Friday, July 29, 2011

Blame it on the flies

Tuesday morning we woke up to showers in Whitby. The night before we had ventured out on our bikes to explore the town, but we found the area not too bike friendly, so we hit the market, and the only "restaurant" nearby. The hockey complex across the street from the marina had a bar, and a not too extensive menu. We had breakfast, which actually was OK, and it hit the spot. Hockey players like an all day breakfast. Of course the hot sauce I got for my eggs, was not tobasco, but wing sauce :(   I suffer so. They did have Moosehead lager on tap, so life was bearable for the moment.
Whitby may be completely boring, but the people there are great, as were all the Canadians we met. The marina is pretty nice too, with excellent staff. I suppose if we had gone into town a few miles away, we would have another opinion on the place, but around the marina, there is pretty much nothing to see or do, unless you brought your hockey gear.

So here we are, looking at the radar. We saw a pretty clear day ahead, after the squall passes, and the NOAA forecast called for 12-18 kts out of the west/northwest, which would be an OK ride. Waves, 2-4 ft. Not bad.
Sailflow had the wind out of the west building to 25 kts, with gusts 30 or more. Hmmm, not good. Who do you believe?  NOAA had the wind dropping as the evening came, and sailflow had it continuing all night.
Looking at the rest of the week, there was little wind, and or rain. That means motoring, or motor sailing with biting flies, and possible thunderstorms. My gut feel before we untied was to stay put, based on all the orange I saw on the sailflow map, and Deb felt the same way, yet neither of us expressed this to each other, so we left at 8 am.

We had 96 miles to travel, and what little wind we had was directly behind us, so we motored in the sun and the flat water. As the hours passed, the wind started to increase slightly. There was enough to get the genny out, while still motoring, as we needed to make good time to get in before dark. I was relaxed, steering with my feet, enjoying the ride. "These waves getting bigger?" I asked Debra. A look of indifference came back to me, as she was resigned to motor all the way. Could be worse, I guess. Deb was in another world I guess.

As the wind slowly picked up, and the waves increased, we gained more speed, and I was a pretty happy camper, as we were going to get in at about dusk. By the time we got mid lake, the waves were about four feet, and the wind was hitting twenty. Still, not a bad ride, as we started to surf some of the waves. Even more time shaved off the journey. Deb was feeling a tad queasy, so she applied the oil behind the ears, and stared out the back of the boat, watching the waves roll in. Rochester was in the distance, and I thought maybe we should tuck in there for a night, but Deb thought we'd come this far, might as well carry on. OK, let's do it.

The wind was still on our ass, but was slowly dropping, then increasing, then dropping again. I figured this was a sign of it tapering off. I was wrong. What happened next turned our trip into an adventure.
The wind started increasing rapidly, gusting to twenty, twenty five, then it actually hit thirty a couple times. The waves went from two to four, to four to six. We started surfing down every other wave, and were still managing things OK. We surfed like this for the rest of the trip, with the waves getting bigger and bigger, which makes sense because of the long fetch of the lake, and the wind directly out of the west. As the day rolled on Deb applied more Motion Ease, and I fought the wheel trying to stay with the waves, and not get rolled sideways. We started averaging about 7.5 knots, and I still thought we were doing fine. What I did not think about, was the sea floor rising up as we neared Sodus Point.
We were in about four hundred feet of water, and as we got closer to Sodus, the sea floor rose up and so did the waves! We were now looking at ten or eleven footers on our tail, and the wind howling at over twenty five knots.  Deb was pretty scared, as was I, as we sat at the top of some of these waves, looking down into the trough as the boat ripped through the water. At one point we hit ten knots while surfing. I was having fun in some respects, but awfully scared too. Now, I know we should have slowed the boat down, and I eventually did, but for now I wanted to get in before dark, as I feared the waves and wind were going to lay us down as we turned into the channel. The closer we got to the entrance, the higher the waves got, as we were now in thirty feet of water. I alerted the Coast Guard of our situation, in case we got pushed into the pier, missed the channel or the boat got knocked down. They stayed with us on the radio, and if anything, they could get a boat there to pluck our bodies out of the water. The local station was closed. Nobody home. I guess we have enough money for 100 or so border patrol agents to keep those pesky Canadians away, but not enough for the Coast Guard station to stay open at night.

The sun setting behind us, Deb calling out the big waves, we angled towards the entrance, mindful of the waves, and as darkness fell around us we throttled down. Now the waves were rolling under us, and we pushed for the entrance. As luck would  have it, the waves near the entrance shifted, and they were now pushing us in. I released the genny, while Deb steered with the waves. I struggled to furl the headsail, while Deb did a fantastic job of steering us into the channel. Safety! We got into Sodus Bay, into the slip, tied off, then Deb went and kissed the ground. I wanted to pump my fist in the air, and yell Wahooo!, but I just hugged Deb instead :)

In hindsight, if your gut tells you not to go, don't! The boat was fine, she handled well. Should I have been surfing? As long as I felt we had control, I thought we were OK riding some waves, but as we neared shore, and got into the shallows with the big waves, I should have slowed it down earlier than I did. There really was no rush to get in before dark, as it was our home port, and we know it well. Deb and I should have expressed our reservations about leaving port. We were not honest with each other. I think we were safe the whole ride, until the last ten miles. I should have realized the waves were going to increase as we got closer. Conflicting reports did not help the situation, and I guess you always base your decision on the bad report. Had I believed in sailflow at the time, I would not have ventured out, but they have been wrong before. Lake Ontario is famous for it's quick changing of conditions, and I should have also considered this.
All in all I think we did OK, and we are probably better for the experience. The Great Lakes can be nasty at times, and we should have respect for the power that can be generated so quickly. To be perfectly honest with you, I blame it on the damn flies. Just the thought of those bastards eating us alive all the way across the lake on a light air ride was enough to make us roll the dice.

I missed a beautiful sunset photo too. I was not taking my hands off that wheel.
We'll have more photos later, when I get a real internet connection. Wireless in Canada was slow, and the marina here at home is pathetic. We're getting a broadband hookup at the slip. Oh yea.

Sitting pretty in Toronto Island Marina

View from Centre Island
Been a lovely cruise, even with the waves. 
Good times.


  1. Glad all is well and looks like you're in a beautiful area. Have a great weekend!

  2. Great read. Glad you're home safe.