It’s a Grand thing!

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0010.JPGThe only thing a writer likes better than writing is being published.

I’m thrilled to announce that an article I wrote on sailing in Cape Breton is featured in the May/June 2018 issue of Grand magazine. Here’s a link to the story online:

Chris’s photography is awesome. What a difference a drone makes! This photo of us sailing in Bras d’Or Lake with our spinnaker up was our first attempt at “droning” while underway. Chris launched the drone from the aft deck without incident, then took some incredible footage while I kept an eye on the helm. Of course the wind began to gust and build as soon as the drone was in the air. Chris brought it back and tried to land it on the now lurching and rolling deck. No luck.

“You’re going to have to catch it,” he said.


“Just stand in the scupper, hang onto the handle on top of the bimini, and reach out as far as you can. I’ll bring it to you.”

All I could think of was the pitcher who had to leave a big game because his hand wouldn’t stop dripping blood–the result of a drone injury. I put on a leather glove.

In the end, it was easy to catch the drone, and now we have a new, smaller drone that will be even easier to catch (don’t ask what happened to the first one….) So you can look forward to more great photography, here and in print.

Hope you enjoy the article. It’s some of our best work.

Loft apartment

IMG_1640It all happened very quickly. Or at least that’s how it seems. It took us a few days to travel up the intracoastal waterway to Titusville then there we were, back on the mooring ball we had left just three short months ago. A couple of days bobbing in the river then just as the sun was rising, we motored into Westland Marina and our date with the travel lift.

Now we’ve had the boat lifted out of the water in a lot of places but never has it been handled this professionally. Dave, the travel lift guy, asked all the right questions beforehand—how much does your boat weigh, is it a full keel, where exactly is the prop—then when we arrived, he inspected the rigging carefully, took a couple of measurements, and decided that we could leave the backstay up but we needed to back into the travel lift.

Like most full-keel boats, ours doesn’t back up straight. At all. So Chris rigged some lines and we hand-bombed it around, something we’ve done many times. The yard workers were very impressed.

Then straps under and up in the air it went. Boats should not be up in the air. Especially 20-ton steel boats. I try not to watch, but of course I can’t help myself. As the travel lift drove away, the well we’d been lifted out of filled with manatees.


“They love the well,” Angie, a yard worker, told me. “They always hang out here.”

One, two, three, then more, nosing around, loafing in the sun. One fell asleep lying on its back, floating just beneath the surface. Another swam over to a leaking tap to get a drink of fresh water.


They drink salt water, Angie explained. They can filter the salt out somehow, but it’s so much easier to drink fresh water when they can get it.

And now we’re on the hard, nestled in among palm trees. Preparing the boat to spend the summer in Florida is a new experience for us. No need to put antifreeze in the engine and hoses, but we do have to install a dehumidifier, plug all the through-hulls so creatures don’t climb into the boat, and cover it with some kind of netting so we don’t come back to a boat slick with bird droppings.

The derelict boat beside us, which has been here for at least fifteen years, has a resident osprey at the top of its mast. We find fish (well, what’s left of them anyway, after the osprey is done with them)—on the ground around the boat, and a half-grown black kitten has taken up residence next door, peeking out at us through the missing windows. Oh well, at least he’ll keep the rodent population down. And the snakes, I hope.


Today we finish packing then remove the canvas covers and everything else above deck that could blow away in a hurricane, install heavy-duty strapping which the yard workers will secure to “mafia blocks,” as they call the heavy concrete anchors they use here. And tomorrow we’ll leave our boat, which is now really a loft apartment in Titusville, and head to our other boat, the one in the meadow, just in time for the bluebirds to come back.

Run for it!


We started watching for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream a couple of weeks ago. Our crossing to the Bahamas was perfect; we wanted our return trip to be just as gentle. But the weather was anything but settled—big bands of squalls were spinning off the coast of Florida each afternoon, intensifying over the Gulf Stream. Not good. And conditions were going to deteriorate over the next week.

Then suddenly we saw an opening: a 48-hour period without squalls and with gentle winds from the south. Maybe a bit too gentle. We knew we’d have to motor all the way across but if we didn’t leave then, we’d be pinned down in the Bahamas for who knows how long. So we decided to make a run for it.

