We pulled up anchor in Fairport, OH about 6 am and have about 65 miles to go today to Erie, PA. Another new state! We had beautiful winds this morning out of the south and had a perfect sailing day all the way to Erie.
We headed for Presque Isle State Park. This is a beautifully wooded, secluded spot to anchor with a small marina right there as well. Here is a map of the area.
We anchored in the area labelled “Marina Lake” in the top center of the map. The weather was warm and the water was clear and beautiful, so this was the first place on our journey that we took a dip in the water. It was awesome and we showered in the lake and rinsed off on the boat coming up. Then we grilled a pork chop dinner as the sunset over this beautiful bay. There were a few other boats anchored in the bay with us. Most were there for just the day and by morning it was just us and another sailboat – a Passport 40 named Manitou from Michigan.
We really wished we could stay in this bay for a few more days but we are in need of a full service marina so we can pump out, fill our diesel tank, fill our water tank, we need a grocery store, need laundry, etc. So we made the decision to leave this beautiful place and head over to Erie Yacht Club so we can accomplish all these items.
Since we have made the decision to go through the full Erie canal, we have been on the phone making multiple arrangements to schedule our mast being removed from the boat and shipped to a marina on the Hudson River. We made arrangements with RCR yachts in Buffalo, NY to remove our mast on August 11th. Made arrangements with Lockview Yacht Transport to have them ship our mast to the Hudson River. Also made arrangements with Hop-a-Nose marina on the Hudson to re-step our mast when we get there.
Once we got settled at Erie Yacht Club, we were able to get a Lyft to take us to a large grocery store in the area. We really needed produce, fruits and veggies. Of the things we bought about 80% of it was produce. We were craving a good salad. The Lyft driver was super friendly and we were able to get him to take us back to the boat as well.
We met another couple on a sailboat that pulled into Erie Yacht Club. Their boat name is Rival and they hail from Traverse Bay Michigan. Their names are Fred and Lisa. We chatted and had a happy hour together. They are heading south just as we are. However it sounds like they were having a bit of difficulty scheduling their mast removal at RCR yachts in Buffalo as the schedule was filling up. As we got to chatting it turns out they know the people in the Passport 40 called Manitou that we anchored next to in Presque Isle State Park.
Here are some views from Erie Yacht Club:
Since we aren’t removing our mast until August 11th and it is now August 5th, we have a few days to relax until we need to be to Buffalo to get our mast down. From Erie, PA to Buffalo would be a 2 day sail and we have 5 – 6 days, so no need to be in a hurry.
Next stop Dunkirk, NY
We left Cleveland to travel just a short 25 miles to Fairport, OH. Fairport was really just a stopping point to rest for the night before we moved on to Erie, PA. We anchored just behind the break wall in Fairport and just settled in for the night after a superb dinner of steak and rice pilaf while we watched the sunset. We didn’t even leave the boat or see the town of Fairport.
Here is Mark grilling up our steak
And the beautiful sunset
There isn’t much to say about Fairport, however it does bring to mind that there are a few different modes that we have on the boat. I suppose it’s a bit like going on a road trip in your car. When your in the car traveling, your in travel mode which is different than when you get to your destination.
Mode #1 – Moving/Sailing/Making some miles – When we are in passage mode it’s all about moving the boat and getting to the next port. Where are we going? When will we get there? Ticking off the miles. Looking for signs of life and traffic on the water. Lounging around watching the world go by. We often don’t shower on days when we are moving. There’s little point when you are in the wind all day. And there is little point to putting on a clean outfit when just your sailing clothes from yesterday will do. We have truly descended into retired beach bums.
Mode #2 – Being in port/town – This involves being at a dock or marina near a town. Now it’s time to explore. What’s here to check out? Where should we grab a bite to eat? We like to go to the local shops and restaurants and stimulate the local economy. Being at a marina also involves seeing other boats and boaters. New people to meet. Where are you from? Where are you going? Exchanging boat cards. Being in a town or port can also involve more mundane tasks such as laundry, grocery shopping, a trip to the hardware store if we need a boat part or stuff. Once we hit a town, we often google restaurant near me and grocery stores near me to know what we can do here.
Mode # 3 – Anchoring out – This is a bit more isolated even though it may be near a town. It’s often just us and the boat unless we have a need or want to take the dinghy down and head to shore for something we might need. Often at anchor we will cook our lunch/dinner since we are isolated from town. However, there is a quiet solitude in anchoring that cannot be beat. And it’s always nice waking up in a peaceful anchorage.
