by Dick Harrington
"It is natural and healthy to worry about the risks associated with dinghy cruising, but you shouldn't let it prevent you from enjoying some of the best experiences life has to offer."
"It's for you", Margie announced. "He says he's Jim Fraser calling from Nova Scotia." My heart jumped. Jim had received my letter. Would this be good news or a disappointment? Nervously I picked up the phone, not knowing what to expect but encouraged by the quick response.
A week before, I had painstakingly composed a long letter to Jim, a Wayfarer cruising enthusiast living in Dartmouth, NS. The city of Dartmouth is just across the harbor from Halifax. I had never met Jim Fraser, yet I was hoping that he would come to my rescue. Two British friends were eager to come over for a North American cruise. In a moment of exuberance the summer before, I had promised I would show them some special North American cruising. Both were top notch Wayfarer sailors and experienced cruisers. My initial thought had been to sail the wilderness shore of northeastern Lake Superior--the sector from the Michipicoten River to the Slate Islands that a friend and I did in '94. But that no longer looked promising. So my thoughts turned elsewhere.
For many years I had been intrigued by the thought of cruising Nova Scotia. Then several years ago, after vacationing there with Margie, these feelings were kindled even stronger. The clear blue sea was clean and uncluttered, the shore unspoiled and the tradition of seafaring such an integral part of everyday life. Now would be the ideal time. Tim France, my counterpart within the Canadian cruising fraternity, had not long before mentioned Jim Fraser's name. This had reminded me of reading in the Canadian newsletter, The Whiffle, an account written by this adventuresome Nova Scotian, describing his circumnavigation of Isle Madame off the coast of Cape Breton Island. Would Jim be interested?
Though it was February and a cold, bitter winter wind blew across a frozen Lake Erie, my heart was greatly warmed. Jim Fraser was thrilled by the prospect. He and his family would open their home to us, and Jim would apply for the time off from work to be our cruise leader. We agreed we would sail the Eastern Shore, the Atlantic coast east from Halifax to Cape Canso, Jim's favorite cruising ground.
"Well, if you are so
why did you decide to go there in the first place?", was Margie's
"Now you're getting me worried too! I thought you were
You said Nova Scotia
Sailing to the Edge of Fear is the title of Frank Dye's new book. Taking the risk of offending a Wayfarer "icon", I think it's a little melodramatic. Though in my opinion the title doesn't do Frank justice, it does reveal a truth about Frank's feelings. Call it fear, or call it cautious worry, throughout these chronicles of the several years he spent making his way northward along the North American coast, Frank repeatedly writes about his inner struggle and self doubts as various, particularly difficult, passages loomed in front of him. Most of the time Frank was successful, but on at least two occasions he had to give up sailing his beloved Wanderer and resort to other means of transport. Frank Dye, unmistakably the best and bravest dinghy sailor of our time, makes it crystal clear. Butterflies and nagging thoughts are a natural part of dinghy cruising. But, sailing to the edge of fear, well....??
Jim Fraser's offer to lead us on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore was one more chance of a lifetime not to be missed. In my sailing career the only experiences comparable were the Lake Superior and Maine coastal cruises, each being uniquely wonderful for different reasons. All entailed some degree of risk, which induced worry and concern on my part, but in no way were they overly dangerous. It is natural and healthy to worry about the risks associated with dinghy cruising, but you shouldn't let it prevent you from enjoying some of the best experiences life has to offer.
Making the Leap
In our locality there are several outdoors and outfitter shops. These, I'm certain, are similar to places in your town that carry all the latest high tech clothing and gear for hiking, back packing, mountain climbing, canoeing, kayaking, and you name it. This stuff is unbelievably expensive, yet there are always customers in these stores. Shoppers run the gamut from young singles to "old gray beards", like myself, who have a few extra bucks to spend. Some interest is limited to just the high tech, "fashionable" clothing, but many others truly seek the outdoor experience. Judging from the prominence of displays, I would say that there is a fair amount of interest in wilderness kayaking. What this tells me is that there are still people who want more from life than an artificial experience.
If your are one of those who has had a yearning to explore and discover, but up to now has held back, I encourage you to think again about Wayfarer cruising. Knock on my wooden deck, but none of my cruising experiences have ever approached the degree of difficulty of my imagined fears. Reading Frank Dye's tales it is at times hard to believe that we have sailed some of the same waters. Frank's average day seems far more harrowing than some of my worst encounters. Of course there's an explanation and it has little to do with story telling. Comparatively, my cruises are very short to Frank's; and I'm usually sailing during the best part of the summer season. Frank often began his voyages in early spring and didn't wrap it up until well into fall. It's not surprising then that he would run into more occasions of severe weather. All of this is to say that, under normal summertime conditions, dinghy cruising is not as difficult, nor challenging, as we sometimes like to think. Common sense and good judgment, along with proper preparation, will usually ensure lots of good fun and enjoyment.
Keys to Success
Clothing. I buy most of my clothing from the "techie", expensive outdoors outfitter store, not my local marine store. Item for item the price is probably twice as much, but the investment is worth it because the quality and engineering of the high tech clothing is far superior. It lasts forever, is comfortable, looks good and is generally wearable for much more than just sailing activities. The clothing designed to keep a wilderness kayaker warm and dry is also the right apparel for a dinghy cruiser out on the cold Atlantic.
Boat equipment. It cost me $120 to have two sets of reefing points installed in my new racing sails. Though these are not my cruising sails now, someday they will be. No matter, racing or cruising, I have the ability to quickly reduce sail to meet changing conditions. What a difference in enjoyment it makes on a breezy day for Margie and me. It took a little coaxing, but Margie has learned that though the wind may be whistling loudly in the rigging, dropping a reef in the main, and or furling the jib, can tame an otherwise frightening world. Living on the Great Lakes I feel it is smart thinking to be able to reduce sail. Do you really think that reefing points in your sail will be cause of losing races, or is $120 too much money for some added security? By the way, outboards are not good substitutes for sails in windy conditions. Once the stabilizing forces of the (suitably reefed) sails are removed and one reverts to motoring, the action of the wind and waves, constantly knocking a light hull such as the Wayfarer around, makes it very difficult to maneuver. Also, sea sickness becomes a good possibility.
A lot of cruising folks have gone over to roller furling jibs. Most everyone who has swears by it. Presently I'm bucking the main stream and continue to stay with the "old standard" genoa and small jib combination. I like it because when I need more than a single reef in the main I can switch down to the smaller jib and still have a nice balance of sail. The small jib reduces the heeling force while still allowing you to point higher than with no jib at all. The dinghy genoa roller furling systems don't yet enable you to use partial sail.
Once you're safe on top of the water's surface, the next thing is to be sure you're safe on the bottom. A 100 foot length of 5/16" or 3/8" three strand braided nylon anchor rode, a 9 lb. Danforth anchor and 5 feet of 5/16" chain, will usually do the job. (I'm a bit conservative and actually use 150 feet of rode and a 11 lb. Bruce anchor.) I know it interferes with racing, but a good strong deck cleat and at least one bow chock are a necessity. For protection from the weather some kind of a boom tent is required. Breathable canvas, though it is heavier to handle, works the best.
Training and experience. Reading, talking to others and trying it out on your own the hard way (in reasonable steps) works. You can't substitute for experience. Another way to learn and pick up some first hand advice is to join the annual North American Cruising Rally. Besides myself and "Uncle Al" Schönborn, other highly qualified Wayfarer sailors will be present and eager to offer their advice and help.