Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Importance of a Good Harbor

Not an ideal place to anchor in a storm
Living on a boat leaves you pretty exposed to whims of the weather and, forecasted or not, there's not much more that gives me a little peak in anxiety than being smack-dab in the middle of some nasty weather. Rain is fine, even some wind is fine. Lightning? A little nerve-wracking but not so long as we've got some protection around us.

Now, put me in some nasty weather unprotected and it's a test of my sanity. You see, the problem is fetch. Unprotected by some sort of land mass/structure, winds can quickly toss up some waves that leave you bouncing around on anchor until you almost go bonkers. Add to that the constant howling of the wind for hours on end and it can be downright miserable.

So far in our travels we've found ourselves in a couple of fairly unpleasant anchorages, either due to inaccurate forecasts or pure lack of options. Like that time we anchored in Lake Huron just north of the St. Claire River when a surprise storm came through. Not fun. But we got lucky and most of it missed us. Bullet:Dodged
Not a sailing day on Erie
In Lake Erie the number of what I would call protected anchorages is very limited. Many of them are simply areas within break walls jutting into the lake that you can anchor in. From our experience; not good places to be when storms kick up. One anchorage had us bouncing around so bad that, after a sleepless night (on my part) and continuing winds, we headed up river and got a slip for the evening.

On the flip side, we now sit in Erie, PA, one of the best natural harbors on the lake. With 20-30kt winds and 5ft waves out on the big lake, we're comfortably anchored in flat waters with less than a 10kt breeze in our little bubble. And while waiting out the weather can itself test my patience, at least we're comfortable while doing it...and not cranky.

Here's to good harbors!

Not the best picture, but you get the idea

Thursday, August 27, 2015

More Lakes and Rivers and Passing by the "D"

So you know where I'm talking about ;)
Leaving Lake Huron was kind of tough for us. Call us crazy but leaving the cool, clear, fresh waters of Lake Huron and the North Channel, one of the top ten cruising areas in the world, gave us a moment of pause. Obviously we can't stay too long as the cruising season is pretty short here, but do we need to leave now??? The answer was, "yes", but it still wasn't easy to do. It's easy to see how people spend decades exploring the area and never get sick of it.

Entering the St. Claire River
Alas, we were pushing south. We anchored out in Lake St. Claire with extremely limited options of anchorages (as in none). We had to sneak Lexie to shore and spent the night bouncing around in the waves from all the boats. And I personally spent the night poking my head out of the front hatch making sure boats weren't coming too close, which they were a couple times in my opinion. But we survived. My advice- don't anchor here ;)

Sharing the road water
Old factory on the Detroit River. Creepy right?!?
The next morning, ready to get outta there, we headed for the Detroit River with Lake Erie as our destination.
A different view of the Detroit skyline
We made it down the river, dodging freighters and other boats and emerged in Lake Erie. It was so nice out that we couldn't help but sail for a few hours...even though it was in the wrong direction (I think this is a repeating theme here, no?).  Hey, sometimes you gotta take what you can get!
Lake Erie!
Now it's time to turn our bow east and keep this party goin'!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Lowest Low

Up to this point we'd never done a night sail. Partly because we were going to try everything in our power to not have to do one and partly because we figured we'd just do it when it became necessary.

Well, it became necessary last night.

We took off yesterday heading East across Erie, trying to make up some miles so we could meet up with Ron's brother this weekend. With limited harbors to stop at, we arrived to our planned stop at 1:30...after a fairly speedy sail thanks to some rain and a cold front pushing us along. Oh, and I got seasick for the first You'd think by the time we got to our destination we'd be ready to stop, but I was feeling better and it was still early. We decided that sitting around all afternoon would have been wasted time so we kept going thinking we'd stop at the next harbor. But we didn't, we kept going. The wind had died out as expected so we were motoring and getting pushed by following waves. Not bad.