Update on “The Plan”
Also wanted to provide a quick update on our plan or proposed route. You may know that our original plan was to go through the Welland Canal which takes us around Niagara Falls from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario and then we had planned to go through the eastern part of the Erie canal to get from Lake Ontario to the Hudson river and into NYC. We were dependent on the opening of the Canadian border in order to take our boat through the Welland canal since it is entirely across the border in Canada. Without the border open we could hire a captain to take our boat through the Welland canal at a cost of $1.600 – $2.500. This would make the transit through the canal a commercial endeavor and exempt from the border closure.
We did learn back on July 20th that the Canadian border would be opening on August 9th and we were initially excited that we would be able to take our boat through the Welland canal ourselves with the border opening. However, as we have gotten closer to the date for the border to open and after checking with folks at the Canadian border, the Welland canal and other boaters, it appears that the border opening is not what we all expected.
We are hearing that they will still require the hiring of a captain to transit your boat through the Welland canal even after August 9th. Perhaps this will be extended to August 21st or even later. It seems when the Canadians decided to open the border they back pedaled a bit and said, yeah, we meant the land border not really the marine border. They do not plan to staff or open the small vessel reporting stations necessary for checking in and out of the border via the water.
So, after careful consideration, we decided to scrap our plan to go through the Welland canal and into Lake Ontario. Instead we will transit the full length of the Erie canal from Buffalo to the Hudson River. In order to transit the western portion of the Erie canal we have to be able to clear the lowest fixed bridges of 15 feet 5 inches. We got out the tape measure and carefully measured our height. We are most concerned about 2 poles we have at the back of our boat. One pole has the wind generator and the other pole has our radar on it. We need to ensure these poles will clear the lowest bridges on the Erie. Of course, we will remove our mast for this portion of the trip. We would have had to remove the mast anyway for the eastern portion of the Erie Canal from Lake Ontario to the Hudson River. The bridge heights on the eastern portion of the Erie canal are a bit taller and we only need to clear 20 feet 6 inches on that part of the Erie.
So we measured our poles. If we remove the blades for our wind generator we will clear 12 feet 9 inches. So, we made the decision to go through the full length of the Erie canal.
Now most sailboat who go through the Erie canal must remove their mast and most choose to build a wooden structure and supports on the deck of their boat to carry their mast horizontally on deck for the time they are in the Erie canal. It typically looks something like this:
However, we have heard some horror stories from other sailboats we have met along the way about their mast falling off the boat when a large power boat produces a big wake. Also having the mast on deck extends the length of your boat because the mast is longer than the actual boat, so the mast would hang 10 – 15 feet over the bow of the boat and over the stern of the boat. We are not excited about carrying our mast in this fashion.
Since we saved $1,600 – $2,500 that we would have spent on a captain to go through the Welland canal, we have decided to hire a trucking company to ship our mast from Buffalo to the Hudson River. We will feel way more comfortable without having our mast on deck.
We stayed right in downtown Cleveland. That’s Painkiller right behind the Cleveland sign and the building in the background is the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame!
Let’s back up a bit. We left Put-in-Bay around 6 am since we had a little over 50 miles to go today. It was a glorious morning and the sunrise was spectacular today.
The winds were out of the west southwest and were behind us most of the way to Cleveland. The winds built up as the day went on and so did the waves. We had heard about the waves on Lake Erie already from others we have met along the way. The problem with Lake Erie is it is the shallowest Great Lake. Average depth is about 69 feet. Because of the shallowness, when the wind is blowing from the west that waves can kick up due to the wind and has the whole length of the lake to build up. Shallow depth make for steeper waves that are closer together which can make for uncomfortable crew.
This is exactly the situation we had today and today was the roughest day we have had so far. Not scary, just uncomfortable. The winds were up to 20 knots and the waves built to 4 – 5 feet but very short wave intervals = uncomfortable. Painkiller is a stout and sturdy boat and handled it without a problem.
By the time we pulled into Cleveland we were glad to no longer be moving. The marina is super nice but it is stinking hot! It’s about 89 degrees and humid.
We got out our shore power cords and hooked up to the electricity and thought we were fire up the air conditioning to cool things off a bit. As soon as we turned on the A/C we realized that our water pump that pumps water to each A/C unit was not pumping water and therefore not cooling.
