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!

Bruce County Twitter Post








Four Seasons

One of the significant details about our two transatlantic crossings was that they were completed within the space of one year. We crossed our outbound wake in Lake Ontario 365 days precisely on our return to Whitby Harbour; May 25th 2007 departure, May 25th 2008 return.

My memoir, Ready to Come About, describes how we experienced the changing seasons.

Summer in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence:

Evening, I took the first shift, nine to midnight, my customized watch kit by my side. The temperature was pleasant, the sea state calm, the sky a bright sapphire long after the sun had set. It was near the summer solstice, when evening twilight lingers and the night is its shortest.

Fall heading towards Madeira:

Daytime, the ocean was dark blue-grey tinged with bronze, the air a light mauve. The sun, in its south declination, was low and at an angle relative to our northern latitude, not only creating the longer nights, but also this subtle change of palette and glow. Despite the absence of the typical hallmarks of fading gardens and dropping leaves, it was unmistakably fall.

Winter moving south to Cape Verde:

These same seas that seemed playful in the light of day felt sinister at night. And, as it was just past the winter solstice, the nights were long. David pointed out, optimistically, that since the sun had reached its most southern declination and was moving higher and we were travelling to lower latitudes — twelve degrees lower, to be exact — daylight hours would start to increase. But as it stood, our sunrise was at 0800, sunset at 1800. If not for the moon, we would have fourteen hours of darkness on the ocean.

Spring in the Erie Canal heading home:

As we moved along, midday temperatures crept up, burning off the early morning chills. Treetops were turning lime green and mustard yellow, pussy willows were budding, patches of crocuses and daffodils were fragrantly in bloom, cyclists and joggers were hitting the towpaths in droves, and quaint villages were coming out of hibernation to prepare for the seasonal influx of boating business. Everything and everyone along the canal was coming to life. It was spring, the season of renewal and new beginnings. And we were heading home.

So, it was somewhat appropriate that one of the CDs we brought along with us was Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

Returning to Port Hope!

cover pictureOne of the very first events following the release of my memoir, Ready to Come About (Dundurn Press), was at the Port Hope Public Library.

It was a beautiful warm afternoon in mid-June. What a fabulous historic town and library! What great support from Lisa O’Leary, the library staff, and Furby House Books!

We had such a good time!

20190819_143053As an aside, at this event we met a really neat person who had spent years sailing the Caribbean, Diane Taylor. Just so happens Diane also wrote about her adventures. Her book is “The Perfect Galley Book: Yarns, Recipes & Tips from the Heart of the Ship”. We were thrilled to find a copy at the Naval Marine Archive in Picton. If you are lucky, you can find yourself a copy of this wonderful book, too.

And, guess what! We have been asked back to do a repeat performance in the fall 2019 speaking series, “The Next Chapter” held Wednesday mornings at the Mary J. Bensen branch of the Port Hope Public Library.

furby house booksThe library, once again in conjunction with Furby House Books, has invited me and my husband, David, to do a presentation of our year-long adventure on the high seas, what precipitated the voyage, and what we learned by it. There will be an audio/visual presentation, and I will be doing readings from my memoir. Afterwards there will be time for questions and answers. Books will be available for sale and signing.

Mark your calendars!  We will be there Wednesday October 23rd during Ontario Library Week, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Hope to see you!






A telephone voice mail message saved

David’s Aunt Caroline introduced him to sailing when he was very young. That’s when his dream of crossing an ocean began.

Years after completing our two transatlantic crossings, David and I visited Aunt Caroline in Portland, Oregon.

During our visit, I mentioned to her that I was writing a memoir about our year on the high seas. She listened intently as I read through the prologue and chapter one, in which she was mentioned.

With tears in her eyes, she then said, “I want you to hear to something.” She retrieved her phone, accessed her voice mail, and to our amazement, replayed the voice mail message David had left her from an outdoor phone booth in the Azores after our first ocean passage of 23 days. She had saved this message on her phone for eight whole years! Listening to it, of course, I cried too!

Here it is, heartfelt and real, and part of the story of my memoir, Ready to Come About (Dundurn Press 2019)

Hope you enjoy it.


