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!

Clang, Clang, Clang Went the Trolly

Saturday July 24, 2010

I awoke at 2 am to start my watch and let Matt go below to get some sleep.  Stepping into the cockpit I noticed the sky had clouded over and I could no longer see the stars or the moon.  Matt and Ken, who were lounging in the cockpit, mentioned there had been lightning flashing on and off in the distance.  They also sheepishly mentioned that for the past hour their eyes were beginning to drift shut and they were glad to have a freshly rested pair of eyes come up.  Both boys (for some protective or  chauvinistic reason, I don’t know) decided to stay up with me a little longer, but after 15 minutes Ken was below deck crawling under layers of sheets and blankets next to Mindy, leaving Matt and I to watch the storm come in by ourselves.  Although the lightning was still off in the distance the rain started in on us.  It was light at first but soon settled into a downpour.  Luckily the wind was close enough to the bow, and with the dodger and bimini up we stayed mostly dry.  30 minutes later we continued to watch the rain pour, and while I tried to judge wave size during flashes of lightning (only about 2-3 ft), Matt’s eyes were slowly drooping closed and he decided to go below after making sure 5 times  that I was ok by myself in the rain and 25 knot winds.

As soon as he went below I took his spot in front of the companionway because unbeknownst to me rain had been sliding down my sport-a-seat and soaking my bum.  I sat in this position for a few hours, craning my neck every 5-10 minutes to look out the plastic shield of the dodger to see if there were any other boats as crazy as us out in the middle of Lake Michigan in this storm.  For a couple of hours there was nothing, and I continued to sit in what was now the only dry spot in the cockpit listening to a mix CD from the 90’s and was now on it’s third cycle through.  It then dawned on me that only looking through the dodger may not be the best way to spot another ship in these stormy and cloudy conditions, and decided I should stick my head around the side for a better view.  Getting pelted by rain and winds that had now jumped up to 35 knots (Matt had reefed the sail before I came on watch) I looked to starboard and saw two white lights.  They were so far away that I could barely see them and every few seconds it would seem as if they’d disappear and come back into view.  For a second I thought I might be hallucinating, but after three more checks they were steady lights although I was still not quite sure of their direction.  They didn’t look to be getting any closer so I wasn’t worried about any kind of collision.  45 minutes after my first boat sighting I noticed another light off the port side.  This one looked closer than the others, but being my first night sail I had no idea how to judge distance by the size of the mast light.  Once I spotted two more lights off port I became nervous  and ran down in the cabin to wake Matt.  Shaking him into a half-awake haze I whispered, ‘There’s other boats out there, what should I do?’.  Matt was a little confused and asked what I meant, and I replied, ‘Should I try not to hit them?’ and he answered ‘Yes, try not to hit them’, and rolled back over to go to sleep.  True story, I actually asked a question that dumb.  Climbing back into the cockpit I kept a careful eye on the first boat, the one closest to me, and made a slight alteration to my course.  Within 20 minutes I watched the light get brighter and turn from green to red.  I had just passed in front of their bow and probably only by a few hundred feet.  Taking in a 360 degree view and looking at the five boat lights within just a few miles of me I had to wonder who these crazy people were and why they were also in the middle of Lake Michigan during a storm.  Was it always this busy out here?

After passing through the worst part of the storm with winds averaging over 30 knots and topping out at 38, with thunder so loud I have no idea how it didn’t wake anyone in the cabin, the rain subsided to a drizzle and the sky turned from black to a very dark gray as dawn came upon us.  Checking the GPS in the cockpit it appeared as if we had only made it 2/3 of the way even though we had been on the water for over 10 hours.  My shift was supposed to end at 6 am with Matt relieving me, but once I did the math and figured that the four hours I’d be on watch would be the only sleep he’d get all night I thought I’d let him sleep in a little more.  Since we weren’t as close to our destination as we expected to be at that point there was no need for him to be up at that time, and I’d still be able to get a good two hours of sleep even if he didn’t come up until 8:00.  I remained in the cockpit watching the sky grow lighter although there was no sign that the sun was going to shine that morning.  Through the light fog I could make out other boats on the water, sailboats, all heading north.  Then it finally hit me.  This was the weekend of the Chicago to Mac race, and the boats I’ve been seeing on the lake all night were racers.  It was pretty cool crossing paths with them and I wish the sky were more clear so I could see just how many there were out there.  And if you happen to be in that race and saw a boat headed west that looked like they had no clue what they were doing, ….. sorry!!