We started by checking the things that are simple to check off the list. Check the sea strainer that pulls in water from the lake through a strainer. This strainer can get clogged with crap such as seaweed, algae and all sorts of junk. We did find some stuff in the sea strainer cleaned it out and thought we would be good to go. Nope! Still no water pumping. Next, we spent about 2 hours trying to remove one hose fitting from the water pump itself to ensure we had water flowing to the pump. It was not budging. It’s 89 degrees in the cabin with sweat everywhere and we just want to get this fixed and turn the A/C on. Finally we gave up on the problem hose fitting and instead removed the connection after the pump. This came off much easier. We were able to get water to flow through the pump and get things working again. It appears that the pump had lost it’s prime and once we re-established water flow, it began to pump just fine. Yeah! We have A/C once again. I think we just sat as still as we could for at least 30 minutes so we could cool off.
We are leaving Cleveland tomorrow to fly back home to Minneapolis to see Mark’s mom. We still have to get packed and get to the airport in the morning.
We got up the next day, showered, finalized everything to leave the boat for several days and took an Uber to the airport.
We spent about 4 days in Minneapolis before flying back to the boat in Cleveland. Mark’s mom is doing ok after her stroke. Still very confused and lots of cognitive issues that only time will tell if things will improve or not. It was great to spend time with family, sleep in our own bed and spend sometime with a couple friends as well.
We got back to Cleveland late at night and headed right to bed after a long day.
The next morning we got up and had our coffee and checking the weather. Today’s forecast said a chance of waterspouts. I have never seen that in a forecast before. I guess they were pretty accurate since shortly after reading that, we saw a waterspout off in the distance on Lake Erie.
We spent the afternoon at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame touring the exhibits. It was great fun to see all the music history. Here are some highlights and some of our favorites.
Elvis of course:
Who knew Timothy B Schimt of the Eagles collected hotel room keys:
Of course, Michael Jackson
The Rolling Stones
And Jimmy Hendrix’s guitar
There’s our boat down there from one of the windows in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame
We had a blast in Cleveland!
We had originally booked 3 nights in Cleveland but ended up staying 6 nights in total with the trip back to Minneapolis. Once we arrived at the marina we explained to them that we would have to extend our stay and fly home and explained about Mark’s mom. They ended up charging us for only our originally booked 3 night stay and they were great about watching the boat and actually pumped out the head for us while we were gone. North Coast Oasis Marina was top notch and we appreciated them so much!
We got up and took showers before we left Ford Yacht Club and then left mid morning for Put-In Bay. A couple of milestones today. Our first journey into Lake Erie and we are leaving the state of Michigan and entering the state of Ohio. We only have about 30 miles to go today since we broke up our journey to Put-in-Bay into 2 days.
We had light winds out of the northwest so we motor sailed most of the way there.
Put-in-Bay is a popular bay on the island of South Bass Island which is in the middle of the western side of Lake Erie. South Bass Island is just to the east of Rattlesnake Island, we aren’t going there. They say Put-in-Bay rivals Mackinac Island but without the horses. Here they have golf carts instead of horses.
We picked up a mooring ball in the field of mooring balls in the bay just in front of all the action. Here is a photo from our boat on the mooring ball.
Here’s Painkiller sitting in the mooring field.
There’s a water taxi here that comes to your boat to pick you up to take you to shore with all the great shops, bars, restaurants, etc. We found a tiki mojito bar that suited our tastes and they even had really cool rope swings to sit at the bar.
The shoreline has a beautiful park and the famous boardwalk.
There are several restaurants in the boardwalk area. Most have some form of lobster on their menu. They are known for their lobster bisque however, it’s a bit hot today and having hot soup didn’t sound too appetizing. Mark had a perch & walleye dinner and I had the lobster roll. We sat on the upper deck overlooking the bay and could see Painkiller from our table.
We were tired and decided to turn in early since tomorrow we are heading to Cleveland and have a little over 51 miles to get to Cleveland. An update on Mark’s mom – we have decided to fly home from Cleveland for several days to see Mark’s mom and see how things are going and to visit family. Spent most of the evening booking airfare to get us home and back to Cleveland.
As we were tucked in bed and ready to fall asleep we heard a lot of booming racket outside. At first it startled us a bit before we understood what was going on. There was an entire fireworks show going on just behind our boat! How cool! On a Monday night? We got out of bed to enjoy the 30 – 40 minute fireworks display. It was one of the best fireworks displays we have seen in sometime. Nice cap off to the evening.
We woke up early this morning at North Star Sailing Club intending to leave early this morning to head about 70 miles to Put-in-Bay, OH. However, once we woke up and looked outside, we are fogged in! If we were to make 70 miles today we would have to leave early which would mean leaving and navigating in dense fog on a very shallow Lake St Clair that would require careful navigation and sighting of bouys. We quickly decided that leaving in dense fog was not the best decision.