Now Monark is a slow boat at the best of times—6 knots is about our top speed; under motor, we’re lucky if we can hold 4—but we couldn’t get it above 3 knots as we motorsailed west through the Northeast Providence Channel. Turns out that a current runs through the channel, which we never really noticed before. Clearly it was against us. But by late afternoon it had reversed and we were making a steady 4 to 5 knots.

The night sail was incredibly beautiful. The moon was almost full but the sky was full of witchy clouds which would drift in front of it, then clear again. Not that we had much time to watch the moon. So much ship traffic! Rarely were we tracking fewer than a dozen ships on the AIS–cruise ships, oil tankers, cargo ships. No other sailboats, curiously, though we could hear them chattering on the radio from time to time, bored I think—where are you now? and where are you?

Around midnight we left the Northeast Providence Channel and headed out into the strait between the Bahamas and Florida. Suddenly the cruise ships bound for Miami were crossing our bow, leaving a respectful distance though, so no problem. The 1,000-foot cargo ship heading straight for us was more of a problem. It’s the first time we’ve ever seen both the port and starboard running lights of a big ship.

Chris grabbed the mike and hailed the captain.

“This is the sailboat Monark, off your bow. I just wanted to make sure you saw us.”

A long pause.

“Yes, I see you.” Had he seen us before we called? “I’ll alter course to pass your stern.”

Slowly the green light disappeared leaving only the red light visible. We watched as an enormous boat, empty so riding high, passed behind us. Not very far behind us, but far enough.

Then we entered the Gulf Stream and the winds picked up. We spanked along at 6 knots much of the night—with the engine running. We wanted to get across the Gulf Stream as quickly as possible. And as it turns out, every minute gained was a good thing. And I mean every minute. They were wrong about the 48 squall-free hours.

By noon the next day we were out the other side of the Gulf Stream and pretty much on target for Lake Worth Inlet, a bit earlier than we’d expected, in fact. We had to stand off, waiting for the current flowing out of the inlet to slow a little, but around 2:30 the skies to the south of us started to darken and we decided to make a run for it.

We had no problem with the current, but being bounced around by the wake from all the power boats running for shelter was a challenge. What’s going on, we wondered. Then we switched our phone on and it emitted a loud siren sound and flashed a big red alert—TORNADO WATCH. Yes, watch, not warning. We ran for the safety of the anchorage, which was a couple miles in, at our top speed under motor…which isn’t very fast at all. By the time we got there, we were the only boat moving on the waterway. We dropped the hook and closed up the canvas, and then the squall was on us.

The torrential rains weren’t the problem—it was kind of nice getting the salt washed off the boat. But the wall of wind that hit us was stronger than anything we’d ever experienced, greater even than the 60-knot winds we survived in the big gale in the North Atlantic. The boat lurched to port and heeled so far the rail was almost in the water. We had to brace ourselves to keep from falling over. Of course the anchor, which had barely set, couldn’t withstand that kind of force and started to drag. Chris started the engine and turned us into the wind, enough to take the sideways pressure off the poor Rocna, which immediately reset.

Fortunately, it was over as quickly as it came up—the wind, anyway. The tornado watch was lifted but the heavy rain continued for some time. We sat in the cockpit getting drenched as water found its way in every seam and opening, dribbled in, actually.

When it was over, the temperature had dropped 10 degrees and the air was crisp and clear, the smothering humidity of the afternoon completely gone. Most of it was in our cockpit, I think.


Over the past couple of days, the weather out in the ocean has deteriorated as predicted, big winds from the northeast and huge seas, rip currents along the coast. So now we’re motoring peacefully, tediously north in the intracoastal waterway.

But I’ll tell you one thing: we keep a close eye on the sky in the late afternoons.

Weiner soup

white cay (1)We don’t really mind being stuck here, in one of the prettiest anchorages in the Bahamas. We’re the only boat tucked behind White Cay in The Berry Islands, pretty much where we started this winterlude, waiting for the squally weather to settle down and the winds to calm before we move on. We can look out past the coral reef and check the sea state each morning. Still looks a bit rough out there. One more day.

But our provisions are running a little low. Fresh food is hard to find in these islands. Really hard. Unless you’re lucky enough to be near a settlement when the mail boat comes in. Even then meat is scarce and the produce is in pretty rough shape, travel worn and wilting fast in the heat. Much of it comes from the United States—Romaine hearts from California, what are clearly the “B” oranges from Florida. But a huge amount of it comes from Leamington, Ontario, the tomato capital of Canada. Also, obviously, the greenhouse capital. Not many tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers being grown in Ontario in April.

pot au pot

I think longingly of last summer, as we sailed the Bras d’Or Lakes, truly the land of plenty when it comes to provisions. I worked happily at perfecting my recipe for pot en pot, inspired by a scrumptious meal we had in Îsles de la Madeline. It’s essentially chunks of seafood swimming in a creamy sauce and topped with flakey pastry.

