Sunday, July 31, 2011

2011 Sailing Trip - Day 10 - Mentor to Geneva-On-The-Lake

Miles by boat – 23.5
Miles by foot - 3

We wake up to a grey, cloudy, rainy day after an evening downpour which has cleaned off our boats nicely. We check the weather forecast and see that there looks to be a break in the storm around noon so we spend the morning hanging around the marina and grounds, exploring some of the parts we hadn’t yet seen. Around 11 we decide to make a move and the Bella Blue crew is rounded up and sailed away. Andrew has to wait for this toilet to arrive so they stay back and spend the rest of the day there.

With a nice west wind we have a lovely sail over to Geneva, and since it’s only 20 some miles it makes it one of the shorter runs we’ve done. Along the way, I begin to regret teaching Stella the “devil horn” hand sign as she’s now incorporated it into this disturbing routine where she puts on a slinky sundress and her fancy shoes and dances around the cockpit pole and table, sticking out her butt and giving everybody the horns. This girl is going to do me in by the time she’s eighteen – of that I am sure.

We pull into the Geneva marina around 2 pm and find a massive, impressive complex, much nicer than what we’d anticipated. We check in at the Ship’s Store, which is probably the best marina store we’ve seen – they have a nice little food counter and a store with clothing, other merchandise, marine supplies and fishing supplies. We ask for directions to town and are told to simply walk along the lake for a mile or so, so we return to the boat (which feels like a mile long walk as it’s all the way around the marina on the sea wall), grab our stuff and begin the walk along the lake. The scenery is absolutely stunning as the paved pathway is on higher ground overlooking the lake, and to the right is a farmer’s field, then later on a nice hotel with a kids park and outdoor pool.

With a name like “Geneva-on-the-Lake” one would expect a quaint, fancy little town with air conditioned shops run by ladies who lunch, selling items such as handmade candles, expensive antiques, fine books, exquisite pastries, ceramic elephants, custom jewelry - all with small, neatly written price tags which have a “-“ instead of a “.99” at the end of the price. Instead, we came across a tacky house of horrors, a “carnival turned town” with hot and sweaty little shops, all smelling similarly of old moldy wood, selling Grateful Dead tapestries, crappy costume jewelry, biker pendants, incense infused hemp sweaters, hash bongs and funnel cakes. There was even a fortune teller promising insight into your past, present and future. Being pretty happy with our past, present and futures, we just passed on by, but did find the “Times Square” restaurant which served up pretty good French fried and tremendously good lemonade. We got the half order of fries which was actually half a serving tray full with enough fries for a family of four.

We walked back to the marina and took the boat over for a pump out, diesel fill up and to do some laundry up at the store. As we waited for the dryer to finish, tied up at the fuel dock, we sat on the back of the boat and enjoyed a drink on a lovely afternoon. We then took the boat back to our slip, returning just in time to meet Andrew and Michelle as they arrived. As we hadn’t yet had dinner, we decided to have a wiener roast on the beach, which was just on the other side of the marina, a very short walk away from the boats. This little spot was perfect - bordered on the west side by a long stone breakwater and pier, several hundred feet long, leading out to a lighthouse at the end, on the backside by a lush grove of trees and on the east by a grassy hill, over which was the marina. It felt like our own private, secluded beach, and we treated it as such, having a marvelous roast, some glasses of wine then a dip in the water to cool off, under a perfectly clear sky lit with constellations of stars and the warm, yellow glow of the marina lights. I must say, this was probably the best moment of the trip and one of those times that everything in your life seems very right.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

2011 Sailing Trip - Day 9 - Cedar Point to Cleveland

Miles by boat – 51
Miles by foot – 2

By 4:30 am we`re on the water and headed for Cleveland, beginning the first leg of our return journey home. We navigate by lights to the main channel then make our way out under sail with a beautiful west wind. As we pass Cedar Point peninsula to the right the winds starts to die and, sadly, we need to fire up the engine. At a compass bearing of 98 degrees we motor along for 10 miles at which point the wind picks up nicely so we`re back under sail. I take the opportunity of quiet time to do a bit of work while everybody is still sleeping – Ana snuggled up in the cockpit under a fuzzy blue blanket and the kids down below. It amazes me that we can be practically out of sight of land and I`m still able to send email and log into my work computer with my iPad. While this prevents work from being far from your mind on vacation, it does allow me to keep up with things and not return to work with a thousand emails and three days of catch up.

The aft wind kicks up some pretty good waves, making the boat rock and roll constantly, and I don’t mean in a Def Leppard kind of way. As we are about halfway there a US border patrol boat roars up from behind then pulls ups right beside our boat as we are underway at 7 knots, close enough for them to jump aboard. As I was downstairs testing the toilet, Ana was left by herself in the cockpit sporting her pink sailing moo-moo, plucking her eyebrows, waving nervously at the border dudes. They looked at the boat, looked at her and, after sensing no imminent threat to national security, just wrote down our registration number from the hull and sped away.

As we get close to the Edgewater Yacht club in Cleveland, the wind has picked up and created a vicious chop at the harbour entrance. Andrew had arrived there an hour before us so gave us some directions to get in and soon we were tied up at the dock, sheltered from the wind and plugged into power enjoying a cool boat, as the temperature was again in the low 30’s. As we finish tidying up after the sail, Andrew comes by and tells us of his docking experience. As they entered the marina around 11am they saw a big sign saying “Gas Dock” so they proceeded to tie up there to fill up the tanks. A man wearing blue coveralls came out to meet them and it was clear from his wobbly stride and slurred words he was completely plastered. After somehow managing to gas up the boat, he was putting the hose back on the dispensing pump when they heard a man scream and saw his legs up in the air and head on the ground, suffering a massive wipeout. After clawing his way back up, and pretending not to hear Andrew’s laughter, he met them inside to process the credit card, sporting a nice throbbing arm which was already turning blue. He undercharged them a hundred bucks then pointed him towards the gas dock down the marina which was the actual Edgewater Yacht Club gas dock, giving them some hope that the marina was not run by a crew of drunken sods. It turned out the club was indeed well run, and by completely sober staff. It was a big marina, offering close to 400 slips, with a restaurant and bar on site. They were also two weeks away from completing their outdoor pool, which would have been very nice had it been available.