We called Ford Yacht Club at 7 am and actually had someone answer the phone! And they would have a slip for us tonight they say! If we go to the Ford Yacht Club which is located at the bottom of the Detroit River, we will only have to go about 35 miles today. That means we can wait for the fog to burn off and depart a bit later and still make it to our destination before the evening.
We ended up leaving around 8:30 am with just the remnants of fog remaining. Visibility was good to about a mile so we would easily be able to see the bouys.
We made our way through the shallow parts of Lake St Clair to the mouth of the Detroit River. Entering the Detroit River at first didn’t seem to be so bad current-wise as we had already experienced the St Clair River and it comparison it was no worse. However, we immediately notice that there is a fair bit of motor boat traffic and they all seem to be going full throttle and kicking up a significant wake. We are trying to dodge the waves however, we are getting tossed around like a cork! To make matters worse the sides of the Detroit River are either concrete or metal barriers along the shoreline which does nothing to absorb the wake and does everything to amplify the waves as they bounce off the concrete or metal right back at us. It is as if we are in a washing machine! At one point a 45 – 50 foot boat passed by us within about 25 feet at full throttle that threw up a wake the size of a small house. All we could do was hang on!
We did try to enjoy the scenery along the way, but I have to tell you, I had to straighten all these photos as they all were at some degree of slat due to the waves.
The heart of Detroit’s downtown motor city. The headquarters of General Motors.
In the heart of downtown we pass under the Ambassador Bridge.
Once past the Ambassador Bridge the shoreline turns back to a more natural landscape and the waves begin to dissipate. The area below the bridge is very industrial and not too scenic.
There is a new bridge being constructed across the Detroit River from Windsor Canada to Detroit. It is known as the Gordie Howe International Bridge. For those unfamiliar, Gordie Howe is one of the most famous hockey players in the NHL who came from Canada and played for the Detroit Red Wings. Here is the US side of construction.
And here is the Canadian side:
We arrived at Ford Yacht Club around 4 pm and pulled into our slip that they had assigned. We didn’t have any docking help as this isn’t really a marina with paid dock hands but rather a private yacht club. As Mark expertly guided us into the slip, I stepped of the boat with the bow line and the stern line ready to tie off the boat. Imagine my surprise when I stepped off and there were no cleats on the dock! Surprise! No cleats! What am I supposed to tie the boat to? Mark quickly stepped off the boat to help me and we were able to tie off to a post at our stern, however they only thing to tie off to at the bow was a metal ring that was literally under the dock near the bow. Whew…we got all secure finally.
Ford Yacht Club was a beautiful area, we had an early dinner at their restaurant onsite and sat and enjoyed the views. We could even see our boat from our outdoor table.
After dinner we walked the docks a bit and met another fellow Island Packet owner at the docks. We got to talking to Larry and we ended up having a few beers with him aboard Painkiller and listening to his stories about sailing in Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. He had a lot of good advice for us about crossing from Florida to the Bahamas and places to stay in Florida.
An update on Mark’s mom: We are still debating about flying home to see his mom and what is happening. We contemplated flying home from Detroit, however marinas are few and far between in the Detroit area and the ones that do exist do not lend themselves to leaving a boat unattended due to security concerns. Still in constant contact with family about how she is doing. Right now our plan would be to get to Cleveland as a place to leave the boat and fly home.
We spent a nice 3 day weekend at North Star Sailing Club. Thank you to Mike and Mike & Cheryl for the recommendation to stay here and being our hosts. We are staying in Mike’s slip while he is out and about exploring. The harbormaster at North Star Sailing Club was welcoming and accommodating! Other members welcomed us as well and stopped by to chat.
Our first full day at North Star, we were starting to think about our transit through the Welland canal and the Erie canal. We thought we would really benefit from having a couple of large round ball fenders for the boat.
Now anytime we are in a port/harbor, we are limited to the distance we can either walk, bike (if there are bikes available), dinghy or perhaps uber (if there is such service in the area). In order to go shopping for 2 large ball fenders, we googled and found a West Marine store just a few miles from our location. The West Marine was very close to the Clinton river, where we are, just up stream a couple miles. So, we decided to hop in the dinghy and take a dinghy ride up stream to find the West Marine.
Time to gas up the dinghy!
The Clinton River and St Clair Shores which is just to our north, is referred to as the Nautical mile and boasts boating with a capital “B”. This area has one of the highest concentration of boats and boaters in the world. This also means they have a vast array of boating services available as well, so it makes sense we were able to locate a West Marine store nearby.
The Clinton River shoreline is fully lined with docks that lie perpendicular to the river and cover the entire shoreline on both sides.
