Septuagenarians at Sea: #2

Rick at tiller '12(I’m categorizing this post as humour but don’t get your hopes up.)

So I set off late to meet Blake and go sailing, but since Blake is unlikely to care about punctuality, I’m not worried. What I am apparently is absentminded. I sit at the “punishment” light at the bottom of my street, daydreaming. Four minutes later I wheel left and then right up the ramp to the Gardiner Expressway. No traffic. Great! Soon I am flying by the last exit to the Lakeshore which runs parallel and, oddly enough, along the lake shore. The Gardiner is about to achieve elevation. I realize I should have taken that exit. That last exit! I realize I should, in fact, have turned right at the punishment light and taken Lakeshore Blvd. I am on the wrong road altogether!

Okay, now I’m worried. Surely if I take the Spadina exit, I can turn right, go south and double back on the Lakeshore. I sail down the exit. Absolutely no right turn. Because the Lakeshore eastbound lanes are where the turn should be.The westbound lanes are no where to be seen.  Darn.

I turn left, avoid the first left turn as unpromising, carry on up over the railway tracks and slide into the left turn lane for Front St. Oh good, we have an advanced green. Not so good, we have a driver who is waiting for something better. That’s what my horn is for, tinny though it is. At Bathurst, I catch another punishment light. An orange and green taxi and my red Yaris, wait and wait and wait. Then we are released to turn left and re-cross the railway tracks. Left or right? Left or right, Joyce? Make up your mind. Okay I pick right.

Alas. While it is the right direction- I can see the Tip Top Tailor sign on the top of  a building, I can’t get there- I am on Fleet St, which parallels Lakeshore W, but never the twain shall meet. I have to keep driving west, on the other side of the dedicated streetcar line, well-protected by concrete barriers. I steam on in the direction of the Exhibition, our seasonal adventure in frivolity. Okay finally, an available left hand turn onto Strachan. With an advanced green and a mere 7 cars waiting. The light changes. We’ve got it. Guys! Guys! I am 7 cars back but the only one willing to tell those stupid tourists at the front how to turn on an advanced green.

Since there is a T intersection at the Lakeshore, I make the left turn easily for once. And at last I am back where I should have been 20 minutes ago.

Blake is sitting in the club dining room, over the remains of his late (very late) breakfast, unperturbed, and he orders me a glass of pinot noir to calm me down.

By the time we collect his little dog and take the water taxi out to where Sirroco is moored it is mid-afternoon. Not that it matters. Sailing proceeds on slow time. The bugs have to be swept up. Well, some of them, anyway. The mainsail cover has to be removed and shaken. We have to decide which genoa to use. The wind isn’t quite as gentle as Blake led me to believe, so I vote for the #2. Astonishingly, he agrees. As usual, the main gets caught as he pulls it up.

Rick rigging sailHe starts the motor and hands me the tiller.

Excuse me. Hasn’t there been some mistake? Apparently not for he is off up onto the bow to pull up the gennie. “Just aim for that buoy,” he calls back. “It doesn’t really matter but it makes a good reference point.”

There are two things about steering a sailboat with a tiller. It’s like driving from the back seat of a car and once the sails are up, visibility gets worse. Then there is the fact that if you want to go starboard (right to you landlubbers) you push the tiller left and vice versa. Oh my goodness! There is a motor launch bearing down on us portside and downwind a smaller sailboat. The southwest wind has freshened and there is a nasty little chop. Panic! Panic! Then suddenly, my almost 40 year-old body-memory takes over and I discover, not only that I can steer, but I know who to avoid and who has to avoid us. Once the sails are up, I find it easy to keep them full by nudging the tiller gently. It’s like playing a huge kite high in the air. I am part of the boat.

We sail west to Humber Bay and come about. By now the dog has given up her post as a living figurehead jutting out from the prow and has come back to the cockpit. She is wearing a dog life jacket with a convenient carrying handle on her back. A long line is attached to it. She has on occasion fallen or jumped in, swum about and been pulled back aboard. Never at speed. I once learned a physics lesson while trying to fill a pail with water at 6 knots. I bore the stigmata on my palms for some time.

“Do you want to sail around the island?” Blake asks.

‘Twas ever thus. It sounds like such a good idea.

“Will you get too tired?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” I reply. I seem to have spent my life agreeing to such good ideas. And living to see it was not wise. I imagine that I will be very very tired if we sail around the island, but it is such a good idea. So we do. In my defense, I can only say that we skip jumping off for a swim.

Now that we are going downwind, we seem to be standing still. Only the trees move in relation to the CN Tower. Perspective seems distorted. The people walking on the island seem like ants, but I know we are not that far away. Kayakers and paddlers on boards, miniscule. The freighter at the wharf, not so much. Like Alice in Wonderland, I resort to nibbling – on a cheese tray and handing large chunks to skipper Blake on the knife blade. We forgot the crackers.

The dog has been sitting on me so long that both of us need to stretch. A good time to come about again. But the southwest wind isn’t as strong as it was. Perhaps it is evening coming on or the city moderating its influence.

city from boatBlake decides to put the motor on and take down the sails, handing me the tiller just as we are about to pass in front of the ferry dock. Which is fully loaded, two car ferries straining at the bit. While it is true that we have the right of way over large motorized vessels, it is not a point I want to press. But, hey, I take my ease. I make my own decisions and they turn out to be the right ones. I do draw the line at getting the boat through the gap and hooking the mooring line up over the cleat.

It has been only 5 hours, but 5 hours of the most beautiful water and sky. Five hours of peace that passes understanding. It feels as if I have had a week’s holiday.

And it will only be 2 days before this septuagenarian body gets rested.

Sirroco, taken on a previous voyage

Sirroco, taken on a previous voyage


Septuagenarians at Sea

Here continueth the adventures of the septuagenarians who were previously on the road.