Most of the essential ingredients were easy to come by—a fish truck came to St. Peter’s Inlet every Tuesday, selling bags of fresh scallops, beautiful pieces of halibut, fresh shrimp. No lobster, though. The season had closed. And lobster is what makes pot en pot so special.

Ah hah, I thought when we arrived in the Bahamas. Chris will be able to spear us a big juicy lobster.


I was wrong. The seafood cupboard is bare here, some say a result of the hurricane but given the number of boats crowding into the anchorages, I’d say overfishing is the real cause. Chris has tried diligently, but apart from the fish head he caught on the way here, the only thing he’s landed is a barracuda—a nasty, skinny fish with razor-sharp teeth. After carefully extracting his hook (I’m happy to report that he still has all his fingers) he threw it back in.

Oh wait—he’s also caught an impressive amount of Sargasso weed. And a plastic grocery bag.

We’ve seen more sharks than fish here—way more. Nurse sharks loaf on the bottom near docks where the local fishermen come in to clean their catch (how do they find fish?) Along with enormous rays, and needlefish, for some reason. And the occasional sea turtle. Don’t worry. I didn’t even think of turtle soup.


We even had a family of lemon sharks take up residence under our boat in Black Point Settlement, a sure sign that we had stayed too long. I first noticed them when I tossed an apple core over the side and a large, strange looking “fish” darted out from under out keel to check it out.

“Look at this, Chris.” I tossed some carrot peelings over the side and not one but three lemon sharks swam out to investigate. For the record, sharks do not like apple cores or carrot peelings.

nurse sharks
Nurse sharks milling around, waiting for handouts from the fishermen.

Now that we’re on our way back to Florida where we’ll store the boat for the summer—we’re heading home to work on Meadowlark, our other “boat”—I’ve stopped looking for fresh provisions and we’re trying to use up our canned goods. Last night I made corn chowder with our last potato, our second-last onion, and a can of niblets corn.

“This needs something,” Chris said, spooning up the thin, mean soup.

Yes, I thought. Some carrots or celery.

“Maybe some fish,” he suggested, reaching for his tackle box.

We’re definitely having weiner soup tonight.

wiener soup
Weiner soup. It’s more delicious than it looks. Yes, those are toasted hot dog buns on the side.

Close encounter

The Exumas are everything we had remembered. Pristine beaches. Impossibly blue water. Sunny all the time. We decided to take the afternoon off. (What does an afternoon on look like, you might wonder. Pretty much the same.)

We put on our bathing suits, loaded up Chris’s spear fishing gear, and headed to shore. I was going to do some swimming, he was going to hunt—which means snorkeling along the reef and looking for anything big enough to impale on a sharp, six-foot piece of steel. You can see why I prefer swimming.

We anchored the dinghy in about four feet of water, halfway between the reef and the beach. He headed for the reef and I set off at a leisurely pace along the beach, front stroke, side stroke, back stroke, then just loafing in the warm water. Mmmm. This is nice.

After a while, I swam to the beach and stood up, looked around for Chris. Oh there he is, swimming towards a coral head just a little ways beyond where the dinghy is bobbing in the water.

Hmm, I don’t remember passing two coral heads. The big one is shaped like a shark.

And it’s moving.

“Chris!” I shouted. He of course couldn’t hear me. I watched in horror as he and a huge shark converged on the coral head. He saw it just in time and turned toward shore, swimming calmly but quickly towards the beach.

We stood together in the surf and watched it work its way around the coral head then slowly back to the reef.

“When did you notice it?” I asked him.

“I was looking at little silver fishes with a pretty blue stripe on them, swimming around the coral head. Then I was looking into a great big eye. He was huge, bigger than me, at least six feet long. It looked like a bull shark to me.”


We Googled “bull shark” when we got back to the boat and found a picture. Yep. That’s what it was. They’re pretty common in the Bahamas, one of three deadly sharks to look out for—bull sharks have a reputation for being unpredictable and aggressive and are responsible for the majority of fatal incidents.

