Passage Across Lake Michigan

We have been watching the weather for the last several days looking for our weather window to cross Lake Michigan.  We are crossing from Manitowoc, Wisconsin to Pentwater, Michigan. We have been consulting PredictWind and NOAA offshore forecasts on a daily basis.  We have had a north wind for several days, which some may think is a good wind for crossing with the wind on our beam, however a north wind brings cold air and waves that build across a large portion of the lake.  Monday the winds shifted out of the east, which would not be good, as we would be heading right into the wind.  Starting Tuesday June 16th the winds shift out of the south with high pressure, think sunshine and warmth – relatively speaking.  So, Tuesday is our day.  Winds are predicted to be 10 to 15 out of the south.  Should be a good passage!

The day before we leave, we spent our time readying ourselves and the boat.  Filled the diesel tank, water tank, gas for the dinghy, filled propane for the galley/grill and pumped out the head.  Got some last minute groceries, cleaned up the boat, stowed items so things aren’t flying around.  That doesn’t sound like a lot but it took all day.  We went to bed early since we are planning to get up at 4:30 am.  Our plan is to leave the dock at 5 am.  The passage from Manitowoc to Pentwater is about 55 nautical miles and should take us around 10 – 12 hours or so.  Keep in mind that we go about 5 nautical miles per hour. 

Good Morning!!  We are up bright and early.  The sunrise is beautiful. 

Mark is getting us all unplugged from the dock so we can be off.

The marina is still and quiet this morning.  The mood of the marina matches our mood.  We aren’t really nervous or excited, just quietly preparing to leave the dock. Perhaps we aren’t awake yet.  It seems like just another day leaving the dock and we do this all the time.  I guess we have avoided thinking too much about leaving so that we don’t let our nerves take over. 

The morning is still and beautiful as we slip out of the marina while others sleep, it’s 5:10 am. 

I should say that the one thing that I was worried about during the passage is the weather, not the wind mind you, but the temperatures.  I don’t like to be cold.  The temperature when we left was 50 degrees.  I am wearing tank top, long underwear top and bottoms, fleece on top and fleece lined pants on bottom, my heavy off shore jacket, neck gaiter, hat, gloves, wool socks and my sailing boots.  Mark is bundled up as well, so if he is cold, I am frozen.  The forecasted high today will be 65. 

6:10 am – We motored for the first hour to get a bit away from land and hoping the wind will pick up as we get further from shore.  We put the sails up about an hour into our journey with the winds filling in from the southeast up to 8.2 knots.  Quickly as we left the marina, the flies descended on the boat.  These are small flies that really don’t fly away when they land, so now they are littered all over the boat. 

Even though the sails are up and we have some wind, we are still motoring as well so that we can maintain 5 knots of speed.  If we don’t maintain 5 knots, it will take forever to get to Pentwater. 

About 7 miles from the shore of Wisconsin, we found the fishing fleet.  There was about 8 large fishing boats out well spaced across the horizon.  We know from talking to some of the fishermen at Manitowoc they are fishing for Coho Salmon.  This required a little bit of our attention to decide which boats we were going to make our way through to get to the other side of the line they have created. 

7:15 am – settled in enough with the sails and traffic that I went below to make coffee.  Here we are settled in and enjoying coffee. 

We played our sending song.  What’s a sending song you ask?  Well, I learned of this through another cruisers blog somewhere.  A sending song is a song that you play as you are departing on a journey that signals you leaving.  Now choosing this song should be carefully considered and be meaningful in some way to the vessel and/or it’s sailors.  So, what’s our sending song?  Cool Change by Little River Band.  Look it up and give it a listen.  The lyrics speak to us and we saw Little River Band at Treasure Island Casino with some great sailing friends so good memories. 

8:02 am – We have turned the motor off!  The winds are up to 12.8 knots and we are moving along under sail alone at 5.8 knots.  We are about 10 miles off shore and still have great cell service. 

8:13 am – We have spotted our first freighter on AIS.  AIS is a device that transmits a ships location and details about the ship.  We can see these ships on our chartplotter and we can set warning alarms to tell us when ships are a set distance from us.  We set our alarms to tell us when a ship is within 3 miles from us.  The freighter we “spotted” is the BBC Leda.  She is 472 feet long!  She is 35 miles off our port.  We don’t visually see her at that distance, we will keep an eye on her to see if we get closer to her as we go. 

8:40 am – We are about 19 miles offshore.  We can no longer see land.  We are out here!  Still barely have 1 bar of cell service.  The water color has changed to the deep translucent aquamarine blue and it is both mesmerizing to watch and beautiful! 

