Big Water Sailing

LOCATION: Sleeping Giant - Thunder Bay, Ontario - Lake Superior

The Allure of Big Water Sailing: Extreme Adventure and Self Discovery


No matter where you are sailing, you’ll experience lots of adventure and self-discovery.

In 2004 I sailed From Thunder Bay to the Mediterranean and back via the Caribbean. Many ask what the allure of big water sailing is. I will quote you a passage I wrote on that trip. The images and sensory feelings are still with me almost 16 years later.

“With a trip so far of over 5,000 miles, there have been some very remarkable events. Two which will forever be etched upon my soul, the North Atlantic gale which we sailed through four days into the crossing, and the day before yesterday.

The gale brought fear and loathing, fatigue and humility, but taught ingenuity, resource and showed the limits of the mind and body.

The day before yesterday, the entrance into the Med, also brought with it a feeling of insignificance and awe. The small straight of Gibraltar, about the width of Thunder Bay to the Sleeping Giant and about the same length, delivered all the force of the North Atlantic gale, but with a majestic and tempered hand.

Into the Straights we sailed with a light following sea, a gentle breeze, a haze covered the straight to the south, where we knew Africa should be. Dark clouds confirmed that cumulus was building from the hot African continent.

When the features began to appear, I was moved by the high mountains, somehow the image of flat sand and desert had been my expectation.

The high clouds were forced up over the ridges and funneled into the straight, blown by the Westerlies. Across on the European side, the land matched – easy to imagine that they were once joined. The winds here were also funneled up into the hills and down into the straight.

Hundreds of wind turbines lined the hills to take advantage of Spain’s windiest shore. The sun was setting behind us, and the forces of nature came together to put on a show to stop all others.

The darkness started from the south, as the cumulus overtook us, sunshine behind, blackness overhead and to the north a rainbow. A rainbow that stretched from clear across the straight, from mountaintop to mountaintop, from Europe to Africa.

The waters ahead and to the south changed, there were white spots and spray, but no waves. The sea had been flattened. Squalls, sails down now. We made it, the wind blasted over us picking up water and spray as it crossed our path.

Then from behind it appeared, a black whirling wisp, high and small, it changed and I knew what it was. Harnesses on, hatches closed sails tied extra lines and ropes stowed, with no sails up and the engine on we could try to outrun the waterspout that was bearing down and building about a mile behind us.

It grew in size and strength and lasted 10 minutes or more sucking water as it snaked towards us. We were spared the wrath of this phenomena, however, torrential rain dumped on us momentarily as the spout disappeared, a parting gift. As fast as the dangers arrived they left. Leaving in its wake a sunset as brilliant with reds, oranges and purple as one can imagine. The mountains faced us, the winds calmed and the harbour lighthouse of Tarifa welcomed us.

The gale in the Atlantic was as forceful but it didn’t stop. There was no safe haven a few miles away. It took you and held you, it lasted all night, it was black and it was noisy. The sea angry and confused. You might set up a way to manage the waves and then the sea would toss a few rogues at you, one filled the cockpit and tore off the dodger. One just spun us around to face the sea from the other side.

The gale left the feeling of dread and exhaustion, the Med was awe-inspiring and left you energized.”

I now sail on Lake Superior, where I started sailing almost 45 years ago. I balance my time between sailing with my family and operating a sailing charter business, Sail Superior, in Thunder Bay.