Thankful…crossing Lake Erie

I have so many things to be thankful for and this post will be be long and I will be thankful when I’m finished writing it! If you’ve followed our journey on Facebook, much of this will be old news. We planned on updating the blog as we sailed along but found that the whole wifi thing just got in the way. As well as the sailing, cruising and enjoying life. So really this blog is just a re-cap and extension of my Facebook posts which were convenient to update as we went along.

I’m writing this from the warm living room at my parent’s home in Western Wisconsin. I am currently back here for a couple of weeks to work and visit with family which is simply a perk of coming back!

Anyway, I’ll go back to where I left off…

 

Just after I last wrote, we moved back to the marina where it all began for us a year ago. We wanted to get a bit of a head start, be a little closer to resources and say goodbye to those who had been there at the beginning of this journey for us.

Our crew arrives…and we are thankful

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20ish years ago, Angie hired Shane at the company he currently works for. From what I’m told, only about a half hour was spent discussing the position and the rest of the time, they discussed their mutual love for sailing. Soon after, Shane was crewing for Angie aboard her catamaran and they were spending many weekends racing together around Lake Waconia in MN. When Shane and I realized that we were running out of time to get across Lake Erie and through the canal before the end of the season, we thought it would be nice to have a third crew member on board for the transit. Immediately, I asked him if he thought Angie would be interested and available. As luck had it, she was both interested and available and agreed to join us.

In the afternoon of September 7th, we set off…..

OK, here’s how it really went!  Angie and Shane got on the boat while I waited at the fuel dock to catch them so we could do one last fuel up before we left. I watched anxiously at the fuel dock trying to determine which of the masts was ours. Soon there was a moving mast in the distance. I saw it back out of the slip and then… head the wrong way… to the end of the channel??? Apparently, one of the dock lines got snagged on a piling and swung the boat around. Best option, cruise to the end, turn around and then head to the fuel dock. Isn’t it funny how you get yourself all worked up over something like a big departure and then something little like that will defuse the anticipation in seconds!?!

So off we went. The waves were confused and the winds from an “unfavorable” direction but we weren’t turning back. We’d prepared for this for too long and finally we were setting off on our journey to salt water (and warmer weather)!

 

We were headed for the Detroit river and down to the Ford Yacht Club which was to be our first home away from home. Once we got to the river, the crazy waves subsided and we just motored on down. We were set to enter the marina and find slip number E93. When it isn’t your own marina, that number means nothing. We watched the charts and the depth finder which was reading 6…5…4 feet around the yacht club entrance. We went in… we saw no numbers… I texted the yacht master, and after some time he directed us to the “East” entrance. So Shane slowly backed out with an audience of onlookers who were there for the upcoming regatta that weekend. We motored around to the East entrance which coincidentally was a very narrow creek with slips on the left and you guessed it, we were 93 slips up the creek. By about slip 20, a very enthusiastic (and incredibly kind) gentleman came running down a dock and said “where are you headed?”. We replied with our destination. “There is a Tartan with green canvas at slip #50, that’s about half way!! and look up! Watch your instruments!!!” IMG_0574He wasn’t lying, the trees on the opposite side were overhanging and just a couple of feet from our mast. We yelled a thank you to him and slowly proceeded up the creek where finally some of the slips were numbered. We counted as we went and dodged the trees the whole way. When we finally arrived at slip 93 where we found it occupied with a couple eagerly prepping for the regatta. “He must have forgotten he’d given us the slip” the man called out as we passed with confusion on our faces. “What should we do, I can’t turn around here!?!” So Shane backed up… all the way!!!!!! Angie helped to watch the trees while I looked for open slips and Shane turned himself backward at the helm to ease our way back down the channel. This wasn’t going to go in the books as the ideal first experience but it was definitely an experience! We backed all the way to slip 16 which was conveniently vacant and we pulled in so that we could go ashore to figure out what the H-E-double hockey sticks was going on! Unfortunately, the yacht master was unreachable at this point. Shane was able to track down the vice commodore of the club who assured us that we could use that slip for the night. IMG_0570Whew!!! Not long after, the kind gentleman who’d run down the dock to warn us showed up to chat and stayed long enough to give us some advice on how best to navigate the local waters and where to visit on Lake Erie. A storm rolled in overnight and we decided that we needed to lay low for a couple of days. In light of the mishap with the slip, the yacht master let us stay for an extra two days at no charge! We worked on a few small boat projects and planned our escape to the lake.

