Preparations for the Tour

When planning for a big (1,300 km.) trip like this it’s easy to overload on all the things that will need attention and have to be done. I decided to construct a time-line with items and then to have categories for each item. Just doing this took a lot of the stress out of the planning process. If you are reading this, I have put a link to each of the each of the items so you can see more of the background details. The other thing was to not think too “linearly” as there are many “links” between each item on the time-line

Here’s my time-line:

The Trip … The Boat … The Supplies … The Publicity and Fundraising … Setting out

The Trip: I wanted a loop so I could come back home to Grimsby Beach (about 50 yards from my home). I also wanted a route that had no long passages in “open” water (not too far from shore) as I knew that the boat I was planning would not be entirely suitable for this and I didn’t want to put myself in a situation of needing to be rescued. Athough I like rowing, sailing is a lot easier and usually faster so I wanted a route that would let me cover a lot of distance sailing, with the rowing kept to only the essential occasions. I finally settled on a route that would take me along the north shore of Lake Ontario to Presquille and then up the Trent-Severn Waterway to Georgian Bay. From there it seemed logical to sail along the shore to Wiarton (at the base of the Bruce Peninsula). At this point there was a big decision to make – actually sail around the peninsula – or cross it, towing the boat, and then start sailing again on the other side in Lake Huron. As there are very few, if any, good “harbours” along this stretch from Wiarton to Tobermory and as it’s only about 11 – 12 km. across by foot, it didn’t take too long to decide to go overland here! Of course, now that this decision was made, the boat would have to be adapted to allow this. More on this under The Boat.

The route for the rest of the Tour was now just a matter of geography (Lake Huron to Sarnia; the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River, the north shore of Lake Erie, and at the eastern end another decision would have to be made. How to get back to Lake Ontario? One the face of it there would seem to be several options:

a) Come ashore at Port Colbourne and walk the boat alongside the Welland Canal to Port Weller – a distance of about 42 km.

b) Row and sail along the Niagara River and put in before Chippewa and then up the Welland River (a lot of doubling back and that part of the Welland River is through a very built up area.

c) Walk the boat part way along the Welland Canal Trail and then head west to put in at Lake Gibson . Pull out and then put in to 12 Mile Creek and down to Port Dalhousie (this is pretty swift and rough due to the output of the Decew Generating Station). There are sections of this where I would have to walk the boat along the trail and you have to get around the old locks at the end of Martindale Pond. This bears further investigation and a walking exploration when the weather is better.

After this it is just a short jaunt home to Grimsby and the little beach at the end of my street!

Please also see the blog post A Territorial acknowledgement and an apology for an acknowledgment and statement on the Indigenous territories that make up this route.

The Boat: The route I would choose would have an influence on the design factors of the boat I would need. I had lots of ideas from the earlier trip I had planned on the rivers in Europe but would need to seriously update them (I will add a file of many of these ideas and other boat designs which I considered at some point in the future). With more sailing possible on the “new” route in Ontario, I was leaning more to the idea of a sailing canoe; however, most sailing canoe designs I have explored were of the “sail when you can… paddle when you must” breed and I instinctively don’t like the idea of not being able to hike out (feet under straps and leaning out over the water to balance the boat when it’s windy) while sailing. I also wanted to row rather than paddle as I had some pretty fair stretches of water to cover each day if the wind was light. For me, rowing is just about the best form of all body exercise I know of. A sliding seat rowing rig takes up a lot more space than just kneeling to paddle. All this would have to be factored into the design of the boat. The final hurdle in design is that most sailing canoes have what are called “lee-boards” to stop the sideways drifting of the canoe while under sail. Leeboards and the rowing unit and oars would not easily go together. The alternate to this is a “dagger” board mounted in a housing or “trunk” in the centre of the boat – taking up space and potentially competing for space with the sliding seat unit. A daggerboard makes for more efficient sailing than leeboards, but can be a liability when sailing in shallow waters – if you run aground hard the board can damage the hull! It gets complicated doesn’t it? See more details of what we came up with under The Boat. I’m sure that by the time I finish the “Tour” I will have lots of ideas for a Greta T Two!

The Supplies: In my planning for the European trip I had factored in passing many small riverside villages each day so getting food wasn’t going to be a huge problem- in fact, getting interesting local food was a big attraction of this trip!! The new route (especially some parts of the Trent-Severn Waterway) is a completely different scenario, with sometimes more than a day’s journey between a chance to get water or food and waterside accommodations few and far between for those times when I just wanted a decent night’s sleep and a warm shower. I would have to carry more “stuff” with me (a slight problem in a small, narrow boat). The weight budget was going to have to be very lean to keep the boat on its designed waterline for fast rowing and sailing and also to make it easier to launch and haul out each day. I assembled a pile of gear: camping/sailing/repair/navigation and communication/clothes/food/reading etc. and started to winnow! I found many useful websites on kayak camping for strategies and tips. I also think I have made a “rod for my own back” in my desire to make this trip to be a low carbon as possible: no support vehicle tagging along nearby on land with supplies! My family have persuaded me to plan for one or two replenishments along the way and my lovely daughter Maya has kindly offered to drop things and drive up to wherever I have reached in my latest moment of crisis with a care package or repair parts etc.

Publicity and Fundraising: I am the first person to admit that I am not at all proficient with social media – in fact I am a dinosaur! Clearly I would need help with this and my wife and daughter bravely stepped in. The first part would clearly be getting in touch with the World Wildlife Fund (Canada) and getting their agreement and setting up a fundraising page on their website. This has been done and I am very grateful for their support. If you are reading this you are witness to Maya’s skills in assembling a terrific website for the project. I came up with the title Old Man in a Boat Tour as I have a fondness for the limericks of Edward Lear ( Unlike the limerick’s namesake I hope to stay afloat!

We are going to have a banner made by a local print shop for when the boat is on the beach, and also graphics on the sails. I also have something specially planned for a graphic on the sides of the boat which includes something mathematical and, of course, the boat’s name: Greta T. Since the boat is designed to drain water out the stern, there is virtually no transom – so no space for a name… it was even quite a challenge to figure out how to mount the rudder!

Setting Out: When to leave? How to leave? How do you hold a boat christening/launch in a pandemic? Which dignitaries to invite?…. ha-ha! With the actual build of the boat interrupted several times by various forms of the lockdown I was getting quite panicked that I couldn’t get going by my self imposed date – before the end of May. My family convinced me to be more flexible and just go with the flow… it may be that I will have to do this trip in several stages and maybe even have to complete it next year! Que sera, sera…!

Published by Ian C. Robertson

I am a retired Mathematics teacher and formerly a sailing instructor and Instructor-Evaluator with the CYA. I have been planning this fundraising trip for a number of years now, and despite setbacks - notably a cancer diagnosis and the pandemic - I am now at the building stages of a light, wooden, 16 foot rowing and sailing boat for the trip. The trip: 1,3000 km. along Lake Ontario, up through the Trent-Severn Waterway, along Georgian Bay to Lake Huron, through the St. Clair River, Lake Erie, alongside the Welland Canal and back onto Lake Ontario to get home to Grimsby! I am offering to match all donations to the WWF for this trip up to $8,000 and I hope and believe that there are lots of people who will support me and the WWF!

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