I Grew … We Grew Together

(I originally wrote this article as a blog post on the Nautical Mind Bookstore website.)

Christmas Eve my husband, David, had a grand mal seizure while doing last minute shopping in the mall. The event was so violent that he sustained two compression fractures of his thoracic spine, and cuts on his head took fourteen stitches to close. “Stress and sleep deprivation,” were what the neurologist determined to be the cause.

When he returned to work, with the scars still raw, he was fired. “Restructuring,” the CEO like to call it.

After David recovered I said, “Dear, you wanted to cross an ocean. This is your chance. You have the boat. You’re back in good health. And you’ve now got the time. You can look for a new job when you get back.” Then I suddenly added, “And I’ll go too,” surprising us both.

P1000796aBy Day Eight on our passage to Caiscais, Portugal: we had snagged a rogue fishing net that pulled the engine off its mounts; David had to dive into the choppy Atlantic for almost an hour to cut the net loose; we were taking on water through the stuffing box; we had entered a Nortada along the western coast of Europe causing our weather cloths to tear, our radar reflector and courtesy flag halyards to break free, and monstrous seas to develop; and Inia was losing a nautical mile, or a minute of latitude, in the strong south setting current every time we checked.

David, as skipper, felt responsible for the safety of his vessel, Inia, and the welfare of his crew, me.

“Stress and Sleep Deprivation.” Was another seizure in the making? I seriously feared so!

P1000657IThese were just some of the many challenges we faced in our 11,000 nautical mile, year-long circumnavigation of the North Atlantic. As they say, adversity introduces one to oneself. We also learned that the rougher the passage, the more joyful the landfall.

My memoir, Ready to Come About (Dundurn Press 2019), is the story of my improbable adventure on the high seas and my profound journey within, through which I grew to believe there is no gift more previous than the liberty to chart one’s own course, and that risk is a good thing … sometimes, at least.


Almonte Presentation & Book Signing

An Ottawa valley town named after a Mexican general? True. Almonte, Ontario, a scenic, historic mill town … on the Mississippi River! Yes, I said that right. The Canadian Mississippi River! A town named after General Juan Almonte, a Mexican who never really was connected with Canada. How did that happen?

Well, it seems local Canadians admired the man, according to an excerpt from the Almonte Gazette, July 30, 1970 “as he was a man of uncommon frankness and had plenty of courage, he stood up for the rights of his country in stalwart fashion and gave Uncle Sam enough vigorous back-chat to make things interesting.” Alrighty … guess that’s a good enough reason to like the name Almonte!

And when the previously chosen name of Waterford was rejected because it was already taken, Almonte was selected. The rest is history! Check it out here.

Almonte is a small community about 30 minutes from Ottawa. It is an historic, scenic mill town known for its arts scene, beautiful Inns and B&Bs, galleries, boutiques and antique shops.


It is also home of Mill Street Books, owned by Mary and Terry Lumsden.


Mill Street Books was selected as one of Canada’s top 10 most beloved bookstores and has received glowing reviews from its customers. It is very clear this independent bookstore, through the hard work and dedication of its owners and staff, has created something very special, adding to the charm of this community.

I am so very fortunate to have a book event in Almonte on July 25th. I, along with my husband, David, will be doing a presentation and book signing at the Mississippi Mills (Almonte) Library, 155 High Street, 7 – 8 p.m., for my memoir, Ready to Come About (Dundurn Press).

All of this is made possible by Mary Lumsden, Mill Street Books! Thanks Mary!

Notice for Mill Street Blog Post

For more details, see: Facebook events page



TYPE Books in the Junction

Launching my memoir, Ready to Come About (Dundurn Press), into the world has certainly been an exciting adventure.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this journey has been working with the intrepid owners of independent bookstores; The Bookshelf in Guelph, Furby House Books in Port Hope, the Nautical Mind Bookstore on the Toronto Waterfront, and the Novel Idea Bookstore in Kingston. Each of these independents have a unique history and character, and have notoriety far beyond the communities in which they reside. But, they also play a special role for those who live in the neighbourhoods around them, enhancing the mosaic that makes a community a community.

