A voyage through inner space
Olivia Diamond & Rod Rogers
was unsure about this sailing trip, this first ever voyage. A transplanted
Michigander with a problem – or an opportunity, if one is an Optimist,
capital “O” intended, I had just relocated to Kenosha, Wisconsin from
Detroit, my home for the last sixteen years. Along with a surprising collection
of Stuff, I’ve acquired, and must support, a thirty-three foot sailboat.
There are two ways a sailboat can travel to Kenosha: by truck or on its
own bottom. Kenosha, like Detroit, sits on a lake, one of the Great Lakes.
Trucking involves four hundred miles and fifteen hundred dollars. Sailing
involves eight hundred miles and all you spend is time.
The problem lies in the answers
to two questions. Am I up to an eight hundred-mile passage single-handed?
Is the ship up to it? The answer to both questions was “no.” Being a capital
“O” optimist means that you go ahead with the planning anyway. I leased
a slip in Kenosha, but did not in Detroit. Partially committed, I spent
about half of the trucking money on upgrades to navigation, safety hardware,
and some needed repairs. Fully committed now, I only needed the fair weather
to do the work.
While the reality of sailing
day after day alone was still over the horizon, I met a special lady.
A sweet, warm, deep-thinker with a passion for the outdoors. Sailing is
not for everyone. Actually it is for damn few, so I did not consider asking
her at first. Besides our fledgling relationship had not progressed to
the point where I should. After weeks of cross-country skiing, racquet
ball, and treks in the great North Woods, it seemed that maybe she could.
Maybe she would. Maybe she should. Olivia carries a vein of sorrow in
her life. Would an extended sailing trip help her as it might me? Seven
miles per hour at the interface of wind and water offers a unique setting
for coming to terms with oneself.
I wanted her company. Capital
“O” for optimist said it would be fine – perfect, in fact. So I popped
the question – no, not that question. That question was
still in the future. Anyway, she consented and so we began a three-month
countdown and started launch preparations. Over several weekends, we drove
to Detroit, worked on the boat, slept on the boat, and ate on the boat.
The day soon arrived where we summoned a massive crane to lift the ship
from her cradle, bear her toward the birthing canal where a sailboat comes
fully to life. When the tip of the deep fin keel first touched the water,
came the thought, “Beginnings”.
To hoist sail and cast off
carries special meaning when you expect never to return. Sailing away
from Detroit was no less moving than embarking on a starship bound for
Alpha Centauri. Passage: A special term for a journey through space and
time and mind.
23 June 1995, 13:20hrs
The chore list is short this morning. We reserved the first half of the
day for gathering fresh vegetables, six blocks of ice and chickens. I
wanted one more diesel can of about three gallons that would precisely
fit in a space reserved under the port-side pilot berth. Olivia Diamond,
my sailing companion, chief editor, and significant other, humors me and
we go looking for this elusive item. No luck, so I settled for a three-gallon
gasoline can, plastic, with a hearty spout. Done by noon, we loaded up
the last of the provisions and cast off.
Because we departed about ninety
minutes behind schedule, I decided to forego the pleasure of sailing out
to the end of the Livingston Channel. Instead, we motored through the
gap between Grosse Isle and Celeron Island. Turning northeast into the
passage around Hickory Island, we cut through the "hole in the wall"
on the Livingston Channel. We entered the up-bound shipping channel, effectively
cutting ninety minutes of motoring from the schedule and thereby regaining
all of the lost time.
It was a beautiful day. A thunderstorm
raged about three miles ahead. But the squalls traveled rapidly westward
and disappeared before we entered their area of influence. Winds out of
the northeast at five knots and too light to sail in the three knot current.
So we let the iron genny drive on. At three thousand rpm, we made six
and a half knots in boat speed but the GPS said only three knots over
the ground. It soon became evident that an air bubble is present in the
fuel line. The bubble manifests itself every time the boat heels more
than fifteen degrees to starboard, at which time the diesel sounds like
a ‘57 Chevy with a stuck choke. After bleeding the line for the fourth
or fifth time, I left the engine cover off and a wrench handy for instant
action when the opportunity arises. The bubble turned out to be much larger
than I believed as the bleeding process continued for the next two days!
After the first two hours, I engaged the Autohelm and relaxed. This unit
is the new model 800, supposedly equipped with electronic smarts about
"learning" the helm characteristics. The unit worked well enough
in port but I discovered the previous weekend that the power harness plug
was intermittent. With any nudge on the cord, power is interrupted and
the unit goes into standby -- a devious fault because you cannot tell
at first that the helm is now just lashed instead of being intelligently
Just before reaching Detroit
the river turned east. I thought about setting the main. Old man wind
thinks not and clocked to the east, so we motored on into Lake St. Claire
around seven p.m. and altered course to the north.
Steering zero-two-five let
us finally hoist the main. A club-racer, a Santana 30 named Warlock
with a full crew aboard, motors up on our windward quarter and sets their
main. I picked up the gauntlet and killed the diesel. Hurrying below,
I shoved the racing #3 on deck as quickly as possible. The breeze is about
ten knots, so this sail might be seriously under-powered. But, with only
the two of us, less is more. Warlock hoisted her genoa and tried
to overhaul us. With Olivia on the winch, I jumped the jib skyward in
racing fashion. The 100%, battened kevlar blade is up in time to keep
our nose in free air and we’re off to the races. In ten knots, flat water,
at a very tight reach, a Soverel 33 will not be denied. With our nose
out in front, I flattened the main, and started pointing. We gassed them
soon enough and Warlock was forced to tack away.
Oh yeah, we are supposed
to be looking for a waypoint. Okay, back to business. In the dark, the
GPS guided us to the tuning point from the channel towards the Clinton
River, homing us right into the mouth of the river from the cockpit --
a super bit of technology. A quick scan finds our position, then establishes
bearing and I can turn it off again. The GPS found satellites so quickly,
it was unnecessary to leave it on.
Since I did not feel comfortable
navigating the Saint Claire River at night, we laid over until morning
at the dealership where I bought the boat. We arrived just ten minutes
after midnight, logging only forty-three miles and most of that motoring.
Less than two gallons of diesel consumed. In previous years, I would push
the little Yanmar at rated RPM (thirty-four hundred), gain one half knot,
and burn twice as much fuel. Live and learn more. Tomorrow is new horizons.
OLIVIA: We’ve entered Lake
Saint Claire, it’s night, and we’re headed for the Clinton River Marina.
This morning we awoke about nine o’clock, provisioned the boat and then
motored up the Detroit River, passing a lot of freighters in the process
and Sugar Island, which in the 1920’s was a resort and gambling spot.
The resort burnt down in the 1930’s and that ended the romping place of
the rich and famous (this local history from Rod, my tour guide).
Rod also pointed out BobLo
Island, which a few years ago still had an amusement park, but folks found
it too much trouble to take a boat ride out there for the day. We passed
many steel foundries and a Morton Salt installation. We motored by Fire
Island and then neared Detroit, passing under the Ambassador Bridge leading
to the Canadian side. We saw the shores of Windsor, Ontario, across the
river from Detroit. We motored past the Renaissance Center and the other
skyscrapers. Next came Belle Isle, a pretty recreational area. Opposite,
on the Canadian side, was the Canadian Club distillery and associated
buildings. We put up the mainsail and jib, crossing St. Claire Lake under
sail until dark when the wind died. We took the sails down (terribly non-nautical
language but what does a landlubber, prairie princess, like me know?)
When the sails came down, I also went down -- down below to journal the
sights of the day, but ended up falling asleep in the process.
When I awoke Rod was at the
helm, trying to discern the lights of the Clinton River Harbor. He negotiated
the harbor to the Mt. Clemens marina and we docked in darkness, about
midnight, a hot and close summer night, with nary a breeze. We walked
a mile down the road to a harbor tavern where we dined on cod and chips
about one a.m. All through this first day of this Great Lakes Sailing
Adventure I felt cleansed by wind, water and sun, and fell contentedly
to sleep in the Assassin’s comfortable berth, rocked almost imperceptibly
by the gentle motion of the harbor waters.
24 June, 0930hrs
"Why won't this E-string tune?" she asked. "I keep tightening
it but the pitch remains the same "
"Maybe it has lost its
elasticity." I replied. Olivia said that it was a steel string. I
recommended checking the anchor points. Rigging works that way. My suggestion
came too late for, like rigging, it snapped at the kink on the post. Forty-five
minutes lost, but who cares. There is no timetable.
We’re underway after stopping
briefly for some granola bars and to replace the fuel we burned yesterday.
Assassin carries only fourteen gallons all told and what we consumed
is still ten percent of the total. A southerly wind at nine knots was
somewhat stronger than the day before. Again we motored, steering one-sixty-five
magnetic, bound for Saint Claire channel. Once in the channel, we turned
east and hoisted the main. The sail helped and the speed rose to seven
and a half knots with the diesel turning three thousand rpm.
The Saint Claire River is a
twisty course that runs easterly at first, before bending gradually in
a northward direction. Because of the current, which is stronger than
the Detroit River, motorsailing is the only alternative for reasonable
The wind backed and lightened
shortly before the river bent to the north. By the late morning, the breeze
was so light it provided neither help nor hindrance. Thunderstorms threatened
all day but all of the cells scooted off to the south. Two hours of rain
started falling around noon and the wind backed until it was dead on the
nose. The combination of boat speed and true wind velocity generated a
fitful banging and thumping aloft so we doused main. We’ve been gradually
gaining upon a double-ender for the last two hours. With the mainsail
down we caught him quickly. Our relative speed difference was still less
than half a knot so we were able to hold a conversation for several minutes.
Carasco is on her final leg of a circumnavigation.
Her master, whose name I could not discern over the rumble of the diesel,
had just come from Uruguay. He was heading home to Port Huron, only a
few more miles up the river. That little ship, five feet smaller than
Assassin, had sailed over twenty thousand miles in the past fourteen
months. He bought the boat in Europe and headed east -- a serious piece
An hour later, fabulous smells issued from
below. What a rare treat to have someone tend the galley while underway.
Olivia is an accomplished "one pan" chef, a skill perfectly
suited to shipboard culinary efforts. "What’s brewing down there?"
I hollered over the throb of the diesel. She replied that the fare of
the evening shall be venison stew with zucchini and onions. Served up
cockpit mode, which is to say, in the pot with utensils arranged around
the traveler, both of us dug right in. There was a lot more than we could
eat so the pot went back on the stove for midnight snacks.
We ground slowly up the river, reaching
the Blue Water Bridge at dusk. The current was very strong, surpassing
eight knots on the west bank where the river is over sixty feet deep.
On the east side, the river’s pace is slowed by the rocky shoreline to
about five and a half knots. A sailboat must pick its way using the depth
finder to stay between fifteen and twenty feet or risk being swept away
in the stronger current of the deeper water. This was not autopilot work
because swirls and eddies are violent. Directly under the bridge, we passed
within twenty feet of the abutment but still read forty-one feet of water.
