September 16, 2011
Just back yesterday from ten great days sailing eastern Lake Ontario and the upper St Lawrence River, with a few adventures along the way in Trillium, my c 1970 Hughes 29. Herewith an account.
Set out on Labour Day, single handing from Waupoos, destination Kingston, when had both a near death experience and popped a chain plate in short order in the first hour of that first day. Was sailing into a north east wind, which continued to blow consistently over the next few days and all the way to Gananoque, the remnant of a system affected by offshore hurricane Lee. There were a lot of boats, heavy cruisers leaving the marina that morning as the Collins Bay club was visiting that weekend and many were heading back to Kingston that morning, a clear and bright one with a 15 knot north east wind blowing. I was well past the Green Island shoal and out into the lake headed for the Upper Gap, beating against a pretty good sea, aware of two or three boats in the vicinity, when I got distracted with something or other, locked the helm, went below for a minute. When I came back up I was startled to see a large Nonsuch had crossed my path and was now ploughing along safely hard off the port bow. I certainly had not seen him and I have no idea if he saw me, considering how commonly autohelms are used now (I don’t have one), so it was a near miss, a near collision, and a sobering event right at the outset.
I continued to sail along, and shortly thereafter was puzzled to observe that the starboard stays seemed a little slacker than I am accustomed to seeing them on the leeward side in a stiff breeze. I glanced over to the port shrouds and was dismayed to see that the forward lower chain plate strap had pulled out by about two inches, displaying a couple of bent bolts in the process. (photo attached.) Paradoxically, it was almost a positive event. After the recent prior incident I was glad to be alive to notice this. I quickly tacked about, took all sails off, and went forward to take up the slack in that shroud’s turnbuckle, which put some tension back on the forward shrouds. The mast seemed quite stable at this point.
All of this was a bit of a disappointing development rather early in this long planned expedition. (The previous evening I had noted that the horizontal deck plate covering that chain plate had lifted out of its bed by a half inch so I had examined the internal side of the chain plate, which consists of a vertical fibreglas box fixed to the inside of the hull but could ascertain nothing although I had wondered then if something was beginning to move.) At this point I did not know what to do, and contemplated turning back. However I turned on the motor and decided to proceed through the Upper Gap into Adolphus Reach. Again saved by the diesel engine, as I was a number of times on this trip, so if I ever mention electric boat motors again please interrupt, as these diesels can and do get you out of messes.
I made a phone call to my good friend the Ambassador to ask for advice. He was planning some sailing the following day, this year in an Alberg 22 fitted out with a Chrysler 9.9 outboard motor, a virtual jet engine for that vessel. He suggested that I stop at the nearby Bath marina and he would catch me up the next day and effect a repair, and that is exactly what happened! The ambassador duly arrived the next afternoon. He purchased some epoxy, and we knocked the plate back into place and began by pouring unthickened epoxy into the chainplate box, with yours truly inside the vessel (the head, to be precise) trying to keep the box’s open bottom plugged by primitive methods (but not my thumb, it’s the Ambassador who is Dutch, not me), unsucessfully as it turned out as we ascertained the next morning. However the Ambassador did finished the job by stuffing thickened epoxy into the top end of the box and this must have done the trick, as when we challenged the chainplate repair on another beat the next day when we sailed out of Bath, (almost 24 hours later) as we tacked up the Reach past the Brothers Islands to Kingston the next day in some rain and wind the thing remained rock solid and has ever since.
After a night in Kingston we sailed south into Lake Ontario to Main Duck Island the next day, again on a 15 knot north easter, it being Thursday by now, and an overcast day, with a glorious sail on what I called a broad reach and what the Ambassador calls quartering, Trillium surfing along. I soon lost sight of the Alberg, as the Ambassador seems to have magical powers to make any boat move twice as fast as decently could be expected. He also had the advantage of once again taking a short cut east of the Melville Shoal while I set my own course through the Lower Gap and stuck to it this year, having learned that much from last year’s experience on the same route. About halfway there Main Duck Island came into view, always reassuring despite the use of a GPS, as I am not comfortable whilst sailing out of sight of any shore line, and the passage at three hours was quick indeed, Trillium with a small 90% jib that I made this winter, and starting with second reefed main at Kingston, shaken out to first in the Lower Gap, and then to full main when abreast of the Pigeon Island light. Incredible sailing. That narrow stern with its overhang lifts the boat right off the breaking waves and she boils, skates, slides and surfs along.