But don’t worry—there are things you can do to prevent a shark attack. Avoid swimming near cuts, where the ocean flows onto and off of the Bahama Bank with the tides (we were right beside a cut.) Avoid wearing a brightly coloured bathing suit, especially one that is “yum-yum-yellow” (Chris was wearing his yellow bathing suit.) If you see a shark, leave the water as calmly and quickly as possible. (Chris has that one nailed.)

If it looks like the shark is going to attack, there are things you can do: Fold your non-dominate arm into a V-shape with your wrist facing toward your bicep to protect your arteries and aim your elbow directly at the shark. That way if the shark bites your arm, it will be biting across two bones.

Very sensible and reassuring advice.

Oh and here’s the best way to prevent shark attacks: Throw your husband’s spear fishing gear overboard the next time you’re in deep water.

Eyelash in the ocean

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It shouldn’t, but it always amazes me that we can set out into the ocean, nothing but blue horizon ahead of us, and somehow make landfall exactly where we had intended.

This time we were aiming for a particularly small target—just a little eyelash of land in the Bahamas, if you can call a string of tiny islands that. The Berry Islands are somewhere between Nassau and Freeport, too tiny to even see unless you zoom way in on the chart plotter. And to get there from Florida, a journey of about 130 miles, you have to cross the Gulf Stream.

We had gentle winds from the south when we set out, so gentle that we put all our sails up: the main, the genoa, a staysail hanked onto the forestay (yeah, hanked: that’s what you do when you don’t bend a sail, you hank it on.) Chris loves having all the sails up, he watches the wind shift, fiddles with them. Like a big kid flying a kite. Three kites. Three really big kites. It’s almost enough activity for him…

IMG_0126 (2)-1

We hit the Gulf Stream just a few miles offshore—hit isn’t quite right: we noticed we were in it because the water changed colour, a different blue, don’t quite know how to describe it, and clumps of Sargasso weed started drifting by. And we started drifting too.

The Gulf Stream is actually a river, 20- to 30-miles wide off the coast of Florida and flowing northward at up to 5 knots in the centre. In the light winds, we were only holding 4 to 5 knots, many of them sideways. The bow was pointing east but the boat was moving north, just a little at first then more and more as the current grew stronger.

At one point, a big ship appeared off our port bow. Fine, we thought, and it would have been if we were moving forward, but we were actually drifting right towards him: we were on a collision course. Chris realized it in time to turn our bow north and run with the current, passing harmlessly behind him. It was a weird experience.

By the time we came out of the Gulf Stream, our path on the chart plotter was a long, smooth arc running west to east. After that it went back to a straight line and it was clear sailing through the night, with a full moon all the way. We saw dozens of other ships: oil tankers and cruise ships for the most part, a handful of sailboats, some work boats plying the waters between Nassau and Freeport. And just after dawn, The Berry Islands appeared on the horizon.


Yes I know, we have a chart plotter to keep us on course, but still, with the vagaries of wind and current, not to mention unexpected course changes to avoid other ships, it still surprises me when we end out where we had hoped to. By noon, we were entering the narrow cut—and I mean narrow—into Great Harbour Cay marina.

We spent several days in the marina after clearing in, waiting for huge swells out in ocean to subside, and I mean huge—up to 24 feet in the Atlantic, a paltry 12 feet between The Berry Islands and Nassau, the aftermath of a winter storm that ravaged the eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada.

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It was an interesting place, Great Harbour Cay, once a playground of the rich and famous drawn by the beautiful beaches and a championship 18-hole golf course. According to the locals, Cary Grant danced the night away in the magnificent multi-story clubhouse. Brigitte Bardot graced the beaches with her beauty. Jack Nicklaus had a house on a hilltop along the back nine.

The golf course closed after pretty much draining the aquifer beneath the island and the club house fell to ruin, but the beaches are still stunning, miles of white sand in a sheltered crescent bay. We walked them every day, looking out over the ocean to see if the swell was subsiding, sometimes stopping for lunch at The Beach Club, a tiny open-air restaurant in the dunes.


After three days the swells began to subside a little so we made a very rolly dash to a reasonably sheltered anchorage at White Cay, about 30 miles south along the string of islands. There we stayed for another three nights waiting out some big winds, which we weathered very well, our anchor having wrapped itself securely around a big rock.

