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As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been looking at crewing at a local yacht club as reasonably inexpensive way of getting back into sailing. Yesterday, I took the plunge and went down to the club because it was their first posted “Sunday Schedule” race.

There wasn’t a race. It turns out that, on Saturday (one of the very few days in the past week when it hasn’t been raining) the club had their annual sail-to-the-next-yacht-club-over-and-have-a-barbecue event. When I arrived, an hour before the posted race start time as I’d been advised to do, I did not find a bustling boat basin readying for the pressures of a race, I found a very quiet club with various people drinking coffee, tidying their boats after a long day’s sail and (I suspect) a couple of sailors nursing hangovers. The day’s racing, it became very quickly clear, was not going to happen.

So that was a bit disappointing, because I was kind of hoping to get out on the water, but I certainly wasn’t going to be a jerk about it. I made the point of introducing myself to some folks, however, and everyone seems nice. K & J, a brother and sister sailing team who arrived shortly after I did, were particularly friendly and gave me lots of advice for what to look for in a boat, dished a bit on how the club works (it all seems very casual) and then announced that they were taking their boat Wind Song out for a sail, race or no race. They very generously invited me aboard, keeping a running commentary on rigging, boat handling, equipment and the state of the harbour mouth, which apparently has silted up rather badly.

We spent a couple of hours out on the water, first on a beam reach due south for about an hour, then on the opposite beam reach north back to the harbour. After we cleared the warehouses on either side of the harbour mouth the wind was from the east at about Force 5 and the swell was moderate, so it was ideal weather for sailing a small boat. Wind Song, a Macgregor 26D, has a cockpit which sits a lot higher above the water than I’m used to, so I definitely felt the motion of the boat, but I’m pleased to say that although I got a mite queasy once in a while, I did not get seasick. (Being in the cockpit helped: I have no doubt that if I were below I’d have been tossing my cookies tout suite.) The height of the cockpit also had the advantage of keeping us very dry; only once or twice did we get hit by spray and we never had any waves break into the cockpit.

I was, however, struck by several things. First, my previous sailing experience is almost entirely on Lake Erie, so the colour of the water on Lake Ontario was notably different; sort of a deep blue-green under the grey overcast of the sky — Lake Erie water is almost always silt-brown (when it’s not algae-green.)

Second, the I’m very glad I thought to over-dress for the occasion and bring a warm windbreaker. My sailing out of Port Stanley was always later in the season, and Lake Erie, by the end of the summer, is pleasantly warm. Yesterday, Lake Ontario was cold, about 10 degrees colder out on the water than in the harbour; protected by bluffs and big buildings the habour basin was almost flat calm: it felt like a summer’s day, albeit a cool and rainy one. Out on the water I was very forcefully reminded that not three months ago the ice cover on Lake Ontario was close to 97%… and that was before the rain started. When I mentioned this to J her cheerful comment was “You don’t want to go swimming in that today!”

I get the impression that the words “pleasantly warm” and “Lake Ontario” are rarely, if ever, mentioned in the same sentence. It’s something to think about… and plan around.

Third, and this was something I’d forgotten, it’s nice to be able to talk on a boat. While it’s been almost a decade since I’ve gone sailing I have been out on powerboats, and they’re not even remotely the same. Usually you have to yell to be heard over the throb of the engines, the slamming of the hull into the waves and the roar of the wind caused by your speed; the deck of a sailboat tends to be a quiet place; it’s easy to have a pleasant chat… or even to just sit back and enjoy the sounds of the water against the hull and the wind in the rigging.

And it was nice, really nice, to just be out on the water. One of the things I’ve always liked about sailing is, once you’ve cast off and are underway, that’s the only thing which matters. The boat becomes the whole world, and you focus only on those things that interact directly with that world: the wind, the waves, the sun and rain, other boats passing nearby in their own personal worlds, the white towers of the sails and the green sweep of the land away to the north. You don’t worry about bank accounts or emails or facebook or selfies or paperwork or finding a job, because those things just don’t matter to the boat or the task of sailing her; they simply don’t touch the world out there. I’ve always found it an incredible release from stress.

So, yeah, I had a pretty good afternoon. I’m more determined than ever to get my own boat and start sailing, and from what I’ve seen of the club I definitely think it’s worth getting involved with for its own sake; lots of friendly people and some real benefits from being involved in the community.

And it looks like I’ve got some free time next Sunday, too…

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