|Bald Eagle headed to Wolfe Island, Sept 2013
September 12, 2013
Surfin’ USA: Hanging Ten on a Hughes
29: the Fourth Annual ELO adventures of sailboat Trillium
It’s 1100 hours, Tuesday September 3,
2013, there is a good wind blowing, and I’ve spent the past month preparing Trillium for the annual Eastern Lake Ontario/upper
St. Lawrence River expedition. The Ambassador, again in his Alberg 22 Storm Vogel which he has likewise been preparing, and
a third boat are scheduled to go with us, but the Ambassador is delayed by a
day. My patience runs out….there is a strong west wind. I’ll make a start and they can catch up. I ready the boat, right down to the last two dock lines, and as I walk down the dock as I make final preparations
to leave my eye alights on the port cap shroud chainplate (i.e. not the one we fixed two years ago whilst en voyage) of my
amazing 1971 Olin Stephens designed Hughes 29, Trillium. Surely not! Is that
chainplate cover lifting up a whisker? Brilliantly, I decide to ignore it…we
will find out soon enough once underway, and anyway, lightning does not strike twice in the same place. I go to finish
up ashore and I happen to spot the Ambassador, so I walk over to explain the plan and ask him if he would have a
look at the boat, which he does an hour later. He confirms that the chain plate is indeed on the move. So Plan A goes down.
I secure the vessel for another day and that afternoon together we epoxy the chain plate box using our now patented technique.
Only the two, or probably just one, after lower shroud remains to be revised. They all remain rock solid for the duration
of the trip. The other mild annoyance is the failure of the electronic engine raw water temp monitor last month, with replacement
parts arriving by ship from Vetus, Netherlands via Nova Scotia Stright-Mackay later in the fall. The temporary cure, also
brilliant, has been to disconnect the electronic monitor leash. Otherwise the
alarm sounds continuously immediately on engine ignition. The alternate temperature monitoring method is a hand on the heat
exchanger housing from time to time, rather like a hand on the brow of a fevered patient, and that served rather well.
Wednesday dawns, the Ambassador is now ready,
and we make a 1500 start, the chain plate repair having had almost 24 hours to cure and pronounced fit on inspection, and
rig retuned. 20 knot breeze forecast from the west, and its almost that now, probably west south west, sunny sky to the south
and west, and forecast Cold Front coming through later that night (be very afraid when you hear those words as a sailor) evidenced
by a dark sky with obvious rain activity to the north and east of us. We want to get to Main Duck before it arrives, and Trillium
with second reefed main and 85% jib skates along for 2/3 the distance there, following the other lads, until the wind shifts
to north west, requiring down wind running which causes problems. Additionally as I am now in the upbound sealane after messing
about taking the jib off, putting it back on, struggling with a slatting main in a big following sea with the wind now dropped,
multiple accidental jibes, so I give up, turn on the motor and get into the inside
harbour at MD by 1900, one hour before sunset.
Surprisingly the rains avoided us. Supper for
the three of us was a reheated pot of rice cooked up earlier in the day with Waupoos Island honeycomb mixed in, and a cup
of tea, very satisfying. Defying convention I added some honeycomb to the tea as well and that worked too, the waxy comb being
removed once it and the tea bag had “thickened the tea”, as the Irish say. Managed to revise some of our astronomy
that evening despite intermittent cloud cover, and more so the next evening which was clear. Had the place to ourselves the
first night, and we were then joined the next night by four heavy cruisers and a pleasant lot of lads from Brighton, Presqu’ile
Yacht Club, the original home port of Trillium, as they passed through on their way to Waupoos on their own annual expedition.
Managed to drop my sunglasses into the harbour but with the help of one of their sharp eyed sailors was able to find and retrieve
them with a gaff hook. Lake Ontario water levels are high this year, being about
about two feet over chart datum, which is a foot higher than this time last year, a result of the wet spring and summer, so
to date we have remained somewhat immune to the declining water levels of the upper lakes.
The Cold Front hit during the night. Awoke
to 0300 chaos, high winds coming out of the north. Trillium on this occasion was on the end wing of the new docks, (signed
for Commercial Use Only but there did not appear to be much commercial activity on that dock that evening), stern to the north
facing entrance to the harbour, so rocked all night despite the protection of the Main Duck harbour as the wind howled to
what seemed like gale force gusts. Do not go sailing when a Cold Front is forecast. The same strong north wind continued the
following day, which was nonetheless sunny and bright, and the two lads went off for the mandatory island walk. Being a bit
knackered myself after yesterday’s struggles (I have a talent for making single handed sailing hard work) I laid low.