We enjoyed our dinghy ride up the river!
We were successful in our shopping trip and we were able to get the fenders we needed. Yes, we still have to inflate them!
We took the dinghy across the river from where the boat is to the restaurants located there to grab a bite to eat.
We also got a phone call from Mark’s brother about his mom. His mom is in the hospital after collapsing at her apartment. We are waiting for more details about really happened and for them to complete some tests to learn more.
The next day we spent quite a bit of time on the phone with family. We learned that Mark’s mom had a stroke. Lots to think about. Do we leave the boat and fly home? Where would we leave the boat? Where could we fly home from. We know that we cannot accomplish any of these things in the Clinton River. We can’t leave our boat here for an extended period of time since we are in someone else’s slip. And no real airport nearby to fly out of and no ground transportation to get us to an airport.
We spent the rest of the day pampering ourselves and had a spa day. I cut Mark’s hair and he gave me a pedicure.
We decided we should leave the next morning and head toward Detroit and Cleveland in case we do need to fly home at some point.
Later this evening we had storms roll in. We were expecting some rain, but what we didn’t expect was a tornado warning. We had been looking at the radar and the sky as the storm approached and weren’t too worried until the tornado sirens went off. Now looking at the radar is one thing, but that doesn’t necessarily tell you if there is a tornado and where it is. So, we turned on our handheld VHF radio and tuned into a radio weather station. They were talking about tornado warnings, possible tornados and radar indicated tornados and then they started listing off all the counties in the path of the storm. What county are we even in? We didn’t know! We had to do some googling to see what county we were in and listen some more to determine how at risk we were. Should we stay on the boat? Should we go into the yacht club building? Ultimately, we learned that the brunt of the storm is just to our south, so we think we are going to be just fine. We had dark and green looking sky, rain and just a bit of wind.
Once this storm blows through we should have nice weather tomorrow for our trip down the Detroit River and to Put-in-Bay, OH.
We left Lexington about 6 am. We have about 57 miles to go today. Our destination is North Star Sailing Club which is located up the Clinton River on Lake St Clair.
Today we will have a variety of geography. A couple of hours on southern Lake Huron before we enter the mouth of the St Clair River. The picture above is the Blue Water Bridge that marks the entrance to the St Clair River. The St Clair River is about 40 miles long and only 1/2 mile wide. Keep in mind that commercial freighter traffic and tankers come through this river as well and we need to share the 1/2 miles wide space with up to 1,000 foot freighters! The St Clair River also drops in elevation by 5 feet from Lake Huron to Lake St Clair. It is because of this drop in elevation there is up to a 2 knot current in the river.
Once we get through the river then we enter Lake St Clair. The St Clair River branches into several channels creating a broad delta region known as St Clair Flats. Words like broad delta and flats translate into shallow water. We really have to watch our depth in here.
So, today brings a variety of challenges that we haven’t yet encountered. Rivers, currents, shallow water, tight quarters with big ships. Should be an interesting day.
Once we left Lexington, we have large rolling seas for a couple of hours while we headed toward the river. Lake Huron was still churned up from the recent storms.
As we approached the Blue Water Bridge, there was a bunch of freighter traffic coming our way and we were trying to time to see which would be in front of us and who might be at the bridge the same time we were. We don’t want to enter the river and go under the bridge at the same time as a freighter. Never play chicken with a freighter!
A couple freighters pass in front of us. One in particular, American Spirit, it seems we are destined to encounter him at the bridge. So, we decided to make some decisive moves to turned around to head away from the bridge to let him know that he is free to go ahead and we will fall in behind him.
Passing under the Blue Water Bridge. It doesn’t matter how tall a bridge is, it always looks like you are going to hit it. This particular bridge has a clearance of 135 ft. We only need about 57 feet to clear, so we are good.
The St Clair River is also the dividing line between the US and Canada. The US is on the right hand side of the boat and Canada is on our left.
As we were passing under the bridge, the current became evident and pushed our boat around slightly. It increased our boat speed about 1.5 knots. The roughest area was right near the bridge and as we made our way further down the river it was just a gentle current we were riding down river.
We encountered several sailboats motoring up the St Clair River toward the Port Huron Yacht Club. They were all racing boats that are likely headed from Detroit up the river to participate in the Port Huron to Mackinac race that starts tomorrow. Port Huron Yacht Club looks all ready for the race festivities.
The rest of our journey on the St Clair River was quite pleasant and departure from our open water lake sailing. It was nice to see houses and scenery going by to keep the ride interesting and the time went by quickly. Lots of nice houses along the river.
