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Boundless Atlantic Crossing

Spinnaker Sheet news in blog format

Geoffrey Fairbank

Geoffrey Fairbank

Geoffrey Fairbank has not set their biography yet

0100 I wake up and we are now in Northumberland Strait proper. The wind against the tide is turning the seas into a washing machine with waves coming from every direction. The rain is horizontal. I check the chart plotter and we’re heading for land! I decide to  to drop the main and turn on the engine. I’m trying to go north towards PEI and away from New Brunswick but it’s pitch black and there is nothing on the horizon to steer to. We only have the self tacking stay sail up and after several unsuccessful attempts to head North and the resulting gybes I give up on trying to steer to the compass and turn on the auto pilot. Auto is able to hold a course and we start slowly making our way toward PEI.

 

  Our track during the height of the storm.

 

0400 There’s a loud bang. At first I'm thinking it’s a repeat of the Quebec City incident but there is nothing indicated on the chart so not sure what we hit.

 

0500 Neil is not feeling well and while in the head notices water on the cabin sole. I assume the head has been started syphoning due to the rough conditions. The bilge pump is able to deal with the bulk of the water.

 

0615 Go down below. Floor boards are floating again. The water is back and it’s not the head. Pump out again. Now concerned that whatever caused the loud bang earlier has damaged the hull and we’re taking on water. I radio the Coast Guard and explain our situation: “we are taking on water but the pumps are able to keep up… need to know where the closest travel lift is located”  The Coast Guard radio operator takes down our details and then asks me to standby. Five minutes later she announces a Pan Pan on channel 16: “Pan Pan, Pan Pan, Pan Pan, hello all stations the sailing vessel Boundless….” The operator then gets back to us and explains that a Coast Guard Cutter the Cap Nord is departing Summerside PEI and will escort us there. About an hour later the Cap Nord shows up on our starboard bow and proceeds to follow us as we head for Summerside. 

 The Coast Guard Cutter Cap Nord
Heading for Summerside PEI with the Coast Guard Cutter Cap Nord standing by.

We are making our own way under staysail and motor and everything is fine until we arrive outside the marina and I try to slow down: the throttle linkage does “splink” when I try to decelerate. Now have to go into neutral to slow down but the engine is racing as I’m taking the engine cover off to try and manually reduce the throttle. In the end I have to kill the engine and then sheepishly get on the radio and ask Cap Nord for a tow to a dock. This they cheerfully do (“that’s what we are here for… we knew you guys were not a bunch of yahoos in a tin boat with a cell phone… when we saw your boat and the equipment you have… happy to help”) and tow us to the Silver Fox Marina. Once we are tied up the captain Troy gives us a tour of the cutter afterwards we’re told that the Coast Guard Station is just across the harbour and if we need anything don’t hesitate to ask.

 
 

 

 

 

Salty oily bilge water has gotten everywhere and the rest of the day is spent cleaning and boat. 

 Later in the afternoon I head to town to try and replace my cell phone. When Gord the marina manager hears that I’ve called a taxi he tells me to cancel the call and hands me the keys to his car. With a smile he says he’s not worried about me taking it as he has my boat.

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The weather forecast is for the wind to build. If we head straight to Canso the wind and waves will be on the nose. We decide to make a slight diversion and to head for PEI. That way the ride will be a bit more comfortable with the wind and waves on our beam.

 During the afternoon the breeze is up and down but a consistent 15-18 knots. We’re on a port tack with full main and stay sail making 6-7 knots over the ground. We pass Yankee Too a beautiful 115 foot schooner heading north. 

 The chart is showing a firing range off the coast of New Brunswick and we are heading for the keep out zone. We radio the Coast Guard and they confirm that the range is not in use and we don’t need to change course. The wind continues to build as we sail on toward Northumberland Strait. By 2200 it’s blowing a consistent 30 knots on the beam and Boundless is making great time.

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Highlights of this passage include more Dolphins swimming in our bow wave and sighting another pod of Beluga whales. The sea at night is also a highlight as we are now getting a phosphorescent glow in our wake.

 My Cousin Neil Hetherington at the wheel

 

Fuel is not easy to come by in this area and in the morning we arrive at Sainte-Anne-des-Monts looking for diesel.

