It isn't easy
When I first thought of over-wintering, I thought of all the free time to do just as I pleased. Perhaps a gift to myself after years as a doctor, of trying to provide care for others. In actuality, there is some truth in that. I enjoy sleeping in until after 5:30 AM; I enjoy a second cup of coffee; I enjoy looking forward to the phone ringing and hearing from friends and family; I enjoy being able to accept invitations to do something fun without having to check the “OR” or “on-call schedules”.
I enjoy the freedom to make my own decisions on what to do with my time. I eat when I'm hungry, sleep when I'm tired, come and go pretty much as I please. Clothing becomes an environmental issue rather than a social issue. The purpose of clothing is to protect the body; appearances count for naught. If I am cold, I put more on; if too warm, some come off. The value of a piece of clothing is not in its color or stylishness, but in its ability to protect me from the cold, the rain, the sun, insects, or whatever. It's an interesting concept when it first hits you.
This is stressful. You know that winter is coming, but you don't know exactly when. You try to think of all the places you have water that might freeze: garden hoses, fire pumps, lawn sprinklers, pressure washers, inboard engines. Everything needs to be drained or winterized. The final moves are to think of the things you will need for the two weeks of freeze-up when you can't get off the island easily. Medicines, groceries, paper products, entertainment (e.g. books and puzzles, hobby supplies). And finally the consumables, fuel especially. Also, food for the pets and birdseed.
Fuel supplies become a special problem
The river is still mostly open, but the bays are freezing and many marinas are shut down or on a limited schedule. With this comes the onset of what you have heard me refer to as "seasonal inefficiency disorder". For example, yesterday was cold and windy with blowing and drifting snow. It looked like the last chance to top off the tanks. First you make sure the pets have food and water, then you check the stoves to be sure they won't overheat in your absence. Next is dressing, double-insulated everything; oops, forgot to stop at the bathroom first. Things off and back on again. Next you take the fuel cans and empty them into their respective tanks; gas for the snowmobile, airboat, and boat, and kerosene for the Monitors. Gather the empty containers, find the toboggan, empty the snow out, and lug everything off to the boat. Deal with the frozen dock lines. Did you remember to bring the dry ones that were hanging by the stove?
Take a section of pipe and use it to break the ice off the boat. The water temperature is about 32F, but the air temp and the temperature of the metal hull of the boat is only 8F. Therefore any water that touches the hull will freeze to it. This is like the opposite of the ring around your bathtub, as it is on the outside of the hull. The weight of the ice on the hull has to be considered in your mental buoyancy calculation. The added weight on the hull decreases the efficiency of the hull moving through the water and makes additional work for the engine. Next you start the engine and check to see if the steering or shifting mechanisms are frozen. Usually a few minutes of warm-up will break them loose, but it is important to check before you leave the dock. (How do you suppose I discovered that one?)
Under weigh, I headed for Bari Bryant's boathouse, as my car is there, and doing transfers in and out of the boat is safer in a boathouse than on an open dock. Unfortunately, the breeze had blown in pack ice and it was solid. Go to Plan B. That involves going to the town dock in Clayton. They kindly leave one floater in for the occasional “Grindstoner” and me. Progress is slow to Clayton because you heard that Frozen Spray Warning this morning on the Canadian Coast Guard radio bulletin.
Spray hitting the hull will freeze to it on contact and the faster you go the more spray and the higher the spray lands on your superstructure. This gets you back to that buoyancy equation, Center of Mass, Center of Gravity, Metacentric Height, righting moments, periodicity of roll, and ultimately the likelihood of a capsize. Not really an issue; just something to think about as you chug to Clayton.
Now that floater I referred to. Did I mention that it is encased in ice and snow and sits low in the water because of the added weight? It too has an ice-skirt, so fenders may not be adequate to keep your hull from bumping. Therefore, of course, you land on the lee side of the dock. But the wind is brisk and wants to blow you off. The trick is to have a frozen dock line that you can bend in the middle and reach over whatever part of a cleat might be exposed through the ice. It takes a few tries and makes you appreciate the services of the dockmaster who is so helpful in the summer. No such help today. Get one line around something that will hold you against the dock a minute while you get an ice axe to expose a couple of cleats. Once secure, off load the toboggan and Jerry Cans and drag them up the street to the fuel station...
Would you believe it? The weather had knocked out the electronics of the kerosene pump. All the others were fine. Load the cans back in the toboggan and it's up the road to Chris's gas station. There we took on 20 gallons of kerosene, (didn't need gasoline), and headed back. The load added up to about 160#, so progress was slowed, especially where the street or sidewalks had been sanded and salted. Fortunately, the trip to the dock is downhill from Chris's. I stopped at Reinmann's for some oil, and continued down Riverside Drive toward the ramp to the dock. That's when I noticed our Homeland Security forces at Frink Park.
We are all warned to report anything unusual occurring along the border. It was somewhat reassuring to discover that a seventy-year-old man, dressed in a survival suit with a Ninja hood, pulling a toboggan with four jugs of kerosene, down the middle of the main street, sliding them onto the dock, loading the whole deal into an outboard boat, and setting off downriver in a snowstorm, didn't impress anyone, including law enforcement, as being unusual for Clayton on a Sunday afternoon. (That may be a run-on sentence, but you get the gist). I guess I have truly been accepted as a native here! Where else could I have so much fun? Those who recall my description of taking two hours to change a light bulb will understand why it takes a whole Sunday afternoon to put fuel in the kerosene tank.
There are also the benefits
While there is a stressful aspect to life here, there are also benefits. The chickadees land on me before I can fill the bird feeder. Cardinals, mourning doves, tit mice, and woodpeckers consider Rosanne's Buffet to be home. Yesterday, I spilled some birdseed on the ground while filling a feeder. A young fox found the seed and wouldn't leave until he had eaten his fill. Poachers got our big buck a few weeks ago, but there are still enough deer here, sometimes too many!
I sometimes tire of the pants and ropes hanging by the stove to dry and the faucets dripping all night so the pipes don't freeze, but I love the peace and solitude. I know I won't be able to do this many more years, but I want to make the most of it while I can. I don't get sand in my bathing suit, and the next red fire ant that bites my ankle will have to swim to get here. I feel very much in touch with not only the other things that live here, but also with those that used to. I walk paths that were forged by Native Americans, and listen to their spirits. "Casey" O'Meara, a much-loved pet, is memorialized by a small monument on the shoreline. Last week the big pine above the monument was overseen by a huge bald eagle. Now that's "Homeland Security" around here.
Coming next, to TI Life I hope ... “The gift wrapping and shipping of a 27-ton Christmas present”.
By Dick Withington, MD
Dr. Dick Withington is a retired Orthopaedic Surgeon, living out a childhood dream spending his fifth consecutive winter alone at the head of Round Island. His wife Roseanne, heads to Florida when "Rivercroft" is closed in October and Dick moves into the former servants' quarters, "Wintercroft". His old but faithful Siberian Husky STORMY and a rescued Siamese, Mylie, keep him company. Dr. Withington has an airboat, which he keeps at his own dock in winter ready to help. The Sheriff's office will call him directly if and when there is a problem. This is the second year Doc Withington shares his Winter Island life with our readers.