What I had noticed, and as our third party member pointed out, was what was curious about the island this year, said to be
a key link in a migratory flyway, was the absence of bird life in this natural wildlife refuge. Eerie. I saw one merlin, one
monarch butterfly, and one eagle in our two days there. The place should be hopping. Certainly a reflection of the global
crash in bird (and Monarch) species one presumes.
Made the happy discovery that my passport is
good until 2014, so determined to get to an unrealized destination to date, Sacket’s Harbour, although this meant a
departure from the other two boats, the Ambassador having designs on the Thousand Islands Canadian national park. So at 1100
the next day, Friday, we all set off on another beautiful sunny day, the front having passed through, with southwest winds
to come later in the day on a cloudless brilliant day. Trillium headed east, the Ambassador headed north to the Boat Channel,
for a quick shower in Kingston Confed basin (very accommodating they are there) then off to Leek Island moorings. From there
they sailed the area for a couple of days including the Forty Acre south of Howe Island, and were back in Kingston by the
following Monday, Stella Bay Tuesday, and home to Waupoos Wednesday.
Our crossing to Sacket’s provided marvellous
sailing once across the downbound shipping lanes, light winds and open lake were behind us. A good strong southwest wind sprang
up with the afforded breakwall protection of Galloo and Stony Islands producing exhilarating sailing in the extreme end of
ELO interposed between Henderson and Chaumont and Black River bays. Really did not want to go into Sacket’s just yet
so took a couple of long tacks in the lake, then, 1700 approaching, and not realizing that Black River bay affords good protection
made the tactical error of getting sails off and bumpers and lines on whilst still out in the big swells of the lake, more
unnecessary hard work. Motored into the bay, and around Navy Point at Sacket’s Harbour, a marvellous natural harbour
with a fascinating history of strategic importance in the 1812 War which is now on magnificent display there as a National
Historic Site, with all the appurtenances. Choice of berths at the Marina, and the best facilities for overnighting that I
have encountered (or perhaps tied for best with Clayton New York as I was to find out later) at about $50 per night at both,
compared to $60 at Kingston, so accounting for exchange rates, similar.
Explored the small town after registering with
the Border Services by video phone without any problem (the video is for your documents, not you, as far as I could tell).
Blue cheese hamburger at the Hops restaurant, with a local beer, Smutty Nosed ale being the choice of the house, both very
nice, then walked out to the 1813 battlefield historic site, preserved as a public park, on the point of land across from
Horse Island where the British Commander of naval forces James Yeo and Commander in Chief of British forces Georges Prevost
landed to stage a moderately successful assault on Sacket’s in July 1813 while Admiral Chauncey was away with his fleet
at Niagara, both sides later claiming success in that Sacket’s engagement.
Berth was quiet and calm that night but didn’t
get much sleep as was planning an early departure the next day to keep ahead of thunderstorms forecast for the eastern lake
to arrive Saturday evening. Left Sacket’s at 0745, got out into Black River bay which was quite calm, deceptively so
as it turned out. Put out full 120 jib and unreefed main, and sailed back out into ELO, where truth was again revealed in
the form of a big swell and strong winds, wind having blown all night at SW 15 knots and continued to do so all that day,
Saturday. The atmosphere was very different from our previous day’s arrival, now with total cloud cover, rough conditions,
and a complete absence of other vessels. However, wanted to keep ahead of that storm, which actually became visible as the
morning wore on as a dark cloud out over mid lake. Had considerable difficulty getting down to a second reefed main with the
boat pitching about like a mad bull, but got it done and now made my discovery
that the Hood continuous line furler functions beautifully as a jib reefing system with the furler line actually locking itself
onto the furler drum when the latter twists a little under sheet pressure. I don’t know if this is by accident or design
but it certainly allowed me to use the jib in a strong wind at ½ or 2/3 deployment very effectively. As you have probably
discovered a Hughes 29 will not sail upwind under main alone.
There were three legs in this day’s sail,
the first to Peninsula Point, which was quite alarming, the second to Grenadier Island during which some hope began to re
emerge, and the third to Tibbet Point, which was positively exhilarating. I motor sailed the first leg just to get out of
that anxiety zone ASAP. My handheld GPS failed me in this critical leg as I had left it on all night, so keep those charts
and field glasses handy, as I had done. Was sailing in rough conditions on a
close reach in the first leg on a port tack with motor assist (will mention the significance of the tack later), then turned
the motor off for the second leg, now on a less close reach with some easing of boat motion, and then on the third leg on
a beam reach, 15 knot sw wind, the 6 foot swell actually deepening as you approach the shallower waters of Tibbet Point lighthouse.
