Wednesday, July 18, 2018

2018 Sailing Trip - Anatomy of the Voyage

We did our 2018 sailing trip in two phases. First, my dad Peter and brothers Marty and Curtis joined me for four days in the middle of June to sail Bella Blue from Port Dover to the east end of Lake Erie, through the Welland, and then straight across the middle of Lake Ontario to arrive in Kingston. There, we left the boat docked at my friend Andrew’s place. We covered a total of 214 nautical miles, which is nearly 400 kilometres. The idea was to get the boat in place to allow us to explore the maximum amount of ground during our two-week vacation in July. Plus, the four of us did a similar trip three years ago and had an amazing time so everybody was up for another go!

Ana, Magnus, Stella and I then travelled by car up to Kingston and started our trip from there, heading east down the St. Lawrence River to explore the Thousand Islands. We then turned back west and worked our way all the way across the top of Lake Ontario, eventually reaching Toronto and then sailing directly south to the Welland Canal and then back west across Lake Erie to our home port of Port Dover. For the phase of the trip we covered 348 nautical miles which converts to nearly 650 kilometres.

In total, we sailed 562 nautical miles over a total of 20 days making an average of 28 miles per day.

Our friends Tony and Angela, bought their boat Cabin Fever from a man in Midland, which is located on Georgian Bay. The seller sailed the boat halfway down the Trent-Severn waterway and then Tony and Angela picked it up there, and sailed it the rest of the way through the canal, which emerges in Trenton, and onward to Kingston where they left it at my friend Andrew’s place until we all met up two weeks later to begin the combined trip.

Because of the nature of this trip, there were a lot of logistical details required to have everything snap into place. But fortunately, as is usually the case, everything came together in the end.

I put together a Google map of the voyage, it can be accessed here.

With that, ends the Olson 2018 sailing adventure.

Lake Erie - The Ride Home

At exactly 6 am Bella Blue leaves the dock on her way home to Port Dover. The marina is quiet, with many boaters sleeping off the excesses of last night. The air is humid, muggy, and saturated with strong lake smells – fish, birds, weeds, and muck. Ana helps me to get launched and underway and then she goes back to sleep for a while. I take Bella Blue out into the open lake and find a glassy surface with not a breath of wind, which has become a bit of a trend on this trip. The only fantastic sailing we had was the first day with my dad and brothers when we sailed from Port Dover to Port Colborne – the reverse route of today.

I lock in the auto pilot and sit back to survey the view. On the lake are dozens of small fishing boats and also many marked fishing nets to be avoided so as to not foul the sailboat’s prop…or the net. I can see a giant lake freighter far out in the lake, headed toward the Welland Canal. Wind turbines are scattered along the shoreline as far as the eye can see. Only a few years ago there was just a handful of these, and a few years before that there were none, but they have multiplied like forest bunnies. Some people do not like this change, but I wish there were ten times as many of these clean power generators on the lake, and it could easily handle that.

And…the bugs. I know I am back on Lake Erie because the boat is covered in bugs. I went into great detail on the Lake Erie bug ecosystem in a previous post, so let’s just say that all of my little friends are back today. We didn’t seem to get much bug action on Lake Ontario or in the Thousand Islands, besides the ravenous mozzies that came out for an hour at dusk, but at least they didn’t kamikaze themselves onto the boat and make a huge mess.

Once everybody is up, and there are no longer any boats in sight, I let Bella Blue glide to a halt and we go for a morning bath and swim. There is simply nothing more invigorating than whipping off your clothes and having a refreshing and chilly morning bath in a Great Lake. Any Great Lake will do. It’s especially satisfying when you have a hundred bugs mashed into your hair.

Cabin Fever roars past us around 10 am on their way back to their home base of Turkey Point. I switch to channel 14 and give a giant “Oh Yeah!” which is a rallying cry the Henriques invented years ago, but there’s no reply so I give him one on text instead which is instantly returned. We continue with our slower pace of 7 knots and inch ever closer to Port Dover.

As the sun heats up, Ana and I grab drinks and sit on the front of Bella Blue while the kids remain down below reading, and the auto pilot guides us home, straight and true. Despite being on vacation for two weeks, Ana and I haven’t had that much time alone together, but now we finally do, and it’s a nice way to finish up the trip. We’ve both loved traveling with Cabin Fever – the morning swims, the amazing meals we shared, happy hours on the upper deck, route planning, exploring new towns, joining forces in fixing boat problems, getting through the Welland Canal, and so many laughs along the way. It is not easy finding people you can travel with, so we feel extremely fortunate. We are sad that our friends Andrew and Victoria we not able to join us out on the lake (major problems at work), especially since they helped us out so much with the logistics of this trip.

We also talk about our overall impressions of Lake Ontario. Our plan for this trip was to get a feel for the lake and decide if we’d like to spend a season there. Two of the stumbling blocks are the cost of renting a seasonal slip, which is quite a bit higher than what we pay currently, and secondly the lake temperature, as it’s known to be much colder than Lake Erie, and Ana’s number for swimming (as we discovered during this trip) is 26 degrees. Surprisingly, we found parts of the lake that were indeed 26 degrees and warmer – even right in the middle of the lake, while other parts were as low as 19 degrees.

The one big advantage of Lake Ontario is the sheer number of destinations that are within reach on a weekend trip. From Port Dover, there simply isn’t anywhere to travel to that is reachable within a normal weekend. A long weekend, sure – you can travel to Dunnville, Port Colborne, Dunkirk, or Erie, but that’s about it. So for people like us that get a kick out of exploring new places, I think we could cover a great deal of ground (water) with one season on Lake Ontario. We would probably do another trip to the Thousand Islands but go up the US side this time to explore Rochester, Oswego and other towns along the way, and then find a whole new set of anchorages, and maybe even progress a little further down the St. Lawrence to Brockville. During this trip, we didn’t cover anything in the west end of the lake - Port Credit, Oakville, Hamilton, Burlington. We have only scratched the surface.

Another big region for us to explore is Georgian Bay. Several years ago we spent a season in Sarnia on Lake Huron and did a two week trip up to the North Channel, which was simply incredible, and definitely one of the highlights of our boating experiences. But we didn’t have enough time to get to Georgian Bay, which is practically a Great Lake in itself. We might consider spending a season in Bayfield, which is further north than Sarnia, and then do a two week adventure to Georgian Bay. And we haven’t even talked about the two giants – Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, which we haven’t even touched.

