The Shakedown Cruise: Sailing Lake Ontario from Burlington to Kingston

Shakedown cruise: a nautical term that refers to the initial voyage, during which the performance of a ship is tested before being put into use.

A few weeks ago, my dad purchased a boat — a CS 36 Merlin called the Wind Wizard II. For the past few years, dad has been obsessed with exploring the world of sailing yachts. He’s learned about navigation, taught himself about the different boat systems, and researched different models.

At this point, even with my Yachtmaster certification, he probably knows more about certain topics than I do. And he was pretty excited about purchasing the Merlin because it’s a bit of legend in the region. Only 100 Merlins were ever made, before the manufacturer (CS Yachts) went out of business. It’s a hybrid cruiser-racer with a reputation for speed, and I can confirm that its performance lives up to the hype.

Only problem: my dad bought it from a non-sailor. As far as we know, this guy never used it for anything but motoring around. The sails were in perfect condition when he received the boat, barring UV damage to the very exterior of the jib — which had probably remained furled for his entire period of ownership. But we don’t know what other boat systems he neglected and the purpose of this cruise was to test the limits of the Wind Wizard and find out what needed fixing.

For the cruise, we planned to travel from the boat’s new home at the Burlington Sailing & Boating Club to the Thousand Islands area of eastern Lake Ontario. A family friend would be joining us near Belleville, but we’d be sailing for the first 100 nautical miles (nm) with just the two of us. We were both super excited to get back on the water and take the Wind Wizard for its first proper voyage!

Day 1 — Burlington to Whitby

We made plans to leave early on the Friday, arriving at the marina around 9am and casting off from the docks by 9:30. We had to boogie out of Hamilton Harbour because the canal lift bridge will only raise on the half hour and we didn’t want to wait around. After passing through the bridge with a handful of other yachts, we found ourselves in glassy waters on Lake Ontario.

Glassy Lake Ontario. Where’s the horizon? ⛵️

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The first day was mostly motoring. There was no wind in the morning and the infamous Lake Ontario flies came out to join us. We were glad to finally get some wind around 1:30pm (which blew the flies away) and test out the boat’s gennaker for the first time. The Merlin came equipped with jib, genoa, and gennaker, but my dad was very eager to experiment with the gennaker — as he’d never used one before.

For those who don’t sail, the excitement around a gennaker — or its more common cousin, the spinnaker — comes both from the sail’s exciting colour and the speed that it generates. It is difficult to capture the full beauty of this sail from any angle within the boat, but here is my best attempt!

Learning to Fly ⛵️

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Sadly, we were only able to sail for approximately 2 hours on the Friday, as the wind died shortly after. To reach our intended destination by dusk, we were forced to turn on our diesel engine and continue motoring. In fact, our arrival in Whitby was quite timely in the end.

We’d been monitoring the weather throughout the day, using the Canadian weather radar site, because we’d heard that thunderstorms were predicted for the afternoon. For those who don’t know Ontario summers, thunderstorms can arrive quite unexpectedly and the radar is a great tool for any sailors who are going on a longer voyage.

By the time we took our sails down, we could see a couple of storm systems were moving parallel to us inland. We’d considered a couple of harbours as our contingency plans for a storm: Scarborough Bluffs, Ashbridge’s Bay, and Frenchman’s Bay. In the end, we were able to bypass them all and docked in Whitby just as the thunder and lighting started in the distance.

By the time we left the boat, heading to grab some food at the Whitby Ribfest next door, the deluge had begun. We took shelter under a random tent for 20 minutes, then took in the truly surreal spectacle at the Ribfest before returning to the boat for the night. The Ribfest crowd wasn’t for me — but the ribs were delicious!

Day 2 — Whitby to Presqu’ile

Saturday was easily our longest day of sailing for the entire week, with strong winds and lots of excitement. We left Whitby around 9:30am after filling the boat with diesel, then put up our sails right out of the harbour. At the start of the day, we had between 12-15 knots blowing out of the northwest, which set us on an ideal broad reach course down the shore of Lake Ontario.

My dad wanted to try the gennaker again, in windier conditions, so I obligingly rigged it and we were took off. During that initial stretch, we regularly hit 7.5 knots and peaked just above 8 at several points. The winds continued to pick up throughout the morning, with the strongest gusts hitting between 18-20 knots. In addition, we realized that the course we’d chosen was the same contour lines that the local fishermen seemed to favour — we ended up constantly dodging fishing boats, which is extra fun under spin.

Eventually, we realized that the gennaker was just too overpowered in gusts of 18+ knots. We kept losing boatspeed as the sail forced us to round up, dipping below 7 regularly enough that we had to douse it and switch back to the genoa. I struggled with the snuffer on the foredeck for 10 minutes or so, before we realized the trick to dousing was to head down on a straight run to get the sail down.

Our total distance on Saturday was roughly 60 nm (we sailed about 55), which we did in roughly 11 hours. The wind dipped in the afternoon, but we put the gennaker back up and sailed right around the bird sanctuary on Prequ’isle Provincial Park around 6-7pm. Our stop for the night was the Harbourview Café & Marina in Gosport — legitimately the cutest little marina that I’ve ever visited.

