Deliverance On Erie

Friday August 31, 2012

This is my view, all day long.

When there are towns to pass through on the canal, or bridges to go under, or locks to drop down, it helps pass the day along. Unfortunately between those things there’s not a whole lot going on. A little bit of water and lots of trees. Combine that with contantly being at the wheel with no use of autopilot (unless you want to adjust it every five seconds) and that can make for a couple of long days. Not that we haven’t been loving the Erie Canal, it’s beautiful, but in between playing games of ‘Log or Duck?’ where we try to decipher what’s in the water ahead of us there’s a lot of Deleverance scenery going on and I’m ready for some action again. As I said though, there are still some beautiful sights along the way, so I’ll leave you with the best parts of the last few days.

This bridge is in Fairport, NY and also belongs in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

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Soon-ee

Wednesday August 29, 2012

Getting an early start on the morning after making our after hours debut we walked through the picturesque office at Lock 35 to purchase our 10 day pass and ask for passage through the lock. This one was a big larger (ok, a lot) than the measley one we had done a few days ago. This was a double lock so as soon as we dropped the first 30 or so feet the large gates opened up where we moved forward to the next wall to drop another 20 feet. Our destination for the day was Brockport, about 40 miles from Lockport. In between the two locations were not locks, but tons and tons of lift bridges. Matt had no issue with them, but I was not fond of coming up to them if the bridge was still down. I did not want to be put in the position of having to stall the boat and try and keep it in place while the bridge lifted so as soon as I saw one coming up ½ mile away I’d call them on the VHF and then slow to a crawl until I saw the bridge lift up. I think the operators were used to most boats getting a few hundred feet and then stopping so that as soon as it was up they’d be able to pass under. In my case they might be waiting a few minutes and I don’t think they liked me very much for it.

On the very last bridge leading us into Brockport it was a good thing Matt was behind the wheel because we had to wait at least five minutes at a standstill while we waited and waited for the operator to respond and then saw her walk to her post from down the street and finally lift the bridge. I think I would have had a meltdown. Yes, I will learn to do this eventually, but a shallow and narrow channel is not a good schoolground for me. As soon as we passed under that bridge we saw the docking area and tied off. Checking in at the visitor’s center we found out that it was $12 and that included electricity (which we don’t need and don’t even have a power cord anymore), water, showers, and access to laundry. Music to our ears. As soon as we paid and had our key card we grabbed our laundry and toiletries to head to the facilities. Once we had a load going we hopped into the bathroom for showers. This was the real deal. No pressing a button for only 20 seconds spurts. This was hot cascading water for as long as you wanted it….pure heaven. Since this was a college town (SUNY) there was a nice little main street with lots of shops and restaurants. Since we were starving by now we just brought some Chinese food back to the boat and relaxed for the night.

 We weren’t in a rush to leave the next day and after finally sleeping in we went back to the visitor’s center to pay for another night. We also took advantage of their free bike program and rented two out for the day. Groceries were running low and we needed to stock up. Strapping a couple of backpacks on we hopped on the bikes and made our way past main street to the business district and up to Walmart. Having never been a fan of Walmart (we had Meijer) this one wasn’t too bad, the isles were clean and the people were mostly normal looking. We stocked up on a lot of things and just barely squeezed everything into the backpacks. Only one egg was cracked on the way back so I’d call it a success.

With our free time and free water that afternoon the boat finally got a wash which it desperately needed. Laundry was put away and the interior was cleaned. Finally the boat was starting to look like a home intstead of a huge mess. To celebrate the success of this we went out to get a New York pizza for dinner. While eating in the cockpit a few nearby ducks came over to beg. There was no way they were getting our pizza but we did have old hamburger buns and were more than willing to hand them out. What started as four ducks turned into twelve which turned into twenty. I think every duck in the area was soon at our boat. I haven’t fed ducks since I was a little kid and I forgot just how adorable they can be. I asked if we could have a boat duck but was quickly turned down. Darn, I think I could have acclimatized one of the babies.

While we were busy feeding the owner of the boat next to us stopped by to talk for a minute. Him and his wife had gotten to Whardell’s the day after us to have their mast stepped and Matt had the chance to take a tour of their boat while I was busy blogging at McDonald’s. Edward invited me to come check out Old Glory as well and as soon as I finished my pizza we made our way over. Just like Matt had told me, there is only one way to describe this boat, immaculate. Edward’s wife Yvonne gave me the tour of their Cal 46 complete with a cozy pilot house. It is beautiful and spacious and the perfect cruising boat. We were invited to stay for a drink and over the next hour told all of our crazy sailing stories between the four of us and their friend Joe that was visiting and who is also a sailor. Our fist boat buddies of the trip. Even though we could have stayed and talked forever we finally let them get to dinner around 10:00. Since they’re on their way to Charleston I have a feeling we’ll run into each other again and will be able to have more drinks and stories. I’m thinking next time I can repay their rum with a loaf of my banana bread. As long as they’re ok with bananas on their boat.

Bike-up ATM’ing

Old Glory at moon rise.