We’ve been at it for eight years now and have probably covered more of the Great Lakes than 95% of boaters, but we still have much to see. By the time we leave Ontario for the next phase of our lives, I want to be able to say that we’ve truly sailed the Great Lakes.

We cruise into Port Dover under a cloud of bugs that we dragged in with us from the lake, giving us the look of Pig Pen from the Peanuts cartoons. Only after a hundred buckets of water do we get the cockpit clean and the topsides in presentable shape. Ana and the kids have already cleaned up the boat down below, so she is looking great on the inside. We dock into our slip with ease and we are home! The kids are very happy to be here but all of our friends are out on the lake in their boats enjoying the gorgeous afternoon, so we simply get packed up and wait for Ana’s folks to arrive, which they do nearly an hour early, and we are all happy to see them.

By 3:30 pm we are back home, giving us plenty of time to get the van unloaded, put away our gear, get laundry going, do a bit of yard work, and get some thick sirloin steaks thawing for dinner.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Lake Ontario - The Welland Canal

Cabin Fever called the traffic officer again last night and the crew were given every indication that we would be allowed into the Welland Canal with the shift change at 7 this morning. Ana and I wake up shortly after 5 to get the boat ready for departure and make a coffee before taking off. The entrance reporting station is only about 3 miles away, but we want to give ourselves plenty of time in case there are any issues.

We make a wrong turn into what looks like a pleasure craft reporting center, but it is not, so we exit and motor a little further up and see the blue telephone booth and wall to tie to, which already has one other sailboat there waiting. I go over an introduce myself and during our conversation I learn that he’s done the Welland Canal at least 20 times and is also a larger boat so I’m hoping he will be the guy on the wall and we can get the better rafted position. Soon after this, my main man Adam arrives, looking surprisingly fresh after all the high-powered craft beer we consumed last night. I hope he’s thinking the same about me.

Another sailboat arrives, as well as Cabin Fever. Tony has been called by the traffic officer and told we have to wait for another power boat in the marina that’s running late. The straggler, in a boat called “Sea U Sooner” arrives and after speaking with him we find out they are late because he went for a bike ride this morning and his wife went for a walk to McDonalds to get morning coffee. The other boats are not too impressed.

The green lights on the gate finally flash on and we sail into lock number 1. There are eight locks in total on the Welland and I’m very happy to be doing this return journey during the daylight hours. What I learned on the downward journey with my dad and brothers is that after a day full of walking in the sun, drinking, goofing around and eating huge meals, the last thing you feel like doing is traversing the Welland Canal. And since we’ve been told the upward run is many times more treacherous than the downward one, I’m feeling a little bit anxious, but at least better prepared with a bit of experience under my belt.

I luck out and get positioned off the wall and rafted against the larger sailboat. The two powerboats are together, with Sea U Sooner on the wall and Cabin Fever in the rafted position and the third sailboat is on his own. The first three locks are surprisingly easy – the water comes in quite slowly so the resulting current and churn is minimal. We are told by the lock operator that they have installed electronics in these that slow down the fill for pleasure crafts. We are held up for a while at lock 2 waiting for a gigantic freighter to be dropped down, so we tie the boats up on the wall, get off, and throw the Frisbee around with the kids, while many of the other boaters make coffee and wander from boat to boat meeting each other. When the freighter comes out of the gate it sends a series of waves down the channel which start to rock the boats. Ana notices that the swim platform of Sea U Sooner is getting caught on a rubber bumper on the concrete and she runs over there to tell them, but the crew isn’t paying attention. As their boat gets rocked by the waves the swim platform gets caught and there’s a sickening crunch as it gets mashed up on the wall. We finally enter the lock and there we find a viewing platform, and we look up to see Adam’s whole family up there waving down at us!

Locks 4, 5, and 6 are what is known as “Flight Locks” and are twinned and consecutive so that boats can be going up and down at the same time. We begin to enter but have to wait for a family of geese swimming around in the water to decide if they are coming up with us or not. Once in, we are directed to raft all three sailboats together, and we get the easiest third position. These locks are much more turbulent and some of the crew from the outside boats climb over to the boat on the wall to push against the wall and keep the boat from being mashed into the concreate from the current driving us into it. We make it through these three and then lock 7 is a relatively easy one again.
One of the most interesting aspects of this canal is the level of collaboration that is required between the pleasure crafts. When I was doing my research on the Welland Canal before this trip I got a copy of the St. Lawrence Seaway Pleasure Craft Guide, which is meant to tell you everything you need to know to transit the canal. I also searched the web for everything I could find on this topic from fellow boaters – blogs, chatroom postings, articles – but I simply could not find that much. The cooperation between boats was the most critical element in safeguarding the people and vessels, and it was not even mentioned anywhere. I am planning to write a detailed article on the experience to help others who are planning to do it, so I expect collaboration to be a key focus of the article.

After lock 7 is a long, leisurely passage of 16 miles over flat, calm water. Adam and I crack a cold beer to celebrate making it through the toughest part of the crossing unscathed. For the first time in 14 days it begins to rain, and the temperature drops, but in truth, it feels refreshing and good. Adam, Ana and I have a lively chat, like old friends, and there is no gap in the conversation.

The engineering achievements of this canal extend beyond the locks, as this part of the trip takes us over two vehicle tunnels and the Welland River, which somehow drops 30 feet to flow beneath the canal, only to emerge and continue on the other side. This is the fourth version of the canal to be built - over time is has been enlarged, expanded, and had its route changed. We also pass beneath several lift bridges and Adam tells us about an incident in 2001 when an intoxicated bridge operator accidentally dropped the bridge onto an incoming ship, which ripped off the wheelhouse and smoke stack and caused it to catch fire. It took two days to extinguish the blaze and the ship was destroyed. Here is a link to an amazing video of the incident.