Day 3 — Murray Canal to Bay of Quinte

We started off the next day by heading down the Murray Canal, whose entrance is located in Presqu’ile Bay. The Murray Canal is part of the Trent-Severn Waterway and provides passage directly to the Bay of Quinte near CFB Trenton. At the end of the canal, we’d be picking up my friend Will and starting off on the next leg of our journey.

Steaming down the Murray Canal 🚢

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We had some funny interactions with the bridge operators at the two swing bridges on the canal. Although our guidebook, The Ports Crusing Guide to Lake Ontario (highly recommended), had suggested calling ahead on the VHF (the marine radio), the operators seemed pretty blasé about the whole thing. We figured out their preferred approach was just to motor full speed and they’ll get it out of your way — sort of like a train going through a railway crossing.

We picked up Will on the far side of the second bridge, then enjoyed a leisurely sail down the Bay of Quinte and past Belleville. The wind picked up in the afternoon as we crossed the bay and we got really flying for the last hour or two.

Cruising along ⛵️

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This was also our first night anchoring! We managed to find a nice sheltered bay on the charts, hiding us from the northwest wind behind Quinte Point. We found a decent spot out of the wind and enjoyed a great dinner, as well as this beautiful sunset! Will and I even chanced a swim and were pleasantly surprised by the warm waters.

Home for the night 😴🌅

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Day 4 — Long Reach to Picton

Monday was a bit of a slow day. We started off with a tricky passage through the Telegraph Narrows at the end of the Bay of Quinte, which we motored through due to low winds. We then turned south down Long Reach, which cuts between Prince Edward County and the mainland. Unfortunately, the wind was being funnelled by the channel directly towards us and, rather than spending the day tacking up it, we decided to motor straight into the wind (my dad had a phone meeting at 2pm and we wanted to reach Picton beforehand).

Picton was a beautiful spot, with a lovely sheltered harbour, charming downtown, and friendly locals. It was clearly a popular destination for folks from Toronto and surrounding — there were a lot of other visitors who seemed to be there for summer holidays! Will and I took ourselves off to have lunch, with the intention of renting bikes and going down to the Sandbanks for the afternoon. However, when we took stock of the time after lunch, we realized this was a bit too ambitious — we went to a local microbrewery (Prince Eddy’s Brewing) instead. I highly recommend checking them out, if you’re in the area!

We ended the day with a lovely dinner on the boat and this view overlooking the Picton harbour. Can’t ask for much more!

These views tho 🙌🏻👌🏻

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Day 5 — Adolphus Reach to Kingston

Our jaunt down to Kingston was probably one of our best days of straight sailing. A southwest breeze set us on another clear broad reach down the coast, past Amherst Island and into the Kingston Yacht Club around 5pm — just in time to watch Tuesday night races from the boat!

Finally arrived in Kingston!

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We started to see more sailboats on our leg from Picton to Kingston, including this standout who passed us mid-afternoon!

A passing beauty ⛵️

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Day 6 — Around Wolfe Island

As Kingston was our ultimate destination, we decided to plan a quick two-day trek around the Thousand Islands to finish up the week. We decided to start by sailing aroundWolfe Island, which sits opposite Kingston and extends almost to the U.S. border on the far side of the St. Lawrence. With low winds on the morning, we motored out around the western edge of Wolfe Island (passing the tall ship below) and heading up the main shipping channel on its far side.

Tall ship sighting 👀

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The wind picked up in the afternoon for an energetic few hours of close reaching until we arrived at our chosen harbour, in a group of islands called the Admiralty Islands. We had fun dodging a cargo ship and flaunting our Canadian flag at Americans watching from the far shore. Spirits were high as we anchored in another cove, then rigged up the dinghy for a little trip to check out the neighbourhood.

How we’ve been feeling this week 😄

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Day 7 — Admiralty Islands & Bateau Channel

Our final day started with a brief tour of the cottages in the Admiralty Islands, before turning back towards Kingston. Throughout the trip, we’d been taking note of the high water level, which had caused some emergency dock-building to take place in Kingston and flooded the yacht club parking lot in Picton. In the Thousand Islands, we were constantly spotting half-drowned boathouses and cottages, as the water seemed to be highest there.

I started to document a few of my ‘top contenders’ for best drowned boathouse — you can check them out below. Let me know which one should win the grand prize!

After doing a drive-by of Ganonoque, we headed back to Kingson down Bateau Channel. We decided to sail this very narrow channel, dodging several ferries and other passing boats.

Then we wrapped up the week by introducing Will to the gennaker and powering right by the fleets of 420s training in Kingston harbour, under full sail. Quite the ending!

Great final sail to cap off the week! ⛵️

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We spent our final night in Confederation Basin, where we tried to fix a few final issues without success. The anchor light, steaming light, and foredeck lights were still not working — and may not be fixed until the mast comes down for the season and it can be re-wired. For the time being, my dad has a LED light to hoist on a halyard when he’s at anchor. We fixed a lot during the week and discovered several new problems, but nothing essential broke and the Wind Wizard performed amazingly under sail.

All in all, the shakedown cruise was a success!

Beautiful #sunset for our final night on the boat 😴🌃#latergram

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Showing 2 comments
  • Patricia Hamilton

    I am so glad that you had such a good week and missed the three days of heavy rain I experienced at Norgate. My only excitement in a boat was bailing it. Love Grammy

  • dawn

    Fantastic pix and such and engaging account of the trip! So glad it was such a successful
    shakedown! bravo!

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