Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Last Cheapie Flights

After learning that Ana’s job with WestJet will be no more as of Dec 15th, we decided we better take an early winter holiday before our travel benefits dry up. While it is unfortunate that Ana is losing her job, she has had a great run with West Jet - it’s been over seven years that she has worked there, in at least four different positions. We’ve taken full advantage of the travel benefits over the years which has enabled us to travel to every destination in Canada we’ve ever wanted to visit and plenty more in the US and Caribbean. It has also enabled the kids to see our family in Saskatchewan much more than would have been otherwise. The timing is actually not too bad for us, considering both of the kids are now in school which makes it tougher getting away outside of the regular school holidays. And traveling standby during the regular school breaks is practically impossible as most flights are usually sold out. We’ve actually found that traveling standby generally has become more difficult the past couple years, due to high flight loads and less frequent flights to the places we normally go. While it is extremely cheap, it adds a substantial amount of stress traveling, since you really don’t know whether there will be space for you until you are actually standing at the gate, and this makes booking accommodation and rental cars that much more challenging. This is only our second airplane trip of the year, which is by far the lightest year of air travel we’ve ever had. That’s not to say we didn’t travel much this year - we certainly did - but it was by sailboat and by van instead of by airplane.


We are now sitting in Tampa airport after a lovely four days here. The last two times we’ve been to Florida the weather has been rather chilly, but this time it was absolutely perfect - no clouds and temperatures in the high 20’s everyday. We are all returning to Canada with sun tans, which feels pretty nice in November. The kids spent a lot of time in the hotel pool and we spent a lot of time sitting around it drinking nice cold Presidente beer. We visited a few of our favourite spots including the Conch Republic and Frog Pond restaurants, John’s Pass and St. Petersburg waterfront. We were sad to discover the seaside cafe at John’s Pass which served the best grouper sandwiches in the world had closed, a terrible loss to humanity but excellent news for the local grouper population.

Oh my, I see I haven’t updated my blog since our fantastic sailboat trip in July. Well, the rest of the summer was fantastic and we had lots of visitors including Barb & Gerry, my mom, my dad and Loretta, our old buddy Mike Schaaf, my friend Stillman, Mike & Anna and I think a couple more I can’t remember right now. We kept projects to a minimum over the summer to allow maximum sailing time, but as soon as the fall hit, we got back to work on a few property projects, which are nearly complete now. The dreaded winter will soon be upon us so time to hunker down and keep warm as the Farmer’s Almanac predicts a more typical Ontario winter, unlike the warm and snow-less conditions we’ve had the previous two years.


Almost time to head to the gate, better cut it off here.

Kris

Monday, July 19, 2010

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 15

Day 15 and beyond - Erie, Pennsylvania to Port Dover, Ontario

We awake at a leisurely 7:30 to yet another beautiful, sunny day.  We have decided that we will head back to Dover today sometime before noon so we have a quick breakfast and get the kids over to the pool for a nice swim before we leave. In the two weeks we have been gone Magnus has learned to use a mask, snorkel and fins and is now diving for pennies in the deep end of the pool. As I watch him dive I have visions of us spear fishing spiny lobsters in the Caribbean as the girls cook them up on board.

As the kids are playing in the pool and running around the deck a lady who is also at the pool comes over and says, "Your children talk very loud, have you ever had their hearing checked?"

I said, "Yes, we've already had them diagnosed - apparently they are half Portuguese which explains the speech volume."

I don't think she gets the joke so, since it's time to leave anyway, we pack up the loud kids, stop for a free waste tank pump out and are headed out of Erie harbour and soon on the open water pointed due north for Long Point.

The trip across seems to take a very long time, probably because of the anticipation of getting home.  We eventually reach Long Point and stop for a quick swim and lunch before continuing on the last leg to Port Dover, which is about 20 miles.  It’s about 7 pm when we finally pull into our familiar old home slip and it does feel pretty good to be back home on Canadian soil, or at least water.  Ana calls customs on the phone and they clear us with no issues.  The dock is very quiet, hardly anybody around so we have a quiet night on board and finally manage to see the rest of “The Matador” on the fourth attempt.

We spend the next day and a half doing some work on the boat, visiting dock friends and walking around Port Dover checking out the shops.  We finally arrive back at our house on Saturday afternoon and Magnus immediately goes next door to show his neighbour friend Lilly his loose tooth.  The aggressive demonstration wiggling breaks the last few strands and the tooth pops out!  He is thrilled to discover that he can still whistle even without a primary frontal ivory so he is happy indeed.

We are all decidedly relieved to be home, especially after such a successful adventure.  We now feel much more confident with Bella Blue and are overjoyed that the kids have taken so well to sailing.

There will be plenty more trips to come.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 14

Day 14 - Mentor Harbour to Erie, Pennsylvania

We are up at 3am to get an early start on the 75 mile trip back to Erie. The forecast is for strong north winds early in the day then dying out towards noon so we want to use the wind while it’s there. As usual, the first few hours are excellent sailing, with ten knot winds but they start to die around 7am so I start up the motor and we continue on motor-sailing making about 6.5 knots which should put us into Erie sometime around 2:30 in the afternoon.