A little after 7:00, when the 90’s mix CD was probably on it’s 8th cycle through now, Matt had woken up and joined me in the cockpit.  He said we were still 3-4 hours out from Milwaukee and I should go below and get some more rest before we arrived.  I stripped out of my soaking wet clothes and took his place on the starboard settee.  Just as I was drifting off Ken and Mindy decided it was time to get up.  Normally I can sleep through anything, but for some reason on this morning I could not sleep through their noises.  I was now wide awake as well and was going to have to make it through the day on only three hours of sleep.  While counting down the last agonizing hours until we made it into port we tried to waste time by making breakfast, popping in a movie (that we paid attention to for only 20 minutes), and hung out on deck with Matt waiting for land to come into sight.  Eventually the skyline came out of the cloudy haze.  I gave a call to the dockmaster at Milwaukee Yacht Club who directed me toward a slip for when we arrived.  Getting into shallow waters we could see all kinds of debris in the water from the past two nights of storms.  The water looked muddy and was full of tree branches and even a few logs bobbing around.  Maybe Becky had reason to worry after all.  Getting ready to pull into our assigned slip it was all hands on deck as Matt was popping his docking cherry and we didn’t know how it would go.  Everything went smoothly and soon we were secured and ready to get on dry land.  It was a 16 hour trip and all of us wanted to get moving right away.  Since we gained an hour on the way over, the office had just opened up when I went to register.  Mindy and I found where the amenities were and quickly packed shower bags to get ready for the day.

An hour later the four of us were ready to go and walked out of the marina as the sun began to break out of the clouds.  From what I could see so far, Milwaukee looked like a beautiful place.  Just outside the marina was a park with lush green grass, walking and biking paths, all lined with trees.  Just across the main road the skyscrapers started and you were downtown.  We walked down the roads with no real plan in mind except to find lunch.  We had wandered into a street fair with vendors everywhere.  Wanting to find an air conditioned spot as temps were already reaching the mid 80’s we found a Mexican cafe where I had a black bean, spinach, and goat cheese tostada that I really need to find out how to make on my own because it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten!  Back on the street we tried to find our way to the trolley that could bring us into the heart of downtown without us having to walk five or six miles round trip.  Coming out one of the backstreets to the main road the trolley follows we saw it pass us by just a block before the next stop.  We tried to run to catch up with it but were no match.  We’d have to wait 20 minutes for it to make it’s next round.  The sun was scorching, there was no wind, and no shade.  What felt like an hour later, just as we were about to give up and hail a cab it came around the corner again and we boarded on.  It was completely packed and there was standing room only.  Our destination was a casino on the far side of town since Mindy has the ability to turn $10 into $80 on the slot machines and we were hoping she’d win drinking money for the night.  We rode out to a stop that was closest to the casino, still about a mile and a half from it, and planned on walking the rest.  It didn’t take us long at all to get lost and we were constantly huddling over Matt’s phone trying to find the best route.  After realizing we’d have to cross a highway to get there we admitted defeat and called a cab to take us the short drive there.