We reach the eighth and final lock, which is very different from the rest as it has a vertical rise of only about 4 feet (as opposed to 45 to 48 in the others) but is extremely long. Here, a worker walks along the concrete lock wall with a long handled net and we are asked to drop in our proof of payment (it costs $200 one way if you pay in advance, or $240 if you pay at the reporting station when you arrive) and a completed form that was given to us back in lock 1 to record the boat information, passengers on board, and so on.

With that, we sail out and the upward passage of the Welland Canal is complete! It took us a total of 10 hours to make the 23 mile trip. The exit is right in the heart of downtown Port Colborne and we sail the short distance over to the Sugarloaf marina to get a slip for the night. Adam’s dad Tim arrives and we have a beer together and then say goodbye to them and thank Adam for helping us out.

The two crews meet to discuss dinner plans and decide to eat on board and then go for a short walk. Magnus and Stella are happy to be on solid ground, so they disappear for half an hour while Ana and I make a modest dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches and salad. Sugarloaf marina is always full of excitement and tonight is no exception as there’s a wedding happening at the pavilion. We all walk over to the wedding to see if we can crash it, but our weary faces and canal stained clothing really makes us stand out from the well-dressed and enthusiastic wedding guests, so we just loiter around for a song or two and then continue on our way. We wander through the park and grounds near the marina and find a great place for a phot, so Angela lends Stella her phone and she snaps a nice picture of everybody.

We finish up the evening with a nightcap on Cabin Fever and then Ken and Sheila head back to Brantford while the rest of us head directly to bed.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Lake Ontario - Toronto to Port Weller

Goodbye Toronto! Hope to see you again soon.

Earlier this morning Tony and Angela’s friend Ken arrived, to help with the Welland Canal passage tomorrow. The newly expanded crew of Cabin Fever is still getting ready to go when we toss the lines and head out into the harbour. After suffering the indignity of being beaten by a sailboat multiple times, Tony is determined to leave me in his liquid dust today, so we won’t be in the lead for long.

We leave through what is called the Western Gap, which is immediately west of the marina and takes us straight out into the lake. As we’re passing the abandoned malting plant beside the marina, I see an ultra-tanned, shirtless homeless guy totally laid out on a big hunk of concrete catching maximum sunshine. I point him out to Ana, she takes a look and says, “That’s not a man. I see boobs.” Sure enough, it was a topless lady sunbather, doing exactly what everybody else stuck in an office on this fine day wished they were doing.

Surprisingly, Port Weller (which is the entrance of the Welland Canal) is a mere 28 miles away, which seems impossible considering how damn long it takes to drive there from Toronto. But since we’re going in a straight line, and have only bird traffic to deal with, it makes for an easy run. Halfway across Ana spots something floating in the water in the distance. We alter course to check it out and find…balloons! These are the first balloons we’ve found on Lake Ontario and they are just lovely (especially the one that says “Princess”), and even have a bit of helium left inside. You may want to refer to a previous posting on the preponderance of foil balloons on the Great Lakes and the birth of the Lake Erie Balloon Hunters reality TV series.

Stella is thrilled to see a reading of 28 degree water temperature, so we glide to a halt and jump in for a refreshing early afternoon swim and soapy bath for some of us. We follow this up with cracking open a bag of ripple chips, which has been taking up a lot of valuable space in the storage locker for far too long. Back when my dad was in town and we were shopping to provision the boat for the trip down the Welland, my dad bought this enormous bag of no name ripple chips, and it is still on the boat. It is the size of a kindergarten kid. It could supply a whole weed smoking class of philosophy majors with dope munchies for a year. It may even be visible from space. The only reason I let him buy it is because I thought the four of us could use it as a life raft in case the boat sank.
As we’ve been sailing, Cabin Fever has arrived at the Welland Canal check-in point and spoken with the traffic control officer who tells them it’s very busy and we won’t likely be getting through tonight. Strangely, I also call and speak with a different person who tells me things are looking quite good and we probably should be able to begin our passage around 7 pm. A Saturday morning departure works better for us, but if they allow us to go through tonight, we will go through.

The St. Catherine’s marina dock man welcomes us in and fills us up with diesel and sucks out our holding tank, and then guides us to our slip, which is directly beside Cabin Fever. Ken’s wife Sheila has arrived to complete their crew and my cousin Megan’s partner Adam also arrives to deliver the burlap straw fenders we left with him on the down-bound journey. He reports that one of them is giving off a punishing aroma of manure, which he was forced to inhale the whole way here. We rip open the black garbage bag it is stored in and are hit with a waft of rot. I remember that two of the fenders got ripped off the boat and fell into the water, so this one must have been the one that got soaked the worst.

The family and I jump into Adam’s truck and we stop at the grocery store to pick up a few boat supplies, and a few beer supplies for tonight’s dinner at Megan and Adam’s house, which is right in St. Catherines. We arrive and I’m happy to see my aunt Linda there too, so we all have a great visit. Adam and Megan have a two-year-old named Teo and the kids have a fun time entertaining (and being entertained by) him.

The evening goes by far too quickly (as it always does with them) and at 11pm Megan drives us back to the marina as she is pregnant, and pregnant ladies are automatically awarded the prestigious “Designated Driver” prize by their husbands, who require large quantities of alcohol to get through a pregnancy.

Team Cabin Fever are still partying hard and show no signs of stopping (except Tony brushing his teeth) as we say goodnight and retire to the innards of Bella Blue.

Lake Ontario - There's Talk of Sperm Donations

For the first time in many days, I have a sleep in – until sometime after 7. I have always been a morning person, and with two kids, that has always been the time of the day I can have an hour to myself, usually occupied by writing. This morning my view is particularly interesting as the position of our slip is oriented such that if I look out the main entryway, the CN tower (Toronto’s most iconic structure) is directly in the center of my view.

Today is our first full day in Toronto with the Henriques, so the only problem is figuring out what to do in this city of possibilities. Ana suggests we go to the Beaches area as none of us besides her have ever been there. After a stop for coffee and another quick browse through the Nautical Mind bookstore, we catch a streetcar and ride it all the way east across the city, giving us plenty of time for conversation. Tony has been encouraging Magnus to try and find some work this summer, preferably in the farming industry, so he can learn what hard work really feels like – such as picking tobacco while stooping over in the 30-degree heat. Magnus remains unconvinced but is definitely interested in earning some money.