The diesel spun at redline, but we scarcely moved. I dared not close on
the bridge as the boat jinked from side to side. On a wheel boat it might
be even more difficult to compensate for eddies. In conditions like this
Assassin is probably under-powered. Thrust to weight ratio is sufficient
but thrust to hull drag is less than it could be. Eventually we crawled
from under the bridge and into shallower water. The GPS now indicated
an increase from zero knots average speed to a little over one knot. The
diesel still cranked out three thousand, six. The Yanmar is rated for
one hour at this speed so I kept the heat poured on for about twenty minutes
more. Finally, we let up, backing to three thousand rpm as we drove into
A knowledgeable sailor once
told me to advance well into the lake before trying to sail in light conditions.
Otherwise, you might well be sucked back into the funnel. It is a funnel.
The lake's average depth for many miles is only twenty feet. Yet the approaches
to the bridge rapidly deepen to three times that. How far is "far"?
I didn’t know the answer and since the true wind speed was only about
two and a half knots, we motored on. Fifteen miles from the bridge, my
concern for conserving the remaining fuel outweighed my worry about the
current. Up with the main, the light number one, and off with the clatter.
When the time for my second
watch arrived, the wind was light and frivolous. The Autohelm could not
follow the fifty degrees of shifts and, after eighteen hours, neither
could I. The sea turned into a glassy sheet. There were stars everywhere.
Depth had increased to sixty feet. Anchor or drift? We dropped all the
sails, lashed the helm over, and drifted. Dawn was less than three hours
away and the sun will most likely bring fresh winds. Olivia is long gone
and I zonked out as well. We were fifteen miles from the eastern edge
of the freighter channel, I set the NKE computer to sound an alarm at
winds stronger than five knots and hit the sack.
It was Saturday, and we headed for the St. Claire River. Rod was up early
to make screening for the hatches. When we're up north fishing, we’ll
need this preparation to ward off any insect invasion. I tried to tune
my guitar and broke the high E-string -- the one I had replaced just before
departure. That scuttled (nautical word) the music-making part of the
expedition. Before leaving the Mt. Clemens Harbor, we stopped for diesel
fuel. I went into the dock store to load up on granola bars. While there
I added two Klondike ice cream bars to this impromptu breakfast menu.
We spent all day motoring up the Saint Claire River with Canada on one
side and the U.S. on the other. We saw lots of freighters -- a biggie
new experience for me, so I had to take lots of pictures. Many ships were
out of Wilmington, Delaware, because, as Rod explained to me, there are
tax and registration advantages. One freighter was from Greece, another
from Hong Kong. We passed a sailboat. The captain said he was nearing
home, Port Huron, Michigan, after fourteen months of circumnavigating
the globe. I took a picture of the vessel, which did not appear to be
as large as ours. We saw several ferryboats, taking vehicles from one
side of the river to the other. I prepared my first cooked sea meal --
a pot of venison stew with potatoes, onions and zucchini -- no spices
(forgot to bring any) but with plenty of natural flavor and juices from
the ingredients, it didn't make any difference. Rod says that when we
get into Lake Huron, we'll be sailing all night in three-hour shifts.
I did not jump up and down with pleasure at this news, but I'm willing
to earn my keep on this vessel. Big help I'll be! I'm supposed to keep
my eye out for other craft and if one comes near, I’m to wake Rod up.
I think I can manage this.
Earlier in the day we had some
stormy weather -- just rain -- my first opportunity to wear the foul weather
gear. The rain was light and did not last long. I did my watches during
the night. It afforded the first opportunity to wear the deck harness.
Rod prepared well for any eventuality. During the night, we experienced
a period of rain showers, but otherwise nothing remarkable transpired,
at least not while my eyes were open. I really struggled to stay awake.
My overriding impression of
the second day was that to bask in the sun without knowing or caring about
the time of day, was a delicious sensation. A sailing trip is a vacation
in the extreme. Life was meant to be enjoyed at this pace. It retards
the aging process.
25 June, 0550 hours
"Ahoy Assassin!" The words penetrated my consciousness.
"What!" My waking thought. The call was repeated bringing my
befuddled brain and body up the companionway. Another sailboat, about
thirty-five feet long, headed east towards Canada. They had spotted us
slowly circling in the early light and had come to investigate. The morning
breeze whispered up to four knots, enough to turn us but not enough to
alarm the sailing computer.
At 7:10am, we’re inundated
with millions of flies. Fortunately they were not the biting kind. They
seemed to be dying like…well, you know. Yet as soon as I washed them away,
more appear. The wind was NNW so I set the light number one and we headed
off toward the Canadian shoreline steering eighty-six degrees, at about
four knots of boat speed.
As the sun climbed, its power
drove the wind. Soon we are traveling at six knots. The wind shifted east
so we tacked back toward the U.S. coast, now thirty miles distant. Even
though the starboard tack is lifted again we still cannot clear the Saginaw
Peninsula. We tacked back onto port and out into the lake just before
noon. Good news arrived in the afternoon with a building breeze. It also
veered to the east, which was a header on port but should lift us over
the peninsula. There was something annoying about all this easterly work
when the ultimate destination is westward toward Lake Michigan. By 2:00pm,
the starboard tack has been lifted to three-thirty degrees magnetic, giving
us the sea room we need. With ten knots of wind and flat water Assassin
hustled up the lake at better than seven knots. The flies cannot keep
pace but the ones with us seemed in no hurry to leave.
At 2:45pm, a small bird flitted
past going south. Just as I’m surprised at the presence of this land bird
over thirty miles from shore, he executes a turn to port onto his base
leg and a second onto a final approach. The male redwing blackbird flares
into perfect day trap on the afterdeck. Without any further delay, the
visitor put in a refueling request and, once approved goes to work on
the flies. In forty-five minutes, the voracious little blackbird worked
his way up the port rail, over the foredeck, down the starboard rail and
within three feet of where I sat, and then cleaned up the cockpit. Refueling
completed, he lifted off and headed south once more.
At 3:50pm the winds built to
thirteen knots, true. The light number one was beginning to show some
stress and the helm was heavier with the twenty-three degrees of heel.
We were still making just under eight knots but it was time to change
to the number three jib again. When the sail change was completed, I decided
to leave the number one on deck as I expected the winds to lighten when
the sun goes down. I tied it securely with a couple of sail ties as well
as using the foredeck retainers. Heel was better at fourteen degrees and
speed did not suffer much, remaining almost seven and a half knots.
The breeze did indeed lighten
at 6:15pm. We changed back to the number one, planning to use that sail
all evening. We were now lifted to three-fifty-five degrees -- almost
enough to clear Thunder Bay. Our destination is DeTour passage, which
leads into the North Channel where I hoped to find a "perfect"
spot to park and relax for several days.
At sunset, the wind nearly
died. It looked like another all night drifter. As boat speed fell away,
we were headed again. It also seemed that we were destined to spend another
night of tacking back and forth in light air. This expectation could not
have been further from the truth.
It's about noon. I'm writing on the stern. It’s a semi-clear day, no
boats in sight, and with the wind picking up. The speed counter indicated
six point six-seven knots on Lake Huron. We crossed under the Port Huron
Bridge last night at dusk. We took our turns during the darkness, watching
for lake traffic. We were becalmed most of the evening. As it became
lighter, but before the sun rose on the lake, the sky was cloudy and grayish
pink, the surface of the water like glass. The wind started to change.
I woke Rod, but there just wasn't any breeze. We dangled some fishing
lines, thinking it was a good opportunity to catch breakfast. The surface
was so smooth it looked like you could walk upon it. We grew sleepy and
decided to make up our sleep deficit while becalmed. We awoke to hear
another boat hailing us "Ahoy, Assassin!" I guess they
wanted to make sure we were still alive, since there was no sign of activity
aboard and we were drifting. We emerged from below to reassure them and
they headed east. I slept some more until I heard Rod exclaiming that
there was finally some wind. After a sleepless night I felt beat up.
Rod rigged the deck shower. After shampooing my hair and showering, I
felt alert and perky again. While resting on the bow, the wind really
picked up. Rod set the sails and automatic pilot and went below to catch
up on his sleep. Compared to Lake Erie and Lake Saint Claire, Lake Huron
was deserted. Not a pleasure boat or freighter in sight. We were completely
alone with the elements. During last night's watch, the stars were visible.
At night the directional guides on the masthead are lit. There is also
a foredeck light, which provided ample illumination when Rod put up the
jib. During last night's watch, I saw one lighted freighter off to the
Reviewing the events of day
three, I would have to say, that although this could be portrayed as a
romantic dream vacation for two, it also involves work. For some it would
be a lot of monotonous hours. For an individual who is not happy in his
own head it could be a boring time of sameness with the contemplation
for hours on end of sky and water. Day three also reinforced the principle
that no trip can be without at least some pesky, minor discomfiture. On
a sailing trip it appears that flies and bugs ultimately love to congregate
on deck in the mornings. Although we were a long way from land, each morning
required that we hose down the deck to remove countless dead flies. The
insects were listless, apathetic, and dying in droves.
26 June, 2340 hours
The breeze has really freshened and lifted us to zero-one-five magnetic.
A few minutes before the end of her watch Olivia called me to help with
a sail change, as the apparent wind is approaching twenty knots. When
completed, it is Olivia's turn to head below for some shuteye. I'm on
until four a.m. I lashed the number one genny on the foredeck as before.
The wind continues to build. We were now close-reaching at nearly eight
knots. We would easily clear Thunder Bay if this course held.
Far ahead, lightning flickered
over the lake. No thunder was audible. The wind now approaches twenty-five
knots apparent. I flattened the main but the Racing #3, with its battens,
was perfectly behaved even eased off. Over the next two hours, as we tore
along at close to eight knots, the lightning display came ever closer.
Soon thunder was audible and within a few minutes the storm was upon us.
We had one inviolable rule; at night, or alone, the watch-keeper wears
harness and tether with inflatable PFD. The importance of this rule was
about to be demonstrated.
I decided that it was time
to reef the main, past time in fact. I had to ease it to keep the boat
on its feet and the sail was banging around in the gusts. I punched a
ten-degree course correction to weather into the Autohelm. The idea was
to get the boom over the cockpit in case of a snag in the reef line. The
bow took a big wave and suddenly fell off to leeward. The Autohelm cannot
correct. We had tremendous lee helm all of a sudden, which I could not
explain. Using the Maglight stuck in one of the winch holders I checked
sail-trim. A flash of white in the water near the bow caught my eye. It
was the light #1 genoa. The sail has escaped and was overboard, at eight
and a half knots of boat speed and twenty-seven knots apparent wind. I
jumped out of the cockpit, checked my tether, and raced forward.
Although the sail was lashed
in five places the greater part of it was in the water and filling. I
grabbed two handfuls of cloth and heaved. Slowly, it comes in, but the
effort became more difficult until I could no longer make progress. With
the flashlight, I can see that I'm trying to lift many cubic feet of water.
The tack was still engaged at the stem. I released my gains and scuttled
forward to remove the retainer but I could not force the tack ring free
of the horn. The load was too much.
