Don’t Leave Harbour Into a Storm

There are so many things our boating courses do not teach, like placing a coin under the mast brings good luck.  A well flattened quarter under my mast attests to the truth of this. Thirty years I’ve sailed Canadian Mist – so far so good.

And, it’s also bad luck to leave port on a Friday. I have never found an explanation for that one. I think it was that if you leave Friday you show your intention to not make it back for church on Sunday. Or, perhaps with the setting of the sun on Friday defining the start of Sabbath you risked raising the hackles of the Master of the Universe. Probably both explanations were brought forward by clergy who saw diminished collection plates with those who ventured out on Fridays.

DON’T LEAVE HARBOUR INTO A STORM, is basic good sense. But, if I had obeyed that rule I would have missed a most interesting sail. I had planned Tuesday two weeks ago to head out for three days of sailing, probably the last of the year. I packed Canadian Mist and was off from Big Sound Marina. You remember that Tuesday; south-south-wester screaming down the harbour. It was gale force but not a storm, so I set off. I thought the wind had enough west in it that it would be close to my nose across the Sound, so I motored to three mile point. By then the wind had backed to south. I ducked behind the light house and put up some sail: double reefing the main and storm jib. What a great sail it was as Killbear, Carling and then Spruce Rocks passed by. I adjusted sail to go north of the Pancakes, through the narrow channel past Fitzgerald Bay, and on to Snug Harbour. Ah, Regatta Bay to myself!

After mooring in the centre of the bay and rowing Maggie to shore, it was time to light the barbecue. High winds and barbecues don’t fit well together. Eventually the chicken was done and the rice was ready. While cooking I heard the deep rumble of a large engine and looked out to the small craft route.  Two bright red lights in a vertical line passed slowly by. With all my sailing I have never seen a tow at night. I’m not sure about the two red lights either; but my rule for night sailing is, if you can’t recognize it stay away from it. Not that I have ever sailed at night through the unlit buoys at Regatta Bay.

The wind was still screaming over the trees so I let out a little more rode and got ready for the night. Within five minutes the propane tank ran dry; the cabin temperature was ten degrees and falling. The alcohol stove would have kept the cabin warm but alcohol and flame equals heat and all kinds of condensation. Rule that idea out. Have a look at Maggie. Hmmm, you have heard of a ‘three dog night’? In southern climes it works with one dog. So I cleared the sails to one side of the V berth, helped Maggie onto the sleeping bag and convinced her to lie on my feet for a while. A dog on your feet is like a dozen hot water bottles that never get cold. I was warm for the night; the last time for quite a while.

By morning the strong wind had clocked west. The forecast was for minus one. We decided that three days had just become one. Maggie always agrees with me.

After a quick coffee, I started the engine and hauled the anchor. After strong winds, first from the south and then west, it was stuck – I mean really stuck on the clay bottom. No problem, except that this hadn’t happened for years. I pulled the rode in tight and tied it to the cleat, went back to the engine and ran the boat forward. Just like magic; we were free. By this time even my raincoat wasn’t working that well. I was cold and wet so we motored to Kilcoursie Bay for breakfast. The wind had slackened a little but I decided to motor home. Canadian Mist has a dodger that is an effective spinnaker with a tail wind. With the engine I would be able to control speed and not swamp the dinghy.

On Wednesday, as you may remember, the wind shifted west and rose. Sailing under bare poles, a dodger, and an idling engine while still doing five, sometimes six, knots is memorable. It was quite lumpy coming back across the Sound and the auto helm was baffled by a following sea. The dancing I did to stand and steer came back to me that evening. As I ate supper the chair I was seated on seemed to move.

Just as I arrived home hail started bouncing off us. I have sailed in snow but hail was a first for me. Whether I should have sailed out into this storm I will leave to you. I am in no doubt. (JM)

Two Mile Point On a Fair Day