Once inside we all made our way to the slot machines. Mindy plopped right down at the quarter slots while Matt and I went in search of the nickle slots. Â I have no luck in gambling on satta gali and for me it was just going to be a game of how long I could get $2 to last me. Â Turns out it’s not very long and soon we were aimlessly wandering the floor trying to waste the next 30 minutes until we were all meeting up again. Â By this time I was starting to hit a wall. Â The lack of sleep from the night before was really starting to get to me and I was beginning to feel physically ill. Â When we met up with Ken and Mindy (without our expected drinking money for the night) I was more than ready to go back to the boat for a nap. Â When we stepped outside to hail a cab we saw a shuttle bus for the casino parked out front. Â The guys edged Mindy and I toward it to see where it was going and if we could get a ride. Â Climbing the steps with sweet smiles on our faces and batting our eyes we asked the driver who the bus was for and where it was heading. Â Although it was empty at the time he informed us it was for ‘preferred guests’ and it took them wherever they wanted. Â When we found out he wasn’t scheduled to drive anyone around for awhile we asked if he could run us back to the marina. Â He happily agreed, but I think he was a little disappointed when we told him we’d be right back with our husbands. Â Ten minutes later we had door to door service and wandered back to our slip where I promptly passed out, completely dead to the world.

What felt like a minute and a half later Matt was waking me and telling me that if we ever wanted to go out that night I’d need to get up and start getting ready.  Part of me just wanted to skip our night out and sleep until the next morning but I forced myself to pack a few belongings and head to the ladies room to freshen up.  Turns out I was the only one who had needed a nap and everyone else had spent the past hour and a half lounging around the boat and dock.  After getting ready we all headed out on foot to find an Irish restaurant I discovered online that was only just over a mile from the marina.  I had printed out directions on mapquest before we left and we began following the streets listed, going completely out of our way and walking up a very steep hill … only to be dropped out at the pedestrian bridge we had used that very morning which only took us five minutes to get to.  Apparently mapquest also gives pedestrian routes and I did not know this.  Might take awhile to live that one down.  Back on the same street from that morning, the festival was going strong and the crowds were becoming very thick.  Near the end of the street a drag show performance was going on and it looked as if the whole city of Milwaukee showed up to watch it.  We also stopped for a few minutes, but the hunger in our stomachs was becoming too strong for all of us and we kept moving.

Turning off onto a side street the buildings became more of the abandoned warehouse variety and we began to wonder if we were in the right place.  Continuing on we did end up at the Irish Pub, Brocach, a renovated brick building nestled between a few dilapidated buildings.  The decor was very nice and we were seated upstairs next to an outdoor patio area.  And after seeing the door swing open a few times displaying hanging lights and planed trees hiding the surrounding buildings we began to wish we were out there instead.  We all ordered a round of beers and realized that nobody had been drunk yet this weekend.  Going light on cocktails the night before for pure safety reasons and not having extra lounging time around the boat today for pre-dinner cocktails.  We made a promise to get good and sloshed that night since what good was a trip across Lake Michigan if you couldn’t fully enjoy it?  At the end of dinner Matt was content with his shepherd’s pie (the whole reason we went there), but had only managed one beer with his dinner.  In fact, Matt, Mindy and I were all tied for one and Ken was leading the board at just two.  We vowed to get crazier at the bars that night and hit the streets again without a clue of where to go.

Running into a group of 20 something’s on the street we asked where the best bars within walking distance were.  Immediately we got a response of a street that was about 7 blocks away and filled with bars.  We were given a specific bar name of Taylor’s and were told to just ask for that along the way if we got lost (which of course we did).  All of us were tired from the walk by the time we got there and were having a hard time trying to get into party mode.  Even worse, our friendly tour guides had directed us to the ‘trendy/upscale’ bar area of town while we were only decked out in jeans and flip flops.  Underdressed was a bit of an understatement.  Instead of trying to find another area of town that suited us better we just sat at a table outside and ordered a round of beers.  It was barely 9:00 at night, peak bar hours hadn’t even started yet, and we were ready to pass out in our chairs.  It was a little disappointing that we had sailed all the way across one of the Great Lakes just so we could party at new bars and now we were too tired to do so.  Finishing our one beer apiece we paid our bill and started the journey back to the marina.