“How do blood donations work? I heard you can get paid for that,” he asks.

“They only pay you for blood in the US, not Canada – here it is just a volunteer thing,” Ana replies.

“How about sperm donations?” he continues.

We all look at each other and burst out laughing. One of us says, “Yep, you can definitely get paid for those in Canada.”

“How much do you make?” he asks.

I take this one on. “I had buddies in university who did it. I think they got 25 or 30 bucks per donation.”

“So how does it work?”

Tony offers to do a demonstration with a water bottle, but I decide to cut this line of questioning off right there and I tell Magnus that at this point in life, he should really be pursuing other revenue opportunities. The look in his eyes tells me he’s back to thinking about picking tobacco, and not too excited about it.

I am again surprised by Toronto as we arrive at our destination and find an expansive, powdery beach with many people on blankets and others swimming in the water or cruising around on paddleboards. We take a long stroll down the wooden boardwalk, partially shaded by mature trees, and then we turn up a side street and make our way up to the main commercial centre on Queen Street where we browse through a few shops and then try to settle on a lunch spot. The Green Eggplant is where we land and our lunches are delicious and massive, which causes a major problem as I was hoping to take advantage of the incredible culinary options in Toronto and eat at least three small lunches. After this feast I don’t know how I’m going to be able to stuff in a roti, a street dog, sushi, and some Ethiopian food.

At this point, we decide to split up. Ana and the kids are keen to stay at the Beaches for longer to explore the shops, while Tony and Angela want to return to the marina to take care of some boat stuff, and I want to go to the Ontario Art Gallery. I catch a ride with the Henriques in an Uber and jump off at Lakeshore and Yonge and start my long walk north into the city. Like all big cities, walking around in Toronto is an adventure itself. Cities are the lifeblood of any country as the thick and steaming density of people creates so many possibilities and a market for pretty much anything. As I walk up the streets and see all the thousands of people walking determinedly, one question keeps popping up in my brain: Where the hell is everybody going?

Since Ana spends a significant portion of her days in an art gallery, she is usually less enthusiastic to visit them on vacation, which works out well as that gives me the opportunity to take my time, browse around, and not have to rush through the experience. Similarly, when I’m not around, it gives her the chance to take her time in the shops, instead of having me standing outside waiting for her, tapping my foot and working on my farmer tan.

The gallery is excellent. I have been here several times before, but each time it is a new experience because the artworks are constantly changing, and there’s simply so much here that I always discover something new. There are several amazing paintings from an artist I have never heard of named William Kurelek that really blow me away. He was Ukrainian-Canadian artist that grew up in Western Canada and painted a lot of very strange prairie scenes that really grab me. After a quick Google search, I learn that images from a very famous painting of his called “The Maze” were used on Van Halen’s album cover for “Fair Warning” – an outstanding album and one of my favourites. I need to learn more about this guy…

We reconvene on the upper deck of Cabin Fever around 5pm for happy hour and to enjoy the sounds of the airplanes taking off and landing. The constant airplane activity is not quite as enjoyable as it first was, and even Tony the pilot admits it is getting a bit annoying. I learn that Ana and the kids spent most of the afternoon exploring shops at the Beaches and then later, the busiest part of Queen Street. Stella bought a miniature chest of worry dolls, which are these tiny dolls you can tell your worries to before bed, put them under your pillow, and then by the morning the worry is gone – an excellent investment.

Boat dinner is cooked communally and then served on Bella Blue and is delicious - grilled chicken, asparagus, potatoes and salad. Ana and Angela have been doing a bang-up job of planning out all the meals and we’ve been eating like royalty.

We finish up the evening with drinks on Bella Blue, and some great conversation as we watch the night fall over the city.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Lake Ontario - Exploring Toronto

I am awake early and go for a short walk before returning to the boat to write and enjoy the beautiful morning. We have a slip booked at the Quay West marina for the next two nights, but we can’t check in right away, so instead we throw off the lines and motor right into the main Toronto harbour and find a cozy anchorage between two channels that is well out of the way of boat traffic, and gives us a million dollar view of the city and the unfolding morning action of Porter airplanes, public ferries, and the endless stream of traffic snaking across the Gardiner Expressway which is a horror when you are on it, but cruelly satisfying when watching from a sailboat, enjoying a slow coffee, on a Wednesday.

Ana calls the marina and they tell us that we can come in anytime, so we pull anchor, motor over, and identify our assigned slip. Stella, anxious to test her line throwing skills practiced the other day, takes the lead and has a couple of bad throws, and then nails it, and we get safely docked. So here we are, settled right in the downtown of Toronto, with all its mysteries and pleasures, right on our watery doorstep. How exciting!

Yesterday we had periodic updates from Cabin Fever as the mechanic was working on their boat, but the repairs took all day so they were not able to get here. Fortunately, they were on the lake early so their anticipated arrival time is 12:30, giving us plenty of time to go for a walk. We lock up the boat and take a wander through the Musical Garden, which is right alongside the marina. Continuing along the bike path, we are passed by many people on bikes, but also runners and walkers, out for some morning exercise. Stella notices a yellow machine and walks up to find that is a sunscreen dispenser, provided free by the City of Toronto - brilliant. We find a Timmies and stop for coffee and morning snacks, and then proceed next door to the Nautical Mind bookstore, where we spend an hour looking through their amazing selection of boating books and charts, finding a couple of great additions to our boat library. We also stop at the Dock Shoppe marine store, and find a few things we need for the boat (a boater is physically unable to walk out of a marine store empty handed…it’s just not possible). Directly beside this is a Beer Store. These guys certainly know their customers.

I was in this same area just a few weeks ago for a sailing course, and found an amazing Indian Roti take-away place that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about, so I take Magnus over there and we order up a chicken vindaloo roti as a pre-lunch snack, which we then take back to the boat The kids devour the food greedily, and I’m lucky to get two bites for myself.

Cabin Fever arrives at 12:30, safe and sound, but a little exhausted after their early morning departure. Our friends Chris and Sarah and their children arrive shortly after that and leave their dingy tied up at our slip while they head into the city to pick up some supplies. We all have a quick visit and plan an evening campfire back out on Hanlon’s Point where they plan to tie up for the night.