While I'm at the stem, a green
wave smashed over the bow and sent me flying backward. I grabbed for the
lifeline and missed. The tether came up short on the starboard jackline
and dropped me to the deck on my butt. Somehow, I still had the flashlight
clutched in my right hand. I turned toward the bow again only to receive
another wave directly in my face. This brought new meaning to drinking
from a fire hydrant. The water-filled sail and my weight were really loading
After jamming the Maglight
into a pocket, I grasped with both fists the sailcloth just behind the
tack like I'm going to throttle a goose and heaved. I gained some slack
and the ring fell of the horn. The tack was free. The foredeck was steeply
pitched to leeward and, with one hand on the jackline, I dropped down
to leeward until I could brace my left foot on the first stanchion and
my right foot on the minimal garboard. In order to free the number one,
I must untie the sailbag first. It has two ties. Finding the right end
of each slipknot to yank was difficult with the darkness, rain and breaking
waves. With my weight on the low side, the rail was awash. I found the
first knot, worked it free and then managed to loosen the second. Hoping
that the forehatch was not locked, I worked my way up to it and undogged
it. In went the sail bag, followed by half a wave. Down by the sail again,
I released the bungee restraints and worked the after sail tie free. The
front one was a real chore. Since I had nothing with which to cut it,
I kept at it.
During this time, I was conscious
of the actinic flash and immediate crack of countless bolts. We were in
the middle of the cell, but the sail overboard kept me from dwelling on
it. Each heave brought more of the sail aboard, the effort becoming easier
with each small gain. I opened the hatch again and dumped in what I had
captured. Finally, it was all aboard and below. Before I dogged the hatch,
I hollered to Olivia, “How are you doing down there?” I was elated to
have averted disaster with the sail.” I scooted back to the cockpit on
my butt; my legs were too shaky to trust.
For the next several minutes,
I enjoyed the light show. From total darkness to brilliant light, each
bolt created a strobe effect that froze raindrops and waves in place.
The sky appeared to be filled with diamonds, floating in space. I realized
that the majority of the lightning bolts were well to leeward. We have
passed through the cell. I slipped below to plot a fix and check the time.
We have been tracking at three-oh-eight magnetic for some time. It was
five minutes after three in the morning. Olivia was out of her berth and
ready to come up. "Problems?" She asks. "A mildly exciting
time on the foredeck," I replied. She looked at the massive ball
of wet sailcloth up in the bow and said, "Time for a new rule."
I thought she meant, “Do it before it needs to be done”.
Since there was another cell
headed down upon us, we decided to shorten the shifts to two hours for
the duration of the evening. We went through two more storms that night.
During my five A.M watch we gained enough sea room to weather to clear
Thunder Bay. We now had a clean shot at DeTour Passage. The loran said
sixty-four miles to go. I went back to bed at seven A.M.
I woke at just after eight
with the sensation not unlike a car just taking a tremendous skid only
to recover at the last second. I lay awake wondering about the sensation
when it happened again. The noise of the wake, immediately under my quarterberth,
was impressive. Rolling over in my bunk, I punched up boat-speed on the
master multifunction of the NKE. It read nine and a half knots, and then
jumped to ten knots. Holy Cow! Wind-speed was still twenty-two true and
with the same apparent since we were now steering 330deg. What was going
on? The boat had a lot of heel as well. I crawled out of bed just as Olivia
dropped down the companionway. She complained, "We’re heeling too
much, but I don't know how to solve the problem."
Once on deck, the answer was
apparent. The wind had veered even more, putting us in a beam reach. I
eased the main. This was only part of the equation. The seas had built
to more than two meters. I was surprised at how flat the water was during
last night's storms. Maybe a lake that is almost five hundred feet deep
is harder to disturb than the thirty-five foot depth of Lake Erie. In
eight hours, the wind had finally managed to work up some swells. The
Autohelm was coping with the waves. While apparent wind was ninety degrees,
true wind is much deeper; around one-thirty-six degrees relative said
the computer. So the seas were quartering, yet the Autohelm met each wave
with a ten-degree stroke of the rudder when the stern began to slide.
The bow is immediately forced back downwind and we shoot down the wave.
It happened again and again. I'm impressed. Sure, a live helmsman could
anticipate and steer a straighter course, but for thirty hours straight?
It also occurred to me that this might not work out on another boat. Assassin
had a very large elliptical rudder that was highly efficient. Just a few
degrees have a lot of effect. This meant the reaction time of the AH800II
is sufficient to meet the conditions. A smaller, skeg mounted rudder might
not be as good a match.
At nine A.M., we switched once
more. We were still clocking high nines for speed. The wind had not moderated
at all, nor does it for the next three days. By noon it was blowing twenty-five
true once more. I actually saw ten point oh five knots in boat speed,
for an instant. It was a great ride, and boiling away the miles. Thirty-one
miles to go at noon and only twenty-two at one P.M. At ten minutes after
three, I could make out the DeTour light. At twenty to four, we were in
the channel and the trusty number three was dropped. Six point two knots
under main alone seemed like a crawl. A mile from the harbor, we started
the diesel, got rid of the main, stowed the jib below, and motored for
the marina. By four-thirty P.M., we had fueled, pumped out, and now began
the lengthy job of drying the boat. I managed to stow several cubic feet
of water with the genoa off Thunder Bay. The diesel had required only
four and a half gallons to my immense relief. That meager amount of fuel
drove us up the Saint Claire River, fifteen miles out into the lake, and
powered a four-hour battery charge session just before the thunderstorms
We decided a lay day was in
order to fully restore cleanliness and comfort. The extra time would allow
us to select the perfect spot for gunk holing. Our plan was to park the
boat in isolation for five or six days while we made serious progress
on our books. Most of these narrations were the first tasks scheduled.
It’s about Six P.M. in the evening on Lake Huron. I'm sitting in front
of the hatch alone while Rod naps in the berth below. I'm watching the
fingertips of the sun strike the waves, not unlike the string of a cello,
along a strip of water stretching from the horizon. Not a gull, ship or
evidence of land in sight since a freighter passed fifteen minutes ago,
heading south towards Port Huron.
About four P.M. in the afternoon
I prepared chicken with a noodle and broccoli mix, which we ate from the
pot on deck. It was a challenge; the boat was heeling to the port side
where the galley is, going about seven knots. We have had great wind
since about eleven o'clock in the morning. While the meal was cooking,
Rod watched a redwing blackbird from who-knows-where eat all the dead
flies on the deck. There goes the ornithologist's lecture at the bird-banding
station back home in Northern Illinois during which I was informed that
blackbirds are found on fence poles and along grassy roadsides.
This stouthearted redwing blackbird
had a difficult time negotiating the wind to land on deck, but he lustily
headed against wind twice to complete his feast. Our presence did not
seem to disturb his eating habits in the least, as he eagerly devoured
every insect that his busy beak could find. Eventually, he disappeared.
How he was going to find his way back to his prairie habitat remained
a mystery to me.
After supper Rod dragged the cooking pot in the water to clean it and
hosed down the silverware, then I dried and stowed everything away. Shipboard
cookery involves one-pot meals, but that has always been my specialty.
The wind dropped off to four knots at sunset, but later in the evening
we really picked up speed, building to about eight or nine knots. I slept
as Rod served first watch. When I went up to watch for freighters, the
wind was really gusting. I woke Rod when a freighter came into sight.
After it passed, Rod stayed up and took his turn at the watch. I went
below to sleep. Then all hell broke loose. I awoke to the sound of thunderclaps,
the boat heeling so badly, I seriously thought there was nowhere to go
but down. I heard Rod running back and forth on deck, cursing like a sailor.
We had run into a rip-roaring thunderstorm on our way to Thunder Bay,
no less. I cowered and cringed in the berth gripping to the metal brace
on the hull, saying to myself, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, get me out
of here!" and vowing if I made it through this, there would be no
more night sailing for me.
I was petrified to get up, but upon consideration, I knew I had to get
in an upright position, put on my foul weather gear and join Rod on the
deck. If I didn't get up, I'd die in that berth, caught below. I wanted
to die standing up instead of in that crawl space. I determined I'd rather
die with Rod than live without him. Thus, I tried to summon courage to
stand and put my gear on, only to be prostrated again with another crack
of thunder and another bash of a wave against the bow of the ship, leaving
me whimpering and cowering again. Then, the hatch opened, water and sail
poured into the cabin, accompanied again by a rain of expletives from
I gripped the metal brace tighter, my reservoir of courage draining. I
thought to myself, "Now, I know this is what all the other women
in his life could not take." As I clung to the side of the berth
with the boat listing terribly, I asked myself aloud, "Rod, why did
you invite me on this trip? To kill me?" Then better sense took
over and I thought "No, he knows what he's doing; he's tethered
to the jack lines. He won't fall off the boat." If I survived this
storm I just wouldn't sail at night anymore and I'd always sail with a
weather report. I'd tell him please no more night sailing and let's get
the weather forecast before venturing out for a sail.
While I was thus trying to "screw my courage to a sticking post,"
I heard Rod ask, "How are your doing down there?" from the front
hatch. I could visualize him as he asked the question with a smile in
his voice if not also on his face. I was still too petrified to respond.
After hearing the sound of his voice, I thought, "He thrives on this!
He's not a bit perturbed! In fact, he loves it!" As I struggled
to summon courage to get in an upright position and put my foul weather
gear on, I felt the storm was letting up somewhat.
I finally retrieved all my gear where it had been thrown, harnessed up
and buckled on the life preserver belt. I dragged my weary body onto the
deck again to serve my watch. By that time the storm had subsided, but
the rain was still coming down. There were more storms to go through before
that night from hell was over. But at least now I was on deck.
After the night of day four, I knew that if I were to make a passage I
could be no "sunshine" sailor. I had a heady dose of medicine
to cure me of any foolishly romantic notions of sailing the ocean blue.
If I could not take the bad with the good, I'd best take a closer look
at whether sailing really was for me. Was this a metaphor for the school
of life, or what? Would I be one who always wanted smooth sailing and
when the going got rough, got going? No. I didn't want that for myself.
I preferred to make myself equal to this or any challenge. But it would
take time for me to have the knowledge and the confidence in the craft
to dispense with fear.
Who needed a Great America Amusement Park for a cheap thrill anymore?
"Not I," said Chicken Little, "bauk-bauk, bauk-bauk."
28 June, 1300 hours
ROD: What worried me was ridiculous, but it still worried me. Pilot
Cove. This anchorage sounded perfect, exactly like what I had in mind
as if it leapt out of my subconscious into full-blown reality. Yesterday,
I had casually asked Barbara, the proprietor at the fueling station at
DeTour, about the anchorage at Harbor Island. She said it was always populated
with a cruiser or two as well as several fishermen. She recommended Pilot
Cove instead. Unfortunately, she possessed no details on where or what
it was like. She said to talk to "Ed" at the Sports Center in
town. Barbara also said she knew of a forty-five footer that visited the
cove some time ago.
Before I met with
Ed, I checked every source I could find for a reference about Pilot Cove.