 Sainte-Anne-des-Monts Quebec

The cruising guide talks about a marina but when we get into the basin all the docks have been pulled for the season. Instead we tie off to a massive seawall and Marty and Neil go on a quest for much needed fuel. Neil enlists the help of a young local with a car and for $20 he ferries them to and from the only gas station in town. It takes several trips but we are able to top up with 100 litres of fuel, Sandwiches from a local bakery and Timmy’s coffee!

 

 
Fueling up 1 Jerry Can at a time

We Depart Sainte-Anne-des-Monts by 0900. The wind is from the North West and we can finally sail. By the afternoon the wind is on the beam and were making 7+ knots over the ground. 

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A pod of dolphins come to play in our bow wave

 

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Rimouski Fuel Stop

First thing in the morning we’re at the fuel dock: 160 litres and $250 later we are on our way. We depart Rimouski at 0850. The weather is fair but we are again motor sailing all day and through the night.

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In the morning (after an amazing breakfast at the club) we move Boundless to a different slip so we can take a closer look at the ding on the port side. Paint has been scrapped away but there isn’t a hole. The decision is made that we can still proceed and get the repairs done in Halifax. With the new plan in place Marty and Neil take the rental car into town to get groceries while I stay behind to clean up the boat. We plan to leave around 1600 on a rising tide and we manage to slip our lines by 1630.  The wind is on the nose but we are able to motor sail with the main up. We continue on through the night.

Monday morning motoring toward Rimouski
 A pod of Beluga Whales

The river is much wider now and In the morning we spot a pod of Beluga whales in the distance, then just after lunch we are joined by Dolphins. We motor on through the day and arrive in Rimouski at 1800. We pull into the marina but the staff have all gone home. Thankfully another boater is around and gives us the codes to the gate and the showers. With Boundless safely tied up we head into town to have a “Brewski in Rimouski”.

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Enjoying a “Brewski in Rimouski”
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My cousin Neil is the CEO of the Daily Bread Food Bank. In that capacity he deals with the Mayor of Toronto John Tory, who, in a video message wishes us well, and lets Marty and I know, tounge firmly in cheek,  that he would be most understanding if we ditched Neil over the side.

 

 

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After breakfast Alan departs for Toronto by bus and Marty and I head to a grocery store to stock up on food. With supplies stowed away we prepare to depart only to discover that the engine stop cable is misbehaving. Half an hour of messing about with the cable we get it working again and we are on our way. With the 5 knot current heading down river is a lot faster then heading up. We stop at a marina down river and top up the diesel tank then head back out into the St. Lawrence. There’s a light wind behind dead behind us and by mid afternoon we’re making 6.5 knots over the ground.

 

 Leaving Montreal with the wind at our backs

Marty and I sail on as the wind continues to build through the night. The approach to Trois-Rivières includes Lac Saint-Pierre which, in the dark, offers some excitement: the lake is shallow and you have to stay in the seaway channel. We’re sailing under full main and the staysail and are a little overpowered and while most of the markers are lit, one or two are not. It’s a moonless night and the wind and waves continue to build as we head across the lake to Trois-Rivières. Trois-Rivières is frenetic with lots of freighter traffic and a cruise ship all of which is passing under a massive bridge that has multiple lanes. I pick a lane with a green light and press on.

 

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There's lots of freighter traffic as we head to Quebec City 

We sail on through the night and the dawn brings blue skies and a pleasant breeze. There is lots of freighter traffic as we get closer to Quebec City but we’re making good time. All is well until Marty comes down below to make some breakfast. There’s no one in the cockpit as I’d just come off my shift but the auto pilot is performing brilliantly. Five or so minutes later there is a massive bang: while on auto pilot we have collided with marker Q42. We both run up top to discover the pulpit has been bent with its front two stanchions ripped out of the deck. Other then the pulpit there doesn't appear to be any other damage and we’re not taking on water so we carry on to Quebec City.

 

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We arrive at Quebec Yacht Club and after tying up we get to take a closer look at the damage. Not only is the pulpit bent and ripped out of the deck, there’s a massive dent in the bow and another dent on the port side closer to the water line. I'm still in shock and not entirely sure how to proceed: can we continue or should we stop and get the boat repaired? These are questions I grapple with through a rather sleepless night.