We did encounter a couple of freighters on the narrow river. Here is one that passed by us. That is close enough!
Then we came to the bottom of the river where it divides into multiple channels in the delta region. We had to pick which channel we would use. This was decided for us based on our final destination of the Clinton River, we would head down the northern most channel depicted below. We had questioned multiple people we met before now about navigating this channel and it depths. All the advice we got was the same – stay in the channel! Lots of bouys mark the channel along the way. Red and green, go between! Here’s what the area looks like on the chart.
As we were heading through the northern most channel all was well until we got to the lower part of the channel that enters Lake St Clair, this is where is get the most shallow. The channel markers are now barely as wide as our boat and should we encounter another boat coming through this narrow channel, they better draft less than us, cuz we aren’t moving out of the channel. Our boat drafts 4 foot 6 inches. There were areas where we saw as little as 5 – 6 feet of water and if we moved literally a foot or two in the wrong direction we could be in 2 feet of water. It took both Mark and I to be fully attentive with both the chart plotter and ipad going to pick our way through this narrow skinny water. But success! We were now in relatively deeper water at 10 feet in Lake St Clair.
We made our way across Lake St Clair and about a mile up the Clinton River to dock at the North Star Sailing Club. We plan to be here for a couple of days!
We left Harbor Beach at about 6 am, but only have about 38 miles to go today. That should be relaxing and a piece of cake compared to our 80 mile day. We know we have some weather coming in for the next couple of days, so we want to get there as early as possible to avoid any weather that might be earlier than expected.
We were a little anxious about Lexington marina since we have heard stories from other boaters about how narrow their fairways in the marina are and with a full keel and no bow thruster we are not as nimble in tight spaces as other boats. They do have some nice accessible slips on the outside, however when I made reservations none of these slips were available and we had to select a slip on the inside in the tight fairways.
We had a beautiful sail all the way to Lexington with no motor for a change. As we made our way closer to Lexington the winds were slowly increasing all day. We were a bit concerned coming in with increasing winds and tight fairways. So, once we got into the marina we decided to stop at the fuel dock to fill up the diesel tank and pump out first. This is a good way to make a successful landing to check out the lay of the land before we have to move to a slip.
The marina staff were very welcoming and helpful. Before we even had a chance to ask, they took note of the increasing winds, took a look at our heavy boat and asked in we would like to use one of the slips on the outside. YES! Thank you! We were grateful they were so accommodating to allow us to move to slip that would be much easier to maneuver to. With the help of the marina staff we were able to land successfully in the nice wide open slip.
The winds continued to increase and we watched as multiple boats were all pulling into the marina after us for the next few hours. It was the kind of day that everyone available on the dock was at hand to help people land their boats in gusty conditions. When the weather is like this it doesn’t matter how pretty your landing, just that you land without hitting anything.
We got in early enough that we walked up the hill to town just a few blocks away and found a great little burger place for lunch. Wimpy’s Burgers, yes, just like Popeye. It had a small town diner feel to the place with a counter and open kitchen with a soda fountain. Delicious!
We made our way back to the boat and the increasing winds were indeed signaling a change in weather and was a warning to the approaching storm front that was coming our way. The storm hit with full force about 4 pm complete with 40 – 45 mph winds, small hail, heavy rain, etc. So glad we left early and were safely at the dock!
The next day the winds were still howling out of the north due to the storm front, so we are staying put for another day. So, the day was spent catching up on boat projects, writing blog posts, cleaning and relaxing.
When traveling by water, we are blessed to meet other like minded people who are also traveling places by water. If you are not familiar with what is called America’s Great Loop, let me introduce you.
America’s Great Loop is a route that boaters up the east coast, west through the great lakes, south through the Mississippi river and then east across the Gulf of Mexico. There are multiple people who take this route and typically take about a year to complete the full loop. These boats are referred to as “loopers”. Generally, one would go north on the east coast in the Spring, west through the great lakes in the summer months, south on the river in the fall and east across the Gulf of Mexico in the winter.
Although we are generally following this route, we are going in a clockwise fashion, heading east through the Great Lakes and south on the east coast. This is the opposite direction of what many loopers are heading. We will not complete the entire loop and our purpose is to get to the Bahamas!
Lexington is one of the first stops that we are starting to encounter some “loopers” who are headed in the opposite direction of us. We met Tom and Theresa, Loren and Lisa and Mike and Ginny. Conversations led to happy hour on the dock which then led to dinner at a near by restaurant called Windjammer. It was a really fun night and it was great to be able to exchange stories and information about our route ahead of us since they were coming from that direction and we were able to share with them what was ahead for them.
