The Night the Lights Went Out

Where were you in the blackout of 2003?

At 4:11 p.m. Thursday, August 14, 2003, the lights went out across Ontario and eight northeastern U.S. states. Fifty million people lost power. There was chaos in urban centres, as subway trains, traffic lights, and pumps at gas stations stopped. There was also an incredible coming together of people to share for a brief period of time a unique experience in today’s modern world … the wonder of a night sky unobstructed by human influence.

This was one of those life events that everyone seems to remember where they were at the exact moment. David was at home with Brian.

“Don’t go out, Brian. It’s not safe,” David said.

“See you later,” Brian yelled back as he headed out on his bike to revel in the unique blackness with friends. As I say on my memoir, Ready to Come About (Dundurn Press), risk is a good thing … sometimes at least.

Killarney II in KincardineI was on our twenty-six foot sailboat, the Killarney II, moored in Kincardine Harbour with our son John.

The year before, he had won a competition at the Kiwanis Music Festival in Guelph. The prize was a week at the renowned Kincardine Summer Music Festival camp, for lessons and performances with some of North America’s greats. We were thrilled, and immediately looked for accommodation. But, by then, everything was booked. There were no cottages available. Even the local motels were full.

David, ever the optimist, said, “Hey, let’s sail the Killarney II there.” He added that, once we were on Lake Huron, we’d be in shooting distance of the North Channel which, according to every single human being who’s ever been there, is the prettiest place to sail on the planet.

Since the Killarney II’s home port was Hamilton, Ontario, getting to Kincardine by boat meant going from Lake Ontario through the Welland Canal to Lake Erie, across to the St. Clair River, up to Lake Huron, then many miles more along the western shore of the Bruce Peninsula. I pointed out he only had two weeks of vacation. In my thinking, it simply wasn’t doable.

True to form he responded, “Anything’s possible if I just put my mind to it!”

He enlisted the help of friends of ours, two couples with sailing experience, to move the boat. He cancelled our slip in Hamilton. And he arranged haulout at the end of the season in Wiarton, on the other side of the peninsula.

Our friends each took week-long stints to move the boat to Sarnia at the southern tip of Lake Huron.

From there, David and I, with our poodle Leiah, sailed north to Kincardine, with stops for the night in Grand Bend, Bayfield, and Goderich. Full disclosure, David sailed north while I read books, sun tanned, and cuddled with Leiah underway. My favourite part of the journey, was eating burritos at a Mexican food stand in Grand Bend!

But, once again, David was right. We arrived in Kincardine days before the camp began, where I spent three glorious weeks aboard the Killarney II, in the marina, in the company of our son, John, and our trusty dog, Leiah, and experienced phenomenal concerts in little churches, bagpipers on the main drag, the lovely boardwalk with its native gardens, the inside of an actual lighthouse, and yes, the historic blackout of 2003.

Once the camp was over, I went home to Guelph. And David, with the help of our oldest son, Ben, sailed the Killarney II through the night to Tobermory, and then several more days to round the tip of the peninsula and travel down the other side.

With the Killarney II laid up on the hard for the winter in Wiarton, David stumbled on a ‘for sale’ ad for an Alberg 37, the ocean-going vessel of his dreams. It was sailing vessel Inia, and she was lying, in all places, in Hamilton Harbour!

We purchased Inia that winter, and sold the Killarney II.

The Killarney II did make it to the North Channel the following summer, just not with us.

David, and I, ultimately sailed Inia over 11,000 nautical miles on two transatlantic crossing in the space of one year, starting and ending in Hamilton Harbour.

David and I are happy to be returning to Kincardine and Tobermory Saturday September 28th to present Ready to Come About at the Bruce County Library’s Culture Days! Perhaps we will see you there!

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