Monday, April 9, 2012

Now what?

Now that we've been home for about 10 months, we're sizing up what's next for us? What do we do with this boat of ours?

Messenger has had a few challenges. Last August she was hit by lightning, requiring a haulout. When that happened we learned she had sustained an insult to her hull from a bump she took on the Oswego Canal on the way home.

Scott is busy working on her rudder.

We've ramped up our jobs, both working longer hours, more shifts to pay for the adventure.

That's OK. We're generally grateful for this wonderful experience and even more so to have jobs to come back to in order to help our children go to university for their studies and their lives.

but in the still quiet moments between sleep and wakefulness I feel a pang, a longing to be able to look up and through the forward hatch and see the stars and hear the wind.

On board, I would rise in the night and lean out into the cabin to hear my children sleeping and sometimes the lapping of the waves against the boat, rocking us back to sleep.

I still rise. I still listen to my children sleep. I still dream.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Would you do it again???

We've been home for a week and we're catching up with friends, neighbours, sailors, our congregation at Waterford United, family and colleagues.

The question we hear over and over is 'Would you do it again?'

If we could we would in a heartbeat, a nanosecond. For all of our trials with teenagers on board, faulty heads, overheating alternators and leaks, it was worth every moment, every bead of sweat, every tear of homesickness, every dollar spent.

For our family it is one more piece of the tapestry that wraps us together, solid and warm.

For Scott and I, it was the realization of the dream we've shared for so very long. It's also the one I've kept close to my heart since I was a girl gazing at the horizon on Lake Erie and wondering what it would be like to sail into that and never stop.

Now I know and there's a deep peace that comes with that.

So would we do it again??

Scott and I could take the boat south again. We know that. But it would never be the same and that's OK.

We can never do this again with our children, which was always the dream. So no, we can't ever do it again. But thanks be to God, we did do it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Oneida Lake to Lake Erie

The wild parties began after Lisa, Reg and Elizabeth-Anne left. Aidan and I had new crew, our friends Stew and Alistair.  The Erie canal was still not opened at Baldwinsville but we decided to motor across Lake Oneida 20 miles with The Dollar Boat.  Alistair kept skipper Fred company on the old fish tug as we crossed the Lake in a convoy, also with our Ottawa friends on Wind Sprite.  Thinking about crossing an open lake with a 55' mast perched overtop of your head, watching it sway back and forth with each wave and hoping the "engineered" scrap wood doesn't snap can keep you up at night.  We had heard rumours that the bottom of Oneida Lake is littered with masts which have broken free off the top of sailboats.  We left before the wind picked up in the morning to avoid adding to those stories and arrived in Brewerton on the west side of Lake Oneida without incident.

After fueling up and taking showers (first in 5 days or thereabouts) at Winter Harbour we received a farewell call from Georgia-E.  They were ahead of us and passing through the Oswego Locks and suggested we proceed to Phoenix and wait there for the Erie canal to open.  We took their advice and pulled into Phoenix which is a small, quiet town with a free dock and nice shady park located beside Lock 1 of the Oswego Canal.  The town had just completed a parade to the Legion grounds where they had a fair complete with rides and beer tent.  We spent the next day in Phoenix waiting for the Erie Canal to open.  We received a tip that the canal might open on Wednesday so we took a chance on Wednesday morning and motored from Phoenix to Baldwinsville.  The GPS showed it was only 4 miles away as the crow flies but the river route was at least 12 miles.  We arrived at noon and spoke directly to the lockmaster.  He was not very optimistic that the canal would open in the next few days so we decided to turn around back to Phoenix, up the Oswego Canal and return home via Lake Ontario and the Welland Canal.  We said our farewells to The Dollar Boat and arrived in Oswego at the city marina by 6pm.  The only condition which Stew had when he joined us was that we must be near a TV to watch the Bruins and Canucks on game nights.  Oswego had a good sports bar called the Press Box located beside the marina where we watched the Bruins lose with seconds remaining in the 3rd period.

The wind was blowing 25 knots when we arrived and continued the next day so we had to wait to step the mast.  Finally on Friday morning, the wind died down enough for the mast to be stepped and we spent the rest of the day tuning the rigging, installing sails, changing Mr. Perkins' engine oil and provisioned the boat for crossing Lake Ontario.