This is the moment that you realize once again that a Hughes 29 with its fine overhanging stern slicing through big following
waves thus avoiding the broach, and a Vetus 12 hp twin cylinder diesel engine to give you a boost at critical times, is a
brilliant combination. What a vessel! We flew to Tibbett’s. Catching a breaking wave while standing at the wheel of
a Hughes 29 is the Cape Vincent version of hanging ten. Once past the lighthouse there is actually a fourth leg to this trip
which is down the great River to Cape Vincent, a short hop but interesting none the less. The big swells were certainly attenuated
once in the River portion, although a local chap told me later that given the right wind direction and strength that wave
amplitude can actually be larger there than out in the Lake. We are now in the shipping lanes as we approach Cape Vincent,
but the anticipated terrors of mingling with freighter traffic were as nothing having survived the Sacket’s to Cape
Vincent run on this particular day. We arrived at about noon.
Cape Vincent is interesting. The ferry from
Wolfe Island runs frequently and there is a Coast Guard station. There is a long cement breakwater which protects the harbor
from the considerable wash of the passing freighters (announced as they pass through by a siren, or was that to warn the crossing
ferry?), not to mention the waves of a northerly storm as we were to discover. The state Department of Environmental Conservation
has a building (and research vessel) there where there is an aquarium with local fish species open to the public, as well
as a public dock with bathroom but no shower (found in the aquarium area) available free for tie up by cruising vessels up
to 48 hours. There is also another public dock which I believe has facilities. However I settled on the very fine Anchor Marina
facilities which have their own very solid cement breakwater and basic facilities available for a very reasonable price, $25
per night with ice, and pleasant staff, Bob from Clayton, and Mr. Smith, a local man. Got tied up behind their solid cement
dock for the night, behind a Catalina 38, Lake Effect, captained by R who proved to be not only pleasant but very helpful.
An interesting phenomenon in Cape Vincent that
you can’t miss if you go is Dan’s Place, basically a highly organized junk shop with bits and pieces of all description
for sale. Lost the glass dome piece from my old style coffee percolator the day before, turned the boat over and could not
find it, so was in despair (morning coffee is only surpassed in pleasure by a cup of tea after a day of hard sailing). Mentioned
this to Dan himself and he said bring along the lid, which I did, and didn’t he run upstairs to some further storage
area and come up with a reasonable facsimile and perfect replacement. Arranged a price for that and a Robertson screwdriver
which I had discovered is the only tool that I do not carry on board which I actually needed to date on this trip, all in
Canadian funds no less! The original glass percolator dome turned up later in the day, of course, so now am well positioned
in the coffee department. Returned the next day to make another purchase from Dan, a four legged wooden stool , which Dan
called an “antique”, which I find much more comfortable for sitting
in the cabin when working at the galley side, rather than sitting at the table (don’t have standing head room), or on
the collapsable stool that I was using, all for one low price of $20 Canadian! The wicker is coming out of the seat, so will
find some nice piece of teak or some such and bolt it on there.
That night was another interesting one. I discovered
that the River speaks a language of its own. As I tried to get to sleep I was impeded by the sounds of wavelets slapping off
the stern of the hull. I cannot quite describe it but it was distinctly different from the sounds of that sort that I had
heard so far. The winds locally were quite calm. I found that against this cacophony I could only get off to sleep with a
combination of moldable ear plugs and hearing protector ear muffs. I awoke at about 0300 again however to the sounds of marine
chaos. Once again a Cold Front had arrived! When a Cold Front is forecast, be very afraid, and don’t go sailing. The
wind had shifted into the north or north north east during the night and must have reached twenty knots gusting to thirty.
At the Anchor Marina they are just outside of the protection of the eastern end of the municipal breakwater, hence having
built there own solid docks with breakwater in the 1970’s. Trillium was moored close to the end of that entrance breakwater
so was bucking about pretty nicely and getting slapped forcefully in the stern from time to time by waves rounding the end of the jetty. This high wind blew all
night and into the afternoon of the next day when it finally calmed down by early evening, so there was no more sleep that
night. I was a little concerned about the rudder taking some strain. With the arrival of morning I got up and contemplated
trying to move the boat forward one cleat position on the dock, which would take the stern out of harm’s way, but soon
dismissed that idea given the strength of the wind. That is when the captain of the boat ahead kindly volunteered to help,
so that is what we did, and in the end I used six dock lines including doubled up bow and stern lines two with snubbers, and
was lucky enough to discover that the bow line had already chafed about one third through during the night and was not long
for this world so I got some anti chafing on those lines as well. The Lake Effect captain had a heavy line that he deployed.