I found nothing -- not even a map reference, even though Barbara had indicated
the general location as the northeast end of Drummond Island. A mixed
blessing. For while I had no data, it was unlikely many people knew of
this place. It was a “local knowledge” situation. Ed did show me a guide
that he thought might mention the cove. Mention indeed. A single paragraph
talked about a forbidding entrance but eight feet to seventeen feet of
water inside. Totally protected. After spending the time to dig the most
accurate latitude and longitude estimates from my charts, I plugged them
into the GPS. We cast off about nine A.M. but decided to troll for salmon
for a few hours. We motored along at two knots making our way through
the Potagannissing Bay. This place reminded me of Lake Winnipausaki in
New Hampshire except there are no mountains and a lot more water. When
another sailboat crossed our path ahead, I began to worry. What if they
were going to Pilot Cove? What if there was room for only one boat?
Olivia finally said,
"No fish are biting. Let's go." We hoisted the main, then the
number three. Close reaching, we overhauled the other cruiser in ten short
minutes, just beyond Koshkawong point. There are some good points about
cruising aboard a Soverel thirty-three. We sailed up under Beef Island
and tacked over onto port. Driving down behind Salt Island toward the
Seines gave us clearance to break out of the bay above North Seine Island.
Good-bye flat water,
hello two-meter swells. For three days the wind worked up the North Channel.
Starboard tack was a pounding ride. Today, the wind was still moderate
and the number three did not have the drive to punch through the waves.
We tacked onto port to drop down into calmer water near Drummond Island.
The breeze did not cooperate. It veered to the southeast, heading us and
we tacked again, now steering oh-nine-eight magnetic. We received a gift.
The wind built to twenty knots and the number three came alive.
Driving force well
established, we powered upwind in a glorious beat. Spray was thrown high
and wide as Assassin dug in her bow and blasted through the waves.
The wind continued to freshen. Soon we had twenty-seven knots. Reef the
main. We did not lose any speed and even gained a degree or two upwind.
In ninety minutes we cleared the eastern end of Drummond Island and tacked
over towards the south.
The GPS said eight
and a half nautical miles to the cove, bearing one-six-two magnetic. The
shift favored us and we were able to track one-six-five. At better than
seven and half knots, the numbers quickly tumbled down to less than a
mile. At two P.M., we doused the sails and started the diesel. I followed
the GPS in toward shore. We swept along the shoreline but could find no
evidence of any cove. A huge, white rock on the beach looked like a baked
potato. I reversed course to the North to take another look but found
nothing. Olivia suggested it might be around the point, that maybe we
haven't gone far enough. The GPS said we have, but we could see no opening.
We motored to the
south and into a driving rainstorm. Visibility dropped to fifty meters.
We motored southwards for two more miles, but the coast became even more
rugged. The rain faded and I turned north once more. Sunset is rapidly
approaching and there is no way I want to be on a lee shore in the dark.
The entrance had to be here somewhere.
Recalling that the
entrance was dubbed as "forbidding", I decided we must run in
close to shore. As we rounded the point again, two loons called out. When
I glanced in their direction, a flash of light caught my eye. It was gone
in an instant second but it certainly looked like light reflected from
water behind the trees.
With a leery eye to
the depth gauge, we cut close inshore into less than fifteen feet of water.
Magically, an opening in the pea-stone bank appeared -- an opening we
missed twice before. It was thirty feet in width at the most. The water
was quite clear and we could see boulders at the bottom. We eased our
speed to dead slow ahead, aimed right down the center. Thump! Dead stop.
Well, the left side looked deeper. Back up a bit, try to the left. Fourteen
feet over here. This would be a nightmare in a northeaster, but we were
in. Pilot Cove is a deep-water lagoon one hundred meters across and one-fifty
in length. The only opening was the one we came in by. The west bank was
so steep we beached the bow of Assassin and the keel clears the
bottom. It was a mere spit of land separating the lagoon from the bay
and no more than thirty feet wide but high enough to hide the hull when
viewed from the seaward side. We were home. We tied a line to a tree to
port and starboard and one to the bow. Assassin became part of
the landscape. The loons chased off across the waters of the outer bay,
laughing all the way.
Monday after the storm, the wind was very strong, pushing us all the way
to DeTour Village, so we were able to arrive about four o'clock in the
afternoon. We were very tired. Still in my foul weather gear, I was too
weary to throw a dock line properly. I threw both ends and it landed in
the water and sank. As soon as we were tied up at the dock, we headed
for the marina showers, then we walked into town and found a restaurant
on the main street fronting the marina. No one-pot stew tonight but reuben
sandwiches and cold beer at the Fog Cutter Inn. As soon as we got back
to the boat, we went directly to sleep and slept until eleven A.M. the
We spent Tuesday,
June twenty-seventh in DeTour Village. The first order of business when
we awoke from "the sleep of the dead" was to clean up the cabin.
I made a breakfast of eggs and Canadian bacon, which I felt was singularly
appropriate in such close proximity to the pink slab of meat's namesake.
Then I cleaned up the galley. I'm making progress; I no longer call it
a kitchen. Memories of what my brother Mike said to me before I made this
trip kept haunting me: "Olivia, are you sure you're prepared to make
this trip? You're still calling a galley a kitchen! You don't even have
the terminology down pat!” We stowed away loose stuff, organized and cleaned
the cabin. We bagged the sails and stowed them in the other berth. We
dried out the cabin with the little space heater. We washed out some clothes
and towels. We hung the wet things to dry on the lifelines. Rod hosed
down the cockpit and the deck. Then he pulled out the cushions from the
cabin seats, which had been soaked when he threw the sail down the hatch
during the storm, and took them up to dry on the deck.
I laid out all the
books that got wet, trying to dry them as well. My journal was a little
bit wet too, testament that it weathered a storm along with me.
After the entire cleanup,
we took a stroll through DeTour Village. We stopped at a sporting goods
store where Rod found more information about Pilot Cove. He wanted to
find out about depth and any markers. We walked down to the ferryboat
landing and watched vehicles drive off, returning from Drummond Island.
There was a small museum of local history by the landing and we went in
there to browse. We stopped for lunch and then stopped at the frosty cone
where Rod bought me a two-scoop praline ice cream cone for winning a bet
on a point of history. He claimed the area was first settled in the mid-eighteenth
century. I said "no," the French had already been here about
a hundred years before. My point was verified at the village local history
We spent a quiet evening
aboard, writing. Rod set up the laptop and worked on his book. It was
windy and overcast most of the day, so it was just as well we anchored
at DeTour to rejuvenate and rest.
dawned at DeTour Village windy and overcast again. I prepared breakfast.
Then we showered. I did the laundry at the Laundromat. We returned to
the boat and prepared to leave the harbor. Rod mapped a course around
Drummond Island to Pilot Cove where we planned to anchor in seclusion
for a few days. As we motored through many small islands we trolled, but
had no luck at all fishing. Visions of the fish we were going to fry up
were failing to materialize. Then we got under sail and fairly zoomed
over the waves. The spray was splashing on the foredeck and white caps
were rolling. It was more fun than any amusement park ride. Who needs
roller coasters and water log slides? We sped along at this pace for a
few hours before rounding Drummond Island. I got plenty of practice tacking
under Rod's direction.
Rod precisely calculated
the position of Pilot Cover, but when we arrived we could not find the
entrance for all our efforts. A heavy rain with gusty winds descended
upon us as soon as we neared the shore. We motored past the point a ways,
then Rod turned back, certain it must be a trick inlet obscured by another
point of land. He was right. This time we motored closer to shore, and
found the narrow entrance. A big boulder marked it. The first time we
had been too far away from shore to discern it. Rod spotted water between
trees and moved toward it.
There was a narrow
strip of water with just enough depth that the keel could pass through.
There was nothing but a lot of rocks on the right side of the entrance.
Once through this needle's eye of an entrance, it was perfectly sheltered,
surrounded snugly on all sides by trees. We pulled in; I jumped into the
water and tied a line to a tree. Rod threw the anchor out the stern, so
that the boat was tethered for the night.
As soon as we had
secured the boat, the sun burst through, the wind died down, and peace
descended on the cove. We have arrived at a safe haven. It was as if peace
was meant to prevail as soon as we made ourselves at home in the cove;
compensation for weathering all the storms and the winds of the passage.
We hung up our wet clothes and foul weather gear on the mast and lifelines.
Again we took out all the wet things from the cabin to air out (my fault
for not screwing down the hatch tight enough this time -- one more chance
to do it right).
Rod tried his luck
at fishing while I started to prepare a concoction of chicken, bell peppers,
vegetable corkscrew noodles and zucchini squash for supper. We ate in
the cabin by scented candlelight. As night descended, Rod set up the laptop
again to do some serious writing. I edited my manuscript.
We’ve been tucked away in this secluded cove for six days. We explored
the island and the shoreline, found bedded deer that we did not disturb,
listened to the loons each night, and watched the wind shift from southeast,
to east to north to west. Today, it drove out of the northwest. With about
360 miles behind us and many more to go, it was time to leave. There was
a lot of westerly work left before we could enter Lake Michigan and turn
So far we’ve lived entirely on the ship's systems but now the holding
tank was full, the ice almost gone and we were running out of fresh food.
We had been isolated until last night, when three other cruisers joined
us at dusk. The sailboat, a Nonsuch, grounded heavily when entering the
cove. He swung too late and came in too fast. Her master rowed over to
ask if we had a heavy metal bar. It seems he bent his rudder shaft and
the rudder will no longer clear the hull. It was jammed to port. He was
out of Cheboygan, Michigan, and this was his first day of a two-week passage
bound for the North Channel and Georgian Bay.
We have no heavy metal. Just classical and jazz. I found the oar floating
in the lake so I gave it to him. He intended to pry the rudder back. I
also offered a length of 2x4 we found on the beach. His efforts yielded
enough clearance so the rudder could be moved to starboard but only with
significant force on the wheel. We left him trying to make up his mind
whether to abandon his vacation or continue. I wished him well and will
be doubly cautious myself.
We singled up to the weather line attached to the anchor on shore. I backed
off the beach and dragged the anchor into the water where Olivia lifted
it from the pea-stones and dropped it below. I turned a slow circle toward
the entrance at 0.5kn. The northwest wind had the bay really worked up
and it was breakers on the nose to leave the cove. We inched out until
we cross the four-fathom line, and then I poured on the power until we
were a half-mile off shore. We hoisted the main and as I set the autopilot
and headed for the jib I hear a cry from aft. Olivia lost her magical
Digital cap overboard. I’ve always had a pact with the sea. Once fed a
cap, the sea gets to keep it, but Olivia was having none of that.
I grumbled about runners and gybing but kicked off the autopilot. “Gybe
ho!" Olivia fetched a fish net from below and ran up to the bow.
She missed the first pass and threw a little temper tantrum that was actually
quite humorous but I was careful not to smile. I hardened up on starboard
then tacked over on port and reached across to make a second pass. Just
as she scooped it out of the water, the starboard runner swung in the
wind and swept my cap from my head. What the heck, in for a penny, in
for a pound. Gybe Ho! I can only imagine what the skipper on shore must
Caps in place, we footed out NNE to clear the point then bore off to the
east. We got the jib up and the boat speed jumped up to almost nine knots.
We gybed again in a couple of miles to a southerly course to transit the
False Detour Passage. The wind backed to the west a little and built as
the sun rose. By 8am it was pumping 25knots and we were off on the proverbial
screaming reach, surfing the waves into double digits. The highest I saw
was 11.42 knots. I would love to have the kite up in this kind wind but
we would need a crew of six at least.