The difficulty, if there was one, came on arriving at Main Duck and when I had to go forward to get the main off (that roller furling jib is a marvel.) The waves were six footers on occasion, and it is impossible in those conditions to set the helm under motor power and have more than a few seconds of getting the boat to hold her course just off the wind to allow the single hander to go forward, get the sail down and lashed to the boom. I am working on a better technique for that. Also unnecessarily added to the challenge I put the bumpers out whilst pitching around still well offshore. Am learning to save that job for calmer waters in harbour. Took the precaution of wearing two life jackets as well as the ever present safety line. This was the part that I didn’t enjoy at all. Nevertheless I was finally able to turn to boat about and seek out the range which leads the sailor into the narrow channel and then into the small protected bay on the Island, itself a challenge.
Had the added worry now of realizing that I could not see the Ambassador’s boat, the mast and red hull of which by now, had he arrived, should be visible to me behind the trees on the small islet which protects the harbor. It was with great relief when, I as approached the inner channel, while mentally preparing to call the CG to report a missing sailboat, that the good man appeared, strolling along the stone beach towards me carrying a chair! He had arrived an hour earlier, had his boat moored to the islet, and was sitting down on the beach watching me struggling offshore! Relief! Had a celebratory cup of tea (and a beer), and enjoyed a quiet night there, with just one other boat in the harbour.
Awoke the next day to brilliant sunshine and blue sky and a much reduced sea (and north east wind.). Main Duck still remains free of the previously planned major industrial wind farm which was to be sited in the shallows to the south west of the Island, as a result of the provincial moratorium on offshore Great Lakes wind projects earlier this year. One wonders how long that will last. It is a jarring sight to sail past the now industrialized west half of Wolfe Island with its many mega machines not so silently revolving in the wind. Both of these areas are in migratory flyways and the body counts at Wolfe Island are proving the machines to be meat grinders for bird and bat populations. Have seen a video of a Bald Eagle being felled by a blade there and it’s a pathetic sight. We have an infinite appetite for energy in this country (you can find some of the worst offenders in marinas) and these machines are not going to satisfy our profligacy.
Motor sailed back to Kingston on calm waters (what a difference a day makes), past Pigeon Island and this time through the Boat Channel south of Simcoe Island (and over the cable of a cable ferry that operates between Simcoe and Wolfe Islands) along the way, on a brilliant sunny day, with much less interesting sailing but beautiful vistas.
The Ambassador was off home Saturday morning, and I was joined by another friend in his personnally hand built and welded Bruce Roberts design steel hulled sailing vessel of twenty seven feet, a capacious sturdy beast, motoring on this occasion as in his wife’s company. On a continuing north east wind I was expecting to motor to Gananoque also as was our plan for the day, so off we set. It soon became apparent however that the 15 knotter made for glorious sailing and I was able to tack back and forth down the great River on the north side of Wolfe Island, and on reaching the head of Howe Island separated from the Roberts as they motored through the protected narrow route of the northern Bateaux Channel while I tacked south into the Forty Acre, a broad stretch of water which affords marvellous sailing on flat water with no significant shoal problems, lying south of Howe Island. Another brilliant sunny day, mild, as I made one long tack to Quebec Head and Brakey Bay, (the latter reputed to be an excellent anchorage in the prevailing south west wind), before tacking about again a couple of times, which took me to the head of the Thousand Islands and the Forty Acre Shoal, and by motoring through the middle passage to Gananoque I arrived at about 5 pm, having left Kingston at 10 am. Another great sail! (and at 19 n miles rather shorter than our original mistaken calculation of 38 miles!)
Gananoque, a great little town. Took in the theatre one afternoon, sailed on the 100 foot Thousand Islander cruise boat to Rockport on another, visited the Child Museum of the Thousand Islands (most interesting) on another, and visited CG Captain GM (Ret) in his apartment with a magnficent view of the upper Thousand Islands on another. GM, older now, was a Leading Seaman on the Canadian Naval destroyer Huron which ran convoys to Murmansk in WWII and witnessed the sinking of an attacking German destroyer with four thousand crew lost. After the war he rose in rank, completing his career as Captain of various coast guard vessels on the Great Lakes. Recalled the sinking of the CG vessel Grenville in 1968 near Brockville. GM had been parachuted in to replace the First Mate when the vessel was already in trouble, trapped in an ice flow in the St. Lawrence as she was on buoy collection duty just before Christmas of that year. His experience of vessels sinking in cold northern waters during WWII told him that as cold water rushed into the Grenville, whose motors were left running at full speed as she listed and the engineers abandoned the lower parts of the boat, that as the water hit the ship’s boilers they would explode. So he averted disaster with men still aboard the ship by arranging to get the engines shut off before she went down, which she did after listing up against a bridge. The ship was raised the following spring and towed to Montreal to be scrapped.
