Monday, June 14, 2021

The SeaLight Adventure Starts Now

When we bought SeaLight she was high and dry on a boat cradle at Wigger's Custom Yachts in Bowmanville, Ontario. She had been there for the winter season after having some repairs done and a new paint job last fall. Wigger's is known to be one of the best boat repair shops around, but the trick is actually getting in and out of their harbour entrance with currently low water levels.

We had reserved a slip at Port Whitby Marina, just 15 miles or so west of Bowmanville, but with the additional pandemic lockdown measures put in place by the Ontario government, there was no telling when the marina would be able to open. So we came up with a plan. We would launch her on May 23 and my buddy Andrew would join me in sailing her to his waterfront house and dock just east of Kingston, about 113 nautical miles away or about 22 hours sailing. Then we would just travel up there on the weekends and enjoy the boat at a nice private residence while the province took their time opening things up. I scheduled the boat launch and everything was set...until I got a text at 5:30 in the morning from Andrew a few days before departure.

"Hey, what's the draft on the new boat, like 5 feet?"

"Nope. 6.5 feet - it's a full keel."

"Oh man, I didn't know it was that deep, Bella Blue only had about 4 feet, right?"

"Yep, and when we sailed her to your place last time she floated nicely on the dock with plenty of water beneath the boat so we should be good."

"Uh, I don't know - the lake levels are down like 2 feet."

"Oh shit."

"I'll go and measure."

Sure enough, there was only 5 feet of water at the deepest point on his dock. There was brief talk of dredging, putting down a mooring, anchoring in the middle of the channel, and a few other totally impractical ideas, then we realized the plan was toast.

I called Wigger's and moved the launch date to the following Friday, hoping that the gov't would east up on restrictions in the coming week. Fortunately, they did, and the marina sent notice they would be opening! Plan B was drop-kicked into high gear. My buddy Tony volunteered to drive the two of us up to Bowmanville Thursday after work for an early Friday morning drop-in, despite the forecasted weather looking less than promising.

Tony arrived right at 4:30pm on Thursday and we were off. The drive took a bit longer than usual due to rush hour traffic (which is a Covid fraction of what it normally is this time of day), but we arrived and I gave Tony a quick tour of the boat. We then launched into action and finished up a few remaining jobs to get her ready for the water, then we walked down to the launch site and gave the mast a good cleaning as it was covered in bird poo and spider webs from a long winter in the storage yard. We finished up around 9pm then returned to the boat for a huge feed of sheppard's pie and a couple of beers to wash it down.

By 8:30am Sealight was on a trailer and being towed by a backhoe down to the nearby launch site. The three gents from Wigger's then eased her into the massive travel lift and raised her up so we could splash some bottom paint on the cradle pad marks. By now it was freezing outside, having dropped nearly 20 degrees in the previous 24 hours, and at one point it started snowing horizontally. Painful, considering every day of that week the weather had been clear, calm and hot.

The lads rolled the travel lift into the launch well and slowly dropped her in. I jumped aboard to check for leaks and fortunately found none. The next step was to put up the mast, which is done with a boom truck that is stationed beside the well. They winched up the mast, maneuvered it into place, but as they were about to drop it, something soft and fleshy plopped from inside the mast down onto the deck of the boat. A dead baby bird. And after some foot hammering on the bottom of the mast, three other abandoned bird bodies flopped out, along with a pound of straw and grass from the next. They were unceremoniously flipped into the water then the mast and rigging was set into place.

Once all that was complete, we stood back and had a look. One of the shrouds (these are the stainless steel lines that connect the mast and spreaders to the deck) was floppy and they weren't able to adjust it enough to take the slack out so we feared the company that had just built all this brand new rigging for the boat had made a mistake and cut that one too long. Major problem. But because of the awful weather, the Wigger's guys didn't want to send anybody up in a bosun's chair to investigate further so we decided to abandon plans to leave today and instead work on it tomorrow, which was inevitable as the crashing surf at the harbour entrance was going to prevent us from leaving anyway.

I got onboard, started the engine and started backing up into the channel but soon got grounded and it took some fancy maneuvering with engine, lines, and people to wiggle her out and get her tied up at the dock. She was in the water, safely tied up, and we were cold and starving so we broke for lunch.

JP's Pita Deli is a local eatery where Magnus had picked up some delicious food for us a few weeks prior so we stopped in. JP's is not your average donair dump; it's more like a temple, dedicated to JP himself! The walls are papered with huge images of JP in the 70's as a Greek shmoozer wearing bell bottoms, open chested shirts, gold chains, and manly man-hair everywhere. There's one with him and his Camaro. There's one with chicks draping their arms around him. There's one of him wearing some kind of Indian/Led Zeppelinesque glitter robe. It's a full-on tribute to Greek Studmuffinism. Within 5 minutes he had made Tony and I two gigantic giros, told us all about his current life (working 7 days a week), related a few stories of all the babes he shagged in his Camaro and the resulting state of the upholstery, then offered us shots of Johnny Walker. When we politely turned him down he said he'd drink our shots for us and poured a huge mouthful for himself and gulped it down. I liked him right away.

