Wednesday, September 19, 2007

NA Championships, the transport home...

After loading a small mountain of stuff back on board and attending the awards ceremony. It was time to say farewell to Etobicoke Yacht Club (EYC) and the crew that was driving back. Paul, Dennis and I pulled our lines aboard and headed out into the lake. It's about 25 nautical miles from EYC to the mouth of the Welland Canal at Port Weller. Of course, the wind was directly on the nose or at just enough of an angle that it didn't seem worth the effort to set the mainsail. It was a pretty good pounding!

When we were about 2 1/2 hours out, we heard RITUAL, another J35, call in to Seaway Welland control advising that they were 90 minutes out. Paul and I were afraid that RITUAL and SISTER, who had left a big earlier then RITUAL, would enter the canal before we got there. This could result in quite a delay since we would be alone. So the plan was to call in to Seaway Welland at a point when RITUAL was 20 minutes out to announce our ETA. The plan worked great. When we arrived at the small boat dock, there were the other 2 J35s. I purchased our ticket and called into the control room from the shore-side phone. There was a tug-barge in Lock #1 and we were next. While I was taking care of the ticket and call-in, BLUE WATER, a large power boat came in. They were able to join the 3 racers for the trip up the canal.

The tug-barge came slowly out of the lock and we got the green light. In we went with fenders and fender boards fully deployed. SISTER and RITUAL were rafted together and we were alone, with BLUE WATER behind us. As the lower gate closed we got the signal "Going Up" from lock attendants. The rush of water started and we were slammed up against the wall. The fenders and board groaned and squealed, but did the job. With Paul on the bow hauling on the bow line and Dennis fending off as needed and Robert hauling on the stern line and controlling the throttle, we were soon up 50 feet up from where we started. Only 6 more to go.....

Did I mention that a COLD FRONT had come through. It was really starting to get cold! It's a short 2 mile motor from Lock #1 to Lock #2 where we were able to pull right in. Again the force of the water pulling at the keel was impressive, but this time we had confidence in our fendering setup. Now it was a really short transit to the bottom of Lock #3. We shifted our fendering system to the port-side and as we approached the lock were asked to moor on the wall, since another tug-barge combination was in the lock. After about 30 minutes, we were able to enter the lock and ride the frothing water to the top. The ticket and transit form was given to the lock-master and we were on out way to the bottom of Lock #4/5/6. This is a step lock where the top of 4 is the bottom of 5. We had to wait again for about 30 minutes for the boat ahead to lock through 4 and 5, so that 5 could be refilled to provide us with the water needed to fill 4. Soon we were able to enter and rode by turbulence to the top. As we got to the top, one of the deckhands advised us that they would hold us at the top of 4 rather than the bottom of 5, again due to the delay in getting the leading motor vessel through. It was now the wee hours of the morning and bitterly cold.

One treat while waited was to see the FONTENAC creep out of Lock 5 into Lock 4 next to us. All 222 meters of her slid by and then lowered away, until only the top of her stack was visible. The rumble of her 9,600 B.H.P engines was impressive. And then it was our turn to fire up the 27 B.H.P power plant and move into Lock #5 and #6. By now it had become fairly routine.

After leaving Lock #6 I warned Paul and Dennis not to get too comfortable. Lock #7 is the oldest and roughest. The walls are not as smooth and there are sluice openings about 2/3 the way up that roar as the water enters from above. The sluice openings in the wall are about 3 feet across and 6 feet tall, just the right size for the fenders and the edge of the boat to slide into. This would be a disaster of epic proportions and was to be avoided at all costs. So when our lines were set, I looked up and we were directly aligned with one of these dreaded openings. Once again we heard "GOING UP" and the roaring started. Each lock has its own characteristic water flow. The first 6 had started off with a moderate lift rate and then a big surge in the center of the lock. Lock 7 started with water surging from everywhere and the boat seemed to fly up the first 30 feet of the wall. Now we were approaching the sluice opening. I engaged the engine and it required full throttle to slide forward along the wall so that we could clear the opening. As soon as we cleared, we drifted back and the keel got caught in the flow coming out the same opening. It took a huge haul to keep from getting pushed far off the wall.