We’ve been thinking of where to go from here. One idea was to continue on up the lake and visit Dunkirk, which is probably about 20 miles or so past Erie. But now we’re thinking we might head back to Port Dover a bit earlier and spend a couple nights on the boat there in the marina as per a “regular weekend” and save eastern Lake Erie for a future trip. After all the sailing we have done on this adventure we are much more comfortable with the boat, and in particular night sailing, which makes three or four day long weekend trips over to the US very achievable.

We stop and anchor around 2pm for a late lunch and a swim which feels like heaven. At around 4pm we arrive in Erie at the Commodore Perry Yacht Club after a total of 71 miles. Last time we were here we stayed at the marina next door and couldn’t help but notice that the Perry had a lovely swimming pool, which came in very handy today as it was in the low 30’s again. We sit by the pool for a couple hours and enjoy the sunshine and a couple cold beverages then head back to the boat for a Mexican fajita supper and the third attempt at getting through the same movie. Yes, one gets a bit tired after a 13 hour sailing day.

Just before bedtime, Magnus again pleads for me to pull out his front tooth. Since the kiddie rollercoaster incident his front tooth has become progressively less connected and is now wiggling freely. I’ve tried pulling it with my fingers but that is not working so he is now begging for me to use the pliers in the toolbox to yank it out. I pulled out his last two, so I do have the stomach for it, but I’m not entirely sure it’s ready so I’ve asked him to wiggle it as much as possible and we’ll try to extract it tomorrow. We’ll be sure to do it in front of Ana as she was completely spooked out and actually shrieking the last time I cranked one out.

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 13

Day 13 - Mentor Harbour


As we get the second night free at the Mentor Harbor Yacht Club we decide to stay the day and head to Erie early tomorrow morning. Ana heads out in the car to do some grocery shopping and I stay with the kids at the boat for a while then take them to the playground. The rest of the afternoon is spent hanging out at the pool after which we return to the boat and the kids attack their movie supply in their cabin while Ana and I have the most relaxing evening drink (and I a cigar) sitting on the back of the boat enjoying the quiet marina and the lack of any “administration” that needs to be done. This doesn’t happen to us very often so we truly appreciate it.

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 12

Day 12 - Cleveland to Mentor Harbour

Up at 4am for an early start and we have a rocking good wind blowing strong and steady from the south east. The weather forecast reports scattered showers but so far we haven’t had any rain. We head out into the lake and about five mile into our trip a big gust of wind pushes us to a new all time speed record for Bella Blue - a scorching 8.11 knots! Seems that the fastest point of sail for us is a broad reach (this is when the wind is coming from behind the boat - not directly behind but off to one side 20 degrees or so). It’s a lot of fun sailing the boat when the winds are strong, it forces you to really pay attention and stay focused because mistakes made in strong winds can be costly.

As we near Mentor, the rain catches up with us and we get hit with a squall and get completely soaked. Luckily we could see the rain coming up behind us which gave us time to pull in the jib and get the rain gear on. Magnus sees me out in the cockpit and decides that I could use some help so he gets his rain jacket on and comes out to join me. I put him to work tightening up some lines and keeping a lookout for other boats, as the rain has reduced visibility substantially. I am constantly impressed with how well the kids have taken to the boat, it seems very natural to them and they enjoy being on the water. They are going to grow up to be excellent sailors.

We reach Mentor and are assigned a slip. Since the run was only about 25 miles and we averaged over 6 knots we arrive very early and have pretty much the entire day so decide to rent a car to do some exploring. We get the car at 1pm and drive to two of the places we missed on the water - Chagrin River and Grand River. We stop at Pickle Bill’s on Grand River, a place that’s been mentioned to us several times. In fact we’ve heard that 3 out of 4 babies born in the Lake Erie region were conceived after or even during a visit to Pickle Bill’s by their future parents. Luckily for Magnus and Stella and their potential future inheritance, the bar is closed on Mondays, though we are able to go inside and have a look around. At the head of the bar is a life sized female mannequin straddling the bar top, as if to suggest that you as a patron may be taking a similar position later on if you dare to enter. Hanging about the gigantic bar are full sized sharks, fish netting, many other full sized mannequins including pirates, buccaneers, circus freaks and other assorted creatures. The restaurant extends out into the river with a “dock-up” bar with room for lots of boats. Makes me wonder if there is a higher incident of “total loss” insurance claims for vessels in this particular area. We vow to return to Pickle Bills one day, though it may not happen this trip since it is not very far from our current location and we’d like to cover more miles tomorrow.

We cruise around in the car, checking out some bookstores, clothing stores, take the kids (and Ana) to McDonalds for lunch and stop at a going out of business sale at a video store and buy 24 dvd’s for about three bucks each - sure to provide plenty of hours of in-boat entertainment.

We eventually make it back to the boat, take the kids for a swim at the pool, prepare a nice dinner then hang out for the rest of the night.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 11

Day 11 - Cedar Point to Clevelend, Ohio

The night view to Cedar Point leaving Sandusky is awesome and very peaceful now that the rides are closed and all the people are gone. We navigate our way out the channel using the flashing red and green buoys, which are much easier to see at nighttime rather than during the day.