We had a delicious lunch of boat burritos in the dining car (Andrew’s boat) and made sure to drop some hamburger meat on the new carpets. Since he bought new carpets this year I’ve developed a compulsive habit of dropping food and spilling drinks on it every time I’m on his boat. Seems Ana has developed this affliction as well as she dumped half her burrito contents onto the seat and carpet, and I think some also landed on the dog. One day a few weeks prior, during boat lunch at Potahawk Point I spilled food three times during a single meal – a personal best for me. The first was an oily, Portuguese Pimento Potato, which made a reddish stain, second was a scoop of Brown Baked Beans, which produced brown splatter marks and lastly I lost half a bowl of Sticky Caesar Salad, which deposited whitish skids along with crouton wads which were accidentally ground into the carpet by my heel. I later dumped a beer, but that was well after the meal so didn’t really count.

We found out there was a beach nearby so Andrew, Michelle and I took the kids while Ana stayed back to relax and get out of the sun for a while. The beach was actually very nice, and even staffed by lifeguards. The wind had produced some lovely large waves so with Stella on my back we swam out and I taught the kids some of the finer points of body surfing (wait for big wave, swim like hell, don’t drink the water). That lasted until my legs felt like jelly then we packed them up and walked back to the boat. As we were crossing the park, we were met by a worn looking roller blader who happened to stop just behind us to adjust something on his skates. Magnus, staring at the man, asks “Daddy, can I tell you a joke?”

“Sure,” I say.

“What wears socks…..and is bald….and has roller skates?” he asks as his eyes dart between the roller blader and me.

“What?” I ask.

“A nerd.”

We return to the boat, spend a couple hours cleaning and doing a bit of work, then join Andrew and Michelle on his boat for a trip to the “Flats”, which is an area in downtown Cleveland on the river which used to be a major entertainment district, but is now mostly empty buildings with only a single restaurant remaining, called Shooters. After a short ride, which began with me spilling a full gin and tonic on the boat carpet, we are on the river and quite astounded with the number of bridges, which are everywhere you look. There are also plenty of piles of dirt and machinery around, giving it an industrial, gritty feel, which I love as I am very fond of urban grit. Andrew pulls the boat up to the restaurant, which has ample boat docking, and we get seated inside, as all the outdoor patio tables are already filled with patrons, drinking tall beers and cocktails enjoying a lovely view over downtown Cleveland.

We enjoy a delicious meal and several drinks, including Long Island Iced Teas for myself which are boozy, boozy good. During the meal, Andrew asks the server where the closest convenience store would be. He replies, “Well, the safe one is up the hill and to the right a few blocks”. Andrew and I look at each other, just to confirm we both heard the same thing.

“So there’s an unsafe one?” Andrew asks.

“Yes, that one is up the hill and to the left, in the projects,” the server replies.

“Like you’d have to be packing heat to go in there?” Andrew laughs jokingly.

“Yes,” he says seriously.

We decide to skip the trip to either of the convenience stores, mainly for safety concerns, but also because on closer interrogation, Andrew doesn’t seem to know exactly what he wants to buy there anyway. Instead, we go for a walk down the river, enjoying a nice Romeo & Juliet corona cigar along the way, to the nearby Jacob’s Pavillion, where, judging by the amount of cars, there is clearly something going on. The pavilion itself is right on the water and very cool and we learn that the band The Decemberists are playing, so we hang around outside the gate listening to a couple songs, taking glamour shots of ourselves.

By now it is getting dark and we stroll back to the boat, mesmerized by the transformation of our surroundings – the grit and grime being replaced by stunning lighted bridges, buildings and roadways. We push our point and shoot Cannon to the limit, trying to capture the beauty of the moment, but knowing the photos won’t come close to capturing it.

Andrew pilots his lovely vessel safely back to the dock, where we have a quick nightcap then hit the sheets after a very successful adventure in the Flats!

2011 Sailing Trip - Day 8 - Cedar Point

Miles by boat – 2.5
Miles by foot – 5

We wake up to an overcast, though warm morning in Sandusky and are on the water shortly after 8am headed across the bay to the Cedar Point Marina. We tie up at the fuel dock to get checked in and buy tickets for the day at the park. We’re surprised to discover that the full day adult tickets for access to both the Cedar Point amusement park and the Soak City water park are only forty bucks, and kids ones even cheaper. We motor over to our slip, get docked then prepare our day bag and we are off to the park, which is walking distance away. Once there, we go immediately to one of the bigger roller coasters to find there is already an hour and a half wait. We pass on that one but do find a couple other cool rides with shorter waiting times so we alternate between taking shifts with Magnus and Stella on the kiddie rides and going on the adult rides.

After a couple hours of that we walk over to the water park where we immediately head to the lazy river and doing a couple rounds in floating tire tubes, which is totally relaxing and a lot of fun. We remain in the water park for the rest of the day and the kids are in their glory, trying out all the slides, rides, pools and splash pads. Around 6:30 we are exhausted so head back to the boat for happy hour, grilled burgers and dock chatter. Andrew and Michelle head back to the park for a few more roller coaster rides and we head down to the nicely air conditioned boat, play with the kids for a while, watch part of a movie then head to sleep, thoroughly exhausted after a full day.