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Once we’d untangled it, we enjoyed a very pleasant sail to the southernmost tip of The Berry Island, and tucked ourselves in between Frazer’s Hog Cay and Cockroach Cay. We dinghied to a narrow strip of beach and walked the road on Frazer’s Hog (and never a pig in sight) but decided not to go ashore on Cockroach Cay.

Monday night a massive cold front rolled over us with winds up to 30 knots in the squalls, but we weathered it well, our anchor firmly set in sand. By morning, the skies were clear, it was sunny, and a steady west wind had set in. Perfect weather for crossing to Nassau. So we did.

smaller fish head

On the way, Chris managed to catch a fish head–well, he probably had the whole fish on at one time, but something made short work of it before he could reel it in. Next he caught an impressive-sized hunk of Sargasso weed. I told him that if he caught an onion and a couple of carrots, I could make a nice soup for dinner.

We’re in Nassau now, about to set out to explore the Exumas, another chain of islands in the Bahamas, these considerably longer than an eyelash. Cel signal might be sketchy, so you may not hear from us for a while. But know that we’ll be thinking of you as we swim in the clear waters, walk the sandy beaches, and enjoy a glass of prosecco on the foredeck as we watch the sun go down.

Velcro beach

morning beach

We had planned to stay here a night, maybe two, but Vero Beach is very hard to leave. Velcro beach, the cruising guide calls this place. We’re on a mooring ball in a pretty mangrove swamp, just off the intracoastal waterway, manatees drifting lazily by the boat, pelicans plunging into the water beside us.

osprey (1)An osprey has made himself at home in the rigging of the boat behind us (not our boat, thank goodness—their windscreen is covered with white smears, not to mention little bits of fish.) He calls out to other osprey as they pass overhead. My boat. Not your boat. Just keep moving. Nothing to see here.

Every evening at dusk about the biggest great blue heron we’ve ever seen glides silently to the stand of mangroves off our bow, stalks slowly around the edge of it, hunting. What is he walking on, I wonder? All I can see are roots disappearing into the murky water.

The beach itself is just a short walk away, through the town. It’s nice having a strip of land between us and the ocean. The last thing we want to hear in the night is the sound of breaking surf, and break it does on the miles of hard-packed sand. Water foams around our ankles as we walk, little flocks of tiny sandpipers, balls of fluff on stick legs, really, following each wave as it recedes, winkling little creatures out of the sand with their pointy beaks. They turn and run as the next wave breaks, somehow managing to stay just ahead of it.

sandpipers (1)

This place is a nice change from Titusville, where we spent ten days in a largely unsheltered anchorage recommissioning the boat after three months on a mooring ball. We removed the bird netting (yay! no osprey!), put the sails on (bent the sails, you’re supposed to say), then Chris did a bunch of boat maintenance–checking things, greasing things, tightening things–while I cleaned and aired out down below.

Not that we worked all the time. We would go for walks each day, across the long bridge that spans the intracoastal waterway there. We managed to watch a bit of a midget wrestling competition in the park beside the marina one day, on a makeshift stage. The huge crowd of people in front of it attracted our attention. Midget wrestling. Yes. Really.

Laundry, many trips to the grocery store to provision, fill the water tanks and the jerry cans, and finally we were on our way. Almost. First we took the boat into a dock so a diver could scrub the green gunk and barnacles off the bottom. Our top speed on the way into the marina was .7 knots. Yes, the decimal is in the right place.

fancy houseFlorida is an interesting and troubling place. There are mansions here that make Chris’s sister’s home in Lawrence Park look like a starter home. Their gardens are a delight to behold, palm trees surrounded by pretty hibiscus bushes, benches in the shade. But never a person. Chris says they stay inside, in the air conditioning.

Not like the man who lives in a boarded up gas station in Titusville. We passed him on the way to the supermarket one day, sitting in his wheelchair just outside the door, trying to catch what little breeze there was, a growing pile of cans—pop cans? beer cans?—a short throw away.


Later that day we sat on the bow and watched the launch of the Falcon Heavy, really an incredible sight, the rocket rising straight up out of a white, billowing cloud into the sky, a loud cheer from the hundreds of people lining the bridge. It disappeared into the clouds, but still the people watched.

“What are they waiting for,” I asked Chris.

Then another cheer as two booster rockets sailed into sight, sun reflecting off them as they sliced down towards the ocean, a loud boom reaching us only after they had disappeared from view.

A man living in a gas station. A Tesla headed into outer space. I have trouble putting the two things together.