We proceed out into the open lake, get the sails out and are happy to see that the wind is strong and coming directly from the south-east which is perfect for our heading. We trim the sails, get the GPS coordinates set up, turn on the autopilot, then sit back and enjoy the ride. Ana goes down below to try and get some sleep, which is constantly interrupted by various events - Stella needing milk, Magnus getting kicked by Stella in bed and wanting to move, things crashing around in the boat because of the heeling, and me calling for more coffee! She eventually does get some sleep then relieves me at the help at about 4am. I then get a couple hours sleep and we switch places again and she’s finally able to get to sleep for a while.

This is the fastest sailing we’ve done yet - for a total distance of 60 miles we average 5.65 knots with a maximum of 7.67 knots and the entire trip takes just over eight hours. The night sailing is very nice but it does take a toll on the sleep quality.

Our arrival in Cleveland is exciting as this is the first “big city” we’ve taken in. The harbour entrance is massive and the inner channel is very easy to navigate. By now the kids are awake and surprised to see that we’ve already arrived at our destination. To top it off, there’s at least six tall ships which are moored downtown, likely part of some sort of exhibition so once the kids hear there are pirate ships in port, they are immediately intrigued.

Once we arrive at the Forest City Yacht Club they arrange a slip for us and after tying up the boat I immediately retire for a hour nap to recharge the batteries and leave my poor wife to deal with the energetic kiddies who have had a wonderful, long sleep. After I wake up we get organized and head over to the yacht clubhouse and meet some very nice people who give us the lowdown on local transport options, which are pretty much limited to taxi. Luckily, one of the members, Lynn, offers us a ride downtown which we accept and she whisks us down to the Cleveland downtown waterfront.

Once there, we split up into two teams. Team A, which consists of Ana, Stella and Magnus will hit the science centre gift shop to select one toy for each of the kids then take in the Omnimax movie about the ocean. Team B, which consists of me and my big hair and leather pants, will take in the rock and roll hall of fame. In the interest of brevity, let’s just say that both groups were wildly successful in their ventures, except when Ana fell asleep during the movie.

We return to the boat via taxi cab, have a great dinner and are completely done for the day.

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 10


Day 10 - Sandusky to Cedar Point


We awaken early and hoof it back into town to check out a couple shops that were closed the evening before; namely the West Marine store, a small nautical antiques shop and the farmers market. All signs of the previous days poor weather have vanished and it is another hot one. Our trip takes longer than expected (once you own a boat it is impossible to spend less than an hour in a West Marine store…) and we return to Bella Blue at noon, completely drenched with sweat after walking through the heat with a hundred pounds of groceries and boat stuff. We load up the boat, get everything in its place, throw off the dock lines (nothing fancy this time) and head to Cedar Point. This will definitely be our shortest sailing day of the trip as our destination is only a few miles across the bay. We enter the marina and head directly for the fuel dock, it’s been 10 days and, though the tank is not close to empty, it’s time to gas up. She takes $60 worth of diesel, an incredibly small amount considering the number of hours we’ve used the motor during the trip. I only wish Andrew was here with his boat beside me at the fuel pump- his filll-ups are closer to a grand. It’s sweet revenge for all the speed jokes he makes.

We get Bella Blue docked and have a quick look around - the marina is beautiful and very well organized, sort of makes us think we should spend a couple nights here. On check in they gave us vouchers for reduced prices for the parks so we decide to get the full pass which allows us to visit both the water park - Soak City - and the amusement park with all the rides. We take the shuttle bus into Soak City and the kids are immediately in heaven. This is definitely the most elaborate water park I’ve ever been to and the kids wholeheartedly attack each ride they are tall enough to get into. The best part about the water park is that Ana and I can enjoy it too - unlike the kids rides at amusement parks which are…well, lame. We spend the entire afternoon splashing around and it’s not until 6pm that we dry off and head over to the amusement park.

The kids of course love it and the only real excitement Ana and I get is when we’re watching Magnus and Stella ride the rocketship ride and notice Magnus leaning over way too far then see him smash his front teeth into the steel bar they are supposed to be holding on to. Now Magnus’ previous encounters with pain have universally been very unhappy episodes, as he appears to experience pain ten times worse than regular humans, but this one was special. On the first rotation of the ride he’s holding his mouth and looks like he’s about to cry. Second rotation he is simply wiggling his tooth, which has been slightly loose for weeks, but has now clearly been knocked a bit looser. Third and subsequent rotations he has his mouth closed and is intently running his tongue over his front teeth. He has clearly realized that this shot to the face has brought him one step closer to the Tooth Fairy payout, which can then be easily used to purchase candy. If it were only always this easy dealing with his wounds.

We return to Bella Blue by 9 pm and are amazed to look back and see the view to Cedar Point. The rides have all been lighted and the display is amazing! There is clearly no other marina on Lake Erie with such magnificent nighttime views.

I check the weather forecast and it sounds like the wind will be picking up and staying strong all night then turning into thunderstorms later on Sunday. Ana and I decide that it’s the right time for our first sailing all-nighter so we prepare the boat and cast off shortly before 1am.