We thought we'd get into our final destination about 10:00pm. Nothing like a 13hr day, we'd be over it and tired but we'd be there. And that's when things went downhill. We'd had an oil pressure gauge that leaked a little, but not enough to have to put more in at the time, we were just keeping an eye on it for now as Ron had just ordered a new one that was being shipped to his brother's (so we could put it in when we met up with them this week). Well, that small leak became a big one and about 5:30pm our engine temp jumped up. We were heading dead upwind in 4kts. We turned totally off course and put the sails up to give Ron some time to put some oil in and let the engine cool back down. I'm not sure that I can even put into words the feeling that heading totally off course after a long day of sailing gives you. It's a gut punch to the morale to say the least. Especially when you know you still have 30 more miles to go. Not good, the tension sits in your stomach like a rock and if I'm being honest, I even felt a little physically ill from it.
My mantra: It could always be worse
We let the engine cool back down, turned it back on and continued on our way. For two and a half hours everything was good, until it wasn't. The engine goes off, the sails go back up. Except now the winds have picked up to 12kts. Again, we turn off course to get an angle we can tack to and make some tracks in the semi-right direction. By this time it's starting to get dark and we have 13 more miles to go. We just want to get there already! The mood on the boat wasn't good as we sat there in silence.

Then we tacked and actually started making some headway in the somewhat right direction. By this time it was dark and the winds were at a nice 10kts, pushing us along at a manageable 4kts. Morale still sucked, but we could both at least appreciate the peacefulness of sailing at night. The sky was clear, the stars were out and we were sailing. We made it to within 8 miles of our harbor, turned the engine on and b-lined it in. And wouldn't you know it, as we neared the harbor markers there was a massive dredge right in front of it. Ron radioed the dredge and was instructed on how to get around him. Par for the course today. We dropped the hook at exactly 12am. What a day, our short little jump managed to turn into an 80 mile, 16 hour undertaking. Ugh. That sucked.

Although, trying to stay positive here, for as bad as it felt it could have been a lot worse. We could have over heated on our rough crossing back to MI, the wind could have been too much or not enough to have gotten us within a motor-able distance of the harbor, that infamous Lake Erie chop could have kicked up and really made it miserable. Lots more could have happened, but it didn't and we were never physically in danger, just mentally on the edge. It could have been so worse and I'm so very thankful that it wasn't. 

Oh yes, we discovered yesterday why cruisers always say that the lifestyle is full of the highest highs and the lowest lows. The good news out of this whole mess it that this last low will only make us appreciate the next high that much more.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lake Huron Crossing

I'm backtracking a smidge here. You know, to a time when we weren't short-term illegals in our own country.

We had a pretty exciting crossing from Port Elgin, Ontario to Harbour Beach, MI. Actually, we were in some of the largest seas I've been in. I was a bit nervous about heading out in the waves after two days of high winds, but the forecast was showing decreasing winds and waves and both were in a favorable direction for a crossing. If we waited until the next day we would have had to head south and pound into waves, so we went for it.

Before when I'd been in big seas, they were the typical Great Lakes pattern; steep and stacked and not the most comfortable to be in. Luckily these waves were much more like large ocean swells and gave us a great ride back home.
I know, it looks flat 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Caribbean or the Georgian Bay???

When we left the North Channel and started heading south through the Georgian Bay we thought we had already seen all the clear water we were going to see in Lake Huron, that the rest would gradually but surely reach that dirty, muddy color we know we're going to hit as we near Detroit. Boy were we wrong! Just look at these incredible (if I do say so myself) pictures we got from the Club Island anchorage of the Georgian Bay, just as clear as any Caribbean waters I've seen.

The history buff in me wishes I knew what/when these dock ruins were from. The only thing I found was from Ron's Shipwrecks of the Great Lakes book that indicated that these were old fishing docks of some sort, which makes sense, but I really wish I could find out how old they are. They don't look very old but the cold water tends to preserve things very well up here. 

The crystal clear, calm water of the anchorage made for fantastic dinghy and paddle board exploring and really got my imagination going. Ron thinks that's dorky. It is. 

Definitely up north with this view
Sigh...we're gonna miss water like this. At least for a while ;)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Just a Couple of Illegals

Back in our home waters. Legally? Well, not exactly.
Way back in Mackinaw City (or what seems like ‘way back’ now), we ran into a group of Border Patrol Agents and inquired about the process of checking into Canada then back in to the US. We had checked online for what to do but the instructions weren’t very clear so we told them about our plans and were told that we’d just have to call to check into Canada, which we did with no problem, then when we get back to the US we should call the Border Patrol and check back in. At that time they would tell us whether they wanted to board us and inspect the boat or just let us on our way.