The sail past on Sat. June 2nd didn’t happen. The lake was too rough for all those sail boats to bob around in close formation. Instead I got a lesson in where and when I was permitted to wear a hat. (See “Dress Code” June 6th post)

But this Saturday, June 30th, Lake Ontario is calm and the sky is bright blue as we wait for Blake, who buzzed away on the water taxi, to bring the 29 ft. Sirocco in from its mooring. And wait and wait and wait. Sailor’s time. How could I forget? Everything slows down once you put yourself at the mercy of “canvas” and wind and people like Blake who just naturally move at that speed.

There are four of us waiting, all of us female. The other three amuse themselves by raiding the snack bag. I sit on a curb in the shade, listening to the marimba-like clang of halliards on masts.

Eventually, Sirocco putts up on its engine. Blake throws us the blue lines and we walk the boat up to the wall and tie it. But wait, it’s not that simple. Blake has promised to teach the youngest of us, a fifteen-year old, how to sail and instruction begins with knotting the line around the bollard.

“You can’t tie up here, not on Regatta Day,” a moustached gentleman in regulation white declares.

Blake greets him merrily and continues loading the many bags of snacks, lunch, ice and beverages.

“He’s kidding,” I tell the other women.

Well, he is and he isn’t. That’s the rule, but the regatta boats are all out on the water racing. And this is Blake’s old friend who is wearing a devilish grin as he does his official duty.

So here I am back on Sirocco, which was once mine, well, half mine, for four glorious sailing seasons. I’m sure a forensic expert could still find evidence of that. Certainly any decently good clairvoyant would find my psyche print all over it.

A thunderstorm was raging overhead when our 14 year-old son called up from the cabin, “What does it mean when the mast glows.” “It means don’t touch it,” I screamed back.

Here is the safety line, he had fallen backward over in a raging sea and I had grasped him by his wrists and held on until a wave tilted the boat and threw him back.

Here is the tiller that my 15 year-old daughter had gripped as she drove the opposing boat up and up until it lost the wind. “That little guy has sure got nerve,” we heard some one on it mutter.

Down in the fore cabin, I find the personal flotation devices and lace one on over my windbreaker.

How can you tell I am one of the septuagenarians? So is Blake, but he can still swim the way he always did. Lake Ontario is dark and deep and cold and I never could swim well.

So we putter on the motor out of the basin through the breakwater, Blake’s stepdaughter on the tiller while he reefs the main up the mast, all the while instructing his aspiring sailor. It is the first time, the main has been up this season so there are kinks that have to be worked out.

I zone out, recalling soft evening sails through dove grey water, moire-patterned, lying on my back on the bow reading, running before the wind with the rainbow spinnaker bowing out ahead.

Once the engine is off, we do sail before the wind with just the mainsail into the bay, where a tight circle of dingy sailors is racing and where the ferries and tour boats and speedboats are supposed to give way to us. Blake is busy updating his stepdaughter as to which sailboat has the right of way. I don’t have a task to perform, unless sitting and staring can be considered one. On our port, there is the city, on the starboard the islands, one green and natural, the other an airport from which largish planes and helicopters are landing and taking off. You have a wide variety of vistas. Choose your pick.

By the time we get to the end of the harbour, the wind seems to have died down, so we break out lunch. Blake takes the tiller, saying he will eat later. Lunch is leisurely.

Then it seems as though more sail is required. I hear Blake and his student down in the fore cabin debating which jib to choose. A few minutes later they have pulled up the  genoa.

“Couldn’t you find anything bigger?” I crack.

Then the wind hits. It hits with all the vehemence of a line squall. Suddenly, we are moving, the big sail is catching the wind and billowing out over the water, the boat gains speed and begins to heel. It goes on heeling and heeling. Those of us sitting on the starboard scramble up to the other side, hanging on hard. Those on the bow shriek as water comes in over them. The rail is almost underwater.

Blake is of course laughing delightedly, but even he remarks that he might have too much sail up. He starts to take the genoa in. It luffs and flaps as he lets it off, just a fraction too late for the boat is no longer moving forward. We are aground.

Soft aground. That’s as opposed to hard aground. I have been hard aground in Sirocco. It hit a rock in the St. Lawrence and came to a thunderous, terrifyingly sudden stop that seemed likely to be fatal. This was more like a scuff up onto a sandbar, but no less fixed.

Blake takes the tiller, does NOT vent the fumes from the bilge and turns on the engine. Once it catches, he begins to rock the gears. No movement. He isn’t worried. I can see that – just full of adrenalin. I’m worried. I can barely make myself stand up and go with the others to stand on the narrow edge of the deck around the cabin, our weight leaning out over the water. It is not easy to stand on a narrow ledge of a pitching boat and lean over the water. This is not necessarily a function of being a septuagenerian. I found it was equally true when I was 39. Eventually, Blake says, “We’re off”. Not that I would have known.

I descend to the cabin to get him a beer.

Meanwhile a siren sounds and a police boat races by. It passes the upturned catamaran with its wing well under water and makes for a sailboat slightly smaller than Sirocco. And there is another police boat advantageously placed to observe beer drinking skippers. It is suddenly clear that apart from these five boats, no one else is on the water. Even the ferries are docked. Now I don’t want to read too much into this and I’m sure the ferry captains are not afraid of a little wind, just saying.

“That’s what happens when you’re sailing, ” Blake explains. “One minute there’s no wind and the next, there’s a gale.”

We sail back on just the main, the 15 year-old on the tiller with Blake giving patient, generous instruction.

Yes, he made a great sailing father, but, I swear, he has a deep need for adventure that calls these things up, if he does not actually cause them.

Thank you, Poseidan, I have survived another sail with Blake.