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 9

Day 9 - Kelley’s Island to Sandusky, Ohio


We wake up to a grey and rainy day, the first of the trip. It is actually quite a relief to get a break from the sun, though the temperature is still very warm. After breakfast on the boat we toss off the dock lines and start the short sail over to Sandusky, which is only 10 miles to the south. Once we get offshore the wind really picks up and makes for some great sailing. Ana takes over the helm for most of the way and has the boat doing over 6 knots on a mainly downwind course.

As we close in on Sandusky we pass by the Cedar Point peninsula which has a giant amusement park at the point overlooking Lake Erie. We promised the kids a trip to Cedar Point since we began the trip so they are very excited to see the rollercoasters and other rides. Sandusky has a huge harbour and the route in is quite congested with boats so requires more attention than normal, especially today with the strong wind. We take down the sails and motor into the harbour, eventually finding our way to the Sandusky Sailing Club, which offers a magnificent 7 free nights to members of our yacht club. At the entrance of the marina stands a sign saying proudly, “Sailboats Only!”, the first of which we’ve seen. The marina is indeed full of sailboats, mostly older ones and few of any size. As we make our approach to the sea wall on the west side of the marina, Ana is busy readying the dock lines and fenders. As we near the wall several of the sailors have lined up on the dock to help with the lines and Ana launches into an unorthodox docking maneuver, never before attempted in these waters. As she winds up and hurls the coiled dockline to the waiting dock hands she somehow manges to propell her body completely over the sides of the boat, in fact causing herself to travel further than the actual dock line. She was able to grab on to one of the lifelines with a single finger (which would later turn a bit purple) and she then latched on with both hands and hung there while the stunned bystanders stood speechless. Fortunately one of them does speak up and reminds me that I have left the boat in reverse gear and am rapidly closing in on a boat behind me. I slam it into forward, get into the clear then hop up on deck and give Ana a lift back into the boat. Like a trooper, she then hops onto land with the rope and gets the boat safely tied down. I think she briefly considered telling our hosts we were visiting from Toledo…then reconsidered and admitted we were Canadians and part of the CVSS - Canadian Vaudeville Sailing Squadron.

After getting settled we attempt to take a walk downtown and the rain picks up and washes into the nearest building we could find, which turns out to be a Maritime museum so we happily go in and spend an hour or so learning about Sandusky’s marine history and the history of sailing on Lake Erie. They have a large pirate display which gets the kids whipped into a frenzy and they speak Pirate to each other for the rest of the day.

After spending a few hours back at the boat waiting for the weather to clear we do return to Sandusky’s downtown to discover a big street festival in full swing with a live band and hundreds of people drinking Bud Light and other similar forms of tinned water. Yet again, it is a metal cover band and we are treated to all of my early 90’s leather panted favourites. Ana takes the opportunity for

Some badly needed retail therapy and finds a junky thrift store into which her and the kids disappear for thirty minutes and return with prizes. I was happy to wait outside as I had already found my prize on the walk downtown - a dirty, small fish shop that served us the best walleye and perch sandwiches I believe I’ve ever had.

The walk back to the boat features a highly organized firefly hunt. As it is well past dark, the fireflies are out in the thousands and we devise a technique whereby Stella rides on my shoulders and we run in the grass corralling the stray fireflies into Magnus sticky grasp where he easily captures the flickering creatures. And that is a most fine way to end another adventurous day!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 8

Day 8 - Put-in-Bay and Islands Tour

We wake up at a blissfully late 6:30 am and get the eggs and toast cooking shortly after the first cup of coffee. The marina we’re staying at is called Portside and has a great location with a dockside bar and restaurant and just steps to the small downtown area. The one thing we have noticed is that people here are not quite as friendly as what we’ve experienced in the other locations on our trip. But we’ve seen this over and over again in the places we’ve traveled to. The more touristy and popular a location is, the less friendly the locals are. I think it’s partially due to them having to deal with all the bullshit tourists and transients throw their way. Smaller or less well known locations do not have as many outsiders who don‘t know or don‘t care about local rules and customs and are less worried about causing trouble since they won‘t be sticking around for long.

We spend the morning walking around town, visiting the shops and tidying up the boat. At noon we take the island ferry over to Put-in-Bay which is on Lower Bass Island, about 8 miles from here. Most Canadians have never heard of this place, or even this area of Lake Erie. There‘s a series of half a dozen populated islands that are huge draws in the summertime to boaters and other non-boater tourists. There are many marina and the tourism industry is very well developed. There is definitely a real Caribbean feel to the place, especially when it‘s in the mid 30‘s.

We spend about 4 hours in Put-in-Bay which is enough to have a good walk around town and a great lunch. We also found a brand spankin’ new tiki bar which had been built, complete with timber frame construction, thatch roof, palm trees and beautiful sand. Put-in-Bay has a reputation for being a hard partying place, but it seems that this does not hold during the week - on this Thursday the crowd was mainly older folks and families, not a drunken twenty something to be found anywhere.

