Master, Commander, and Mate

It was a lovely sunny day, the wind was highly variable, oscillating between just to port and starboard of “right on the nose” from the Nor’west, as always seems the case when heading up through the shoals just outside the Thirty Thousand Islands of Georgian Bay.

Christy and I were in my Dad’s Catalina 22 sloop, a great boat for those waters:  “The thing I love about the Catalina,”she noted wryly, after we were safely ensconced for the night, “is that you know you are in danger of hitting something when you can step dry off the bow,” which she had done just hours earlier.  It is true.  [ed: the photographic proof this can be done can be seen above] In the clear waters there, in that boat, if you can’t see it, you can’t hit it.  We have come to rely on this feature when cruising, one that strangely remains unpublished in the manufacturer’s sales brochures.

We tacked up the deeper channels between the long chains of shoals from Go Home Bay towards our destination, American Camp Island, now privately owned by the Georgian Bay Land Trust and enjoyable by all.  According to our rule, when we saw the water begin to show yellow and shoal ahead of us, it was time to tack.  The highly variable speed and direction of the wind made progress a bit tricky, but my new understanding of “lifts” and “headers” — acquired by watching my competitors rapidly sail away from me around the race courses at LDSC — helped us make good ground towards our objective.  So too did the trusty Honda 7.5 on the transom, when asked.  But I am loath to ask frequently for such favours, fearing the gods of wind and machine will, just for a lark, throw me a curve ball

And so it was that we approached American Camp, under sail only, but with a gentle and favourable breeze, towards the yellowy shoal water that surrounds every one of those myriad lovely isles and which always makes the sailing “interesting”.  “Honey…” — such insolence and implicit subordination in the moniker!  What?  Not “Captain”, nor better, “Master and Commander” ??? –- “…I think we should start the engine, and get the sails down,” Christy said calmly, and added, “and I think we should head over there, and swing around that island to get in.”  I, Captain, of course, did not want to try the patience of the gods, disturbing them with 4-stroke clatter, and preferred to press on under sail alone, and on the direct route in, as well, a heading easily makeable with the current wind and which would avoid the extra distance down around “her” island.

And that, of course, is exactly when the gods chose to speak.  They cleared their collective throats with a giant shift and then shouted loud, bringing the wind around to blow hard, directly from our destination.  And all the water seemed also to suddenly pale towards yellow from the deep blue of only seconds earlier.  Hmmn.  But we could still head straight in under power, of course.

I started the engine, noting mentally I had already acceded to Christy’s first wish, but we continued to make the direct route, nose to wind, and I started to douse sails, fetch anchors, winch keels, making ready for our landfall, with Christy at the helm dutifully holding the course I had instructed.  Until the gods spoke again – just as the Honda, suddenly suspiciously silent, didn’t.  Hmmnn.  No worries, I’ll just start it again, and we’ll stay on course.  I quickly descended from the cabin-top to pull the starter cord and… nothing.  But I mean really, truly, nothing, as the starter cord didn’t even retract for a second pull.  HMMMNN!  There was now no choice, and little time in which not to make it.  Quickly raising sail and dropping some keel, I could only sneak a glance at Christy at the tiller as she happily bore off under sail alone, and under her island, as she had earlier wished.

In its lee I did manage to get the Honda going again, and we kept our eyes open so as not to hit anything, but not before we had exactly followed Christy’s route, and not mine, into our snug little bay.  We ended our trip with just a tiny little bump as she stepped off the bow to shore, when the Catalina’s retracted keel gently touched the pink granite of the Canadian Shield, clearly loitering there just a half-meter below the surface.  Quite safe from the whims of the deities now, I paused and reflected: to whom do the gods answer?   I eyed my crew with greater respect, and that night, it was I that cooked dinner outside amidst the mosquitoes, while Christy remained safe from their irritations in the cabin.  No sense in pushing one’s luck, I thought.

Captains, be forewarned!  Your mates may be more powerful than you think.

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