The Waterdog in Canada  
by Craig Hohm - Penn Yan, New York - USA

Day one

Traveling with a 4000 lb boat is not for the faint hearted. Not that the boating is anything special, but as every sailor knows, the most hazardous thing at sea is land. The planned destination was theThousand Islands in the St Lawrence River. Labor Day week-end came and went, and with the departure date of Tuesday, we left far too little time for provisioning. Everything was done at the last minute, (a proverb comes to mind: “haste....”). The diesel overflowed into the bilge, the hydraulic brake in the trailer proved to be out of fluid, the lines and shrouds were a Gordian tangle. Sue said “Shall we check the trailer lights?” and I said “What do you think we’ll do if they don’t work?” Nevertheless, they did work, the diesel got cleaned up (mostly), and we had an uneventful ride to the St Lawrence.

It may be a case of being penny wise and pound foolish: the idea was to use our Empire State Passport (free entry and vehicle storage) and avoid the charge of using a real marina. We went to Cedar Point State Park, auspiciously located just to the south west of the Wolf Island Cut, but found that launch suitable only for canoes, bateaux and bath toys. So we turned back to the east, to choice #2, Wellsley Island State Park. The launch looked deep enough and the boat went in fine, floating majestically off the trailer. Sue was at the helm backing out as I heard dimly out the window of the truck, “Oh hai! I’m in reverse and I’m not moooving!"

In retrospect it is easy to see why. This is fishing central for the Thousand Islands, and many of the bass boats that load up here use the technique of powerloading..... Imagine you are sediment at the end of the launch ramp and a prop wash from a 250 hp outboard motor hits you at point blank range. Of course you are going to retreat in the face of this superior force and go back, oh about ten feet, and there form a defensive bulwark against subsequent assaults. At the end of the ramp the launch was 4 ft deep; ten feet beyond that it was about two. (*1) We managed to push off the bar with the help of an anonymous benefactor, and spent the night rigging the boat and worrying about where we were going to take it out. That night by a seacook dinner of Progresso soup, cheese with tomatoes on toast, and Fingerlakes riesling, we enjoyed the company of turtles, mink and squawking herons. Aside from somehow contriving to get the lazy jack on the wrong side of the mast (I cut it to avoid taking the mast down again), the evening came off quite well.

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Wellsley - (notice the splice in the lazy jack)

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Day 2

The next morning we drove to Clayton and arranged for the take out at a commercial marina (Islander) where the owners were wonderfully generous in agreeing to help us get the truck and trailer from Wellsley. Then off on the high seas. There was not much wind, but we had a pleasant motor (drawing down the tank so it wouldn’t spill when we heeled under sail). We arrived in Kingston, Ontario that afternoon. Kingston was the home port of the Canadian Great Lakes Navy in the war of 1812 (*2), and there are numerous fortifications surrounding it, including the massive Fort Henry.

Fort Henry - What is the defensive function of those long ditches running to the water?

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We stayed in Confederation Basin Marina. The charm of cruising to Kingston is partly based on the assumption that some crew members might like a break from seafaring: walking the promenades, shopping, being seen. But Sue and I are both from the country and have personal spaces of several square yards each. I did see a few interesting items: red flannel boxers with black bears, and squeaky pet toys with names like “desperate house dogs” (use your imagination here). We beat a retreat back to the boat for another excellent dinner. Sue packed peaches, tomatoes and late season Kent mangoes (about the size of large hand grenades) in the christmas ornament box to prevent bruising in the hold (*3); the riesling was protected in a sturdy glass bottle and stuffed in the mattress.

Confederation Basin is in the center of the old town, flanked by grand gray stone buildings and a circular Mareno tower built to defend against American incursion during the Oregon crisis. It is charming, but as evening falls the clock in City Hall bongs the hour whether you want it to or not, and there are the ubiquitous additional sounds of the city that never sleeps: motorcycles apparently without mufflers, high pitched laughter, sirens, and Elton John’s greatest hits over and over (there were quite a few of them). And yet day comes again as ever.

Day 3

The payback for staying here is a short walk to a civilized breakfast; Pan Chancho is on Princess street, where one can acquire croissants, fine cheese, and real coffee. And, I prudently never leave there without a large dry sausage to hang in the boat against famine.