We ferry back to Kelly’s, make a delicious dinner and sit back for a movie.  We've recently installed a 22" LED flat panel TV in the boat which provides for excellent movie nights, though I'm yet to actually stay awake for an entire movie.....

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 7

Day 7 - Mentor Harbour to Kelly‘s Island, OH

Just heard a “pahn pahn, pahn pahn, pahn pahn” call on the radio from the Coast Guard in Cleveland. At 10:08 pm last night a 12 year old boy went missing and his last know location was in the water at Euclid Beach. They are asking all mariners to be on the lookout for him and to assist if possible. This is the first such call we’ve heard on the radio, certainly reinforces the notion of paying strict attention to safety procedures on the boat. We heard a “Mayday” call a couple days ago from a boat taking on water but didn’t hear if they found the boat or how it ended.

Directly to the north a three masted tall ship just appeared, what a beauty! It is amazing to see such a variety of vessels that appear on the lake. From tall ships to freighters to super yachts to 14 foot fishing boats. I guess that’s why they call it a fresh water ocean.

We had a nice breeze until around 6 am when it turned directly into our face and slowed considerably. Up until then we’d been racing along nicely and actually hit 7.56 knots which is the fastest we’ve done in Bella Blue. Since we’re planning on covering a lot of miles today we decide to motor the rest of the way which allows us to do over 6 knots and make pretty good time.

We stop at around 9am for the morning swim and the lake is clear and much cooler out in the middle - about 26 degrees C. In some of the marinas the water temperature was as high as 33 degrees which renders the boat air conditioning system much less effective since it relies on cool water. Speaking of that, when we bought this boat we had no idea how important an air conditioning system would be. Without it we would have been absolutely melting this week. While we’re underway and have the hatches open we get quite a lot of air coming through which keeps it fairly cool, but as soon as you stop moving it turns into an oven down below.

We make landfall at Kelley’s Island, Ohio around 4:30 in the afternoon and immediately head to the public dock for a swim. As I’m about to drop Magnus in the water one of the other kids there mentions the abundance of water snakes that hang around the dock and swim in the water. Considering Magnus’ morbid fear of snakes we pull the plug on the dip and head back to the boat for cold beer and apple juice.

To end the day we decide to rent a golf cart for an hour and do a tour of the island. Ana gets behind the wheel and the kids and I strap ourselves in tightly. The island is not very big so an hour is plenty of time to tour around and see the interior forest and beaches. We stop for a quick walk on one of the beaches in the public park, just enough time for the kids to get covered in sand. After returning the golf cart we take the kids for an ice cream, walk back to the boat, make bbq pizza for supper, enjoy the live band which is playing dockside at a pub and retire early to cap off our longest sailing day yet - 75 miles and 12 hours on the water.

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 6

Day 6 - Mentor Harbour

We decide to spend another day in Mentor as the forecasted high is again in the 30’s and we need to pick up a few groceries. I wake up early and spend a couple hours writing and chilling out before the rest of the gang gets up. Once we’ve had breakfast we head down to the pool and spend most of the day there. Ana volunteers to do the shopping so by the end of the day we are fully repositioned and ready for our next leg of the journey, which we will begin at 4am tomorrow morning.

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 5

Day 5 - Conneaut Harbour to Mentor Harbour, OH

It’s 4am and we are throwing off the dock lines and heading out into the darkness. This is our first experience with night sailing and it turns out to be a most tranquil experience. The winds are quite strong and directly in our face once again so we head out on a port tack and sail through the darkness, enjoying the sound of the water splashing on the hull and the wind whistling through the shrouds and rigging. Ana and I enjoy watching the sun rise over the east horizon then check on the kids below who are sleeping soundly. The kids have been incredibly comfortable on the boat and the limited amount of space has certainly not seemed to have limited their fun. They have not yet once complained about any of the long sailing days and seem to quite enjoy being down below playing games and hanging out. Stella likes to be in the cockpit and sit on one of the built in seats which hang off the stern of the boat and watch the wake trailing behind the boat. As soon as the boat stops, Magnus is the first one to be whipping off his clothes and getting into his trunks for a swim. He is a total and complete waterbug and has even learned how to use fins, mask and snorkel.

The kids soon wake up and I decide to anchor the boat and get everybody out for a morning swim and bath. As we are several miles offshore we go the clothing optional route and have a nice skinny dip. It’s hard to explain the feeling of freedom you feel when you swim naked off your own boat in the middle of a lake at 9 am on a Monday morning. Life is definitely good.

We arrive at Mentor Harbour around 2pm to another scorcher - must be 33 degrees or more. There are two marinas available; one which is a member of the inter-lake yacht club that we belong to and offers a free night, and the other which is a paid marina and looks like it has a pool and restaurant. We cruise through a muddy channel that looks much too shallow to pass but manage to make it to the free marina at the end of the channel. We realize in an instant that this was a bad move - the dock was falling apart, there was nobody and nothing around and no electrical outlets in site. We turned her around and headed back to the luxury marina. At $1.75 a foot and the second night free, it was an easy decision. The marina turned out better than we could have hoped, there was a beautiful pool and loads of kids around so we let Magnus and Stella loose in the kiddie pool then went to sit around the big pool and have a couple drinks. There we sat for several hours and eventually we were pretty much the last people there so we went back to Bella Blue, cooked a nice dinner and crashed out.