Fast forward to yesterday when we get into Harbor Beach from Port Elgin at 9:30pm. Both the cruising guides and the Border Patrol website have a number to call but indicate that office hours are from 8:30a to 5:00p. Okay, fine, we’ll call in first thing in the morning, which we did. The agent we talked to said that we should have called immediately once we anchored and informed us that the number is actually a 24/7 number. Might be useful to indicate that somewhere right?!? We also did not check out and complete the proper paperwork before leaving US waters (thanks Mackinaw City agent) and by not doing that we had “improperly checked in”. Oopsies.

We were instructed to head down to the marina where we docked just in time to see a team of Coasties and a local Policeman walking down the docks toward us. A little intimidating for sure but once we got talking and told them our story they were very understanding, courteous and professional. The Police Officer was actually a little bummed that all he had to do was verify our US citizenship to the Border Patrol, he thought he was going to get in on some real excitement. The Coasties just did a regular safety inspection, which we’d attempted to get a couple times in Muskegon to no avail. Everything turned out fine and we were given some suggestions and even helpful advice for some of our safety gear.

After about an hour we were officially welcome again on our home soil. Odd how it all works out really, in Canada we made a phone call saying, “hey, we want to come to your country and spend some money and time there” and were quickly given a nice, “welcome to Canada!”, but trying to get back to our home country we were greeted with, “yeah, we’ll have to check you out first, don’t step foot off the boat until you’re cleared”. So much for a “welcome home!”, right? 

We should take some responsibility ourselves for not properly checking out too. We had gotten online and looked in our guidebooks about what to do but apparently missed the part about check out. That is of course, assuming that it’s published somewhere, and we’re not so sure about that ;) It’s all a bit of bureaucratic, self-contradicting red tape to us but now we’re legal. Maybe next time we have to check back in things will go a bit smoother. Or maybe we’ll be on some Border Patrol watch list. Take your pick. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Boat Guests!

This week we had our first visitors on the boat since becoming cruisers. Ron’s parents came up to the North Channel to see what staying on the boat was all about. We met them in Little Current then took off for some anchorages within comfortable distances. The biggest problem was trying to pick where to go; this area certainly offers a ton of choices! Problems, am I right?
The little current didn't seem so little
After picking our stowaways up in town and checking out the Haweater Festival we anchored out behind Picnic Island and had one of the best sunsets. The next morning we woke up and got ready to make our first pass through the swing bridge that provides the only road access to Manitoulin Island. 

Being total current illiterates, we were pretty impressed with the 4kt current ripping down the short channel while waiting for the bridge opening. Little Current is the only waterway connecting the North Channel and the Georgian Bay, and the wind can really push a lot of water through, causing the “little” current. Given the recent high winds we’d had, there was a good rip going, pretty exciting for us and a little nerve-wracking for me. But, despite my increasing anxiety, Ron got us through without issue. Something about being shoved at 4kts toward a bridge makes me a little edgy I guess.

Bae Finne was one of the places on my list to see, it’s one of the very few fjords in North America and we’d heard from others that it’s something you have to see at least once. So, to Bae Finne it was; we navigated the channels, rocks and hazards while enjoying the massively steep white quartz mountains around us with trees precariously perched in even the tiniest of nooks and crannies that hung over straight cliffs that continued into the water. Pretty impressive! We motored the 10 miles down the fjord and came to an even narrower section called The Pool that offers great protection and beautiful views as well as a few trails that lead to some other lakes in the hills.
Heading up the fjord
Looking up the fjord
Anchored in The Pool