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On our last day at Ford YC, Jim, the kind gentleman who’d already helped us out so much, returned with his pickup and asked if we needed a ride into town to pick up anything like groceries or supplies.  I can’t remember a time in recent history when I’d felt more thankful for someone’s generosity. Maybe it was because he was a new acquaintance or maybe because I felt so far out of my element at the time but his offer couldn’t have come at a better time and I had tears of gratitude in my eyes as I scrambled for my list and ran out to his truck. He insisted that it was “nothing” and that many people had done the same for him when he and his wife were cruising. But for me, at this time in our journey, it really meant the world to me. I hadn’t considered how difficult it would be to access something as simple as groceries. In our “normal” life, I went to the market, co-op or grocery store every day or two. I’d done a bit of provisioning for the trip before we left as recommended by others but I figured we could just pick things up along the way and I didn’t want to go overboard with it. In retrospect, I should have gone overboard with it. In many cases, you have little or nothing nearby and you just don’t realize how heavy those groceries can be when you are carrying them a great distance. What started as a less than ideal beginning to our trip ended up being one of my best memories so far. The kindness shown to us by the folks at Ford Yacht Club and especially Jim are something that won’t soon be forgotten, and we are thankful!

IMG_0587After spending the weekend waiting for the storms to pass and the tide to recede, we set off early Monday morning headed for Middle Bass Island YC. We were in search of a quiet place to settle in for the night and Jim had suggested that Middle Bass would be a nice place to explore. Again, he was right. But before we could enjoy this quaint little island, we had to brave the choppy waves of Western Lake Erie after the storm. I’d read and heard many stories about how crazy the lake conditions could get so I was apprehensive to say the least. Though the sea state was less than ideal, I have to say that I wasn’t bothered by it much at all. After experiencing the effects of wake action on lakes in the past, this just seemed like an intensified version of that so as we bounced around on the mixed water and made our way to Middle Bass while I just imagined being a little boat in a bathtub. Loki was really the only one that suffered on that trip as her breakfast soon resurfaced and I had to spend the rest of the journey holding her to keep her from getting more seasick.

 

Because of the strong winds, we had a less than ideal landing at the new marina but soon were safe and sound tied up to the dock. We went ashore and met a few couples from the Middle Bass Island Yacht Club who filled us in on the local news and gave us warm welcome to their beautiful place. We decided to spend an extra day there as Shane had some meetings to attend to and Angie and I wanted to do some laundry, wander around town and download a bit of Netflix for our late evening fix of media. IMG_0606While Shane attended his meetings the next day, Angie and I walked into “town” which consisted of a general store attached to a bar/restaurant, a church with a cemetery and a library which seemed to double as the town hall as the signs on the outside told of the many weekly events held there. We grabbed a fly swatter from the general store which we’d been searching for since we’d left Detroit and wandered around the cemetery.

On the way back to the boat, we meandered over to the abandoned Lonz Winery which in it’s day, was the largest producer of wine in the U.S. If you’re interested in reading more about the history of the winery, here’s a link http://www.firelandswinery.com/lonz/history.html.

 

 

 

The next day we left after one of Shane’s morning meetings and made our way to Lorain OH. We stayed in at the Spitzer Marina and had dinner at the bar/restaurant there. Here is where we finally found a place that would allow dogs on the deck so we were able to eat out instead of on the boat! It was also the home of this adorable light house at the entrance to the channel.

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And finally a day of sailing! Imagine that, on a sailboat… in the Great Lakes… sailing! Amazingly, the wind always seems to be coming from the wrong direction and therefore we spend way too much time motoring into the wind. If we weren’t in a time crunch, we’d be happy to tack (zig-zag) across the lake just for the opportunity to raise the sails and cut the engine. But because we need to get our Rhythm to warmer waters before we get frozen in, we motor… a lot. Well not this day. On our trip to Mentor OH, we finally got to spend some time sailing and it was glorious!

 

 

We were able to leave early the next day to head to Ashtabula OH. We planned to stay at the Ashtabula Yacht Club and so I called ahead to speak with them and make sure there would be a place for us that night. I spoke to a nice guy named Vince who told us that they’d have a place for us and to pull up to the wall if there was room or if we saw his ketch tied up there, we could pull into his slip. After waiting for the drawbridge on the river to raise, we pulled through, rounded the corner and saw a ketch parked on the wall. I yelled over and asked “Are you Vince?” IMG_0673He was indeed Vince and he directed us to his slip just up the river. Entering a marina slip on a river has it’s unique challenges. You not only have to watch for lots of passing traffic, you are also dealing with a current and wind which don’t necessarily agree on which direction they want you to go. So Shane maneuvered all of these elements, pulled into the slip and as Angie went to grab a line with the boat hook, it separated and the hook end fell into the water as she held tightly onto the grip end. There was a nice gentleman named Glen who was trying to enjoy his peaceful afternoon when we came barreling in. He managed to jump up and give us a hand just in time and keep us from succumbing to the wind and current situation. And we were thankful!

The genuine kindness of strangers made a welcome appearance again in this quaint little town. Glen, the Vice Commodore at the yacht club (and the kind gentleman who helped us dock the boat), offered to give us a ride to a hardware store and then to the grocery store to get supplies and then extended a warm invitation to the club’s Friday night social gathering. “Come on down, there will be lots of food and nice folks”. He was right. We weren’t sure if we’d be entering one of those gatherings where everyone knew each other and it felt awkward to just show up but it was exactly the opposite of that! Before we even got to the party, people were coming up and greeting us. “You must be the couple that’s heading through the canal, welcome!” Glen had paved the way and we were thankful! We met so many nice folks that night and one couple that we ended up keeping in touch with as they were heading the same direction as us, Vince (yep, same guy that I’d talked to on the phone) and his wife Julie (and their dog Scupper). IMG_0671Vince and Julie left the next day with a big sendoff from all of their friends at the club but we decided to hang around. We had a few things to take care of before we moved on. Glen offered up his vehicle so that we could run our errands. This! This is what I’m talking about when I speak of the kindness of strangers. We left Ashtabula with great memories and some new friends… again, thankful!

 

Our next stop on our journey was Erie PA and of course, there was a lot of motoring to get there. Though we thought we’d be doing a lot of sailing, we awoke to East, North East winds every day. So we took turns motoring (mostly Shane and Angie took turns motoring while I took care of Loki). We also tried to take care of odd little chores and entertain each other. That night we checked into the Commodore Perry Yacht Club, had long hot showers and a great night sleep. Let me add the our gratefulness for hot showers! The little things in life become so big when they aren’t easily accessible. Hot showers, strong water pressure, clean bathrooms, heat, a nice steady breeze… I could go on and on!

 

 

At one time early in the trip (likely when the waves were choppy and uncooperative), I’d said to Shane and Angie “I’d love a day when the water is like glass and we have a nice light breeze to sail.” They both chuckled and reminded me that when there’s enough wind to sail, the water is never like glass. When we left Erie the next morning, the water was like glass… and they were correct, there was no wind. But it was beautiful and again, we motored all the way to Dunkirk NY which would be our last stop on Lake Erie.

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Arriving at the Dunkirk Yacht Club in NY was a bit sketchy. I’m quite sure we picked up a seaweed salad for ten on our keel while pulling into that harbor. We maneuvered through the shallow waters and found ourselves a slip. As we were docking the boat, I noticed that there was a sharp piece of tangled, rusty metal protruding from the dock and quickly pushed off before it became one with the side of our boat. Shane and Angie were confused until they also spied the rusty knot and we immediately moved on to a more acceptable slip. This is one of the advantages of arriving at the end of the season. We never had trouble finding a place to stay as most of the local boaters had all but ended their season and the other transients like us had come through days or weeks before us so moving from one slip to another just wasn’t an issue. And for the evening, this was our marvelous view!

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We awoke early the next day to an amazing sunrise. We followed our new friends Julie and Vince out of the bay and into Lake Erie for our last day transiting the lake and just like many of the others, it was picture perfect.. and we sailed…for about an hour.

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I remember before we started this trip, I was very nervous about the sail across Lake Erie. I imagined a treacherous journey filled with violent seas and waves that would be nearly impossible to maneuver. Neptune rises from the depths below and sucks us back into the (not-so-deep) water of Lake Erie. Something like that. We’d been warned by several people that the weather was moody and could change quickly to create such a scenario. Since I had only my imagination to go by, of course I had something of a children’s nightmare going in my head. But this experience taught me that the journey brings so many unexpected and amazing little experiences to be thankful for.

And we are thankful!

 

 

 

 

 

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