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 4

Day 4 - Conneaut Harbour

We wake up relatively early and head up to a local restaurant for a much needed fried breakfast. It is a classic American greasy spoon complete with hash and biscuits on the menu. We then take a walk through the town and find a carnival has set up shop and will be opening at 3 this afternoon. Being a huge fan of carnivals, Ana is simply excited, as are the kids. I am not equally enthusiastic as my memories of the carnival back at the Woolco mall parking lot in Saskatoon are equal measures of fist fights, drug dealing and being hit by vomit spewed from drunken teenagers on the Zipper ride.

We return late in the afternoon and I am pleasantly surprised to find an extra grubby heavy metal cover band crying out the likes of Warrant, GnR, Poison, Kiss and the ultimate…..Faster Pussycat! The rest of the fair is as expected - crowded with teenage moms, tattooed and mustachioed muscle heads and skids of all sizes and colours. The kids and Ana enjoy a few rides, some of which seem to be on the brink of falling apart, then we grab an ice cream and we are out of there, back to the boats to enjoy the nights’ fireworks display. Yes, it is July 4th and we are lucky enough to be in the USA to celebrate with them, so we crack open a bottle of wine, enjoy the show, then escape from the party and sneak off to bed as we have a very early start.s

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 3

Day 3 - Erie, Pennsylvania to Conneault Harbour, PA

After a leisurely breakfast and a visit to the pristine showers and bathrooms at the marina office (our home marina is starting to look worse and worse by comparison….) we head out on the lake to find beautiful winds of 12 to 15 knots. The only problem is that the winds are coming from the exact direction we need to go so we start tacking as close to the wind as possible making wide tacks of 2 to 3 miles. There seems to be a big regatta going on as there are probably a hundred powerboats out on the lake, all anchored out in deep water. After several hours of wonderful sailing, but limited progress towards our destination, we decide to head closer to shore to anchor and prepare some lunch. At this point, Andrew is calling on the radio and is shocked how little distance we had covered. Of course, power boaters with 700 horsepower of engine have a somewhat different perspective than sailboats with tiny diesel engines and sails that cannot send you directly into the wind no matter how well they are trimmed. In any case, he meets us for lunch and we have a nice barbeque after which Andrew, Stella and I take his dingy into the beach to do some exploring. Poor Magnus fell asleep listening to my ipod so misses the dingy trip and the post lunch swim, which was most refreshing.

After lunch Andrew powers his way to Conneaut to get us slips and scope out the situation while we slowly make our way there under sail and power. We arrive many hours later to a blistering 32 degrees and a wooden dock so hot it scorches your feet. After docking Ana goes down the office to get us registered and finds out that if we buy $15 tickets to tonight’s steak dinner we don’t have to pay for dockage!

Conneault itself is a working class marina, much like Port Dover but a little worse for wear. The people are rugged and friendly and definitely like to have a good time. The landscape is unique; directly east of the marina is a CN yard with huge piles of gravel and coal and plenty of large machinery parked here and there. South of the marina is the townsite which sports a single giant windmill in stark contrast to the nearby coal mountains.

The marina site is well set up and includes a full bar, a kids tv room, a playground and a huge canopy with grills where everybody congregates to eat. The steak dinner is excellent and partway through one of the club members treats us to a tray full of jello shooters. I am instantly transported back to first year university which is the last time I’ve partaken in vodka mixed with jello. They were as disgusting as I remember but are easily washed down with Miller Lite and frozen daiquiris. As we make new friends around the picnic tables the kids have made friends of their own and one of them, Howie, has even taught Magnus and Stella his own personal version of the Scooby Doo song which starts with the line, “Scooby Dooby Doo took a poo”…and gets even more disgusting after that.

The evening progresses as one might expect and I find myself with Ana sitting on Andrew’s boat in the company of a few friends who are piling through his onboard bottled beverages at an alarming rate. We retire around 2am and I actually remember to drink a gallon of water and eat 3 advils before bedtime which always helps to sooth the next morning’s hangover.

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 2

Day 2 - Erie, Pennsylvania

We wake up to another beautiful day with temperatures expected to reach 30 degrees. We decide to make this a “shopping” day and hop on the free trolley which takes us downtown where we can connect to another public bus which goes to the shopping malls. Upon reaching downtown we find a nice pub and realize the Netherlands/Brazil world cup match is going down so we settle in for a few rounds of pre-noon $2 pints and enjoy the game. Ana wasn’t too happy with Brazil losing but at least it was to a decent team who we will probably end up cheering for as they looked fantastic on the field. Plus we just love Cloggies and their lovely orange uniforms (and skin, when tanned).

We eventually find a bus stop after walking 8 blocks and after a half hour wait hop on to a bus which must have had a nuclear powered air conditioning system as there were icicles forming on the bars and I swear I could see my breath. After several hours of shopping, walking across giant asphalt parking lots and having a terrible time finding a taxi we are finally back to the boat with a huge load including groceries, clothes and plenty of cheap American beer. We pack everything away then sit down for happy hour and agree that the US public transportation system is just as pathetic as the one in Canada and we take a vow that next time we will rent a car.

