Welcome, all!

Welcome to our blog.   Please bear with us – it’s our first attempt at a blog.   Why do this?   Well, first off, for family and friends who have somewhat of a vested interest in what we are up to, it’s a convenient way to communicate happenings – well, as they happen.

Secondly, we hope to be able to share things that we have learned in our transition from a land-based life to living afloat – in a northern climate no less.

Thirdly, for the boaters out there, we want to share details of the modifications, additions, and changes made to our boat to accommodate our desired mission.   Maybe by sharing the “why’s and wherefore’s” of our decisions and their implementation, we can in some way help others.

There is a fourth, more self-serving reason for the blog:  to improve my writing, and develop a writing “habit”.    My daughter, who is a successful journalist and who has kept a detailed diary since a young age, has shown me that writing regularly is the best path to improved wordsmithing.  I hope that sooner or later  I can live up to her standard!


Another boat – and a cruising lifestyle?

June 26, 2017

In the Cetacea period, our kids were growing up, and by now we also had pets.  Our half-arctic wolf/half-Siberian Husky dog named Tawna, and a rescue cat named Pauwels joined the family – and therefore the crew.

Clearly, Cetacea would no longer function as the family’s sailboat, and with two-foot-itis striking again, the search began in earnest for another boat.   We would be looking to move into the 30 foot range this time.

At some point in the mid 90’s I decided to change jobs. Actually, my employer at that time sold several of his other business and decided that that he no longer needed me to run it for him. Suddenly and unexpectedly unemployed with a stay-at-home wife and two pre-school children, my initial reaction was one of panic. This was followed by a glowing sense of opportunity. A few weeks earlier while on vacation in Florida we had gone on a day cruise with a captain who owned a Westsail 32. We had hit it off rather well, and had exchanged contact information.

I mustered up the courage to present my wife what was on my mind: was this the opportunity to ditch the 9 to 5 world and go cruising full-time while our kids were still young? The more we thought about it, the more intrigued we became… for a young family (I was 35 at the time) we were relatively well-off. We owned our house outright and we each had retirement savings accounts and virtually no debt. We called our captain friend in Florida looking for more information. In retrospect, we were afraid, and I think what we were looking for was courage to make the decision. In the end, we chickened out. To this day, we talk about this moment in our lives and regret not taking the plunge. I am reminded of a line from the movie “Field of Dreams” when Burt Lancaster’s character tells Kinsella, “We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening. Back then I thought, “Well, there’ll be other days.” I didn’t realize that that was the only day…” So true.

I quickly found another job in my field and while the cruising dream was abandoned, the sailing dream was not. And so the search resumed for a nice family cruiser that we could use on LOTW.

Gusto” seemed to meet all the criteria for ur next sailboat.   A 1974 Ranger 29, she had a roomy interior (everything’s relative!) and a real galley with an ice box.   The only downside was that her engine was an Atomic IV gas engine, and as a matter of principle, I don’t like  gasoline inboard engines on a boat due to the fire/explosion hazard.  I found  Gusto in Sailboat Trader and the price was within our budget target.   She was located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, but at this point I knew a thing or two about yacht transport and to get her to LOTW would not be a big deal.

We made an offer on Gusto and flew out to Michigan to see her in-person.  She was covered with a tarp, for it was mid-February in Holland, Michigan.   I was so enamored of her enormous size (she was a 29 footer, after all!) and had convinced myself that all my reading about sailboats somehow qualified me as a marine surveyor to the point that the strong odour of gasoline inside the boat didn’t faze me.  Perhaps the relatively low sell price induced me to pay no heed.   All this aside, the sale went through and we were the proud new owners of a Ranger 29.

What is even more peculiar in all this is the fact that at that very moment I was at the final stages of accepting a new job in Vermont and this should have raised questions about transporting the boat not to Winnipeg but rather to Burlington, VT.

Both “deals” went through and so in addition to owning a new boat we would soon be moving to Vermont, USA.

After finding a marina in which to dock and store Gusto in Burlington, and a place to live in St. Johnsbury, VT, I had time to contemplate actually using the boat (I moved to Vermont in advance of my wife and kids and so had plenty of time on my hands), and so, along with a work colleague, we drove to Burlington and endeavoured to sail  Gusto.   It was a glorious July weekend.

I bought a gas can and put 5 gallons of gas into the tank on the boat.   The first sign of trouble was the fact that engine would not start.   I was fairly competent with  gas engines and quickly determined that there was no spark at the plugs, and thought that the points and condensor were the likely culprits.  Off we went to a local auto parts store, and bought these parts, and for good measure I bought a new ignition coil.   With my poor friend watching expectantly, we replaced the ignition components and were overjoyed to hear the engine cough to life when the key was turned.  We were underway!  The first stop:  the fuel docks to fill up the 20 gallon fuel tank.

After this we took a little spin around the harbour, and it being late in the day by this point, we headed back to the dock to tie up.

That was the first and only time I went out in Gusto.

A few weeks later, I got a middle-of-the-night phone call from the marina owner. It’s never good when you get a phone call in the wee hours. I was informed that the gas tank in Gusto had a leak and the fuel was accumulating in the bilge. Someone had smelled the gas and contacted Jake in a panic. This was not only a huge fire hazard, it was an explosion hazard. The City of Bulrington Fire Dept. was called out and they pumped Gusto full of fire retardant foam. After this, the boat was quickly hauled out of the water and the offending gas tank emptied. For all this fuss, I was, according to Jake, presented with a bill for Lord knows how much.

