Unforgiving Overnighter on Georgian Bay, ON [PICS]
And we made a mistake.
It's a beautiful day for May, +15C and sunny. The weekend started with a trip to our cottage, and a few hours of work to open it for the season. My brother and I put in our dock, the boat rails and dolly, and had a hot lunch. Once the work was done, the two of us were anxious to get out and try some of our new gear in a camping setting, so we loaded up the boat (an 18' aluminum fishing boat) and headed out to the beach. We've been going to this beach since we were little kids, it's about 10 minutes by boat to get there from the cottage and sits on the north shore of Fraser Bay, on the other side of Baie Fine for those familiar with the area.
There are two sides to the beach, so we pulled up the boat and tied it up on the leeward side of a small island. After getting set up, we got a bit of a fire going and made some coffee and enjoyed the clear skies and beautiful scenery.
Before long though, the wind started to pick up just a little, and a dark cloud front brought rain with it. No problem... I was snug in my Blackbird and Mamajamba, he had his GT SBP and Funky Forest tarp. The rain wasn't about to give in after a few hours though so I put the ear plugs in and rolled over, resigned to sleeping the night. Twice in the night I woke up to re-stake my tarp. The wind had picked up significantly... enough to pull the stakes out of the ground (I was using two per tie out). Those who know the area can attest that when the weather turns foul on big water, you can get into some trouble quick.
Unfortunately for us, the wind had changed direction in the night, turning the calm leeward beach area into a roiling cauldron of white caps. My brother woke me up around 3:30am with some bad news. He'd gotten worried and checked on the boat. It was sunk. Not just a little bit, but almost completely. The stern end was completely submerged. We pulled the fuel tanks to save them from being compromised with water and spent the following 3-4 hours trying everything we could think of to get the thing out of the water far enough to start bailing it out. By this point, I should mention, the temperature had dropped to near freezing, 1C or so and the rain hadn't abated.
We tried using a level and fulcrum to tip the bow end of the boat high enough to roll the bow forward to be able to bail it, we tried using the carabiners from our hammocks to rig a pulley system and give us more leverage, we put boards down on the sand to reduce the amount of friction... nothing worked and we were expending a LOT of energy in all these attempts. Once it was light out I managed to gather some dry wood and (sadly only with the help of a bit of our fuel) was able to get a good fire going so that we could at least warm ourselves and take a break. It was about this time that the snow started.
We were about to call out to family as with the dropping temps and foul weather, hypothermia is a certainty (luckily we had cell reception where we were). Hoping someone can at least fetch us with a boat... when my brother had one last idea.
"Let's turn the thing sideways" he says. Instantly I see the logic, though by this point the boat is so submerged I have doubts that it will help with anything more than sinking the thing entirely. We heave and shove until the waves are crashing up against the side of it but the stern is still underwater. Rage! We look at it and realize that we only need to raise the port side of the stern a few more inches to stop any more water from coming in, so we both jump up and throw our weight onto the starboard side of the bow. Up comes the stern corner, just enough.
But wait... if we're both sitting on the bow of the boat, how are we to bail the stern? Ahhh, the magic of a working bilge pump!! After a few minutes running the pump with the boat no longer taking on more water, we had the good fortune of being able to start bailing out the frigid water.
Now we have the boat floating, but we don't dare risk turning it back bow-in to the shore for risk of it taking on more water. The waves haven't lessened and the snow is still whipping around us. So we take turns. My brother held the boat in place, sideways while I ran back to the campsite and packed up my gear, hammock, and tarp, then doused the fire with an empty cooler of water and ran back to the boat. He did likewise then took a minute to bleed the fuel line before we finally risked turning the boat bow-in to the shore to drop tilt the motor back down. Thankfully the old 50hp Mercury outboard is unstoppable and fired after only three tries (despite having been half submerged for the better part of 5 hours). We'd both been almost waist-deep in frigid water by this point so there was no going back if it hadn't started for us.
Slammed in reverse, my brother hauled himself up out of the water and we were finally off in to headlong winds as fast as the poor little boat could manage. Hail, snow, and gale force winds pounding our frozen bodies into submission, we reached the cottage at last. A warm meal, a hot shower, and a change of clothes later, we were very much bent, but not broken.
Attached are the photos I managed to take during the... warmer part of our little adventure.
1. Merino wool can quite literally be a life saver and I recommend picking up a good set of icebreaker long underwear. I have no doubt I'd have suffered hypothermia without it.
2. Be prepared for the worst. It might look like a beautiful day when you leave but that can change in a couple of hours.
3. Let someone know where you're going. Our father was at the camp to help with the work but didn't come camping with us. He knew where we were going and also knew when we expected to be out.
4. Have a backup plan. At the very worst case scenario, we could have walked to the nearby lodge and "let ourselves in" to dry out and warm up.
5. Use a hammock. Our hammock/tarp set ups kept us dry and warm until we saw we had no choice but to brave the weather to get ourselves out of there. Best investment I've ever made. My old Coleman tent would have had us sleeping in a puddle by midnight.
Unforgiving Overnighter on Georgian Bay, ON [PICS]
Wow! What an adventure!
I'm a firm believer on merino wool also.
Glad you made it back to safety and thanks for sharing the lessons learned.
Re: Unforgiving Overnighter on Georgian Bay, ON [PICS]
Here is to stories you will never forget, but that you wish never happened... You know what they say about experience being the best teacher... She provided the pop quiz and I would say you guys came out a lot smarter that you figured...