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Our Mayday Call! + Sailing (Mis)Adventures

Do I have some exciting sailing stories to share with you today!  Grab a cup of coffee or tea, sit back, and enjoy your life as a landlubber because Lake Superior kicked our butts this season – TWICE.

A Little Back Story:

But first, a quick little back story about our sailboat for new readers (you can read all of my sailing posts by clicking here and see the before/after makeover of our sailboat by clicking here).

Four years ago we bought our sailboat and intended to sail it home to our bay on Lake Superior but didn’t!  One problem was that we didn’t have our mooring in yet, but also we got turned around by bad weather more than once.  We were lucky and always managed to borrow a slip at the yacht club where we store the boat, and we just day sailed from the city.  We did this for years, which was silly because we live on the lake but always had to drive into the city to sail our boat.  But there were perks keeping the boating in the city.  For example, one year my uncle and his wife and kids came to visit so it was easy to take them out for a day sail.  A slip is much easier to get into a boat from – as opposed trying to clamber up from a much lower boat that is getting tossed around by waves.  Plus there is a gorgeous, communal clubhouse at the yacht club, with a pool table and massive kitchen, so entertaining there was fun and stress-free.

Despite the perks of keeping the boat at a slip in the city, this year we decided we HAD to finally sail the boat home!  The neighbours were starting to make fun of us, and I am sure many thought we were only pretending to own a 30 foot sailboat.  So, with the help of two neighbours, we finally got our mooring in – which one of the neighbours had kindly made for us the year before.  My job was to steer one of two boats in a circle and then we tried to drive this massive screw into the lake bed.  It did NOT want to go in!  It took us six hours to get two moorings in (one for our neighbour as well).

And then it took another 24 hours for my world to stop spinning, lol.

But at least we were finally ready to bring our sailboat home!

The Sail Home to the Bay:

The day we sailed home started off beautifully.  It was sunny and warm and we sailed the farthest we had ever been before.  Lake Superior was beautiful that day.  The waves were huge, but gentle.  The sailboat heeled like crazy while I steered, but it no longer scared me so I enjoyed the thrill of it.

We had so much fun those first few hours.

But then the sun disappeared behind some menacing clouds, the warmth evaporated and the chill of Lake Superior felt like icy fingers enveloping me.  That’s when we realised we had sailed right into a storm.  In a sailboat.  With a 40 foot mast swaying back and forth, taunting the lightning to strike it and toast us.

Luckily, we lost our wind and tacked back and forth, back and forth, all the while watching the storm move across the horizon in front of us.  We were hit by enough rain to chill us to the bone, but we narrowly missed the worst of it because we were all but stalled on the lake.  It actually worked out well for us that we hadn’t sailed right into the storm but, once it passed, we were freezing cold and still so far from home.  With no wind!  No matter what we did, we couldn’t get moving again.  Eventually we gave up, dropped the sails and motored home for the last few hours, frozen to our core.

Total sail time?  9 (mostly punishing) hours!!

What I haven’t told you is that I suffer from seasickness on long journeys.  This was something I discovered after we bought the sailboat.  I didn’t think I would struggle with this because we also own a 16-foot Fireball (a tiny little sailboat we bought in our early twenties) and I never, ever felt seasick sailing that.  But in our bigger sailboat, I do.  For a few hours, I feel fine – although I do take all natural anti-nausea pills and wear sea bands.  But more than three hours and I’m green in the gills.  So for two thirds of that sail home, I was suffering.

For weeks after that sail, anytime I went near the sailboat I felt seasick again. We actually put a For Sale sign on the boat and listed it in the classifieds – which shocked everyone!

Sunset Sailboat Photo

Finally my reoccurring seasickness abated and we enjoyed some amazing sails!  It was hot this summer and sailing Lake Superior was so enjoyable.  We had some really great times on the sailboat – so much fun, in fact, that I regretted listing the boat for sale.  But we both agreed that maybe a smaller sailboat, something we can launch ourselves closer to home, might be a better fit.  When we bought our sailboat, we pictured lots of overnight adventures but with my nausea, a day trip is all I can muster and so this really is too much boat for us.  It’s 30 feet long, with an 11 foot beam (width).  It sleeps six, has a kitchen, bathroom, and tons of storage – it’s like a floating RV.

The Sail Back to the City (Here’s Where it Gets Good!):

After a lovely summer of sailing (click here for a truly soothing video), it was time to sail the boat back for haul out and storage.  Here is where the REAL adventure begins!  For the journey back to the city, we looked for a day with the right winds so we could sail without interruption.  We were determined to avoid a repeat of the sail home (where we motored for hours, defeated).  Hoping to also shave some time off our 9 HOUR JOURNEY (especially because being on Lake Superior for an extended period of time in the colder fall months is a lot less fun), we also chose a day with much stronger winds.  I piled on the clothing, wearing layers of sweaters, my winter parka, a baseball cap + toque + ear warmers + hood.  I filled a thermos full of tea and steeled myself for a frigid, but quick sail home.

