While many people love the autumn season with its colorful fall foliage and cooler temperatures, it is my least favorite season and one that provokes increasing melancholy with each day of its passing and inevitable approach of the first days of November. And that first week in November is generally the worst week of the season—nay, of the year—as that is when I normally have to take leave of my mistress so that she can go into hibernation for the five long months of our winter. Five long months without my beloved Ontario 32 sloop, a 1979 vintage sailboat who has given me far more joy in life than has any other inanimate object.
But really, to speak of her, my mistress, as “inanimate” is nonsense, on par with calling her a blow-up doll. She lives, she breathes, she whispers sweet nothings to me on beautiful moonlit night watches, and her absence doth make my heart ache.
Named after the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius, “Antares” has taken me, my family and friends on numerous adventures along the Nova Scotia coastline from the Bras d’Or Lakes to Ingomar. Along with these
longer expeditions, she serves as the perfect summer cottage on the water, with weekend jaunts to beautiful hideaways such as Rogue’s Roost, Tanner’s Pass, Cross Island, East Point Gut, and pretty much anywhere you can drop an anchor between Halifax’s Northwest Arm to the LaHave Islands. Day sails, island picnics, sunset dinner cruises, midnight full-moon cruises, and any other excuse to sail are legion. While she’s ostensibly a “cruising” sailboat, she has also served me well on the race course, with five or so third-place finishes over the years. And while all of these ventures on her, big and small, represent boundless moments of fun, merriment, beauty, and among the best times of my life, I also experience great joy just being with her when she’s at our dock or on her mooring in Chester’s Back Harbour.
My mistress has also played a role in many of life’s most meaningful moments. She hosted our wedding and reception, complete with lobster thermidor; and served as a limo to deliver another bride to her wedding, after which she served as the honeymoon suite for the happy couple’s first night of wedded bliss. My newborn son was at her helm three days after his birth, and while he didn’t quite know what he was doing, his grip was strong and true—naturally, she rocked him to sleep soon after. And yes, my girl has helped us during times of mourning, and aided us in saying goodbye to the dearly departed.
Now, with the end of the season, it feels like she is the dearly departed. But really, as my wife says, “this happens every year—you’ll get over it.” And I try to. In fact, I try to get over it by taking certain steps in the fall to prepare for her annual departure from my life. While these steps have become almost ritualistic, like the weather they change, and every year seems to present variations to the usual procedures. The culmination of these rites includes a solo trip when I take her over to South Shore Marine to get hauled, but there’s no joy in that short voyage. In fact, more often than not, I just motor her over. Like my mood, the skies on this day always seem to be dark, the temperatures cold; and there’s so much final detail work needed that there’s no real time for “pleasure” sailing.
That said, I had to end the season with a sail-over to the marina a few years back, as her engine had pretty much sputtered its last diesel-fueled cough and wheeze. On the appointed day, though, there wasn’t even a whisper of a breeze in the Back Harbour. I would’ve waited for a more favorable day, but a major cold front approached; and, I could have called a friend for a tow, but that would have gone against the just-me-and-my-love grain of the ritual. So I took a chance. When the tide turned, I released the mooring line with the belief that the outgoing tide would take us to the harbour’s mouth, where I discerned a wisp of wind. Lo and behold the tide worked for us, and we caught a wind that sailed us to the marina. However, shortly before arrival, got knocked down by a sudden squall that came out of nowhere and then left just as quickly, taking the wind with it. Made it to a marina mooring ball with what felt like the last eighth-of-a-knot puff.
While that proved to be among the most memorable end-of-season sails to the marina, the much more important part of my end-of-season ritual is my annual solo goodbye sail. Starting the first week of October I monitor the weather to determine a perfect day to spend the day sailing. My goal is to sail what I call the Mahone Bay loop, which basically takes you around a large part of the bay’s perimeter. This reversible loop entails a course southeast from Chester Harbour to around the ocean side of the Tancook Islands, west to the Town of Mahone Bay, north through the Islands around Indian Point, a short dogleg northeast past Round Island, then back north to cut between Oak and Frog Islands, and then east for home.
Naturally, the course is determined in large part by the wind, which dictates whether we attempt the loop in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. The wind also plays a role in the success of the voyage, as too little leads to a shortening of the loop. In fact, more often than not the loop is not transited in its entirety, and we’ve ended up motoring for home with a setting sun. That was the case this year, as a dying wind prevented us from completing the Tancook portion of the counterclockwise loop. However, last year we completed the entire loop in record time, and with plenty of daylight left, dallied around the islands abutting Chester before heading into the harbour.
This solo day trip always proves quite cathartic in preparing for the annual impending goodbye, and provides me intimate memories that help ease the slow passing of each dark and dreary winter day. A day on the water, alone, just me and my beloved boat….
—Originally Published in The MacDonald Notebook November 11.