The pulpit after our collision with a St. Lawrence Seaway mark
The ding on the port side

 

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 Freighter traffic downriver from Montreal

After breakfast Alan departs for Toronto by bus and Marty and I head to a grocery store to stock up on food. With supplies stowed away we prepare to depart only to discover that the engine stop cable is misbehaving. Half an hour of messing about with the cable we get it working again and we are on our way. With the 5 knot current heading down river is a lot faster then heading up. We stop at a marina down river and top up the diesel tank then head back out into the St. Lawrence. There’s a light wind behind dead behind us and by mid afternoon we’re making 6.5 knots over the ground.

Sailing down the St. Lawrence

 

Marty and I sail on as the wind continues to build through the night. The approach to Trois-Rivières includes Lac Saint-Pierre which, in the dark, offers some excitement: the lake is shallow and you have to stay in the seaway channel. We’re sailing under full main and the staysail and are a little overpowered and while most of the markers are lit, one or two are not. It’s a moonless night and the wind and waves continue to build as we head across the lake to Trois-Rivières which is frenetic. There is lots of freighter traffic and a cruise ship all of which is passing under a massive bridge that has multiple lanes. Not completely sure how to proceed I pick a lane with a green light and press on.

We sail on through the night and the dawn brings blue skies and a pleasant breeze. There is lots of freighter traffic as we get closer to Quebec City but we’re making good time. All is well until Marty comes down below to make some breakfast. There’s no one in the cockpit as I’d just come off my shift but the auto pilot is performing brilliantly. Five or so minutes later there is a massive bang: while on auto pilot we have collided with marker Q42. We both run up top to discover the pulpit has been bent with its front two stanchions ripped out of the deck. Other then the pulpit there doesn't appear to be any other damage and we’re not taking on water so we carry on to Quebec City.

 
 

We arrive at Quebec Yacht Club and after tying up we get to take a closer look at the damage. Not only is the pulpit bent and ripped out of the deck, there’s a massive dent in the bow and another dent on the port side closer to the water line. I'm still in shock and not entirely sure how to proceed: can we continue or should we stop and get the boat repaired? These are questions I grapple with through a rather sleepless night.

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An early start and a day of “hurry up and wait”. The seaway’s season for pleasure craft is ending in a week and we are definitely not a priority. We get through Kahnawake bridge  in the morning and arrive at the final Lock at St Lambert by mid afternoon and are told that we will be waiting for the Empress of Canada. She shows up an hour and a half later and we proceed through the lock together. We’re now almost at old Montreal. We just have to go down the rest of Canal Sud and under the Jacque Cartier bridge. All is fine until we make the turn to go back upriver. The current here is running at 4 to 5 knots and with the engine flat out we’re making 1.2 knots over the ground. The cruising guide says to stay to the north side of the river so I guide Boundless over to the north shore. With the engine flat out I’m looking over at a massive wall that freighters tie up to and we are barely making any progress. But after 10 minutes or so with the engine maxed out our speed starts to pick up slightly .1 of a knot then .2. Marty Cameron is there to greet us when we eventually make it to the marina.

 

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 Kahnawake bridge

 

The lift bridges in the Montreal area are a PITA (pain in the ass). They don’t respond to our hails on the radio and the signage regarding the bridge schedule in one case was just plain wrong.

 

We arrive at Valleyfield bridge just as a freighter has gone through. Half an hour later two commercial boats come upbound but still no green light for us.  I then notice a sign saying that the next lift is at 1600. We decide to anchor as it appears we are going to be waiting all day. An hour later the tug that went upbound earlier comes back through but we can’t get the anchor up in time and miss the lift. So it’s back to waiting at anchor. Then at 1100 a siren goes off, green lights are flashing but we’re still at anchor! We take the anchor chain up as quickly as we can and then race for the bridge and make the lift. We proceed down the seaway through a couple of locks and bridges and arrive at the Kahnawake bridge. What little scheduling information I can find online seems to suggest that bridges don’t lift for pleasure boats during rush hour. There’s no response over the radio so we decide to call it a day and go back up river ½ a mile and tie up to a public dock for the night.