 

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Extreme Boat Makeover: Erie Canal Edition

Monday August 27, 2012

I don’t know what it was about last night, but I got the best sleep I’ve ever had on this boat. 10 hours of it and it was spectacular. We didn’t know if Dennis would come to us or if we should find him so we just hung around on deck working on things. It didn’t take long for him to come over and let us know the steps we’d be going through that day to get the mast down. First we undid a few of the side-stays and the backstay before he came back and was lifted up the mast and attached his rope that the crane hook would grab on to, eventually lifting the mast. We undid the rest of the stays, tied everything together and it was time to go. We were told it was and easy procedure. We believed it would be an easy procedure. And it was for the first five minutes, until some of the lines from our mast got caught in the crane hook and we could not find a way to get them out. Extremely long boat hook? Nope. Raising the mast again in hopes it would find it’s own way out? Nope. Then you hear the words anyone doing anything difficult loves to hear: “Well, this has never happened to me before”.

 After another 30 minutes of raising and lowering and twisting the mast we finally had it free and could continue on. The top of the mast was rested in it’s cradle at the stern and the butt of the mast rested lightly on top of our pulpit, still slightly suspended by the crane, until we could get the bow and mid-ship cradles just right. Through all of this it had been raining on and off and while it turned to a downpour Dennis called for a rain break and went inside while the two of us perfected the cradle and attached more lines than we could imagine to the mast to keep it secure. If you ever make this journey, bring more lines than you think you could ever use, because you will use them. We had the mast tied down at the stern, mid-ship, and bow and were still worried about it being secure. Only time will tell.

After we did all that we thought we could do it was time for a lunch break and walked just up the road to McDonald’s. They had free wifi and Matt had brought his laptop so he could order new rigging to arrive at the marina where our mast will go up before we got there. He had however left the paper with all the information back at the boat and while he had to run back to get it I was able to enjoy the first internet I had access to in 72 hours. 20 minutes is not near long enough to check emails, check Facebook and get a blog post in. Soon I had to hand it back over and stare out at the rain while our parts were ordered. When we got back to the boat we found out that Dennis had finished while we were gone and the crane was now unattached from our mast and we were done. We filled up our diesel and were ready to get moving.

Now you are ready to travel the Erie Canal. If you’re like us, this is how your fist day down the canal might go:

 

  • You will be told by your spouse that we’re leaving right now and have only 3 hours of daylight to make it to your next destination 18 miles away.

  • A few miles down the river your chartplotter will tell you that you must have evolved and grown legs because you’re now traveling on land. Your back up charts will tell you the same thing and have you panicking and scouring the internet looking for any kind of charts possible, trying to verify that you are actually on the Erie Canal.

  • You forget that all the wires have been unattached from the mast and ask why the radar isn’t working.

  • You’ll remember that a few years ago another boat scraped up against a nice big rock in the canal and start treating everything in the water suspiciously, even seaweed.

  • Every bridge you come up to you’ll ask, ‘Are you sure we’ll clear that?’. You will be able to. Then you’ll see a bridge ahead that you’re 90% sure you can’t clear. Don’t worry, you also didn’t see that the river bends and you don’t actually have to go under it. Good thing, because there is 100% certainty that you would not have cleared.

  • Of the 150 ducks you see along the way you notice they all appear to be female and wonder if like in Jurrasic Park, life found a way.

  • While the rain beads up on the vinyl windows of your dodger you’ll wish for just a moment that you had a Hallsberg Rassy with a hard dodger and wiper blades.

  • You’ll look at your trip meter and see that you’ve only gone 10 miles in 2 hours and worry how you’ll navigate in the dark. Watch for shadows to grow closer and quickly steer away? Have your spouse stand at the bow with a flashlight? You hope it doesn’t come to either of these.

  • The sun pokes out of the clouds and you start to enjoy yourself a little and appriciate the beautiful scenery around you. You might even dance a little to the classic rock playing through the speakers.

  • The sun sets and you grab the spotlight out. Damn, you didn’t want it to come to this.

  • While there’s just a little bit of light left in the sky you see the lights of a town. Phew, you made it before it got dark. What you didn’t see though is the wall of a lock a quarter mile ahead of you while you’re coming in hot at 6 knots and you need to stop asap. And guess what?, boats don’t have breaks.

  • You throw it in neautral and then reverse and hand the wheel over to your spouse while you run to change fenders from port to starboard.  Remember, there is now a mast and 800 feet of lines in your way.  While getting the fenders to the proper side you don’t tie a proper clove hitch and one of your fenders ends up in the water. There is much yelling and swearing from both you and your spouse, but eventually you are tied up and the fender has been fished out with a boat hook.

  • Looking around the lock you notice that you are litterally fenced into the lock area but want to explore town. You climb under one gate and up the steep steps that have no railing and then hop the fence at the top and are now on Main St. It’s 8:45 and all of the shops are closed.

  • Searching maps on your iPhone you find there is a 7-11 just up the block and grab a slurpee since you haven’t had one in 10 years. Then you go back to the boat like you never left and end your night with a few episodes of Modern Family.

  • You will have survied your day.

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We’ve Become Trolls

Sunday August 26, 2012

The area under the bridge that became our playground for a few days.

Since our goal had been to get to Buffalo, NY within two weeks of leaving we planned another overnight trip to get there from Fairport.  You may ask what the rush is, but we’re just trying to get through the Erie Canal before it shuts down due to a storm like it did last year.  That happened on Labor Day weekend and all the boats inside it had to be pulled out and shipped at the cost of the owner.  Not likely that it will happen again, but we can’t afford the chance.  So on we rush again.  I promise, one day we will have a chance to stop and relax.  The ride over to Buffalo was a mostly uneventful one.  The wind was of course non existent and we were motoring again.  After thinking about it and realizing that we’ll be motoring all the way from Buffalo to the ocean, and then most of the eastern US going through the ICW, our mast and sails are going to be pretty useless for the next 3 months.  Thoughts of castrating the boat pass through my mind.  We’ll just become a permanent motor vessel.  (I’m just joking, I love this boat under sail).