He had some comical name for it, a tub line or some such. He noted that during the hurricane last year that waves came over
that breakwall all day.
That’s also when I discovered that my
battery was dead. I only carried one battery for starting as well as instruments with no problem in three years until now.
I had used the FM radio quite a lot (depend on it in fact, great classical programming from WCNY Syracuse/WXXI Rochester and
rarely now from the late lamented CBC), had left a steaming light on overnight unintentionally at Main Duck, and had left
the depth sounder on overnight that previous night, so it must all have been too much for the battery, new last year. I have
not been in the habit of turning off the main switch when the engine is shut off, but that policy has now changed. The captain
was good enough to lend me his 5 amp battery recharger and six hours later the job was done. However I was in despair as I
was no longer able to pass the hours in the company of my beloved FM radio, a purpose built boom box made by a local car radio
installer which is fixed to the cabin table and which turns the cabin of Trillium, appointed as she is with quite of lot of
teak, into a veritable concert hall. Pleasant when in harbour, and reassuring when sailing.
So that is what led to Trillium conversion
from a light to a heavy cruiser. I found the perfect place to install a second battery with box in the space under the galley
sink, and at the next opportunity which proved to be Clayton NY I purchased a second battery, a so called dual purpose type
(they make a lot out of the difference between deep cycle and starting batteries but it seems to me that what is important
is the weight of lead therein), and installed it immediately with great success. Ironically the young lad who gave me a ride
back to the marina in Clayton from the NAPA store told me that he had to listen to Canadian radio stations there because there
was nothing decent locally, while at that very moment I was buying a battery from him to allow me to listen to a very marvellous
NY state radio station, there being no decent Canadian radio stations to my liking available! My original battery is charged
by a small solar panel as well as by the engine generator. This second battery will be charged by a second small solar panel,
300 mAmp, and by battery charger as needed. Trillium is wired for use of shore power although I only plug into the latter
when necessary. Kingston marinas now charge $7 extra for that option, a good idea.
As we could not get out of Cape Vincent that
day spent a pleasant day looking around, and fell into a conversation aboard the boat of an 80 year old man, K, aboard his
most interesting vessel, his 55th (!!)
he claimed, after a lifetime of cruising eastern Lake Ontario in vessels up to 45 feet. As he had aged, and as his spouse,
being sensible, is not a sailor, he had gradually downsized. His new boat isa 23 foot Com-pac CP 23 pilot house trailerable
sailboat purchased new, to his specifications, of which there were many, from a Florida builder. Not an outside piece of wood
was one specification, although the cabin was replete with teak. He also had an interesting main sail stowing system which
I did not quite understand. He noted that Lake Ontario is a “very interesting” lake, and confirmed her vagaries
noted during a lifetime of cruising the great lake. Once the wind had calmed that day I got out my sailor’s palm and
sewing box and did a standing repair on the foot of my 120 jib at the clew end where the stitching had come away over an 18
Monday dawned, another beautiful sunny day,
wind now back into the southwest and piped up to 15 knots as the day progressed, perfect for a trip to Clayton. Cast off at
1100, and motor sailed (K had advised not to hesitate to sail under jib alone when conditions demand, although I still prefer
to have at least a second reef main up as well and Trillium seems to prefer this) initially north east for a short distance
down river to the turn to the southern route around Carleton Island which allows one to briefly escape the shipping channel
which goes to the north side of that island. There are three green cans that mark the route, and also a range finder to Government
Point on the island for which I never did see the upper half, presumably for use for landing on the island by the locals.
The only disappointing aspect to Carleton Island is its history, which reveals
that as the former site of Fort Haldimand, a forward British fort during the Revolutionary war, it was British property until
the 1812 engagement, as which time it was commandered by a couple of farmers from northern New York state who took control of the island when the few British guards present on the lightly guarded island
and who were probably somewhat the worse for wear were seen off by these New York lads, and the property was never returned
to the British. It was the only territory which changed hands when the Treaty of Ghent was signed.