Tuesday, strong south west winds for a change. An advertised cold front approaching kept us securely docked at the Gan Marina, but Wednesday at 1100 set off for Kingston once again, this time exiting the upper islands of the Frontenac Arch through the northern channel back to the Forty Acre, and more tacking, first out the Forty Acre (once again a sunny gorgeous day) in 12 knots, turning on the motor and taking off the jib to get through the shifting gusty winds of Cold Bath Shoal and the western Spectacle island narrows to get past the western head of Howe Island, under full sail with a 120 genoa and first reef in main, into the broader part of the river and into a stiff 18 knot south west wind and waves of the long fetch of eastern Lake Ontario, tacking up and down all the while, tacking to avoid a cable laying vessel and another time to avoid a quickly oncoming cruise boat, and finally into Kingston harbour, neatly timed to keep out of the way of the large Wolfe Island ferry. Excellent facilities at the Kingston Confederation Basin Marina.
Weather had cooled off by now after Tuesday’s passage of a cold front, rained Wednesday night, and set off at noon Thursday for Waupoos and home. Somewhat eventful. Clear cool air, twenty knot northwest wind, perfect, for so I thought, for a run home through the Lower Gap and around the south east point of Amherst Island for one straight tack home. Parted ways with two other larger cruisers who were just ahead of me, headed as it proved for the same destination, as they instead proceeded up Adophus Reach and the more protected waters of the Upper Gap given that particular wind direction. A wise decision on their part as I was to find out. Wind speed increased as I proceeded up the Lower Gap (didn’t hit a single rock), had my 110 jib on (which I made the previous winter out of sturdy 7 ounce cloth), and full main, but as the winds gusted, shifted, and got stronger as I approached Emeric Point, the south east head of Amherst Island, was virtually sailing under jib alone with main fully luffed and delaying the inevitable moment of reefing until, as I thought, once past the headland the wind would be more constant. True, as things developed, but the seas also suddenly got a lot bigger than I had expected once past the point. With jib on and helm locked the boat held a good steady course as I went forward to put a second reef into the main without too much problem despite the pitching of the vessel in the big seas. However once back in the cockpit I realized that I had gotten more than I had expected. Had thought that the seas would be fairly flat under the lee of Cressy Point and but the reality was that I was now out in the open lake.
It was all a bit much. Initially decided to furl the jib, completely taking it off, which I did, and started the motor, and held a south west course towards Prince Edward Point on the other side of Prince Edward Bay, but I was quite worried by the conditions. Furious wind and waves. At 1450, called the CG to inform them of my situation, requesting that they check back in half an hour. They were very helpful, took all the particulars including GPS position, cell phone number etc. Agreed to speak at 1530 again. Shortly thereafter it was apparent that I was just heading into bigger seas. Checked the chart (that chart table is great but clamp those charts on), and tacked about to head towards Long Point Bay and (the appropriately named) Nut Island on the south side of Amherst Island. Had the idea that it would be calmer behind that Island, but as approached it was still quite rough and windy there and the idea of anchoring did not appeal, so tacked about again (again saved by that diesel), and headed west, passing the KM2 buoy broad off the port beam, and noted that water here was a little smoother although wind still very strong, and remained so at 20+ knots. Gained confidence again, and sighted the two vessels that I had left earlier in the day passing ahead of me through the Upper Gap under the protection of the headland, so realized that things were getting more manageable. Deployed jib again, turned off motor, and now we were surging along. What a boat! A 29 foot dinghy! Spoke with CG at 1530 as planned, agreed to speak at 1600. At 1545 a CG heavy boat approached from the False Ducks direction making a beeline for me, obviously no coincidence, but seeing that I was making good progress passed my stern and continued on into the Lower Gap without making contact. Had last conversation with CG at 1600 to sign off with thanks, and then skated home on one long unbroken tack to the safe harbour of Waupoos.
Good to be home. Learned a few things. Great vessel, that Hughes 29.
How has your season been? Keep an eye on your chain plates.