A Bounty of Bayfields -
July 8, 2004
Last month we left our Bayfield 36 cutter "Little Gidding" hauled out in a Florida swamp and drove 1500 miles to Ontario. We don't plan to return until October. "I feel a little guilty leaving the boat all alone for so long in all that heat and humidity," David admitted on the trip north. "It sort of feels like we've shipped the kids off to summer camp so we can selfishly enjoy being by ourselves. Do you think we're shirking our responsibilities?"
"We don't have any children," Eileen reminded him. "But if it makes you feel any better, we'll soon be surrounded by other Bayfields. 'Little Gidding' won't be forgotten."
Eileen was right. Shortly after getting settled at her parents' place in Ottawa, we drove across southern Ontario to Little Gidding's ancestral home on Lake Huron, the village of Bayfield. The occasion was Bayfield's annual "Sail and Canvas" festival. The "canvas" part of the festival involved local artists painting and displaying their work along the village's historic main street. The "sail" part of the festival was supposed to feature a regatta starting at Grand Bend, 20 miles south of Bayfield, and a lighted boat parade after the race. Between the regatta and the parade of lights, Eileen was scheduled to perform a harbour-side concert.
Back in February, Dave Bieman, one of the festival organizers, heard we were going to be in Ontario for the summer and thought that Eileen's original songs about cruising would be appropriate sail and canvas material. He invited us to participate. We had never been to Bayfield before, but had heard that it was a quaint historic village and a popular summer vacation destination. We accepted. Later, we learned that Dave owns a Bayfield 29. We thought this was an interesting coincidence until we drove into Bayfield on the day of the festival. Surveying the village harbour, it was apparent that most of the population of Bayfield must own Bayfield sailboats. The docks were full of them.
Although you'll find Bayfields around the world, it's obvious that many of them haven't strayed far from their birthplace. Bayfield Boat Yard began operations in 1970 in a small shed near the mouth of the Bayfield River. It grew to become one of the largest sailboat manufacturers in Canada. At its peak, it employed 65 full time workers and produced a line of distinctive "traditional" cruising boats ranging in length from 25 to 40 feet. When it outgrew the cramped quarters in Bayfield, the yard shifted production to the town of Clinton, about 20 miles away. Unfortunately, a fire at the plant and an economic downturn in the late 1980's spelled financial ruin for the company. It closed its doors in 1988, the year after "Little Gidding" was built.
But what were all the boats doing at the docks on the day of the regatta? "The race had to be cancelled due to high winds," Dave told us. We looked at the angry seas lashing the harbour's entrance breakwater. "And we're not sure the parade of lights is going to parade very far either," Dave added.
David turned to Eileen. "Well it looks like you might be IT in terms of the sail portion of the festival."
"You mean until I get blown off the stage," Eileen said doubtfully.
As it turned out, the wind died down enough that Eileen, bundled up in a fleece jacket and long pants, completed the concert without becoming airborne. We were delighted when our old cruising friends Rob and Joan McGuffin came up to greet us after Eileen had played her last song. We first met Rob and Joan in 1994 in Beaufort, NC, when we were both southbound on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway for the first time. After cruising in the Bahamas and the Caribbean for several years, they've returned to Canada and now keep their boat "Celebrian" in Bayfield. "Celebrian" is a Bayfield, of course.
We gratefully accepted Rob and Joan's offer of rum-laced hot chocolate down at the docks. The lighted boats eventually got underway but did not venture outside of the sheltered harbour. With the parade route truncated, the cockpit of "Celebrian" proved to be the perfect viewing location. We got to see each of the participating boats about a dozen times as they did tight circles in the cramped yacht basin. "I hope no one gets dizzy and falls overboard," David commented.
As we sipped our drinks and caught up with Rob and Joan, David couldn't help noticing our sister ship's bright varnish, gleaming metal, and spotless gelcoat. Once upon a time, "Little Gidding" looked like that -- many, many years ago.
Eileen whispered, "You're looking a bit depressed."
"I'm just thinking about how much we've neglected our boat," David responded.
Eileen turned the collar up on her jacket. "Don't worry. At least in Florida "Little Gidding" isn't freezing to death."