Very pleasant sailing that day, warm and sunny,
good breeze. Once around the island and back into the shipping channel area tacked across to Wolfe Island and then on a broad
reach in one long tack to Barrett’s Point on the American shore, then motored around the point into French Bay which
is the natural harbour of Clayton NY. Got fooled into thinking that there was a ship coming through the Quebec Head at the
eastern end of Wolfe Island both downbound and again upbound the following day, although it did occur to me that the ship
was moving very slowly. It was not until the next day’s return journey through that passage that I remembered that the
Quebec head is not in the main shipping channel (it’s primarily for small boats), and I deduced on up close inspection
that what I was seeing was the Quebec Head lighthouse (the apparent stern stack of the phantom ship) and a large house with
a widow’s walk at the top (the apparent wheelhouse on the bow). On the
advice of Bob at Cape Vincent I bypassed the municipal dock at Clayton, a porous wood affair which offers free docking but
which does not protect the boater from the wash of passing freighters, finding a berth instead at the Islander Marina (now
subsumed by their competitor, the Kellogg’s French Bay marina) where again there was lots of space available, the high
season having passed. As noted, superior facilities, pleasant staff, good wifi,
but no ice! (The neighbouring municipal marina where ice is available was closed.) Settled in for the night, during which
a front of thunderstorm activity passed over (keep your eyes covered when on your boat at such a time), resolved then to get
a second battery, did so the next day as described, looked through the windows of the famous Clayton classic boat museum,
and set sail for Kingston the next day at 1030, the forecast being for more thunderstorms the following day.
Good strong breeze, again south west, tacked
across the river to the Quebec head, resolved the phantom ship illusion satisfactorily, motor sailed through the three can
passage, then had a glorious sail in 18 knot breeze across the Forty Acre, a marvellous sailing ground, under 2nd reef main and 2/3 of the 120 jib, Trillium a race horse! Hazy, with limited visibility
but enough, and from the south point of Howe Island tacked about once to Holiday Point then tacked again, one long tack to
the south of the Cold Bath shoal without engine assist, both firsts for us, as setting a visual course for Abraham’s
Head carries you nicely between Oak Point and the Cold Bath, wind direction being perfect. A Bald
Eagle obliged by flying over the channel, distressingly towards the multiples maws of the Wolfe Island wind turbines. I wished
the bird well. Got a photo, and did lots of video cam again this year during the trip, sometimes tricky when single handing.
Came up to Kingston mainland once past the Spectacles, just short of Cedar Island, and could have tacked out and back again
to sail into Kingston harbour but waves from long fetch of upper St. Lawrence now being felt making for the prospect of hard
work, and 1700 approaching when was to meet family in Kingston, so downed sails, switched on engine, confirmed that Confed
Basin office is open this year to 2000 hours, and motored in, again having choice of berths at this good marina whose aspect
is ruined by being at the bottom of the city’s waterfront condominium canyon.
Changed foresail that evening to 110 jib, my
own construction, then off the next morning and a six hour journey back to Waupoos, departing Kingston at 1000 hours and arriving
Waupoos 1830 after a hard day’s work in strong west south west winds, with big seas in the eastern approach to the Upper
Gap, although had been spared the wrath of the business end of the Lower Gap with that wind direction, as that notorious location
was relatively calm as we motor sailed out of Kingston before changing direction to steer north west through the Adophus Reach
dogleg past the Brother Islands, followed by marvellous tacking in twenty knot
winds with second reef in the main (lost an outhaul hook and line overboard in
the confusion of reefing) and 110 working jib in a now south westerly direction along through the 200 feet deep waters of
the Adolphus Reach working our way along the protective shoreline of Amherst Island towards the Upper Gap. By coincidence
Storm Vogel sailed through the Upper Gap into PE Bay only an hour or two ahead of me on this, the Wednesday following the
previous Wednesday of our setting off. The Ambassador then sailed out into PE Bay and home just behind Trillium which motorsailed
home into a west south west head wind through and out of the Upper Gap (the raw
water intake is on the starboard side of the hull and I’m not sure what angle of heel would cause the impeller pump
to start sucking air so I keep the sails near luffing when on the starboard tack while motor sailing). Had made an abortive
attempt to sail in PE Bay where I could see Storm Vogel further offshore doggedly tacking away, but Trillium, or at least
her Captain, by this time have had enough, a no doubt temporary surfeit of sailing.
Knackered as I staggered into the house after
the drive home, inhaled a pizza sub, collapsed into bed, slept like a log, never heard that night’s thunderstorm….yet
another Cold Front, so was fortunate enough to have stayed ahead of three of these fronts in the last ten days. Be very afraid
when you hear those words, and don’t go sailing.
Hope you are getting some time in too.
All the best.
|Hunkered down at Cape Vincent, Sept 2013