Amherstburg to the Lake Erie

Well this week’s blog covers for the first time that doubt, about my dream, had crept into my mind. The utter dejection that followed for that few hours was hard to bear, however, with the positivity that was with me on the boat that being my son John (Johnny as we call him); I was able to still try to move forward.  I have never ran a marathon, and I know that some of you who know me will be laughing and saying no shit!  Well even when I was younger, I was a mediocre athlete at best, but I was never a runner. However, the psychology i find inspiring,  the mental toughness to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  This is mentality how I was looking at, no matter how slow just keep moving. Thanks for your support Johnny, and to my family as a whole, especially ‘d wife  Sonia.

We just seen my friends off, as they had to be home.  I felt saddened that they had go, and I know we were a little shorthanded, and that the benefit of many collective years of sailing knowledge had left us, but I also knew it was doable for Johnny and I to continue.  That night we had some visitors, a bite to eat and settled in for the night. While the night passed so did the storm that was the cause of the strong east winds.

A Laker passing us

In the evening I was on deck looking around, about say 750 meters or so there was a strip of land that separated the area of the marina from the main shipping canal, kind of like a boulevard if you will.  You could see the Laker’s bridge tower above the trees as the passed heading into the lake.  Just behind my boat was a proton of water before shore.  It normally looked like a pond surrounded by docks.  However, this was to fool me, and be part of the cause of my stressful situation.   When the Laker was just past us I notices this calm flat water turn into a torrent of current.  I was amazed as we were almost a kilometer away from the Laker, nonetheless, the water displacement was very apparent, at first I was caught off guard and found this intriguing.  Then realizing it was cause from gigantic lake freighters I was in awe of the size and power of these vessels that transport goods while cruising the Great Lakes.  I should have taken better note of this as this was the initial cause of my stress, and despair.

The next morning came it was sunny and fair. Johnny and I started to make ready our departure, which included feeding ourselves, and stowing what needed to be stowed.  The time came we were ready to back out of our slip, I was a little concerned, like I said earlier there wasn’t much room behind us until shore, you remember where I witnessed the wash of current come through when the Laker came down the canal almost a kilometer away. I surveyed the situation and knowing it was less than a boat length of room behind me I knew it was doable.  I would probably have to use the prop wash to help me make the turn. I also knew that the Whitby 42 is not an easy boat to control in reverse.  That being said, I put her in reverse and gave her some throttle to create flow over the rudder so that I had some control.  UGH!!!

At that point not noticing a Laker coming down the canal, the current started to flow just as it passed perpendicular to us, and the boat was now turned 180 of the way I needed it to get out of the marina.  The rush of current created by the Laker caught the stern of the boat and turned it.  Yes I was going backwards when I should have been going forward. Not panicked, but the heart was racing a bit. I was able to use the throttle with forward and reverse as well as prop wash to get the boat turned around, well almost!  With a series of forward and reverse and hard overs on the helm. I had her around and just had one more reverse maneuver to complete and I was free and clear of the dock.  Laughing out loud now, I actually felt my chest expand knowing, or should I say thinking at the time, I completing a rather awkward plotting exercise. As I went from forward to and to reverse without a pause in neutral, I the transmission locked into reverse, I could not get it out of gear.  I quickly killed the engine but it was too late.

I am sure we all had that time in our life when we see something happen, you know like you hit that patch of ice in your car and it is out of control, or you see that glass fall off the counter and there is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent it.  It is a very helpless feeling.  I went from a huge high to a devastating low in a matter of a few seconds.

The waterline was almost a foot out of the water at the stern, when it is normally 2 inches.  I was able to climb down the ships ladder and reach land without getting my feet wet and step on land.  Now what do I do?  Again, this is what happens when you have positivity around you, thanks Johnny! The first thing like they say in first aid training is make the area safe.  So we tied the boat off in case another Laker came down the canal and freed us.  We tied the boat off and made it secure.  Then a lady was just leaving her boat to go to work stopped and gave us a hand with the lines, and a number for a Canadian to boat operator. I called him, he asked what insurance plan I have, of which I told him.  He said I did something right by purchasing one of the best plans there is.  I still felt like shit to be honest, but it was a little victory, and should be celebrated, which I did with a momentary stress free breath.

