You may recall the weekend
about a month ago
when Hurricane Ike, in the southern U. S.
and another storm in Northern Michigan
came together to cause
quite a stormy weekend
for us here in the Great Lakes Region.
And wouldn't that be the very weekend
that I........... and two sailing pals,
Frank, and Rick,
had chosen to make our annual sailing trip
out to Main Duck Island,
which is an interesting National park area
about 20 miles out
in the middle of Eastern Lake Ontario.
Our plan was to leave the marina on PE Bay
on Friday afternoon at 5 pm.
Now , keep in mind in September the sun sets
shortly after 8 pm...
and.......that it takes us about 4 hours
to get to MD Island
Frank and I don't have much experience
at night sailing,
which is quite different from day sailing.
So a 5 o'clock start would see us
most of the way to the Island
before... the Sun sets,
and before darkness descends.
However, please note that Rick....on the other hand,
we call him Commander Rick,
as he is a professional sailor.....
we let him make all the important decisions
on these expeditions.....
Commander Rick, I happen to know,
enjoys .... sailing at night.
So, at the duly appointed time, 5pm
we all gather round the two boats,
ready to go.
Rick is sailing his 30 foot wooden boat,
and I will sail with Frank,
boat, in his 27 foot steel boat,
Now, at that moment,
a rather unexpected thing happens.
Rick makes an announcement.....he says
"Well boys, I have to make a trip to town."
Frank and I are a little taken aback.
We silently wonder,
Does he really have to go now?
But, Rick is the Commander,
so that's what happened.
He jumped in his truck
and drove off to Picton.
And about an hour later, he reappeared,
and so it was just after 6 o'clock
that we finally cast off
and sailed towards the eastern horizon.
Later Rick did offer a sort of an explanation
for this trip to town.
He said he had to pick up a coffee percolator.....
but...... I am immediately suspicious
that in fact, this percolator caper
is a delaying manoeuvre.....cleverly designed
to ensure ...at least a couple of hours ....
of sailing time....in the pitch dark.
Because as we know,
likes... sailing at night.
And that is exactly how it turned out.
It was dark enough anyway that day...
there was total cloud cover...
there had been heavy rain earlier...
so visibility was down.
And by the time we came abreast
of the False Ducks Islands,
which are half way to our destination,
the sun set,
and night fell.
At this point, Frank, who is a sensible fellow
turned to me and said,
What on earth we are doing out here,
in this great big lake....in the pitch dark?
It's a good question,
but I reassured Frank that now...
we are really having fun.
Let me tell you what we can see as we sail along.
Well, actually......we can't see anything.
It's pitch dark.
There is a light on False Duck Island
but we soon leave that behind on our starboard side.
We are expecting to see
the powerful white light of the Main Duck Lighthouse,
but, visibility is reduced, so....we don't.
It's not there.
And the moon is completely obscured
by the heavy cloud cover.
So all we can see
is the little masthead light
at the top of one of the masts on Rick's boat,
and even that recedes into the distance
as he gradually pulls away from us.
And to put an extra edge on things
we now have to cross the ....upbound ......shipping lane
which is used by large .......freighters
as they sail up the St. Lawrence River
into Lake Ontario,towards Toronto.
These huge ships move fast,
25 knots to our 5 knots,
and they don't pay much attention
to small boats.
You don't want to get in their way.
So we keep a sharp watch ... to our port side.
But of course ..........that is not the side from which
...The ....Trouble .... appears.
because, we suddenly spot,
off in the distance on the starboard side,
the lights, apparently, of a vessel.
Now, we initially persuade ourselves
that this boat is probably downbound,
therefore will be out of our way,
passing on the other side of Main Duck,
but as the minutes pass
it becomes apparent
that this vessel is headed towards us,
in a downbound direction,
in the upbound shipping lane!
When this realization finally dawns on us,
Frank and I begin to feel like
we are in the Twilight Zone.
An air of unreality sets in.
What is going on?
We become mesmerized by the spectacle
of these disembodied lights,
red and green,
on top of which there is a flashing blue light,
which adds to the effect
all moving at speed,
Well, in an effort to do something,
I shine my flashlight on our mainsail,
to make us much more visible,
in response to which, the other vessel
switches a powerful searchlight directly onto us.
It is almost blinding, it is so bright,
and it just adds to our confusion.
And still they keep coming on
Who are they?
U. S. Marines? Martians?
Who ARE you???
(We would really like to know.)
Finally, we can stand the tension no longer.
I ask Frank
to get on the VHF radio.
He picks up the mike:
"Vessel approaching sailboat
north of Main Duck Island,
this is the Aloma, this is the Aloma,
please identify yourself,
and state your intentions."
(Frank says this with a certain voice of authority.)
Frank prepares to call again,
when finally, the radio crackles to life in reply.
Canadian.... Coastguard ....vessel (such and such)."
We heave a sigh of relief.
We never did see the boat,
just the lights, as they moved around us,
and then on....
now in pursuit of Commander Rick,
who of course, has the comfort and protection
his of his coffee Percolator.
Yes, it's dark out here.
And yes, we are having fun.