It must have been sometime over the Christmas holidays, and I must have had a couple of drinks and was feeling genial, that, for whatever reason, I made the fateful pronouncement: 'You've gotta come out sailing with me sometime. We'll do an overnighter. Bring Bobby (not his real name). It'll be fun!'
This spoken to my sister-in-law's boyfriend and 'Bobby' being my nine-year-old nephew.
Thus I had broken one of my cardinal rules: There shalt be no children aboard my vessel!
This past weekend, being a man of my word, Ian (not his real name) and 'Bobby', came out for the much anticipated (according to ‘Bobby's’ mother) weekend away on the boat with Uncle Dave (my real name).
They were to have arrived at my house on Friday evening in time to head to boat. The plan was that we would spend Friday night at the marina and get a good early start on Saturday morning. This was supposed to have been my safety check. I figured if the kid couldn't sleep on the boat, whined too much or, as was inevitable, backed up my marine head, at least we would be ashore and I could deal with any issue more easily.
As it happened they arrived two hours late. Now, to be fair this wasn't entirely 'Ian's' fault. My wife's sister insisted on coming along (even though my wife had prior, work-related plans for the weekend). She couldn't get off work until late and they were stuck in the busy Friday traffic.
Had we gone to boat after they arrived on Friday night we would have got there at exactly the time when the mosquitoes are peaking. Not how I wanted the adventure to start! We decided to venture off first thing Saturday morning. This was not how 'Bobby' envisioned the adventure starting either. And so the whining began!
Saturday morning arrived, the forecast was good. Everyone got up on time and we loaded the car and headed to the marina.
We actually got underway at about the time we would have had we spent the night in the slip. It was early. We were the first out of the marina. The wind was light but we were able to make 3kts. My original plan was to head over to a group of islands that are about 25 miles away. I modified that idea and we headed for a nice anchorage that is only 10 miles from the marina. If there was no anchorage there we could revert to plan ‘A’ as the revised anchorage is more-or-less on the way.
I immediately put ‘Bobby’ on the helm and explained to him what he should be doing. He did a pretty good job. Unfortunately the already light wind became even lighter and started to swirl a bit around the shoreline. Once our SMG hovered around 1.5 – 1.9 and we were getting passed by other boats leaving their marinas, I decided to fire up the kicker and give in to the dark side. All of the boats passing us were stinkpots or motoring sailing vessels. If we didn’t get a move on we would not find a decent anchorage.
So sails were doused and the good ship Northern Lights cut through the glassy surf at a break-neck 5.2 knts. ‘Bobby’ was at the helm, in total control of the magnificent vessel.
Rather than relishing in the power, and thrilling to the wind tussling his locks, the first hints of being less-than-thrilled began to become evident in young ‘Bobby’s’ demeanour.
It was at this time that his mantra of ‘I wanna go fishing, can I go fishing now!’ was voiced for the first time.
We arrived at Lost Bay (I mean, c’mon, the name alone evokes ‘adventure’) and found that there was still room to squeeze in. We anchored and had a quick lunch. Shortly after our arrival a couple of Parks Canada boats arrived. They tied up to shore and the park rangers started looking through the bush. It turns out that a bear had got into a camp on the other side of the island and the camp was closed. The rangers were checking to see if there was any sign of the bear on our side of the island. They found no sign, but still: a bear! How exciting is that?
After lunch ‘Ian’ helped ‘Bobby’ assemble his new fishing rig and ‘Bobby’ began casting in his line, seeming to catch a different part of rigging or ‘Ian’s’ anatomy with each cast.
I suggested that they take the tender or go ashore and fish from there. This they did and I settled down with my book for a relaxing afternoon of reading (in my boat parlance the word ‘reading’ means ‘to lie down in a comfortable spot with eyes closed, mouth ajar and a book lying open on one’s chest.’). I was lulled by the gentle rocking of the deck, the lapping of the soft ripples as they caressed the hull and the constant nine-year-old whine of ‘Let me! I can do it! Dad, the line’s tangled again!’ that drifted over the peaceful bay.
After about 10 minutes my solitude was invaded as the intrepid fishermen returned with the proclamation that the fishing rod was a piece of crap. The line was tangled around the spool in a way that I did not believe was possible. ‘Ian’ borrowed some scissors, and with Alexandrian tenacity cut away at the Gordian knot dropping little one-inch segments of monofilament all over my cockpit sole.
