Friday, August 29, 2008

The Voyage Really Begins Now!

What I am really starting to appreciate about this cruising lifestyle is that there are no two days that are the same, and that rules are more like guidelines. Since I have the attention span of a gold fish, and have always been accused of colouring outside of the lines, I think that cruising is becoming a pretty natural fit, right down to having to adapt to locking through St. Lambert at night and then beating our way upstream through 5 knots of current to discover the very well hidden entrance to Yacht Club de Montreal. You haven't lived until you hit an eddy that swings your boat through 90 degrees in the dark!!!

I had my last offical duty as an employee this week, when I returned my company issued computers to the Montreal Office. Now I am officially free, and to that end we have been slowly coming to the realization that we can pretty pick and choose what we want to do and when. The only person we can't disagree with, at least not without suffering some consequences is "mother nature"

I've been the Montreal many times, both as a student and as a work slave, but never as a tourist. The city is very different when you are wandering around in old Montreal looking for a place to have lunch or to take a glass of wine. Maybe it was our mood, but Pat and I found the city to be much more mellow than we have experienced in past trips.

We met up with our son Richard, his girfriend Michelle and Pat's cousin Ellen. It was Michelle's first day of a new job and it was the day of my last official duty, so a celebration was in order. Even better, Richard picked up the tab! If I had known that my son was going to foot the bill, I would have picked a better restaurant. Still there were important milestones to celebrate and I couldn't have imagined a better group to celebrate them with!

After a taste of city life, we left Montreal for the St. Pierre Archipelago which is a collection islands in the St. Lawrence just east of Sorel. Even though we wern't very far from Sorel ~6 NM, it may as well have been on another planet. We had the anchorages to ourselves and yes yours truly actually went in for a swim. Everything is better on a boat!! Nudge nudge wink wink, eh!!

For those of you who laughed at me for buying a hand held depth sounder, I can tell you that it is an essential piece of cruising gear. Pat and I used it in the dinghy to plot out places where we could fit Threepenny Opera and places where we could not. Ince the charts do not provide the kind of detail we would like, gunkholing with a dinghy and depth sounder helps avoid getting stuck in the mud. BTW the Rocna anchor is an absolute marvel. It is easy to set and relatively easy to set. when combined with an electric windlass, it is easy to become a pin point anchoring specialist. I drive, Pat hits the switches and we stay put exactly where we want to be!

We took advantage of the pin point anchoring capabilities again this week when we arrived in Trois Rivieres. We had reservations in the the local marina, but at $1.50 a foot, things can add up pretty quickly. I am still stinging over the nearly $300 bill in Montreal, so we were somewhat motivated to find an alternate place to spend at least part of our visit to Trois Rivieres. It is not shown on the chart as an anchorage but the west branch of the St. Maurice River, just south of the Duplessis bridge is an excellent place to drop the hook. Turn left at the first red bouy downstream from the Coast Guard station. Watch your depth sounder and favour the west side of the channel staying 200 feet offshore. You should see at least 15 feet of water, at the current chart datum of +.8 meteres.

It was even better when we discovered Serge M, who's home was a former pump house for one of the local paper mills. It turns out that Serge is also a sailor and keeps a Beneteau 40.5 down in Lake Champlain and a power boat in a slip at his front door. Serge kindly offered us the use of his dock to tie up our dinghy so we had a landing place to pick up Pat's brother Mark who visited us onboard last night. Thanks Serge for the hospitality.

I guess we will end up in the marina eventually, because some of Pat's family would be pretty challenged to ride across in the dinghy, but since we have to fuel up and pump out, a day or two in the Marina won't hurt. I'm sure we are going to have a pretty busy Labour day weekend of visiting, entertaining, provisioning and boat chores so heading out to Quebec City next week will be a good time to rest. We sail with the tide!

Brockville - Trois Rivieres PQ... click on the picture for more pics

Just call us Lock Smiths!

So this week we sailed off the face of the known earth! Perhaps our travels have not been on the same scale as those of Christopher Columbus or Ferdinand Magellan, they have been truly voyages of personal discovery.

We had received so many warnings about the locks that we were both pretty apprehensive about the upcoming experience. All of the guide books tell us that we chould obtain the Canadian Government Publication - The St. Lawrence Seaway Pleasure Craft Guide. In it there are comprehensive descriptions of light signals, instructional signage, fees and tying up procedures. Since the price of the book is free, I guess we can't really complain too much, but much of the information in the book is either incomplete or wrong!!

