I was supposed to be heading up to the North Channel right now.
I left Midland yesterday and sailed towards Hope Island – a trip of about 25 miles.
Today I was supposed to be crossing Georgian Bay to Cabot Head. The winds were forecast to be very favourable for the crossing. I have crossed the Bay a number of times but have yet to make it all the way across under sail. Today was to be the day.
As you may be able to infer by the fact that I am at my computer typing this: I am not making that crossing!
So what happened?
The day began very well. The wind was blowing from the Northwest at about 15 – 20 knots. I tied down my main to the first reef and headed out of the marina.
The forecast was for the winds to subside to below 15 knots by noon. Wave height on Southern Georgian Bay was forecast to be 1 metre, reducing to ½ metre.
We would have to tack up past Penetanguishene then, if the wind stayed as forecast, take a close reach right over to Hope Island.
We headed up the Bay. The boat was handling beautifully. We got up past Penetanguishene in 4 or 5 tacks. We were doing between 5 ½ and 6 ½ knots. The sun was out. All was well.
We got around Sawlog Point and headed West to get under Giant’s Tomb.
Once past Giant’s Tomb the waves got quite big – in the 2 metre range. The wind seemed to have increased to 20 – 25 ish. The boat was still handling well with one reef in. The traveler was lowered to ease the main and keep us more or less upright. The waves were coming in on our starboard quarter, rolling the boat a bit, but not uncomfortably. I had a ****-eating grin on my face, fantasizing about the crossing the next day.
We tacked up and headed towards the Watchers so that we could get a good line straight down between Beckwith and Hope.
The waves were building to 2 ½ - 3 metres. The wind was gusting a bit between 15 and 25ish. The boat was taking the waves on the bow. Every third or fourth wave rolling up the deck and giving us a shower as the bow ploughed into the surf. Flume sprayed off the tops of a few of the breaking waves. This was what it’s all about!
A boat crossed in from the West, under jib alone. They were making good headway. I recognized them as being from my marina and we waved as we passed.
A couple of weeks ago my dinghy gave up the ghost. All of the seams gave out at once. I rolled her up and gave her an ignominious burial in the bin. I replaced her with a nice little beauty that I specifically liked for its lightness (Highfield Ultralite 260
). It was this very lightness that led to the disaster that was about to unfold.
I had the new dinghy on a line that included a thick rubber snubber. The line was attached to the dinghy with a bronze clip. (The same set up that I used on my older, heavier dinghy).
Now here is where the ‘little voice’ part comes in: As I was preparing for the trip I had given serious consideration to attaching the dinghy to my pushpit stanchions via two, perfectly-located attachment points on the dinghy’s transom. This would reduce the drag of the dinghy substantially. I didn’t listen to that voice thinking that I would make the change once I arrived at Hope Island, before crossing the Bay. I had been across this stretch of water many times (4 times in the last week alone) with the dinghy towed behind.
Okay, so, heading into big waves, strong wind, light dinghy in tow.
I didn’t see it happen, but I assume that the dinghy got to the top of a wave and the wind caught it under the pontoon and flipped it. However it happened, I looked back to see the dinghy inverted and all of the stuff that had been in it, now, floating around it.
No sooner had I seen this than we heard a loud ‘bang’ and the line attaching the dinghy to the boat coiled back towards my stern, unencumbered by my new dinghy. On later inspection I saw that the clip had sheered in a neat cut and the heavy rubber snubber had been split in half.
Now we are heading into the weather, away from my brand new dinghy. I told Hardy to heave to, so that we could assess the situation and plan the recovery. As we hove to my main sail separated, neatly along some stitching, from luff to leach. I used some nautical language as I clambered up to reef the main to the second reef point, which was above the tear.
After wrestling with the sail, we got the boat re-rigged and started our rescue operations. Hardy on the wheel and me perched on the swim platform with, what I will refer to as ‘that *******, piece of **** boat hook’ (FPOSBH) in one hand, my other hand white-knuckled around a stanchion.
We got along side the dinghy and I tried to hook it with the FPOSBH. I was able to snag the motor mount and handle of the FPOSBH slid off the end of the pole, adding to the flotsam that now surrounded the overturned dinghy.
Now I was armed with a very small landing net that I optimistically carry aboard.
As we approached the dinghy I saw that the seat had come loose and was floating separately from the tender. We agreed that we would try for the seat first, as the dinghy was quite visible.
We made a pass and I was able to get the net around the end of the seat, but the sea wasn’t ready to give her up. The seat rolled out of the net and drifted mockingly out of reach.
We came to the conclusion that we should drop the sails and continue our recovery mission under power. So this is what we did.
Now we had the ability to back onto our target. This seemed like a good idea. I held on tight as the waves broke over me, thanking my wife for giving me that hydrostatic PFD.
Now, here’s where I’m glad I didn’t listen to that ‘voice’. As we were getting so close to the seat, I was very tempted to put on a life jacket, tether myself off, and jump in for the seat. I’m pretty sure I could have done it, but there were way too many things that could have gone wrong. As it was I stayed aboard Sea Dragon.
We got close to retrieving the seat a few times, but after about an hour or so, we realized that our efforts would be better reserved for the dinghy itself. I had noticed that the seat appeared to be cracked anyway. I suspect we might have run over it.
We headed down with the waves, trying to see the overturned dinghy. A white inflatable amongst rolling white caps. It wasn’t long, however, before we saw the boat and headed for it. By the time we caught up with it we were at the south end of Giant’s Tomb Island. Had we been much longer the dinghy would have washed up at Methodist Beach.
Being experienced in maneuvering my boat in these conditions by now, Hardy soon had us back toward the dinghy. I was able to grab the handle on the third or fourth pass. I clipped a new line on and between Hardy and I we were able to flip the dinghy – none the worse for wear, other than minus its seat – but she was much cleaner!
“Now what?” asked Hardy.
“I’m going home!” I said in my sodden clothes.