The one issue that we (I) had on the way to NY is that an hour into my 9-12 sleep shift the winds picked up to 25-30 knots and the waves were building up and hitting us on the side.  After waking up to help Matt put a reef in the sail I went back to bed in the v-berth.  What happened next I can only blame on myself.  For the past 9 months or so Matt had been bugging me to make a lee cloth, a piece of fabric that will hold you in your bed when the boat is listing from side to side.  These are used in the saloon area because you feel much less movement there than you would in the bounciest part of the boat, the v-berth.  Guess who had not finished this project?  So we’ve been constantly sleeping in the v-berth, even in bad weather.  After getting back to bed that area was like a bucking bronco ride and it was not sitting well with my stomach.  I was actually happy when it was time to get up for my shift because I needed the fresh air.  It didn’t help me out too much though because even in the dark I could see the faint outline of the horizon go way way up and then way way down.  Then while spinning my head around to look for other boats my body couldn’t handle it anymore and I tossed my cookies overboard.  I’m just glad that after the first time I was smart enough to take my glasses off so I didn’t lose them overboard as well .  I should really get working on that lee cloth.

My second shift went much better and when Matt took over at 9, because I only collectively had 4 hours of sleep up to that point I was allowed to go back to bed and slept in until 11:00.  Waking up I saw winds had died out again and the water was glass.  Buffalo was coming into sight and soon I was behind the wheel and bringing us into the rivers and canals.  Before we would be allowed to get moving on the Erie Canal we had to get our mast stepped where it would lay across the length of our boat since the canal has so many low bridges we wouldn’t otherwise be able to pass under.  We had scoped out a few places that would be able to take our mast down and both were a few miles inland.  Making it to this included getting past two low bridges and one lock and someone thought it would be good to keep me behind the wheel the whole time.  I got to have a nice freakout at the first bridge where I kept hailing them under the wrong name and finally had to call them under channel 16 (“Oh, you were trying to get a hold of me?  We’re the ferry bridge, not the Black Rock bridge.  Would you like me to open for you?”  Umm…yes please).  Then my other freak out came when we were going through the first lock.  I had no idea how these things work (yes, I really should have researched that before this trip) so Matt explained that you pull up to the side with your fenders down and there’s ropes you grab on to and just kind of hold the boat steady and in place while the water is lowered.  I was doing great, coming up on starboard when we realized there were no ropes on this side.  Crap!  We needed to get to the other side and quick!  Doing a dance of neutral, reverse, and then forward we did make it over but I think I may have put a few new scrapes into the boat.

After that mess I handed the wheel over for the rest of the night.  We were probably only five miles from our destination at this point but I was done for the day.  We pulled into Wardell’s near 4 in the afternoon and Dennis who ran and handled everything on his own came out to greet us and tell us what we needed to do to prepare for the mast coming down the next day.  Most of what we could do that evening was pulling out all the lines that ran from the mast to the cockpit and tie them up to the mast, as well as get the cradle ready that would actually hold the mast once it was on the boat.  In the heat of the afternoon all of the lines were removed and tied and then it was building time.  We were so happy when we looked over under the bridge and saw there were some leftover pre-built cradles and lots of spare wood.  We got to work right away but because of the different shapes and sizes of boats non of the pre-made ones fit us just right and we were able to disassemble a couple (and still use their bolts, score!!) to make our own.  At the end of the day we had constructed one for both the bow and the stern and we couldn’t have been more proud of our creations.  Due to all the heat and hours of hard labor we also couldn’t be more tired.  9:30 bed time, you are my new best friend.

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It’s My Birthday And I’ll Read If I Want To

Friday August 24, 2012

I still can’t decide if today was a good day or a bad day.  For today was my 30th birthday.  A milestone and a chance to celebrate (yay!!), but also another year older and into a new decade (boo!).  I’m no youngin’ anymore.  Do I feel any older?  Nope, still 16 at heart.  Do I look any older?  Hmmmm, well that huge tan I’ve absorbed lately probably can’t be good for my skin, but for the most part, no.  So how does a new cruiser spend their 30th birthday?

Putting on my best tank top and shorts (it is my birthday after all) we hopped in the dinghy to see what the town of Fairport, OH had to offer.  The beach in which we were anchored in front of was gorgeous, but we thought a trip down the Grand River would take us into town and something to do.  What we found was a gravel/concrete factory at the mouth of the river and then marina upon marina just past that.  But each time we looked further into land it did not look like there was much going on.  We even hopped out at a main road, but it was just a road with a few condos.  I wasn’t in the mood to search.  I knew that back at the boat there was beer, music, and sun, and that’s all I really needed.

So changed into my suit I cracked open a Summer Shandy (and then a margarita, and then wine) while lounging and reading ‘Bossypants’.  We had hot dogs for dinner and my celebration was put on hold until we get to Buffalo and will have more options.  The sunset was gorgeous and we even enjoyed the end of a race going on, cruising by us with their spinnakers up.  ( I miss you Tom, and all of you Island Dreamers!!)  Sun, booze, relaxation and reading?  All in all, I can’t think of a better way to have spent my birthday.

