The weather promises to be warm, sunny with moderate winds on this labor-day weekend – perfect for exploring the popular sailing grounds around Toronto harbor. There are two public launch areas close to Toronto downtown: to the west is Humber Bay Park, and to the east is Ashbridge’s Bay Park. Both are about five miles from Toronto Inner Harbour 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.
Another option is to get permission to launch from one of the seven sailing clubs dotting the Outer 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 Park which is the transition zone between derelict industrial parks and the vibrant Beaches district. Located next to the larger Woodbine Park, the Ashbridge’s Bay Park 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 Lake 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 Ontario 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 slopping, 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 Toronto 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.