Sunday, July 16, 2023

2023 Sailing Trip - July 14th - A Fine First Day

I awake with a slight headache and the taste of raw onion in my mouth. Last night’s cockpit drinks and garbage plates took a toll. But I care not – this is the first day of boat vacation! I crawl out of bed, put on yesterday’s clothes, boil some water in the kettle and make a barley drink (pseudo-coffee, all the bitterness with none of the caffeine), then step off the boat and onto the dock where I begin walking. I pass the club parkette and picture the scene last night where our friends Daryl and Lydia hosted a Garbage Plate Party to kick off this year’s shared adventure on Lake Ontario. 14 people sat anxiously awaiting the garbage plates which our hosts were carefully constructing. We discovered this regional cuisine in Rochester, New York last year during our sailing trip and were instantly hooked. The recipe is simple and infinitely adjustable. Start with a base of French fries, throw some macaroni salad on that, add in potato salad or coleslaw or whatever else you have in your fridge approaching or past the “best before” date. Seal with a heaping ladle of spicy meat sauce boiled to the consistency of dog vomit, decorate with a handful of raw onions, then criss-cross with jets of mustard, ketchup, and mayo. Voila, the Rochester garbage plate! Some of the less adventurous in the group chose to forgo the garbage plate experience and just bun a wiener (including the host Lydia, which arose great suspicion among those gathered). As I walked past the now vacant picnic tables, I smacked my lips then sucked my teeth and was rewarded with a small piece of onion my toothbrush failed to liberate in the early hours. I spit it to the ground and continue my walk up to the clubhouse for a shower.

By 9am, we are ready to depart. The crew consists of my three favourite ladies in the world – my mom Diane, my wife Ana, and my daughter Stella. We throw off the lines, motor out of the marina, and say goodbye to Newport Yacht club as we point the bow of the boat towards Wilson, New York. I am not surprised to see that the favourable west winds forecasted all week for today have become east and are blowing directly in our face. This is normal for sailing, especially when you are trying to go long distances. So we leave the sails furled and remain in powerboat mode as I push the throttle up to 1900 RPM giving us a cruising speed of nearly 7 knots. We leave behind the clouds gathered around the shoreline of Lake Ontario and find a cloudless sky over the open water.

Once we are settled in and the autopilot is engaged, I give my mom a full briefing on the boat. She has been day sailing with us before but never on a longer trip so has been very excited for this day since booking her flights from Saskatoon two months before. I am so glad she’s here with us – there’s nothing better than getting some lake salt into the veins of prairie folk. I explain all the safety procedures on the boat and stress that the disasters that will befall this on our trip are likely to be completely different than the ones she may have read on blogs from previous trips, including the near electrocution in Wilson and the grounding at Oak Orchard last year. We like to keep it fresh. Making the same fuck-ups year after year is so tiresome so we try to fail in new and different ways.

After several hours on the water the wind completely dies leaving a glassy lake surface so we stop the boat and jump in for a swim in the 25 degree water. Glorious. Stella alternates leaps into the water with shampoo, conditioner, and soap applications as the rest of us float around on pool noodles. It can be unnerving floating around in the middle of a giant lake with no other boats for miles around, but Mom seems pretty chilled out.

As we hit the sixth hour of our journey we reach the harbour entrance to Wilson and Ana calls into US immigration through their amazing ROAM app and gets us checked in within minutes with no issues. We ease into Wilson harbour and take a little trip to the end of it where we fill up with diesel then return back to the Tuscarora Yacht Club where the dockmaster Tim helps us dock then hands me the pump out hose and I extract the foul liquid from our holding tank, only splashing a little bit on the jib line, my feet, the side window, and a little splash may have hit Ana’s dress but she didn’t notice and I didn’t tell. Tim is a young fellow and explains that this is his first job and he knows nothing about boats or boaters. I like his brutal honesty, and I can tell Ana does too as she pulls him aside and shows him how to cleat off a line.

Another boat pulls up and Tim points them down the dock to an open slip as he’s got his hands full with a different boat coming in to dock, so I run down and guide them into the slip. The second boat follows up shortly after that and Ana and I both run back down to help dock them. By this time Daryl and Lydia have arrived in their power boat so we help dock and fuel them, then yet another boat comes in and we get him docked too.

“We’re good at this,” Ana says as she whirls a dock line over her head then perfectly lassos a cleat 20 feet away. “Maybe we should become dock hands in our retirement.”

