Oct 10

Sailing from Toronto to Port Credit in high winds and big waves

A couple of weeks ago I went on my last sail of the year with friends. The trip was on the Initram, a 35 foot electric powered C&C. It was a cold and windy Sunday and we left the Toronto Harbour around 10:30. Our destination was Port Credit and this would be my longest sail on Lake Ontario to date.

As we left the Toronto Harbour, the words uttered out of my mouth were, “There probably won’t be large waves today”, since I had been racing the day before with almost no wind. The days waves were reaching 2 metres, the largest I had ever sailed while on Lake Ontario. Apparently this was due to the direction of the wind and of course it had been windy all night.

Our crew minus me: Claudia, Pamela, Birgit, and John

After a lot of excitement we quickly got into our alternating rolls and jibbed our way downwind towards Port Credit. I am used to the smaller J24 boats which can get tossed around pretty easy in waves, but even the C&C was feeling these waves. At times the entire boat would surf a single large wave, and when hitting waves dead on the bow would shoot up into the air, it was exhilarating.

Cold, very cold

I also learned why Ontario sailors pack it in so early each year. Even with a lot of layers on, by the end of the day I was starting to feel the chill creeping in. I had several layers on, but that said I could have always thrown on better pants, or even snow pants. I would still love to try sailing further into the colder months.

Final destination

We finally reached Port Credit, which was further than we had anticipated. Getting into port credit was a bit tricky with the huge waves still unrelentingly trying to push us where we did not want to go, but after overcoming a few challenges we finally managed to dock. Time was short so we quickly went into town and grabbed some food. Most of us, myself included were feeling a bit green. Unfortunately my girl friend who was the most sea sick took the train home. Birgit, another one of our crew who was also feeling a bit green bought some Gravol and gave me one. About an hour later I was feeling like a new person. Gravol is definitely going onto my list of must have’s before going on a longer sail.

This was my second time on Initram, and my opinion of this boat remains the same, it sails like a dream. It handles incredibly well, even in large waves, and the electric engine held it’s own, especially on the way into Port Credit. The trip was an excellent end to the sailing year, many thanks to John for inviting us out again. My next time on a boat will be in the Grenadines this winter.

Oct 10

J24 racing in the cold rain on the Toronto Harbour

This past weekend was cold and wet in Toronto, it was also the most sailing I think I’ve squeezed into a weekend yet. Saturday tried our patience and two people managed to fall over board while several others including myself had a few close calls. Surfaces were very slippery and wet and this only re-enforced my need for proper deck shoes. Luckily Mike, our team skipper lent me a pair for the day.

The race started early in the morning at 10 am, okay early for me, and went until about 3:30 in the afternoon. The morning saw a bit of wind but later in the day it dropped off to what felt like zero knots and there was almost always a slight drizzle in the air. One of the racers, Luke Sutherland, managed to snap some really awesome photos of the day, and even though we hoped for a little more wind, it’s always fun to get on the water.

The Toronto Skyline always looks great even in gloomy weather.

J24 Toronto Harbourfront

This was probably top speed for the day.

J24 Toronto

The next day a few of us went out on a 35 foot C&C electric powered sailboat. Sunday was the polar opposite to Saturday, strong wind huge waves, what a difference one day can make, but that story is for another post.

Sep 10

Sailing a 35 foot C&C electric sailboat

Tonight I had the privilege of stepping aboard the Initram, a 35 foot C&C, but not just any C&C, this boat has had it’s old engine removed and replaced with an electric one.


The owners of the Initram are John, his wife Leigh and father Ian. My friend Pamela and I had met them last year on a Sailing trip in Guadeloupe. John is passionate about sustainable energy. His house is a straw bale constructed, solar powered home with a green roof; literally with grass growing on top, so it only makes sense that he would be a pioneer and convert his sailboat to electric. He’s also planning an ambitious circumnavigation to promote renewable energy.

John Wilson and his son Ian will sail around the world in a 39-foot catamaran to raise awareness everywhere about the most pressing issue in the world today: the urgent need to shift to renewable resources. This ambitious circumnavigation is the first component of the Sun Challenge.

Yes there are three different Ian’s mentioned in this entry including myself. You can read more about his house and his sail around the world and information about sponsorship on the Sun Challenge website.

One of the most amazing things about this electric sailboat is how quite it is. You do hear a quiet whirling noise, but it can be hard to hear over the wind, sails, and water. When going head to wind I wondered if it was even on, but then realized of course it is, I am holding my course just fine.

Myself at the helm.

The C&C is a 35 foot 1974 sailboat and it can really move. I have not sailed a lot of big boats, but this is probably the fastest and most responsive one I’ve been on yet. The wind read 17 knots at the airport with gusts to 24 knots so we had a great night. The boat felt rock solid in those winds and could turn on a dime, the entire evening was fantastic.