The reel was re-assembled and young ‘Bobby’ set off to hook the big one yet again.
Moments later the reel was jammed again and ‘Ian’ pronounced that it was beyond repair and that it was the reason for the entanglement.
I knew what was coming next: ‘Uncle Dave, can I use your fishing rod?’ Now I’m not really big into fishing. Maybe once a year or so I’ll throw in a line just for something to do. The rod I keep on the boat is an old telescoping one that is a hold over from my back-country canoeing days. It would probably get laughed at by any real fisherman, but it is mine and I’m protective of my stuff. However, being the good ‘Uncle’ that I am, I hauled out my fishing tackle and set the rod up for ‘Bobby’s’ use.
Within 5-minutes (honestly: 5-minutes!) ‘Bobby’ had managed to create a rat’s nest around my spool. I came to the conclusion that the equipment wasn’t the problem.
We cut off the tangled line, wasting yards of 30-year old line (but still! You know?) and re-rigged the rod. I spent a few minutes with ‘Bobby’, showing him how to cast, and handed him back the tackle. His first couple of attempts were a little shaky, but after a while you could see the improvement. He didn’t tangle his spool again!
The rest of the afternoon was spent swimming, kayaking, fishing, toodling around in the dinghy, ‘reading’ etc. ‘Bobby’ spent most of his time fishing, but he was able to take out the kayak. He wouldn’t swim though: too many weeds in the water.
After dinner we fired up the dinghy and took ‘Bobby’ out trawling.
Once the mosquitoes made their appearance we sealed up the boat and didn’t even pretend to stay awake. ‘Bobby’ was asleep in moments, ‘Ian’ shortly after. I enjoyed the quiet and really read, checking the anchor, before turning in for the night.
A quick word about ‘Ian’. ‘Ian’ is a nice guy and really seems to care for and look after ‘Bobby’ well. Although ‘Ian’ is not his real name it is the real name of ‘Bobby’s’ biological father, my sister-in-law’s ex. I never liked Ian (the real Ian not ‘Ian’) and never spent any time with him. But for some reason I kept calling ‘Ian’ Ian. It just slipped out. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk or anything. He didn’t seem to react at all, but I’m sure he must have thought I was an ass.
Anyway, next morning: fish, kayak (including trying to stand up on it and paddle like those stand up paddle boards) and finally weigh the anchor and head back home.
The wind started out very tame. We tried to sail but weren’t getting anywhere. I decided to motor sail as the MAFOR predicted 11 – 16 kt winds in the morning. After a short time we seemed to be picking up a bit of wind, so I hauled out the jib and killed the engine. Almost immediately the wind picked up. We set a course on a close reach and bounded through the wakes left by the stinkpots and the waves being whipped up by the gusts.
I kept the sails in tight which gave us a nice heel of 15 degrees. We were booking it at 5.8 kts. Spray flew across our bows. Motorboat passengers looked on in envy at our sheer exhilaration as their spines were crushed by the pounding hulls of their offensive craft.
The occasional gust knocked us over, but I eased the main sheet and Northern Lights found her feet and leapt from crest to crest, her shrouds singing to the rhythm of the tattoo being drummed on the hull.
I spared a glance to young ‘Bobby’, expecting to find a wide-eyed lad, white knuckled and grinning. Captain Blood and Jack Sparrow be damned – we were the marauders of Georgian Bay! What I saw instead was the boy curled up in a corner on the leeward seat, his glassy eyes staring intently at his thumbs which twitched in phantom response to the none existent game controller to which they were normally attached. He looked on the edge of catatonia.
‘Hey, Bobby, are you okay?’ I asked, worriedly.
His response was lost in the howl of the hurricane and the crash of the surf.
‘Bobby! Bobby, are you alright?’, again I asked. I feared that terror had gripped his heart. I prepared to heave to in the roaring gale. I knew I had to succour my stricken shipmate.
‘Bobby, answer me! Are you okay?’
His baleful eyes looked up into mine. His whispy voice cut through the cacophony of the storm and I heard that which I never thought to hear:
And the wind went out of my sails….
1989 Hunter 30'
Southern Georgian Bay
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. - Jacques Yves Cousteau