We returned to the boat, ate our giros, then Tony headed back home and I mucked around in the boat for the afternoon, taking care of a number of inside jobs. Ana and the kids arrived early that evening and were happy to finally see Sealight floating. They brought a pot of chili so we warmed that up, ate it, and I was sleeping by 10pm while the rest of them stayed up longer enjoying the pleasures of the warm boat.

Todd, the previous owner of the boat, arrived Saturday morning and we got to work trying to fix the rigging. I was hauled up the bosun's char and after well over an hour of adjusting turnbuckles, measuring, hammering, twisting, slackening, tightening, detaching, and reattaching, we finally threw in the towel and admitted that the one piece of rigging was too long and needed to be returned to the shop for shortening. We then moved onto putting up the boom, installing the sailbag, and raising the headsail to get the boat ready to go in case we could get out in the afternoon. Robert from Wigger's came by, had a look at the water and decided it was still too rough, and we couldn't go out, but he did schedule the launch for the next morning at 8:30am since the forecast called for no wind and flat water conditions. With that, Todd went home and we spent the rest of the afternoon swabbing the outside decks and cleaning her up. The boat was really dirty, but by the end of our cleaning it was looking pretty damn good.

I installed the barbeque grill on the back of the boat and we cooked an excellent dinner then enjoyed it in the expansive, bug-free cockpit as we admired the resident swans paddling up and down the channel looking for their own meals.

One of the powerboaters further up the channel decided to take his boat out for a rip but as he was backing up he got completely stuck in the mud and was only able to pull it free by attaching a long line to his buddy's 4x4 on shore and getting out in the knee deep water and pushing from behind. This did not bode well for our 6.5 foot draft.

The Wigger's boys arrived early Sunday morning and by the time Todd arrived at 8:30, we were totally ready to go. They gave us the briefing, and the briefing was this: there was only 3.5 feet of water in parts of the channel, and our boat's keel needs over 6 feet of water, therefore they would attach the spare spinnaker halyards from the top of the mast to one of the power boats and he would drive the boat away from ours pulling down on the mast which would tip the boat onto its side and raise the keel, thereby reducing the draft. The other boat would tie a line to the bow cleat and tow us ahead and out of the channel. Now, this is not the way one would typically leave a harbour entrance, but there was really no other option besides having the boat trucked, and that would probably cost as much as seasonal dockage and take weeks to schedule.

Previous to this day, I was warned several times by Wigger's staff of the terror of this operation. When I was asking the owner's son about the infamous process the day before, he told me, "Everybody should try it once." I've heard the same thing said about eating durian fruit, Filet Americain, hakarl, and balut. If you don't know what those are, look them up and you'll see what I mean.

Todd and I boarded the boat while he others watched from shore. Thankfully Todd reminded me to plug the thru-hulls on the starboard side of the boat where we would be heeling, so I got some wooden dowels and pounded them into the holes, otherwise the water would have poured into the boat. I started the engine and piloted her through the narrow channel and got further than I thought I would as the boat came to a halt with the keel stuck in the sand bottom. The power boats revved into action, pulling sideways and forward and the boat immediately started to heel. Over she went, steeper and steeper until the keel pulled free and we began making progress through the channel. I turned off the engine as the propeller was surely now sticking out of water with the angle of the heel. The water started sloshing over the rails, but there was nothing much for us to do except watch and hold on tight!

At one point, the bow of the boat swung towards shore and we were headed straight for the rocks so the Wigger's boys cut the power and she swung back upwards, sticking the keel into the mud but thankfully avoiding the sharp rocks. Getting her off was tough, as the power boats leaned into the throttle, putting massive pressure on the mast and rope, and she eventually released with a groan and we were making progress again, but this time aimed more towards the middle of the channel. The boat was now nearly sideways, probably a 50 - 60 degree angle as she was dragged through the water, like a lion hauling a freshly killed gazelle by the broken neck across the savanna. I had now shifted my footing so that I was no longer standing on the floor of the cockpit; instead I was standing on the wall of the cockpit and the water was rushing far up over the rails, soaking the bottom edges of the canvas cockpit enclosure. Todd was sitting on the high side of the boat, looking down at me, and he seemed to be quite enjoying the ride as the new non-owner of the vessel. I am sure the bystanders on land thought we were trying to purposely sink the boat as they saw the steep heeling and the keel and prop sticking out of the water. I expect they also felt some embarrassment, similar to seeing a flash of bum under a pretty girl's dress, knowing you should probably look away, but instead succumbing to the irresistible urge to stare. After spending so many years sailing I know the physics of a sailboat are such that they can't really be tipped over, but I was worried about all the pressure being applied to the line and the mast and hoped that the standing rigging was tight and secure and able to withstand the loads.