C&C heeling

Entire crew can’t be seen, but consists of Ian, Pamela, Leigh, John and myself.

To read about the conversion from diesel to electric check out John’s Sun Challenge blog where he has detailed all the trials and tribulations he went through.

Some video of the evening

Caught unprepared for a tack

Sep 10

Vacation along the North Channel

I was recently on vacation exploring various places along the North Channel, Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. The North channel stretches approximately 160 nautical miles from Sault Ste. Marie to Killarney. I was not sailing, but I was taking mental notes and stopped by various bays and Marina’s along the way. The North Channel is claimed to be one of the most beautiful sailing spots in the world, but of course that is subjective; it’s certainly on my list of most beautiful places and I must sail it sooner rather than later. While I had always toyed with the idea of sailing, it was Tobermory just south of the North Channel that originally perked my interest to take a sailing course. The entire are is just epic in terms of raw beauty.

Killarney Bay Light House

The trip started in Tobermory where we crossed over to Manitoulin island via the Chi-Cheemaun which is a large ferry that can carry many vehicles. Claudia and I spent a week checking out the worlds largest fresh water island and the various shore lines which are peppered with marinas. The first one was Gore Bay where I plan on chartering a boat in the near future for a North Channel sailing vacation. Gore Bay has bareboat charters through Canadian Yacht Charters and they have quite a large fleet of different sized boats. The other really nice Marina is in Little Current where you can also charter boats through Discovery Yacht Charters.

After our week in Manitoulin island it was time to drive right around Georgian bay back to Toronto, but along the way we had three days to kill so we had a quick stop in Sudbury to check out the Dynamic earth. After that we passed the Killarney entrance that evening and on a whim decided to venture down the 67 km road in the hope that there would be a spot to stay. We were in luck, Killarney was more beautiful than I had imagined and soon we were bringing our bags into the Killarny Mountain Lodge. The next day we headed out with a Canoe followed by an evening sail the next night. If I didn’t want to sail the North Channel before, I certainly do after this trip.

An evening sail on Killarney Bay

Stormy Night

The evening sail took place on a Cal 2-46 named the Stormy Night. This is a 46 foot boat with a really roomy interior. I got to helm it for a bit and hold our course. You could really walk away from the wheel and this thing would keep going straight, although it wasn’t all that windy, maybe 5 ot 6 knots.

Lots of rocks

The North Channel is full of rocks and islands and this is what makes it beautiful, but I’m sure it also makes it quite hard to navigate. We went out for a sunset cruise and on the way back I asked the skipper about navigation and said you must really know this area like the back of your hand since it’s so dark and loaded with hazards. We had been canoeing in the same area the previous day during daylight hours. He said “yes and no” and that’s when the big spot light came out; this was a first for me. Some of the channel markers are not lit, so he was scanning the surface trying to find the markers and the many shoals and rocks along the way. Suffice to say when I do go sailing in the North Channel I will not be doing so at night.

Here is some video taken from my canoe trip on a tiny island in Killarney Bay. As you can see it would not be hard to run aground if you were not paying attention. Sometimes we would be canoeing in water and we could not see the bottom and then suddenly the bottom would be there perfectly visible.

Ready to set sail

Here’s a short video of us going down the Killarny channel earlier that evening on the Story Night.

During our trip we managed to see a beautiful anchorage called Covered Portage Cove which was picture perfect. On the way in, there is a famous bluff which has an Indian head in the side of the rock. You must approach the cliff at the right angle in order to see the profile.

Covered Portage Cove Indian Head

And here is the same cliff only moments later, now you can no longer see the indian profile.

Covered Portage Cove

After the indian head you can take a look into the anchorage and you will likely see several boats. This was one of the most exciting points of the trip for me since this is my dream, being in the wilderness with all the comforts of home, a nice sail boat is a home on the water.

Covered Portage Cove

The Killarny Bay Sunset; in the distance you can actually see a rocky point sticking out.

Killarney Bay Sunset

And to get another idea of the area, here is a shot taken from Canoe the previous day.

Killarney Bay

Dreams of Sailing the North Channel

The entire trip was fantastic and all the while I was thinking how great it would be to sail this beautiful part of Ontario. Hopefully sooner than later my dream will come true. If you haven’t already visited Sailing s/v Island Bound in my side bar links check it out. It’s a blog about a families sailing adventures; their most recent trip was in the North Channel.

Google Map of the North Channel to Killarney Bay

View The North Channel in a larger map

Jun 10

Tall ship sailing on the Pathfinder

Last weekend just before I got run down with a miserable summer cold and before all the G20 nonsense in Toronto I had my first tall ship experience. This was through the Harbourfront Centre Sailing club so it wasn’t a stand around and watch other people do the work type affair. We actually got to learn how this shipped worked.