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My friend Alan Dalquen joins us in Cornwall and Ann heads back to Toronto. Alan and I depart Cornwall mid day. What little wind we have is on the nose so it’s an all day motor. After our grounding the previous day I’ve had a “come to Jesus” moment navigationally: I now have a route in the chart plotter. However when I eventually decide to turn on the auto pilot it wants to do a 180 degree turn and head back to the first way point outside the entrance to Cornwall marina. We eventually end up following the route manually by advancing one waypoint at a time. Again not elegant but it works.

Valleyfield Marina
 Valleyfield Marina

 

We arrive at Valleyfield marina just before 5. The fuel dock is closed so we tie up and wait for them to open in the morning. A very friendly night watchmen comes by later in the evening and we explain that we’re just waiting for fuel. In broken English he tells us that’s fine and would I like some fresh tomatoes? At which point he pulls out a baggy full of fresh cherry tomatoes straight from his garden.  We gladly accept his offer.

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After our navigational adventure aka the grounding it’s a day of trying to sort out navigational electronics. I have an Android tablet and an Ipad. Both can connect to the Raymarine chartplotter over wifi and both can control the chartplotter remotely. However neither of them is capable of uploading waypoint or route data to the plotter. In the end the solution is a “sneaker net”: I have to save the route info onto a microSD card and walk it over to the chart plotter pop the card in the plotter and upload it. Not very elegant but it works.

Ann and I spend the rest of the day cleaning the boat, packing away the dinghy, and packing stuff that doesn’t need to be on the boat, in preparation for Ann’s return home by car.

 

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Arriving at Eisenhower Lock we discover that there is a one and a half hour wait for an upbound ship to pass. The dock for pleasure craft is too shallow so we motor up and down the channel.

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The cause of our 1.5 hour delay: an upbound freighter. Pleasure craft are a low priority on the seaway especially at the end of the season.

The American locks use a floating bollard, you attach your lines to it and enjoy the ride down. Our first attempt at tying up to one is a little ugly: we're trying to use a bow and stern line, and it turns out the trick is just to use one line midship. We eventually get it sorted and motor on to the next lock.

eisenhower.jpg
 

The Snell lock is American and like the Eisenhower there are no formal check in procedures. The friendly lockmaster just wants 30 dollars (US or CDN) cash and then you are on your way, no passports required. This time we are better with our lines. We exit Snell and head for Cornwall.

 At this point it's as if we've sailed off the edge of the world: our trusty Lake Ontario Cruising Guide doesn't include Cornwall or points further east. Not sure whether to go clockwise or counter clockwise around Cornwall Island. In the end the 6+ knot current makes the decision for us and we head downriver on the American side and come back upriver on the Canadian side to get to the marina at Cornwall. It turns out we couldn't have gone the other way anyway as there's a fixed bridge we wouldn't have been able to get under. That would have been an exciting error to escape from since it would have involved going back against that 6 knot current.

Navigating with a chart plotter proves eventful. While zooming in and out to check depths while under way we have a “gentle” grounding, just as we were making the turn to come back upriver.

It's a bit of a slog going upriver against the current but we arrive at the marina by mid afternoon. The marina is a little disconcerting as it's full of power boats and there isn't a single sailboat to be seen, but the marina manager assures me there's enough water depth for our draft and we do make it safely to a dock.

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We depart Brockville in the morning and sail most of the day as the wind is from behind and the current is in our favour. The first lock of the journey is the Iroquois. Fortunately it’s one of the smaller ones on the seaway as our passage through is a little rough: the bow pulpit bangs into the wall and the starboard running light’s bracket gets bent. We survive the two foot descent, bend the bracket back into position, and continue on down the river. We aren't going to make the Eisenhower lock before it closes so we make our way over to the Canadian side and anchor for the night. 

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It’s haulout day at Trident – time to leave! Another boisterous sail with the roller furling jamming just as we enter a narrow section of waterway just past Gananoque. Fortunately I’m able to untangle the furling line and we are able to reduce sail.

This is supposed to be a vacation so we decide to do some sightseeing. Boldt castle is on the American side of the St. Lawrence and we’re ready to go through the hassles of checking in but when we arrive the wind is still howling and while we could get onto a dock getting off would be a chore so we decide to carry on.