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Put In But Not In Party Mode

Wednesday August 22, 2012

Having run through a bit of Lake Erie through the night we found a group of islands centered around Put-In-Bay and dropped anchor around 1 am.  It was right in between a very tall monument and a restaurant covered in neon blue lights and still blasting music at that hour.  Strange combination.  Not in any rush to actually do anything once we got up I stole some internet time on Matt’s phone and made a nice brunch of pancakes and eggs. Then doing the dishes (which is quickly becoming my least favorite part of this lifestyle) and getting dressed in real clothes once again we hopped in the dinghy to go ashore. Not sure of where any public dinghy dock was we searched and searched the bay and finally ended on a lone part of shore between a few houses which we thought we had the least chance of getting yelled at for docking the dink for a few hours if it did happen to be private property. Of course once we got close to the shore we saw that the water in the area was overrun by seaweed and the shore did not look much better. Oh well, less chance of anyone coming to take her either since there was also no place to lock her up.

Not knowing what to expect from this town we wandered down the street and were passed left and right by people on golf carts which seemed to be the main mode of transportation on the island, very few actual cars. At least it was better than having horse crap in the streets (which I never really minded anyway). Taking a turn off the main drag that was filled with bars and restaurants we could see only more bars and restaurants. Me thinks this may be a bit of a party town. Aready sweating in the hot sun and another 85 degree day on shore we landed at a place called Tony’s Garage for a quick $2 PBR. Why not, right? Hitting the streets again, all you could hear around you was music pumping out from every bar, restaurant and hotel. All the hotels had full bars around their pools and even at 1:00 in the afternoon on a Wednesday were filled with enough people, drinks in hand, to cement that yes, this has to be a party town. A very fun vacation spot if we were with friends I’m sure, but not what we were looking for at the moment.

So we turned to the only non party thing on the island, the Perry memorial. This is a 356 ft tower built from 1913-1915 to commemorate the battle on Lake Erie of September 10, 1812. Since it was calling to us all the way from being dropped out of the Detroit River (it’s that bright at night) we walked out of the party lined streets and to a grassy knoll and the base of the monument. Seeing that it was only $3 per person to go to the top (I could give up my afternoon PBR) we jumped on the chance and walked inside. Even the entrance was gorgeous, filled with plaques and fallen soldiers names carved into the granate. After buying admission we took the elevator up and when we were let out it was beautiful views as far as the eye could see. Just enjoying the breeze and the sights we spent 20 minutes just gazing around, from our boat in the harbor to the barely visible roller coasters of Cedar Point. Finally making our way back down we also spent some time in the visitors center learning a little more on the history of the battle and then cutting across the street to enjoy a bagged lunch in the park.

My lack of sleep was catching up with me and all I wanted at that moment was a nap so we walked all the way back around the bay to our dink which was still tied up on the rocky and mossy shore where we left her. As soon as we were in the boat the fan went on and I was in bed. One of my favorite things about this lifestyle? Afternoon naps.  I had assumed that once I woke up we’d take the dinghy back in (we spotted people using a dock near a restaurant, we were going to land there) but both of us were still tired and lounging around the boat sounded much better.  There was sun…wine…internet, everything I could have wanted at that moment.  It was also getting close to dinner time and there was a pork tenderloin in the fridge calling our name.  The same one that was good enough to put my friend Bri at risk of drowning so the pork could make it to shore (check 9/11/11 for the full story).  There must be something about cooking that kind of tenderloin on a boat grill because just like last time it turned out pure perfection.  Due to a food coma afterward we never did make it back to land.  Sorry ‘Key West of the North’, I guess we’re just going to wait for the real thing.

Serendipity looks so small!

I’m thinking about turning the boat into a 5 star restaurant.

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This Is For All My Detroit Players

Tuesday August 21,2012

Up early and on the road again the big goal for the day was just to get through the Detroit River and into Lake Erie.  I was handed the wheel right away as usual and after slowly crossing the shallow lake and passing multi-million dollar homes on shore and getting out of the way of a 990 ft freighter we were ready to enter the Detroit River.  Right away there was a fork in the road and we had to decide to go left or right.  The chart plotter was still only showing US marked waters and since the left side of the fork was technically Canadian the chart plotter was no help to me there.  Luckily Matt’s laptop did have these charts and while he was browsing through them I’d exclaim “Left or right?  I need to know!!”.

Since I had been using the chart plotter in front of me to look into the US side and didn’t see any shoals which wouldn’t be passable, and I somehow assumed that would be the only obstacle we’d encounter, I told Matt that the right side looked good and unless he could find reason for me not to take it then I would.  I must have been rushing him too much and exasperated goes “Yeah, sure, just take the right”.  I happily continued on my way, staying in between the red and green buoys while he worked on projects below.  Then 20 minutes into the right fork I saw it.  A very low pedestrian bridge.  Yelling to Matt to come up and double check that I wasn’t just seeing things he eyes it and goes, “Oh yeah, I knew there was a reason I didn’t want to go down this side”.  We should have really checked the charts before we left that morning.

Turning around we backtracked and I kept the laptop with the charts on the left side of Belle Isle right next to me.  Until a little rain storm came through and took them away from me but I just stayed between the buoys and hoped not to run aground.  As soon as we were coming out of the island and the river was joining back up again the clouds went away and the sun came out shinning.  This was also right around the time we were coming up to downtown Detroit and it was a spectacular sight.  I don’t think we could have viewed it on a better day.