Our trip to Rochester was light air and flat water.   We left at 6 am and arrived at 2pm and filled up with diesel upon arrival.  The Rochester Yacht Club is a large active sailing club.  It was good to see all the junior sailing dinghies and dry sailing boats.  RYC was hosting the Sonar nationals on the weekend.  Sailors had travelled from across the states to compete on 15 Sonars which were supplied by the local Sonar dealer.

After another Boston loss, we left Rochester for Welland.  The 75-mile crossing was flatter and calmer than the previous day so we motored all the way and arrived at Port Weller at 6:30 pm.  After clearing through Customs, we used the phone at the Welland Canal pleasure craft dock to report into the Canal Controller to request transit through the canal.  Unlike the Erie canal, the Welland is set up for large commercial freighters.  Being a small pleasure craft, we knew we would have to wait until it was convenient to fit us in.  We were told it would be at least 3 hours, so we decided to have a steak BBQ and enjoyed a celebration meal for crossing Lake Ontario.

Finally at 1:30 am, we received the clearance to proceed and started to Lock 1.  Stew had helped me bring our 29' sailboat home through the canal about 10 years ago but I had forgotten just how impressive and massive these locks are compared to Erie and the ICW.  The locks carry 800' freighters and each lift is about 50'.  In the Welland locks, we enter the canal chambers by ourselves and then we proceed to scan the walls looking for two 3/8" nylon lines which the lock master drops down to us.  With two of us pulling the lines on the bow and stern and two others pushing off the walls with boat hooks we worked to fend the boat off the lock walls.  Often the current swings the boat fore and aft or pushes hard against the wall.  I was very glad to have four strong able crew on board.  At one time, it took all the strength of all four of us to keep the boat off the rough walls in lock 7.   However, we did survive, (sorry no drama),  and arrived in Port Colborne at 8:30am.  Seven hours through the canal is about as good as it gets for a small vessel.

After breakie (breakfast in Messenger language) at a local restaurant, Lisa arrived and Stew and Alistair jumped ship.  Our trip home to Port Dover was a motor run on a very flat Lake Erie.  We arrived to see the Port Dover boats heading out to Monday night racing and greeted by friends we hadn't seen for a year.  Mom and Dad greeted us at the pier with Elizabeth-Anne and Reg.  Then, while waiting for the lift bridge, Art and Lynda from Airfare waved and honked their welcomes.

Our year's odyssey came abruptly to an end as we slipped into our dock at the Port Dover Yacht Club and  tied up our mooring lines.  Finally, home again in Ontario.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Home at last

We finally managed to get Messenger home in her slip at the Port Dover Yacht Club tonight.

It took a bit longer than we thought to get through the canals but with a little help from our friends we got by. Thanks Stew and Alister!!!!

Longer version with pics to follow and wrap up.

Aidan, you're a brick. Elizabeth and Reg we couldn't have done it without you either.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Erie Canal Song

Whenever we've explained our route to folks, many aren't aware of the extent and historic significance of the great Erie Canal (although not so great in recent days). It was built in 1825 and helped the United States open the West and of course, made New York and Albany cornerstones of commerce. While we've travelled this waterway, we've seen the mansions, banks and factories of yesterday towering out of forests as we've made our way through swamps, forests and mountains. Some are closed but recent efforts have seen them find a new life as a store, condos or other commercial purposes. Towns like Little Falls and Fairport were built on the waterway for commercial purposes.

Nowadays we use motors to push our vessels along but there was a day when the big barges carrying cargo were pulled along by donkey.

 Of course, I assumed everyone had heard of the Erie Canal song. Bruce Springsteen did a fantastic rendition of it on his album 'The Pete Seeger Sessions'. This link will take you to youtube at

For those of you who are interested, here are the lyrics:
I've got a mule, her name is Sal,

Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.

She's a good ol' worker and a good ol' pal,

Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.

We've hauled some barges in our day,

Filled with lumber, coal, and hay,

And we know ev'ry inch of the way,

From Albany to Buffalo.


Low bridge, ev'rybody down!

Low bridge, for we're comin' to a town!

And you'll always know your neighbor,

You'll always know your pal,

if you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal.

We better get on our way, old pal,

Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.

'Cause you bet your life I'd never part with Sal,

Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.

Get up there mule, here comes a lock,

We'll make Rome 'bout six o'clock,

One more trip and back we'll go,

Right back home to Buffalo.