Then there’s the shooting at the school in Parkland, not far from here, which we’re all having trouble making sense of. Some people are buying the facile “mental illness” explanation.

“Guns don’t kill people,” said a woman wearing a “Not a pepper spray kind of girl” T-shirt. Yes, she trotted out that tired argument. In the next breath she admitted proudly that she had a Glock in her handbag and she wouldn’t hesitate to use it. “In the right circumstances.”

But most of the people we’ve spoken to know that it’s more complicated than that.

“Sure the kid was troubled,” one man said. “But give a 19-year old an assault rifle and what do you think is going to happen?”

We’re heartened by the response of the students at the school, who have gone public in their indictment of policies that put guns in the hands of mass murderers. Right now, their voices seem louder—and ring truer—than the voice of their president. Maybe there’s hope.

alligator heads (1)

It’s not just the pleasant anchorage and the beautiful beach that are keeping us here. Neither is it the farmer’s market, though that is excellent too. You can buy bags of cheap oranges, fresh produce, exotic orchids, alligator heads, if you want.

“What do people do with alligator heads,” I asked the man.

“They buy them for their grandsons.” Why not their granddaughters, I wondered. Maybe Keira would like an alligator head? Just a small one.

“And what do you do with the rest of the alligator?”

“We sell them for meat, tan the hides.”


No, what’s keeping us here is more a hesitation about moving further south, where things just get stranger. The population density increases, as does the gap between the rich and the poor. The cruising guide warns us that there are fewer places to anchor because the waterway is lined with expensive houses, the police will tell you to move along. In the few places it is possible to anchor, say in front of an abandoned condo development, it’s not really safe to go to shore at night, the guide says, because of the homeless people wandering the waterfront.

We’re waiting for the right wind to pop out into the ocean and sail south, avoiding southern Florida altogether, but the trade winds have set in and are blowing steadily from the southeast, exactly the direction we need to go.

So I guess we’re stuck here at velcro beach until the winds shift.

There are worse places to be.

Winter in the meadow


Since we’ve been back in Ontario, we’ve been spending as much time as we can at the boat—no, not the one in Florida, the other boat, Meadowlark, the one we’re building on our family property up north, I’d really rather not say exactly where…

We have 50 acres of land, 60 now that we’ve purchased the adjoining property with access to a three-season road. Before that, we depended on the good graces of our neighbours to get in and out of our place. In winter we have to hike in a couple miles on a snowmobile trail then hop a fence and snowshoe across a farmer’s field to get in.


But the isolation of the property is much of its appeal. It’s on a lake in the middle of the concession block, surrounded by farm land. There’s an old log cabin down by the lake, where my sister Brenda stays, built long before the township decided that because we are on a three-season road, we can’t build any more dwellings on our property.

So we’re not. Chris and I are building a boat up in the meadow.

Now Meadowlark is no ordinary boat. Sturdy post and beam construction, tongue and groove oak on the hull, an oak deck. Skylights. Discreet eavestroughs along the scuppers. You starting to get the picture?

Chris designed Meadowlark during long winter nights in our townhouse in Waterloo. He produced a set of working drawings that are themselves a work of art, then we set to work building round windows in our garage in Waterloo.

Once we broke ground in the spring, many hands helped build the boat. Our friend Rick, a carpenter by trade, helped us with the finer details, such as fitting the posts and beams—painstaking, exacting work. But the finished result is worth it. (Rick may have a different opinion on this…)

The outside is complete now, but there’s lots of finishing still to be done on the interior. Chris spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s building kitchen counters out of ash to match the dining room table we also built in our garage in Waterloo. (The neighbours at the townhouse hardly minded the sound of the table saw and the router, the smell of varnish late into the night. Really they didn’t.)

Sure, living in Meadowlark is a bit like living in a construction site—plywood floors, most but not all of the drywall installed but still bare, vapour barrier ceilings. But the boat is well insulated, and we have a full-size woodstove, so even on the coldest of winter days, it’s as cosy as can be.

And living in a meadow in the middle of winter, miles from the nearest road, is absolutely magical. The moon was full when we were up there between Christmas and New Years, and each night we’d look out across the snow, hoping to see a deer, or a coyote, or even a rabbit. But we didn’t see another creature the whole time we were up there, not even a mouse, though every morning we’d wake to fresh tracks in the snow all around us.

The silence in the meadow is profound, just the gentle sound of the wind chime from time to time. And the roar of the Argo.