Once past the city skyline and under the Ambassador Bridge we came upon the industrial area.  Not quite as pretty.  With not much else to view now Matt went down below for a nap and left me to navigate for myself.  Not a problem, I had been doing fine so far.  Of course it was 10 minutes after he had gone below that I started scanning further into the charts and found there was another fork.  This one had multiple routes and I had no idea which one to take.  Frantically looking at the computer I was trying to follow each route to see where it led before I quickly came up on the fork itself.  Luckily for me there was a mid size freighter about a mile in front of me and I thought to myself ‘Anything he’s trying to avoid, I’m probably trying to avoid as well.  I’ll just follow him’.  I hopped on his tail and hoped that he wasn’t pulling into port somewhere and then I’d be screwed.  Just as I was able to breath a little bit I followed the chart more and saw I was following him into a large commercial shipping lane that would drop me right out into Lake Erie.  Whew.

An hour and a beer later Matt joined me in the cockpit just as we were coming up on Grosse Isle, and more multi-million dollar homes.  Behind us were dark storm clouds that I had spent the last hour trying to figure out if they were coming toward us or away, but it was obvious now that they were right on our back and soon to catch up with us.  It was kind of a strange sight since we were in the sun and right behind us it was dark as night.  I have a panoramic shot below that shows from our bow to stern and the change in the sky.  I was just hoping for no downpours or thunder and lightning.  We could hear it off in the distance and started listening to the weather report on the VHF and it did not sound good.

Following the last little channel to Lake Erie we kept an eye out as the sky around us kept growing darker.  I started to worry about it less and less though and after we had gotten to the lake I thought we might even use the opportunity of rain for a shower.  We got everything all ready on deck, shampoo, conditioner, and soap.  We told ourselves that as soon as the rain came we’d quickly strip down and ‘shower’ on deck.  Once the rain finally did come we threw off our clothes and ran out to freezing droplets of ice water on our skin.  The worst part was it wasn’t even coming down that hard and wasn’t enough to soak our hair.  And then it was gone.  No shower for us.  We figured as long as we were trying we’d just throw the bucket overboard and take a quick deck bath.  Living on a boat you never miss an opportunity to get clean.

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Shore Leave

Monday August 20, 2012

After spending basically three full days on the boat (besides the 10 minutes last night to empty our trash) we were finally given shore leave when Matt’s mom & stepdad had driven across the state to bring us a handful of packages that had come after we left and also to be our personal chauffer’s while we ran errands around town. Matt dug into his box of new shackles with the same excitement I dug into the hats and gloves that were brought for us to keep warm on those cold night shifts. And big excitement for both of us, the satellite phone. Imagine a Zack Morris cell phone and that’s the kind of size we were dealing with, but it was still exciting nontheless.

 After looking through our goodies we listed off the stops we needed to make: West Marine for a new flag pole and other boat hardware, Home Depot for the flag plus more hardware, and finally Meijer to fill our fridge back up and some Neosporin to take care of some nasty bilsters I’d received while hiking around Mackinac Island. All three stops were taken care of in less than two hours and then it was time for lunch. Not that we’ve been eating bad on the boat, in fact we’ve been eating remarkably well, but the fast food cravings were setting in and we both wanted something terribly bad for us. Checking on the GPS and finding there was a Five Guys only a few miles away we stopped there and I loaded up my burger with all the free toppings while chugging down the sugary sweetness of a fountain drink. Let’s just say that our own homemade soda making machine we have on board has a few kinks to be worked out and can’t yet compare to the real thing.

With no other stops to make we were brought back to the park that housed our anchorage and said our good-byes for a second time. To Chris’ credit she didn’t cry this time and if I remember right, didn’t even stand at the dock to watch us get out of sight before hopping in the car and cruising away. I may have seen something on Facebook later that day where she mentioned it wasn’t as bad for her now knowing that we had survived a week and were doing well, so I’ll leave it at that. But while I’m on the topic, a HUGE HUGE thanks needs to go out to Chris and Jack. Not only for taking time out of their day to drive 5 hours round trip just to be our taxi drivers for the day and then take us out to lunch (yes, I did see the money you slipped in that envelope, you really didn’t have to) but also for letting us take over their home for 14 months while we scraped and saved to be able to take this trip. Giving us free room and board and the occasional chicken casserole means more than you’ll ever know, thank you so much!

Back on the boat it was still early afternoon but I only had one thing on my mind at that was an internet connection. This was the first time I had a quality connection since our last day at home since the wifi at Mackinac was terribly slow and barely allowed me to do anything. Here I was free to check my Facebook, e-mail, and finally upload photos to the blog. I was in heaven. Taking a little break in the afternoon I made banana bread from scratch with a few over-ripened bananas in our pantry (yes, I know it’s bad luck to have bananas aboard) and it came out so well that I can’t wait to make it again and again. Then back to more internet and a movie. By the end of the day I was exhausted but finally felt like I got a few things accomplished. Good thing because we back on the move tomorrow and navigating rivers doesn’t leave time for much else.

Matt’s mom caught us in a half wave while leaving.

I’m turning into a regular Betty Crocker.