Here's the stuff that is correct:

  1. The light signals - seem to be used most of the time. Red for stop, Green for Go, flashing yellow to give a count down time to lock being ready.

  2. The bridge signals - most accurate of the signals

  3. Commercial traffice comes first. If you hit the seaway on a busy day, your turn is when all of the commercial ships have transited, even if a commercial vessel arrives at seemingly the last minute. Pleasure craft are tolerated, but they would not miss us if we decided not to show up.

  4. The location of the pleasure boat docks, and the direction of tying up at the pleasure boat docks. The challenge is to remember that you as the skipper understand more about how your boat handles at low low speeds and in tight quarters so dock accordingly, and not just because the book says use a starboard tie.

  5. Do check in by telephone using the call box on the dock, if you land at the pleasure craft dock, otherwise follow the leader.

  6. The order for entry in the lock is power boats first, sailboats second, with the largest of each type going first. In the US locks, rafting is only done when the positions on the side of the locks are filled. In the Canadian locks, everybody rafts.. power to power, sail to sail with the largest of each along the wall.

  7. The tie within the lock is specified in the booklet. Most are starboard, but Beauharnois locks are Port.

Here's the stuff that is wrong or incomplete:

  1. The fees are $25 per lock for Canada and $30 per lock for the US. In local currency of course.

  2. The ticket dispensers are more trouble than they are worth. Just have cash ready to hand to the lockmaster in each lock. exact change is helpful, otherwise you have to cling to the wall while they are making change....slowly.

  3. The sign boards that are supposed to give "clear instructions" in both official languages, are about 24x36 inches and the words scroll from right to left. They are not visible from the water so you must dock to see them, and they contain a minimal amount of useful both official languages. Do not expect signs like the airport signs in the Western Gap, the Compass highway signs or the Jumbotron. Think more like the signs that show the weekly 649 prize at the local lottery kiosk. As for the information, they basically tell you to stay with your boat and wait for the lock master to yell at you through loudspeakers. The sound is about as clear as the station announcmemnts on the subway!

  4. Contact the US locks on channel 12 VHF and announce your arrival time at the lock. The US will actually answer your radio call and give you some decent instruction on your locking through times and procedures. Call sign is "Seaway Eisenhower", no matter which direction you are going in. Canada provides illuminated sign boards in both official languages and do not seem to have radios.

  5. In the US locks, have two lines long enough to run from midship to either the bow or stern and back to midship. Lighter lines are easier to handle than heavy and you won't need to tie tightly. The lines are more for steadying the boat than anything else. Canada provides lines of triple strand polyester to the inside boat of the raft. everybody else uses their own lines.

At the end of the day, locking through is a bit of a non event. Once you've done one lock, the rest are pretty much the same. Just don't expect to be marshalled with any degree of precision and you'll be fine. There are obviously some procedures that have been developed to handle pleasure boats, but they should be considered as guidelines and not as the abosolute law. Just use common sense and the locks will not be a problem.

Panama here we come!!!!

Locks - click on the image for more pictures

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

It never ceases to amaze me how far we have advanced the art of staying in touch. Or is art the proper noun to apply, to what surely to some must seem something like black magic? I mean here I am sitting in my cockpit, snugly tied to the guest wharf at the Crescent Yacht Club in Chaumont Bay, NY, typing a post for the blog. The scene couldn’t be more idyllic, there is a full moon rising over the bay, a couple of candles are burning in their lantern fixtures, soft country music playing on the stereo and Pat is busy below making a cup of tea to help us digest a wonderful meal. As I wait, I haul out the IBM and start to reflect on the events of the weekend.

Blogging I’m finding is very therapeutic, it is a sort of free association of ideas, emotions and perceptions that are a product of the moment, it’s no wonder they use the technique for treating certain types of mental illness. Sometime they are wine mellowed ramblings, and at other times they are poignant insights into current events of the here and now. Whatever they are, the fact that I can sit here in complete comfort, only an off button away from being totally isolated, and share my thoughts with whomever is within a TCP/IP throw, is truly a miracle.

So Pat and I have survived our first week out as fulltime cruisers! Last Tuesday, 8/12, we just had to get off the dock and head out, otherwise, the load of impending boat projects would have held us back for a day…maybe two,,, maybe more…We have had the usual bits of Lake Ontario cruising, you know lots of motoring, and farther a field, but familiar ports like Cobourg, Rochester, Oswego etc. But after Oswego, we started into some newer territory, which I guess was part of the purpose of going cruising in the first place!