Did I mention that it was cold!!!! As we left Lock 6 the fog was coming up off the relatively warmer water. Soon we had patches of zero visibility, which combined with a nasty breeze to make things really frigid. It's a 14 knot run from Lock 7 to 8. With about 3 miles to go, the engine started to act up. It was air in the fuel lines again. Paul and Dennis opened things up and bled the lines which got us going again. We never lost the engine completely. As we approached lock #8 we had to wait about 15 minutes for SISTER and then we were put through.

The small boat dock is right off the top of Lock #8 just beyond Bridge#21 and we quickly tied off. It was 6 AM!..... After getting 3 hours of much needed sleep, we used Dennis' car to drive to SAMBO's cafe for a hearty breakfast and then back to TIME MACHINE where Paul and I bid farewell to Dennis. We slipped our lines and headed out into Lake Erie for the 60 mile transit to Erie. To start, the wind was moderate and on the nose, but within about an hour had shifted enough to the South that we could set sail. As the morning wore on cushions were brought up and we alternated getting in cat naps. about 4 hours out from Erie the winds shifted to the East and picked up in strength. The waves were getting larger and TIME MACHINE was starting to surf. We saw regular 8-9 knot surfs in the last hour or so.

Jeff had driven the Passat from his house to Erie and called to confirm the location of the customs video-phone. We eased in and tied up at 19:30, half an hour ahead of schedule. We dropped off Paul, cleared customs, loaded on Jeff and his gear and dumped 5 gallons of fuel in the tank. By 20:10 we were off again, next stop North Cape Yacht Club.

Once around the headland that protects the bay, we hoisted the main and turned to our course. The wind was from directly aft and the mainsail would not settle down as the the boat was tossed by the waves, so we settled for sailing a bit more to the South, anticipating a shift to the South. As things were now more controlled, I went down for a sleep.

When I awoke at just before midnight, Jeff was just shutting off the engine. He had set the #3 jib. The wind was at 140 degrees angle and blowing at 16-20 knots. The boat was flying with surfs to 9 knots. These are the conditions that every sailor hopes for on a transport. A reaching wind and an open sea! Jeff went below for a sleep and I kept watch for the next 30 miles. There wasn't much to do, the autopilot was tracking nicely and the wind was very steady. At about 03:30 I went down below and brewed a pot of coffee. I think the smell woke up Jeff, who gratefully accept a cup.

We both stayed up for a few more hours as the wind started to slacken and soon we had to restart the engine. I went down for a sleep and must have been really tired, because I did not notice the engine having air problems again. When I did come up, Jeff told me there was trouble and right on cue,.....rrrr.....rr..r.....rrr....rrrrrr, the RPMs dipped. I got the tools out and opened the engine cover and did the bleeding, this time at full RPMs. Right away things were better and we continued on.

As we came through the Pelee Passage, the foredeck was dry enough to drop the #3 and pack it without getting wet and we dragged up the #1 (Frankenstein) and set it. There is a special feeling about passing into home waters. Something about being in familiar territory. As we skirted past the Hens & Chickens and passed between the North Harbor Reef and North Harbor Island we could see Middle Sister Island and the plumes off the Fermi nuke plant. ETA was 17:30. With very minimal cell phone service we setup to have Dale meet us at NCYC.

The closer we got the NCYC, the more breeze we saw. We took the #1 down and stowed it and as we passed the West Mark we rounded up and flaked the Main on the boom for the last time. A short run and we came through the entrance without touching bottom. A quick pumpout of the holding tank and we were in our slip at 1745. Dale arrived at 1810 and we dropped off Jeff at his house before proceeding to Dale's house where the skipper got a much needed shower and a wonderful dinner. Dale then brought me home to Ann Arbor.

The next day, Wednesday, Paul picked me up at home, we stopped for pint at the Leopold Brothers (mostly to let the rush hour traffic settle) and then went to Paul's house to pick up the Passat. It was the last piece in the puzzle.

Great weekends are measured by the stories we tell. This was a weekend which will be talked about for many years.

Thanks to the whole crew of TIME MACHINE. Everyone did a part...


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