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Sunday, October 05, 2008

An Outing on the Lake

The weather was cold and overcast without a hint of wind on Saturday, but THE DUCHESS, captained by Jock Macrae and his son, departed at 2 PM as scheduled, for a sail on Lake Ontario. And they took me along.
The sail had been arranged by the Oakville Club's dockmaster, who is very kind.
(Yes, I'm going to join the club within a week or so. It's worth it.)
Once we motored out a bit further from the shore the wind came up, actually rather briskly. I'd wondered whether the heavy leather jacket and hat I was wearing would be necessary. They were. The chill was palpable, but not intolerable. "This is the last sail of the season," Mr. Macrae said. Winter comes early here and the boats have to go into dry dock very soon. They will spend the winter in the club's storage lot. A wooden boat has to 'breathe' and have air around it when in dry dock, but THE DUCHESS was fiberglass unlike its sister ship the ANITRA, so she'll be bundled up like a silkworm to shield her from the snow and wind.
Once we were on the lake the view of the Oakville waterfront became much clearer. Immense mansions line the shore of the lake. The hoi polloi (that's me) can walk along the lakefront with frequent detours to the street, to avoid the estates. Others have large walls divorcing their property from the public way below, rendering them invisible or (apparently) smaller than their actual size. From the water their true dimensions were obvious. The sheer scale of some of these places boggled the mind. At least one of them had a small outbuilding which Mr. Macrae said was a chapel. (They get tax breaks for having a church on their property. One of the mansions has a statue of Buddha). One monster mansion, built by the CEO of a famous brewing company, in the Dutch style, was nearly the size of Buckingham Palace (I am not exaggerating here.) The minute it was finished, the company terminated the man's contract since they thought the house a bit on the ostentatious side.
Another mansion is so large that a seven year old girl and her servants live in one side of it, and her parents have a separate wing, like royalty. I asked how normal the child could be with this sort of upbringing. No one really knows.
The parents have willed the house to the state in the coming time, to keep their taxes down.
There were a few older, smaller houses there as well, but they will probably be bought up and knocked down (if the Canadian market doesn't follow the American one) for more mansions. One of the mansions that is less than a decade old is going to be razed for a larger one.
The DUCHESS had two red and two green ribbons on opposite sides of her mainsail to indicate starboard and port and to keep her into the wind. You handled the wheel so that all four ribbons lay in a straight line, and that meant you were sailing properly. I'd never seen anything so simple yet practical. The younger Macrae told me that night sailing was much better than in the day. I asked how he saw the ribbons then; it appears that there are lights, and moonlight would also give them some indication of a view.
I took the wheel for a short while but since the wind was shifting rapidly, I thought it was better that the pros handled it. Gusts kept springing up from all quarters and we even saw a probable waterspout off the starboard bow --at a safe distance, thankfully.
A 'turkey race' was in progress on the lake. Numerous sailboats were cruising for the reward of a large Thanksgiving turkey. I don't know who won.
The sail lasted a little over two hours. It was very generous of these kind people to take a total stranger out, and we parted friends.
Afterward, I went to Toronto to the NUIT BLANCHE, but did not get very far. The turnout for this event, where hundreds of artists had projects viewed for free, was immense. Toronto was jammed and every venue had lines going around the block.
I got to one large artists' loft in the Queen West district, but couldn't see any of the shows. (all right, so I don't like crowds.) I bought a handmade hat by a well known hatmaker. It's shearling, very well designed and warm, covers my ears and neck, and looks very feminine. At first I balked at the price but when I consider that one of my colleagues at work is already coughing, and that other folk are suffering from flu (and it's only early October!) I considered this money very well spent.
So now I'm set for the winter with warm coat and hat. I think the boots will last for another year and the gloves and winter clothes are fine.

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