This past weekend has been one of extremes in terms of the places we have visited. It was our first time to Sackets Harbor and to Chaumont Bay. For the sailor these two locations are the antithesis of each other. Sort of like the difference between a power boat and a sailboat,. Sackets is flashy, in your face and all about style, in a contrived Disneyesque sort of way. It does have a certain esthetic that some will find appealing but the charms are not for the faint of wallet. Chaumont, only a stones throw away is simpler, but no less elegant and exudes the kind of warmth that begs for a second date.

Chaumont Bay has to one of the best kept secrets on Lake Ontario. It is an easy day sail from Oswego, Wapoos or Kingston. It combines the best of Adolphus Reach with the interesting features of Georgian Bay. The wind is steady in the mid teens and the water according to the locals in almost always flat by virtue of the excellent protection from all point of the compass. For a real treat you should plan to visit Crescent Yacht Club at the tip of the bay. The club is one of the oldest in the US and is operated by a highly motivated membership. The fact that were mgreeted on the dock by Peter H, and Tom, B the Commodore and Vice Commodore respectively, just capped off the experience. If you want some quiet downtime to sail, race, or just drop the hook in a quiet cove, Chaumont is definitely a must do.

Monday was as close to blue water sailing as you can get, without getting salty. There was a small craft wind warning out when we departed CYC, but we figured that a mere 20-25 knots of wind would be child’s play for Threepenny Opera. What a play it was! As we rounded the Point Peninsula mark, we fell off onto a broad reach with a reef in the main and several rolls taken up on the genny. The result was a screaming sleigh ride of 8-9 knots as we headed up towards Cape Vincent. Apart from the corkscrew effect of sliding off the building 4-6 foot waves, the sailing was the stuff they write books about. One sad note, I have a 44lb Bruce clone anchor, that is sitting in ~400 of water, but it'll take single malt to tell the story. At least the Yellow Perch at the Thousand Islands Inn in Clayton made it worthwhile.

Tuesday was about playing tourist, as you can see from the pictures of Boldt Castle. It’s worth the trip to see how much a mere $2.5 million could buy in 1900….and this was just his summer house!

For all of us who are used to sailing in Lake Ontario, we are spoiled by the wonderful information provided to us by the good folks from the “Ports” book. I know about all the disclaimers, but there are two kinds of sailors, those who admit to using the pictures in the Ports book to navigate into harbours, despite the warnings, and those who won’t admit to doing it, but do it anyway. I am posting this from Brockville Yacht Club, just prior to our departure for our first set of St. Lawrence Seaway locks at Iroquois Falls. The locks don’t scare me nearly as much as the fact that we are running out of Ports book pages. By this time tomorrow, we are going to be in completely uncharted waters so to speak, so I am expecting the next week to be veeery interesting!!

Wish us luck!


Click on Pat for more pics

Week 1 PCYC-Brockville

Friday, August 15, 2008

So thanks for the memories!

So here I am, in my new position, standing at the helm of Threepenny Opera. Today like all of the days before and likely all of the days after I will be the master of my own destiny. The main difference will be the types of constraints that I will need to deal with as I shape the future in a way that makes sense!

I've been asked many times over the past days why I am doing this now? Believe me when I say this, but there a days I wonder the same thing. I worked for the largest software company in the world (The pic should give you a clue as to which one) I had a global responsibility, I am at the top of my game, I enjoy the respect of my peers, and I made more money in a month than I made in previous years, when my wife and I were raising 2 kids. So why then am I chucking this fabulous opportunity that so many people would give part of the family jewels to get?

It all comes down to making a life, instead of just making a living. The actor James Dean, spoke about living hard, dying young and leaving a good looking corpse. Perhaps there is some merit to his sentiments, when we look at our own lives. True he was a bit of a rebel, he definitely lived hard, and while his corpse may have been good looking, I am not at all convinced he was ready to die young. He too was at the top of his game, and now 50 years after his untimely departure from the planet his legend lives on.

Personally, I have always felt that the time to quit is when things are going well. I have no desire to become a walking example of the Peter Principle. My accomplishements, meagre in some eyes and substantial in the eyes of others, are what they are. I feel good about them, and over time, they will age to even greater proportions in my mind, much like a vintage Cabernet. While I am slowing down to see the world at 6 knots instead of 600 knots, what I have done, what I will do, and with whom I do it, is what makes me truly happy. Thanks for the memories, as they do influence the shape of the future.