Eventually, and not all that much later (15 miles goes quick at 10+ knots),
we entered Lake Huron and paid the piper. Starboard tack was still favored
but only by about 20 degrees. It was going to be a long day. I threw a
reef in the main and we started to weather. As Huron funneled down toward
the straits, we began to time our tacks to avoid the reefs. This part
of the lake is full of them. We avoided Spectacle reef, and then Raynolds.
Next we tacked away from Lighthouse Point on Bois Blanc Island only to
be forced back on starboard by Goose Island Shoals. Finally we could line
up on the channel between Mackinac Island and Round Island. We were given
no gifts. It was directly upwind and the channel is only five hundred
yards. But sailboats are meant for sailing and so we'll beat through it.
Olivia and I worked up our timing. She'll handle the jib; I'll do main
and runners. We would use the Autohelm's auto-tacking feature for the
rudder. Soon, we are cooking. Eight tacks into the channel and halfway
through, we cleared the breakwater and tacked back onto starboard. I reached
for the mainsheet after cranking the runner back in. But, it's gone and
I mean literally. I was staring at an empty traveler car. The clevis has
snapped and the boom is swinging out over the water to port. I caught
the end of the sheet and trim forever as the tackle feeds line. When the
tackle finally came up short, I was one to one on the boom. It was no
use. I cannot hold the main without leverage in this wind. We cannot tack
without it. It was time to bail out. We executed an emergency gybe and
turned downwind. Olivia dug another clevis from the spare parts while
I gybed again. Finally, I stabilized our course dead down, installed the
new clevis, and rerigged the mainsheet.
We gybe again for another approach. The first two tacks were awful because
we were a little frazzled. But soon we began to get the rhythm going again.
Just as we cleared the breakwater a second time, the Autohelm locked in
mid-tack. After a few seconds, it then completed the tack. Needless to
say our timing was shaken. It did it again on the very next tack and this
time it froze up altogether. Fortunately, the wind was lightening so I
gave up on the runners to focus on main and tiller.
Finally we were through the channel and into deep water again. We ducked
Major's Shoals and headed for Mackinaw City Marina. We’ve sailed 115 miles
today, most of it upwind. A little bit of troubleshooting before bed told
me that the Autohelm has lost a phase. Too many consecutive tacks and
gybes I guess. Assassin will self-steer but only on a beat. Should
I wish for upwind work the rest of the way home? I don’t think so. Lake
Michigan has 280 miles of water between where we are and where we are
Thursday, June 29
I awoke about 6:00 a.m. and the sky was still overcast from showers of
the night before. I had a headache, so brewed some herbal tea and went
back to sleep until about 9:00. Hallelujah! The sun was shining; the
wind had subsided! Blue sky, glistening water and tree-lined shores surrounded
us. We ate our leftovers from last night and then tried our luck at fishing
again. Alas, dreams of fresh walleye sizzling in the pan did not materialize.
Rod was dissatisfied with the way the boat was moored. In case the wind
changed, he wanted it on the opposite shore. I paddled out in the dinghy
to untie the line from the tree. After we were secured with the anchor
on the other shore, I explored that side of the cove facing the North
Channel. There was a stone fire pit set up with a grate. Other campsites
were found, evidence the cove was well visited. We threw the fishing
lines with bobbers and worms into the water. Leaving the poles behind,
we hiked off to explore the coast for a while.
The shoreline was rocky. We turned into a path around the cove and discovered
other campfires and a profusion of wild flowers. Rod almost tripped over
another denizen of the cove as the furry creature skittered from his den,
down the bank into the water -- Bucky Beaver. It was not our last sighting
of this other occupant of the cove. We followed a trail around the cove,
finding fresh deer droppings along the path in front of where the bow
was moored the night before. Following the trail farther along the coastline,
we found a large dead salmon, confirming our assumption that there were
fish in these parts; so why weren't we catching any?
To avoid walking all the way back around the cove, Rod swam across the
narrow neck of the cove entrance to retrieve the dinghy and we paddled
back to the boat in the dinghy.
I spent some time in the morning meditating on the foredeck. Thoughts
of my darling Leila again flowed through me. I prayed to be released
from this great sorrow that ever creeps up on me even in my moments of
intense happiness. It is something that will be with me for the rest
of my life.
After our exploratory trip on the island, we got down to the serious business
of conducting the Rod and Olivia's Great Lakes Writing Conference. The
laptop was set up again. The evening menu consisted of venison prepared
on the deck grill. The evening passed literally and figuratively in a
sea of tranquillity writing and listening to classical tapes. If a would-be
writer cannot write in Pilot Cove, he cannot write anywhere. I made great
progress on editing Gardens.
Friday, June 30
and behold, the year is half over and I'm here in Pilot Cove on a dream
vacation. I have to rub my eyes and take a reality check. Yep, it's real!
Dawn broke foggy on the bay, but cleared by 9:00 in the morning. It is
as calm and sunny today as yesterday. We breakfasted on eggs and Canadian
bacon. I did 14 pages and edited Chapter 15 with some added dialogue to
improve pace. I'm on a roll now. Editing does get easier as I go along
because my writing did improve as I wrote this book.
This morning's meditation suited the lugubrious thoughts that I had yesterday
for a while. The meditation was titled "Comets," referring to
people who go swiftly in and out of our lives and leave their light as
they go. The metaphor applies to people who die young. It was an affirmation
that the light stays with us. It was a caution, which I always need from
time to time, not to dwell in grieving the comet's passing. That is what
it is like now for me. My grief comes inevitably, but I do not dwell
upon my grief. I release it.
Terry Lynn Taylor wrote in this meditation, "The angels know that
each comet person who has left the earth at a young age exits in a burst
of light that remains for the good of those left behind. A comet would
never want us to mourn its disappearance." This reading provided
what I needed. The reflection that went with it also supplied just what
I needed at the moment: "I know in my heart that love continues
to grow across the barriers of time and space." I can't help but
believe that the light of Leila's comet has helped to manifest the happiness,
which is mine now. As long as there is breath in me, there is new life
to experience. Never can it be said that I have seen enough, adventured
enough, played enough, laughed enough or loved enough. To have met someone
of like mind is a boon for which I am eternally grateful.
Most of Friday morning was spent editing. I worked on the laptop for several
hours. We lunched on a Parmesan noodle mix, then did more laundry, after
which we went on another island trek. The turtle we saw yesterday was
basking on the same rock. We climbed through thick woods on the west
side of the cove, following deer trails. Rod had packed into his camera
case granola bars and bathing suits. For the woods trek, I wore a sweatshirt
and sweatpants and soon was sweating like a pig, if not snorting like
one, while I followed Rod through the deep woods.
The woods were heavy with cedar, moss-covered ground and rife with wild
flowers. Even this woods was not untouched by humankind, for we came
across bottles and cans in the densest underbrush -- a hunters' trail?
When least expected, a bambi darted out in front of Rod. I watched it
bound through the forest as near as I ever laid eyes on a fawn in my life,
its white spots and white tail clearly visible as it nimbly leapt through
the limbs and fallen branches.
Rod turned and said, "Where there's one, there's usually another
one close by." I opened his camera bag on his back belt and as quietly
as I could handed him the camera. Sure enough, he was right. He did
not have far to look to spot the second bambi. Less than 15 feet away,
he pointed to where the fawn lay low between some fallen timber, staring
straight at us. Rod positioned himself to take a picture of its little
face peeking out. Rod explained that it was frozen, doing what its mother
had trained it to do. He said the other one had fled because we had come
right up upon it. We left the bambi lying in its secluded spot and pushed
branches and brambles aside as we continued our trek. A short distance
farther, Rod picked up one deer antler and handed it to me. "Your
souvenir." We emerged from the woods on the North Channel, facing
the open water to the south of the cove. Rod picked up a flat rock with
a perfect hole worn by the action of the water. "Another souvenir,"
When we arrived back at "our" cove, we took a dip in the cool
water. After the heated workout the forest trek had given us, it was a
welcome relief. We returned to the sailboat to relax and to read before
beginning supper. The weather turned overcast again and just as supper
was ready, it rained. I boiled redskin potatoes and Rod barbecued chicken
on the deck grill. We dined again by candlelight in the cabin with a
glass of Sambucca di'Amore, a fine licorice-flavored liqueur. Rod struck
a match to our tiny liqueur glasses and a blue flame licked the surface,
warming the drink to the tongue. It enhanced the taste of the meal, making
everything go down smooth as velvet.
After cleaning up the meal, we settled down to write for the evening,
snug in the cozy cabin even if it were a gray and overcast evening.
Pilot's Cove, Saturday, July
today, but sunny; anchored in Pilot Cove for another day of writing.
I had planned to start the day with a swim in the cove, but the wind and
air were just a bit too nippy for me, so I opted for a sponge bath. I
warmed some water to shampoo my hair. Then we prepared a breakfast of
venison steak and scrambled eggs with green peppers and onions. Rod settled
down at the laptop for his stint of writing. The quietude of the morning
was interrupted by the need to unplug the sink. (Call a plumber?) Tools
at hand in Rod's ready bag and his ingenuity unstopped the drain. Yes,
the sailboat has all the comforts and discomforts of home.
In the afternoon, we went trekking again. It was very chill and windy.
We walked along the bay shore on the North Channel. The waves were rolling
in with white caps far out to sea. The shoreline was rocky. We turned
into the forest. There were birch trees at first, then more cedar and
fir. Again we wound our way through deer trails.
In the afternoon a sailboat invaded our cove. A cabin cruiser soon followed.
A big yacht appeared in the evening and a fourth big monster after it.
Our cove was not so secret! Considering it was Saturday, that explained
the invasion. We decided we would leave early Sunday morning. The guy
who came in first with the sailboat bent his rudder shaft on the rocks
in the narrow neck of the cove. We determined to be super-cautious when
we left in the morning. We had already bumped a rock when we came in
-- but fortunately no damage.
The invasion of the monster boats left no doubt it was time to pack up
and leave the formerly pristine cove. We will have spent five glorious
nights and four days in the cove. Time to close down the writers' conference
and move on. Our last evening was spent writing and reading as usual,
free of insects because it had turned unusually cold for the first of
Sunday, July 2
awoke at 6:00 o'clock and dragged the anchor in from the shore and cast
off, no time to spend for breakfast, just beat our way to Mackinac Island.
That made it rather convenient, since we didn't have any breakfast food
left anyhow! Would scurvy strike before we got there? As soon as we
cleared the cove, I lost my "digital" sailing cap. Boo hoo,
bawl, whine, cry, wail, piss and moan! I panicked. There it bobbed in
the wake. I whined that we had to go back and get it. If the cap were
not retrieved, Rod would have to get a new girlfriend! I scurried below
to get the long-handled fish net. I could tell Rod was not pleased as
he turned back. I was under extreme pressure to net that cap when it
came along side or my goose was cooked. I can't perform well under pressure
like that when it requires physical prowess of any kind, and this required
a lot of physical prowess to scoop that little sucker out of the water
at just the right moment. So needless to say, I blew it, as it was my
wont to do under circumstances such as these. I proceeded to whine and
moan again, kicking and mewling on the foredeck at my bad shot.
