My grandfather’s most incredible stories from 70 years of sailing

Eric Carman ready to hit the water on his pontoon boat Photo courtesy Eric Carman

My grandfather, Eric Carman, has been sailing for 70 years. He’s faced life-threatening storms, six-month trips, and upended boats, all documented in log books over the years. Here are some of his most memorable trips.

From Newcastle, Ont. to Jacksonville, Fl.

In 1994, Eric was enjoying another peaceful morning at the marina. That was until Roy Campbell, a friend from the Royal Navy, said that Sinclair MacDonald wanted to drive his boat to Florida. “You should have heard Roy: ‘Why would you truck a boat to Florida? It’s an experience of a lifetime!’”

It was no trouble crossing the border in Phoenix during the ’90s—a driver’s licence and a smile sufficed. Their first stop? The Statue of Liberty, of course! “We gave ferry boats the right of way; they were on a mission,” Eric says. Honkkkkk. The next day, they rolled into the dense fog, blasting their horn to alert other boaters.

Past the fog, they visited once-in-a-lifetime sites. From lighthouses to the West Point Military Academy, and the George Washington Bridge, they saw it all before joining up with the famous Hudson River.

Success! Making it to the 320-kilometre mark called for a celebratory lunch at Schaeffer’s Canal House in Chesapeake City, Maryland. “I loved the old harbours, restaurants, and docks. It’s a whole different world that takes you back a century,” Eric says.

Returning to the journey, winds slapped the boat to-and-fro, right into the worst of the Cape Fear storm—accurately named. “Roy advised that we should stay put for the night, but Sinclair wanted to stay the course. It wasn’t until they were eerily close to a large bed of rocks that Sinclair demanded they turn around immediately. Back at safety, Eric and Roy had a good laugh, knowing they would never actually venture through such deadly weather.

The storm passed just in time for a pit stop at Donald Trump’s Marina in Atlantic City. Waking up the next day to blazing red and orange skies is a bonus only enjoyed by the earliest of risers. But, you’ve heard the tale right? Red skies in the morning, a sailor’s warning

Bad weather barrelled through bringing 10 inches of water in 10 hours. “My biggest piece of advice is to keep your eye on the weather and take your time,” Eric says. “What’s a couple of hours of waiting in exchange for your life?” After the storm passed, they bathed under sunny skies and rejoiced for a calming peace of mind, finally.  

Next stop: Jacksonville. 

From Port Severn, Ont. to Lagoon City, Ont.

Eric recruited his son Stephen, friend Roy Campbell, and a guy called Squid on a four-day trip to transport his 35-foot trawler back to Lagoon City. 

Eric and Roy may have not been afraid of the storm after Lock 44, but they couldn’t say the same about the other crew. Eight-foot waves jolted them side to side. “Stephen and Squid ran to sit in the life raft, leaving Roy and me to control the boat in those gruelling conditions,” he says. 

Using sea charts and plotting by the sun, “sometimes you have to hold your breath and hope that you made it,” Eric says. He was especially concerned about the length of the waves. “An eight-foot wave on the lake is much worse than being on the ocean,” he says. “In rough weather, don’t go straight into the waves. It’s best to move at a 25 to 35-degree angle, but no steeper than 45 degrees,” he says. 

Legend has it that the one-ounce belly warmer, a naval tradition, was what really got them through the storm that trip. 

Eric and Vera standing in front of their 35-foot trawler
Eric and Vera standing in front of their 35-foot trawler. Photo courtesy Eric Carman

From Lagoon City, Ont. to Daytona Beach, Fl.

What’s a good alternative to harsh Canadian winters? A six-month, 4,858-kilometre boating trip to Florida with friends, of course. The group’s first major hiccup on Lock 18 took an unsuspecting crash. “While we waited our turn at the lock, I tied the line down at the stern, which Vera was then in charge of untying. All of a sudden, the stern was up in the air and the bow was dropping down fast. She never untied the line! I ran to get the big hunting knife and cut the line quickly. Smack! The boat crashed down. Thankfully, there wasn’t any damage!” Eric says.

The turbulence and troubles only continued down south. On the Atlantic, they encountered ten-foot waves and hurricane warnings. “Hour-by-hour, we were getting away from the land, and drifting towards Africa,” he says. “Rolling, bouncing, and rocking. I was scared for the others on board,” he says. “If we didn’t turn around when we did, we would have run out of fuel and capsized.”

Out of the eye of the storm, the skies cleared around Jacksonville. All was calm until Eric sped past a boat, a little too fast. Big mistake. Blaring sirens signalled for them to stop. “I tried to play dumb, but knew that I had made a grave mistake in the ‘no wake’ zone,” he says. Whew! Off with a warning this time.

Their final destination was Daytona Beach, where Eric and Vera met Sarah, their first grandchild. “She swears she touched the dolphins that swam beside us,” he says.

On the way home, you guessed it…more trouble! This time, it was the gearbox and the transmission. “Fortunately, the boat was under warranty. Unfortunately, the repairman was no help,” he says. “I knew they were wrong. Like a car, you get to know the sound of a boat at different speeds. I was not going into the ocean. I may not have come back,” he says. Eric called again and got the job done this time around. 

A six-month trip and countless challenges along the way, it was five-foot waves in Trenton that almost took them down. “One of my engines went down. Sarah took the wheel, and I ran down to the controls to fix the engine. You know what the fix was? Good ole’ duct tape!” 

From Lagoon City, Ont. to Christie’s Mill, Ont.

Picture this: 360-degree views of vibrant fall colours along the Trent-Severn Canal and on the shores of Georgian Bay. This is the exact trip that Eric and Vera set sail on with a group of eight other boaters in October. Starting at Lagoon City, they made their way to the Narrows at Atherley, through Sparrow Lake’s thick marsh, and then to the Big Chute Railway Marina. “People travel just to see the famous Big Chute (one of two contraptions that take your boat out of the water with a travelling carriage), Eric says.

Onwards to Georgian Bay, the final destination, the boaters had to be extra careful because the buoy system reverses on the bay, where green buoys are port-bound and red are stern-bound. 

Reaching Christie’s Mill Inn and Spa, “the fall colours were spectacular,” says Eric.

A drone shot of Christie’s Mill Inn and Spa. Photo courtesy Eric Carman

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