Another Incident at Night On Eastern Lake Ontario

September 2010



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 suppose.


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.


Best wishes.






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.