Monday, July 25, 2011

2011 Sailing Trip - Day 7 –Kelley’s Island to Sandusky

Miles by boat – 8.5
Miles by foot – 2

By morning, most of the boats packing the marine the previous night were gone, either back to the mainland, or perhaps they sunk, hard to tell because the water was so cloudy. We slept in until close to 8 and the kiddies were up shortly after that, after which we packed them full of Cheerios and toast then cast off for the short trip across the bay to Sandusky.

The entrance to Sandusky harbor is a little tricky, as there are hundreds of boats zipping around creating very confused waves. The channel itself is quite wide, though it gets shallow if you venture outside the buoys so we were careful to keep well within it. The roller coasters of Cedar Point loom large to the port side, creating additional distraction as you are close enough to hear people screaming as they plunge to their possible doom.

We arrive at the Sandusky Yacht Club and are met by the dockhands who show us to our slip and help us get in. The facility is beautiful, lots of bit sail and power boats, brand new clean docks, meticulously landscaped grounds and a classy and surprisingly cheap restaurant on site. It seems that every marina we visit makes Port Dover looks worse and worse. It must be the difference between a government owned operation and a private one, though it really doesn’t have to be like that. At our marina, at any given time there are six or eight red t-shirted kids standing on the deck by the marina office, waiting for something to happen. That is something you just never see in the US marinas – the kids working are always doing something and because of it, the docks are clean, no spiderwebs anywhere, grounds are clean, weeds are cleaned up, bathroom are shiny, etc. Our marina manager has been in the position for many years, which always leads to a degradation in the service since the get used to doing things the same old way and there is never a fresh set of eyes to take stock of things. Anyway, I don’t like to complain, so I’ll just get Ana to steal her job and she’d have that marina humming in no time.

After getting settled we head over to the restaurant for lunch and it’s pretty close to a white tablecloth sort of place, unbelievable servers and delicious food. When the kids inevitably don’t finish their food, the server takes it away to pack it up, and it comes back in neat little packages labeled with the date, time, name of the yacht club and instructions on reheating. Next time I simply must wear a shirt and tie instead of the grimy, three days strong, red and white t-shirt I’m sporting.

After lunch, we head to the pool, which is equally awesome – I have a quick swim with the kids then return to the boat to do some….ugh…work and they remain for a few hours. After that we go for a walk downtown then on the way back just happen to pass by the best fish sandwich shack on the lake – The Sandusky New Fish Company where I grab a perch sandwich to go.

We arrive back at the boats for happy hour then Andrew and Michelle head to the restaurant for lunch while we eat on the boat. Before long it’s time to retire to get a good night’s sleep before our big day at Cedar Point.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

2011 Sailing Trip - Day 6 - Vermillion to Kelley’s Island

Miles by boat – 18.5
Miles by foot – 0.5
Miles by golf cart - 5

This was the first truly relaxing morning we’ve had this trip – skies were grey, storms were approaching and there was no incentive to do anything besides drink coffee and sit around on the clubhouse couches trying to find adult friendly cartoons on the tv for us to all watch, which was mainly unsuccessful. We were sure there would be a SpongeBob playing somewhere on the six hundred channels but all we could find were lame kids cartoons, fishing shows and infomercials. After making a nice breakfast in the marina kitchen I took advantage of the down time and got an hour of work done, all the while being ruthlessly heckled by the others. By this time Ana had found a break in the weather using this awesome iPad app called Intellicast, which finds your present locations and has detailed radar weather maps and forecasts. Shortly before leaving, we met a young guy who had been caught in the storm the day before in his 27 foot sailboat and thought he was going to die as he surfed his boat down the ten foot waves with no engine or sails and was doing 7 knots. Fortunately the storm didn’t last long, but it gave him quite a scare. I’m sure we’ll have our turn someday but until then we’ll continue to play it safe.

Around noon we packed up our gear, filled up with diesel, emptied the holding tank, threw off the dock lines and said goodbye to the lovely town of Vermillion. With a compass heading of 310 degrees, we set both the main and the headsail and the beautifully steady 14 knot west wind carried us across the water gracefully. The headwinds we’d faced much of the time had necessitated the use of the engine, but today this was not necessary as the wind was at a favorable angle, and gave us a deliciously quiet ride with the only sounds being the water splashing the side of the boat and the kids fighting down below in the cabin.

Sadly, the winds eventually died and we had to fire up the engine. As we approached Kelley’s we decided to stop for our “morning” swim as we had missed it the last time we were out because of the rough conditions. We hopped in suitless hoping, but not really caring that much, that the surrounding boats weren’t packing binoculars. The water was a balmy 31 degrees and felt more like a great bathtub than a great lake. After the swim, we motored in to Kelley’s island, where we were met at the dock by a dockhand and he directed us into a slip. The situation here on a Saturday afternoon was much different than that which we encountered last time we were here, which was midweek. This time the slow, quiet marina was replaced with boats in every slip, drunken dudes leaping off the pier and a heaving patio full of crazy boaters. There was a big festival happening this weekend in both Kelley’s and Put-in-Bay which had attracted thousands of people. After adjusting to the chaos, we met Andrew and Michelle then immediately head to the golf cart rental shop and picked up a lovely six seater. Kelley’s is small enough to do a full circuit in an hour in a golf cart but instead we did a half circuit and stopped at one of the beaches for a swim. As we were crusing around in that underpowered beauty we saw the black storm clouds rolling in which reminded Andrew that had hadn’t covered up his boat so we put the pedal to the metal, layed a mile long blackie on the roadway and were back to the marina in no time. Ana ad Magnus went to check out the local market while Stella and I went back to secure Bella Blue. As soon as she was prepped, the rain started to fall and we were pounded for about half an hour, which gave us time to listen to Nickelback’s “Rockstar” five times, cementing it as Stella’s current favourite. It was also the perfect opportunity to teach Stella the “devil horns” (high five minus digits 3 and 4 – if you can’t figure that out call Gene Simmons and he’ll show you).

