Launching Fearless and the journey across Toronto Harbour

I arrive at the marina on the east side of Toronto Harbour at 10:00, as instructed. Fearless, our new-tu-us 30′ Cal 30 sailboat, is still in the water where I left her, but somebody had walked her down the dock without a fender and shaved off some paint on her side. Great. Her mast lies in pieces on the dock, next to her.

The guy who works the crane lets me know that I need to assemble the mast back together, telling me for the tenth time that he “doesn’t do” sailboats and knows nothing about them and that the mast is entirely my responsibility. This does not fill me with confidence. U., the owner of the marina who I arranged this job with, is nowhere to be seen.

So, I start figuring out the mast. Ok, these look like the spreaders. Ok, this looks like a piece of metal that will fit through the mast, holding the spreaders. Look there, bolts. Everything makes sense, everything fits together. While I am at it, I fix a running light that has come off during transit. I am feeling better about this. Perhaps even a little smug because I just assembled a mast from a box of seemingly random pieces. I should have known that was a mistake.

Mast assembled, time passes. The big yellow crane is working, boats get put into the water. I am still waiting. And waiting. And beginning to get both hungry and pissy – with me, these two are closely related. Crane guy is doing everything possible to avoid putting my mast up, a job I booked two weeks ago.

Finally, U. arrives, the boss man. Skin like leather, false teeth the colour of ivory, big black sunglasses. Heino’s less successful brother, with a thick German accent. Crane guy is clearly terrified of his boss, his bluster evaporating.

U. lets me know that it’ll be my turn two boats from now, but that I will have to help. I’m cool with that, just want to get the hell out of this place by now. I am contemplating a quick jog to T&T for a restorative order of dumplings and rice, but am too worried that I will lose my spot. I end up wasting time worrying that I could have used to run and get lunch. It’s close to 1:30 by now, my stomach is rumbling and my mood is deteriorating.

45 minutes later and it’s my turn – finally. Crane guy tells me he has a maximum of 15 minutes to do the job and I lose it – shout at him he will do the job he’s been hired to do and it’ll take as long as it will take to do it properly. Scattered applause from various marina bystanders with bad teeth and cigarette breath. U. is laughing so hard at the spectacle of his underling being shouted at that he launches himself into a coughing fit I am worried he won’t recover from. But recover he does, slaps me on the shoulder, tells me he likes my spirit. The crane gets fired up, diesel fumes everywhere and the mast gets lifted – U. at the controls, crane guy, now exceedingly meek, with me on the Fearless trying to direct it.

Crane guy keeps telling me he’s got no idea what he’s doing. I really, really, really want to punch him, but I am too busy being terrified, furious and wrangling a 45ft aluminum pole. The mast is swinging wildly, lines are getting tangled. We finally wrestle it down on deck – crane guy tells me to connect the wiring for the running lights. All I can think of is that I will lose the fingers of at least one hand if U. makes even the slightest mistake at the controls.

But he doesn’t and finally, miraculously, the mast stands. I rush to fit the rigging – and nothing fits together. Looks like the Fearless needs to be rigged in a specific sequence, with different hole diameters for different bolts securing different lines. 15 minutes of thinking “fuck, if I drop this bolt/wire/screwdriver into the water I am really screwed” pass. I am sweating. The phone rings, I ignore it. Rings again, I ignore it again. Finally look down, it’s Anja. “Are you ok?” “Not a good time honey, talk later”. Ping – a text. “I’m freaking out, are you alive?”

Step back.

“Hey, yeah, everything is going to be ok. Love ya.”

Deep breath. Ok, where were we? Mast seems to be up. Rigging seems to be secure. All fingers, present. Good news, for once.

I remove the crane sling from the mast. Look up and see the wind vane has been bent, but I am too relived with the mast being up to make a big thing about it just then – although it means that I will have to get up the mast at some time in the future. More opportunities to be terrified, yeah.

Oh, and a lifeline has been pulled out of the railing because crane guy stepped on it. Otherwise – all is well and I carefully walk Fearless down the dock and tie her up.

Next, the engine. J., the mechanic, saunters over. Looks like Frank Sinatra, smells like a pack of Marlboros soaked in diesel. Steps down into the boat, we open the engine compartment. I checked the batteries, I know we got a full charge. The previous owner had disconnected the spark plugs, the distributor cap and loosened the alternator – a strange thing to do, but most likely to reduce strain on the alternator belt.

