think I see a bear swimming through the channel!!” I looked over and sure enough a black bear was bear-paddling his way across the anchorage entrance with his black head just sticking out of the water. I quickly hauled in the anchor then motored the boat over closer to get a good look at him. The kids wanted me to run right up on the bear so they could jump on its back and take a ride into shore but I didn’t think that was a good idea (for us or the bear) so we kept our distance, but had a great view of him swimming across, pulling himself out of the water, running onto shore, and then standing up on his back legs and looking directly back at us. The kids were thrilled! They had never seen a bear in the wild before so this was quite a spectacle. We had spoken with a boater back in the Benjamins who had told us there had been reports of a bear in the Heywood’s swimming up to boats and actually clawing his way up onto them and eating food left outside, so perhaps this was the perpetrator.

We sailed into Little Current and got docked at Spider Bay Marina, one of the worst marina names I can imagine as boaters are spiders are arch-enemies as those little buggers web up your boat nightly, drop staining poos onto your fiberglass and cushions, and explode on your sails making awful black and green stains. Plus sometimes they crawl into your mouth when you are sleeping - this is what causes bad breath. The marina itself is small, but quite nice with a nice office building, bathrooms and showers. Our new buyer had reserved a slip for the rest of the season so it was already paid for, and the dock hand confirmed we were all set and didn’t need to get registered.

The ladies walked into town to pick up a few things while Magnus stayed in the boat and enjoyed the AC. It was blazing hot outside today with full sunshine and a fair bit of activity happening in downtown Little Current. Ana and I considered stopping for a drink somewhere, but instead we returned to the boat, made drinks, and walked over to the nearby park for a potential swim, but the beach was full of scraggly weeds and goose poo and the water was shallow and mucky so instead we parked ourselves on a picnic table and talked mainly about our next boat.

It was a slow and relaxing evening - I cooked up bok choy on the bbq (delicious) along with salads and some packaged bacon wrapped chicken medallions that we had procured from the $10 bin at Food Basics four weeks ago and had been through at least half a dozen freeze/thaw cycles so were bloody awful and I feared I’d poisoned the entire crew. While Ana and were making dinner, the kids entertained themselves by playing frisbee inside the boat - yes, it is possible, and they didn’t even knock anything over.

There was mention of watching a movie, but as usual it didn’t happen. I had assembled at least 40 movies on USB sticks ranging in quality from horrible to bad to completely stupid (Nacho Libre, Blazing Saddles, Hot Tub Time Machine - you get the picture), but give me a break - after this year’s COVID lockdowns we have already seen every good movie ever made, so what to do?

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Lion’s Head to Heywood Island

After a couple hours of sleep we got up, showered, shook off the sea foam from last night’s chaotic ride, then walked into town. Lion’s Head is neatly packed into a small bay, with a small marina, a large public park, and this amazing beach they have constructed from river stones - great for people who don’t like sand with their sandwiches.

Our walking tour of the town took a full 20 minutes - we saw the placard explaining the town name, visited the exceptionally well stocked Home Hardware and admired their extensive collection of Yeti drink ware, looked into the windows of several COVID-closed shops, then finished up at Rachel’s Restaurant for a butter tart and coffee. It was a nice enough town, but there really wasn’t going to be much to keep us occupied, so we decided to get back on the water and make the final big run of the trip to Heywood Island, 74 miles north across Georgian Bay, across calmer waters. I checked the weather forecast and it looked good for today so we didn’t want to miss our chance.

We walked through the park on the way back to the marina and saw all sorts of goose prevention controls, such as red fencing along the shoreline and random patches of planted shrubs which are supposed to keep geese away because they think a fox may be lurking in there. One control I’ve never seen before is a sign that said, “Service dog at work on goose control.” I wondered how that worked? Does a German Shepherd leap out of one of the bushes, grab a goose and rip its throat out in front of a bunch of little kids in the playground? That would be a natural, organic way to control geese, yet a bit horrific at the same time.

Before we knew it we were back on the water. Based on our speed the estimated time of arrival at Heywood Island would be about 11pm, which meant navigating the North Channel and anchoring in darkness. I wasn’t too excited about that, but the winds looked to be picking up substantially tomorrow and we didn’t need another bad crossing.