The night before, we drove the truck into town to leave it at the yacht club (I followed in the car to drive us home), so we’d have a way to come back home.  Before we left the city we stopped for a coffee and a box of Timbits to eat on the boat.  We spent a few minutes at the marina, sipping our coffee and watching the boats.  We happened to be there when we saw the Coast Guard’s RHIB (rigid hull inflatable boat) fly into across the water, lights flashing, toward some large lakers.  It circled around and then disappeared.  We watched, entranced.

If this was a Shakespearean play, I believe they would call that foreshadowing.

The next morning we began our journey back toward the city.  The second we emerged from our sheltered bay, we were hit by massive white cap waves!  While the wind worked in our favour, the waves did not.  As the wind propelled us toward our destination, the waves pummelled us from the starboard side, pushing us toward land and making it nearly impossible to steer from the sheer force of the water.  The waves were the highest I’d ever seen.  Steering the boat with all of my strength, I’d glance over and just see a WALL of icy water threatening to soak us.  The boat rose and fell quickly as the waves took over.  We steered valiantly for hours against the fury of Lake Superior.  I was chilled to the bone and exhausted, but at least we were making really good time.

At one point, we were jibing and a sudden gust of wind took the mainsail with such force, it ripped the shackle that attaches the mainsheet to the traveller clean off the boat, sending the sail flying.  We no longer had control of the mainsail and the wind threatened to send us crashing into the rocks.  Hubby yelled at me to start the engine, but the incredible sound of the water and wind were deafening and disorienting.  I was so flustered, I could barely remember how to turn the engine on.  Hubby dropped the sail and we struggled to regain control of the sailboat, which was being tossed around by the wind and waves like a toy.  At one point we were facing the wrong direction; I had completely lost control.

We finally regained control and because the wind was so strong, continued to make good time with only the headsail.  But instead of going around an island, as we usually do, we opted to avoid open water, where the Lake Superior rollers were even higher, and sought shelter between the mainland and the island.  The chart plotter showed plenty of depth.  Totally nauseated and frozen, I sought shelter in the cabin for a moment.  Moments later, it felt as if an earthquake had rocked us – the doors exploded off the galley cabinets and everything went flying (including me).  The BANG was deafening.

Shaken, I emerged from the cabin and yelled to Hubby, “what happened?”

Hubby yelled back, “We’ve run aground!”


“What do I do?” I asked.

“Grab the ditch bag,” was the emotionless reply.

It was all I could do not to panic.  The ditch bag is what we keep on board in case we need to abandon ship.  It has some essentials, like a radio,  Hubby’s cellphone in a waterproof case, an air horn, etc., and it can help tether us together in case we are stuck floating for a long time.

It’s NOT something you want to need!!

As I scrambled up into the cockpit with the ditch bag, I surveyed the damage.  We were totally caught up on some submerged rocks you couldn’t see, as the waves and wind continued to pummel us.  We were on our side, slamming repeatedly into rocks.  I glanced into our tender (the emergency inflatable raft were were towing) and it was filled with icy water.  Hubby, meanwhile, rolled up the headsail in an effort to keep us from being pushed even more violently into the rocks.

Unsure of the condition of our boat below the waterline, or how we’d free ourselves, we placed a Mayday call – something I’d practised but never thought we’d need to do.  We knew help would be at least an hour away and we weren’t sure we would be floating by then.  With the freezing cold Lake Superior temperatures, we also weren’t sure if we’d be able to survive abandoning the boat.  While I tried to confirm our details with the Coast Guard, Hubby went back up to the cockpit and tried to free us from the rocks.  Miraculously, because the waves were SO intense and powerful that day, they eventually lifted the boat and we were (unbelievably) able to bounce off the rocks, right ourselves, and reverse our path.  It was an incredibly jarring process.  I was so amazed at how Hubby kept his cool.  I was freaking out inside, but I tried to be as calm and collected as he was.

Unwilling to try again between the shore and this island, we were forced into open water where even taller waves pushed against.

I struggled not to be sick.

By now we were only using the engine and the waves and wind continued to pummel us.  Steering remained a struggle and we were completely exhausted.  It’s difficult to explain just how gruelling this trip was – I wish I’d had a GoPro to capture it all.  There was just no reprieve from the force of the lake, no moment when we could even use the bathroom or sip a cup of tea.

We motored for what felt like an eternity before we saw a small RHIB come toward us – the one we had seen the night before.  The Coast Guard rescue crew!  We were so relieved.  We yelled over the deafening waves and explained our fear: we had no idea what was damaged below the surface and we still had hours to go.  They couldn’t tow us, but wouldn’t leave our side and so they boated slowly back to the city with us.  It was both embarrassing and an immense relief.  I almost tossed my cookies at this point, I was so ill, but I absolutely refused to hurl over the side of my fancy sailboat with an audience, lol.