Auf Wiedersehen to all the fine folks in the best software company in the know who you are!
Addison 8/15/2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Escape Velocity!!

David Frid came by the slip about a week ago and spoke about the concept of escape velocity as it relates to cruising. Apprently there are hundreds of crews out there who have all the latest and the greatest toys, but somehow never break free from the gravity of the dock! Pat and I were determined to not become one of those types that always had one last thing to do...tomorrow.

I am posting this from the guest wall at the Rochester Yacht Club, and I can finally let out the breath that I have been holding for the last 3 days. We are only 100 miles from home, but 100 miles qualifies as a true low earth orbit. As I try an concentrate over the roar of the dredging derrick in the Gennessee River, I am slowly awakening to the fact that I am in a foreign country and that we have truly left. Although there are a ton of boat things to do...maybe tomorrow, and I am still on the payroll until August 15, we have started and that is the main thing.

Thanks to all who came to say goodbye on the morning of departure, and a special thanks to Dino Marcuz who came down to the dock to snap these pics for the blog.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A blast of a blast off

And so it has come to pass. The departure date is set, at least as far as any departure date for a cruiser can be set, so the next order of business is to say our goodbyes and thank-you's. The landlubber types who buy the cruising mags and dream of sailing naked amid islands dotted with palm trees and white sands, think that cruising is about the boat and the destination. Those of us who have cruised even a little, know intuitively that it is really the people who make cruising what it is! Boats can wear out, skin will sag, but the spirit will always live on! Note what happens when flag officers let their halyards down!!

I have a very clear recollection of the 2003 sailing season when Pat and I were neophyte cruisers and we finally mustered up the courage to join our first club cruise with our friends Dennis and Marilyn. Dennis and I had passed our ASA bareboat courses together, and so when I bought a boat, it was only natural that I turn to a more experienced partner to help with a major crossing to 50 Point.

It was imperative that we do it right, because Jan, from the cruising committee had called us at home to confirm our attendance and to advise us important details like the times for the happy hour and the frequencies we were to monitor on the VHF. As a pilot of many years, I interpreted the precise directions as something like an IFR clearance, and I felt compelled to readback and acknowledge the directions from the cheerful Jan. In hindsight, she must have thought I was something of a nut case when I suddenly started speaking in the clipped phrases of ATC speak. Somehow I felt it was going to be OK despite the trepidation of navigating across almost 20 miles of open lake. After all we had the cruising committee looking after us!

Upon arrival at 50 Point, after a journey of epic slowness, something like 8 hours if my memory serves me correctly, (who knew that it was OK to use the motor in a sailboat for more than leaving and entering harbour?)we were guided efficiently into our slip by hordes of people screamining directions and pointing at what seemed like several slips at the same time. While the illusion of ATC precision was shattered, the enthusiasm of the day was infectious. Everybody was so willing to lend a hand and go out of their way to make the newcomers feel welcome. Right down to John Williams emptying the cutlery tray of Allegro to help Pat serve her chocolate cake.

So here we are 5 years later and about to embark on a trip almost as significant as that first foray across 19 miles of open lake. Pat and I have gained confidence and we had our lives enriched by the people we have met cruising, and particularly from the open arms of the members here at our home of PCYC. Hopefully our travels in the coming days, weeks and months will live up to the expectations of those who helped us prepare for the journey. We don't know what the final destination will be, we aren't sure about the route. What we are sure of is the fact that we would not be doing this if we hadn't gone to 50 Point, if Jan had not called to check in and if John had not emptied the galley of Allegro.

For those of you who came to our party on Friday, August 8, thank-you for giving us a boost of energy and enthusisam. For those who could not make it, please know that we missed you. Thanks to all for the good wishes and encouragement. Thanks to Eva Robinson for being the chronicle, as all of the pictures below are from her, and a special thanks to Roseanne who rose to the occasion and made a short but heart warming speech... we know the effort it took!

The blog is a two way street. We will respond to your comments and feedback, so please keep your cards and letters coming. Suggestions, questions, ideas are all appreciated and to the extent that we can, Pat and I will try and make the blog a living breathing thing. I look forward to my next update in a week or two, and in the meantime, enjoy the pics.

Thanks to all who have made our cruising what it is. Tomorrow we will leave the slip and the journey will begin.

Enjoy the pics. Click on the faces for even more pics.

Goodbye Party