Living as we do in a mid-city townhouse, it’s nice to get away on hot sunny days.
It almost seems like we have a private cottage on Toronto Island, just a 12 minute ferry ride from Queen’s Quay, much more convenient than a four hour struggle north to the Muskoka Lakes in dense traffic. Of course, it’s not really a cottage but our little sailing boat, where we can sleep over if we choose, although we seldom do. The view of the city is sublime. Through the trees we can see the tall bank buildings, the omnipresent CN Tower, the Dome and a forest of cranes building high rise condos, but without the noise, the crowds or the hustle and bustle.
As we step onto the Toronto Island Marine private tender (we have season passes, but the ticket is only $5 for the public) and greet one of the friendly boat drivers, the tension seems to slip away. Moments later we are pushing off the dock and chugging across the harbour on a short ride to another world. From the island dock it’s a five minute walk to our boat. We might stop at the Upper Deck bar for a refreshment, or just pick up a bag of ice at the chandlery, but within minutes the lure of the boat beckons.
Along a narrowish long dock and then onto an even narrower finger dock, Peccavi awaits at her slip. She’s a yellow hulled 27-foot long Canadian Sailcraft sloop, or CS 27 for short. These boats were well built in the 70s and 80s before the CS company slid into oblivion, and the fact that there are plenty of them still sailing around the lake is witness to their sturdy construction. Most of them come with some colour on the hull, the fashion in those days: two friends have CS 27s on the same dock and they are white hulled with a blue stripe. There’s another yellow-hulled CS27 in the harbour and a couple more down the lake and we sometimes pass with an ironic wave. Our stripe is white and the sail cover and mooring lines are black, making the overall effect a bit like a striped tiger — her original name was Tigger.
I changed her name to Peccavi for purely whimsical reasons. Ever since I discovered a delicious quote by an ancestor in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations when I was about 15, I had been set on using Peccavi as a boat name. “Peccavi” means “I have sinned” in Latin (Benedice me, patre, quia peccavi in the old Roman Latin rite or “Bless me, father, for I have sinned.”) Sir Charles Napier, a general in his day, sent a one word punning telegram – Peccavi – to his boss, Lord Ellenborough, on the conquest of the city of Sindh, in what is now Pakistan, during the Indian Mutiny in 1843.
The little house martins like to sit on the lifelines and leave me presents. The damned geese leave bigger offerings on the dock, but five minutes work with the hose cleans all away. Half an hour with a scrub brush and a bucket of environmentally friendly soapy water and the whole boat is gleaming again. I love working on the boat. In the spring we have a yard worker polish the hull while it’s still on the hard, and then after launch I get a teenager to wax the topsides, but apart from that I do all the work. When all is clean and dry, the sail cover comes off and we motor out of the harbour. The 35-year-old single cylinder eight horse power diesel engine starts first time, every time. I say: Good girl. Boats are girls and like to be complimented.
Depending on the wind, we can leave the harbour from the east or west gaps, and then we are out on the lake and headed for wherever we want to go. Together Diane and I have sailed to Port Credit, Oakville and Bronte, and I’ve single handed across the lake to Lewiston, Wilson and Olcott, NY, as well as Niagara-on-the-Lake and Port Dalhousie. Not long cruises, such as we undertake in the Caribbean, but pleasant enough, with a day or two spent in another harbour, before the return sail. Our next cruise will be to the Oakville Club where the pool and excellent dining room will be a welcome diversion. Our little island club, Harbour City Yacht Club, organizes the cruises. It has a floating club house in the marina and is entirely self-help. If work needs to be done, volunteers are organized and do the work. At the moment the club house is undergoing renovations. Last year we built a huge deck. A few years ago we rebuilt the bridge from the land to the club, as the old one had sunk without trace. For a few years it was my privilege to be the Commodore, an elected position which means you get to do even more work. Diane thinks we should have a T-shirt which reads: Definitely not the RCYC. The Royal Canadian Yacht Club is old, big and expensive, but a lot of their members come to our marina bar, which is clearly more fun, with no rules and no stuffy behaviour allowed.
Sometimes we just sail around the island. Diane can’t really see the attraction of doing this again and again, but I point out that whereas powerboating is the act of going somewhere by water as fast as possible and by the most direct route, for true sailors, sailing it’s the act of going out on the water that’s important and the destination is irrelevant. Every time we go out, something is different and that’s what makes each journey interesting. At the moment the lake is very high, so there’s little risk of running aground. But last year, towing a teenager (of the boat polishing kind) on a line behind the boat, we ran smack dab into a sandbar near the beach at Gibraltar Point. We backed off easily, but it’s smart to pay attention the whole time when out sailing.
When there’s no wind, we get on our bicycles: mine is a bit rusted and silver, but still works quite well, and Diane’s is pink. My silver bike is my third on the island, the previous two having been borrowed by local folk and not returned. My own fault for not keeping them locked up. My present security device is indestructible aircraft cable almost three-quarters of an inch thick with an integral lock. No one has borrowed this one yet. Diane’s pink bike attracts attention and compliments whenever she’s out. When I ride it down to the island at the beginning of the season, I get comments too, some of them not so complimentary.
We cycle off to The Rectory Café for lunch, or down to the Queen City Yacht Club, where I’ve been made an honorary member, for breakfast. Or down around the quaint little clapboard houses on Ward’s Island, which have all been handed down within families. The ground under them is owned by the city and the waiting list to buy is years long, and that’s only if you are inheriting one. The community is vibrant and survives through the winter. The houses are quirky and the gardens luxuriant. The community centre, where I’ve been to some wild music evenings in the past, boasts a new café. The nearby beach is the best on the island, being sheltered by the long Leslie Street Spit.
In the other direction, we ride over the Centre Island hump back bridge and turn right down towards the lighthouse, long abandoned and reputedly haunted. Then we continue through verdant parkland until we come to Gibraltar Point beach. Good swimming territory. Close by is the nude beach, mostly gay, they say, though I’ve never been there. Diane walked her bearded collie here, once, and Amy had a lot of fun sniffing various things, and I don’t mean doggy things.
While we admire Porter Airlines, we despise their efforts to bring jets to the island, in direct conflict with their tripartite agreement. They want to extend the runway into the harbour, and no one in the boating community likes that idea. They might as well fill the whole thing in and make it a parking lot. Even though they claim their planes are quiet, you should sit in a silent sail boat under their path as they come in. May I observe that they’re not really quiet. Jets would be worse.
Back at the marina, we close the boat up again, put on the sail cover and lock the hatches. At the end of the dock other boaters have established gardens, picnic tables, lounge chairs, BBQs and more. Almost cottage country for them. That’s not for us, but we smile and chat on the way out. We head for the Upper Deck, where we’re always welcome and where we run a weekly tab. They carry my brand of bar Scotch and they serve a Gentleman’s Portion. What could be better?