My wife is a novice sailor. We had discussed the hypothetical passage to Waupoos Island. She was not enthusiastic about spending much time in the open water of Lake Ontario, but she remained flexible about itinerary. It is amazing how motivating a colorful sash with merit badges (“ Sea Cub Cadet”, “Master of Sheets”, “Anchoring Under Duress”, and “Propwalk 101” ) can be for a grown woman who was a brownie and a girl scout.

We sailed out into the harbor and south into the Big Water. The wind was a perfect 10-15 SSE. We were able to clear Amherst Island on one tack (with a small power assist from the Volvo). But two hours later Waupoos was still another 20 miles onward and, although the romance of the passage called me, a captain has to know his crew. So one jibe around the west end of Amherst and we were able to get back to Kingston on a single tack; a total run of 35 miles. We had to head back to Kingston anyway since Sue had left her sandals on the dock. I was filled with the peace that only comes to he who dares to accomplish something on vacation.

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Sue at Sea - (the sash is under the pfd)

Another night in Confederation Basin. What did the Americans do during the Oregon Crisis to warrant a fort guarding the marina? Dinner in the Pilot House, specializing in all things fried from the sea and good beer.... and a hot shower in the marina.... and another night listening to the bongs (I imagined a Terry Pratchett Watchman (4*) knocking on our boat and saying “ You guys all right in there?” and then calling to his partner, “All’s well at #46!”, moving on along the docks all night long in a cheerful chorus of reassurance.) It was a bit like camping on a bench in Central Park.

Confederation Basin - notice the large clock tower in the background

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Day 4

Our friend Noaa warned us that the perfect sailing weather was not to last. With the forecast of 20K winds dead on our nose the next day, we decided to head back to Clayton. But first, (insert another Pan Chancho breakfast here).

Rounding the break wall at Kingston we plowed into 6’ waves while I hoisted the sails, one hand for me, one for the halyard, one for the topping lift, one for... is there another hand somewhere? My valiant first mate, promoted now with a new merit badge for heaving-to (not something you do when you forget the scopolamine patch), muscled the helm into the wind.

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Heading for Clayton - We settled down to a memorable passage.

With the sails up (one reef) we turned SE and the pitching immediately stopped; we settled down to a memorable passage. It was a single tack to Clayton, including navigating the Wolf Island Cut under sail (purist take note: no engine was used here, and no animals were harmed): 22 miles averaging 6 knots, and at times 7.5K over the ground by gps (the great lakes outflow contributing somewhat). It was a wonderful beam reach almost all the way, and although the boat steers a little wild with a following sea, captain and crew held up doggedly.. First mate did acknowledge that the steering under these conditions resulted in a high UFR (urinary frequency ratio).

Docked at Clayton

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The trip to Clayton is worth it for the the Antique Boat Museum alone. This is mecca for the old wooden runabout pilgrims. In the last ten years it has been extensively and beautifully renovated. There is now a complex of buildings housing all manner of boats, with a fleet of restored classics in the water. If you can’t afford the price of admission, simply walking the docks at the marinas will fill your plate with old beauties, from runabouts to wooden cabin cruisers the size of town houses.

So, down with the rig again. As Sue stood by the ramp, I backed the boat into a pier and put a ding in the rudder. Of course, everyone had to notice it when we pulled out and point it out to me.

The Philosophical part

Was it worth it? At the time it seemed like a long run for a short slide, wrestling the rig up and down, driving, launching, all for two days of great sailing. But I know I would have been unhappy if we had stayed at home, so I guess doing it was the lesser of two weevils.

On the drive back I found myself singing that old Duke Ellington chestnut “It don’t mean a thing if it aint got that ding”. Sue said, “I’m glad you hit the pier and not me.”

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The peaches were still fresh


*1 The proper authorities have been notified but another letter or two wouldn’t hurt
*2 Warships of the Great Lakes- Robert Malcomson 2001
*3 no US vegetable matter ever actually left the boat
*4 Terry Pratchett is my favorite author of 2007; a wonderfullly bizarre sense of humor and some 50 discworld novels to choose from. Try “Thief of Time”. or “Going Postal”. or “Thud”. or “Hogfather”.

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