The boat was Pathfinder, a brigantine along the Toronto Harbourfront. You may have seen this boat docked next to it’s sister boat Playfair and on the other side of the same pier the larger Empire Sandy. This boat is normally for youths, so it was a great chance to finally check out this boat which I have walked past many times. The boats belong to the Toronto Brigantine, a charity organization that provides Tall Ship Adventures for Youth.

“Toronto Brigantine Incorporated (TBI) is a Canadian registered charity mandated to provide experiential learning, develop leadership and life skills through tall ship sail training programs for youth 13 -18 years of age.”

We spent several hours on the boat that Sunday evening. The first 30 to 40 minutes was dedicated to boat safety. Then we were all assigned tasks and pushed off from the foot of Queens Quay and Spadina. The trip consisted of a lot of “pull this, no not that one, this one”. To give you an idea, take a look at the pictures below. Just some of the many halyards, sheets and lines aboard the Pathfinder.


Belaying Pins

All those wooden pegs with line coiled and tied around them are called belaying pins. There purpose is to allow us to make fast the many lines aboard the boat. There is a method of wrapping and coiling that allows you to quickly get the line off if needed. The pins are also replaceable, and when one asks why, the answer is they break sometimes as one did on our trip.

Here is some video of the sails being raised on the Pathfinder.

Climbing aloft

Not only did we get to hoist the sails, but anyone who wanted too, also got to climb aloft. This involved climbing up the shrouds which have rope ladders attached to them called Ratlines. The safety rule while climbing the ratlines was always have three points of contact. Two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot. This safety rule should probably be applied to anyone climbing any ladder. I quickly volunteered to climb up along without about half the crew aboard. We each took turns climbing up and down.

Climbing Ratlines

Me climbing the ratlines

Climbing Ratlines

Some of the club members didn’t join us on the Pathfinder but thought it would be fun buzzing past us. Eventually this resulted in cannon fire on the aggressor which was a J24. A sling shot was quickly deployed and loaded with water balloons and the J24 took a hard hit to it’s port side. The J24 quickly halted it’s relentless pursuit and headed back to it’s home port.


The day was fantastic and I think we all learned a lot. While I would definitely go out on a boat like this again, I still want my 35 foot cruising sailboat, or even a J24, they are lot less work.

Of course this post wouldn’t be complete without some pictures of the Galley.



These doors must always be kept closed while under sail. If the boat has a hull breach it can actually stay afloat with one compartment filled with water.

More video and a gallery with a few more shots

May 10

Lake Ontario night sailing

I experienced my first night sail this week. It was a pretty gusty night and the winds were hitting over 20 knots, that’s around 40 km/h. The whole night was a rush and the air was crisp and cold. I was really thankful for my many layers of clothing. I had long johns, jeans, long sleeved shirt, fleece, winter jacket, life jacket and gloves which kept me relatively warm for most of the night, although I did duck down into the cabin once. Four of us (Clive, Pamela, Birgit and myself) had sailed together only a few months ago in the Caribbean.

Leaving the marina

Leaving the marina, SkyDome in the background, also known by the uglier name, Rogers Centre.

The Niagara

This was my second time on the Niagara 35 and this is a fine boat, although admittedly the range of boats I’ve tried so far is small, this one is ranking near the top. The boat handles extremely well and feels really safe even when a strong gust of wind kicks in and the boat starts to heel.

I was helping crew while another member of the club was finishing up his advanced practical test. This included crew overboard drills in the day and at night, docking while under sail, and anchoring while under sail at night. I got to be the windless (apparatus for lifting heavy things like an anchor) since this boat didn’t have one, but it was good exercise, the whole night was. I managed to snap a couple of videos while out, both are available in HD. These videos were shot in the harbour during crew overboard drills.

Toronto skyline

The Toronto skyline at sunset. (Birgit, Clive, Evgueni, Pamela and Cybele)

In the evening almost everyone was cold and heading down into the cabin so I got a chance to take the helm and steer us back into the harbour. This was unlink any helming I had done in the day. Everything looks entirely different at night and the buoy lights were difficult to see mixed in with the Toronto skyline. You have to really stare and look for the flashing lights. The Toronto island has a small airport and all boats must make their way around a ring of buoys before entering the channel into the harbour. In the day it’s easy because you can see the large white buoys as plain as day, but at night it’s a different story.

In the end it was another fantastic four hours of sailing. Sometimes you forget that you are actually just outside of Toronto and got off work only hours before. Sailing is an amazing escape, and I’m lucky that it’s right at my doorstep.

Big ship

A big ship docked at the eastern end of the Toronto Harbour.

Toronto skyline dusk

The Toronto skyline dusk at dusk.

Night sailing lake Ontario

Heading out into lake Ontario a nightfall.

Night sailing

Night sailing, taken with flash.

Night sailing lake on ontario

Night sailing on lake on Ontario.

