It was a full boat with Bri, Riley, Gavin, Owen, Lori, Barley and myself. This is our first overnight cruise in the boat and despite the huge crowd on a small boat it turned out better than I thought.
We planned out our first action packed day which included:
- Lowering our mast to get under a bridge (highway 28)
- Going through our first lock (Lock 27 at Youngs Point)
- Stop in at the Lockside Trading Company as a boater, for the first time!
- Raise our mast on Clear Lake and sail past the Peterborough Yacht Club
- Motor through Stoney Lake to Burleigh Falls
As we approached the bridge, we easily lowered our mast and kept the mast raising system connected on the bow of the boat.
Our first lock
When we approached Lock 27, the other boaters told us to go ahead. As we slowly, and nervously enter the lock with huge concrete walls on both sides, I yell up “This is our first time!”. The Lockmaster handled it beautifully, calmly grabbed a long rope and threw it down to us. We bounced slightly but we made it unscathed. Wrapped lines around the cables and waited for the lock to fill and raise us up.
As we leave the lock, again, extremely nervous but moved slowly and scanned for a place to dock so we can go in and visit the store. Boats on both sides were expertly pulling in and out of spots but there were none available for us. We could try to stay and wait but it was only a matter of time before I had the boat sideways then crashing into expensive boats. So we decided to continue on and save stopping at the Lockside Trading Company for another day.
As we motored into open water on Clear Lake we pointed to wind and started getting the mast raised. This was our first attempt without being securely fastened to a dock. It was a bit wobbly, but we successfully raised the mast and had the sails up. It was a slow haul to get to the end of the lake, with a lot of tacking and Bri getting upset that the boat was heeling over too much. Noted the clinometer doesn’t work, so will need to replace it with a new Bri “oh-shit-o-meter”. This was our first experience sailing the Macgregor and it was OK. It didn’t feel like we were doing it right trying to figure out best way to set the sails and it’s a narrow gusty lake. But we did make it to the end unscathed and a bit disappointed that it took us 5x as long as it would have if we motored.
Interesting thought: Is it the journey or the destination? Should we have purchased a power boat if we wanted to get to our destination faster?
Adrift without power
And now this is where the real fun started. As we were lowering the sails I put the motor back down and tried to start it. But there was no sound when I turned the key. No click, no whir, nothing. There’s power, otherwise the power trim wouldn’t have worked. Key was properly inserted and the safety switch had the toggle thing in the right place. But still, nothing. This is where panic starts to set in. Wave arms and get someone to help? Drop anchor? Paddle? Put the sails back up and then… go where? We didn’t want to sail through Stoney Lake, there’s narrow passages and probably a good reason why it’s called Stoney Lake.
Scanning the lake and shore for options didn’t give us much hope, other than the markers behind us, that we were slowly floating toward warning us of shallow rocks. Thoughts of our first PAN PAN PAN call on the VHF came to mind. We pulled out the jib again and used it to try to go forward as we investigated options. Without the main, the boat would eventually pull away from the wind, we would gather some speed and no matter what I did with the wheel we would end up in locks again. We flip flopped many frustrating times and eventually pulled the main back up. By this time we had figured out that there was a marina close by and made the decision to… gulp… sail her into dock. Which is exactly how I was picturing it in my mind, coming into the dock at 4-6 knots and slamming into something solid. We had called in and let them know we were coming in and would possibly need some help. Tried to sound a little optimistic on the phone. The crew did amazing job taking down the sails and by some crazy luck it was the best docking I’ve ever seen, let alone performed myself. It was the type of docking where you feel like you can just casually walk off the side as the boat slowly comes to a rest and you single handed tie off the lines. The people at the marina, at that point, thought I knew what I was doing. Ha.
The marina’s mechanic was off duty, but was nice enough to say he would come down and take a quick look. He jumps on the boat, takes a quick glance and goes to start the motor. First thing he does is move the throttle around and I hear it click back into neutral. That’s where I silently thought… “ooohhh, it wasn’t in neutral”.
He gives the key a quick twist and, vroom burble burble burble, the engine pops into life. He then looks at me and shrugs. Meanwhile I’m quickly thinking of ways to not tell him how stupid I was for not checking that. But failed and told him the embarrassing truth. And we were back on our journey.