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The Long Road To Lake St. Clair

Sunday August 19, 2012

After getting a second full nights sleep in a row we woke up again to find less than desireable conditions outside but knew we couldn’t stay put another day. There was still a small craft advisory on the lake, and wave had gone from 2-4 ft up to 4-6 ft, but they were no longer calling for thunerstorms and that was really the only reason we had stayed the day before. We can handle waves and rain, a little bit of lightning, but tunderstorms can bring surprise attacks of very high winds and that had been the only thing we’d been trying to avoid. Backing ourselves out of the dock like we actually knew what we were doing we made our way out of the harbor and channel into Lake Huron where we were met with 2-4 foot waves. Since we had all sails down at the time Serendipity kept bobbing from side to side and making the ride a little uncomfortable so we turned into the wind to raise the main sail, with a reef, to steady ourselves out a bit. Turned back around the ride was much more enjoyable, although we still had our harnesses on just in case (along with jacklines run from the cockpit to the bow). Thurning off the motor we were pushing ahead at 6 knots which is a pretty good speed for our boat, within about a knot of our max speed. While Matt was doing a few things below deck I was nestled into a nook just behind the wheel on the low side. What surprised me, sitting there all by myself, was how fine I was with the situation. Winds were at a steady 25, waves in the 2-5 range (a decent size for the Great Lakes since they’re shorter and choppier than the ocean), and speed was almost at our max. I don’t know what the past five days has done for me, but if this was two weeks ago in our home port I probably would have begged Matt to take us back in and wait until conditions got better. Maybe it was because I knew we’d have to cross oceans in conditions much worse than this or a 200 mile trip in just a few days really lets you get to know your boat and what it’s capable of, but I felt fully confident in both us and Serendipity.

 As I sat tethered into the cockpit I continued to watch our speed grow. We had been at a steady 6.1 or 6.2 and then it went up to 6.4-6.5. Woohoo, we were really flying now! But it didn’t stop there. Up and up it went until we didn’t just reach but stayed in the 7.0 to 7.1 range. I had never seen these numbers before. I called the numbers over to Matt who was sitting under the dodger on the opposite side of me and the radar, more out of excitement than worry. “It’s reading what?” he asked, “That’s pretty high, I don’t want to broach (be thrown on our side).” He said to keep an eye on it, which I did, and even though it did jump a little higher than that from time to time while we’d surf down a wave I kept it to myself because the boat seemed pretty stable to me and I liked the progress we were making. We were literally going twice as fast as normal. It wasn’t long before he was ready for a nap and I was in the cockpit alone watching us go up and down the waves. When it was my turn to nap below we had started heading a little more south with the wind now on our side instead of our back quarter making it feel like even more of a wild ride. I had been down below only 15 minutes when I began to roll toward the wall more and more and all of a sudden a huge wave crashed over the deck and the hatch (which was closed) right above my head. Even though I trust Matt to do many things by himself I knew this one looked like it might need assistance so I bolted up the stairs to see what was going on. Turns out we had almost broached and really needed to slow ourselves down before it happened again, even worse next time. He was already on it though, digging through a locker to pull out a very long rope, cleating it to one side of the stern and letting it trail behind us before cleating the other end to the other side. The drag of this rope behind us was meant to give us drag and slow us down but couldn’t do much against the now constant 35 knot winds we were in. Taking out one more rope he tied it in knots and cleated that to the stern as well bringing us down to the 6.5-7.0 range.

Again, I have no idea why this did not bother me at all but I did not feel one ounce of fright. Maybe because, again, the boat was handling it so well and the only scary thing were the numbers on the screens themselves. Knowing just a little bit about Lake Huron from specials on The History Channel I turned to Matt and asked, “I wonder if Lake Huron is always like this?”. M: “I don’t know”. J: “Cause right now we’re near Alpena and Thunder Bay, and that’s where all the shipwrecks on this lake are supposed to be”. M: “Oh….I could have gone without knowing that”. J: “But all of those happened later in the year, I’m sure we’ll be fine”. M: “Right”.

For the rest of the afternoon we sat cuddled next to eachother under a blanket. I was sitting closer to the chart plotter and would keep and eye on the wind and boat speed which stayed pretty constant after that point. There was about a 20 minute period though of sustained 40-45 knots winds and I even saw us at 8.7 knots of speed while surfing down one wave. Sorry, that’s a lie. I saw it twice. Everything was going fine and both of us were sitting with our backs to the port side when we heard a loud crack. Now finally freaking out that something major had broken on our boat we both looked behind us to the sound and saw that our flag which had been sitting in a metal fishing pole holder had broken off the boat and was now floating in Lake Huron. It was a bit of a relief that it wasn’t something major holding our boat together, but at the same time we’d just lost about $100 worth of goods. We could have stayed two more nights at Mackinac for what we’d just lost. Oh well, I’m still thankful it was nothing worse.

In the evening the winds died down a little and we started our shifts like normal. When Matt came to wake me up at 2 am (waaay later than my shift schedule) I was surprised to find that we were now down to an average speed of 4.5 knots. Perfect for a night watch because you still feel like you’re making progress but you don’t feel it’s anything you can’t handle should there be a sudden shift of winds. Bundled in my full foul weather gear for warmth, which I had been in all day but now it was in the low 50′s, I took my spot under the blanket and watched one of the clearest and most star filled nights I have seen since the two of us were in the desert two years ago. There’s no other word to describe it other than brilliant. There was even one star that was so bright it cast a reflection on the water. Since I was given an extra hour of sleep on my shift I thought it only proper to return the favor and just as the sky was getting pinkish hues I went to trade with Matt and was asleep in half a second. When I woke up the next time it was near 10 am (does this boy not know how to keep a schedule?) and we were now passing across Saginaw Bay with nothing but water in sight. We were barely keeping up with 4 knots at this time and when Matt got up a few hours later we were just starting to pass by land again and that is when all wind died. Topping off the diesel with the 3 jerry cans in the cockpit the motor went on and we were on our way again. For only an hour though before it began to feel like we were fighting a current and our speed dropped from 4 knots to 2. Thinking maybe we were too close to shore I spent the next hour or so trying to get us further into the lake where the open waters would allow us to gain speed again. The non existent winds had jumped up to 25 knots on our nose which I think was impeeding progress a little, but even trying to go at a close reach with the mainsail still up we could barely keep our speed above 3.