9:10 am – The wind has died back a bit to about 9 knots, so we turn the engine back on so we can maintain 5 knots of speed.  We have officially lost cell coverage.  The waves are more noticeable now that we are further out.  Waves are about 1 – 2 feet in quick sets of 3.  Not uncomfortable at all.  Like if a large powerboat went by about every couple of minutes or so. 

9:24 am – We are about 25 miles offshore.  We are talking with Dwight, Kay and George on the VHF.  Dwight and Kay left Manitowoc and are headed up to Door County.  They are about 25 miles from us and we can still have a conversation loud and clear.  We also spotted the Badger Car Ferry on AIS.  She is about 6.9 miles from us, forward on the starboard side.  We tried as hard as we could with the naked eye and the binoculars to visually spot the Badger however we did not see her.  The Badger has a fascinating history, learn more about it here:  SS Badger History

10:57 am – We are now 31 miles offshore with only 25 miles to Pentwater.  More than halfway, we are literally in the middle of nowhere.  The depth of the lake under our boat at the moment is 504 feet.  We have turned the motor off again and sailing along at 5.6 knots.  Lunch comes early when you get up at 4:30 am, so I heated up some soup to help keep us warm.  A little challenging to cook on the stove when the boat is heeled over. 

I don’t know if this bird smelled lunch, however we have a hitchhiker aboard.  It’s an Oriole.  Where did this bird come from in the middle of the lake.  He doesn’t want to leave us and wanted a nice place to ride for awhile.  I spent the next hour or so trying to get a photo of this bird, which proved very difficult. Sorry, no photo.

1:26 pm – Land Ho!  We can see the Michigan coast line.  The weather is getting warmer and the sun feels so good.  Spent the next couple hours up on the fore deck sunning myself, while Mark fiddles with the electronics.  I even took off my long underwear, it’s getting so nice!  We are about 17 miles from our destination and we are now getting limited cell coverage. 

Time now doesn’t have any point of reference, we stopped recording the time and events and we have been lulled into the rhythm of the passage, listening to music, reading books and watching the waves go by in the sun.  Once we got steady cell service, we updated Facebook, caught up on the electronic world, called the marina we are headed to, etc.  It seems to take forever from the time we spotted land to actually getting to said land.  It’s kind of like Las Vegas, it just right over there.  We arrived at Snug Harbor Marina in Pentwater at 4:20 pm.  More about Pentwater in another post. 

5 things that worked well on the passage:

  1. Upgrade to electronics – Well I guess I left out this part.  Since we haven’t used our chartplotter and electronics since last fall, there were 3 software updates that needed to be completed on our electronics.  Mark spent the better part of the day prior to departure trying to get our chartplotter to perform these updates.  The process seemed simple enough (nothing on a boat is simple, right?).  We just had to go to their website and download the update to an SD card and then insert the SD card into the chartplotter and it would update. This took hours with no success.  It just wasn’t doing what we expected it to do.  Finally after several hours Mark had the notion that the SD card seemed to be the issue.  He was using a 64 GB SD card, should have plenty of space for the upgrade, right?  Just to try something different he switch to another SD card and used a 32GB card instead.  For reasons unknown to us, the chartplotter does not recognize a 64 GB card but it would recognize a 32 GB card, go figure.  Nowhere in the manual or directions do they tell you this.  On a positive note, we have struggled with our VHF and switching channels.  If we scrolled up through the channels from 16, it would skip right past 67, 68, 69, 70, 71 and 72.  The exact channels you want to talk to other boats and marinas.  It appears this software upgrade has fixed the issue with the VHF!
  2. Xtratuf Boots – I bought these before we left and left me tell you they are great!  Keep my feet nice and warm!  They are light enough on my feet too that I don’t feel like I clunking around deck in heavy boots.

3. Yeti coffee mugs – Keeps our coffee nice and hot for hours!

4. The color of the water of Lake Michigan – simply beautiful!!
5. In the middle of the lake you can crank the music and sing at the top of your lungs and no one cares.  Not that we would do that or anything!

5 things we learned on the passage

  1. When moving the boat we need to put the rugs in the head and the galley away.  Not to worry, no accidents happened here.  Just a realization as your trying to sit on the toilet with the boat heeled over…well you can just use your imagination for the rest.
  2. Our VHF has a range of over 20 miles!
  3. Our camera battery does not last the length of a passage.  Need to buy another camera battery
  4. Birds are very difficult to photograph
  5. When you see land, don’t get too excited, you still have several hours of sailing before you get there.

5 Comments on “Passage Across Lake Michigan

  1. Hi Rose – loved your play by play of your passage! Especially the layers of clothes! Have fun and keep us all posted!


    • Hi Sue, Glad you like the posts! Hope sailing on Pepin is great this year!


    • Thanks! Glad you like the blog! You guys should come visit sometime!


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