Last Toronto Harbour sail of the year

Today was the last day that you could take a sailboat out at our club and I managed to get out one last time. The day started cold and just got colder, especially once on the water. A friend and I actually had to grab more clothing from my place before we could proceed. We rigged up a J24 boat with a jib (small front sail) and full mainsail. Unfortunately the J24′s we have access to have no reef points. In sailing reefing is a process by which you reduce the area of sail in high winds. We had been warned it was windy out, but that’s what sailing is all about

We motored out onto the Toronto Harbour and put our self in head to wind to set up our sails. The first thing we noticed was that the wind was all over the place and strong gusts were constantly bombarding us every few seconds. This was the most radical wind I have ever sailed in and while it was a great experience it was a bit nerve wracking. It’s actually pretty easy to sail even in high winds if the wind is consistent, but when it is gusting and acting unpredictable it is very hard to set the sails, in fact, you must constantly adjust them.

The mainsail went up quickly without incident, followed by the jib. As soon as we got the sails up our boat started heeling big time. This is when the boat tilts to one side. It’s a natural thing in sailing and even fun, but if it heals to much you can have trouble staying on the boat, and if it heals enough you can capsize. As I was hanging over the back to pull the motor up we got one great gust of wind. I looked back smiling at my friend and happy to have the lifelines and stanchions behind my back to lean against as she struggled to stabilize the boat.

The next 30 minutes was pretty much along the same lines. Some serious heeling and at one point water even splashing up over the side, but not enough to get into the cockpit. This is when we decided to take down our jib. I crawled to the bow and quickly pull down the jib which I then had to tie down to stop the wind from blowing it all over the place.

Time to go home

Once I got back into the cockpit we decided we should start heading back, we were getting incredible speed, but the wind was completely unpredictable. A few times the boom swung violently across the cockpit and I made the mistake once of grabbing the main sheet (rope attached to it) only to get some rope burn on my wrist and a sharp yank on my arm. This is how you learn; never ever, ever touch the boom or main sheet in high winds, it’s a good way to break your hand, arm, or dislocate your shoulder.

We saw the few other sailboats heading in too, and one had a reefed main. It was time to lower the motor, start it up and get back home. The motor started flawlessly and up until now everything had gone pretty well. Here’s another tip, when using old rickety motors keep your mainsail up until you are close to your marina. I wanted to take it down just in case things got more hairy or we had trouble, better to get it out of the way now. I ran up and took it down fast and stuffed it into the cabin.

With the sail down and the motor running we could draw a sigh of relief, that was until the motor chugged to a stop. The boat quickly changed it’s direction and we were heading away from our intended destination. Without a motor it would be hard to raise the mainsail again since it would be hard to get into a head to wind direction.

Looking down at the motor I could see that the fuel line had fallen off. I stuck it back on, but the motor wouldn’t start. After fiddling around with the fuel line and trying a few more times we called the club for assistance. The biggest worry now was ground on the Toronto island. About a half hour passed from the time we took the sail down to the time we saw the boat coming to tow us, and that’s just when the motor decided to start up. We got a thumbs up from the guy coming out to get us and motored back in. What I think happened was that the fuel line got a bit of water in it and this messed up the motor. After several false starts eventually the motor cleared itself out and sputtered into action. I will always check the gas line after starting the motor now.

All in all a great day

This trip probably sounds pretty awful to someone thinking of taking up sailing, but it was actually thrilling. We learned a lot, and we have slowly worked our way up to strong winds throughout the year. Lake Ontario is a great lake to learn to sail on, because the winds start out weak in the summer and gradually built up to much stronger winds around September and October. Sailing is all about reacting fast and adapting to anything that nature throws at you and keeping your cool all at the same time. The only real bummer about today was that it was our last sail of the year. Now I have Guadeloupe to look forward too and next year.

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  1. You’re right about that feeling that the boat is going to capsize. My husband (my Captain, lol) explained to me about the keel. If you understand how it works, you can relax when there is wind because you know that the boat isn’t going to tip over.

    We recently were on our way back from Santa Catalina Island and our rudder broke. We were basically floundering. The weather had become windy and the ocean was xtremely choppy. Even though it felt like we might tip over, we didn’t.

    Did you know that there is a way to stop the boat from rocking back and forth in a wake? Lean your body to the side that is coming up, and then lean to the other side when that side goes up. It steadies out the boat much more quickly.

  2. Wow, I don’t know what I would do if my rudder broke. I haven’t been on the Ocean yet, but I will be on the Caribbean for the first time in February taking my intermediate training. If all goes well I’ll post my trip here.

    I will try leaning back and forth next time I get caught in high winds and my motor dies.