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   2010 North Channel Cruise - Part Three

By Mac MacDevitt - Essex, NY - USA

To Part One

To Part Two

August 4-9 - Windrider 17 Tri - ONWARD

“It has been real. It has been fun. But it hasn’t been real fun yet.” - Rick

DAY THREE: The wind continued to blow hard from the west. David got busy spreading gear out to dry while Rick focused on getting his motor resuscitated. We all got to know the Gaffney family better. Brian and his wife Heather and young daughters Erin and Sophie. Brian provided Rick with some clean gas, we visited the lighthouse a number of times, and got to go up in the tower and watch the sunset at the end of the day. Brian was one of six brothers. His dad had secured the lease for the lighthouse in the 70’s. The Gaffney families each took a week at the lighthouse in the summer and his dad had created a distinct family culture in the wild setting on the island. The family used kerosene lamps and propane refrigeration and had no running water and no electricity.

Onward tucked in next to the collapsed boat house.

Working with Rick on his engine, I got a better sense of his style of operating and how different it is from my own. I began to see Rick as an experimenter, a test pilot and a consummate mechanic. He had to take the carburetor off the engine a number of times, and I thought he might pull his arm out of his socket from yanking on the starter cord. Finally, even with the sketchy gas, he got the motor running. He said it well: “I don’t quit.” And then, as the day was getting late, he used one of my inflatable rollers, got his bow up in the air, and, lying in the shallow water in the swamp grass, patched the screw hole in the hull that had been leaking. Rick’s style is “just do it”, and his favorite phrases are, “Not a problem”, and “It’s a piece of cake.”

Rick fixing the slow leak in his hull.

I think of myself as an adventurer, but in contrast to Rick I am really much more conservative. I like to make a plan and have a backup plan or two. I like to talk options and weigh alternatives. And even though I just might go my own way, I like to hear lots of advice from others. I always was asking, “What’s the plan?” and “Can we talk about this?” I’m always wondering about what the unintended consequences of any decision might be. I think all this is my way of creating a sense of adventure by thinking about what might go wrong, but I also like the process of discussing and planning and trying to reach consensus with a group of guys, even though at times that can be quite maddening.

Mac trying to plan the next step (pic by David).

Our small cove was sheltered and beautiful, with an old collapsed boat house and shallow water that made it easy to work on the boats. The island is almost all nature conservancy land, with open fields, and is drop dead beautiful. Joe and I both took naps. David cooked up the best meal of the trip – kielbasa, onions and potatoes. And we all swapped disaster and near disaster stories. The wind dropped (finally) just after dark.

Drying out.

Of course, I did lots of thinking about the real possibility of swamping (or getting pooped) in big waves. I want to be able to sail successfully in challenging conditions. The WR 17 can be pretty tightly buttoned up. Joe and I have full spray skirts for the rear cockpit and he travels with his hard cover and I have a soft cover for my front cockpit. We both agreed that the front windshield was essential and kept the waves coming over the bow from getting into the boat. The real PFD’s on the WR are our training wheels, the amas. It was clear from Rick’s experience that the boat won’t sink as long as the amas don’t fill. I remember Jim Brown once suggesting that the amas of his Searunners should be filled with empty plastic milk jugs. I have been carrying my hand bilge pump in an ama, and I am definitely going to move it to the main hull. If the boat is full of water in big waves the last thing I want to do is open the hatch in the ama and go fishing for the pump. And I am going to add a good hand bailer as well.

And what about flotation? I wanted more storage space under the floor in the main hull, but have been unwilling to jettison the three shaped foam blocks – each one about 8 inches thick - that support the 2007 WR hard floor. I do have two hatches to access the limited space between the blocks. Of course, underway flotation inside the hull has no effect on freeboard, but if the main hull does fill with water, the flotation will limit the amount of water inside the boat, and if the waves are not too big, should provide enough freeboard to allow me to pump the water out. I’m thinking about adding additional flotation to any unused spaces under the floorboards.

And what about weight? We do have a lot of volume in and on top of our WR’s that we can fill with stuff for beach cruising, but what are the trade-offs as we add weight, decrease freeboard and maybe get bow or stern heavy? For racing, Joe, the sly old fox, carries four gallons of water under his floor forward on a pulley system that he can move forward and aft to adjust his trim. Every time I add one more “essential” piece of gear to my boat, I do add weight. I try to use backpacking camping gear if possible. And yet my boat rides 1-2 inches lower in the water than Joe’s. Am I guilty of gear gluttony, or is my 2007 with its increased beam and heavier floor to blame – or maybe both?

Off to the La Cloche Channel.

And finally what about securing and protecting gear? When Rick’s boat filled with water, gear began to float around – some headed out of the boat. David’s cell phone and camera were waterlogged. David said that the floating floorboards were a real nuisance. So in the event of swamping, ease of movement on and in the boat, being able to find essential gear, and keeping stuff from floating away, all become important.