But at least those last few hours were uneventful and as we neared the city, the waves and wind became much calmer.

When we finally reached the mouth of the river, only a short distance from the slip, we radioed to the Coast Guard crew and told them they were welcome to go back and we could handle it from here.

Negative” came the reply.

It was so funny – I joked with hubby that they didn’t trust two dummies like us to get home even a short distance unaccompanied.

When we finally reached the slip, we managed to dock with relative ease and grace – a rarity for us!  Docking is not our strong suit because my job is to jump off the moving boat and help guide us and I’m not quite there yet.  But we docked gracefully and finally – finally! – the journey was over.

If it weren’t for the goose poop, I would have sprawled on the grass, so grateful was I to be on land again.

We thanked the Coast Guard crew profusely for helping us and asked if it was terrible following us at a snail’s pace for hours as we motored back.  They confessed that the worst thing was actually the intense wind and waves as they headed toward us!  You know the waves are intense when they rattle the Coast Guard crew.

The next day, we grimaced as the crane lifted our boat from the water.  I held my breath, too nervous to see what kind of damage we had incurred.  But our boat is built for rough water!  The keel is steel and so you could only see a few scuffs and small dents.  But otherwise, this sturdy boat held her own, even when Lake Superior tried to sink us.

As we told other sailors about our harrowing journey, many laughed.  They had seen higher rollers, had run aground more aggressively – and done it all in smaller boats.

Our story was not unique.

But our story made Hubby even more anxious to sell and I initially agreed.  But, two days later, once my nausea had finally subsided and I could feel my arms again, I smiled.

I love Lake Superior.  I moved away from here and was drawn back by the siren song of the lake.  The fresh, clean water.  The epic waves.  You can feel the history of this lake in the air when you’re on the water.

Being out on the lake on a calm day is one thing.  You enjoy it, but you forget the immense power of this particular lake, the largest of the Great Lakes in North America (with a record wave of 31 feet).  Being out on Lake Superior when you feel its strength and anger is quite another thing.  It invigorated and energised me.  I finally felt like a real sailor.  I looked around at the paintings Hubby’s grandpa (also an avid sailor) had painted of the power of waves and finally felt like we had earned this artwork.

I told Hubby I wasn’t sure I want to sell the boat.  It’s such a GOOD BOAT!  We made it home in one piece, with barely a scratch, after not one – but TWO major mishaps.  It’s so sturdy – the perfecr boat for this lake!

He eyed me suspiciously, probably wondering when, during our 8 hour journey, I had hit my head.

That’s right, in the end, we did shave an hour off this trip.

mayday call and other sailing stories



  1. Wilma
    October 26, 2020 / 12:36 pm

    You are a GREAT storyteller.

  2. Nikki H
    October 26, 2020 / 3:06 pm

    All I can say is Holy Cow. Glad you had a happy ending!

    • October 27, 2020 / 3:36 pm

      You and me both! I am so relieved that this ended up being a funny story and nothing more.

  3. Miss Boots
    October 26, 2020 / 3:17 pm

    So exciting! You’re such a great storyteller.

    • October 27, 2020 / 3:36 pm

      Thank you so much, you’re so kind! I really enjoyed writing this – it was a welcome change from tutorials, haha.

  4. Nancy
    October 26, 2020 / 4:24 pm

    Very interesting story, Tanya! I felt like I was there from the way you wrote it. Well done!

  5. Heather
    October 26, 2020 / 9:04 pm

    Yikes! What a roller coaster of a story! As much as I love being on the water, I do t think I have the grit for this type of adventure.

    • October 27, 2020 / 3:35 pm

      I didn’t think I had the grit either – I really pictured lounging around in a sundress and that is not what sailing has been lol.

  6. Oona
    October 27, 2020 / 2:54 pm

    I feel seasick just reading your story, Tanya! So thankful that you both made it home alive. I now have Stan Rogers’ “White Squall” running on repeat in my head….

    • October 27, 2020 / 3:34 pm

      I’m so sorry I made you feel seasick! But I’m feeling like a pretty good writer if I could do that without any videos 🙂 I’m happy we made it safe and sound too! Just our egos were bruised a little, lol

  7. Joanie
    December 3, 2020 / 12:42 pm

    Wow! Just catching up with your blog. What a harrowing, but well told, tale! Living in Michigan, we know it’s not good to mess with Superior. I was out biking and remember the strong winds that day. Passing on the 30 footer :).

    • December 3, 2020 / 7:23 pm

      Lake Superior is definitely a best and those winds can be WILD! Glad you enjoyed the telling of the journey home.

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