Swimming (and bathing) in Topaz Lake
My favorite anchorage of the week was, without a doubt, the one on Blueberry Island. We had a little alcove that we stern-tied to shore and floated in some of the clearest water we’ve seen yet. Let’s just say that 8ft of water looked more like 2ft! After a short little walk you had spectacular views out the bay from a rolling rock bluff. As if the scenery weren’t enough, Ron and his dad kept busy fishing and were able to give us a nice little stockpile of bass and pike that won’t go to waste!
Pretty pretty
I wanna go back
Helping navigate
And here’s a little photo evidence to show that I do share in anchor yanking duties…sometimes ;) Given the calm winds we finally had again, I thought it would be good to warm up my anchor pulling skills. It wasn’t all pretty, but I got it. With just a little more practice I might just have it figured out!
Feeling the burn
What a great week! I can’t wait for more family/friends to come visit us! 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Almost the Benjamins

If you are familiar with anything in the North Channel, chances are it’s the Benjamin Islands, touted as the “must-see” destination in the channel for its sloping pink granite landscape. We couldn’t, of course, not stop and see this place while we’re here but we were a little leery about anchoring there given how busy we heard the anchorage was…and it was crowded. Besides that, it wasn’t well protected from the forecasted winds so we anchored on neighboring Eagle Island in a great little bay that was also busy, but had the room for everyone coming in. And we managed to find enough blueberries for a couple of blueberry pancakes breakfasts (in a year so dry and blueberry-less that people “haven’t seen it this bad in 25 years”).

The next day we took the dinghy over and did some exploring on and around the islands. We’re glad we visited, and glad we didn’t anchor there.  

On the ski slope on South Benjamin
A nice little cabin on the island
While we were out in the dinghy we swung by a couple other islands close to the Benjamins, did some trolling for fish and had a nice little lunch on shore. And all on a nice, sunny, warm day...that's what I'm talkin' about!
Lex and her pimp lean while cruising in the dinghy

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

North Channel Magic

After picking up our pseudo-courtesy flag in Blind River, we headed over to Turnbull Island in calm waters. With a spotter on the bow keeping a lookout for submerged rocks, we weaved our way in. We found someone in the spot we were hoping to get so we backtracked a little and got tucked in to a nice cozy nook all our own. It worked out better anyway as the place we anchored had one of the two little sandy spots in the island. We dinghied around all the little islands around Turnbull and took in more of the spectacular scenery and clear waters. And got skunked by the fish, again. Although we did get to chat with a local who mentioned a few good places to anchor as we head East, you know, the secret places not on Active Captain…the real gems.
Then the winds shifted West and we found ourselves anchored between rocky shores on both sides sitting out 25-30kt winds in a veritable wind tunnel. A little nerve-wracking to say the least. So the next day we took off for Moiles Bay on John Island just a few miles away. I could get used to these 5-10 miles jumps between islands, a couple hours and you’re in another incredible location.
Speaking of incredible locations…Moiles Bay quickly jumped up to the top of my list. The anchorage offers great protection and even better scenery. We anchored with one other boat in the bay and about 30 minutes later they left. A bay all to ourselves? I’ll take it.
We did our usual perusing, checking out the shore but not being able to get too deep in the woods. Except this time Ron caught a fish and that night we had a fish dinner good enough to die for.
And then it happened…we saw a BEAR!! We were hanging out on the boat when Ron said quite casually, “bear”. I glanced up just in time to see him (the bear) running through the shallow waters connecting the point to the main island. Then just as fast as he came around the corner, he crossed the water, ran up the hill and was gone. Wow!
About 30 minutes later Ron spotted a great spot for a “cliff” jump claiming that he had to do it for my brother and our good friend who are always jumping off something crazy. And this little cliff? Yeah, it was less than 50yds from where we saw the bear cross, on the same (small) island we knew it was now on. Ron got up, did his jump then it was my turn. I climbed up slowly, listening intently for the sound of bear and waiting to meet him nose to nose. But I didn’t (shocker) and all was well. All except for the jump I had to make, it might just be me, but 15ft seems pretty excessive when you’re standing over water that just keeps going. It was way bigger than it looked from the water and after a good five minutes of delaying I took a big breath and may or may not have screamed a profanity all the way down. Good thing there was no one else there.

Even though we only stayed here one night, I would go back here in a heart beat…and recommend you do too. And don’t even think about putting something on Active Captain about how awesome it is ;)