The crews of Bella Blue and Cabin Fever put on their best flip flops and head to Queen Street for lunch at the Rivoli and are not disappointed. Stella, as usual, is more interested in watching the world cup matchup so she sits inside the restaurant at the bar, chatting with the locals and giving us periodic game updates, while the rest of us enjoy our meals on the patio, except Magnus, who slips off to a nerdery store to browse their selection of Magic cards.

At this point we split up – the girls go shopping and the boys return to the boat, but along the way we stop at Shoeless Joes to watch the rest of the soccer game and are caught up in a bar full of rambunctious, loud, England supporters, who are devastated when Croatia emerges the victor. We weren’t too worried either way, but I was hoping England would make it to the final to face off against France. So now, we cheer for Croatia!

Back at the boat, we enjoy some drinks on the top deck of Cabin Fever while soaking up that beautiful, hot sunshine, and watch the airplanes coming and going. The girls return with their treasures and we enjoy a big meal together on the boats. Tony and Angela decide to pass on the campfire, so as dusk approaches, we motor back out to Hanlon’s Point, find Chris and Sara, get tied up on the wall, and then crank up a magnificent bonfire with wood Chris scrounged from the shorelines in his dingy and some discarded timber we pilfered from the junk heap at the marina. We have drinks, eat smores, chop wood, chit chat, and do all those things that makes a campfire a campfire, but I can tell you, it sure doesn’t feel like Toronto. But then again, I suppose this is exactly what Toronto feels like for some people, we’re just late to the party!

We leave at around 10:30 and the ride back through the harbour is simply magical - the dancing lights of the city, the still busy harbour with the red, green, and white navigational lights zipping around, and the splashing of the waves on the boat.

Lake Ontario - Sailing to Toronto

It is our first real early morning start and as we pull the boat out of the slip at 4 am, I look around at the lack of light, people, and activity and remember why I love this time of the day so much. Ana is up and helps me put away the fenders and get the boat sorted for the 63 mile sail to Toronto, which should get us there for early afternoon, giving us enough time to do some exploring.

Once we are out of the marina and fully underway, Ana heads back to bed and I get geared up with my lifejacket and a tether line which attaches me to the boat – an important safety precaution for night or solo sailing, because if you fall off the boat, you are a dead duck.

Although there is very little wind now, there are still swells on the lake, left over from yesterday’s wind, so the boat gently rides them up and down. My seasoned crew has no trouble sleeping at all – in fact, I think the kids sleep even better when we are underway. Ana, not so much, as she is usually worried she’s going to wake up and I’ll be 12 miles back, floating in the lake after untethering myself and falling when trying to take a leak off the back of the boat. She sleeps on the couch where she can wake up every twenty minutes and have a quick look to make sure I’m still there.

Around 6 am I start getting hungry so I go to the aft locker to practice my Jenga skills. What’s that, you say? It turns out that those skills you developed playing Tetris and Jenga as a kid come in real handy when boating. If you recall, Tetris is a game where you are given a narrow playing field and you need to fit oddly shaped polygons together as they drop from the sky at an ever-increasing speed. If you make a wrong move, it creates gaps in the field that quickly pile up, creating more gaps, and robbing you of real estate to try and fit the ever falling pieces together. Eventually you run out of room and lose. This is what packing a boat is like. There is a huge quantity of stuff that must be packed in there, but very limited space, so you need to take a Tetris-like approach when packing a boat. For example, the Kleenex boxes get shoved into a space with the box of wine, toolbox, cereal, and Yuengling beer, because they are all sort of rectangular and fit together well. All the small stuff like keys, change, string, wallets, lip balm and clips go into a bowl above the chart table. All soft sided bags get jammed in together in lockers and gaps. Pots and pans are strategically stacked under the sink, and the wet wipes, Spray Nine and scrubbie brushes are rammed in on top of them. I am extremely good at Tetris, probably because of watching my dad pack the station wagon on our annual winter ski trips to Montana as kids. His motto was, you can always find room for another loaf of bread, even though the loaves sort of transformed back into dough by the time we got to our destination.

What I’m not so good at is Jenga. This is the game where a tower is constructed of wooden, rectangular blocks and the goal is to take turns removing one block at a time, until some poor sucker removes that one block that was holding the entire structure together, and the whole thing comes crashing down. I open the aft lock and see the one block I need to get – the Oatmeal Crisp cereal, which has been Tetrissed into the bottom of the locker. I grab hold of the corner and gently coax it out, and it’s all going fine until I make the final pull and the whole goddamn locker contents come crashing out and bury me up to the knees in toilet tissue, drying towels, paper towels, granola bars, three other kinds of cereal, and a pair of underwear that didn’t belong in that locker in the first place. I put the Oatmeal Crisp on the table and then carefully replace the locker contents, in the style of the finest Tetris guru, until I run out of patience and jam the rest of the crap in there and quickly lock the door. I can blame that on the kids later when Ana discovers it.

The ride goes fine, although the slight winds are in our face the entire way so there is no opportunity for sailing. Strangely, there is practically no activity on the VHF radio; normally during this sort of run on Lake Erie I would hear many calls on the emergency channel 16, from warnings to Coast Guard announcements, to other boaters calling for their friends, or even just radio checks. But channel 16 remains silent for the entire trip.

Approaching Toronto is simply impressive - the magnificent buildings, the beehive of marine activity and the incredible numbers of birds flying around, which I did not expect. There are so many crafts on the water – ferries, sailboats, powerboats, tall ships, dinghies, kayaks, paddleboards but also crafts in the sky as a relentless stream of airplanes fly into and out of the Toronto Island airport. We arrive at 1:30 pm and motor into a protected anchorage in the outer harbour, looking for a place to drop the hook for the night. As we motor into the channel there is a literally a cloud of birds overhead, and one of them (or perhaps several) drops a payload of waste right onto our cockpit which is, fortunately, covered by canvas, but Magnus was standing just outside of it and gets a free shower of bird waz, which we tell him is good luck, but he simply can’t understand how being crapped on by a bird could possibly be considered good luck. I tend to agree.
Turning around, we look across the channel and see a beach with a few boats anchored so we sail over Ward’s Island (which is at the east end of the Toronto island group), toss the anchor, and sit back to enjoy the view. I’m shocked to find such a nice beach and anchorage literally in the harbour of our country’s largest city. We have a quick lunch and then jump in the dingy to do some exploring.