DAY FOUR: We started out under blue skies with a light breeze from the west that became moderate as the day progressed. Rick had a special adventure planned for the day. Most of the people we talked to didn’t even know our plan was possible in a sailboat. We were heading west and then north around Little La Cloche Island, up the Boat Passage, past Dreamer’s Rock into a small bay just south of the causeway that connects Manitoulin Island to the mainland. Rick’s idea was to drop our masts on the water. I had never done that before. “Piece of cake”, said Rick, and he was right. And then motor through a set of cement box culverts under the highway and an abandoned rail line and into the La Cloche Channel. This would let us into the northeastern quarter of the North Channel – the Bay of Islands - through the back door, an area considered a dead end by most cruising sailors. We passed through the culverts – another “piece of cake” as promised – and under the power lines. We raised our masts in a shallow cove (David joined me on Onward) and we were off with the wind on our beam.

Another “piece of cake” (pic by David).

We looked into Jumbo Bay for a camping spot, but continued north. We rounded the northeast corner of Great La Cloche Island and entered the magical Bay of Islands, a riot of small islands with underlying rounded rocks, jumbles of boulders and sparse vegetation. Rick found us a cove with 360 degree protection and a small spot for a tent. At 4 AM there was a rumble of thunder, and just as Joe said, “I think the storm is passing us by”, the skies opened up with a deluge. It was the first real test for my on-board MSR Mutha Hubba tent, and felt a smug satisfaction as I stayed dry as a bone. Rick and David were using cots that kept them a few inches off the ground, a great choice for camping ashore in this knobby terrain.

Tucked in a cove in the Bay of Islands (pic by David).

DAY FIVE: The rain continued all morning. As the skies began to clear, we headed west in a light south wind. We were more than 35 miles due east of Spanish, and Joe needed to be on the road by the end of the next day. Rick had to squirt gas in his carb to get his 2 stroke Johnson fired up, but it would mostly keep running when it got warmed up. Bruce Matlack swears that 2 strokes are the way to go – after spending too many hours swearing at his old 4 stroke Honda. He claims that 2 strokes are much less finicky, will run on bad gas, and overall are more reliable. But I love my little air cooled Honda. My mechanic reminds me that gas today has “the shelf life of a loaf of bread”. The only time my engine has let me down was when I put old gas in it on the OBX 130. I had to take off the carb and clean out the jet, and borrow good gas to get it running again. Before this trip I replaced the carb and carry the old one as a spare. After every trip, I pump out the gas from the outboard tank and put it in my car.

We sailed in light and dying winds. We found a great camping spot in the cove between Kirkpatrick and Perley Islands. Joe and I sailed in from the north. Rick had been out scouting to the south of the islands and we were able to pull his boat thru the cove’s south entrance thru 8 inches of water over the mud clay bottom thanks to his shallow draft. The mud in the cove had a laugh on me when I threw out my stern anchor in the shallow water. I gave a mighty heave. The mud held my feet like glue and I followed the anchor face first into the water. I had to struggle to regain my feet and splash back to the boat. It was a beautiful still night. Joe unloaded one of his MRE’s on me, my first. We lay on the rocks and talked and watched the stars.

Onward tucked in between the two islands (pic by Joe).

DAY SIX: Joe and I didn’t have enough gas between us to make it all the way back to Spanish, about 20 miles to the west. We agreed that as soon as the fog lifted in the morning and the wind filled in, we would all shove off. We got a great light breeze from the west and by 9 AM we were underway. By the time the breeze died we were close enough to Little Detroit, the gateway to the Spanish River, to fire up our engines. The sun was hot and I was able to use my tiller steering to lie out my starboard tramp in the shade of the main and stay on course. My only concern was that I just might fall asleep.

The view from the campsite (pic by David)

I could have stayed out another 2 days, but the prediction was for light winds and my belly was full of adventure. The take out at the launch ramp went well. And the hot shower at the marina was divine. I was finally able to check in with Darla after being out of contact for 10 days. Joe took us all out to dinner at the local diner, we took a group photo, and Joe and I hit the road in different directions. Rick and David planned to head out for another adventure.

Joe, Rick, David and Mac

So how did we do sailing “in company”? Coordinating plans, sailing together, trying to meld different styles all have their advantages and disadvantages. Any one of us could have sailed alone and had a great adventure, I am sure. But it was great to sail together, to use each other to reality check, to compare notes, and, when the chips were down, to provide mutual aid. Joe needed Rick’s supplies to repair his bilge pump. Rick benefited from my towing and then some of my gear to get going again. I never would have attempted the secret pass under the box culverts without Rick’s encouragement. And hey, we built a special camaraderie on our adventure together. We share some memories that are unique to us as a team, memories that are woven together with our love for these amazing boats.

I am already making plans to come back next summer. We hadn’t even begun to explore the heart of the North Channel islands, including the Benjamins, the crown jewels. We had chosen to sail in the main channel with big winds and waves, but we could have easily stayed to the north half of the channel in more protected water. We had covered a lot of ground – maybe 100 miles in five days of sailing. Next time I want explore more, scoot around and discover the protected coves and the beaches where the big boats fear to tread. I had my first date with the North Channel. She was tempestuous and beautiful and knew how to kick up her heels. I now wanted to snuggle up with her on the couch and get her to reveal some of her secrets. And also we can go out and dance and have a wild time when the spirits move us.

“I have sailed throughout the west coast of Florida.
I’ve sailed throughout the Virgin Islands.
A good part of most of the Great Lakes. North Carolina and the Outer Banks. Coast of California. Coast of Alaska.
And I’ve never see anything as beautiful as this.
Absolutely fantastic. Great sailing.” - Joe

The End


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