The Old Man in a Boat Tour
This is the story of a man who was very passionate about the environment, a very special little boat, and a very long trip.
Keep scrolling to learn more about the tour…
The Old Man
Ian Robertson is a retired Mathematics teacher living in Grimsby, Ontario. An avid sailor and long time environmentalist, he is also a keen woodworker. How better to combine these interests than by building a boat (actually more like helping to build a boat with builder Skip Izon) and then sailing and rowing it a long way to help fundraise for his favourite environmental group – the World Wildlife Fund (Canada)?
Or perhaps the “be-cause”… I want to do this trip both for myself (as a personal challenge and because I really like sailing) and to raise funds for the World Wildlife Fund (Canada) – a wonderful organization I have been supporting for over 30 years. They are doing tremendous work to raise awareness of the damage we are doing to our natural environment – particularly our watersheds – and are proposing nature-based solutions based on close consultation with and involvement of First Nations’ peoples.
Donations can be made through the World Wildlife Foundation’s own fundraising portal and every dollar donated goes directly to them. All costs associated with the construction of the boat and the trip itself are coming out of my own personal funds, and furthermore I am committed to “matching” all donations made, up to a total of $8,000. I have a goal in mind of raising about $10,000 but if the idea of this trip resonates with enough people it could be a lot more. I really hope people will see it in this light. I am also trying to do everything I can to ensure this trip has the lowest possible carbon footprint.
The idea for a new boat for a rowing and sailing trip started about four years ago with a planned trip through the rivers and canals of Europe, and potentially down the Danube. This would be largely a rowing trip, somewhat inspired by the “Rowed Trip” adventure of Julie and Colin Angus) but there would be some parts where sailing would be far more effective.
Fast forward to 2021 when, after recovering from health issues, I felt inspired to try again.
Due to the pandemic, I adjusted my plans to incorporate a Canadian trip – and the most obvious one (since I live near the shores of Lake Ontario) was to do more sailing but have the rowing option available for light winds and in many spots on the Trent-Severn Waterway (see The Tour for route details). This called for a different kind of boat.
I took my idea for a rowing “shell” with a narrow sailing boat grafted on top of it to Skip Izon, a very well-known small craft designer/builder in Grand Bend, Ontario and we have been building it using the “strip-plank method” over the winter although at a much slower pace than hoped for due to the restrictions caused by Covid.
What has emerged is a very different hull shape: 16 feet long and only 40 inches wide with a very distinct and significant “chine” or edge and a two-sail rig – almost like a sailing canoe. It is very light at under 45 kg. The sail rig is very different as well in that the stern sail (the back one) is the largest and the masts are on Y shaped mounts which allows them to “tilt” when sailing downwind for better efficiency. The rowing will be done facing forward using an ingenious system called the EZ Row. In honour of a certain famous young climate activist we are calling it the “Greta T” . To read more about the inspiration for, and design of the boat see the blog post More about the boat…
The plan is to complete, possibly in sections – depending on how well I hold up and pandemic restrictions or lack of wind – a loop from Grimsby, along the north shore of Lake Ontario to Presquille – with luck, sailing most of the way. From there the Trent-Severn Waterway will take me – albeit by a very twisty route – up to Port Severn and Georgian Bay. This part is where the rowing features of the boat will probably be used a lot more – especially when going through the locks!
Once into Georgian Bay, I will sail along the south shore until the Bruce Peninsula and the town of Wiarton. Here I will put the Greta T up on its wheels (a neat launching and retrieving device that stows in the boat, called a “C-Tug”). It’s only about 11 km. across to Lake Huron at this point versus a long way around the peninsula via Tobermory with very few safe harbours on the way so as a precaution I am going to haul the boat (it’s pretty light) overland to Lake Huron. I see this as being the half way point and hopefully the sail down the Lake Huron coast to Sarnia and then through to Lake Erie will be relatively straightforward. Arriving back to the Niagara region at Port Colbourne, another haul-out and walk with the boat on its wheels is needed to get back into Lake Ontario at Port Weller. Fortunately, the path alongside the Welland Canal is pretty flat. From Port Weller, with favourable winds, it’s a day’s sail back to Grimsby. Total distance? It’s hard to judge too accurately as sailing sometimes won’t let you go from A to B directly, but I would say at a minimum it’s going to be about 1,300 km. and possibly up to 1,800! If everything goes well, I think it will take up to two months to complete – but that depends a lot on the pandemic and any Covid restrictions at the time.
See the Preparations for the Tour blog post for an interactive map and more details on the route.
See the next section, About The Land, and the blog post A Territorial acknowledgement and an apology for an acknowledgment and statement on the Indigenous territories that make up this route.
I would like to formally acknowledge, with respect, that all of my journey for the Old Man in a Boat Tour will be over waters and on lands that for thousands of years have been the traditional home and passageways for many Indigenous peoples such as the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg, the Huron-Wendat, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and more recently the Mississaugas of the Credit.
As I travel along the shore of Lake Ontario and the Trent-Severn Waterway (TSW) it will be directly past several First Nations lands and communities: Curve Lake, Hiawatha-Alderville, and Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nations. Further along the route on Lake Simcoe I will pass the Chippewas of Georgina Island and the Chippewas of Rama (formerly M’Njikaning) First Nations.
I would also like to acknowledge and highlight that the very structure and history of the Trent-Severn Waterway coincides with very significant negative effects that the colonization and European settlement of Ontario has had – and continues to have – on these and other Indigenous peoples and nations.
After leaving the TSW, traveling along the shores of Georgian Bay I will pass the Beausoleil First Nation, the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation, the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation (Lake Huron), and on Lake St. Clair the Walpole Island First Nation.
I would like to encourage anyone interested in this project to take time to consider our place on these lands as settlers and beneficiaries of the effects of colonization. This project seeks to raise funds and awareness to protect our natural environments and spaces. All such efforts must be rooted in respect for the Indigenous peoples and nations on whose lands we live and travel. They have long been stewards and protectors of these lands and we have much to learn from them.
Please also see the following blog post for additional context on how and why I came to make this statement. A Territorial acknowledgement and an apology.
How You Can Help
Every dollar raised by this project will go directly to the World Wildlife Foundation. Donations can be made directly through their fundraising portal by clicking the button below. The first $8000 raised will be matched personally by Ian.
If you know anyone in your life who enjoys sailing, woodworking, or who is passionate about the environment, please consider sharing this project with them. Either with a link to this website or to our instagram linked below.
As the project develops we will be trying to post blog updates documenting each new step leading up to (and then including) the final journey.
Must Like Yoghurt; Strange Shapes; Holding strange shapes; Learning from one’s mistakes and Why is building this boat so darned hard?
As the building of the Greta T progresses, I have had some observations that I’d like to share with you. This project started in the winter of 2020-21 and many, many batches of mixed epoxy later I would like to extol the benefits of eating lots of yoghurt: yoghurt tubs (the three-pack size from Costco)…
Keeping my nose to the grindstone…
A lot of details have been worked upon since my last post, so I thought I’d provide everyone with an update of the progress in the building of the Greta T. Of course, Spring, a new sailing season at both clubs to which I belong and volunteer (Water Rats in Toronto and Hamilton Bay Sailing…
The Old man is back…
You could be forgiven for thinking that the “Old Man in a Boat Tour” has faded away uncompleted – but… we’re back in action! … after a rather unproductive Fall and Winter. As I write this I am looking back at a blog post that I had written (but never published) in October (2021). I…
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