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 (https://www.poeticous.com/edward-lear/limerick-there-was-an-old-man-in-a-boat). 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…!

In the beginning….

The Old Man in a Boat Tour is the culmination of a number of years of planning and several setbacks along the way. As a long-time and avid dinghy sailor I have often wondered if it would be possible to combine my love of sailing with my enthusiasm for environmental issues – you would think they could go hand-in- hand, wouldn’t you? Still – how to go about it?

A bit of background first – I am a retired mathematics teacher, but I have done other things too! I ran a sailing school in Hamilton Ontario for five years upon graduation from McMaster University in the early 1970’s. I served for 5 years in the Royal Navy as an Instructor Officer in the early 1980’s. But when I finally decided to grow up and settle down at age 40, particularly with the joyful company of my lovely new wife June and recently arrived beautiful daughter, Maya, I found that teaching gave me the most satisfaction and that I was good at teaching Mathematics in particular. My environmental interests grew from working with students at the schools where I taught in setting up recycling programmes and environmental groups. This was a very busy period of my life: raising a family; renovating an older house; working in the high-demand setting of private boarding schools and dealing with the concerns and care issues of my aging parents and finally their deaths; getting active in Green Party politics and environmental issues at the local level. I kept all these balls in the air fairly successfully for a number of years, but finally… (you know how this is going to end – don’t you?)

At age 56, I suffered what you could only call a severe nervous breakdown and went into a serious depression with several long hospital stays, ECT treatment, therapy… the whole nine yards. Finally, with the dedicated support of my family and the professional skill and empathy of several wonderful counsellors I recovered but not enough to return to work, so I took early retirement. And it was in retirement that I realized that I could become whole again by getting back to what gave me the most satisfaction: Laser sailing/racing and woodworking to start with and a while later to mathematics in the form of writing and organizing presentations for teachers. But some people just can’t settle for what’s good for them, can they?

I felt I needed a challenge and found it in the form of an 800 km. walk across northern Spain called the Camino de Santiago (all the way from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain). Here, surely, was all the time one needed to reflect on life and the meaning of things! Long distance walking and staying in crowded hostels not being my wife’s thing – I invited my sisters (both older, but game for a challenge! and terrific company as well). What better omen for the trip than the very stirring movie “The Way” by Emilio Estevan (starring his father Martin Sheen) which was being premiered at TIFF and June and I managed to get tickets!

Perhaps I’ll elaborate more on the Camino adventure at another time – suffice it to say I finished, we had a blast, and I came back with a vision that I needed another long-distance trip in Europe (perhaps not one with quite so many bed-bugs and blister-raising kilometers) but one that I could undertake as a solo challenge.

So the seeds were sown and the plan grew (after many variations) into a row/sail adventure and fundraiser along the rivers of Europe (beginning at St. Malo, France (Atlantic Coast) and ending at Travamunde, Germany (Baltic Sea) by way of the Loire, Rhone, Rhine, Danube, Vltava and Elbe Rivers! 1,600 km. give or take a few kilometres. I had the route, was choosing boats that I could pick up in Europe, practicing my French and had even planned to sail in Ireland before- hand at the World Laser Masters’ Championships in September 2018 and then take a jaunt over to St. Malo to begin the adventure. I did actually get to do the Laser Masters, but a diagnosis of prostate cancer and a scheduled surgery in November brought the rest of the plan crashing to earth.

Although cancer free now for two years, life after surgery has not been exactly problem free as I was left with chronic pain which the doctors couldn’t explain – it now seems to be a trapped nerve from the position I was placed in for the surgery! Enough about ailments… let’s get on with our lives shall we? Let’s do that trip we had planned before it all! And then this little thing called Covid 19 happened to the world…

So, while everyone else was being forced to “pivot” and to re-adjust to the new norm, I decided I could as well and a new trip was planned which has evolved in The Old Man in a Boat Tour.