Apr 10

Winter is over! It’s sailing time on Lake Ontario

On Saturday April 24 my sailing club (Harbourfront Centre Sailing and Powerboating) held a boat work party and first sail of the year event. I got there in the morning and throughout the day we prepared our J24 fleet for sail. Sometime after 2pm the fleet was ready to go and we were all eager to get on the water and there was a good strong wind. Luckily for me and this blog post one of the volunteers Ramy brought his camera and awesome photo skills to the work party.

A group of us preping one of the J boats.

The experience gained was invaluable and if you are a beginner like me you will learn a lot from an event like this, or even helping someone with their boat. Helping out will also make you feel great.

Me attaching the boom to the gooseneck on the mast

sorting sails

Sorting out the sails.

Adjusting the shroud tension.

Adjusting shroud tension.

Everything from sorting out the sails, removing shrink wrap from the boats and checking and adjusting shroud tension was done. We even stepped the mast of Defiance, the one J without a mast. This involved lining up two other J24′s on both sides and using their halyards to hoist the mast into the air from horizontal to vertical. It was almost like two cranes on either side of the boat. It was amazing how fast we got it up and fastened. The standing rigging was quickly set up, this included the forestay, backstay, and upper and lower shrouds. The speed at which everything came together really was impressive, but we had a great team of people to make things happen.

j24 boats

6 J24 boats almost ready to go!

Time to sail

It was finally time to test out the boats and see if our efforts would pay off. None of the J24 fleet had motors though, so each one was towed out into the harbour and my group quickly raised the sails while being dragged head to wind. Within moments our tow line was untied and we were sailing. The wind was strong, and it was cold. The day was beautiful on land, but I had not dressed properly for the temperature on the lake and I was cold within minutes.

sailing lake ontario cold

Finally on the lake, do I look cold?

Soon the wind really picked up and we had to take down our genoa and replace it with the jib. I volunteered for the job and crawled up to the bow. There was quite a bit of chop and it didn’t take long for a wave to splash up and hit me. After a few minutes up front I was really wet and very cold, but I got the genoa down and the jib up, and it was a much smoother ride from then on. I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite the cold and have vowed to wear a winter wind breaker next time. Little did I know that next time would only be several days later.

On Thursday April 29th I went out with Clive my instructor from the Guadeloupe trip to finish a few tests for my intermediate sailing certification. We took out the 35 foot Niagara. It was my first time on this fine boat, and I loved every minute of it. Everything inside was warm wood finishes and it was very cozy. Outside there was a cool breeze, but this time I had my fleece and a winter windbreaker on (lesson learned). The sail went perfect, and Birgit and I both passed all our tests that we didn’t get a chance to do in Guadeloupe. Now all I have to do is write the written exam.

wind and sail

Wind and Sail.

To see the rest of Ramy’s photos or if you need a photographer check out the rest of his gallery and his site Bright Lights Photography.

Oct 09

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.

Sailing terms in this article:

Oct 09

Sailing Lake Ontario in cold October

A sailing friend and I managed to get out in our favourite boat, the J24 earlier this week before the closure of our club. There is actually still one more weekend to go, but if the weather doesn’t co-operate this one might have been the last. If so it was a great end to the season, even if it was rather cold. It really is amazing how much colder it is on the water than on land and I don’t think you really realize it until you try it, but take my word for it, October is cold on lake Ontario.

The weather was kind of mean looking all around us, so we didn’t venture too far out onto the lake. While we were out I managed to snap these quick shots of the stormy skies and our very wet bow on the J24. The storm clouds never did hit us, but they did provide strong gusts and an exciting day.

j24 after some big waves hit it

j24 with stormy weather

I also took two pretty cool video’s and this time I held the camera correctly. I’ve never taken much video of anything before, but I think sailing videos are just so cool, especially when they are mine. I’m even thinking about buying a Flip Mino HD for the future, which is a mini HD video recorder. The one thing photos and video don’t really show is the size of the waves and the heeling of the boat. Heeling is how much the boat is tipping or leaning to one side due to the wind, and in these videos we had some really good heeling happening. The first time you ever feel a really strong heel can be quite unnerving, but eventually you learn to love it, as these videos show.

Oct 09

Sailing on Lake Simcoe

A few weeks ago I went up to Barrie Ontario with the hopes of finding a place somewhere on Lake Simcoe to rent a sailboat for the day. A search on the Internet brought up nothing and a talk with someone at the Barrie marina informed me that there was nowhere on the entire lake to rent one. I was a bit shocked to hear this, I know it’s not as big as any of the great lakes, but it’s still a pretty big lake. This seems like a missed opportunity. If I am mistaken please let me know, I would love to be wrong about this as my parents live in Barrie and it would be nice to try some new waters. It’s also a beautiful area.

Barrie Marina