The sail across Georgian Bay was excellent - nice steady winds, full sunshine, few boats, great music playing all the way, and Ana cooked us an exceptionally good dinner en route. We passed through or by some interestingly named areas: Half-moon Island, Lonely Island, Grand Bank, Squaw Island Bank, Six Fathom Patch, Papoose Island, and Scarecrow Island Bank. As we neared the turn into the North Channel just north of Manitoulin Island, daylight was disappearing and we could see a thick blanket of fog slowly building behind us. It got closer and closer and eventually enveloped us, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared - just reduced our visibility perhaps by half but didn’t completely blind us. We were now relying on the chart plotter and lighted buoys for navigation, which always adds an additional element of risk to sailing as you can’t actually see much of anything besides individual lights. And when we turned the corner of Partridge Island, we saw a gigantic wall of light - a freighter! Throughout all of our travels in the North Channel we have never seen a freighter and have never therefore had to navigate around one, which presents special challenges. First, they are gigantic, and I mean huge, and cannot stop nor turn easily so you need to take wide berth of them. Second, they do not have simple navigational lights which makes it easy to see where they are going - the entire ship is lighted so on certain headings it’s hard to tell if you are looking at the front or back of them. Third, in the dark things on the water simply do not look right. All you see is light and your senses just can’t comprehend what you are seeing, nor their distances, so you need to be extra cautious and patient. I kept Bella Blue motoring into the channel as the ship still seemed to be quite far, and from what we could tell it was moving north away from us. I grabbed my phone and called up marinetraffic.org - a website that shows you the location and heading of any commercial boat anywhere in the world - but the closest vessel I could see was many miles to the north, which was confusing because big ships always show up. I continued motoring, which was a big mistake. In retrospect, what I should have done is either not crossed the channel, and just waited by the outside channel marker until the freighter either passed or disappeared, or simply called the vessel on the VHF radio to see what direction it was going.

I accelerated to top speed to get across as quickly as possible. We still couldn’t tell which way the freighter was going, nor how close it was, and I expected that if we were in the way he would have sounded his horn or called me on the radio. And then I made my third big mistake. Ana and I realized that the damn ship was coming directly at us, and was getting close, and we really panicked as the prospect of a thousand foot long ship weighing a hundred thousand tons crashing into us was terrifying, especially since it would completely crush our boat and be completely unnoticeable to them. I looked at the chart and I was not quite halfway across the channel so I quickly turned the boat around and beelined it back across. Now of course the freighter saw me - they have radar and crew on watch, and probably saw I could safely get out of their way, but when I changed direction, they were not expecting that and instantly sounded their booming horn, which sounded like the damn rapture with Gabriel blowing his supernatural trumpet announcing the end of mankind. They also powered up their search lights and shined them right on our boat so they could see us. Now I don’t know if the freighter turned, or slowed down, or what happened, but we were truly scared and shitting our pants, and just as I reached the edge of the channel the monstrosity passed us and revealed it’s gargantuan size - it looked like a floating city. We were literally shaking as it lumbered past us and we felt like planktons watching a blue whale swim away. Despite all our years of sailing, all of our night passages, all of our encounters with freighters, I still made horrible mistakes, but thankfully didn’t have to pay the price.

We got back on course and slowly motored toward our destination watching the hulking beast light up the sky, headed away from us. We were happy we scraped through that one and weren’t going to have to deliver Bella Blue to the new owners in small chunks.

Heywood Island was only a couple of miles away and we reached the north entrance to the anchorage and were faced with another problem. We could count at least eight anchor lights from boats already anchored there, and possible more if they didn’t have their anchor lights lit. We have a powerful handheld search light on the boat, which we had tested earlier but the light just reflected back from the fog so we didn’t think it would help us identify boats on the way in. After our close call with the freighter I didn’t want to take any chances, knowing I was probably not thinking clearly after the lack of sleep, but the near disaster induced adrenaline injection sure had me wide awake now. I checked the moonrise time and it was going to be at 11:36pm with a waning gibeous that would give us 65% of the moon and cast plenty of light to help us see our way in. But here’s a question for you. How long does it take from the time of moonrise for it to actually appear in the sky and provide light? I didn’t know either, but we made the decision to wait the 30 minutes to moon rise and see if that would help us, so I held our position about a quarter mile outside the anchorage and we waited. Moonrise arrived, but no moon and no light. We waited about ten minutes then decided to edge closer to the entrance and see if the spotlight could help, and to our surprise the fog had lifted and the light illuminated our path perfectly. I slowly motored the boat into the anchorage while Ana and Magnus stood at the bow lighting our way and pointing out the boats. We slipped in safely, got anchored in 12 feet of water, and then let out huge sighs of relief. We made it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Bella Blue Is Sold!

Today was going to be an interesting day. Tony and Angela’s buyer was coming for a sea trial at 10am and, if satisfied, would then be handing over a cheque for HQ2. We were hoping to hear from our potential buyers today as we were trying to figure out what to do next. Time was running short and we had a lot of miles between us and Sarnia, but still had a few more stops we wanted to make along the way. Our friends Justin and Heather had been in touch and were going to be passing through Collingwood tomorrow so we wanted to sail there to meet them, but if the buyers wanted the boat then that was not going to be possible as it was in the opposite direction. So we waited, and hoped that that HQ2 “sold” first so we’d get that free dinner!