Once the weather cleared, we walked over to the restaurants, on the way passing a charming young gent yakking over the side of his boat, attracting a legion of hungry sunfish in the process, making us all a little less hungry. We found a restaurant that had space and had a pretty decent meal, then head back to the marina for a couple drinks at the dockside bar, after which the Olsons retired while Andrew and Michelle pushed ahead and partied on until 4 am, what troopers!

2011 Sailing Trip - Day 5 - Slow Day in Vermillion

Miles by foot – 1

At 6 am I was up after a lovely night’s sleep so I grabbed the laptop and a coffee and snuck out of the boat to set up shop under the picnic canopy. It was already hot outside so my attire consisted of bathing trunks and sunglasses. I wanted to get a couple hours work done before the kids got up so I sat there tapping away until I was joined by a groggy but relaxed wife a while later, then shortly after that a little girl named Stella, who had a giant smile and hair that I can only describe as a nice place for a family of mice to bed down.

After getting everybody shampooed, shaved and shat we went out for a walk to see the downtown area and check out the shops. It was already wickedly hot by 10 am so we dashed from shadow to shadow, along the way finding a boat club with a pool that we were invited to use (yay!). As most of the shops did not open until 11 we sat down in the boutique coffee and gift shop and ordered iced coffees and iced tea for the kids. In the US, these drinks aren’t quite the same as we get in Canada. If you get an iced coffee from Timmy’s, it comes deliciously creamy, sweetened and in a slushy-like form. In the US, it is simply cold, brewed coffee with ice cubes in it. I am and have always been a black coffee, no sugar king of guy, but I had to add six packets of sugar and half a cup of cream to get this particular beverage into a drinkable condition. Same story with the iced tea – cold tea with ice cubes. I don’t think the iced tea in Canada bears any resemblance to brewed tea whatsoever, it’s mainly a powered mix of sugar and chemicals as far as I can tell, but it does taste good. Six packets of sugar in the tea wasn’t enough to make it drinkable for the kids so I drank that too, and in the process, got some sort of cold filtered caffeine rush that was quite enjoyable.

We visited the beach for a while, taking some glamour shots of Stella and her mom in front of the Marine museum, then headed back up the street to see the shops. We picked up sunglasses for the kids and Ana bought a nice dress at the consignment store. By this time we were steaming hot, and we had a report from Andrew that they were on their way, as the wind the previous day had prevented them from coming and they spent the night in Mentor, and were invited for drinks by the boat next door, a 70 foot monster. When they asked him what he did for a living he said, “I run a couple hotels”. They asked, “Oh, you own a couple hotels?”. He replied, “No, I just run them.” It’s that kind of place.

On the way back we stopped at the grocery store and picked up supplies, which included a box of 24 Labatt Blue for sixteen bucks, I just couldn’t pass it up. I’ve made a pact with myself to never buy alcohol in Canada again and so far I’ve been doing quite well. When we arrived back at the dock Andrew was there pumping another five hundred bucks of gas into his “investment” as the boating magazines like to call it. What they actually mean is an investment in your social life, but they make it sound like an investment in future, which is really just a guaranteed way to drain your bank account. BOAT is actually an acronym – Bring On Another Thousand.

After he extinguishes the flames from his credit card, we sit down for a nice beverage then head over to Quaker Stake for lunch, where I had one of the best burgers ever, the “Lubeburger”. A name this is just begging for a joke, but I suppose it fits the theme of the joint. Everywhere around us hung motorcycles, sea-doos, boats, small cars, engines, gas pumps and tv’s featuring mainly racing. Americans sure do love their themed restaurants. Canadian themed restaurants are few and far between, either because we have no imagination or maybe the Americnas have already had all the best ideas. We do have Moose Winooski’s in Ontario, at least, which features moose heads hanging everywhere and log cabin styling, sort of like Montanas but way cooler. But I digress.

Around 4pm or so this devilish looking layer of blackness boiled into the sky above the harbor. The temperature dropped ten degrees instantly so we closed up the boats and headed inside the clubhouse. Within minutes there were 50 kph winds, a deluge of rain and a scattering of hail, which did a wonderful job of cleaning up the topside of our boat. We enjoyed the storm from inside and the kids enjoyed cartoons on satellite tv for a couple hours

The rest of the day was taken up with having drinks, playing with kids, checking weather, doing laundry, having drinks, going for ice cream, having one more drink, checking the weather, then heading to bed. Overnight there was another vicious storm which felt like it was going to flood the city and explode our mast, but by morning it has calmed down.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

2011 Sailing Trip - Day 4 - Mentor to Vermillion

Miles by boat – 55
Miles by foot – 0.5

I woke up at 4 to my gently bleating blackberry alarm clock then fell immediately back asleep as I was way too tired to get up. One hour later both Ana and I awoke, got the boat prepped and threw off the lines. We motored out into the lake to find stronger than expected winds and a very choppy lake. The further out into the lake we got, the harder the wind blew and the higher the waves became. Unfortunately, the nice strong wind was blowing directly in our face, forcing us to tack back and forth toward our destination, adding many miles onto our trip. As the boat was pounded by the waves, spraying water on the unfortunate cockpit members, the kids slept soundly below. At one point they both woke up and moved from the v-berth at the front of the boat, which was taking the greatest punishment, back to the aft cabin, which was slightly better, and immediately fell back asleep. The boat rocked and rolled, making it difficult to move around below, though Ana was able to make us a coffee and peanut butter and jam sandwich for breakfast. The kids slept on. It wasn’t until 9:30 that the children finally surfaced, after a restful and long sleep, assuring me that we have the best traveling kiddies in the world.