Yes, we have a new addition to the fleet up at the farm—a sturdy tracked vehicle that laughs at snow. Once we’ve hiked in, we can zip back out to the car in the Argo to haul all our gear in rather than pulling it in on a sled. And we know that in an emergency, we can get out in a hurry.

Plus it’s just plain fun to drive around in! I’m still getting used to the skid steer—I often end out quite a ways away from where I thought I was going—but (surprise) Chris has mastered it completely. He can even do a perfect spin stop, braking hard on one side and doing a 180 before coming to rest. Very fancy. And a little hair raising.

We can’t think of a nicer place to be in winter. Except possibly on our other boat, somewhere warm. We try not to look at the weather in Florida—oops, just did. Twenty-five degrees, and sunny, light winds. Same as yesterday. And the day before. How boring.

Hmm. I could do with a little of that kind of boring.


What’s that white stuff?


As I write this, I’m sitting at Brenda’s kitchen table looking out over her back yard. The maple tree is bare, the last of its leaves long fallen, the bird house in its branches long empty. The ivy trailing along the fence is still green but everything else is grey. Or brown. Or grey. And… what is that white stuff on the ground?

We’re back in Ontario, at my sister’s place in Guelph, after a month of unrelenting travel. We’ve been on delivery, moving the boat from New York to Florida in stages as the weather has allowed.

After an easy summer in the peaceful Bras d’Or Lakes, the Atlantic seaboard of the United States was a bit of a shock. First and foremost, there’s the ship traffic. If possible, these waters are busier than they were when we travelled through them 13 years ago. At one point, as we were sailing at night past Atlantic City, we were tracking three tug boats, half a dozen big fishing boats dragging nets, several cargo ships making their way to and from New York City, a Coast Guard boat, and a handful of other sailboats trying to make their way south through all of this.

One thing that has changed, and it has made sailing in busy waters much less hair-raising, is the advent of AIS—Automatic Identification System, which is now the main way to avoid collisions. We still run our radar regularly—not all boats have AIS—but we now have all kinds of information on the ones that do. By clicking on the little triangle that shows up on our chart plotter, we can find out the name of the boat—very useful if you have to hail them—the type of boat, its direction and speed, and sometimes its destination. So you know if that white light on the horizon is a 648-foot cargo boat, a cruise ship, a fishing boat, or a tug boat pulling a train, as they call a series of barges. The system even tells you if the train is on a short or long line—sometimes the barges are as much as a mile behind the tug boat.


Curiously, Coast Guard boats don’t show up on AIS, but I guess if they’re looking for illegal activity, they don’t really want to announce their presence. It’s funny, in Canada, members of the Coast Guard seem like friendly, helpful people who are there to assist if you get into trouble. In the States, they seem to take border patrol more seriously. We often hear Coast Guard helicopters hailing boats and questioning them, and once we had to skirt an area where Coast Guard boats were engaging in firing practice. Do Canadian Coast Guard boats even have guns? I’m not sure.

But the Coast Guard’s bold presence is nothing compared to the many fighter jets that screamed over our heads on this journey. Sorry—we have lots of pictures of where they were two seconds ago but only one actual glimpse of a jet to share with you. Those things are fast! We spent two memorable nights at anchor in the Alligator River waiting out weather, which is one of the places these jets practice manoeuvres. They would streak out over our boat then shoot straight up in the air and disappear in the clouds. A minute later, they’d come screaming back. It was pretty neat—our own private air show. Okay, it was neat during the day time…

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The further south we travelled, the quieter the coastal waters became. On the last leg of our journey—a five day passage from Beaufort, North Carolina to Florida—there were very few other boats around. We had a peaceful sail—warm, sunny days, star-filled nights, with the full moon to light our way. Oh yeah. That’s why we do this.

We made landfall at Ponce de Leon Inlet and spent a leisurely Saturday motoring along the Intracoastal Waterway to Titusville, where we are keeping the boat while we’re home for Christmas. All along the way we could see evidence of the havoc wrought by this year’s hurricanes. Smashed up docks, sunken boats with just their masts sticking out of the water, boats washed up on shore, most of them abandoned now. It’s a very sad sight.


It was sunny and 80 degrees when we left Florida just a week ago, with a nice cool breeze blowing in from the ocean. It took us three days of driving to cover the 2,000 miles it had taken us a month to travel by boat. We still wake up in the night and wonder where we are. On passage? Is it time for my watch? Are we at anchor? Why is the boat so still? Wait, we’re in a bed. What motel is this? What city are we in?