I was afraid Rod would not turn back again, but apparently my tantrum
had done some good as he was already turning the boat around to take another
shot at it. This time I knew I just had to do it. This was no easy task
with the wind and waves. This time I did scoop it up. Unfortunately,
in the process, Rod's cap had blown off his head. There it was bobbing
on the waves. It again took two sorties to retrieve his cap from the
Finally, we headed out of the bay bound for Mackinac Island, beating against
the waves across the North Channel, Lake Huron and through the strait
to Mackinac City the whole day. The wind was from the southwest. I got
plenty of exercise tacking. We decided to go to Mackinac City rather than
Mackinac Island where there would be little likelihood of getting a slip
over the fourth of July holiday weekend. The fort at Mackinac City appealed
to the history buffs in us more than a carriage ride around an island,
particularly since we had just done some real island trekking in the wilds
of Drummond Island. Besides Mackinac Island meant more people. It was
about 8:00 in the evening when we motored past the Mackinac Bridge, the
sun setting behind it. The marina office was already closed when we tied
up at the dock. Another mariner advised us all the slips were filled,
but he was going to stay tied up at the other side of the gas-dock and
we should do the same thing. We did.
We trash-canned the week's garbage and strolled up the main street which
led straight down to a gateway arch in front of the ferry boat landing
to Mackinac Island. The harbor area had the air of a fairway. There
was a nighttime carnival atmosphere about it with a band playing in the
open air. There was a host of souvenir and curio shops. We stopped at
Mama Mia's Pizza. We were ravenous, and of course, ordered more than
we could eat -- a huge taco pizza.
Rod, per usual, accused me of eating more than he did; by now, I know
it's blarney. As a matter of fact, I can't keep up with his rate of consumption
when he's really hungry, although I give it the old college try. He gobbles,
gets done before I do and then accuses me of eating more than he does
when I'm still eating. We got ice and groceries and walked back to the
boat. The plan was to layover one day at Mackinac City. I was zonked
and counting "Z’s" right away.
Mackinac City, Monday, July 3
awoke at 6:00. I started the day by doing the laundry at the marina facilities.
Then I took a shower. We walked a mile to Fort Michilimilimac -- a stockade
fort near the Mackinaw Bridge. There were a lot of historical exhibits
on the early history of the area, the fur trade and birchbark canoe making.
We watched a cannon-firing demonstration by a British colonial soldier
reenacter and then watched a demonstration of the Virginia reel. We spent
some time browsing in the museum shop. Then we walked back to the main
drag for fish and chips at the Scalawag Restaurant. Dessert was ice cream
Rod went back to the boat for a nap and I went souvenir shopping -- got
a Great Lake board game for Khalid, place mats and other junk. After
I got done loading myself down with mostly useless junk, I was ready for
a nap. After nappy-wappy time, we went to the IGA grocery store to provision
for the next leg of our passage on the morrow. The evening was spent
as usual with music, writing, reading and fuzzy navel drinks.
04 July, 0815
After laying over an extra day to see the sights in Mackinac City, we
arose early in the morning, added an extra block or two of ice into the
cooler and cast off. We were favored with a southwest breeze of about
seven knots true, a bright but humid and hazy day. We set the light #1
genoa in a fickle wind to meander our way under the Mackinac Bridge and
into Lake Michigan. While only fourteen miles mark the distance to the
northern entrance to Grays Reef channel, it took us over three hours.
The channel is only five miles long and 2000 ft wide at the narrowest
point. But it lies dead up wind. The breeze had fallen to less than four
and half knots true in the puffs, so I started the diesel and made short
work of the channel. We footed off to the south between Beaver Island
and the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, passing somewhat closer to the island.
I fixed our location every hour, but it was remarkable how little distance
one covers when the boat speed never sees the high side of five knots.
Again we were inundated with flies. But, unlike in Huron, these were the
biting kind. They appeared to lurk on the surface of the water and, when
a boat comes by, leap aboard to feast on the crew. 100% DEET did not work.
It doesn’t even slow them down. I donned jeans and a long sleeve shirt,
in ninety-degree weather. These insects targeted feet and ankles. One
bit me right through the leather of my boat shoe. They drove us out of
With the helm tied, Assassin tracked the breeze reasonably well.
I sat on the cabin house and read a book. Fly swatter in hand, soft drink
near by, I soaked up the rays. It’s hot in all these clothes but I remembered
a time far worse in a land far away (Vietnam). The trick is to let the
sweat run down your back and ignore it. The technique worked and the miles
slipped slowly away.
The wind backed to the south, heading us. It happened so abruptly, the
boat couldn’t follow the change. I bore off and set up the tackle again.
Five minutes later we were headed again, so we tacked onto port. Our new
course was 185 magnetic, which is not enough to clear Grand Traverse Bay.
I bore off some more but the breeze was too light to let the boat track
unless we are hard on the wind.
Permanently attached to the tiller back in fly heaven was not my idea
of a good time so we stayed hard on the wind. I hoped this new SE wind
might back even farther and strengthen, but it did not. About 6pm we were
headed on port. The wind built to ten knots continually veering until
we were steering almost 280. Outstanding. We tacked onto starboard and
were still lifted to 190, and then to 200. We cleared the bay and headed
past Fox Island. In the distance we could see North Manitou Island.
Our destination was Leland (Fish City), Michigan. This quaint old fishing
village was a cottage industry town that had managed to save the structures
from the turn of the century by modifying them into shops. I had hoped
to arrive during daylight, as the approach appeared a little tricky on
depth. It was not to be. Light air all day long has kept our speed between
four and five knots. In sixteen hours we had sailed only seventy-two miles.
There was still nine to go. The sun slipped behind North Manitou Island
and the wind died. On with the iron genny and, for the second time that
day, we broke six knots. As the temperature cooled, the flies fell dormant.
And this was fortunate for our fly swatter was in tatters. We’re in need
I negotiated another night landing in a strange port without incident.
We tied up at the gas dock, then bombed the boat with Yard Guard. After
the death of nine thousand flies, we hit the bunks. Reflecting on the
day with my head on the pillow, it occurred to me that I would rather
have the thunderstorms than the drifters. But there were no flies at night,
at least no biting ones, even when it’s warm. Maybe they couldn’t see
in the dark.
Our July 4th holiday was spent sailing from Mackinaw City to Leland, Michigan.
We started early Tuesday morning, but did not arrive at Leland until midnight.
Although the winds started out well, they were changeable. Late in the
day, there was nothing. We were pestered by flies the entire way. We swatted
and sprayed. It was a ship of flies with Rod as Lord of the Flies. He
was merciless. I vacuumed out the cabin from dead flies several times.
As fast as I could suck them up, a layer of new dead flies appeared. The
decks were matted with squashed insects.
This is why the Hindus believe in reincarnation, I thought. This is why
they never swat a fly; they learned ten more just pop up. I sunned on
the deck a lot and read voraciously from Thomas Tryon's In the Fire
of Spring during the time-out from our battle of the flies. In this
novel, the character Aurora describes her combat with the rats in Italy
-- not much of a diversionary tactic to get my mind off pests and vermin.
We approached Leland at night with fireworks being shot off from the shore,
visible from five miles out. Probably the main excitement, other than
the on-going struggle with the flies, of our passage from Mackinac City
to Leland was the negotiation of Gray's Reef with its shallows.
As was to be expected due to our late night arrival, the marina at Leland
was full up. We docked again by the fueling station until morning. We
were up at 6:00 again the next day. When the dock master arrived, we hoped
to secure a slip just long enough to shower and eat breakfast before setting
05 July, 0930
We decided to enjoy a hearty breakfast this morning. And to let someone
else cook it. Great joy! Wind! Lots of it. It was pumping 15-20 knots
already. The direction was not so cool as it is from the southwest and
that is where we must go. A hundred and fifteen miles of rhumbline. Yeah,
okay, we're tough.... At least there would be no flies....
We surrounded a great breakfast at the Early Bird Restaurant and headed
out. We set the main and then the ever present #3. Heading due west, I
lined up to weather of the Manitou passage light. Olivia took over on
the helm. We were moving well, making 6.8 knots while hard on the wind.
I studied the overall picture on the large-scale charts. Manitou passage
is tricky when you need to go to windward. Bars and reefs reached out
from all over and the wind barreled in between North Manitou Island and
the mainland. One is forced to pinch on either tack. A steep chop piled
up in the shallows. We were headed and could not keep the light to port.
We tacked again and then again. Now we can lay it.
As we closed on the light, something alarming happened. The bottom came
up fast, first to thirty feet, then twenty, and then fourteen. Something
was wrong and it was time to bail out!
We tacked then gybed. We didn't even mess with the sails, just helm over
and get the hell out of there. We sorted things out and then set up again
to try a little farther from the light. I had never heard of a light set
inside the reef and was uneasy. On the second pass, we experienced the
same thing but a depth of nineteen feet seemed to hold. Still, something
was seriously wrong. This was supposed to be a freighter channel, which
means thirty-plus feet of depth. While Olivia held our course, I scurried
below and examined the charts. Where the heck was the starboard buoy?
I thumbed through the kit for the detail pages, half expecting to hear
the rumble of grounding at any second.
Here! Big Oops! The lighthouse WAS the starboard buoy. The reef extended
from N. Manitou Island to the light, not from the mainland to the light.
How did I get that wrong? Another glance at the large-scale chart told
the story. The label for the light was nearer to the port buoy on this
chart. Luckily the shoal is minimum fifteen feet for some distance so
we were in no danger of grounding. But a far less complacent navigator
had to explain his faux pas to the rest of the crew.
We tacked back on starboard to vacate the reef, were headed just the same.
It took us nearly three hours to navigate the passage. We had to beat
past South Manitou Island and two more reefs to escape from the grasping
claw of land. We even motor-sailed for a time while pinching on starboard
tack. As we finally cleared South Manitou Island, a grim warning appeared
to starboard. The after-end of a Great Lakes freighter protrudes from
the surf about two hundred yards offshore.
Another gift! About noontime, a giant shift occurred. The wind backed
to the south and picked up steam to more than twenty knots. We could steer
215 magnetic on port tack. Since the rhumbline was 240, we footed at 235
to invest in a little margin. The speed hovered around eight knots. At
13:00 hours, the wind freshened even further to 25 true. In went a reef.
The boat liked it and gave us 8.5 knots.
Gone was the pounding chop. We are in five hundred and sixty feet of water
now with two-meter swells. This was the Gray Lady -- Lake Michigan. The
motion was significant but steady and pleasing. The boat skated down from
the crests, sometimes breaking into the nines. At 14:45, the wind hit
27true and we took in another reef. We were getting good at this reefing
exercise. I could not remember reefing in over a year. There was no loss
of speed whatsoever.
I needed to change into foulies, so I dove below, hit the head, and took
a fix. As I'm thrusting my arms into the jacket, Olivia called, "Front
coming in fast." I scrambled on deck. It was very ugly -- one of
those pitch-black inverted trapezoids. We were already double reefed.