What’s called Toronto Island is actually a series of islands located less than a mile away from the shoreline of Toronto’s waterfront area. Only one of these is directly connected to the mainland via a pedestrian tunnel to the Island airport; the rest can only be accessed by ferry or private boat. With the dingy we explore the channels between the islands and are amazed to see so much wildlife – otters, turtles, baby swans being cared for by their parents, fish, ducks, geese and a dozen other species of birds. A work colleague of mine Chris is also on a sailing vacation so we find him and his wife Sara and are invited onshore for a beer and a visit. Chris and Sara are experienced sailors and have been sailing Lake Ontario for years so they pass on some inside information, including a great, free spot to tie up for the night. They have a young boy and a toddler so Magnus and Stella have fun with them while we chit chat.

We continue exploring and are surprised to see such a wide range of vessels in the yacht clubs, from giant luxury yachts, to modest day sailors, to small fishing boats, and to even live aboard house boats – something for everybody. On the way back to our boat, Magnus challenges us to a race as he thinks he can walk faster than our dingy loaded with four people and being propelled by a modest 2.5 horsepower engine. We drop him off on the concrete break wall and he is indeed right, although he does have to powerwalk to stay ahead of us.
After a stop at the beach for a walk and a game of volleyball, we return to Bella Blue for dinner, and then at around 8pm we motor into the main harbour and over to Hanlon’s Point, the “insider” spot that my friend told us about, which is basically a long wall you can tie up to, that gives you access to a beautiful grassed area with picnic tables and fire pits, huge maple and oak trees, not to mention washroom facilities, shore power, and water. We grab Wilson and have a lively game of soccer to burn up some of that pent up, sitting on the boat all day energy. As night falls, the view to Toronto is breathtaking – the lights, the sounds, and the feel of the big city, all viewed from the cockpit of our sailboat under the canopy of an island forest.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Lake Ontario - The Town of Cobourg

It is 7 am when we leave the dock, and it’s a crummy departure – since there is so little room in the marina it takes several rounds of back and forth to squeeze ourselves out. The morning is again windless, but the forecast says it’s likely to pick up as the day goes on, so we motor along and eventually arrive into a large open bay which is very shallow but well-marked. I am usually quite good at following charts, but today I blindly follow the large markers leading me northwest across the bay towards the large marina which, I assume is the entrance point to the Murray Canal – the last stretch of the route through Prince Edward County. As we motor into the channel entrance it looks much larger than I was expecting and I look to the bridge ahead of me and say to Ana, “This mast ain’t going to fit under there.” We approach closer, and see emblazoned on the bride in giant letters – Welcome to the Trent-Severn Waterway.

Whoops. I check the chart and realize I took a right when I should have taken a left, so I turn the boat around before we demast ourselves and really mess up the day. We cross the bay southward and notice that the wind has really picked up, but as we enter the narrow channel it is very sheltered and we have a beautiful and peaceful ride through, passing by one swing bridge that was in operation, and one that was locked in the open position as the road looked to be under major construction.

We clear the channel, pass through Presqu’ile Bay and are finally out on Lake Ontario. I was expecting rough conditions because of the strong winds, but it is better than expected with long, large rollers that the boat easily rides over with a minimal amount of crashing. I set the autopilot to Cobourg and we settle in for a long ride.
Ana and I had agreed this morning that this was going to be a “no phones” day as the kids had been spending too much time on them. To keep busy, we invent a new boat game – three way soccer, and we kick around Wilson until a champion emerges. Oh, I probably forgot to mention Wilson – he is our fifth crew member and is, in fact, a volley ball. You may remember him from the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away. Well, Wilson is with us now and joins Bella Blue on all her sailing adventures. After that we played some card games, read for a while, had naps, played some rhyming games, and then went back to kicking Wilson around when the boredom got too much for the kids to handle. These days smart phones seem to have conquered boredom, but the big problem is that boredom is often the catalyst for coming up with great ideas, so robbing kids of the feeling of boredom is really not helping them as it prevents them from using their imaginations. Hell, that applies to adults just as much - put those damn phones down and stretch your imagination muscles!

Ana hooks us up with a marina booking at Cobourg and is also getting periodic updates from Cabin Fever on their situation, which is not great. They were getting some smoke from their port engine and the local mechanic they found says he needs to order parts from Vancouver, so they are definitely not going to sail to Cobourg today, but they might try and rent a car to come and meet us for dinner.

After 48 miles we finally reach Cobourg, get docked with no problem, and of course Tony and Angela are there to meet us in their rental car, and could even see our boat about five miles away because of that hideous, golden radar reflector, which we realize actually works better as a “friend finder” as it makes our boat hard to miss. The Henriques even stopped at the liquor store and picked up some road pops just in case. We take a walk into town, hoping to find more than we did in Belleville, and I’m pleasantly surprised when I see a barber shop with an “OPEN” sign in the windows. Tony and I go in while the ladies and kids continue to check out the shops. Both chairs are available, and there are two extremely bored looking ladies there, but since Tony’s already snipped up and dashing, he takes a pass while I get in the chair.

“Too bad we didn’t bring those beers along,” Tony says.

“You have some beer? No problem, go and grab them, you can drink them here,” my ace barber announces.

Tony’s eyes light up and he says, “I’ll be right back,” and then scoots out of there like a guilty fox while I chat with the barbers and enjoy the sound and feel of the clippers. He returns in a jiffy with two cold tins of beer – a Grolsch and a Tuborg gold. My barber passes me the can for sips between snips and I’m thinking this haircut was definitely worth waiting for.

Feeling emboldened with our rebellious consumption of alcohol, Tony and I decide to carry our empty cans around and see if the cops stop us, then we can show them the empty cans and laugh our heads off. So we strut around downtown with our beers, our defiant attitudes, and our high fashion boater-wear (dirty shorts, flip flops, and moist t-shirts) just looking for trouble. We do cause a fair bit of shit – we jaywalk twice, do a Monty Python funny walk, and we even throw our recyclable beer cans right into the regular garbage, but I think the cops are  intimidated by our bad-assity so they leave us alone.