After nine hours we finally reached Vermillion, and it seemed like we were on the water for far longer than that. Because of the rough water we didn’t get to have our morning swim so Ana had a shower in the boat and the kids and I just stayed grubby. There were heat advisories broadcast over the radio the whole days as temperatures in the area were in the mid 30’s and humidity was maxed out, so it was a hot ride indeed, though the wind helped keep us cool on the boat. After negotiating an unusual, but neat harbor entrance, we started making our way down the channel and soon realized this was no ordinary stop. In place of coal piles, ancient factories and freighters, we passed luxury homes, neatly manicured lawns, beautiful yachts and lovely restaurants and bars, making this by far the prettiest town we’ve seen on the lake.

We pulled up to our marine, called the Vermillion Power Boat Club, and were immediately met by the manager who helped us dock then gave us a tour of the facilities. Because of our Boat US membership and the yacht club we belong to in Dover, we got 25% off the first night and the second night free. We like free, especially when it’s at a marina that has wi-fi, grills, outdoor covered eating area, full kitchen, fuel and pump-outs, and a huge air conditioned clubhouse with a giant television, perfect for a couple hours of cartoons for the kiddies. There is also a Quaker Steak and Lube restaurant immediately beside the marina, which is a US restaurant chain devoted to the burning of fossil fuels in all types of fast moving vehicles. A perfect fit for a marina with gas guzzling boats, I’d say.

Once we were settled, Ana got the kids ready and took them for a walk to the public beach to go for a swim, while I stayed back to get some work done. I’m in the middle of a big project at the moment so sadly have to spend some time on work stuff, but considering I’m working on a sailboat in a luxury harbor, I’m really not complaining.

When they returned several hours later we got the sand sprayed out of everybody’s butt then had a lovely steak dinner, and during dinner heard of their discoveries that afternoon which included a couple consignment stores, nice coffee house, beautiful beach, marine shop and, best of all, the sighting of a three foot long water snake, which they spotted from the bridge which passes over the canal.

While I finished up my work, Ana cooked us a delicious steak dinner and after gobbling that down we had a relaxing night and mainly stayed hunkered down in the air conditioned boat, relishing the thought that the next day’s plan was to stay put and have a slow, leisurely day.

Friday, July 22, 2011

2011 Sailing Trip - Day 3 - Erie to Mentor

Miles by boat – 75.5

My blackberry alarm sounded at 3am and within ten minutes, we were underway. We slipped silently away from the dock and retraced our path out of the harbor. After a near grounding due to inattention and seemingly inaccurate chart information, we were well enough north of Erie to set our course directly for Mentor, 60 miles southwest. At this point Ana went back below to go to sleep and I set out the sails, made coffee and enjoyed the ride. We motorsailed for a while then after the winds shifted slightly south and strengthened, i shut off the engine and we cruised noiselessly under sail for a nice long stretch. The dawn experience when sailing is extraordinary, you first begin to notice that the lights you see in the distance begin to dim and become more difficult to see. The sky begins to slowly lighten and before long it is not night anymore…but it’s also not quite day because the sun is not visible. When then sun does arrive, it is usually a deep red colour, very vicious looking, and once it breaks it starts to heat up fast and you are soon looking for your sunglasses. During this trip so far the daytime temperatures have been thirty celsius and above with evening temperatures still in the mid 20’s so the air conditioning on the boat is more than a “nice to have”.

Ana wakes up before the kids and comes out to the cockpit with a couple of coffees which is a great start to the day. The kids eventually surface and we immediately take down the sails, whip the clothes off and jump into the lake for our morning family bath! There is nothing quite like having a bare butt bath in the middle of a lake that is so large you can barely make out the shoreline and can be assured there will be no other boaters sneaking up for a view of your tan lines.

Around mid day Andrew and Michelle catch up to us, stop for a quick visit (and Corona) then speed off to Mentor. We arrive ourselves a few hours later, around 2pm, and after a couple slip changes we settle into our spot, directly across from three 60 foot plus yachts. Poor Andrew, he has a 36 Sea Ray which is one of the nicest and biggest boats on our dock, but here in this upper class country club harbor his boat sadly appears a bit dingy-like in comparison, which I can see has bruised his ego. I think it’s called something like “horsepower envy” or something like that. But, as we’ve seen first hand, there’s always a bigger boat out there so even these 80 footers would appear dingy-like next to the 200 foot yachts moored in the Bahamas.

Once we are settled, we head over to the pool with a bag of beer and a bag of laundry and, for once, the child sitting duties Andrew and I get stuck with (playing with kids in the cool pool) turn out to be the better option than what the girls get (folding socks in a hot laundry room). You see, we’ve been abandoned many times before, usually in a mall food court, or bookstore, or park, or hot asphalt parking lot while the ladies embark on retail therapy. So I can’t say I felt too bad.

As we were lounging around the pool, some giant a-hole pulled up in his giant a-hole speed boat which was so loud it was shaking the building. There was a young owner and his buddy floating in the channel revving the two obviously massive engines, trying to attract as much attention as possible. Ana found out later from one of the gas dock staff that he had put $3,000 of fuel in the boat a couple weeks ago, but his credit card was declined and they had to hold his boat until he was able to return with cash which, one can assume, he probably got from his daddy.
We wandered back to the boats and decided to take a power boat cruse back to Fairport harbor, about 6 miles east, which is home to “Pickle Bills”, a legendary seafood restaurant and party spot for boaters. As we cruised into the channel we passed a massive freighter which, judging but the mountains of coal, aggregate and dirt piles which were lined up all along the channel, he was there to pick up a load. Many of the harbor entrances around the lake are like this – very industrial and very functional, obviously with pleasure boating only a small part of the business.
Pickle Bills is the only bar I have ever seen where there is boat parking AT THE BAR. A circular bar extends out into the channel and they have built finger piers into the water where you can tie up your boat while you get sloshed at the aqua-pub. The restaurant part itself is enormous and filled with, uh, statuettes, I guess. It’s sort of hard to explain but there’s everything from a hideous hag of a figurehead riding a bowsprit that greets you when you walk in the door, to a full sized bull shark to a set of realistic, half dressed mannequins playing cards to a giant alligator to hundreds of stuffed ocean creatures everywhere you look. Magnus immediately grabbed the camera and took photos of practically every display in the restaurant, making me believe he may be headed toward a career in photo journalism…or erotic photography. In any case, based on the bizarre surroundings, we didn’t expect much from the food and were stunned when we were served with some of the best seafood we’ve ever had. I had a swordfish dish that was amazing, and the mussels were excellent. Stella gobbled up all her food and Magnus