Before we knew it, dark was upon us and it was time to start night shifts again. The wind was at such a strange angle that it only gave us the option to be pointing in an almost ESE course even though we wanted to be going directly South. Waking up for my shift (finally on time!) I was told that a tack would be necessary soon because we were almost in Canadian waters. Well I didn’t know we couldn’t go into ‘Canadian’ waters so when the chart showed the line where half the screen went blank since we’d only bought charts for the US (note, if you ever take this route make SURE to have some kind of charts somewhere that show Canadian waters, you will need them) I pulled the main to center and then changed the course of the boat and tried to then bring the main over to the other side to catch wind and get us going again. Nuh uh, did not want to happen. I added 10 more degrees and then 10 more. By the time I finally got some wind in the sail I was headed on a West past directly toward shore. This was going to get us nownhere and slowly. Figuring I was better off going into those uncharted Canadian waters I brought the main back to center and changed course back to where I had originally been. What I did find out is that the wind must have shifted while I was sleeping and I could now get us on a direct South course and that was good enough for me. One more tack would have to be made since the entrance to the St. Clair River was on the SW side of the lake, but Matt could deal with that on his shift.

Handing my post over at 3 am I told Matt about the necessary tack and went back to bed, feeling only just a little bit bad that he had to take care of it in his still groggy state. When I was woken up at 6:30 the sky was light and we were only 5 miles from the entrance to the St. Clair River. Since I had visions of this being a very narrow area and very heavy with freighter traffic I was scared to start it on shift alone and made Matt promise he’d get up when we got to the entrance in case I needed help. After only 45 minutes of sleep for him I was entering the first buoys and keeping a strict lookout for any large ships coming up behind me. No freighters but plenty of power boats throwing wakes at me. Since our chart was trying to keep us in US waters it divided the river in half and then into halves again for North and South traffic. Two things I found out upon entering the river is that 1. My chart had me going just over the top of a dangerous wreck that I had to avoid last minute and 2. NO ONE in the river was paying any attention to US or Canadian waters. If there was open space you went for it, it was a free for all. Still no freighters but plenty of power boats whizzing by every which way.

The river was much prettier than I expected it to be and after we got through the first few miles which were industrial areas the rest of the river was lined with houses, condos and resorts. The water itself was also almost a Caribbean blue/green and so tempting to jump into. If it wasn’t for that current carrying us along at over 6 knots I may have thought about it. Both going on 5-6 hours of sleep we took naps in the early afternoon and when I woke up from mine I came above deck to finally see a large freighter passing by us. It had to be 400-500 feet long but slid past us just fine with plenty of room to spare. Just after this we started nearing Lake St. Clair and needed to choose which channel/arm/branch we were going to use to drop us from the river into the lake. Finding one that connects to the main channel across the lake and over to the Detroit River we followed it keeping a very close eye on depth since the channels would be only 20 feet deep in the center and quickly going to 6 or 2 feet near shore. Deciding it was best to hand steer from this point I was situated near the VHF in the cockpit and it also seemed to be the time a lot of chatter started going on. Or a live broadcast of ‘The Real Idiots of Wayne County’ as I like to call it. Within 45 minutes there was an obviously unsupervised child getting on channel 16 talking a bunch of nonsense and then talking back to the Coast Guard when the reprimanded the child for using and international hailing and distress channel. This continued on for 15 minutes. Then after a short break we were treated to some obviously drunk people (I’m hoping they were) who called in a false distress call for their vessel going down. The woman at the Coast Guard was extremely frustrated and rightfully so. Sad part is I’m sure she deals with that on a daily basis. I lost count of how many times we heard her say ‘Channel 16 is for hailing and distress calls only. Please turn all other conversations to a working channel such as channel 9′.

Getting dropped out to St. Clair it was a beautiful and warm Sunday afternoon and the beaches were packed with powerboats anchored on shore or little islands and there were parties abound. Completely ready to join them by this time, we had now been on the water for 54 hours, we kept heading out into the lake before we were in deep enough water, 14 feet mind you, before turning and heading towards shore and what we were hoping was a protected achorage. Having a couple of very close calls while entering the channel that woul bring us to the achorage, our depth finder was reading 4.8 feet when we only had a draft of 5. Somehow we managed to keep from going aground and navigated through the 8 foot channel to find a small bay that was full with other sailing and power boats. Finding one open spot on the side we dropped anchor and dug it in. 56 hours on the water and 280 nautical miles covered. I think I’m ready for a margarita.

Matt keeping watch through high winds and waves (and we still had our flag).

It looks like the Mitt!

Just entering the St. Clair River.

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Horses And Fudge, Again & Again

Thursday August 16, 2012

After getting a few hours of well deserved sleep we both woke up even though we could have slept all day and grabbed our toiletries to take full advantage of the use of free hot showers. Yes, before I even had a chance to miss them. What I was surprised by was the way the showers worked. I guess I haven’t been to enough marinas to see if this is the norm, in fact I’ve only used the showers at Torresen’s and Milwakuee Yacht Club, but these ones only gave about 20 seconds of water before shutting off and then you’d have to hit the button again. Very smart I guess, and a great way to conserve water, but I think it took about six pushes to fully soak my hair. Back at the boat I was excited to finally dress for a warm day with a high near 80 instead of my foulies which I had been living in for the past few days. Eating a quick lunch on the boat since our daily spending money was now paying for a marina slip we headed down the street making sure to avoid all the manuer in the way.