Just before 10am we got a text message from Mark - Bella Blue was sold! I could hardly believe it. After a flurry of texts and discussion we decided to head out to Lion’s Head overnight tonight, then continue across Georgian Bay and back into the North Channel to deliver the boat to them in Little Current. Mark offered to give us a ride all the way back to Paris, then he could pick up the sailboat storage stands which were included in the deal. All in all, the whole thing worked out perfectly - we didn’t have to sail to Sarnia, we’d get a couple of extra nights in the North Channel, Mark would be able to spend an entire day with us in Little Current training on Bella Blue, and we had a ride home. Pending no unforeseen disasters, we would have the next few days to enjoy our remaining time on the boat, then be back at home in time for the weekend.

We celebrated the news by taking a long, hot walk into Midland downtown on the nice waterfront pathway. The downtown was in a state of massive construction as they were halfway through ripping up the entire street and sidewalks and replacing it with a beautiful, modern streetscape that looked to include cobblestones, parklets, bike path, room for trees, and outdoor furniture. As a result of this most of the stores were closed and the place was a disaster, but it was going to be a nice spot when it was finished. After downtown we walked two hot and mostly uphill miles to a big commercial shopping area where there were dozens of stores - a Winners, pet store, a bunch of fast food restaurants, and even a Superstore where we did our final grocery run.

After a taxi ride back to the marina we discovered HQ2 was sold, and that Ken and Sheila (friends of Tony and Angela’s…and ours too - Sheila was the keyboard player in our reggae band) had arrived to spend the night and drive them plus all their gear back to Brantford. We decided that our boat sales happened at precisely the same time, so no dinner was owed, but a dinner would indeed be shared when we returned home. What a turn of events - at the start of the trip neither of us had considered selling our boats, but here we were after an amazing few weeks exploring Canada’s best cruising grounds, with both of our boats sold and left up north, and rides back home. You never know what’s going to happen in life, so you just roll with it and keep things interesting.

Our final meal together as a group was awesome - mushroom pasta, leftover pizza, bbq chorizo, Caesar salad, and a nice glass of some scotch Ken brought. We talked and laughed and wondered how on earth they were going to pack an entire boatload of gear into Ken and Sheila’s small car, which already had two bikes strapped on top. Our buyer had a full sized pickup but we also had a ton of gear so it was going to be tight as well.

After a final group picture and hug on the back of Bella Blue, we pushed off the dock at 8pm, sad to be leaving our friends after such a great trip but looking forward to the grand finale in Little Current. I checked the weather and it looked okay for the night run - west winds of 10 knots, gusting to 15, which might make it a little bumpy but nothing we couldn’t handle, plus the winds were forecasted to lighten up after midnight. The first few hours were lovely as we traveled northward up through the sheltered bay area, looking at the mansions onshore, watching all the fishing boats rushing in under the final light of the day, and enjoying the warmth of the dropping sun. At 10pm I went down for a nap, then woke up at 1am to the sounds of whistling winds and waves smashing into the hull. It was windy, definitely 15 knots sustained, so we reefed the main sail, and I settled into the helm while Ana went down below to try and get some sleep. Stella wanted to do a night shift so she came up after getting a few extra layers of clothes on, and a lifejacket, and we both tied ourselves on with ropes to the helm as the winds seemed to be increasing. By the time we reached the middle of Georgian Bay, we were getting pulverized. The winds were probably up to 25 knots at times with white caps everywhere, spray coming off the tops of the waves - some of the larger of which were in the six foot range, and little stabs of lightening off in the distance. The ride was awful. Stella stayed with me for nearly two hours, then went down and crashed into sleep quickly. Poor Ana was getting seasick again, but not as bad as last time fortunately, and tossed and turned down below, laying face down on the floor trying to find any sort of relief. Magnus slept like a champ, on the dinette, with his leg flopped onto the top of the table to stabilize himself and as far as I know didn’t wake up once, which was a good thing as he would have been sick for sure. We have not had much luck this trip with our overnight sails.

As we neared the western shoreline around 5am, we became more and more sheltered from the wind and waves and the ride improved. By 7:30 we were rounding the point into the Lion’s Head bay and I did indeed see an image of a lion’s head in the rocky cliffs of the point - it was quite a beautiful scene, but I could also have been hallucinating as I was tired beyond belief and having a hard time not falling asleep standing up. Ana helped me get docked on a finger pier caked with goose poo, then we went to sleep, thankful to be off the angry lake.