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August 3rd, 2009

Despite an unfavourable weather forecast - winds out of the south at 20 knots gusting higher, we determined to launch the Weekender.  We chose Aaron Lake, a local smaller lake just in shore from Lake Huron.  It has a nice public launch ramp and in past visits was pretty quiet.  I thought that on an overcast, cool day with strong winds that no one would be there.  I was wrong.

Aaron Lake

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The drive up to the lake was uneventful and my tiny Toyota Echo did a great job of pulling the boat along.  The ramp area was somewhat crowded so we backed into an out of the way corner and started to rig up the boat.  Fortunately my patient and loving wife came up in her 4X4 with the camera and a tow strap (just in case).

Arrived at the lake and trying to remember where everything goes Paranoi keeps me from backing the car in too far so I unhitch the trailer after tieing a line to it so it won't easily get lost.
Shove the trailer out while Trueman holds the painter for the boat. Unhook and not realizing that I haven't gone deep enough, lift the bow and start shoving the boat off the trailer.
A bit more shoving It's FREE and FLOATS!
Katherine christening the boat Floating Bear and wishing for the safety of all.  We used a can of East India Pale Ale and made sure that whatever sea gods were watching got it all. Here we are launched and drifting uncontrollably into a patch of weeds.  I'm attempting to row the boat backwards out into deeper water with little success.

After christening the boat “Floating Bear” with some East India Pale Ale, and with the assistance of some on-lookers, my 15 year-old son and I managed to get the boat (with sails down) shoved around the dock and out into the water. It was my plan to row out to open water and then hoist the sails. This plan was thwarted by the reluctance of the boat to be rowed in any direction, especially backwards, that and the fact that the rudder wouldn’t stay down didn’t help. We then “sailed” sideways (grounding #1) into a field of weeds that I ended up using an oar as a barge-pole to escape.   The one oar lock had by this point popped out of it's holder and wouldn't stay down.

At this point I was satisfied that I had done my duty and that the boat had been launched. The weather gods had other ideas - perhaps they didn't like the beer. Strong winds from the south kept blowing us north and we were unable to point the boat south (in part perhaps because the rudder wouldn’t stay down) and couldn’t make any progress. So – this is a sailboat, let’s sail south – and because of the high winds, we hoisted just the jib. No luck – the boat continued to refuse to point south at all but we did manage to actually sail around a bit, as long as south was not any part of our plans. Also, being unable to point into the wind caused us to have to gybe rather than tack. Rowing also didn’t help and we couldn’t turn the boat around even with the help of the oars.

Escaped from the weeds and being blown / rowing out into open water Jib hoisted and now sailing, but the wrong direction.

I finally realized that with just the jib, “of course” the bow of the boat was being blown north, so I handed the helm to my son Trueman, told him that if I fell in to let go of all the controls, then climbed up to the foredeck (all 250lbs of me) and manually pulled the jib down. The “so clever” method I had though of to douse the jib (never to be revealed now) did not work.

I then hoisted the mainsail with a reef in it (about 2’). It flogged rather unmercifully, but we started to be able to point higher. The steering was feeling loose though, so I opened the deck hatch (a very handy thing) and tried to tighten the turnbuckle I had installed for just such an occasion. Unfortunately, I turned it the wrong way and everything fell apart. We were about 200 yards from a lee shore at this point, moving rather briskly. I managed to get the steering repaired just in time and we tried to tack. No luck, the boat wouldn’t come right up into the wind, so we gybed just in time. We started working our way south with some slight success and decided to hoist the jib again. Surprisingly it helped rather than hurt our ability to go to windward.

Beating to the south.
You can see how bad the sails are flogging here
More beating to the south.

We now were (still) trying to work our way to the ramp making perhaps 10 yards of southing each tack (or gybe). The rudder kept popping up and during one of these repairs, we waited too long and a gust caught us during a gybe and forced us aground in shallow water (grounding #2). I got out, took the opportunity to tighten the shrouds which had loosened, turned the boat around (toe rails are my friends), then shoved the boat back out, leaping back in as well as an overweight middle-aged man could be expected to.   A very nice gentleman, whose shore we were shipwrecked on, came over to see if we needed assistance and to offer us the use of his dock.  We declined as we were actually seeing progress.

More southing, while the sails are flogging themselves rather badly in the high winds, another gybe, another gust and about 10 gallons of water comes in over the rails. No bailing bucket (it was in the trunk of the car). A water bottle was emptied and Trueman started bailing while I attempted to handle both the jib sheet and main sheet while attempting to steer. Oh I forgot the mention the 2 times the drain plug was accidentally kicked out which also added to the water in the cockpit.  At one point we had about 4 inches of water in the cockpit.

Finally, at long last we make our way and make the ramp. Rather than attempting to dock and getting bashed around there, I just ran the boat up the ramp (steel shoe on the keel to the rescue) and started hauling sails down (grounding #3 - at least this one was on purpose). This wasn’t helped by the reluctance of the peak halyard to come down. The throat came down with no problem, but the peak continues to bind. I really have to figure that one out.

The grateful mariners returning on a broad reach and having problems slowing down. Normally I'd tack up into the wind to lose speed and drift in, but that wasn't an option with the amount of wind we had. Grounded at the ramp finally.  The wind is trying to push the boat over as I attempt to pull the main down against the bound up peak halyard.   It appears that the tape on the leech of the sail has come loose as well due no doubt to how badly it was flogging.

Fetch the car, back the trailer in while my wife and son are holding lines from the boat trying to keep it from blowing away. Back the car in, take the trailer off, tie a line to the trailer so we can find it, shove the trailer into deeper water (but not quite deep enough) manouver the boat on to the trailer (keel guides were a good idea) and winch it on.

Then comes time for my “wonderful plan” – I had a second winch that I hooked on to the safety chains on the trailer and put the hook on the car’s trailer hitch. Didn’t work worth beans, everything jammed, got twisted and despite the shoe on the bottom of the trailer that “should” have slid along the bottom, it kept getting hung up. So – back the car in far enough (water almost to the car doors), put the trailer on, and pop it out with no fuss at all (don’t know why I was worried).

I probably could have gone in a bit farther but fortunately this was far enough. Safe and sound.

De-rig, tie things down – my wife leaves to pick up pizza – and head home, only to lose an oar-lock on the way. A bit of duct tape to hold the oar in place an we finally make it home.

Certainly an adventure, not one that I’d care to repeat, but both my son and I agree that it certainly had enough good parts to it to make it a good father-son day.  With our experience though, the next one will be much more successful.

Things to fix:

The double-sided carpet tape on the sails that I was so proud of failed in many places – will need to be dealt with.
A down-haul or furler for the jib.
STEERING – I got used to the wheel and think that if I can only get the steering to stay tight that it will work well.
Rudder – the @#$ thing just wouldn’t stay down. I used a bungee cord thinking that it would help prevent problems on grounding but I think I picked too small of one or set it wrong, I think it slips between the rudder and the rudder box depriving me of the proper angle of pull.
The sling I made to hold the rudder up was difficult to remove after launch.  It will work for transport, but I need something easier for once the boat is at the lake.
Oar-locks – need to either build or buy ones that will stay in place.
The GD peak halyard. I'm wondering if I need to upgrade to a smaller diameter, better quality line, or just adjust how the blocks are set up.  I think they are binding because I'm running them down the shroud rather than the mast.  I might also add a flag halyard to the gaff so that I have something other than the sail to pull down on.
Checklists.  I forgot the bailing bucket and heaving line (required by law) in the car.  We almost forgot to hook up the trailer lights and safety chains when we left as well.

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For more information, contact Last Updated November 11, 2009