I bought a new gas tank for Gusto and installed it. It was now mid-August and the boating season was passing us by. Carolyn and the kids would be moving to Vermont on August 21. Gusto was re-floated and so I drove out to Burlington to check her out. I started the engine and slipped the dock lines and shifted into reverse. I was immediately aware of a severe shuddering vibration. The vibration worsened as I increased engine RPM… shit, either the prop is damaged or the propeller shaft was bent. I immediately thought of the middle-of-the-night haul-out when the gas tank was leaking. In the panic of the moment, the travel lift sling must have been slung under the prop shaft.

We were far too busy moving in to the house that we had rented to worry about sailing. The repait to Gusto would have to wait.

Then Hurricane Floyd hit Vermont on Sept. 15.

And my phone rang again.

“This is Jake from the marina. I have good news and bad news”. He didn’t wait to know which I wanted first – and given that we were in a legal battle about the damage to my boat from the midnight haul-out and bend prop shaft, I don’t think Jake cared.

“Hurricane came through Lake Champlain and caused a lot of damage here. The good news is Gusto is still floating. The bad news is that the floating dock is on top of her.”

Eleven foot waves will do that, I guess.

That was the end of poor Gusto. The poor girl had a jinx on her, that is plain. She was later repaired and I sold her to a guy in Quebec. I wonder about her every now and then.

Meanwhile, I was boatless again.


Next: Yet another boat


The Journey Begins…

June 24, 2017:

My wife and and I are sailors.   Well, in truth, I am a sailor and my lovely wife tolerates my silly pastimes and hobbies.

I think my first time in a sailboat was on a friend’s Hobie 14 beach catamaran.   As I recall that one time out we got the mast stuck in the bottom of the small lake we were on in southern Manitoba.   I think the boat spent more time upside-down than right-way-up.

Somewhere along the way, someone I knew in my youth had a Laser II and I remember being out on that once.  We were flying!   I wanted so much to buy one, but they were very expensive.

Later, I spent a lot of time in the “SV Cabbage” at the cottage my wife’s folks had at Clearwater Bay on Lake of the Woods (LOTW) in NW Ontario.   Cabbage was a small pram-style fiberglass boat of unknown origin.   When I say small, I mean that at that point in my life I was far too – well, let’s say large – to be in a craft as small as Cabbage.    Cabbage might have been all of 8 feet long, but I think this was a stretch (sorry, I couldn’t resist that!).   It almost seemed necessary to step outside the boat in order to tack and it was very challenging to complete this manoeuver with any grace.   Neverthless, these issues did not deter me, and I spent many solo hours going back and forth across Clearwater Bay in little Cabbage in all manner of conditions, and I took great pride in making the little boat go where my will would take her, and back home, without capsizing or floundering.  Cabbage became like a dear friend to me.   I can still envision the letters of her name on the transom that someone had applied using hardware store, self-adhesive, gold and black letters, all of 3/4″ high.

I read everything I could about sailing theory and all things nautical and I became a fairly competent helmsman and novice sailor.

Later there would be a progression of ever-larger craft:  like all boaters, I succumbed to “two-foot-itis” and each boat became a stepping stone to something larger.

I can’t account for the hundreds and perhaps thousands of hours I have spent looking through classified ads and “Sailboat Trader” seeking a wonderful – yet affordable – sailboat over the years.   I think sailors are inherently dreamers as well.

From a newspaper ad in the Winnipeg Free Press I found and bought a 1973 San Juan 21 Mark I which we named “Caleigh”  after our daughter, who had just been born. At this point, along with a friend who was also an enthusiast sailor, I started entering sailboat races.   The second summer owning Caleigh we won our division in a week-long race on Lake of the Woods, Ontario, called LOWISA (LOTW International Sailing Association).

Caleigh had a small cabin that would accommodate two people in moderate discomfort.  She even had indoor plumbing – a porta-potty!   Her cockpit was huge, and  although uncovered, was great place to be on a warm summer day.   For cooking we used a naptha gas camp stove and a little Hibachi BBQ, both of which had to be set up in the cockpit.

There was another catalyst for the acquisition of a larger boat – although I was happy enough sailing by myself, my heart longed to inflict my nautical hobby on my wife –  I mean I wanted to share the joy of sailing with her.   So  while on vacation in St. Pete’s Beach in Florida, I came across a Captiva 240 which was THREE feet bigger than Caleigh.  She didn’t have more by way of equipment or comforts than the Caleigh but she seemed huge to me.  And the best part was the price – $1850, which was the amount owing on the slip fees at the marina in Tierra Verde, for she had been abandoned and the marina had just taken legal position of her.  After much cajoling and whining to my long-suffering wife, and borrowing the funds to buy her from my mother (who was always supportive regardless of how impractical some of my ideas were) we owned another sailboat.  It cost more to ship her up to Canada than it did to buy her.

Like the Caleigh, Cetacea was a shoal-draft boat with a center-board.   However, Cetacea’s centerboard was not in a trunk inside the cabin.  Rather, it deployed from a shallow, but lengthy, weighted keel, and this opened up a “huge” amount of room in the cabin.

At this point we were the parents of two children, my son having recently been born,  and we undertook many weekend adventures on Cetacea as a family on Lake of the Woods.   I have very fond memories of those voyages.  It was a great way to connect with nature and each other.

To this day, it is probably true to say that my daughter is ambivalent about sailing, although she was always impressed that she had a boat named after her.   My son, on the other hand, now professes a strong hatred for boats and all things boating.  Clearly, I did something wrong there.

Throughout the time of owning both the Caleigh and Cetacea, I had been very involved in the Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons – initially as a student wanting to learn seamanship and navigation, and later as an instructor and Bridge Officer.   I rose to the rank of Commander of the Winnipeg Squadron, and I have very fond memories of the excellent people involved in our squadron and the organization as a whole.

My friend, David, and I participated in several more LOWISA races in the summers that followed in Cetacea, although we never repeated the triumphs we had shared in Caleigh.


Up next:   Another boat – and a cruising lifestyle?