2010 North Channel Cruise - Part Two

By Mac MacDevitt - Essex, NY - USA

To Part One

To Part Three

August 4-9 - Windrider 17 Tri - ONWARD

“This trip included the most harrowing/exhilarating 3.5 miles I ever sailed”. - Joe

DAY TWO: In the AM we got packed up. Rick had discovered that he had a slow leak forward through a screw hole. He used his electric bilge pump and got quite a lot of water out. We sailed back down to Kagawong and did the tourist thing: went to a fine local museum, got hot dogs from the cart run by a high school kid, hiked up to Bridal Falls, and waited out a rainstorm in the ice cream shop.

Our plan was to sail for Little Current at the southeast end of the North Channel about 20 miles directly west. Joe put a reef in the main at the dock and then shook it out just before we left. On the first day I had just followed Rick’s lead. I hadn’t really gotten oriented. But today I knew where we were going; I had my charts sorted out and our destination plugged into my charting GPS. As we rounded Trudeau Point at the head of the bay, the wind was directly astern and building, and I passed Rick’s boat with Joe close behind.

Mudge Bay (pic by David).

I should mention that our WindRiders were configured quite differently. I had worked to make mine as close to a sea kayak as possible. I preferred being hunkered down and steering with my feet. I had a ½ spray skirt and a small windshield in the rear cockpit, and a large windshield in the front cockpit to deflect waves and spray. I hadn’t put on the full spray skirt or the front cockpit cover; I mistakenly thought that the conditions wouldn’t warrant it. Joe’s boat was similarly equipped but without the rear windshield. We both had rigged up tillers so that we could steer from forward as needed. Joe is a better sailor than I am and is often out in front, but for this trip he had only a rudimentary small scale chart and his GPS hadn’t loaded detail charts correctly, so he let me take the lead on this leg.

Joe buttoned by for heavy weather (pic by David).

Rick’s boat was a different kettle of fish. He was inspired by the Corsair F-27. He has custom aluminum and net seating on the sides of both the cockpits. He steers by hand with a tiller, his feet securely planted in the rear cockpit. He has replaced his flimsy plastic floor with an attractive wooden floor with easy access to bilge storage. I have to haul myself out of the rear cockpit to move about the boat, he is already “on deck” and can quickly move about the boat as needed. His most radical change was to cut off his deep keel and replace it with a centerboard and add a transom-mounted rudder. The main advantage is to reduce his draft significantly and make the boat point higher. On this trip his boat was riding a low in the water with David aboard and extra camping gear.

Rick and David heading into Mudge Bay.

The WindRider provides a wide and stable platform when sailing downwind. On my boat the amas are 12 feet apart. With its relatively deep and long keel well-aft in the boat the steering is sure and stable, even when surfing down the waves. I started out using the full main and the reacher set on the bowsprit. Soon I furled the big head sail, and deployed the jib. Finally I was down to full main alone. As the wind built, the waves, with almost 100 miles of fetch, built as well. I would sail up on a wave, with the crests at times more than 3 feet above the bow, and, as the bow lifted on the wave, push through. A few times the water broke around the windshield. The boat surfed down the face of the wave, once hitting 12.5 knots. I wasn’t exactly white knuckling it – I was exhilarated – but I found myself wishing I had a reef in the main, so that I would feel more confident about sailing closer to the wind if needed, or slowing down to wait for the other guys to catch up. With a full main I felt like all I could do was keep on keeping on and hope that nothing required me to go forward (like a snagged line) or to change course.

I was in radio contact with Joe, and kept him informed about rocks and upcoming buoys. At one point he said that he was going to depower the main by pulling it in some and get himself slowed down. Unbeknownst to both of us a drama was unfolding in Rick’s boat. His outhaul was disconnected. As he was securing it, the boat jibed and the boom caught him right between the eyes, knocking him across the boat. He said if the seat hadn’t been there to catch him he would have been knocked overboard. He was stunned and considered calling Joe and I and asking to alter course and head north to more sheltered water, but he and David soldiered on.

Little Current (pic by David)

As we approached the more sheltered water near Little Current the waves abated and I was able to wait up for Joe. The wind continued to build with occasional stronger gusts. I had a scare when I was lying a-hull furling my main and realized that I was being swept by the current towards the bridge. I got the motor started, got sorted out and tied up at the gas dock. Rick and David swept in and with a shout that the drawbridge was opening in 8 minutes. There was not a moment to be lost. I quickly cast off and motored for the bridge. We were headed for Heywood Island, six miles beyond the bridge, where Rick said there was a protected anchorage with a sandy beach where he could pull up his boat and fix his slow but persistent leak.

But Heywood Island exists only in my imagination. We never made it. The gods of the wind and waves had a different plan for us. Once clear of the bridge we set sail, again not choosing to reef. As we stood off for the cut between the Strawberry Island lighthouse and Garden Island Reef the wind intensified, Joe shot through the cut. I saw Rick’s boat nosedive over a wave and round up. He looked OK so I put my boat just off the wind, climbed out of my rear cockpit, and went into my reef-the-main-while-underway drill. The boat will jog slowly to windward with main out and the tiller hard to windward. I use a tiller tamer to keep enough tension on the steering yoke to hold a course.

Strawberry Island Lighthouse

With the boat now sailing well under reefed main alone I noticed that Rick was headed into the wind under full main and jib but making little progress. I thought that he was waiting up for me, to make sure I was OK, and felt a flash of appreciation. As I sailed up to him I saw David frantically bailing the boat with a sauce pan. Turns out that when the boat nosedived, they took a wave that filled the cockpit, and when they rounded up, another wave had filled the rear cockpit. They were now low enough in the water that they couldn’t bail fast enough to keep the waves from filling the boat. His motor, mounted on the stern, had started but then had dropped completely underwater. Rick was sailing slowly south hoping to eventually get into the lee of Manitoulin Island and out of the wind and waves. And I think he might have made it.

What was wonderfully comforting was that the amas were providing enough buoyancy to keep Rick and David afloat. I took my sail down, got my trusty 2 HP Honda fired up and with a lot of shouting attempted to tow his boat ama to ama. The boat was so heavy that the best I could do was pull both of us around in a circle. So we got a bow line secured and began to tow, aiming for some sheltered water in the lee of a dock a ways to the south. We made some progress, but were getting set sideways by the wind and waves, and it was clear that we were going to be on some nasty looking rocks in short order. We were able to get his bow swung around, adjust our course and head for the cut by the lighthouse. After a minute or so, even with my engine screaming at full power (can a 2 HP Honda scream – maybe it was a high pitched putter) the rocks didn’t look like they were getting any further away. But the GPS assured me that we were making good 1.2 knots to windward.

The Gaffney family and friends take us in.

As this was happening, Joe was experiencing his own drama. He got his boat under control and ducked into a cove in the lee of Strawberry Island. After 10 minutes, with no sight of us, he got worried. He got his motor fired up and tried to round the point in the teeth of the wind, but his motor got dunked, sputtered and died. He then set off on foot across the island to try to establish visual contact. We made the turn downwind to pass by the lighthouse and our speed picked up. As we entered the cut, we saw a bunch of kids and adults at the lighthouse waving to us and motioning us to enter the sheltered cove in the lee of the point. As we approached the dock Joe came bounding out to meet us. The kids were chattering excitedly. The adults got us tied off. This was the Gaffney family and friends. We were their guests for the next day and a half. Once out of the waves, the boat bailed out easily, and we moved to an adjacent cove where Joe had taken shelter and began to sort ourselves out, lick our wounds and compare stories.

Continued next month...


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