In Praise of the Mini-Cruise
Ted Rosen's August 2010 overnighter to Frenchman's Bay and back to Toronto's Outer Harbour...
An overnight dinghy cruise has the potential of offering all the sailing joys of its multi-day big brother and some of the unknowns as well. While a long cruise often involves months of planning and preparation, coordinating with other participants and arranging free blocks of time for a crew, food, travel, trailering, charts, etc., the mini-cruise can be a simple checklist of safe sailing essentials, some quick cook food, and a couple of otherwise unscheduled days. (Both being blessed by the weather gods)
Following the 2010 North American Rally at Killbear Provincial Park, I was enthusiastic about an overnight cruise before the reduced daylight hours became a limiting factor. All of the complications associated with a long trip conspired against me, resulting in my second annual cruise to Frenchman's Bay, some 20 nautical miles of sailing from my home club location in Toronto's Outer Harbour. Certainly this is not an epic journey, when compared with notable voyages from the trip logs of the Wayfarer Associations worldwide, but with interesting and challenging elements of every trip past and future.
August 23, 2010. Organizing for an overnight trip is straight forward, with minimum food, fresh water, stove, fuel, clothing, and a single chart. No need for trailers, checking wheel bearings, etc. Just drive to the club first thing in the morning, park the car, load the Wayfarer and start sailing. Needless to say, going solo also reduces organizing crew. Lake Ontario winds were forecast as 10-15 kts and waves to 1 meter. Hmmm … .the outer harbour looks pretty calm, so let's just have a look around the Leslie Street spit. I start sailing. Once the lake is fully in sight the tell-tale fuzzy look of the horizon suggests reefing may be in order, so on starboard tack I carry out that procedure, as well as double check that everything is securely tied in, then put on my safety harness and tether. The wind is upwards of 15 knots from the east, with one meter or more swells and the occasional larger wave. I'm still in control, although it would be good to have crew at this time. I've programmed the GPS with Frenchman's Bay as my destination and having rounded the spit, I can now set a course but with the East wind, I'll be beating into the wind and waves for the entire day. After an hour of this bucking bronco ride, the GPS predicts I'll be at my destination in 14 hours. It is time to reconsider my day's objectives.
I reverse direction and broad reach on a plane to the shelter of the Outer Harbour. Rather than just giving up for the day, I decide to sail to the western side of Toronto Islands but once again encounter one meter and larger waves. So far this trip has been more typical of a day sail, with extra gear on board. Heading up, I hear an explosion, and see my port shroud detached and swinging madly in the air. A quick tack puts me on starboard heading East, with the mast now supported by the remaining good shroud. Fortunately I am not halfway to Frenchman's Bay in the open waters of Lake Ontario. It is time to reconsider my day's objectives again.
Do I heave to and make repairs or do I attempt to sail the three nautical miles to the Outer Harbour Centreboard Club on a single shroud and a single tack? The south east wind and waves makes the decision for me. I simply don't have enough sea room against the rocky lee shore of the Toronto Islands to heave to. With crew, repairs would be much easier; being solo requires a different response. Taking a close hauled course, I sail as near to the wind as I can and still make forward motion. Once past the jetty of the Eastern Gap, I feel a bit less anxious, just as a small keelboat, overloaded with passengers, sails close enough to steal my wind, and interfere with my forward motion. As I near the windsurfing club beach, the winds shift to the north, and I don't have enough space to get past the last bit of land, so I tack to a broad reach to put the least amount of pressure on the port side, for just enough time to clear the point and tack back to the OHCC dock. Whew! If this was to be a full blown multi-day cruise I'd be stopped in my tracks on day one.
One week later…. with two new shrouds (and now one spare for emergencies) I'm repeating the previous week's attempt to sail to Frenchman's Bay. This time, though, the forecast is 6-10 kts from the SW and waves one metre or less.
A few tacks get me to the T2 navigation buoy. Broad reaching in light winds gives me the opportunity to fly my spinnaker for the first time this year. What a difference a week makes. Travelling solo, I keep spinnaker sailing simple. No pole, no barberhaulers, just treat the sheet and guy as if I am holding the reins of a horse, and use my bungee auto helm to steady the tiller. The system works perfectly and I am skimming along at 3-4 knots on a rhumb line for Frenchman's Bay in sparkling sunshine. This being a Sunday afternoon, there are quite a few other boats on the lake. It's sometimes comforting to think that if I had a problem, I could hail assistance. For safety's sake though, I am carrying a VHF marine radio for weather and emergency communications if needed, as well as a waterproof package of flares.