What to do? It seemed logical to douse the jib. The effect of the morning's
brush with complacency still lingered, and helped with the decision. Down
came the #3. We waited for the nastiness under double reefed main alone.
It arrives with driving rain, but its bark was worse than its bite. True
wind hit 37kn for ten minutes then moderates to 30kn. We were doing just
4.75kn under the double-reefed main. The boat felt sluggish, loose and
uneasy. After forty-five minutes, the wind moderated again to 19kn. Olivia
and I dove below to repack the jib in its turtle. I was not going to hoist
it loose and risk blowing the tape out of the foil. We snaked it on deck
– and what a deck! There was no way to walk or even stand. The seas were
over three meters and it was like trying to climb from car to car on a
moving roller coaster. We were, of course, in harness and tethers.
Wouldn't you know it, but just as I started the head of the jib into the
groove a wave pitched the bow, upset my balance and I ripped the head
out of the foil. Damn! There is only one way to cure this problem in a
seaway. With my knife, I sliced the luff tape just above the feeder. I
restarted and carefully fed past the cut.
Up went the #3 and we had speed. 7.4kn until we shook out a reef and then
7.9kn again. The wind freshened to 27true and we had to put back in the
second reef. This seemed to be the steady state, as the wind did not moderate
at all for the rest of the leg. At 17:00 Olivia went below to whip up
a hot meal. At 17:45 some great scents arose. “What’s the fare?” I shouted
over the wind. She calls back, "Residue stew!" Curious, I dropped
below to discover what classifies as residue. It was the last of the zucchini,
the redskins, the venison and the only surviving onion. It was hard to
cook at twenty-five degrees heel. Topside again and about half an hour
later, I heard a metal clang from the galley. I stuck my head into the
companionway to see if all was well. It was not.
Olivia told me the stove was runaway. The second burner had ignited and,
even with both burners shut off, flame is flaring out all around the stove.
I dropped below into a noxious environment of charred fiberglass and burning
wood. This was serious! I passed the Halon bottle but told her to give
me just a minute. Everything was too hot to touch so we wetted some rags
and removed the pots. Dinner safely stowed, I wrenched the cover off of
the stove. Both burners were going like gangbusters. I turned on the sink
and sprayed them down. I still had to blow them out. Water-cooling takes
care of the rest, but I had inhaled a big whiff of charred fiberglass
and was suddenly struck with intense vertigo. I had to get out of the
cabin fast. On deck, the vertigo faded, but mild nausea remained. Olivia
stowed the stew in the ice chest after it cooled. It would have been done
in another half-hour but we cannot risk trying again.
The miles are coming down but we still have sixty-five to go. I tried
granola bars but my stomach became rebellious. Was I seasick? I had never
been so before. I didn’t need to vomit, but the nausea was persistent.
I had a mild headache and was very cold. Olivia ordered, "Hit the
hay, big guy. I'm not sailing all night alone."
The berth was warm and comfortable and I was asleep in minutes. An hour
later, I awoke a new man. No nausea, or headache. I shivered while climbing
into my foulies, but that was the difference in relative warmth, not a
symptom. I tried to take a fix from Loran and GPS, but the Loran crashed.
Even as I watched, it recovered and crashed again. I added the antenna
extension and all was fine. They agree to .1mi. It was dusk at 21:00.
Fifty-two miles to go. Still bearing 235 magnetic, and this amazed me.
I had not touched the tiller in nine hours. The helm was lashed and the
boat was sailing to the wind.
About 03:00, the lights of Wisconsin appeared over the horizon. As we
approached the shoreline, we were headed again. Bummer. I hardened up
and let the wind take us in on 255 magnetic. We tacked over about five
miles out. Steering 160 on starboard we are lifted to 180. This is the
pits. We now had the old true wind direction, but the waves have not changed.
Slam! Slam! Slam! It robbed our speed and was damn uncomfortable. I footed
off, resenting the surrender of extra miles. In an hour, we were far enough
south to tack back and lay Manitowoc. We were steering 270 and what a
relief. Hard on the wind, but waves abeam. Two miles out at 04:45, we
doused the sails and powered up the diesel. We entered the harbor at dawn.
I eased alongside the marina’s gas dock and we tied up. We checked out
empty slips as we expected to grab one and sleep for a couple of hours.
Surely, the marina would not be open until 8am or so.
Wrong guess. The harbormaster showed almost immediately. He said his house
overlooked the lake and he watched us work inshore. He had decided that
we might need a little rest and relaxation so he came early. Four or five
other sailboat crews came up to ask about conditions. They had been laying
over, waiting for the weather to moderate. We were still in full foul
weather gear with inflatable belt packs and harnesses and tethers. With
all the fuss, it was like we had done an Atlantic crossing or something.
Come to think of it, those conditions were somewhat like an ocean crossing.
Yep, it felt good to have done it. But so would a hot shower and about
six hours of shuteye. Layday? Youbetcha....
After we showered, we breakfasted at the Early Bird Cafe. Leland is a
quaint fishing village. The weathered fishing huts sit close to the shore.
The main street is cutely decorated with arts and crafts shops. It has
a lot more charm than Mackinaw City. It was fresh and cozy with a lot
of flower boxes in windows, had a tree-lined main street and purported
to be an artist colony. The fishing industry is still active here. Rod
was intent upon getting flypaper and two new fly swatters as the one he
had been using died in the war.
He also needed a new cap, having lost two already to the Great Lakes on
this passage. He found the flypaper worked well. The only trouble was
for me to avoid getting hair caught in it, particularly when the boat
swayed. We started out in the morning with a good wind. When we got between
the Manitou Islands we ran into trouble with the changing winds and shoals.
Rather than keep tacking we motored out of the islands to save time. It
was ninety-three miles from there to our next destination -- Manitowoc,
Wisconsin. Wisconsin, yeah, Wisconsin! Wisconsin meant we were on the
right side of Lake Michigan and heading home. Wisconsin was finally my
neck of the woods (waves?).
We scooted along the high waves, finally on the open waters of Lake Michigan,
hip hip hooray, my lake! In my youth, staring at the wide waters and cresting
waves pounding Montrose Harbor or the boulders at Northwestern University,
never, in the wildest flights of my imagination, did I think I would be
out on a 33-foot sailboat on these gray and moody crests! I was a landlubber
par excellence. Now big white caps broke across the bow of the boat. It
was thrilling. We sat high on the deck watching for the highest waves
to roll and break against the bow. We got out our cameras to capture the
peaks and troughs of these exciting waves.
Wow! Pow! Bang! Boom! It was great! Even being doused with water from
one great mother of waves did not dim my enthusiasm. It was exhilarating
in the extreme until the sky grew uglier as we headed into foul weather,
beating the waves as we went. Then the storm came and the rain fell and
Olivia was not so eager any more. Her chicken feathers began to show again.
After beating the waves all day, I was growing weary. When I get over-tired,
I get weepy. The sail had to be reefed twice. At one point, I started
crying in the storm. Oh, not again! What a baby! I was becoming a nervous
wreck with the rain, wind and watching Rod furiously work on the foredeck.
I tried to cook a meal -- residue stew from our remaining perishables
-- red potatoes, venison, bell peppers, zucchini squash. The boat was
heeling so badly that the stove caught fire twice. Rod had to come below
and put it out. The flame from the one burner was blowing sideways so
much that eventually the other burner caught fire. Luckily, he did not
have to use the fire extinguisher, but a part of the fiberglass counter
We beat against the high winds and waves southwesterly across Lake Michigan.
Rod only slept one hour the entire night. With Rod doing all the work,
I was beginning to feel useless. I was shamelessly tired and wanted to
sleep, sleep, sleep; just get in my warm zip-up flannel jammies and go
to bed with my teddy bear and pacifier.
We motored into Manitowoc Harbor by the dawn's early light. It was around
5:00 o'clock in the morning and the dock attendant was just arriving.
He said he had spotted our boat coming in from his house. Early risers
at the marina were curious about what we had encountered as we tied up
the boat. First we took a hot shower at the marina. I stood under the
water with the ground still swaying under me. As soon as we returned to
the boat, we crawled into the berth and slept soundly.
A day of hot showers, hot stew, theater, museums, music shops, and plenty
of rest prepared us for the final leg. We decided that we would not do
a sailing marathon the last day. We set our sights on Port Washington,
about 50 miles down the coast toward Chicago. Kenosha is another fifty
or so. We figured to make a daytime arrival (for a change) and end on
a relaxed morning sail on Saturday. To make sure, we decided to leave
as soon as possible. So, we slipped the lines, backed out of the marina
and headed out toward Manitowoc Harbor.
We were presented with another gift. The southerly that blasted us across
the lake and turned to southwest as we closed on the harbor yesterday
morning had moderated and veered another seventy degrees. We now had eighteen
knots from the northwest. It would be a beam-reach on flat water. As we
cleared the breakwater, up went the mainsail and then the jibtop-reacher.
This was the first use of this sail -- a 150% high clew sail that is trimmed
through the spreachers, just like a spinnaker. We sailed out to the ten-fathom
line and turned south about 7am. Our rhumbline was 190, so we steered
180 to gain some reserve offshore. After we turned, the jibtop came alive.
Big numbers, 8.85kn then 9.2kn. 9.60 in a gust. The true wind averaged
about 17kn with puffs to 23. The miles really spun down. At 12:30 we reached
Port Washington. Good-bye Port Washington, hello Kenosha.
The wind moderated at 13:00 to about 13kn true. It was 100deg apparent
on the starboard side. It stayed steady for a half-hour before I yielded
to temptation. Yes, we had packed a spinnaker -- a great whopper of a
.75oz chute that has 1094 square feet of area. Boat speed was 6.4 knots
now with 12.5 true showing.
Okay. Pole up, but the kite needed banding for a short-handed launch.
I rigged for a one-sided trim since we had nowhere enough crew to gybe
a spinnaker. When everything was set, up she went. The bands held it collapsed
like a sausage. I doused the jibtop down and secured it, then climbed
over the cabin top to the spinnaker sheet. Olivia was ready on the helm
but a little nervous. I was also, for inflating this sail is like adding
a turbocharger to a Ferrari. I heaved the sheet and the bottom bands let
go. In rapid fire, the rest of them popped. Whump! The kite filled and
you could actually feel the acceleration. I over-trimmed it just a little
and cleated the sheet. Olivia turned the helm over to me. Boat speed zoomed
through the sevens, slashed through the eights, and hovered deep in the
nines. Apparent wind swung forward, turning the overtrim into a just-right
trim. Suddenly we were overpowered.
I bore off a little, eased the main and came back to it. The difference
between curl and no curl was a solid knot. As one might guess, the wind
came back up a little, pushing as high as nineteen knots at times. The
boat slipped into double digits. Averaging about ten and half knots, we
carried the kite for two and a half hours. We sailed past Milwaukee about
16:00. Twenty-five miles in 2.5 hours. Sweet. The breeze began to die
and by the time we reached Racine, it was less than two knots, true. The
chute hung lifeless. We stayed with it a while longer but it was obvious
that there would be no wind. We doused the spinnaker, packed away the
jibtop, and motor-sailed with just the main. There was only sixteen miles
to go. Every now and then a puff came along that added a half a knot to
the diesel's best speed. In the end, we made still another night landing,
arriving just after full dark at 9:30pm.
As we put the boat away, I realized I was not sad that it was over. This
trip has brought a strong sense of accomplishment that could not be realized
until it was over. Almost 800 miles, fifteen days, all kinds of conditions.
The Soverel handled heavy weather sailing far better than I had hoped.
The sail choices for the trip were spot on. We used them all and wanted
for none. The autopilot packed in as I half expected after reading about
so many sailors with similar experience. But we did just fine without
it, even though it did save the bacon in the night of terror off Thunder
Bay. All in all, an enjoyable and successful adventure. Olivia was not
a seasoned sailor, but she had gained a sense of confidence and a bit
of pride, knowing that she was unlikely to get seasick (her biggest worry).
And we were still friends....
Manitowoc, Wisconsin, July 6,
I awoke from deadbone sleep about 11:00 a.m. and went to do the laundry
at the marina. I read a book while waiting for the laundry to be done.
When I returned to the boat, Rod was awake and cleaning up the cabin.
He had warmed up the "residue stew" from the night before, which
neither of us had time or inclination to eat in the foul weather and loss
of appetite we had experienced after the fire-fighting activities. We
dined at the cabin table with place mats and table settings again. What
a rest after the storm! I went back to let the clothes go through another
cycle in the dryer. Rod helped me fold the clothes and carry them back
to the boat. We decided to do something totally mindless like going to
a movie and hit upon seeing "Congo."
Before show time, we took a walk to downtown Manitowoc. A river divides
the city. A Budweiser brewery sits on a point at the river's mouth --
a sure sign we were in the state of Wisconsin. The state motto: "A
tavern in every clearing; a bowling ball in every alley; a beer in every
belly." We saw a mariner's museum on the bank of the river. Rod spotted
a submarine anchored in back. It was a U.S. WWII, the "Cobia."
Just as we were leaving, a tour group left the submarine. Rod wanted to
take the tour. We went inside to see about the tour. It was 45-minutes
long. I was disinterested in touring a sub -- I'd been on such tours when
I worked at Great Lakes Naval Station and at museums. I was ho-hum about
viewing a hunk of metal and steel. I really wanted to get to the music
shop before the movie started. Rod changed his mind about the tour. I
trust it was not because I was not jumping up and down with excitement
about it. I honestly preferred just to walk than to be cooped up inside
a sub for 45-minutes with metal gear and contraptions all around.
We crossed the river at 10th Street and went up two blocks to the Golden
Ring Folk Music Store. It genuinely was a folk musician's store. It carried
mandolins, banjos, dulcimers and harmonicas plus all the folk music tapes
and songbooks of the Midwest. It even carried Sing Out Magazine.
I bought my guitar strings, finally replacing the one I needed after the
mishap of the first day out. Rod bought a new b-flat harmonica. Din-din
was at Pizza Hut, then on to the movie. I find it increasingly difficult
to sit still in movies. My legs bother me. I can't get comfortable in
movie theater seats. I had to stand up and walk a bit. I came back and
had the same problem with my legs. I had to do something unladylike and
put my legs up on the seat in front of me. I also have problems staying
awake in movie theaters. I slept through half of the movie. Rod assured
me I didn't snore. He said the movie was not as good as the book.
When we got back to the boat, I managed to read a little before falling
asleep. Tomorrow we would get up and head for Kenosha -- the last leg
of our journey. God willing, it would be a west wind.
set sail early. By 6:30 o'clock we were out in the Manitowoc Harbor. A
fishing boat was bobbing in front of us. I was at the helm. Just as I
approached, the boat decided to motor in front of me. I veered to the
port side. Because of the fishing boat's injudicious action, its line
got caught on our boat. The day started out chill and overcast. As we
progressed southward, the day brightened more and more until we shook
off our sweatshirts and jackets and put on bathing suits. The wind was
in our favor for a good 50 miles pushing us along as high as 9 knots.
Rod put the spinnaker up (a word which I can now put the correct syl-la-ble
on) and got as much mileage as he could out of the sailing conditions.
I sunned myself on the foredeck for most of the afternoon, watching the
billowing spinnaker, its black, red and white colors filled out in the
wind. The sun glistened on the more tranquil waters of Lake Michigan.
Who would believe that this was the moody lady who had thrown a fit on
Wednesday when we crossed over to the Wisconsin side from Leland, Michigan?
I gloried in the warmth of the sun and its cleansing powers washing over
me. I prayed for lightness to embrace the troubled and brooding Khalid.
I saw angels of the lake walk the waters of Lake Michigan. Their sprite-like
forms danced, hovered upon the surface in oblong shapes of light yellow.
I saw them earlier too on the upper reaches of Lake Michigan. The wind,
sky, sun and water blessed the final day of the passage, wishing us, perhaps,
a "fare-thee-well." What a wonderful finale to our journey!
It was similar to the bright day we first set sail on June 23rd from Gibraltar,
Michigan. The skyline of Milwaukee shone like a New Jerusalem from 25
miles off. I sat on the foredeck with my feet dangling between the lifelines.
On this unearthly beautiful day as we sailed Lake Michigan with the skyline
of Milwaukee in view, thoughts of Leila assailed me again. This was the
city where she was so deliriously happy. And here I was at the most intense
moment of my earthly happiness, enjoying Nature at its most intimate and
benign level, and grief overwhelmed me again. All the pain of her loss
washed over me. Why could she not be experiencing what I was experiencing?
The ecstasy of Nature; the peace, the bliss, the clarity of this day?
Why was this all out of her grasp? Surely, she wanted it. Surely, it could
have all been hers like it was mine now.
Yet, wait, perhaps her bliss, forsaking this earth, is greater than mine.
But I reflected the lightness, chose to venture courageously forth and
claim what is my birthright -- this wonderful earth, the open air. This
is what I have desired and striven to attain all my life. It is the fulfillment
in the now, which every man and woman wishes to attain. It is only in
their unhappiness and in their depression that their frustration manifests
itself in a failure to attain this unity. It is there for the having,
but each man and woman must first connect with their inner core, find
that peace which passeth understanding before they can share it with someone
else. Before that, they have only a great need, a great hunger to ask
of a partner. A hunger which their partner, whomever he or she may be,
can never satisfy.
Tears ran down my cheeks with the sadness which loss of Leila brings.
I had to reclaim my happiness, reaffirm to myself that I deserved the
abundance I was now experiencing. Abundant joy. Abundant peace. Abundant
love. That love which extends beyond the grave is manifest. I cannot help
but believe that Leila in conjunction with the angels is providing this
balm to my soul. The sea has wrought this happiness. The terrors of the
sea mirror the terrors of the human heart. They can be managed as Rod
manages the sails to weather the storms. He stated to me, “Trust in your
knowledge and in the ship. The craft is designed to meet the wind and
wave. The heeling of the boat only terrifies those who do not understand
its dynamics.” Leila did not understand the dynamics of the ship of life.
She was terrified. She jumped off instead of sticking with it. I wiped
my eyes, determined to go on and to enjoy the blessings, which have been
bestowed upon me.
The wind died down to nothing and we were forced to motor from south of
Milwaukee to Kenosha. We docked at Southport Marina about 10:00 at night.
We celebrated our successful passage at Rod’s quarters with the last of
the ship's provisions: bratwurst, rice, corn on the cob and fuzzy navels.
Everything had been planned, managed and calculated down to the last provision.
Nothing remained of the ship's stores.
THE GREAT LAKES SAILING ADVENTURE OF 1995:
time to pause and to take stock of what this great sailing passage from
Lake Erie to Lake Michigan at Kenosha has meant for me.
I would say that it has been "the time of my life." I have been
fortunate to have seen and to have done many unusual things in my 47 years.
I have traveled far. I've lived in a different country, yet nothing has
ever moved me as intensely as sailing. I must say that it is a sensuous
experience. It is an elemental experience. If a mariner never could quite
fit in society after sailing the seven seas, I can very well appreciate
I have some appreciation of what a transatlantic voyage must have been
like albeit on a much smaller scale. The longest we were on the sea was
three days, but it was a relief always to dock and walk on land for a
while. That is not to say I did not as eagerly set sail again. I enjoyed
the high waves; I enjoyed the motion of the boat; I enjoyed the spray
hitting me in the face. Zipping along at a fast clip on a sailboat made
me feel like Queen of the World.
In the storm, it is true, I lost my nerve. I was frazzled and over-tired.
I whimpered and whined. Rod handled the entire situation while I cowered
and cringed. It did teach me that the storm can be weathered, but you
have to know how to react and act, anticipate and move with what the wind
and rain dish out. It is not a mission impossible. I do not have the knowledge
of reading charts and working the instrumentation that Rod has. He always
knew our position, avoided shoals and shores. He knew the depth and always
planned a course away from shallows, reefs, places where we would be liable
to run afoul.
I learned what it feels like to have a man in whom I could put complete
faith and trust. I've never had such a man. Rod never let fear overcome
me. I traveled a lot with Abdu, but I always questioned the sanity of
what he was doing. Even traveling across the U.S. with him, I had inordinate
fears; he didn't know what to do; he didn't know where we were going;
the trip was ill-planned; he wasn't spending the money wisely; on and
on. The fact of the matter is I've never had a man so capable and so solicitous
of my well-being and my feelings as Rod is. The trip made that abundantly
clear, as if it had not been before.
Rod thrived on studying the wind, planning the course, working the sails
and soaking up the pure joy of wind, rain, sun, wave and sky. He is a
very sensuous man. That is a very positive adjective. It means he is a
very alive, aware human being. He does not miss a trick. He observes everything.
He picks up every nuance of meaning, natural phenomena, which comes within
The sea is sensuous. It is changeable, as changeable as life. In being
so, it teaches us to accept joy and sorrow. Each in its turn comes. We
must roll over it, set our sails to meet what life deals us, and with
all, the journey must continue, until our passage is completed. In actuality,
our passage is always completed only to embark upon a new phase, a new
life; for life is never-ending like the endless ebb and flow of the sea.
A sailing vacation
is the ultimate get-away. There’s no better way to simultaneously get
away from "civilization" and to get into yourself and who you
are. You must confront head-on your physical, spiritual and intellectual
make-up. The elements alternately soothe and assail your body. Your five
senses are at work constantly. Fortunately, you are inhaling fresh air.
The inhalation and exhalation of these airs at sea purify and wash the
toxins of negativity from your soul.
The passage, thus, must have been the greatest vacation of my life. I
lived at close quarters with Rod for sixteen days. We experienced all
kinds of weather and sailing conditions. We shared the joys and the discomforts
of the voyage. The mundane tasks of cleaning, cooking and laundry had
to be tended to. It was not all picture postcards of sails on Sunset Bay.
We cooked, worked, laughed and played in a cooperative environment. We
did this while being confined to a 33-foot long space in the middle of
a big body of water. No other amusements were present but Nature, the
boat, the music, writing, two books and the company of each other. Nary
an unkind word. I'm not disillusioned, I'm not sorry I made the passage.
Pinch me; I am not dreaming. I am enlarged and expanded beyond my wildest