Todd looked up the mast and said to me, "Hey, it looks like the line is getting frayed at the top, must be from all the pressure." Not one minute later there was a giant SNAP and the boat flopped back upright, viciously, but thankfully she was floating!

"That wasn't the mast, was it??" I yelled.

"Nope, the spinnaker line just broke. We're good," Todd replied.

With that, she was in the open water, just barely out of the shallows and it felt great as there seemed to be no damage beyond the broken halyard which was easily replaced. The Wigger's boys gathered up the remains of the line from the water, tossed it over to us and bid us goodbye. I thanked them profusely and thought to myself that this is indeed an experience to try once. Once.

Todd and I spent the next two hours motoring westward to Whitby, all alone on the lake, on a beautiful and calm day. The engine passed the sea trial with flying colours and we were achieving over 8 knots on 2200 RPM as she hummed along nicely. Along the way I took the opportunity to ask Todd all the remaining questions I had about the boat. He had owned the boat for several years and had spent two of those in the Caribbean so knew the boat's systems inside and out and had upgraded many of those systems himself.

We arrived at the Port Whitby Marina and slowly and carefully navigated the boat into the harbour. At some points the depth came right up to the bottom of our keel so we were skimming mud but did manage to float through. As we approached our slip I could see Ana and the kids there as well as several other people who had lined up to help catch our lines. I've always preferred backing into a slip, but because I didn't know how this boat handled I was taking a bit of a chance. My first attempt failed so I motored her back out, turned around, and came in for another pass and that time I brought her in reasonably well and soon we were all tied up and SeaLight was safely docked in her new summer home.

After a short break we got the bosun's chair rigged up to ascent the mast and remove the incorrectly sized shroud. As I was preparing to climb the mast Todd looked again at the rigging and suggested we try adjusting the turnbuckles again. I  knew we had already tried this but agreed to give it one more go before taking the next painful step of removing it completely. I went up the mast, got to the first spreader, started adjusting it and voila, it worked! I have no idea why, but perhaps all the yanking and twisting and jerking of the mast during the unorthodox channel launch stretched the rigging into shape. I was elated and would have done a happy dance if I wasn't hanging off a thin rope 40 feet in the air with an adjustable wrench and screwdriver in my hand.

With that, the job was done, the boat was settled, and we finally had a chance to sit in the cockpit, relax, and imagine what adventures the rest of the season might bring.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021


We are back on the water with a wonderful new-to-us sailboat named Sealight – a 2005 Beneteau Cyclades 43.3 which we hope will someday take to the Caribbean, the Azores, the Great Loop, continental Europe, and beyond!

Like the family matriarch, she is an experienced beauty. She was born in France and sailed across the Atlantic to spend the first years of her life as a shiny new charter vessel in the British Virgin Islands and was surely host to hundreds of guests. As the new boat smell became nothing but a distant memory, she was sold to a Canadian couple who sailed her back to Canada and spent many years sailing her on the Great Lakes. She was then purchased about 4 years ago from the fellow who sold her to us. He sailed her back down to the Caribbean and spent two years in semi-retirement cruising from island to island, knocked that off his bucket list, then returned to Canada to move onto different adventures.

So now, she is ours, and a welcome addition to our family. I had little confidence we would find a boat for this season, but Ana never gave up and her persistence found us a boat that checked nearly all the boxes of our “next boat” list. The one it doesn’t check is being a catamaran, but we realized that this was not the right type of boat for the type of sailing we’ll be doing for the next few years.

Sealight has three closed cabins, each with its own ensuite head (bathroom), a gigantic comfortable cockpit, a full cockpit canvas enclosure, 200 litre diesel tank, 500 litre water tanks, solar panels, new sails, new paint, new propane oven/range, a 54 HP Yanmar diesel engine, and a great electronics package. She is a full ten feet larger than our last boat so feels monstrous and I expect will sail very differently (likely better) as she has a standard battened mainsail instead of the roller furling main and a much deeper keel, drawing a full 6.5 feet.

The boat is in Whitby, which is just east of Toronto, and we’ve decided to keep her there for this season and spend the summer exploring Lake Ontario. We got a small taste of the lake two years ago when we sailed Bella Blue from Lake Erie to the Thousand Islands and we liked what we saw, but realized there was much, much more to explore.

We’ve spent the last six weeks working on her and getting her in shape for this season, which included installing new flooring, putting on new bottom paint, re-caulking the heads, fixing and waterproofing the canvas enclosure, replacing mattresses, putting new lettering on the hull, and cleaning her extensively from top to bottom.

But now, she’s ready to go. And last weekend we put her in the water, which was an adventure in itself...

For now, say hello to the Olson’s new happy place – Sealight!