Another Incident at Night On Eastern Lake Ontario
Thank you for your note Bill.
Coincidentally just returned yesterday
from a four day circuit of eastern Lake Ontario,
from Waupoos to False Ducks Islands
to Portsmouth Kingston to Main Duck Island
and back to Waupoos,
single handing in Trillium,
my recently revised 1970 Hughes 29,
in tandem with my sailing buddy the Ambassador,
single handing his vessel,
a 6 tonne 60 year old wood
Nova Scotia 32 foot ketch
which sails like a freight train in anything over 20 knots.
Trillium, at half the weight, performed marvellously.
On the heels of Hurricane Earl
whose effects we had felt in eastern Lake Ontario
on Saturday September 4,
there were strong winds every day the following week
right through to Friday September 10.
The result was excellent sailing.
On a 20 knot west wind 3 hour beam reach
from Kingston to Main Duck that Thursday
the two vessels were evenly matched
at average speed of 6 knots,
occasionally reaching 7,
and GPS reading of 7.6 once
on my intermittently used hand held GPS.
I was using a 110 working jib and 2nd reef in the main,
and the Ambassador had all three sails on.
On the run home Friday
on a 12 - 15 knot northwest wind three hour close reach home
used a 120 working jib and full main,
Trillium left the Ambassador well behind.
However, the trip was punctuated,
on the first night out
(Tuesday Sept 7 into Wednesday September 8),
by a nasty incident.
In retrospect I made many errors,
the first two of which were,
(1) ignoring a bad weather forecast,
and (2) setting out without compass, depth sounder,
running lights, or flares with good dates.
Having run aground on a soft bottom
in the entrance to Fisherman’s Cove on Prince Edward Point
on Tuesday evening,
we anchored, by now late in the evening,
behind one of the False Ducks Islands
(Swetman, False Duck Island,
the one with the light on the eastern tip)
to take shelter from the strong southwesterly winds,
Trillium rafted to the double anchored ketch.
Unfortunately at that point,
just as we were trying to get the vessels secured,
the advertised cold front blew through
with a very strong electrical storm
soon right on top of us.
I’ve never been in anything like it.
Of course the wind shifted at that point into the northwest,
with powerful gusts, high waves, and total chaos
despite our attempts to secure the vessels.
It became obvious
that I had to cut and run out into deep water
as my boat was about to be destroyed.
This I did.
I then became disoriented and ran aground again,
briefly getting hung up on a rock shelf
further down the same the False Duck Island shore .
However after a couple of minutes
the boat was floated off by a wave
and I managed to motor out into the lake,
having an amazing 12 hp Vetus diesel in place
which served very well that night.
I then spent the next hour
trying to get away from the two False Ducks Islands
in the middle of a south westerly gale
that followed on the heels of the cold front
and which blew the rest of that night.
I initally attempted to make for Waupoos,
but found myself repeatedly sailing in circles
as it was difficult to keep the boat on course
as I tried to head upwind in the pitch dark.
There was a second wave of lightning and thunder
that followed at this point,
and the only time I could see anything
was during flashes of lightning,
which briefly lit up the skyline.
Sea sickness was beginning to complicate things.
I didn't want to call the Coast Guard
but at that point it was obvious
that there were now significant risks to me,
and further I did not know
what the Ambassador’s situation was,
as there were radio problems.
I therefore called for assistance
to Prescott Coast Guard radio.
I was extremely relieved when they replied
and proceeded to be very helpful indeed.
I described myself
as disabled but not in immediate danger
and so they despatched
the Coast Guard vessel Cape Hearn from Kingston,
a heavy boat capable of 30 knots,
but limited to 10 knots that night
by the size of the waves in the Lower Gap,
so their ETA was 1 1/2 hours.
I was happy to wait.
I could not remain in the cabin due to sea sickness,
so I stayed in the cockpit.
Fortunately it was a mild evening,
I was well sheltered by
my (very sturdy hand made) dodger
and I had a survival suit which I put on.
Sure enough an hour and a half later
the Cape Hearn,
Captain Deacon on the bridge,
appeared on the scene ,
heralded by blue flashing light and white spotlights
which initially looked looked
rather disembodied in the dark night.
They verified my position
and the fact that my engine was operational,
then went over to pull the Ambassador
off the False Duck Island shore.
She was disabled by a line around the propellor,
and her skipper had a major problem
cutting the forward anchor line (chain) ,
which he was ordered to do
by the Coast Guard captain
after expressing understandable reluctance
to abandon his vessel.
Being a professional man, and Dutch, however
he knew how to go about it
and eventually succeeded.
We then convoyed back to Portsmouth Kingston.
It was a long night in a big following sea.
We left at midnight and arrived at 0500,
taking the longer route through the Upper Gap
as the Captain felt
that the large following seas through the Lower Gap
would be overwhelming.
As we sailed by Carruthers Point
at the bottom of the Lower Gap
just as the first light of dawn was appearing
I could see, or rather, feel, his point….
there was the a big swell coming through there
as the long fetch of Eastern Lake Ontario
made its power felt.
Captain Deacon, a very pleasant individual,
when he approached on foot
at the dock in Portsmouth for a debriefing
once the vessels were secure that morning,
asked me what I thought had gone wrong.
Misunderstanding his question,
I said I thought that I had made
about “16 mistakes”.
This proved to be rather accurate. (see appendix.)
Amazingly, what he really was asking
was whether I thought there were any problems
with the service they had provided that night!
I was delighted to reassure him.
As I noted earlier,
that wild and sobering night was followed
by a couple of days of ultimate sailing,
punctuated by only one other incident….
I managed to hit the only rock
marked on the chart in the Melville Shoal
in the Lower Gap on the way out
as we bolted out of captivity in the Portsmouth Harbour
headed due south for Main Duck Island two days later….
just one added reminder from the Great Lake
I don't tell you this story because I am proud of it,
quite the opposite,
but simply to illustrate
that a Hughes 29 equipped with a good engine
is a helluva vessel.
She sails like a dream
and she can save your life in a storm.
Some pictures attached,
of Trillium at anchor at Main Duck Island yesterday,
and of the Portsmouth Stove which I invented
(whilst in a rather discouraged state of mind
the morning following the incident
and being desperate for a cup of tea)
and which I plan to patent.
Just needs a bit of marketing I should think.
Appendix: My “16 Mistakes”
1. ignored bad weather forecast
2. set out too late in evening (initially no accurate knowledge of time of sundown and moonrise)
3. set out without compass, depth sounder, running lights, or current flares
4. proceeding to False Duck Island when could not enter Fisherman’s Cove
5. backing too close on to False Duck Island and grounding rudder while getting ready to raft up
6. main anchor and line not easily accessible, causing delay while anchoring and rafting at False Duck Island
7. suppressed significance of sound of pounding surf on shore of False Duck Island having cut and run, followed by regrounding
8. not putting life jacket back on after taking survival suit coat off
9. safety line not consistently clipped on
10. rechargable batteries in hand held GPS
11. not recognizing utility of Navmap on newer handheld GPS
12. use of hand made copy of Lower Gap chart for quick reference in unknown waters without noting buoy numbers thereon on Thursday
13. running off course (south, rather than southwest) as ran past first green buoy in Lower Gap on Thursday
14. not consistently inserting companionway lower board (took a surprise rogue wave into the cockpit on the Thursday beam reach, with consequent water briefly up to the ankles)
15. no lock securing companionway board and hatch
16. dinghy in boat rather than inflated and being towed.
17. etc, etc.