He showed up about an hour later we untied the boat and placed his bridle on ours, he had the twin engines ripping the water, but we were stuck good! He was “skating” back and forth a bit trying to break us free.  He changed directions a little as the space we were in was somewhat confined.  With a couple more turns and much more throttle, we were off, and man that was a huge relief.

That relief was short lived.  As he tried to tow us it was apparent that the rudder was stuck hard over. More over at this time I was not sure why the transmission was stuck in reverse gear.  After making our way south to the mouth of Lake Erie, we were now forced to turn around, and head north to the only marina that could handle a boat our size to check for damage.  As you can see I was in a spiral down, not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel.  I just knew I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep going, metaphorically speaking.

We managed to navigate the shallows slowly and make our way into the canal.  Which was tricky and very stressful, as the rudder was stuck and we were being towed and the entrance to the marina was narrow.  I just didn’t want to run a ground again.  The boat was “skating” a little due to rudder being jammed hard over.  I was at the helm really trying to be positive, and working out the answers to so many questions. How did this all happen?  Why did it happen?  What could I have done differently?  What do I do now?  How much is this going to cost?  When I get to the last one, I remember what one of my journeyman said to me once as an apprentice.  That was, “if it only costs money, your good, because they make money every day”.  I keep this in my mind all the time, it helps ground me, that little mantra helps me to remember to be thankful for the small victories as well as the big blessings such as health, a fighting chance in life, and family.

At this point we entered the channel, the tow operator suggested I go below to make sure we are not sinking; that there is no water coming in.  I went down below, and checked the bilges, and all was good.  I was just on my way back up and I heard a big thump.  It came from the aft part of the boat, I was hopeful my thoughts were correct and went up to the cockpit and the turned the wheel, where it wouldn’t move before, it moved freely now. Keeping in mind this is all in like nano seconds, the next thought was is the rudder still connected to the boat, so I turned the wheel a little more to see if I had control over the boat.  Naturally, with a full keel the boat does not turn on a dime, and takes a bit to turn, which weighed on me albeit seconds turned into seemingly lengthy minutes, but yes it did turn.

I radioed the tow, and he said see if it starts.  Remember, at this point I am still unsure why it is stuck in gear.  I took apart the shift controller, and it moved freely, so that was not the issue.  I went below and traced the cable and found the sifter on the transmission was jammed.

Engine room. The transmission is below the white pipe and under the bulkhead. Tough to reach!

Being a rather large fellow, like 3 or 4 X large, it wasn’t easy maneuvering in the engine room. Laying on the engine, a familiar place from the previous leg of our trip. Fitting one arm in on the port side of the engine the other on the starboard side they were barely able to meet at the transmission.  Here I placed a screwdriver on the shifter and tapped the end of the screwdriver with a hammer, I could hear the shaft now spinning freely, and shifted the flashlight to see it spinning in neutral.

Still heading north towards Windsor, opposite the way I need to go, I got on the radio with the tow operator, he said to see if it starts. At this point I could actually feel me being able to breathe, as some of the stress was starting to dissipate and leaving me with the hope that I would survive this situation my chest was able to expand.  I attempted to start the engine, it turn over which was good, but it stalled out.  I tried again, and she kept on going.

Happy to be going the right way!

I one more time radioed the tow operator where he asked me what I wanted to do. Did I want to go towards Windsor, or cast off and head home? It was an easy decision and at that we took off his bridle and headed south to the mouth of Lake Erie, and make our way home.

Than will be the blog for next week as Johnny and I sail, passing coast guard vessels, Pelee Island, and go through lightning storms at night, and fog banks in the day, on our way to Port Colburg.

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George Jestratijevic
George Jestratijevic

Sounds like you are building some great memories John. Cant wait to read more.


Awesome story John….. really enjoyed the read! Cheers