The next segment of our journey will be a little different than the big lake sailing that we have done so far. The next segment will involve narrow rivers, the St Clair River and Detroit River and an inland lake, Lake St Clair. We have concerns about rivers and current, where to stay and shallow water in Lake St Clair. It’s always so helpful to get first hand information about places we are going from someone who has been there recently.
Alpena, MI to Harbor Beach, MI is about 80 nautical miles. At 5 knots per hour this trip would take us about 16 hours. We hope to make the journey in less time than 16 hours, so we will have to go faster than 5 knots for sure.
Why are we going so far today? Remember I was saying that good harbors are few and far between on this side of Lake Huron. There were a couple of alternatives. We could have made a stop in Harrisville, however no reservations to be had. We could have stopped in Port Austin, however we had heard they had a recent tornado go through town and things are not up and running there. The other consideration is weather. We have really nice weather for about another day or so and then it’s supposed to turn for the worse, so we want to be tucked in some where when that happens. Also, see that big bay on the left of the map? That’s Saginaw Bay. If the winds are out of the west, the exposure to wind and waves crossing Saginaw Bay can make things uncomfortable.
So, 80 miles it is.
The alarm went off at 4 am. If we were going to do an 80 mile day, we have to get going early. We thought we would leave the dock around first light. We miscalculated the sunrise slightly however and it was still very much dark when we were ready to leave the dock.
To get into Alpena, there is a long narrow channel marked with channel bouys and very shallow water outside of the marked channel. As soon as we left the protection of the marina we quickly realized that none of these bouys are lit. We have our chart plotter that shows us the path that we took to get into Alpena, so that will help provide a bit of a bread crumb trail to help us get out in the dark. However, Rose still had to get out the spotlight and stand on the bow to shine our powerful light to help identify the bouys on the way out of the harbor.
Did I mention that Alpena is a long way in? We hunted for bouys, shined the light and slow picked our way out in the dark for about an hour until we reached the end of the long line of bouys. Note to self, let’s leave after sunrise from now on.
Of course once we reached the end of the long line of bouys, the sky was bright enough to be able to see where we were heading.
We spent the whole day just making sure the boat was moving at an appropriate speed. We managed to average about 6.5 knots most of the day with all 3 sails flying and the engine assisting us to maintain our speed.
Over the course of the last 3 days we have travelled nearly 200 miles! We are tired, need a break and we are ready to arrive at Harbor Beach for some much deserved rest.
When we arrive near a marina, we typically hail the marina on the VHF to say we are about 5 – 10 minutes from arriving. The marina will typically tell us which slip we will be in, and we get vital information like how the approach is, which side of the boat to place our lines and fenders on to tie up and to ensure that they will have someone of the dock to lend a hand docking.
On this day, we called Harbor Beach Marina on channel 16. No answer… Tried again a few minutes later, no answer…., then some weird guy answered us on the VHF who was not the marina and we still aren’t sure what he wanted…weird.
Well….since the marina isn’t answering and we do have a reservation and it’s now after 5 pm, we wonder if they left for the day. We decided to make our way into the marina and we will just park in an open slip and ask for forgiveness later. This also means we have no idea which slip we will find open and where to place our lines and fenders, so we put them on both sides of the boat so we are ready for anything.
We come in and find the first empty slip and pull right in and we were able to land well and tie up without a problem.
We walked up to the marina office and we finally see a note on the door that says that he will be right back. We later learn that the main town is about a mile or so from the marina and the marina staff – one guy – will drive people into town to go to dinner and bring them back when they are done. So, when we tried to call him on the VHF he was shuttling people into town for dinner. That’s a pretty nice service actually!
We just threw something on the grill and called it a night. We were tired from getting up early and have had a long day.
We decided to stay here another night to rest up for the next leg of our journey. We ran the air conditioning for the first time on our trip. We are getting further south and it’s getting warmer.
The next day we slept in! We were generally pretty lazy. I haven’t even taken a single picture with the camera in the last 2 days….too tired.
We did have an opportunity to meet another boater on the dock who has a beautiful 4400 Tartan, which is an identical boat to our friends Dwight and Kay. The owner of this 4400 Tartan is named Mike. Mike told us all about the route ahead of us with the St Clair River, Lake St Clair and the Detroit River. This will be something new for us…rivers, current, etc. We are also very concerned about the shallow depths that are in Lake St Clair. Mike gives us some excellent information that you can only get from someone who has been there. Mike belongs to North Star Sailing Club and keeps his boat there on Lake St Clair. After chatting for awhile he offers us a slip at North Star Sailing Club and recommends we stay there as his guest. How great! Mike is the second person we have met from North Star Sailing Club. We also met a couple from there during our stay in Petoskey, MI. They also offered for us to stay at their club.