I forgot to mention, the a-hole with the a-hole boat was also there and as we were going in, he was thankfully leaving, but seemed to love firing up his boat, scaring the living shit out of everybody, including myself. As he idled away most people were rolling their eyes and were obviously glad to see him leave.  Man, I must sound like a grumpy old dude!

After our delicious meal, we hopped in the boat and took off back down the channel. The giant freighter had pulled away and Andrew pulled the boat right up beside it and we had a good look at the behemoth. After that, we headed east back to Mentor, but halfway there Michelle mentioned, “I think we’re being followed”. We turned back to see a helicopter in our path shining a huge spotlight down on the water. We first thought he was on our trail for all the cocaine and weapons we imported but it turned out he was probably looking for his lost car keys.

We arrived back at the dock, set the alarm for 4am and hit the sack.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

2011 Sailing Trip - Day 2 - Erie Beers & Blues

Miles by boat - 4
Miles by car - 25
Miles by foot - 1

After a sound sleep, we awake to a beautiful, bright and hot day, and have a quick breakfast before heading back to the customs phone. We decide that we will rent a car today to get some "chores" done so after a very fast conversation with customs (phone worked on the second attempt) we were riding the trolley downtown. We picked up the car, a white Nissan Versatile, squeezed in and set off. We decided to split up Scooby-Doo style so the girls were dropped at TJ Maxx for retail warfare while the lads and kids took the car in search of beer, liquor and cigars. After a successful mission on both sides we drove back to the harbour and went for lunch at a nice lakeside restaurant. We then split again, girl team out for more shopping and to return car while boys and kids team unloaded, hauled and packed the supplies into the boats, then did some minor boat maintenance and sat down for a drink.

After a 5 pm rendezvous at the marina pool for swimming and sunshine we all jumped in Bella Blue for a trip to nearby Presque Island, which is located on the north side of the harbor. We tied up there, had a short walk to look at the boats and small marina and found it to be very quiet, peaceful, and definitely too boring for us, so we sailed back to dock where Ana made a delicious burrito dinner, and we sat on the back of Andrew's boat Endeavour and enjoyed our meals and the scorching blues music coming from the nearby music festival. The sun was hot right up until night fell, so after another busy day, we retired for the night, knowing we would be leaving early the next morning for the next leg of our journey - Mentor Harbour.

2011 Sailing Trip - Day 1 - A Busier Day Than Usual

Miles by boat - 42
Miles by car - 100
Miles by plane - 3000

As the clock struck midnight, all was well in the Calgary int'l airport and the first day of our Lake Erie sailing trip had begun. Stella was sleeping on a most uncomfortable airport bench, Magnus was playing with his toys and Ana and I were impatiently awaiting our 1am flight to Toronto, feeling completely exhausted after a wild four days of the Olson reunion in Saskatoon. We boarded the plane and departed on time then 3 hours later were landing in Toronto, which made it shortly after 6am Monday morning. After a very groggy 60 minute and blissfully traffic-free drive we were in Brantford having breakfast with Ana's parents, after which she went grocery shopping and her dad and I went out to do a small repair job at one of our rental properties. We returned home after that and spent several hours doing laundry, unpacking, repacking, unloading, reloading, tidying, grass watering and so on, until we were finally ready to go and sped off for Port Dover at 2pm.

We arrived at the dock, loaded up the boat, had a very quick chat with our friends, then set sail for Erie, Pennsylvania. Our friends Andrew and Michelle would be joining us, though as they have a powerboat, they had a much shorter trip so left a bit later. Our sailboat, Bella Blue, which is a 33 foot Hunter, was looking great as Andrew had washed it for us the day before, and she was ready for a good run.

We switched on the radio shortly after leaving harbor to check on the weather and got our first piece of bad news - severe thunderstorm watch for Erie and surrounding areas. There was a brisk 15 knot wind blowing steady from the west, which was favourable for sailing, so we set our main sail with a small reef as the full sail was overpowering the boat. The first few hours were a nice ride as the wind was strong and waves were growing in size and splashing over the bow at times. Our sense of dread was building along with the waves as the radio produced a seemingly endless stream of unfavourable news. Besides the thunderstorms, which had been upgraded to a warning, there were also water squall warnings and a tornado watch issued for western Lake Erie. We naturally began to doubt our decision to push ahead with our crossing, but decided to go on until we reached the tip of Long Point, at which time we would decide whether to cross the main lake or drop anchor and wait out the storm. Andrew soon came roaring up behind us and passed by and let us know by radio that he would keep us informed on the weather situation as he crossed the lake.

As we approached the point there were more weather warnings and now also reports of a capsized boat. We were sure there would also be forthcoming reports of mad sea monsters, tsunamis, hurricanes and u-boat attacks, but fearlessly we sailed on. As we continued on into the main part of the lake, we found the wind actually slackened off and the waves grew larger, but longer, which results in a rolling motion that can produce motion sickness, but fortunately we were all fine.

We made it across the lake without no sea serpent sightings whatsoever and could see the lights of Erie as darkness fell, and soon it was completely black and we were navigating by gps, compass and lights.. The basic lights for navigation are quite simple, all boats must have a red light on the left, or "port" side of the boat and a green light on the right or "starboard" side plus a white light on the stern. This way when you see a boat at night you can tell what direction it is traveling. Harbor entrances are always marked with green and red lights identifying the channel to use, with the red light normally on the right.

