The weather promises to be warm, sunny with moderate winds
on this labor-day weekend – perfect for exploring the popular sailing grounds
Harbor. There are two public launch areas close to Toronto
downtown: to the west is Humber
Park, and to the east is Ashbridge’s Bay
Park.Both are about five miles from Toronto
and involve sailing over the open water of
Lake Ontario. On windy days, winds rolling in from the east or south can quickly build up
waves big enough to be exciting for a small sailing dingy – such as today.
Another option is to get permission to launch from one of
the seven sailing clubs dotting the
Harbor, which is well protected and within an easy sail to the Inner
Harbour. We drive up and down that stretch looking for a sympathetic sailing club with
no luck. ‘What a nice boat you have’, they say, ‘would love to see it out
there, but sorry, cannot let you launch if you are not a member. Liability
concerns.’ Another confirmation that law suits and insurance claims have led
to the total eradication of common sense and cooperative spirit!
So we keep driving down
Irwin Ave., through the industrial parks dotting this eastern part of the Toronto
lakefront, to the Ashbridge’s Bay
which is the transition zone between derelict industrial parks and the vibrant,
upscale Beaches district. Located next to the larger Woodbine
Park, the Ashbridge’s Bay
has ample parking space and has several boat ramps lined with long docking
areas. On this Saturday afternoon of Labour Day weekend, the parking lot
reserved for cars with boat trailers is only half full. The wind is steady from
the east at 10-15 knots. The sheltered water in the little bay off the park
quietly sparkles under the warm sun; in the distance many sailboats dot the
horizon, some sailing in formations of what must be a race regatta.
By the time we completed rigging the boat and left the
sheltered bay to get our taste of sailing in the open water of
Ontario, the early afternoon sun already seems to be setting. Heading east in the
moderate wind and waves, it is a thoroughly enjoyable sail. Under the brilliant
late-summer sun, the water of Lake
is clear with a uniform, almost Caribbean-like turquoise-blue. The under-water
sunlight reflects off the huge centre board of the Hen, and down the centre
board trunk one can see the lake water gently lapping, luminous, like a serene
aquarium compared to the choppy water around the boat. As we head against the
wind, occasional sprays land in the large open cockpit of the Hen, and remind us
that we are mere visitors in this inland-sea. Getting the main sail slightly wet
from sprays is a good sign of a spirited, rewarding sail. Soon we are across
from the white sandy beach off the Beaches area, and a decision needs to be
made: keep going along the eastern shore, or turn around and head west to
harbour. It amounts to about a 1 hour’s run before the wind; allowing for 2
hours on the return part against the wind, it will still be well before dark.
Sure, the wind might pick up and the waves might get even bigger yet, but that
is the alluring aspect about sailing: the calculated risk, the dose of
uncertainty sufficient to make such a trip to be called an adventure.
So off we go, heading towards
on a wing-on-wing. The breeze keeps the Hen at hull speed without stressing it.
We pass by a small keelboat manned by a nervous-looking sailor, sailing with jib
only and obviously under-canvas. It gets to be a very uncomfortable ride when
the boat is moving too slow to overcome wave motions. We’ve been there before.
Rounding the corner of the Outer
Harbor, boat traffic becomes decidedly heavy. A regatta of J-Boats are returning to
their slips, followed by several large sleek Herreshoff-design wooden boats.
Ours seems to be the only open-cockpit dingy around. Several keel boats ahead of
us heel over at 45 degrees, and just as we start wondering where is the wind
causing this commotion, we get hit by the same gusts channeled by the islands.
The Hen heels over to the rub-rail and green water threatens to come on board.
OK, time to wake up and uncleat the main sheet.
skyline unfolds, silhouetted by a setting sun. We sail right up to the
waterfront, where three ferry lines run non-stop services to Toronto
Island. The slow-moving ferries have the command of the water here, and getting out of
their way, we turn around and head to
Island. There are plenty of places to visit on this two-mile stretch of land, but time
is running out, and after a short visit we
depart and head against the wind back towards Ashbridge’s Bay
Park. The wind has died down somewhat, but not the waves. In fact the rolling waves
have built up even more after a full day of eastern breeze, forming what
Environment Canada would call one-to-two meter waves. This is the roughest
condition we’ve sailed in yet, but the Hen takes it quite well. It ploughs
through the crests and surfs down the troughs, occasionally half-burying the bow
under a larger wave and sending sprays all over. Every now and then the bow
lifts high and then pounds on the water with a loud splash – courtesy of the
flat-bottom design which has many advantages but slicing through oncoming walls
of water is not one of them. Once one gets used to the boat’s motion and gains
confidence that everything is under control, the ride is exhilarating. After a
while the jib halyard becomes slightly loosened by the constant motion. The jib
halyard is normally set more taut than the forestay. As a result pointing
capability is reduced and we have a few more tacks to do.
But the ride is thoroughly enjoyable, and we race against (whenever
there’s more than one sailboat it constitutes a race, whether or not the other
boat is aware) several large sailboats heading in the same direction, some of
them motor-sailing against the head-wind. After two hours we arrive back where
we started, wet and tired and hungry, but yearning for more sailing trips to
further explore this beautiful sailing ground off Toronto.
Big waves - hold tight!