 Walking down the main road in town it was crowded with tourist and not where we wanted to be. As soon as we found a nice side street we jumped over and found ourselves pounding pavement uphill towards The Grand Hotel. If you’ve never been to Mackinac Island it really is a sight to behold, with it’s famous front porch spanning 660 feet long, it’s right on the water and absolutely pristine. I’ve never been inside of it, especially since they charge $10 per person if you’re not a guest, but the photos I have seen do make it look like a majestic sight. Passing the enclosed carriages dispensing guests along the island we carried onward with no real destination in mind. Having decided to forego the popular cycling method of transportation anything we wanted to see that day had to be within a few miles of the marina because we were not going to have another repeat of Monday.

Getting to the top of one hill there were markers of popular island destinations and the distances to them. Arch Rock was only mile away and always a pretty sight so we took a right and continued walking. Along the way we passed For Mackinac which has a very rich history, and although we did not tour the fort we did catch a lot of information about it from the carriage tours tht were going at the same pace we were. Passing the fort and the Scout Barracks (more on that later) we made it to Arch Rock. I don’t know if I’m remembering this wrong, but I could have sworn that 15-20 years ago there was no gate or barrier next to the rock and people were free to climb on it. With a nice 200 or so foot drop to the road below. Either way, it’s definitely protected now but you can still take stairs out next to it and get beautiful views of the beaches below. Waters must be shallower than normal this year because on the beach just below the rock someone had taken stones and rocks and placed them in an Olympic symbol for the 2012 games in London.

Following the path back to the fort we were treated to a new group of Girl Scouts about to go on shift to be guides around town and we watched them march down the hill with vest emblazoned and counting off with each step.  A little back story on the scouts on the island is that I used to be one. It’s not a permanent gig, just one week at a time and you have to apply and be chosen. Growing up I had been a Girl Scout from the 1st grade until I graduated high school. I had completed my Silver Award and Gold Award which are pretty big deals in the Scouting arena and the summer before I started my senior year of high school a couple of friends from my troop and I applied for and were accepted to the Mackinac Island Honor Scouts. My duties during my stay included raising and lowering the flag at the governor’s mansion or standing outside some of the museums to answer questions,  and during down time we’d just hang out at the barracks. Since the uniforms we had to wear were very specific (my mom even had to make green polyester shorts and pants for me) I needed brown lace up shoes that would be comfortable to walk and spend all day in. Well since it was the only part of the uniform that I had any control over and I didn’t consider myself to be a total nerd at the time I went to the place that all the cool kids did back in ’99, American Eagle. While I was there searching for the coolest pair of brown lace up shoes I could find there was a very cute guy helping me out and his name was Matt. My girlfriend and I would talk and giggle when he walked away to bring me a different style or size shoe and I would gush about how absolutely gorgeous he was and I would be the luckiest girl in the world if I could ever go out with a guy like that. That’s right, this was the first time I ever met my future husband and I was buying shoes to be a Mackinac Island Honor Scout. Although he did take notice  he didn’t ask me out that day, it took until that winter when I ran into him for a third time at a swim invitational where I was timing in his lane (if he looked good at American Eagle, he looked even better in a Speedo) and the rest is history. Anyway, back to 2012 when the two of us were walking down the road just behind this year’s Honor Scouts and I had to laugh as I remembered this was how the universe brought us together.

We spent a little time after that relaxing in the cockpit and enjoying the yachter’s treat of meat & cheese & crackers before making our way back into town.  There was a music festival going on and in the afternoon there was a live band playing at the Pink Pony that I wanted to catch.  Not so much for the music, although it was enjoyable, but because I wanted to sit at the Pink Pony and drink a Dark & Stormy.  On one of my last races in Muskegon I had been talking to Jules about the Chicago to Mackinac Race which she had partaken in many time and told me it was a tradition that as soon as you finished the race, no matter what time of day or night, you’d step off your boat and over to the Pink Pony where they’d shove one of these drinks in your hand.  Now I may not be a Mac racer myself, but I figured it was a big enough accomplishment that we had gotten ourselves from Muskegon to Mackinac and I wanted to partake in the tradition as well.  And while I am happy that I can now add sailing to Mackinac Island and drinking a Dark & Stormy at the Pink Pony off my list, next time I think I’ll stay away from the ginger beer and go with the fruitier rum runner.

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing around the boat or taking walks through the streets with the permanent residents that had their Victorian style homes perched on the hill tops.  Making sure to have an early bed time we planned on leaving early the next morning to start the trek to Lake St. Clair but we woke up to an overcast sky and a small craft advisory.  Thinking that another night and $44 at the marina would be better than possible damage to the boat we planned to stay one more day with an early Friday morning departure.  Since the rain was on and off all day we stayed on the boat and below deck finishing some much needed projects of moving things around and finally stowing things that had previously just been strewn around in an effort just to depart Muskegon before we were permanently moored there.  By the time we had finished there was actually room to sit on the starboard settee now and we had also managed to squeeze in watching The Hunger Games with a bowl of popcorn.  Now it’s time for a good night’s sleep and about a 48 hour journey until we reach the shores of Lake St. Clair and a chance to meet up with Matt’s mom & stepdad who are driving across the state to bring us mail/packages that have come after we left.

That’s nothing!  I had to wear knee high socks and a beanie hat.

The storms that kept us put for one more day.

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