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Boldt Castle

Arriving at the Brockville Yacht Club at the end of the day we proceed down a channel to the east of the club only to realize that it’s getting really shallow. Turns out the club entrance is to the west of us and we are heading for a boat launch. A gentle bump on the bottom and it’s full speed in reverse to get us to safer water.

I head for the actual entrance but there’s no room at the Inn for a 38ft boat. It’s time to head upriver and anchor for the night. The following morning we head for the Tall Ships Landing Marina to get fuel and decide to stay for a night (it’s supposed to be a vacation right?). We spend the day walking about town sightseeing.

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We hop down the lake to Belleville and overnight at the yacht club. The next day the wind is out of the east and we motor for most of the morning until we make the turn at Desoronto. Once we are around the corner we can sail arriving in Collins Bay by early evening.

Quinte Skyway
Approaching the Quinte Skyway at Deseronto
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Sunset at Collins Bay


The next morning's departue from Collins Bay is memorable with 30+ knot winds out of the South East. With the motor running and the staysail up we motor sail out into large swells. With the pounding waves I’m just hoping that the crud in the bottom of the diesel tank doesn’t clog a filter and starve the engine. With that in mind I take a more indirect route and head for the lee of Wolfe island. Ann as always is an absolute trooper: the wind is howling, it’s raining but not a peep of complaint.

Once we are out of the swells it’s a robust sail down the Bateau channel with threatening skies. After consulting the club’s reciprocal list we decide to stop at Trident Yacht Club. The club is deserted but fortunately the clubhouse is open: Showers! Laundry!

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The voyage begins with a pleasent sail from Whitby to Coburg. My son Alex and his friend Liam Dalquen join me as well as my friend Doug Grey. Once the four of us arrive in Coburg Ann joins me and, Alex Liam and Doug head back to Toronto. It’s now up to Ann and I to get Boundless as far east as we can while on “vacation”.

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Coburg Marina
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To begin this story at the beginning I have to take you back to the late May of this year. Myself, Marty Cameron, my cousin Neil Hetherington, and my friend Alan Dalquen are ready to cross the Atlantic aboard Boundless my 38 foot Aluminium cutter. We are to depart St. John's Newfoundland for the Azores and then on to Portugal. The first step is to move the boat from Whitby to St. Johns and for this portion of the journey the crew consists of myself, my son Alexander and my Father Gordon. There is much excitement as we prepare to leave but our adventure ends no sooner then it has started when about 200 yards outside of Whitby harbour the engine seizes and we are towed rather ignominiously back to Whitby marina.

Three generations of sailors about to head east for St. John's. From l to r: Alexander, Geoffrey and Gordon Fairbank

The engine, and I later find out, the transmission as well, is damaged. During the winter they had both been rebuilt but when they were reinstalled the lines to the oil cooler had been reversed. Engine oil is being pumped from the engine into the transmission and visa versa. Needless to say this doesn't work very well and results in the engine seizure.

The engine is pulled and repaired within a week (I didn't realize that the transmission was a problem at this point) but when I take the boat out for a sea trial with the mechanic the transmission gives up the ghost: no forward no reverse.

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The motor coming out for the second time

Yet another tow back to the marina. What I'm now referring to as the “engine hokey pokey” is on it's third in and out, and it's the transmission's turn to to be pulled out. Another week passes and the rebuilt transmission is installed. This time everything works but we are behind schedule and I'm not 100% confident in the boat given the recent mechanical issues. The decision is made to defer the crossing for another year.

Fast forward to September. A plan is formed to move Boundless closer to the Atlantic in preparation for her ocean crossing in June of 2019. It will be a shakedown cruise and the crew will get a chance to put the boat through its paces.

My crewmates are optimistically planning on a two week passage to Halifax. My guesstimate is closer to a month. But it all starts with Ann and I taking a “vacation” to the Thousand Islands. I put as positive a spin on this as I can: “It will be less crowded”, “the fall colours will be lovely”, “there will be wind”. For those of you who don't know my wife, Ann McCrorie, is an experienced sailor; she just rolls her eyes, as I'm telling her all this as she knows full well that we will have to make tracks if there is any hope of getting to Halifax by the end of October.

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