As we approached the harbor there was what looked like a small factory showering spot lights everywhere located right in the main channel. This turned out to be a dredging ship and as we passed it we saw it dropping it's huge scoop into the lake then retrieving it's prize of several tons of mud, which it unceremoniously dumped onto the deck, for later transport to land. Minutes later we came across another strange sight, what looked like a row of Christmas tree lights in the air, then we were blinded by a spotlight, as the huge ship anchored in the channel spotted us and gave us the warning signal to keep clear.

We motored into the main harbor and over to Perry's Landing marina, which is where they have the video phone which you use to contact customs and get cleared into the US. I tried the phone a dozen times then handed it over to Ana so she could try her luck. Magnus was still awake so he and I kept ourselves entertained flicking spiders from their dock webs into the lake, while Ana called and called but with no answer. After dozens of attempts and 45 minutes we gave up and proceeded to the marina which we were staying at and where Andrew was awaiting us with a chilled bottle of Dom Perignon, 1998. Customs would have to wait until tomorrow as we were exhausted, tired, but very happy to have made the crossing.

After a very unorthodox, though highly effective docking maneuver, we were tied up, plugged in, switched off and sipping on champagne, visiting with Andrew and Michelle, wondering how on earth we were still awake and lucid at midnight after such an event filled day and sleepless night and day. We finished the bottle, said goodnight and I was sleeping before my head struck the pillow.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Trailer parks and thoroghbreads

It's 6:32 am, the lake is calm, winds are slight, autopilot is locked in at 294 degrees, Ana is sleeping beside me in the cockpit snuggled up in a blanket, and I'm enjoying a lovely Monday morning which does not involve being hunched over a desk.

We have just had one of the best weekends of the year and a beautiful kickoff to an exciting summer ahead!  I arrived home from work Friday afternoon at exactly 17:00, Ana already had the car all packed, kids fed and pee'd, house locked up, and a lovely batch of still hot peanut butter cookies on the front seat.  I threw on some beat up jeans and favorite sandals and we were off like prawns in the hot sun.  We made a quick stop in Simcoe to pick up some food at a Portuguese bakery for supper - several weekends before we discovered they sell hot roasted chicken dinners, which has become out standard Friday evening boat meal, but this time they included a large dollop of garlic and pepper laced, fiery red chicken drippings.  Within seconds the car reeked of old world Portugal, the kids eyes began to water and we were even hungrier than before.

As it has been for most Fridays thus far this year, the dark clouds had begun to gather around 3pm and by the time we got down to the boat it was raining and quite windy.  Nevertheless, we loaded up the boat, got the kids packed into the v-berth and set sail.  We had a nice 15 knot breeze at our backs and were traveling at close to 5 knots, though the water was quite choppy and big roller waves would frequently take us for quite ride, making it difficult to simultaneously hold a fork, stab the chicken and keep your plate and glass of wine from flying off the table.  Though the chicken meal was remarkably delicious, we soon found that the combination of heavy, oily food and a rolling, tumbling boat was starting to make Ana and I a bit nauseous so we both sat in the cockpit for a while - we knew that eventually the garlic would settle, even if the waves refused to.

Before long night was upon us and it was completely black.  The overcast sky blocked out all celestial lights and we were left with gps navigation and scanning the horizon for ships and navigation signals.  At around 11 pm the winds weakened and I powered up the engine so that we could make better time as our destination, Port Colborne was still 24 miles away of the entire 41 mile journey.  The next few hours passed without incident - Ana snoozed on the couch and I was miraculously wide awake and reading a book on the iPad and listening to tunes.  I popped my head up every ten minutes or so to check for vessels, seeing only one the entire passage, and being very thankful for our autopilot.

As we neared the entrance to the harbour I had to rely on the charts and the lighted buoys to find my way into the marina.  Making sense of where you are at when your eyes and gps are telling you completely different things can be a bit tricky, but I managed to change course just in time before hitting a lighthouse then, a few minutes later, a concrete sea wall.  As we were moving into the marina entrance Ana looked back to see a giant freighter just exiting the Welland Canal, passing through the waters I had clumsily navigated only moments before, so timing was indeed on my side that night.  From Port Colborne, the Welland Canal runs 20 miles north overland, linking Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, a vital component in the North American shipping route.

By 3:45 am we had ourselves docked and securely tied up for the night.  The morning came early and the kids were fresh and ready to go after a lovely, long sleep.  We were somewhat less enthusiastic, but once the eyes were de-crusted and the teeth de-slimed, we were ready for action.  Our friends Silvia and Dave were scheduled to pick us up at 10:00 and take us back to their trailer, which is at Sherkston Shores, only a short ride away.  Dave was right on time and even had car seats for the kids - we had been expecting to travel 70's style (no car seats, no seatbelts, kids and dog hanging out the window, beers on board) but that would not happen until later, on the souped up Sherkston golf carts.

Now Sherkston is quite the place.  Technically, it's a trailer park, but is almost like a full service holiday resort.  For the kids there's a huge entertainment complex with games and activities, two pools, mini golf, splash pad, trampolines, and organized kids events.  For adults, there's drinking and driving, high powered golf carts with chrome lug nuts, flash paint jobs and knobby wheels, cliff diving into a crystal clear quarry pond, Bon Jovi cover bands, vehicles on the beach, and lots and lots of barbecued red meats.  After arriving at Silvia and Dave's trailer, I was immediately handed a beer.  So I drank it.  Then Dave gave me another one, which I drank.  Beverage wise, the rest of the day continued on pretty much like that, though at one point the beers switched to gin and tonics, the best summer drink in the world.

