Lake Ontario Log Online

Back to indexPrevious PostNext Post

March 04, 2020     Post 112
Boating Fun Part Two

Boating Is So Much Fun part 2.

Before long we’ll be taking the Winter Covers off one more time. This look back on our days with Sara B is an excerpt from my sailing memoir “Living On The Edge With Sara B” . It details our last sail in the fall of 2009 after her faithful diesel was no longer operable.

Charlie had assured us relining the clutch should not be a big deal- if we could find a shop that would tackle a non standard job like this. It took a while, but we did eventually locate such a facility through a chance conversation with a volunteer on the Sea Scout Schooner "Lotus". His boss was up to the job and willing to do it.

But then we had to figure out how to separate the tranny from the rest of the engine. Oh, how we wished we had the engine manual that her former owner said he had once owned. We began searching the Internet for Thornycroft RJD2 and stumbled across an antique truck collectors group in England that included one member with marine engine expertise. A kindly Brit named Lorryman promised to contact his friend Simon, and sure enough, a day later a PDF of the RJD2 manual arrived via e mail. Without its drawings and diagrams, we might not have gotten the tranny out intact.

After a lengthy tussel in which two expensive ratchet handles were broken, many bad words were uttered, and some blood was shed, the engine was separated from the support bed, and the offending part was extracted and sent off to the friendly machine shop which began what turned out to be a lengthy repair involving a number of custom made pullers, dies, and other parts for disassembling, riveting on the new lining, and reassembling the British made antique.

As the season dwindled, we watched the spiders rig their webs on every part of our boat. Summer faded into September and we missed the old girl. We pondered getting Sara B out and back into her dock in the weedy shallows by sailing, line handing, grapples, bolting an outboard on to her, using sweeps or a push pole, or some other technique. Our unwieldy vessel's long keel, gaff rig, and projections at both ends gave us pause. With nine tons backing up that bowsprit and no brakes, things could get ugly. Yet we knew engineless schooners far larger than Sara B were (and still are) routinely maneuvered in close quarters using sails and yawl boats. And skill. The old timers did it-all we needed was a little shove in and out of the dock.

While gazing upon our old yacht one evening during happy hour in her cockpit, Chris proposed since we were a little short in the skills department that we go buy a tug. A check of Craig's List the next morning revealed a wealth of cheap old runabouts, and two days later we owned a 15 foot 1972 Mark Twain runabout with a 70 horse outboard. We equipped “Tug” with a half dozen over sized ash cleats and four Geo ties, launched her that weekend and motored to the dock. The plan-lash her alongside, use reverse to pull out, then swing around and head for open water. What could go wrong? Actually quite a lot it turns out.

As we prepared to cast off, the schooner crew asked the tug driver what's next. “I have no idea” he replied. “I'm making this up as I go.” Surprisingly, the first outing went quite well. Our departure from the dock on a day of light wind was uneventful, and we anchored Tug and raised sail without mishap, (though at least thirty spiders fell to their deaths). Sara B slipped off with a whisper of her bow wave and a few quiet creaks of leather and wood from the gaff rig. We were sailing again. It felt grand!

When it was time to head back we sailed alongside Tug as if she were a mooring and picked up a line buoyed off to the anchor. We then lashed up and pushed back to the dock. In the calm of the bay the process was uneventful and the crew of the Sara B was considerably emboldened. We gotta try this again! We got cocky after several light air excursions within the bay and made a couple of forays into the open lake. They proved humbling.

The following Sunday was a day of sapphire blue water, ten to twelve knot steady sweet onshore winds and perfect sailing. A dozen white winged sloops were tacking up the bay on the breeze as we trooped out on the dock with picnic lunch and gear. Three “sailors” plus two guests and a dog climbed aboard and once again made a smooth exit from the dock. It seemed to me we were leaving the dock in better form than some of our 'normal' departures with the diesel. A few wakes bounced Tug around on Sara B's quarter as we pushed up the bay, but the lash up survived. We pushed through the channel and entered the wide blue lake. At last. Freedom.

It took several tries to anchor the runabout on the rocky bottom. We then taped a note “Be Back Soon” on Tug and cast off, hoping she would be there when we returned. If someone hijacked her or she dragged anchor, we knew we could sail back into the bay with the onshore breeze.

Sara B romped off with real enthusiasm and pointed her bowsprit for Canada. The lonely little runabout festooned with Geo tires bobbing around in the open lake quickly dwindled to a white speck and then was gone. It was wonderful to really sail again. Sara B put her rail down and stepped along smooth and easy and in no time we were five miles offshore. It was grand out on the open lake. Sure was nice to sail in a straight line for more than ten minutes. We broke out the crackers and lemonade and celebrated. Alas,the brief fall afternoon slipped away astern. We noted that the sun was getting low and the thought occurred since we don’t have a motor we really should go back to “Tug” before the wind dies. We reluctantly turned Sara B homeward. She surged along on a broad reach and as we approached Tug we remarked on how the lake had kicked up and the wind sure hadn't dropped any either. Man this is really getting bouncy-look at that little boat jumping around. How is the driver going to get aboard? A collision at sea resulting in a sunken runabout seemed like a real possibility.