Oh yeah. We’re in Guelph. And that white stuff on the ground is a skiff of snow. Sure it’s cold here, but we’re getting used to it. And to tell the truth, I’m okay with sitting still for a while.

River run

IMG_2807We had it all worked out. If we left the anchorage at the southern tip of Long Island Sound at 8am, we’d slip under Throgs Neck Bridge and start our run down the East River with the current in our favour. Our aim was to hit the aptly named Hell Gate at 10:30am, which would give us enough time to get out of the river before the tide turned against us.

Now the East River is not really a river. It’s a 14-mile tidal strait that begins in Long Island Sound and ends in New York Harbor. Eight bridges span it—all high enough for a sailboat to pass under. They’re not the problem. It’s the current, which can run as high as 5 knots. That’s our top speed under motor, so running against the current was not an option. Even running with it would require expert helmsmanship. Fortunately we have some of that on board.

We weren’t the only sailboat running the river—half a dozen of us entered the river at the same time, which was reassuring: clearly we had the timing right. We were moving along smartly at six knots, seven. In no time we were under the first two bridges, the waterway still nice and wide and more or less straight.


This part of the run was anything but scenic—old industrial buildings and abandoned piers, rows of rotting wooden posts jutting out into the water. Power plants, low-rise apartment buildings, a road running along the shore teeming with traffic. The odd ferry or water taxi crossed from one side to the other. A charter boat passed us, heading out to the sound, bristling with people and fishing rods.

The river doglegged to the left, ran straight again for a while. By now we were travelling at a heady 8 knots, buffeted by the current, but there was lots of room and little other boat traffic.

Then Hell Gate Bridge appeared.

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Now the bridge itself is lovely, an arched steel structure with stone towers at each end, built in the early 1900s. And travelling at 8.5 knots now, we were under it in no time.

Then a sharp dogleg to the right and we were in Hell Gate itself, where the Harlem River pours into the East River. It was a boiling, foaming mess. Chris wrestled with the wheel to keep us more or less in the centre of the narrow channel, while I watched the shore whizzing by, and then we were through the gate and into another long, straight stretch.


Whew. That wasn’t so bad. Chris was able to let the autopilot take it and we both relaxed a little. It was a grey, foggy day so we could barely see the Manhattan skyline emerging from the gloom.

“Look, Chris—I think thats the Empire State Building.”

But Chris was looking at the traffic ahead of us. Suddenly the river was thick with ferries, tug boats pushing huge barges, little fishing boats drifting with the current, all kinds of pleasure craft. A helicopter took off from a pad beside the river. There was a sailing regatta underway out in the harbour. Spinnakers bloomed as the boats rounded the mark for the downwind leg.

“Have you got that ferry?”

“Which one,” Chris said grimly. “The small one zipping in around the tip of Manhattan Island, the fast ferry coming up behind us, or the huge orange ferry approaching our bow?”

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The big orange ferry—the Staten Island Ferry—passed within thirty feet of us, people smiling and waving at the little sailboat beside them. Little. That’s not how we usually think of ourselves. Whoa. A huge oil barge, painted red and tan, being pushed by a matching tug boat. More fishing boats to dodge. Then the open water of New York Harbor at last.

The Statue of Liberty saluted our successful passage as we sailed by, such a nice lady. We made our way easily through the many cargo ships anchored in front of her, waiting for clearance to go to dock.

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Under the bridge at the narrows—oops, one more surprise for us: we were overtaken by about the biggest cruise ship we’ve ever seen—and then we were in the wide open bay beyond, the Atlantic Ocean not far in the distance, nothing but water between us and the Azores.

But that’s not where we’re headed right now. It’s too late in the season to think about crossing, so we’re back where it all started 13 years ago, almost to the day, tucked behind Sandy Hook waiting for the right winds to make our way south to the Bahamas, where we’ll spend the winter.


It feels so different this time. Last time, we had never been in the ocean in our boat, were both feeling a little daunted by the prospect. (Well I was. I’m not sure Chris is daunted by anything.)

We now have 10,000 miles of ocean sailing under our belts, but that doesn’t make us cocky. If anything, our respect for the seas is even greater. But then so is our confidence.

By the way? We hit the Hell Gate Bridge at exactly 10:30am.