We were soon joined by another group of friends - Arthur, Sandra, Adelson and Suzette and all their kiddies - a lovely mashup of Brazillian/Portuguese mayhem, who also have a trailer, though it's more like a house.  Ana had been friends with this whole group back when she lived in Toronto (B.K. - Before Kris), and really just this year got back in regular contact with them and we've all really hit it off since then.

The rest of the day was taken up by golf carting, playing games, having a fire, rounding up snails, setting up deck canopies, keeping track of kids, visiting refrigerators and telling stories.  The highlight of the day came for me as we were all hovering over Adelson's barbecue consuming delicious steak slices and these amazing little blood sausages which struck an uncanny resemblance to goose turds, though tasted much better.  As we stood there munching away I prodded Sandra into telling a joke and she launched into this mystifying, elaborate storyline that involved the four of us dudes present, a farmer, a daughter and, in what was the most personally disturbing punchline I've ever experienced, a clincher that featured me receiving a super sized watermelon up the arse.  I'll get my revenge....someday.

I was soon shuffled back to Dave and Silvia's trailer after falling asleep in my chair at the fire – safety first.  I went to bed without brushing my teeth to preserve the protective layer of crud which has collected there throughout the day, though somehow I remembered to drink a small cup of water as hangover protection, though in this case the effect would be minimal.

Next morning - smell of eggs, coffee and foul sweat (my own) awakens me, then I'm knocked back down by a vicious headache.  Man those eggs smell good, I thought to myself, knowing full well my stomach was in no shape to accept anything besides water and little white candies.  Fortunately Silvia had some lovely Advil gel capsules which I nearly gagged on, but worked wonderfully.  Two cups of coffee and one triangular egg and cheese toasty sandwich later and I was fully back in action.  Over a most interesting breakfast conversation I learned that Dave's boyhood dream career had been to become a "Pantyologist", which sounded a whole lot better than anything I had ever aspired to.  Sadly he ended up becoming just a coke dealer (works for Coke) but I hope he never lets go of his special dream.

After saying our goodbyes (nearly tearful - we had such a good time) and rounding up the possessions that the kids and I had scattered throughout the house, Dave had us back in the car and over to the marina in less than fifteen minutes...which gave us another generous fifteen minutes to be ready for our next chauffeur - Uncle Michael.  As the girls furiously plucked, picked, brushed, powdered and fluffed, Magnito and I iced up the cooler then walked over to find Mike sleuthing around the marina struggling over my poor directions.  As usual, he was looking dapper in a fancy hat and paisley shirt and was proudly sporting a brand new ringtone, in the form of 20 seconds of hair raising rooster calls from his previous weekend engagement as a guest star at a local turkey festival.  He will also be starring in another upcoming turkey festival - the Olson family reunion in Saskatoon, which is now only a week away.

After a quick tour of the Bella Blue, our lovely floating cottage and adventure vessel, we were off to the racetrack at Fort Erie for a buffet brunch and some high stakes betting.  We were met at the restaurant by Mike's better half and cupcake sensation Anna and her charming parents.  After six platefuls each plus a couple kilos of trifle and jello, we made our way down to the trackside to see those lovely horses up close.  Ana says she has to look them right in the eye to know whether they are a winner or not.  At least that's how it worked for her last time we were at the track - she won money in 8 out of the 10 races.  Turns out, this time it was more about the fashion.  Stella was the only winner in our family - she chose the horse with blue leg warmers and a jockey with a pink jersey and took away an impressive six dollars.  Would have been more too but I bet on the horse to show instead of win, but he took first place so I guess I actually owe Stella about forty bucks.  I'll just take it out of all the coin she owes me for the diapers I bought for her over the years.

After the races, the Welland Olsons invited us back to their ranch for some quality time on the covered patio – a very nice place to be.  Upon arrival Michael walked over to their second car and pulled a cheap styro-junk cooler full of moderately cold Tuborg Greens out of the back seat, all cool like, as if everybody should have a cooler of spare beers in their car "just in case".  In the process the cooler basically disintegrated, leaving a couple gallons of water on the car floor, causing the empty Harvey's wrappers, chip bags and Timmy's cups to float freely.

We were soon "in position" with drinks in hand listening to some sweet music on his new Playbook, having a great visit.  They told us about their recent trips, upcoming shows and cookbooks, gave us a demo of their new iPad cooking app, and we caught them up with all our news (work during week, sail all weekend, that's the plan for the summer).  We were hoping to see my cousin Meagan, who lives in their apartment, but apparently she invited a whole gang of bikers back the night before and they were up all night drinking, drugging and doing initiations for the new members which involved small rodents and ballerina costumes, so she was still sleeping, probably quite tired from all that crazy fun.

After such a perfect day, we said our goodbyes and our chauffeur Mike cruised us back to the boat, taking us through some of the lovely southern Ontario countryside.  If you ever drive with Michael you will soon find that everything is twenty minutes away and you never take the same road or hear the same joke twice.

That evening, we relaxed on the dock, watched part of a movie and had an early night.  By 5am we were up and throwing off dock lines for the voyage home.  The winds were nice to begin with, but soon died and we were back to motoring.  I did a bit of writing on the way as Ana snoozed in the cockpit, all wrapped up in a fuzzy blue blanket, looking very, very comfortable.  Our trip back was fairly uneventful, though we did have to motor right through the middle of a 60 boat strong sailing regatta, which was quite the sight to see.   We stopped for a quick, icy swim towards the end of the voyage as the day was heating up nicely.

We arrived back in Port Dover around 1pm and celebrated our successful voyage with a hearty lunch on the back of our friend Andrew's boat, enjoying the beautiful Monday sunshine, because you know "back to work" Mondays always feature beautiful weather.  I really should take more Mondays off.

In all, probably the best weekend of the year and an excellent warm up to the two week long sailing trip we will soon be embarking on...