Our first pass missed by 75 feet. The second and third pass also missed. Four is my lucky number announced the helmsman as we approached the buoyed line once again. This time we snagged it, though in the ensuing melee the flogging jib sheet sent my eye glasses overboard.
We pulled Tug alongside. She was dancing up and down with real vigor as the driver belatedly donned a life jacket and waited his chance to get aboard as we tried with the boat hook to keep her from bashing Sara B. The tug driver finally disembarked. This time the outboard motor started immediately. We cast Tug off and set about weighing anchor, no simple task in my myopic state. When it was all finally over and we were back at the dock, one guest announced she was NOT sailing with us again until the Thornycroft was back on line. The other said that the day had been 7/8th fun which was probably a pretty charitable assessment.

Well, that one was a little more interesting than we had bargained for. But we were game to try again. The novelty of trying to use our brains instead of our diesel as we attempted to get Sara B from point a to point b had not yet worn off. Still, after the latest outing I now appreciated just how sharp those old timers were as they managed their unwieldy ships.

The next Sunday, the weather man predicted 10 to 13 knot winds from the south. Perfect mild weather, flat water, nice easy sailing, lets go! We took along two 'experienced' crew for this one (who hadn’t yet experienced the Tug process) expecting gentle September sail. We arranged to meet at the dock at 9 am. When we assembled, we noted the wind stirring the tree tops looked a tad stronger than 10 mph. Maybe more like 20. Well, that's ok. We'll just reef the main as a precaution. We can always shake it out. This time I served as tug driver. The plan was push Sara B out of the dock, then follow her out into the lake where she would anchor and I'd come along side to shift the anchor to Tug. We'd be under the lee of the land with the offshore wind and nice flat water this time so it should be dead simple. Piece of cake.

In the open bay with a puffy brisk wind Sara B's crew raised reefed main and staysail. She bolted off on a broad reach, and I followed the old girl down the bay. Alone she ran. No other sailboats had ventured out into that fresh south wind on the bay on a late September morning. I had seen Sara B under sail before, but never when she was moving this fast. She leaned to the wind like an old race horse rounding the curve, and powered down the bay. Some sailboats churn and froth through the water, but Sara B simply flowed. She slid along with such grace I couldn't take my eyes off her. I watched her transformed from an old slightly odd looking boat at the dock into an object of power, life, grace and beauty the fall sunlight gleaming on her ebony flanks. Her former names came to mind- Dream, Chasseur-she was on the run, possibly her last for a long time to come. Surely at least one gull wept with envy at her effortless flight.

But out in the lake when hard on the wind, progress was not effortless. Under the land's lee the crew opted to tie in a second reef. With Tug anchored in ten feet in a nice mud patch, we raised sail again and fell off on a reach. Sara B stepped along smartly under a scrap of sail as little white caps blossomed on the green water around us. In minutes we were a half mile offshore and well on our way to Oswego. Maybe we ought to go the other way close hauled and see what it's like. We tacked around and headed back and upon feeling the full weight of the wind while close hauled and hearing it whistle through her rig, we said you know it's kinda brisk out here. Let's bag it. Let's just see if we can GET back into the bay!

We beat our way upwind to Tug and lashed alongside uneventfully in the calm water. Then we headed for the channel. As we turned upwind against gusts to 25 to 30 knots or more, Tug bounced and plunged through the chop and strained hard to shove nine tons of wood and gaff rigged windage up the channel. We crawled along barely maintaining steerage and when the bow tried to fall off were able to crab her around again and keep moving. I watched the the home made cleats and the tight stretched spring line closely. Everything held though one tire kept popping out of place. They made good sturdy fiberglass motorboat decks in those days. It was slow going though, and Tug sucked up the fuel doing it. About half way in, the driver hefted the tank and found it alarmingly light. Wow. Hope we don't run out of gas. We had started out with at least four gallons! We did make it into the bay after a very long and slow slog up the channel.

Once inside, we raised sail and plugged along upwind towards the dock again under double reefed main and staysail. We then hooked up with the refueled Tug for an uneventful tow into the dock. There, we declared, that was about as interesting as we wanted to experience.

That was our last sail with Sara B. A few weeks later we hauled her out for the winter. Then we got some bad news from the machine shop. After the machinist disassembled the mechanism, he found the cast iron clutch drum was cracked. Suddenly the “routine” re-lining job had become far more problematic. As had the future of Sara B's engine and that of the old boat herself.

For the rest of the story visit sarab.brownroad.com or purchase a copy of the memoir from Lake Ontario Items shop at Etsy.

Back to indexPrevious PostNext Post