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 1

Day 1 - Port Dover to Erie, Pennsylvania

After spending last night loading and preparing the boat, we are up at 5am and throwing off the dock lines shortly after that. It is quite an exciting feeling knowing we are embarking on our first big journey on our new sailboat - the Bella Blue. We are planning on being away for about 18 days and our currently goal is to travel across Lake Erie to the town of Erie, Pennsylvania then work our way westward up the US coast line to the town of Sandusky and the nearby islands. For the return journey we will either come back along the US side and stop at the harbours we missed on the out journey or we may cross over to the Canadian side via Pelee Island and explore some of the Canadian harbours. This decision will depend on weather conditions and our experiences along the way.

First, a bit of background information. Our family, which includes me, my wife Ana and our two children Magnus, who is 5 and Stella, who is 3, purchased a 2005 Hunter 33 foot sailboat named “Bella Blue” in February of 2010. We had been looking for a sailboat for a couple years and finally the combination of extremely poor economic conditions in the US and a very favorable exchange rate yielded some fantastic bargains on boats and we were able to find a gorgeous sailboat which had been repossessed and was located in Port Annapolis which is in the state of Maryland on the eastern seaboard. Since we live in Paris, Ontario which is a 40 minute drive from the town of Port Dover snuggled away on the shore of Lake Erie, we are in a perfect location to own a boat. We have some previous sailing experience as I owned an older Hunter sailboat for about a year when I lived in Bahamas back in 1998. In fact, this is where Ana and I met so much of the initial time we had together was spent sailing around the Bahamas. It’s so much easier to find the love of your life when you own a boat…

As we power out of the safety and security of our home harbour, I feel a chill of excitement running down my spine. The winds are strong - from 15 to 20 miles per hour and coming from the north, almost directly behind us, which is probably the most difficult point of sail. We pull out the sails, cut the motor and begin our journey…with a nice cup of hot coffee for each of us sloshing around in the drink holders.

The first hour or two are excellent, but we need to pay strict attention to the sails to ensure we don’t jibe accidentally, which could cause damage to the boat with these strong winds. We are making about 5 knots, which is about 6 miles per hour but feels a lot faster on a sailboat with the wind rushing through your hair and the spray coming up on deck. I give Ana a turn at the helm so she can get a feel for the boat. She hasn’t done as much sailing as me so isn’t yet completely comfortable behind the wheel, but happily takes a turn. At this point the winds are strengthening and waves are getting larger. As we near Long Point the wind is really rocking and some of the larger waves are about 5 feet. Ana begins wondering out loud whether we are prepared to continue with such strong winds and chop but I assure her that we will be fine and Bella Blue can easily handle these conditions. As we round Long Point and adjust our heading for Erie, the winds almost immediately die and we are left crawling at about 1.5 knots. After struggling slowly for a couple miles we decide to fire up the motor to give us a bit extra speed and we then enjoy a beautiful motor sail across Lake Erie all the way to buoys marking the harbour entrance to Erie. The kids wake up around 8 and enjoy the ride across, splitting their time between sitting in the cockpit with us watching the other boats and hanging around below in the cabin playing games and watching dvd’s.

Erie has a huge protected harbour and probably a dozen marinas so is a very popular boating destination. We pilot the boat into the harbour and eventually find Perry’s Landing, which is one of the marinas that has a video phone where you can clear US customs. Coincidentally, this is the same marina we had Bella Blue transported to back in April so it is comfortingly familiar, as we spent many hours here putting her back together and preparing her for the initial journey to Port Dover.

After clearing customs we take Bella Blue over to the Bay Harbor marina where we have booked a slip for the night. Our elapsed time since leaving Port Dover is about 9 hours so it feels good to be at our first destination. We arrive to find a beautifully maintained, practically new marina with a lot of very large and very new boats. Upon docking, the marina manager greets us immediately and gives us the low down on all we need to know. This includes telling us that the boat next to us, named “Marlin” is a custom build fishing boat, one of only two that were built. The other one is owned by Jimmy Buffett. I like how this trip is going.

After getting settled, we take the kids for a walk down to a local playground where they burn off a lot of the energy they stored up on the long boat ride across. We stop for a quick pee break at the “Sloppy Duck”, a local bar and restaurant and the kids are thrilled to find a pond in front of it full of catfish and baby ducks which keeps them entertained for half an hour.

We return to Bella Blue just in time for the arrival of our friend Andrew who has a 36 foot Sea Ray Sundancer power boat docked next to us in Dover. He also lives across from us in Paris so we are neighbours in almost every way possible. Thankfully we get along very well and enjoy similar hobbies, mainly restricted to boating and drinking.

We meet a number of people on the dock, mostly Americans, all of which are super friendly and extremely hospitable. Every time we visit the US we are struck by how friendly people are. We are also usually shocked at the level of service you get everywhere. I think this is one big difference between the US and Canada; in the US people are very service oriented and take their jobs seriously. The service is nearly always superb and folks seem genuinely interested in doing a good job.

