Friday, 12 June 2009

A Rough Commute.

Its not every day that you get the chance to sail to work, so I had to jump on it when the opportunity presented itself. Last week it was decided that a meeting and site visit was in order for a project I am working on in Barrie. I got all tingly, and told SWMBO that I would be sailing to work. The plan was that on Monday night I would sail across to the municipal marina in Barrie, spend the night there, and then go to the meetings in the morning. Don (of Soldering Fame) would meet me there, and we would do our work, then I would sail back to JP, our home marina, and be home by bedtime.

The advantage of taking Iris across for the workday was that we would have a mobile office with hydro and a table. I could take the laptop and get stuff done on the boat, and I would get some sailing in. I was thrilled.

Then Chuck came home sick. No school on Monday or Tuesday, and someone had to stay home with her. I was voted in as nurse.

Since we were home, I spent most of Monday looking after Chuck. After 4 treatments and various home-cooked remedies she was in a good enough space to travel, but by now it was close to time for SWMBO to get home for work, so we waited for her.

Then we packed.

Then we drove to the marina and loaded the boat.

Then I realized that I had left all my work stuff at home.

Then I drove back to the marina and put on the sails.

Then it was 10:00, with a storm building on the north side of the lake.

Chuck and I headed out into 15kt winds in the dark under the 110% jib, and hoped the storm would blow to the east before we reached it. The VHF said the storm would clear through the night, and the winds were blowing from the southeast, but the clouds were in different wind, blowing across the sky to the northeast. I crossed my fingers and we headed out into a heavy chop.

I was surprised that all the way across the lake the gauges all worked. The wind gauge rose and fell between 10-20 kts as we crossed the main body of the lake. We could see the glow of the lights in Orillia to the north, and Keswick to the southwest. Barrie was a dim smudge on the horizon, but we couldn’t steer to it since Big Bay point was between us and Kempenfelt Bay. I lined up the GPS track with a flashing beacon on the shore, and we held a course straight for it.

Chuck was very tired, but she was a trooper. It’s amazing how she has grown up since last season, now she can hold a course even in this rough weather, and recognizes the responsibilities that are given to her on the boat as things that must be done right. I think that secretly she was a little scared, and that was extra motivation to not screw up.

As we moved across the lake the storm got nearer and nearer, and in short order we were in rain. The wind was steady, but it didn’t seem to be blowing the rain away, and the clouds changed direction to align with the winds we were feeling. The rain increased in intensity as we crossed the lake, and it was a cold wind. I sent Chuck below to stay warm, and kept heading for the flashing light.

The wind gauge had been steadily rising as we crossed the lake, and now it was jumping from 20-25kts up to gusts of 30kts. The rain had gotten into everything. There was no place dry to sit, the cabin was wet inside, and our leaks proved true to tradition in both the V-berth and quarter berth. It was getting difficult to hold Iris on her course, so I let her run down a little more for a gentler ride and called chuck back up into the cockpit.

“I need you to drive for a minute. I’m afraid that if the wind gets too much stronger the sails will get us in trouble. Just keep the compass on the same number, and try not to let the wind and waves spin the boat around.”

“OK Daddy. Be Careful.”

Be careful. When you are handing control of the boat over to an 11 year old in wind and waves that have you more than a little nervous, and she admonishes you to be careful it’s a sobering moment. I went forward and hauled down the jib.

Back in the cockpit Chuck was fighting the wind and waves to hold our course. It never wavered.

When I got the sail secured and made my way back, she was standing there shivering with cold and using all her strength to hold her course. I was so proud of her. “Go on below and get warm.” I said, then I took the helm.

It was at this point that I realized the flashing light we were aimed for was the warning beacon for Big Bay Point. We had to hold it off on our port side, and it was our lee shore. Rather than aiming for it I should have tried to keep off it. I looked at the full mainsail, and steered away from the light, strategizing to tuck into Kempenfelt bay behind it where we would be in the lee of the shore and have less waves and wind to deal with.

On went the outboard, and with motor and sails working together, we cleared the point. Then I took down the mainsail, and we motored down K-bay. About this time the lightening started up.

The only description for being out on the lake with a 30 foot aluminium mast pointing up into the sky during a lightening storm is “humbling.” I stayed as close to shore as I felt was safe, and kept a close eye on the location of the lightening bolts. Mostly they were far off, but some were closer than others. Chuck kept calling up to ask if I was OK. “Are you too sleepy Daddy? Do you need me to drive for a while?”

I told her that we were more than halfway, and would be in Barrie soon. Then I saw the flashing beacon for the breakwall of Barrie Yacht Club. BYC had hosted a number of sailing events last year, and I thought Chuck might remember it, so I pointed it out to her.

“If things get really bad, we can go in there, but we are really close now, so I don’t think we need to.”

I scanned the Barrie shoreline trying to pick the municipal breakwall light out of the thousands of streetlights, landscape lights, traffic lights, headlights, decorative lights and advertising lights. It was nearly impossible, and I was shivering badly so everything looked shaky and blurred anyway. I sailed to shore until the depth meter showed 20 feet of water, then followed the 20ft depth line into the city.

Eventually I could make out the breakwall in the dark just ahead. Then I saw the “Hooters” billboard that is next to the marina. Then the little light that marks the harbour entrance. Chuck came up and drove while I set up the docklines and fenders.

At 2:15 AM we were in our slip, and exhausted, went to bed. Wet.

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