“I’d prefer to dock boats on a volunteer basis, you know, to keep expectations low.”

After taking their incredibly cute but decrepit 17-year-old wiener dog Chili for a walk where he doesn’t really walk but instead just stands there trembling until some urine leaks out of him, Daryl and Lydia join us in the cockpit of SeaLight for drinks and snacks. This turns into a dinner as we realize it’s already 7pm so the girls heat up the delicious chili Mom made the day before and we devour it.

A band starts up at the Boat House restaurant just a couple hundred metres away and they have a killer setlist – all 90’s rock and grunge stuff. Last year we enjoyed some high calibre pina coladas at the 5 Coconuts bar just beside the restaurant so we head on over for happy hour. Problem is, we didn’t bother launching our dinghies, which would  make for a 2 minute ride, so instead we have to walk around via a bridge, long forest trail to a side road, long side road to the main road, then long main road that eventually winds back into the harbour, but not before passing this market of antiquities with such treasures as broken 30 year old fishing rods, tackle boxes full of rusted hooks and spilled fish scent, pots without lids, lids without pots, rotary phones that barely rotate, bent and rusted kitchen utensils that offer little utility, and open air tables chock a block with rained on knick knacks and boring curios. I’m going to let Rob Zombie know about this place as it would be a great site for a kill scene in one of his low grade horror movies.

The pina coladas are excellent but judged to be less excellent than the ones last year, probably because the star bartender John moved onto permanent employment, but I don’t know why because I can’t imagine any job more fulfilling than making cocktails for drunken boaters. We test out a second round, but this time go for strawberry daiquiris and classic margaritas and the quality is judged to be that of “standard issue”. But it’s all good and the music the band belts out is excellent – I pick up some Mr. Brightside, some Living on a Prayer, Don’t Stop Believing, Man in the Box, and even some Vaseline. As we are enjoying the drinks Stella says, “Everybody here looks very American, but I’m not sure exactly what it is.” She’s right, and it’s kind of hard to pin down what is it (other than the leg tattoos of eagles and American flags and the holstered sidearms), but despite being so close to home, things always look and feel different on this side of the border.

Lydia noticed some friends of ours from Newport on a nearby dock so we leave the bar and wander over then Daryl sends her down the dock to investigate. If you are ever looking to establish any sort of social connection, Lydia’s your girl. She is a people magnet. As expected, a chorus of cheers erupts and we are waved down the dock to find a whole bunch of Newporters – Ray and Heather, Daryl and Natasha, and two other couples we hadn’t previously met who are equally cool. The welcome they give us is irrationally exuberant – full body hugs, boozy kisses, and glasses of white wine shoved into our hands as we share news at a breakneck pace. It’s as if we’ve all met up by chance in a remote airfield in Kamchatka or bumped into each other dragging weasels on a trapline in northern Manitoba or recognized each other underwater scuba diving in Borneo. But in fact, Wilson NY is probably the number one destination for Newporters, but it still feels like a remarkable coincidence and we love it. I fire up the Cuban cigar I brought and have a nice long dock chat with the boys as the party erupts around us. What a crowd!

Ana is now four to five drinks in which is as much as she typically consumes in a heavy month and she’s getting bouncy and ready for a walk so she gathers my mom, Stella, and me and we bid the party goodbye and start the long trot back to our boat. Ray offered us his Sea Doo to ride over but we think it would probably be tough to fit six of us on there then even tougher to explain tomorrow how it wound up inverted and impaled on a rock.

The walk is lovely but it feels like we’re chasing Stella the whole way. She is an extremely fast walker and only has one speed – race pace. We make it back to the marina, stop at the yacht clubhouse for a free pee then check out the main gallery where we find two of the dudes we helped dock earlier in the day and another couple who are sitting helpless at a table with two smartphones on the table. We learn their attempts to check-in with the US border app have been fruitless and they are out of ideas and just sitting there as illegal immigrants. Ana the fixer is immediately on the situation - setting up their accounts, adjusting profiles, getting two factor SMS messages working, updating boat information and within minutes they are all set and just awaiting video call from an agent. They thank her profusely. The fixer does it again.

We are back in SeaLight’s cockpit for a nightcap, and I inexplicably make mine a water while Mom has a half glass of wine and Ana immediately falls asleep with her face buried in a pillow. After a nice chat with Mom and I decide it is time to put the wraps on an exceedingly fine day so I wake up Ana and we disappear into our cabin.

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