It is with great pleasure that, on July 9th, I will be spending time at TYPE Books in Toronto’s Junction, 2887 Dundas Street West, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.

TYPE Books is the creation of Samara Walbohm and Joanne Saul, book lovers who in 2006 had the courage to launch a new independent bookstore on Queen Street in Toronto, just when big-box stores and Amazon were popping up, and independents were closing. Thank goodness for the determination of these women, and all the other independent bookstore owners, who have preserved through the changing economy, and continue as gems in the fabric of our local communities.

I will be doing readings from my memoir and, together with my husband, David, we will provide a short visual presentation with some of the backstories of the book. A Q&A and book signing will follow.

The theme of the night is “A Taste of Summer”. This is in response to the wonderful news that Ready to Come About has been included in the Globe and Mail’s recommended “summer reads” for 2019. Keeping with this theme, another local gem in the fabric of the Junction, Amira Eskenazi of Valis Foodcraft, will be serving up tasty picnic finger foods!

It should be a fun night. Hope to see you there! And thank you, TYPE Books, for this opportunity!


Sue at Type Books in Junction

The Stories Behind the Story

Of course, there is always a story behind every story. Bit by bit, the details of what precipitated my memoir, Ready to Come About, are getting out.

Earlier this month, the historic waterfront bookstore, Nautical Mind, posted an article I wrote called “I Grew … We Grew Together“. This article discussed an event that, in part, led to my bizarre decision to sail the Atlantic Ocean with my husband, David. It also described just a little bit the many challenges we had on this improbable adventure on the high seas. Perhaps what I like most about this article is the title, because it sums up what I feel to my core, that this experience was life-altering in ways David and I could never have imagined possible. Thank you Nautical Mind Bookstore!

Just this last Tuesday, Dundurn Press published an article I wrote called “Writing is a Lot Like Appliqué“. The following is from the prologue to my book:

This was David’s dream, not mine. Far from it. I loved family and friends, our dog, our home, my job as an occupational therapist. Appliqué was my idea of a thrill. I didn’t have an adventure-seeking bone in my body.

I have had a life-long interest in fibre-arts. In this article, I talk about how, much to my surprise, I discovered that the process of writing is, in lots of ways, similar to that of creating an appliqué. Coincidentally, the cover of Ready to Come About is based on one of my appliqués! I am thrilled! Thank you, Dundurn Press!


Then the Guelph Mercury Tribune published an opinion piece with the following headline:

Guelph author Sue Williams felt compelled to tell life story

Jeremy Luke Hill talks to ‘Ready to Come About’ author about her true life adventure and personal journey

In this piece Jeremy Luke Hill, Publisher of Gordon Hill Press, recaps an interview he had with me regarding the writing of my memoir. Here is the link to the interview. Thank you so much, Jeremy, for your interest in my book and for the support of the Vocamus Writer’s Community!

If you are interested in these “stories behind the story”, you can access each of the mentioned articles by simply clicking on the links provided in this post.




Still Flying High!

There are some positive life events that simply will never be forgotten. Your first romantic kiss. (David claims I kissed him first). Your wedding day. Birth of your children. The arrival of grandchildren.

For ocean sailors, that first landfall.

For writers, an acceptance following so many rejections.

For me, another such event was the night of the book launch of my memoir, Ready to Come About.


This was held last Thursday night, June 6th, at the eBar of Guelph’s iconic bookstore, The Bookshelf. I was blown away by the size of the crowd that came out to wish me well, so many that I was unable to have time meet with everyone.

I am deeply grateful to all who attended the event and want to say “ A BIG THANK YOU”. It was you who made the night successful: family, old friends from years gone by, new friends, neighbours, Waupooian sailors (if there is such a word), my childhood best friend, my OT colleagues and classmates, my roommate from university, fellow writers, writing instructors and mentors, and people I met for the very first time.

Also, a special thanks to Randy Litchfield who did such a great introduction, to the eBar staff that worked hard to make the night a success, and to our son John and daughter-in-law Emilyn, with Nathan Smith, for the music … and the performance of Nathan’s song, “Set Sail”.


Days later, I am still flying high.

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart!