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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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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Mackinac Bridge Is Lighting Up

Wednesday August 15, 2012

Having another early morning and leaving South Manitou Island departing around 6:30 am just before the sun rose we knew our next stop would be Mackinac Island having read in a charter guide for Northern Michigan that there was a decent spot to anchor there. Free is always good and it’s a beautiful place to spend a day even if it is made up mostly for tourist. We were expecting it to be a 24 hour sail which meant one more overnight passage on Lake Michigan. Surviving the first one just fine I wasn’t as worried and just wanted to make up time. Motoring into the straights we had a lot of wind at our back and as soon as we were on course we unfurled the headsail. Right on cue the wind died out and we were forced to turn on the motor. This continued until early afternoon where there was finally decent wind behind us and we could raise the spinnaker. Only one twist in it this time which was much easier to fix than the last time and let the autopilot take over while we tackled a few small projects like measuring and cutting for our new Amsteel lifelines. (Ok, Matt did that while I kept watch to make sure he didn’t fall overboard)

 Getting up to Beaver Island we changed course after hugging the coast all day to start heading out into more open water and picked up some speed at 5-6 knots which I was hoping would put us through Gray’s Reef before dark. Making some rice and adding it to our Jackie meal we spend the evening soaking up the last bit of sun the sky had to offer until it clouded up just before sunset. This was also around the time that the wind shifted to right on our nose and mostly died out. On the motor goes again. Just as the sky was getting dark we could begin to make out the markers for Gray’s Reef and I decided to delay my first shift 9:00 bedtime until we got through it. Once the sky was completely black we could see red and green flashes on the horizon and tried to match them up with what we could see on the charts. For some reason this reef was made out to be a big deal and I’m sure it is for the big tankers that pass through the area, but in all actuality for us there was no way we’d run aground because the shallowest spot was about 16 feet and that’s actually the deepest part of Lake St. Clair that we’ll be passing through in a few days.  Either way we positioned ourselves to pass through the blinking path and were out of it within 30 minutes.  Bed time for me!

While trying to get some sleep below I could tell the wind was picking up and Matt was fiddling with lines, letting out the headsail.  Right away I could tell we picked up a lot of speed, probably 6 knots, and was a little worried about him handling that alone in the dark.  He was harnessed in as we always do on night shifts and knew not to leave the cockpit without having me up there to ‘supervise’ and I think he also quickly realized it was too much sail because a few minutes later I could hear it being rolled in again.  Somehow I drifted off quickly after that and didn’t wake again until it was time for my shift.

By this time the bridge was less than 20 miles away and we were in full view of it, completely up.  Since we were also now in the straights and I knew a lot of traffic passed through there I had visions of dodging tankers all night but the water was empty.  There was only on tanker that passed by on my shift and it was on the opposite side and no last minute maneuvers were necessary.  There were a few shipwrecks listed on the charts which I’d be passing over but they were all listed as submerged and non dangerous.  By the time my shift was over only five miles separated us from the bridge and I knew I’d be asleep when we went under it so I had Matt promise me he’d wake me up in time.

An hour later I was called out of bed and rushed to get my heavy jacket on to brave the 50 degree temperatures while I went out to see the bridge.  Since we still had some champagne left from our departure I pulled that out as well and as soon as Serendipity was under we toasted our victory for having made it this far since some people (ahem, Rod) had bets we wouldn’t even make it this far. All kidding of course.  At least we think so.  Once the champagne bottle was empty and some blurry photos were taken I went back to the warmth of my bed until my next shift started in 90 minutes.

Being woken up the next time, around 5:30 am, there was a grayish light in the sky and we were less than a mile from the harbor at Mackinac Island.  Not wanting to anchor in anything but full light I was instructed to circle the area for the next hour and wake Matt up at that point and we’d finally be able to go into the harbor.  Keeping a watch for traffic which there was still none except for one little fishing boat I tried not to fall back asleep on watch until my hour was up.  As soon as it was, and I made sure we were very close to the island at the time I woke Matt up and we navigated in and through all the boats out on mooring to drop our anchor in the only open spot in the harbor which happened to be right next to the rocky breakers and our butt almost swinging in the channel.  As soon as we saw that the bottom was rocky and would not hold our anchor well I called the marina to see if any mooring balls were available for the night.  I was told they were all privately owned but there were slips available and for only $44 a night for us.  Not shabby at all!  We jumped right on that deal and as soon as we were tied off and paid for the night we both passed out in a happy bliss, ready to wake up in a few hours and play the eager tourists.

Not enough wind to fill these sails.

Just about to pass under.

 

Lighthouse at Round Island, just as we were entering Mackinac Bay.

 

 

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Mackinaw Bridge

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At 4:12 this morning we crossed under the Mackinac Bridge! Woohoo!, out of one Great Lake and into another. More ‘real’ post to come once we get a decent Internet connection. For now, I think some sleep is in order, and then a tour of Mackinac Island.

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Pure Michigan

Monday August 13, 2012

When we pulled into the harbor at South Manitou Island I was estatic to see the sun coming through patches in the clouds and thought maybe we’d actually be able to do some real sightseeing instead of bundling up in winter gear for a 20 minute trek to the lighthouse  before going back to the boat and spending the rest of the day inside as I had envisioned. Looking at the chart for a good anchorage we steered clear of the only other sailboat in the harbor and dropped our anchor in 40 feet of clear aqua water. Cleaning up the mess we managed to make in the cockpit I glanced around for our best bathing option since neither of us had showered in two and a half days. We definitely needed to clean up. Since the three containers of deisel were taking up the floor of the cockpit and we don’t have our watermaker set up yet, a cockpit shower was not looking good. Checking the temperature of the water it was reading 66 degrees and I thought there was absolutely no way I was going to jump in and a bucket bath on deck may be the only option. But looking into the tantalizing clear bay I knew I couldn’t give up a chance to swim in these waters. We threw on our suits and although I prepared myself for a dive off the side I couldn’t muster up the courage and ended up slowly going down the ladder and took the plunge half way through. Let’s just say the water was refreshing enough to leave me short of breath. While I was busy paddling around and trying to get used to the cold, Matt made his way down the ladder as well but was out again as soon as he had submerged. Soon we were both clean and felt a million times better. I’m not missing the call of a hot shower just yet, but it probably won’t be too long.

 

After throwing on fresh clothes and eating a quick lunch of PB&J we jumped in the dinghy for a shore excursion. I didn’t know much of what was on this island except for a lighthouse that I really wanted to climp to the top of. Walking up the ferry dock as it was loading to take passengers back to Leeland we found a visitor’s stand next to the ranger’s house with a map of what was on the island. Looking through the options there was the lighthouse, the Giant Cedar Forest, a shipwreck and a path to the top of the dunes, apparently the highest one in Michigan. We assumed the shipwreck was viewable from the dunes and the path showed the cedar forest on the way so off we went on the unmarked roads, trying to remember which direction the map had pointed us since they were all out of the paper maps to take with you.

 

Walking a good 2 ½ miles we came across the path for the shipwreck and turned on it. Winding through the woods we were let out to the top of a bluff overlooking the water and a very large ship sticking out of it. I had thought it would just be a small portion protruding out of the water, maybe a smokestack or something of the sort, but this was basically the whole boat. Matt knew a little bit about it and told me it was from the 60’s and accidentally came aground on the rocks lining the island. Now falling apart it just sat in the shallow water with hundreds of birds perched on it’s deck.

 

Going back out to the trail we followed it for another half mile until we came to the trail for the cedar forest. Neither of us knew if we should just be looking around as they’d be on the path or if there would be a marker once we arrived at them. Sure enough once you got to it there were cedar planks and benches laid down, following a path to bring you around to all the indeed giant trees. Some of them were very wide and some just very tall, but they were all warped and knotted and beautiful. We followed the cedar path until it deaded ended into a dirt trail and followed that hoping it would lead us back out to the main path. The dirt trail took us by a few more cedars in the woods and one very large cedar that had fallen and had a circumfrence almost taller than me.