The ladies and Tony take the rental car to get some provisions for the boat while the kids and I grab Wilson and have a rousing soccer match in the lovely park area in the marina. Poor Wilson gets accidentally lobbed into the lake twice, but Magnus is able to rescue him both times.

We load the provisions on Bella Blue and all sit down for a nice happy hour drink, and then walk back through the lovely waterfront into downtown for a meal at the Ale House, which is decidedly unspectacular, but at least the beer is good and drinks are cold. Ana orders a great looking Caesar that she is pleased with, and when it comes to her and alcohol, she is not easily impressed.

With that we part ways and say goodbye to the fine town of Cobourg.

Lake Ontario - Sailing from Picton to Belleville

We leave at 6 am for the 28 mile Picton to Belleville run, which will take us beyond the halfway point of the Prince Edward County leg of our trip. It is a perfect day for motoring as the lake is flat and there are few other boats around. In fact, as I follow our way through the middle of the wide channel, there’s really not much to see at all, besides ducks and forest.

Crate marina is where we choose to dock and it’s a little tricky getting there as the Belleville harbour entrance has a strange, S-shaped marked channel that you need to wind through to avoid grounding yourself. We proceed immediately to the gas dock to fill up on diesel, get a pump-out, and our dock assignment, but there are already two boats there and little room left for our sailboat. Soon, one of the boats leaves and we docked with help from the fantastic staff, who also give us a bag of tourist brochures. I am very impressed by the gas dock office, which is clean, new, smells great, air conditioned, organized, and sells a small range of the critical boater supplies like toilet paper, oil, cleaners and salt and vinegar chips.

Cabin Fever arrives shortly after us and Tony laments at the disgrace of being beaten by a sailboat for the second day in a row, but I do not rub it in, because I am not that kind of guy. But I am the kind of guy that likes to rub in our $80 diesel fills compared to the typical $800 bill for powerboats with their massive twin engines.

Ana and the kids are keen to hit the pool (finally, a marina with a pool!) but I look at the state of our boat and decide it is way overdue for a cleaning so I stay back, put on my Rush Chronicles cd, and clean that boat to the sweet chipmunk chirping of Geddy Lee, until she is sparkling and beautiful.

After lunch, we all take a walk downtown to explore the wonders of Belleville, but the only wonder is how there can be hardly anything open. Mind you, it is a Sunday, but there are very few shops, cafes or restaurants open and really not much of anything to see or do, so we settle for an ice cream and return to the boats, more than a little disappointed with the city centre.

The cabin of Bella Blue has developed a strong smell of diesel, so I dig into the engine compartment again and find diesel leaking all over the place and it takes me two hours and three rolls of paper towel to troubleshoot the problem and clean everything up. This puts me in foulest of moods and since I’m feeling so crappy already, I decide to put up this horrible, gold foiled radar reflector I have been meaning to install for three years, but never get around to it. This is a piece of equipment that sailboats are supposed to have, as it helps to better reflect the radar signals sent from the big freighters so they can easily see you on the radar at night. I attached it just below my new Canadian flag and it goes up surprisingly well but looks shockingly ugly.

My mood only improves when the rest of the gang sets up a sundowner on the dock and I have a nice cold gin and tonic. The kids and I organize a game to see who can throw a coiled line the furthest (a very important skill to have for docking) and then we practice tying knots and try to master this slick move we saw a crew member on the small ferry boat at Boldt Castle doing a few days ago. He was able to cleat a line by whipping it back and forth masterfully, creating the figure eight pattern required to tie it up securely, all done while standing straight up and not having to bend over. Stella was so impressed by this she insisted we learn it, and together we spend at least 30 minutes on that, and by the end we can nearly do it.

The group decides against going out for dinner after our lacklustre afternoon stroll through town so instead Ana makes an absolutely delicious chicken dinner with potatoes and salad, which is ten times better than any restaurant meal we’ve had thus far on the trip.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Lake Ontario - Collins Bay to Picton and a big surprise

Bella Blue departs at 6am and it is a lovely, windless morning. The sail to Picton is uneventful, with not much to see, besides a few factories and houses hanging off the cliffs overlooking the water. We motor into Picton harbour, and it is beautiful – a few sailboats are anchored out while many other boats are snuggled into their cozy slips at the marina. We have a slip reserved at the Picton Harbour Inn, which is mainly a hotel but with very new looking docks.

We slowly ease up to the docks, but the numbers on them are tiny so we can’t see if we are at the right slip until we are practically on top of it. Both Ana and Magnus hop from our boat to the dock, but it’s a floating dock, and extremely wobbly, and they both stumble and nearly fall in. In the mayhem I am coming in too fast and slam the boat into reverse just in time to avoid smashing into the dock, and the young couple who are sitting there quietly on a dock bench, totally oblivious to the impending disaster.
Cabin Fever arrives shortly after us and we help them with docking. Since they can travel much faster than us, they opted for the later start and the faster passage. Once we are all settled, we take a walk into town along the main street. I am looking for a barber shop and since it is Saturday I’m expecting to find somebody open, but no luck – Picton barbers do not work on the weekends.

Tony and break off from the main pack to check something out and end up getting separated. I send Ana text to find out where she is. She sends back a photo of herself with my aunt Linda. Perplexed, I am. We walk up the street and find a whole gaggle of Olsons – my aunt Linda, cousins Katie, Megan, Mark , Melanie, Tio, and husbands of cousins Adam and Greg. Sadly, my uncle Mark is not there as he’s working on a contract in Mexico, but he’s going to be real pissed when he hears about missing this. The Olsons are there for a party for a grandma on the other side of the family, so they aren’t able to stay long, but the husbands stay behind and we join them in some heavy duty beer drinking on a local patio, while Ana and Angela hit the shops.

Tony and Greg hit it off immediately. Tony flies airplanes and Greg paints them, and used to assemble them for Bombardier. Greg’s favourite place is the racing speedway in Oshweken, and Tony knows lots of people there from his sign business, so they have plenty to talk about. Adam and I add in some smartass commentary when we can, and the kids busy themselves with watching the Russia/Croatia world cup game inside on the large tv. We are working our way through the craft beer menu, and after trying practically all of them, we decide that the Jury beer is the best, so we drink some more of those and gently ease into a state of pleasantly pissededness. You could say we have been Pictoned. This became obvious to me when I saw Tony leaning over, trying to stroke Greg’s magnificent, luscious, red, Viking beard, and Greg wasn’t even pulling away so I don’t know what the hell was going on there. That’s some fine craft beer we was drinkin’.