I've never previously sailed a Wayfarer for over four continuous hours by spinnaker. A mini-cruise gives that sort of opportunity. In fact, I arrived at the entrance to Frenchman's Bay at 3:30 pm, much too early to anchor and just sit. I continue east for an hour and explore the shore past the power station. I am always more interested in exploring a new area. At 4:30 in the afternoon it is time to head for the bay, only to have the winds calm. With 4 hours of daylight left, I have time, if need be, to row to the protected anchorage of the bay. A keelboat sees me floundering with luffing sails and thoughtfully motors over to offer a tow. The look on their faces when I declined the offer seemed to confirm earlier thoughts that some nut is out in a dinghy where he doesn't belong. They motored on with the optimistic "the winds should pick up".
Thirty minutes later the wind did return from its afternoon siesta. I am now sailing close-hauled in 10-knot winds heading directly towards the harbour inlet. I had promised my wife I'd phone at 6 p.m. to say I am safely anchored, but now it's past 6, the cell phone is in its waterproof case in the stern compartment, and I am approaching the narrow, shallow and rocky entrance to Frenchman's Bay under full sail. The phone call will have to wait.
As seems typical of protected bays, the wind shifts and dies just as I enter the channel, and I rapidly deploy the collapsible paddle to complete my entrance to the bay, find a secluded location and drop anchor. Day 1: approximately 10 hours of sailing, 25 nautical miles covered, average speed 3 knots and a pretty full day of sailing.
I set up for the night, boil water for a freeze dry dinner and tea, phone home, and watch the sun setting. The wind was forecast to rise to 15 kts during the night so I drop a second anchor and set up the boom tent. Although the wind is quiet, I am surprised at the noise from the nearby highway and railway. With sleeping pad and bag I squeeze my legs under the thwart and drift off to sleep. One advantage of sailing solo on a Wayfarer mini cruise is the huge amount of space on board.
Day 2 - Up at first light, with a 10-knot southwest wind forecast. I'll be tacking all day, although the bay is completely calm at this hour. The night was warm and dry with the boom tent providing isolation from the surroundings. I must have spun in four complete circles through the night, as the two anchor lines were twisted together. There was no evidence of the forecast 15-knot winds. Boiling water for breakfast and tea, packing my gear and getting ready to raise the anchor took over an hour. I was in no hurry.
Calm conditions made it easy to bring one anchor forward, untwist the lines to be stowed in a plastic bucket. The rectangular plastic buckets fit well below each thwart, with a single bungee cord to keep them in place while sailing, yet readily available when needed. With sails raised, rudder and tiller in place, and centreboard down I retrieve the second anchor, along with its accompanying mass of mud and weeds. It certainly was a secure anchorage.
A wisp of wind allows me to sail towards the channel leading back to the lake, but fluky winds at the narrows have me quickly resort to the paddle. There's lots of wind on the lake, none in the bay, and what wind is in the channel is directly on my bow, with very little room to manoeuvre. I attempt to sail, and as I am being pushed toward the rocky eastern edge of the channel, grab the paddle and get my aerobic exercise for the morning, until I can breathe a sigh of relief passing the two concrete towers guarding the channel entrance. I prefer to avoid this kind of excitement in the morning.
Once out on the lake I am faced with 12-knot SW winds, and choppy waves. Hmmm … do I reef now or wait? I have lots of sea room, so decide to put off reefing this time and the choice was a good one. Soon the waves smooth and the winds quiet. Under these conditions I can set the bungee auto helm, adjust the sails for close haul, and the Wayfarer sails itself. I sit and relax, have a snack, make adjustments to the gear, or retrieve or stow items knowing that the Wayfarer is happily finding its most efficient point of sail. One feature of the GPS I am using is its ability to record a track and see the evidence of sailing smoothly and consistently at 45 degrees to the wind on each tack. It is a credit to the design of the Wayfarer. Once on the lake, I only touch the tiller to tack every half hour or so, and simply sit back to enjoy the ride.
It was a pleasant and quiet sail, but I did start getting anxious with rain and thunder storms forecast and billowing cumulus clouds forming to the west. After 4 hours of perfect sailing the winds disappears with some 8 miles to go. I thought it best to keep moving, so I raised the boom using jiffy reefing and set the oars for 30 minutes of rowing. The Wayfarer moves along at 2 knots in calm conditions and that seems better than sitting still. Feeling wisps of wind developing, I stowed the oars for another hour of less than ideal light wind sailing. The clouds, though developing were not immediately threatening, but the increasing winds generated whitecaps, waves and a lumpy ride for the next few hours.
The 12-knot winds provided interesting sailing as I rounded Leslie Street spit, reaching and then running wing on wing into the Outer Harbour, happily surfing on the waves. With a few gybes to complete the day's sail, I furled my jib as I arrived at the OHCC dock and stepped ashore for the first time in 32 hours feeling like I had been away for a week.
Ted Rosen W8231
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