Sunday, July 15, 2018

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.

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