Stoney Lake and Burleigh Falls Marina
Next part was uneventful, other than the great scenery and narrow channels. The solo church on one island caught our eye, wish I took a picture. We arrive at Burleigh falls and I perform a less than stellar docking when I was distracted by a large boat going by just as we were coming in. For some reason I keep getting the very simple throttle mixed up when I’m in panic mode, i.e. every time I’m docking. I’m gassing it when I want to pull it back in reverse. It wasn’t too bad, the lady on the dock and my crew did a great job slowing us down. Just a bit embarrassing.
There’s a few BBQs available on shore, which we used to cook up some amazing fajitas and hot dogs with some gourmet fried onion and bacon mix. Had to hide back in the boat when the swarms of mosquitos showed up. Marina was nice but no shore power yet. And yes, Lori, I told you so. We should have pumped out before we left.
It’s always great talking with other boaters when you are thinking of all the things you’ve messed up. Everyone has a story, and no matter how bad you think you’ve done something, there’s always someone else that figured out a way to mess it up more than you. OK, maybe, almost always. Sometimes you get to claim the “I messed it up” championship. Our neighbour told us of their first time in a lock with a large power boat. He apparently has the same issue I have with the throttle. But he threw it into full reverse in the lock, and held it there, after the doors had closed. The boat was wedged between the door and the wall, he completely crushed the back swim deck on his boat. OK, he wins that round.
The trip home
Sailing back was… exciting. Wind had picked up and was gusty. Eventually had to reef to keep the boat from heeling too much and made a huge mess inside with things flying around with each tack. Kids had started lunch down below and then lost it all on the floor with a hard tack. After cleaning it up, they lost it all a second time. Third time they just left it on the floor and went back to reading.
Bri’s favourite part of the day, arriving on shore.
This was a good “learning” trip.
Starting the engine
Always, always, double check the motor before starting. Here’s a checklist for starting the engine in the future:
- Battery on
- Motor down and prop clear of any dangers
(Also check that the safety bar used while on trailer is pulled up, otherwise motor won’t go down. Yup, also did this.)
- Gas line connected securely and bulb pumped to pressure and gas in the tank
- Emergency cut off switch has proper toggle attached
(Yes, I’ve messed this up before as well. Not having it in once, and the key ring has several toggles, one of them must be for a different boat. It’s not big enough to activate our switch. That took me a bit to figure out.)
- Throttle properly set in neutral
- Throttle set to give a little extra gas in neutral by pressing in round disk on side and pushing throttle forward a few cm.
- If starting cold, pump primer on side of engine four times
- Check again around boat and prop for dangers
- Turn starter
- Adjust throttle, still in neutral
I think I should print this off and tape it to the boat.
Sailing with jib and swing keel
We couldn’t get the boat to go upwind at all with just the jib. The boat would just swing back into locks and the jib would flap uselessly. Later I did some reading and found this:
- Jib only is better for sailing downwind
- Going upwind, typically want main sail up as well
- You can adjust the centerboard to help. Usually want the centerboard all the way down when sailing upwind. But if the boat keeps going into locks you can pull the centerboard up a little bit.
Here’s some useful instructions from page 17 of the Macgregor Manual that I should have paid more attention to earlier:
The centerboard is raised and lowered by the line at the rear end of the cabin on the starboard side.
The centerboard should be fully lowered when sailing into the wind, to keep the boat from sliding sideways. It should be raised completely for sailing downwind. When sailing at right angles to the wind, leave the board about half way down. This will move the center of the boat’s resistance to the rear and reduce load on the rudder. When sailing with just the mainsail, the centerboard should be about 1/2 way down, or the boat will try to point into the wind. At low speed under power, the boat steers a lot better when the board is about 1/4 down.. When powering over 6 mph, the board must be all the way up.
As a general guideline, when sailing on any angle to the wind, if the boat tries to turn up hard into the wind with the wheel centered, or if you have to try and turn the boat away from the direction from which the wind is coming in order to sail in a straight line pull the board up a bit. If the boat tries to turn away from the wind when the wheel is centered, let the board down some.
Note: 6 mph = 5.21 knots
Top up and empty fluids any chance you get
At each stop always consider filling up on gas, water and beer. You can’t easily survive if you run out of any of these while on the water. Empty the garbage and pump out the head. It doesn’t take long to do any of these and it takes away some of the stress that may accumulate during the trip.
And of course, the beer, while a necessity of sailing. It’s only for when you arrive safely at your destination.