Toronto to Newfoundland - 1997

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This is our boat "Meriah" leaving the dock at the Mimico Cruising Club in Toronto at the start of the flotilla.

She is an Aloha 32 built in Whitby Ontario to a Mark Ellis design..

The date is 10 May 1997 which is early for sailing on Lake Ontario. Most crews were expecting the cold weather to be the biggest challenge especially down the St Lawrence. As it turned out we summer sailors coped very well with the weather.

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Sail Past in Toronto Harbour  to mark the start of the flotilla. We decided to wear whites to mark the occasion..

For you sailors, the genoa is meant to be flapping to salute the dignitaries!

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Another sail past photo.

Kalinka's crew are wearing more appropriate gear for the weather.

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This is Meriah's navigation  station. Like many skippers, I installed radar which proved invaluable in the fogs of Newfoundland.

As well as the usual GPS, Loran and marine VHF, I also have several ham radios. The laptop is used to send and receive e-mail via ham radio. I also run a ham radio system called APRS which beacons our GPS position to other hams.

Communication was an important issue and all boats reported in via squadron leaders 3 times a day.

Through the St Lawrence Locks
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First leg was overnight down Lake Ontario to Kingston. We had some of the worst conditions of the whole trip that night and the worst incident. One boat ran aground near False Duck Island and the occupants had to be rescued by the Coast Guard. Who said the Great Lakes aren't challenging!

In Kingston we had our first taste of the great hospitality we were to experience all along the route. The local pubs even served Newfie food

Here the mayor of Kingston is playing a Newfoundland "ugly stick" while Bob O'Brian, chairman of the flotilla, accompanies him on the spoons.

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Getting 75 boats through the locks along the St Lawrence was quite an experience.

We filled three locks every time so it was  a slow process.

Going upstream would have been even more difficult because the water swirls around when the locks are filling.

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Waiting for the gates to open.

I didn't hear of any boats being damaged in the locks. The worst lock was the last one with 35 knots on the stern. By that time we were good at setting up the rafts inside the locks

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Montreal with the Olympic stadium in the background - home of the Expos.

This marina wasn't really open for the season but at least we had the luxury of more slips than boats. Once we reached Newfoundland there wasn't a marina to be seen.

Boats of the Flotilla
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A well equipped Grampian 26 proving that you didn't need to have a big boat to join the flotilla. The smaller boats often set off earlier than the bigger ones and the flotilla stayed together remarkably well.

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This is "Raindancer" a beautiful wooden 75ft Stevens.

The biggest boat in the flotilla was a 100ft schooner.

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Windswept is a 40ft Beneteau with a modified stern to be used as a diving platform. The owners were planning to go south after the flotilla.

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Scotia Blue became the hero of the flotilla by taking charge of organizing the docking and rafts at each destination. She invariably got in first and was able to investigate the docking hazards and available spaces. The skipper then sat on the radio for hours organizing the boats by size and talking everyone in.

Down the St Lawrence
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Blue Dragon, a 34ft steel schooner, powers through the St Lawrence chop.

Sailing the St Lawrence between Three Rivers and Tadoussac is all about getting the tide right or you will end up going backwards. You can work it out for yourself from tide tables but every marina,  yacht club or harbour has someone with a useful rule about when to leave to get to a certain destination.

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Deer Lake, an 80ft vintage tug. She was specially renovated for the flotilla and was pressed into service several times when engines failed on other boats.

On one occasion she had three boats in tow on the south shore of Newfoundland and took them on a sightseeing tour rather than miss anything.

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Dawn on the St Lawrence

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The Newfoundland Flotilla was quite a ham radio event. About 10 boats were ham equipped and we had our own schedule with various maritime nets. We provided a relay service when boats were out of VHF range and handled e-mail for other flotilla boats. We also had a special event call sign, CF3NYC, and made hundreds of overseas contacts.

In the photo, a Quebec ham volunteer is talking boats into Cap A L'Aigle using 2M ham radio.

Ports of the St Lawrence
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The marina at Cap a L'aigle on the north bank of the St Lawrence. It is operated by the Quebec City Yacht Club.

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The marina at Rimouski on the south bank of the St Lawrence. The whole flotilla fitted in with no problems because it was early in the season.

Although the Cabot 500 was not a Quebec event, we were made very welcome at every port along the St Lawrence. We were greeted at the dock with a rum punch.

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The magnificent art deco lighthouse at Pointe-au-Pere near Rimouski, sadly no longer used.

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View from the top of the old lighthouse. Look at the miserable modern one which replaced it.

Madeleine Islands
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The Madeleines in the middle of the Gulf of St Lawrence are a number of small islands connected with long sand spits. This creates a series of shallow lagoons which make the islands a favourite destination for windsurfers.

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The soil and rocks are bright red, very similar to Prince Edward Island which is across the Gulf.. The Islands are part of the Province of Quebec

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The coastline is spectacular in places but not  very hospitable for sailors. There is a good harbour and marina on the south side at Cap aux Meules.

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Statue to the fishermen of the Madeleine Islands

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