After a long day, I wind up going to bed quite early (with a pounding headache…think I didn’t drink enough water) and Ana stays up for a while visiting with Andrew, his friend Michelle and a couple other of Andrew’s American friends who live nearby and stopped by for a visit.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Summer is here?

It's the end of March and it feels like summer.  As Easter weekend approaches we are looking forward to highs in the mid 20's, definitely not the norm but the heat will be welcome.  Yes, our winter has been very mild but hey, it's still winter and winter bites the biggie.  To celebrate, we've got our hot tub up and running and have bought a brand new beer fridge for the back deck.  The real initiation of our backyard retreat will be this weekend with the visit of my brother Marty and family.

I'm sad to report that we have not been away on a holiday since January when we cruised down to Annapolis to buy a delicious sailboat.  Our life since then has been overcome by administration, tax returns, property maintenance, tenant wars and paperwork of all varieties.  We have been working hard to get as much of this stuff out of the way before our boat arrives so that we can devote as much time as possible this summer to sailing.  We have also decided to liquidate two of our investment properties.  We've done as much as we can do with these buildings - the units have all been renovated, tenants are great, the rents are high and the buildings are safe.  From here on it's just a management game and we've decided we can better invest that money in other areas and save ourselves a lot of time and stress in the process.  We are trying to sell the buildings privately, at least to begin with, but will list them if that doesn't work out.  There has been a substantial amount of interest so far so with luck we will find the right buyer who is willing to pay the right price.  They will be a great investment for somebody as all the hard work has already been done...and my back still hurts from it.

We are looking forward to some downtime this summer.  With our jobs, properties and projects we're probably putting in 60 hour weeks and we've realized that is too much.  When we work that much the kids suffer, our relationship sufers and everybody is basically cranky all the time.  We always struggle to find the balance between work and play, but it's been tougher lately.  The problem is completely our own fault, we tend to take on too much, and once we take something on we like to do it well (sometimes too well...) so the length of time it takes to do tasks is always more than expected.  We are hoping that having the sailboat will give us a good excuse to spend more time on "non work activites".

Magnus and Stella have been diligently attending swimming lessons and have turned into quite the little fishies, perfectly timed for the upcoming sailing season!  We plan on spending a lot of time in the waters of Lake Erie and while we're not actually in the water, you can be sure we'll be hovering over the water with a fishing rod.  My personal goal is to consume 100 kilos of fresh pickeral and perch this summer.

What else can I report?  Ana and I have been working on a master plan for our http://www.lifeisgrand.org/ and http://www.grandventures.ca/ websites and are planning a major overhaul.  We will start chipping away at that this summer, but expect to see more of a focus on marketing digital products, similar to the book I just wrote on importing sailboats.  We see a great future in ebooks so would like to explore the possibilites.  We are also going to return lifeisgrand to a purely travel website....with a likely focus on sailing as we expect many of our future travel adventures will be on a sailboat.

That's it for now..

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Great start to the year

After our 2009 Olson family review and 2010 goal setting, I printed out all our major family goals and posted them in a conspicuous location in the home office. What is "in sight" is definitely in mind for me so this was a great way to keep us focused on what we are trying to accomplish this year.

Our number one goal was to buy a sailboat...and we did! It's a beautiful Hunter sailboat that we found down in Maryland, US. We happened to be in the right place at the right time and got exactly the boat we've been looking for....actually, far more than what we were looking for, and for only slightly more than we were looking to spend (okay, maybe quite a bit more...but trust me, it will be worth it!)

In the process, I somehow managed to write an ebook on how to import boats from the US to Canada. After doing my own intensive research, I realized there was no quality resource out there to help people through this process so I used our experience, web resources, written sources and the experience of industry professionals to write the "definitive" manual on importing boats from the US to Canada. The final version is ready to go and can be found at www.importingusboats.com. Please buy a copy and help me pay for my dockage this year!

We're now revving up the marketing machine and doing a lot of learning in the process. It's incredible how much technology has changed in the past few years...and how easy it is to get left behind. Ana and I having fun figuring out all these new marketing mediums which didn't even exist only a few years ago.

We took a trip down to Maryland to inspect the boat and made a vacation of it. We were gone for a week and visited some great places - Annapolis, Washington, Atlantic City and New York City. Of course the kids were along for the adventure as well as Ana's folks and we really had a fun time, probably because it was such an unexpected trip; the original plan had been to go to Florida for a sun holiday but when the boat opportunity arose we speedily adjusted plans. The highlight was definitely Annapolis and Washington, D.C. - in particular the Smithsonian museums which we visited in the capital. The natural history and airplane museums were truly a wonder and something we're very happy to have seen. It seems that the best planned vacations are sometimes the vacations where you have no plans. Try it and see!

We also just returned from a Family Day long weekend trip to Saskatoon to catch up with the Olsons.  It was a weekend of visiting, eating, drinking and staying warm indoors.  Nothing too strenuous or adventurous, just a great visit with the family.  Visiting Saskatchewan in the middle of February is reserved for the suicidal, mentally insane, or lonesome ex-Saskies.  In case you weren't sure, I'm in the last group.

An excellent start to what promises to be a wonderful year.