Megan stops by the pub for a quick visit with her son Tio, who is the cutest little man ever. She re-invites us for dinner this coming Friday at their place in St. Catherine’s, which will be our launching off point for the return trip through the Welland. I’ve also recruited Adam to help us out with the passage, but that was way before he was drunk on the patio, so it still counts.

We get the call from the ladies to come and join them for early dinner at a restaurant down the way, so we say goodbye to the lads (and good luck) and pour ourselves from the patio onto the street and we flow right down the main street, with the help of Magnus and Stella directing the stream, onto the patio of Vic’s cafĂ© where we did our best to play it sober with the ladies, even ordering up carbonated water, and I think Tony might have ordered a salad, which may have been overdoing it a bit, but nonetheless, we fooled them completely, as far as I could tell.

Post lunch Tony reminds us that he needs to do a sign quote at a nearby shopping center, so Magnus and I tag along while the ladies go to Giant Tiger to pick up some groceries. We walk up the main road until we reach a Metro supermarket with a beaten up old sign in front.

“This must be it,” he says. “But I was expecting the store to be bigger from what he described.” He took a few pictures while Magnus and I gave him some creative ideas on what sort of sign to build. Then it hit me – this is a perfect way for Tony to write off all his gas, docking, and other expenses for the trip! Do a sign quote and then it’s all business expense – what a mastermind. That made me sad for a moment, knowing we no longer have a company to write things off against. In fact, the only thing I’ll be writing off after this trip is my credit score. It would turn out later that Tony took photos of the wrong place – the actual one was a few blocks away. Damn, that was good craft beer!
The path back to Giant Tiger took us right by a bona fide telephone booth so Magnus felt compelled to give it a try as he had never been in a phone booth before. I demonstrated the proper technique – first, scan the floor for vomit and dog poo before stepping in. Next, inspect the phone handle for greenies, plain saliva or any other unpleasant substances. Now pull up the bottom of your shirt and use the fabric to grab the handle and lift it up to your head, without making contact – especially the part you talk into; if that touches your face you will get herpes for sure. Shoot in a quarter and then use a stick or pen to punch in the phone number. After you call is done, hammer the change release button a few times to see if you can shake loose a quarter or two, and then check the coin return slot for any windfall cash. At the end of it, I am immensely pleased that I’ve been able to pass on a historically important, but now useless life lesson to my boy.

We met the ladies and mule-carried the grocery bags back to the boats. The Picton configuration is odd – walking up and down the classic main street, you’d never know there was a beautiful harbour just blocks away, because you must walk to the north end of the main street and then take a small, uninteresting side road down to the harbour, which isn’t immediately visible.

Happy hour is called, so we dutifully assemble around one of the picnic tables and grill up some fatty sausages and crispy spring rolls for snacks, but once we added in chips and vegetables the whole affair was promoted to dinner. All is good in the world and this Picton is a fine, fine place.

Thousand Islands - Navy Islands to Collins Bay

The anticipated storm from last night simply did not materialize and we wake up to another beautiful, sunny, but slightly cooler morning. Ana, the kids and I, board the dingy and motor into Mulcaster Island for a walk. This is one of the public islands that are maintained by the government, and it is indeed maintained amazingly well. A neat trail tracks around the entire island, and along the trail we find two campsites, an impeccably clean toilet facility, a huge bin of packaged firewood for sale, and some lovely vistas, perfect for selfies. But it’s quite obvious that the government is involved as the price of firewood is $6.80, payable in exact change or by cheque. Not five bucks. Not ten bucks. But $6.80? And nobody but a desk-chained bureaucrat who had never ventured into the bush would think it a good idea to expect campers to be carrying around a pile of change or cheques for firewood.
The Henriques take a turn exploring the island while we eat breakfast and get the boat prepped. We pull the anchor, along with a hundred pounds of weeds wrapped around it and I pick those off with the boat hook while Ana slowly navigates us out of the anchorage. There is a strong, north wind today, which has really cooled things off and we’re looking at a high of only 22 degrees instead of the 30 degree temperatures we have become accustomed to on this trip. After a short time at the helm I am freezing so I put on two shirts, a sweater, a jacket, wool socks and a hat, all of which help to block that brutal wind.

We motor all the way back from whence we came – past Gananoque, by the Admiralty Islands, through the Bateau Channel, past Kingston (which goes on forever), and finally end up in Collins Bay, our final destination, for a total of 34 miles for the day. We are clearly back in sailing land, as nearly all the boats in the Collins Bay marina are sailboats, and we saw a large number of them sailing around Kingston.

Tony and I use the dingy to zip over to the marine store to get some gear oil for Bella Blue, while the girls and kids take a walk to explore the area and see what restaurant options they can find. We return to the dock before them so head up to the fly bridge on Cabin Fever for a round of beers and some Corb Lund on the stereo. I introduce Tony to one of my favourite Corb Lund songs “Hard on Equipment” which is all about the hired man on the farm, who is a great guy, but is real tough on the tools – here’s a sample:

“Well it’s vice grips for pliers, and pliers for a wrench, a wrench for a hammer, hammers everything else.”

“He’s been roundin’ off bolts since the age of fourteen, was that a five eighths or a nine sixteenths?”

Well, Tony loves it, probably because he reminds him of his own days on the farm, jury-rigging everything in sight, and I love it too because it reminds me of practically every maintenance job I’ve ever done on Bella Blue.

The marina is very well set up with great bathrooms and showers, a park for the kids, and even a floating clubhouse that has a library, television, small kitchen, and a rooftop patio. Once again, we see such a contrast between what so many other marinas can accomplish and what our home marina and its patrons settle for.

The ladies report that the restaurant options are limited so we put together a nice meal of vegetarian pasta and salads and enjoy it together in the clubhouse. We pull up the maps and do a little trip planning for the next few days and then it’s lights out.