Ten minutes later, I turn the key. She starts. Instantly. Immediately. Purrs like a kitten. Let her run a minute, up the revs. Check the exhaust – no water being pumped out. Uh-oh, she’s not pulling cooling water. Run to switch her off, she stops by herself before I can get to the key. Crap, crap, crap, I seized the engine. J. calms me down – the engine wasn’t running long enough to get damaged – he thinks we just run out of fuel, just burned what was in the carburetor.

We disconnect the fuel line, it’s dry. The tank must be empty. But I remember the previous owner telling me that the tank was full for winter, to stop rust. So we hunt for a cut-off valve, finally find it. Fuel starts running, we reconnect the line, she starts. Still no water in the exhaust, but we can feel the water pump running – switch off the engine and hunt for a cut off valve on the water intake which we finally find all the way back in the engine compartment. It’s stuck closed.

Disconnect the hose, pry it open, water begins to flow in. Are we sinking now? The bilge pump kicks in. Water pours into the bilge. We close the valve, unstuck now, reconnect the hose, the water stops. Start the engine once more and wait. Water flows out of the exhaust, meaning the engine is getting cooled. Fuel is flowing, the alternator is charging. We’re good. Transmission works, we get movement. Sweet. Also, the bilge pump stops. Thank heavens.

Time to pay up. I argue with U. about the damage done, in the end I take $100 off the bill for launching Fearless and stepping the mast. He is more embarrassed, and apologetic than I thought he’d be.

I run to T&T. Lunch, finally. Noodles, chicken and broccoli, iced green tea. I am beginning to feel vaguely human again. We’ve got a boat. There’s a mast on our boat. The engine is running – and not just running, it’s running in a way that says “I won’t conk out on you ten minutes from now in the middle of the harbour just for comedic effect”.

Next step, take her across the Toronto Harbour to Muggs Island. David, who runs the marina services for the Island Yacht Club, and is the owner of a Harbour License (I am not) gets dropped off by the club tender. He offered to come with me on the trip across and right then I could not think of anybody I’d rather see – he exudes calm, collected, competence. He’s the exact opposite of U. and his smelly band of unkempt renegades.

As we make ready to leave there’s one last delay – I need to find my cradle so David can arrange to get a barge and have it moved to Muggs Island later. I look for crane guy and find him with his butt sticking out of the engine compartment of the big yellow crane – which happens to be suspiciously silent and has a 34′ sailboat in the slings, gently swaying in the breeze. The owner of the 34′ is standing underneath his boat and freaking out in all kinds of interesting ways.

Looks like he had his boat taken up ready to be launched, but wanted a minute to hit the pad marks caused by his cradle with anti-fouling paint. U. took his boat up, switched off the crane and when he wanted to switch it back on again the starter motor was fried.

Now, this is not the kind of thing you hop over to Canadian Tire to fix. This is a big, a monstrous, yellow crane, with a big white boat stuck in a sling. Damn. My previous problems fade into insignificance somewhat. There’s an angry line up of boaters who all wanted their boats launched, there’s much German swearing, by now there are multiple ass cracks sticking out of the crane’s engine bay. There’s a huge spark and loud yelps of pain, in multiple languages, when they’re trying, without success, to short-circuit the starter motor.

David and I look at each other and tip-toe off, find the Fearless cradle ourselves and decide to deal with the removal at another time.

I start the engine. David throws the lines aboard, hops in. I put the boat into forward, and just like that, she starts moving, away from the dock and out into the lake. Once out, I up the revs – damn, a huge squeal. We didn’t tighten the alternator up enough, the belt is slipping. But no worries, we have two batteries at full charge, enough to get us across even with zero charge from the engine. We rev the engine down and the belt grips again, so we trade speed for silence and are on our merry way.

My day has improved.

There’s a connection with the boat – the thing I was scared of most was being scared of her. Turns out I am not. I am aware of my limitations, my beginner-status, my lack of experience, but I am not scared. And Fearless doesn’t hate me. She moves smoothly, gracefully, deliberately through the water. I can feel how capable she is, that this is what she was built to do.

I have got a huge grin on my face. The sun is shining. The 50-year-old engine below my feet is purring away. The Redpath Sugar plant is passing on the starboard bow. We continue to Muggs Island and David takes over, gently moves her into her new home. Lines get connected, engine off.



“Fancy a beer?”

“Damn right.”

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