Walking along the waters edge I thought how said it was that we didn’t have more time to spend here.  There were so many amazing things we wanted to see, the art museum, spend time shopping downtown, and most importantly take a brewery tour.  We had barely tapped the surface, and even if we had a week to spend there we wouldn’t have run out of things to do.  I’m really hoping we can squeeze in another trip next year before we leave to head south.  Getting closer to the marina, a fireworks display broke out over the water.  We had no idea what it was for since it wasn’t a holiday but enjoyed them all the same as we walked along.  They were still exploding into the night sky by the time we reached the boat.  Leaving Ken and Mindy behind (by their choice) Matt and I sat on the deck and gazed up at the greens, reds, and purples illuminating everything around us.  It may have been a short trip.  We may have cut out about 60% of what we wanted to do.  But it was still completely worth it.

Milwaukee or Bust

Friday July 23, 2010

This morning at 6 am was supposed to be our departure across the lake to Milwaukee, but when the alarm went off at 4 am to check the forecast all plans were put on hold.  The radar was showing severe storms all day and we had to make the decision if we thought it would still be a safe passage across.  Comparing it to the storm we suffered through the night before consisting of gale force winds, severe lighting, sheets of rain, and tornado warnings, we decided it was safer to put the trip off til our backup date two weeks later and went back to bed.

Slowly coming to again around 8 am we opened the hatches expecting to see dark ominous clouds and winds blowing branches off trees.  What we found instead was a slightly hazy sky and a calm over the water.  Not ideal conditions for sailing since there was no wind, but definitely safe enough for a 69 mile trip across Lake Michigan.  I was quite disappointed  to say the least.  In my head I tried to do quick calculations to see if the trip was still possible if we left within an hour but it would have put us in Mikwaukee after dark, and since we had never docked a boat before we decided that would not be an ideal first attempt.  Plus we had already told our friends Ken and Mindy who were going to take the trip with us that it was cancelled and we didn’t know if they would be able to pick up and leave again at that minute.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon were spent hanging around the boat, Matt just excited to be on the boat, and me moping around because we had literally been planning the trip since December.  While sitting in the cockpit soaking up the sun that had decided to come out and taunt me, Mindy and I texted back and forth how it would have been a perfect ride over and wishing we would have gone.  Around 3:00 she sent me a text that read ‘We should just go now n let the guys sail during the night while we sleep! Lol! Just kidding!’.  But actually it was quite perfect.  If we left around 7 that evening and it took us the 12 hours we were expecting to get over, it would put us there just after sunrise.  And since we’d be sleeping on the way over we’d still be refreshed and ready to explore the next day.  After some phone calls and grumbling on Mindy’s part (she’d just cancelled the babysitter, now she’d have to get them back) we made plans for Ken and Mindy to meet us at the boat at five, grab a quick bite to eat, and set sail at seven.

Following an interesting dinghy ride back to the boat once we picked them up in which the entire floor was covered with luggage, coolers and sleeping bags, and Ken slowly sinking the bow, we loaded Serendipity up with our new guests and their belongings.  Dinner was quickly prepared and eaten and we were ready to be on our way.  With one problem.  Not only would the engine not fire up, it wouldn’t even turn over.  Matt spent the next 20 minutes huddled up next to the engine sweating, and cursing under his breath I’m sure, to find that a tube had come unattached.  With a snap (or a twist) back on the engine was roaring and we were underway.  With the mainsail raised, motor still running, and the autopoilot set at 265 degrees we set out for our first big adventure.




Sitting on the deck with fresh cocktails and beers in our hands, we let our legs dangle over the edge and catch the waves with our toes.  Watching the sky turn from blue to pink we gazed at clouds that looked like greyhounds and space saucers, blissfully unaware of the uncomfortable journey we had ahead of us through the night.


Look, it’s a greyhound!!

The calm before the storm