Mike gave us his boat card and also the name and number for the harbor master at the North Star Sailing Club.
Boat cards….have I told you about boat cards? Well, boat cards are bit like business cards but with your name, contact information, boat information and blog! Boaters who are traveling, as we are, exchange boat cards with each other so we can all remember the people we met along the way. You never know when you might run into them again! We have collected numerous boat cards from people we have met along the way already and we put them in a book and write down where we met them or any other small details that would help us remember the encounter.
We got some much needed rest! Sorry, no pictures 😦
It was a beautiful morning when we slipped the lines at St Ignace and made our way for one of our first Lake Huron destinations – Rogers City. We had heard great things about the marina in Rogers City from other boaters and heard that it was a must stop kind of place. We have about 48 miles to go today, so we were up early and left around 6:30 am. Getting up this early in the morning we are usually rewarded with a gorgeous sunrise!
There was little to no wind today so we motored our way to Rogers City and slid past Mackinac Island for one last time and a last glimpse at the Mackinaw Bridge.
As we settled into the rhythm of our journey for the day, we noticed that the shoreline of Lake Huron has changed from our views on Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan included lots of towering sand dunes interrupted by lighthouses that marked the entrances to small harbor towns. Lake Huron seems to have a more wooded tree lined coast dotted with houses right along the coast.
The rest of the trip to Rogers City was fairly uneventful. As we approached the marina in Rogers City, we opted to stop at the fuel dock on the way in which also has the pump out equipment to pump out our head. So, if you are not familiar, a head on a boat is another name for the toilet. All of our waste goes into a holding tank and must be pumped out every few weeks or so and it was time. We radioed ahead to the marina to ensure the fuel dock was open and available for us to dock there. They assured us it was.
Of course as we approach with me having all our dock lines at the ready on the port side of the boat the fuel dock is occupied and they motion for us to pull up on the other side of the fuel dock. This requires me to quickly change all my lines from the port side of the boat to the starboard side of the boat before Mark gets the boat to the dock. I got 2 of the 3 lines switched over to at least throw them to the guy waiting at the dock and had to rather un-elegantly switch the stern line and throw it as our stern was drifting away from the dock.
Ok, all is good. We got the head pumped out and we were ready to leave the fuel dock and head to the slip that they assigned to us in the marina. As Mark was backing out, the boat seemed to have a mind of it’s own and things were not going well. Mark said the steering was not responding as it should be and it seemed as through turning the wheel in one direction seemed to move the boat in the opposite direction. This is not right! Mark was able to work with the wheel as best he could and could also see the position of our rudder on our autopilot so that despite what the wheel was doing, he could steer to the position of the rudder.
We made it into our slip!
We spent the next 3 hours emptying out both lockers (lazarettes) that hold all our boat gear to get at our steering system to have a look at what was going on.
Let’s see if I can explain in simple terms what was happening.
The steering wheel turns the pedestal output lever which then also turns the rudder tiller arm which is attached to the rudder. The pedestal output lever and the rudder tiller arm both move in unison because they are connected by a rod called the drag link. In our case, the drag link was too short and allowed the pedestal output lever to turn further than it should and rotate to the other side of the rudder tiller arm. This results in feeling like your steering is opposite of what it should be. That is exactly what we were experiencing. The fix was simple enough, we just needed to lengthen the drag link so this did not occur. We were able to rotate it to lengthen it by about 3/8″. We also noticed that when turning the rudder hard to port, the rudder was not fully hitting the port side rudder stop. So we also lengthened the arm for the autopilot to ensure that everything was aligned correctly.
All this adjusting then requires that we re-align the rudder and the steering wheel so that when the rudder is centered the wheel is also centered. I tried to walk over to another dock to see the stern of the boat so we could actually see the rudder but we were sitting too low in the water to effectively see the rudder. So, we had to take the dinghy down on the back of the boat to visualize the rudder and where it was when Mark was turning the wheel.
One more final adjustment, we had to recalibrate our autopilot so that the autopilot computer knew how to sense all these adjustments we made. And then we had to put everything back together and put all our tools and gear away.
All of that took 3 hours that we were not planning on after a long 10 hour journey. We ate some left overs and headed to bed.
We never even left the docks at Rogers City to see the town or explore anything, we were exhausted and we have another day of travel tomorrow.