 

Being spit out back on the path we made our way to the last stop on the trails, the dunes. Making our way up some steep dirt steps it opened into a sandy path that still led up and up. Getting quite out of breath as we had now been hiking over three miles up and down all kinds of hills we took a quick break, letting the breeze of the open air flow over us. Not sure which direction to head since there were now small sand trails going everywhere we picked one that looked like it had the most travelers and continuted to walk through the sand. (By the way, we did not see one other person on our hike on an island full of campers, very strange)

 

Going up and down a few more small dunes we came to the shore on top of a bluff about 400 feet above the water. Instead of walking back through all the trails we had just taken to get back to the bay, Matt suggested we go down the dune/bluff to the water and just hug the coast to get back. It may not have been shorter but the surface would be flat. Not wanting to go uphill anymore and knowing I’d have a constant breeze on my face by the water I agreed and down we went. After unloading the piles of sand we accumulated in our shoes we continued down the shore. Walking for at least a mile and rounding a few corners and not seeing the shipwreck we wondered if we made the completely wrong decision and would be walking all night. One more corner though and it was jutting out of the water so we figured we couldn’t be too far since it was only a two mile walk to this point from the inland trails. On and on we walked, now starting to get blisters on our feet and ready to get back to the boat for a nice dinner of grilled chicken and rice.

 

It seemed like every corner we turned was not putting us any closer to home but we just kept trudging on. Finally we could see the lighthouse in the distance which was a relief because it sat at the opening to the bay. Knowing the end was now in sight we picked up pace and soon climed the path up to the lighthouse (which was closed for visitors!!) and back out to the boat house and ferry dock. Happy that our dinghy hadn’t washed away (we had to rescue one earlier that was floating in the middle of the bay) we shoved off and went back to Serendipity fully exhausted. It was too late and we were too hungry for a dinner of grilled chicken so we settled on macaroni and cheese which tasted even better at that moment. It was a long day and I knew I’d be out the moment my head hit the pillow but it was completely rewarding to have spent five hours and close to 10 miles experiencing all the beauty that is Pure Michigan. (Thanks Tim Allen)

I knew he was starting to become a little bit of a hippie, but now a tree huger?

Matt at the bottom of the dune.

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And So It Begins

Sunday August 12, 2012

You’d think that the night before departure my nerves would be running like crazy and I wouldn’t get a wink of sleep, but somehow I managed to sleep soundly through the night and was even disappointed when the alarm went off at 5:30 am.  It may have been that we had friends on board past midnight, forcing them to drink all our beer to empty our fridge and lighten the boat.  Surprisingly there wasn’t the mass excitement you normally get before a big trip, it just felt like we were getting ready for another day sail.  Just while it was still dawn.  Trying to clean up some of the last minute clutter we organized the cabin slightly and then went into the dinghy dock where Matt’s mom and step-dad were waiting to say goodbye to us and bring a few things we couldn’t fit in the car the day before.  With hugs and photos we said goodbye and Matt’s mom joked through her tears that we better like our new lifestyle because our bedroom was going to become a scrapbooking room that day.  Putting the rest of the belongings in the dinghy we loaded up and got ready to push off so Matt’s mom could take photos of us leaving the channel.

Looking around the marina for the last time I was sad to say goodbye to what had been our home for the past few years but also excited to finally get underway.  While motoring out to the channel I went below and fixed us a mimosa with some sparkling wine a friend had got us so we could celebrate the occasion as we passed through the channel one last time.  Navigating through the dozens of fishermen that thought it would be the perfect place to troll we made it near the mouth of Lake Michigan and waved to Chris and Jack at the lighthouse.  And as soon as we were in the waters of Lake Michigan I may or may not have dropped my phone in the water, hurtling at full speed directly toward the lighthouse.  No use for that thing now.

