An impending change in the weather cost us a dinner with friends.
Let me explain.
On Monday, September 12, Julie and I had sailed to Lion’s Head from Tobermory on a lark. Lion’s Head had been glowingly described by our friends Kathy and Michael, who live there. We first encountered them in Killarney where they helped us celebrate our wedding anniversary a week earlier. They were in Killarney after a season of sailing the North Channel on their sailboat, Escape. Before they left for home a couple days after we met they encouraged us to come visit. Favorable winds on Monday inspired us to make for Lion’s Head.
Kathy and Michael expected to get home sometime Monday, so we thought we would surprise them. As it turned out they returned too late for us to get together Monday night. When they turned up on our dock the next morning to invite us over for dinner, Julie and I were having breakfast and planning our departure due to a change in the weather prediction. The winds were rising and shifting to the west. In fact, 30 knot westerlies were predicted for the next morning across the northern face of the Bruce. That meant if we left Wednesday, we’d be cruising into the teeth of wind-driven waves even higher than those that had deterred us a couple days earlier. Rather than getting stuck in Lion’s Head longer than we planned or putting ourselves through a potential
pounding, we decided to head back up the Bruce Tuesday morning. We had come all the way from Tobermory the previous day on the off chance of seeing them. Now weather forced us to cut our visit short.
As we talked about the sailing season just ending and our respective plans for the fall and winter, we noticed that the ends of the docks further into the harbor were carpeted with gulls and caked with gull guano. Those docks were devoid of boats.
The boats were already hauled for winter, so the gulls laid claim to the empty docks and huddled together in the rising wind. Their occupation of those docks amply illustrated why gulls are officially called a “colony.” I have read a colony of gulls is sometimes known as a “squabble.” I rather like the evocative name squabble for these flying rats. From the looks of things, this squabble was intent on colonization.
We set to leave shortly before noon, gusty southwest winds were complicating our departure from the dock.
Shallows between the end of our dock and the break wall limited our escape route, so Michael and Kathy helped walk Gaviidae windward to the other end of the pier. I backed the boat past the end of the dock then motored ahead out of the harbor.
We raised our already reefed mainsail out in Isthmus Bay, cut the engine and quickly unfurled the staysail. We were doing 6-plus knots as we sailed north past the white bluffs of Smokey Head point. As we approached Cape Chin, the wind was clocking around the point at 25 knots and building.
And then the Squall
With Cape Chin behind us and two-thirds of the way across Dyer’s Bay, I could see low clouds rapidly obscuring the shoreline a couple miles off port—due west. A squall was coming. Julie was below decks and autopilot had the helm, so I went to the companionway and called down for my raincoat. I had just pulled it on when a big gust slammed us portside, pushing the opposite rail to the water; hard rain pelted me in the cockpit. Our bow sliced slightly to starboard as Ted—our name for the autopilot, a nod to Ted Gozzard—gamely corrected course. In the scant seconds it took me to get back to the helm, the wind had already backed off—to 40 knots. Julie, who was just coming up the companionway flew into the aft cabin. Back on her feet she shrugged into her raincoat asking if we needed to douse sails. While we had a good heel going, Ted was holding us steady. I said let’s wait a bit and sure enough the wind backed off even further to 30 knots and the rain devolved into a driving mist, then disappeared entirely. I spotted the squall about 1:30—it was all over in about 15 minutes.
Rounding Cabot Head, we fired up the iron genny and doused sails as we drove headlong into the west wind, which was down to under 20 knots. About 5:30 we docked along the outer pier of Big Tub Harbour Resort, not quite halfway into Big Tub Harbour. We had dinner ashore—which was ok, not not as good as what we might have had if we’d stayed put in Lion’s Head and dined with Kathy and Michael.
That night we listened to the winds howl over the bluffs along the harbor from our snug berth, but they never developed to the intensity predicted. By midday, the next day, it was dead calm in Big Tub Harbour.
September 13, 2016 Big Tub Harbour Resort Tobermory Ontario 45°15.404’N 81°40.460’W 1064.6 Nautical Miles