We dreamed of leisurely cruising, bathing suits as our usual attire, exploring palm-fringed bays looking for ideal anchorages. Instead, we find ourselves in an alternate universe of sorts,
proudly showing off my frozen flaking while sporting late November haute couture women’s cruising wear.
Frozen flakes you ask? Ropes, or lines, as they are called in sailing lingo if they are a rope with a purpose, are indispensible essential. They are used to hoist sails then trim them to get most out of the wind, to secure the boat to anchor or dock, to hang laundry, to secure items in the cabin and on deck, to use as a belt because you forgot to pack one, to tie off a cooking pot before dipping it over the side to prevent losing it … oops, learned that one the hard way. Looks like we’re down to 2 pots now.
It’s good practice when sailing, to always keep the lines tidy. Urgent situations can arise unexpectedly (THAT we well know!), and dealing with tangled ropes at a critical time can tip an urgent situation into the danger zone. Lines that may need to be used soon are flaked, which is really just to say coiled and laid down in a way so that it is ready to be used quickly and won’t tangle. There are a few methods, but we have yet to come across one that works for our conditions.
We knew that pushing our departure so late in the year meant we would be encountering some cold weather. For the most part, we enjoyed an unseasonably warm fall, with only short previews of the winter ahead. We crossed Lake Ontario in lovely conditions, entered the Oswego portion of the New York Canals in mid-teen temperatures, and even took advantage of a 17 degree sunny day as we crossed Lake Oneida to enjoy some overdue bathing. Tim actually stripped down and had a proper shower, using a pot to ladle water over himself…. a pot that he didn’t secure … oh, covered that already. Anyways, we lost a pot but I gained a clean mate.
By that night, temperatures had plummeted, and precipitation began to fall, the fluffy kind of precipitation we’re familiar with in northern Ontario. The next morning, we faced the dilemma of working with frozen ropes. There’s a knot for every function when sailing. Most docks have cleats, and a wrap followed by a figure eight with an additional loop flipped under itself holds a boat secure while still remaining easy to release when time to depart. Usually. All our knots, and in fact all our ropes and lines, had been subjected to the same treatment we had. This entailed being soaked with several hours of wet sleet, followed by plummeting sub-zero temperatures, leading to a frozen solid mass. We could thaw out by cozying up to the heater with a hot ginger tea. For the dock lines, though, it was a different matter. The figure 8s were solid, more secure than a double bowline, padlocked by icy entombment. With lots of dousing with river water, and the help of tools to chisel out, we eventually freed ourselves and were off.
Once underway, I set to the usual task of flaking the lines ready for next use. Easier said than done! Eventually, I got the lines to sort of resemble a bundle, looking more like I’m performing a magician’s turning-ropes-to-snakes trick. Frozen flakes. That wasn’t something covered in any of my courses or readings!
Having had several days of sub-zero cruising through the canals, we’ve gotten into a routine that definitely doesn’t involve donning bathing suits. We dress in just about as many layers as we can still move in. Typically, we take one hour shifts at the wheel, then switch off to gratefully head into the cabin to thaw out, eat, check on our navigation, and then head back out again to relieve the other.
Back in the final days of summer, as it became patently clear that we were not going to make our late-September/early October intended getaway, I had a couple emotional meltdowns. We had invested so much time, money and effort into our dream, and for me, that dream did not involve living on a boat in extreme cold. No one who desires high levels of comfort and ease would choose cruising at any time of year – it’s hard work, and those moments that do come are balance by lots of effort and strain. That was fine, and in fact, admittedly, those challenges are part of the allure. But the prospect of being on the water, in an uninsulated fibreglass vessel, exposed to the weather, as relative novices, was not appealing. The option of postponing was even less appealing. Tim on the other hand I suspect thrives on, and maybe even subconsciously creates, challenges that put him to the test. I watched him build his straw bale garage essentially on his own, pushing himself to extremes, not sure if I should be filled with admiration or concern. When we woke to snow a few days ago, his usual stoic demeanour actually slipped into being downright jovial. He’s fine with the conditions we’re facing, and I’m wondering how I have allowed myself to slip into his world?!
Yet, the briskness of the cold feels invigorating. And at the end of every day, despite being exhausted to the core, I have to admit, it feels gratifying to be able to mark off our 30-40 nautical miles progress. Sound sleeps are something that have been elusive for me the last few years (joys of menopause, I guess). Once we crawl into our cozy v-berth, with bedding pre-warmed by a heated cast iron frying pan, though, sleep overtakes us and holds us for the night. It’s rejuvenating.
Now, this isn’t to say we won’t appreciate what lies ahead. Our dream feels all the sweeter after surviving frozen flaking in the early stages of our cruising adventure. Bikinis and Bahamian beaches, here we come.