Alpena, Brown Trout and passage making

Our next stop was Alpena, MI which is about 48 nautical miles from Rogers City. The harbors along the Michigan coast of Lake Huron are a bit more spaced out than what we experienced on Lake Michigan and the harbors are a bit more exposed, often with just a break wall separating the marina from the large lake. We left about 6:30 am.

Let’s talk about what passage making looks like aboard Painkiller. Typically we will be checking the mileage to our next proposed destination a day or two in advance to determine how far we want to go and we are typically checking the weather about 3 days out from any of our prosed passages and of course constantly as we progress. Weather forecast seem to be most reliable only 3 days out, typically anything beyond that is subject to changes. We often need to think about our proposed harbors at least a few days in advance and get online or call ahead for marina reservations if we plan to stay in a marina. Sometimes plans change due to limited marina availability.

The marinas along the western shore of Lake Huron are problematic for a couple of reasons, 1) they are spaced out at longer distances 2) they are often very shallow approaches compared to Lake Michigan and we have to carefully watch our depth meter and charts to ensure we don’t run aground 3) these marinas are not built up to handle the boat traffic of the cruising sailor or motor boater. Most cruisers do not frequent this area of Lake Huron. Why now? COVID and the closure of the Canadian border. The typical route would take most cruisers through the Trent-Severn Waterway which connects Lake Ontario with the upper portion of Lake Huron. For those who don’t follow the Trent-Severn Waterway, most cruisers would travel on the Canadian side of Lake Huron and not on the Michigan side because it’s more scenic, better harbors and deeper water. So, this year all the boaters and cruisers are traveling on the path less traveled on the western shore of Lake Huron with limited harbors.

Once we have determined where we are going, marina availability and checked the weather, it’s time to set the alarm clock. Yes, I know….we are retired and ditched the alarm clock awhile ago, however if you want to make some miles and get to a marina timely, say before all the staff leave for the day and before your stomach wants some dinner, ya gotta get up early in the morning.

Checklist for taking off:

  • Get life jackets
  • Turn on our Garmin GPS tracker
  • Get the log book in the cockpit
  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Journal
  • Last minute check of wind and weather – dress accordingly
  • Review how we will leave the dock

Typically Mark is behind the wheel and takes us off the dock and I am in charge of lines and fenders. Judging the wind and the approach to leaving the dock is important. How will the wind affect the boat when we remove a dock line? Yes, once last year, we miss judged this one and I almost couldn’t get aboard the boat! Mark will also set up our route and waypoints on our chart plotter before we leave so we have a clear path and understanding of where we are going.

Ok, now we are off the dock. Stow all the lines and put all the fenders away. Help look for bouys on the way out of the marina and get us on our way. Then it’s time to make coffee!

Now because we travel at about 5 miles per hour, which is a little faster than a brisk walk, we have a lot of time until our next arrival point. So, how do we fill the time? Watching for other boats of course, looking at our progress and route on the chart plotter, looking at the passing landscape, dodging the fleet of fisherman who sit a few miles off of any harbor/port or town. This is quite a different way to spend time. We have been known to have a 10 minute conversation about whether boat A is coming or going…hahaha… Sometimes we will do some journaling, work on a word puzzle book, read, listen to music, etc. We take turns with who is “watching” the helm while the other can relax and do other activities. The boat is on auto pilot 98% of the time and we just need to make sure we don’t bump into anything and adjust as necessary.

Today our distractions were about 3 boats that we met in Rogers City that we got chatting with last night. They said they were leaving in the morning to head to Detroit. Detroit! Why is that surprising? Well, Detroit is about 200 miles from Alpena. But hey they are power boats and go much faster than we do. But, we left at around 6:30 am and there was no sign that they were even up yet. We wondered what time they would come hauling up behind us on the way to Detroit. Keep in mind that they would need to basically go flat out full throttle for about 10 – 12 hours to make Detroit. They passed us about 10 am about 20 miles into our trip. I can’t imaging pounding in a power boat at full throttle for 10 – 12 hours.

The other distraction on this trip was watching and keeping up with the Chicago Mackinac Sailing Race that is happening right now on Lake Michigan. There is this great app that you can follow along and click on the boats to see all their details, where they are and who’s in the lead.

And of course the scenery.

And a ship wrecked sailboat!

Once we arrive in Alpena, we noticed several large tents set up in a large parking lot adjacent to the marina. Let’s check it out! Turns out they were having their annual Brown Trout Festival! This is complete with beer tent, food truck vendors, live music and a fun atmosphere. Nice! But no Brown Trout to be had, what’s up with that? We talked with some of the locals and asked, Where’s the Brown Trout? Turns out the population of Brown Trout in the area is greatly diminished from what historically had been here due to over fishing. However the festival lives on. They do still catch, tag and release 3 Brown Trout for the contest. If you catch the tagged Brown Trout, you win $50,000!

Next up Harbor Beach!

One Comment on “Alpena, Brown Trout and passage making

  1. Each town brings some adventure. We were in Michigan last week…Lansing…visiting family. Happy sailing. 🙂


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