Getting into the lake the water was calm and glassy and there was no wind.  Leaving the motor on we set the autopilot for north and Matt took a nap in the cockpit while I kept a lookout.  After an hour we switched although I of course took my nap in the comfort of the v-berth below.  The engine was kicking warm air through the heater and it was nice and toasty down there.  When I woke up I found Matt busy working on reefing lines on deck, getting them ready so that we’d be able to run all three from the cockpit.  I sat and looked on, handing tools here and there and trying to soak up the sun that was rising over us.

Finally turning off the engine around 2:00 we raised the spinnaker to do some actual sailing.  There must have been some lines twisted in there somewhere and what ensued was a hectic 10 minutes of untying and retying lines, twisting sail cloth, and making my hands raw from pulling on lines (I have gloves but was not wearing them at the time).  Once we finally had it properly set we were exhausted and retreated to the cockpit for a lunch of cold pizza.  Soon after it became overcast and the temperature took a dramatic dip.  I had already changed from a fleece to a heavier jacket but this was cold enough to make me take the blanket from our bed and wrap ourselves in it.  At this point neither of us felt like being productive and spent the rest of the afternoon in the cockpit hiding from the wind.  I did put my bibs on after just a little bit which helped dramatically with the cold but not with the laziness.  When dinner time came near I thought a nice hearty oven cooked meal would make us feel better and started pulling out ingredients for what I have coined ‘The Jackie Meal’, something she had fed us on her boat a few weeks before.  It’s basically a tin foil dinner with slices of cooked sausage, meatballs, zucchini, squash, potatoes (which we substituted for onions), sprinkled with seasoning salt and garlic powder, topped with a spoon of butter and wrapped in tin foil.  So delicious.  I could smell it cooking in the oven long before we pulled it out and it completely hit the spot.

Dousing the spinnaker as the sun was going down I prepared myself for bed since Matt had the first shift on watch.  This was the first time I allowed myself to get a little scared about what we were doing and the vast waters we’d be traveling and I’d be alone on watch that night on a very big lake.  Winds were picking up and I was worried something terrible might go wrong in the middle of the night.  I just had to keep reminding myself that I knew what I was doing (for the most part) and I’d have Matt there to help me if I needed it.  It still took me awhile to fall asleep but when I did get up for my shift the winds had calmed down to about 10 knots at our stern and we were following along calmly at a steady 3.5 knots.  Oh, I could totally handle this!  As we switched the harness over to me I sat in the cockpit, bundled up in the blanket that was still up there and kept a lookout for any lights on the water.  Most of them were from shore but after an hour on watch I saw some directly in front of the bow and even after I’d do a good sweep out the side of the fabric of the bimini they did not look to be getting any closer.  I warned Matt about them when he woke up for his next shift and I went back below to quickly fall asleep this time.

Waking up again at 7 am the sun should have been coming up but alas it was clouds a second day in a row.  Being filled in on the mysterious lights I found out there were not actually boats but also shore.  We had been headed at a point that jutted out in the lake, and although Matt had been aware of this the whole time and planning on changing course before then you just happened to be able to see the lights from miles and miles away.  Taking my spot under the blanket a second time I watched the sky turn from dark to gray as we came upon one of my favorite places in the world, the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  This day though they looked dark and dreary and not as dreamy as I remembered them and definitely not living up to the title of The Most Beautiful Place in America that they had been given the year before.  I was a little disappointed but just had to tell myself that there are going to be so many beautiful things along the way that I can’t be put out by one cloudy day.  And I did still have the climb to the top of the lighthouse at South Manitou Island to look forward to, clouds or not.

Leaving the dinghy docks.

Last day at the mooring.

Breakfast of champions!

‘Bon Voyage!’

‘The Jackie Meal’

Confined to the cockpit

Our first stop!

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6:53 am

At 6:53 this morning, we left our Muskegon mooring for the last time. We are officially cruisers!

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