You can find all kinds of info on the Erie Canal - and if you don't have a boat, you can cycle it or you can take a cruise, whatever you like. Check out

Sunday, May 29, 2011

100 miles and counting

We managed to move Messenger through 22 locks and 100 miles to Sylvan Beach, a resort community on the eastern shore of Oneida Lake by last Thursday and since then, we've just sat. The locks remain closed just past Lock 23 now, so there's still a logjam of cruisers sitting waiting to get home.

We were fortunate that we have friends from home, Stew Patterson and Alistair Robertson to join us today so I could drive home with Reg and Elizabeth as Reg has an orthodontist appointment tomorrow and Thursday (to replace a retainer he lost in Annapolis some weeks ago) and then his sailing instructor course next weekend.

Aidan opted to stay with the crew to help bring Messenger home. So I had to say goodbye to Scott and Aidan along with some of our cruising friends today. My throat had such a lump I could hardly swallow. The first hour I drove it was hard to see for the tears. In lots of ways, it's the end of the trip for us.

It was a good day. I started off making an eight-block dash for public washrooms (we're trying to conserve on space in the holding tank until we get to marina for a pumpout if you must know). Then I grabbed a coffee at the local deli and took a walk alone along the sodden beach while the seagulls circled the overcast sky. It was hot today. I got back to the boat and started making a big breakfast this morning, with everyone else squabbling over who's doing what part of the cleanup.

I loaded up some bags with bedding and one last load for Scott and Aidan and headed to the Beachy Clean Laundromat, really not up to snuff as far as I'm concerned. If it's one thing I know now, it's what makes a good laundromat. That done, I headed back in the sweltering humidity to make up beds, unload the boat and try to tell Scott where all the food is stashed in lockers.

We piled the little Dodge with garbage bags of clothes and stuff from the boat. It's hard to believe the boat is hardly emptied and it's also hard to believe Elizabeth owned that many clothes on the boat!!!

The crammed car raised the eyebrows of the lovely lady at the Canadian customs officials but when I mentioned I had just come from a boat full of crap, she waved us away.

After the tears subsided, Reg, Elizabeth and I talked about the families and people we met, the boats we saw and the beautiful, perfect weather in the Bahamas.

What I'll remember most however are the times we collapsed in laughter at some ridiculous thing we were doing: riding for a mile in our tiny dinghy getting soaking wet at Long Island; dashing around boats in the race at the Georgetown Regatta; trying to figure out what to do with Elizabeth's giant conch at Green Turtle Cay. The memories are deep and wide, just like the ocean that carried us there and back.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Back in the saddle

We made the long drive back to Messenger last Sunday night and it felt surprisingly good to be back to get her home.

We woke up the next day andScott asked for breakfast and for the locks to be open whenhe got back from taking back the rental car. Well, I didn't have breakfast ready but the locks did open so Tuesday we left early with a convoy: Georgia E our friends Stu and Tony; Wind Sprite with Dave and Marilyn who met last year and reconnected in Annapolis; new friends Fred and Neil on Dollar Boat, a refurbished tug built in Port Dover; and some folks on a boat called Sundance from Chicago.

We were all so happy to finally be putting miles under the keel once again. It was Dave and Marilyn's 25th wedding anniversary (and our 19th the day before) so I started making a cake on the locks. I made the cake, put one tin in, did a lock, put the other cake in, did a lock, made the orange cream custard filling, did a lock, made the orange icing, did a lock and then as neared Amsterdam where we were all headed, I iced it.

They were thrilled. They had also had Reg helping them all day as they hadn't done the canal before and he signed on for one more day as well.

Stu told us Russo's Italian restaurant in Amsterdam was his favourite on the canal so of course we had to go try it out.

It was a fun night. It wasn't fun though getting off the wall the next morning. Fred and Neil gave us a great hand getting off though and we fought the current to get in. A number of the locks had a great deal of debris and we hit a log yesterday and today. Whirlpools and swirls of whitewater marked a number of the entrances to the locks, making navigating into the locks even more interesting than usual. I had forgotten how beautiful this part of the canal is, mind you it's not 40 C and it's early days yet.

Tonight we had a chicken barbecue on Dollar Boat, the four of our crews - yet another great time to relax after a long day on the water.

So far, our plan is to make it at least as far as the canal is open, currently at Lock 23, near Brewerton. Then we'll have a couple of friends meet us and I'll leave the boat with the kids and head back home to get some needed appointments and get ready to take Reg to his sailing course.

It's a bit odd to think we'll cease to crew together, making these days even more precious.