rookie sailor, sailing mistakes, Great Lakes cruising, learning sailing on the fly
I am using this blog as a place to describe my travels and mistakes along my journey to become a proficient and more experienced Great Lakes sailor. Please feel free to leave comments on this blog. I am interested in hearing the experiences of fellow rookies as well as seasoned pros. I am especially interested in hearing your ideas and suggestions on how I could have avoided my latest near-catastrophes! Let me have it!
(Yes, I realize the following doesn’t begin to compare with all of the hurricanin’ going on now, but I want to finish this summer’s blog…….)
Note to self#1: Do NOT doubt your weather-predictions skills……..especially since all of the technology you use lays it right in your lap.
Note to self #2: Err on the side of caution EVERY time, instead of 99% of the time. In other words, don’t get cocky.
Note to self #3: It is 4 hours between places to hide
After dropping off John in Elk Rapids in the East Branch of Grand Traverse Bay, I decided to boogy up and around the Leelanau Peninsula and head south for the beautiful beaches of West Michigan. Approaching MISTAKE ALERT: Ah, don’t worry, the storms in the Doppler images shown in northern Wisconsin and the U.P. right now will continue to move northeast, not move in the typical NW to SE pattern that has happened all summer, every summer. Yuh big dummy.
This portion of my trip is shown in yellow
Turning south and putting Leland behind me, I noticed a storm cell to my southwest. Oh-oh. Lightning & rain. However, I got lucky. The cell split and I went right through with only a drop or two of rain. See below (I’m the black dot) ……………
10 minutes later………….
MISTAKE ALERT! Still many hours from any safe haven, I then saw the following on a Doppler Radar app….
I needed to get to Frankfort but it wasn’t going to happen. There was nothing I could do except get out the “foulies” (rain gear) and keep motoring.
Then, ka-blam. Only a mile from the safe Betsie Lake at Frankfort, all hell broke loose. 40+ knot winds blowing toward shore forced me to steer at a 45 degree angle out away from shore and into the wind & waves to keep from running too shallow or plowing into the breakwaters at the harbor entrance. Driving sheets of horizontal rain…….there was water flying in all directions. Swells about 8 feet. Lightning all over the sky. (I know, I know……these are baby conditions for some of you readers.) There were other fools scrambling for safety, too, except none were in sailboats. As these fishing boats powered past, all I could see was was a bubble of water. While looking into the sky, I recited this once again, “Ok, I’m a dip shit–go ahead and hit me.” With my forward progress usually 6 knots, the poor diesel workhorse under me could now only manage half of that. When the boat slammed into an especially large wave, I’d be stopped dead and she’s have to start from scratch.
Occasionally, I’d get a peek at the harbor entrance lights once in a while as the rolling waves would allow and it sure seemed like I wasn’t getting any closer. Finally, just as I was about to pull a hard left to enter the channel, I noticed the storm letting up. Of course.
Radioing ahead to the municipal marina, I was met by the harbormaster in the light rain. He couldn’t believe I was out on the lake. I was soaked from head to toe. And pissed. And thankful.
One of my most ardent readers suggested I have more visuals, so here we go….. 😉
Our route is shown in purple
Day 1: Elk Rapids to Petosky
6-hr motor to Petosky. (Minor) Mistake alert: With the wind blowing away from the marina’s dock, it took me 3 tries to bring ‘er in close enough to tie up.
Heard the grumblings of a big (BIG!) wind on its way
Note: Click all pics to enlarge
A new sight…
Day 2: Across Little Traverse Bay & Back
Due to an impending Small Craft Advisory for the afternoon, we motored 30 mins across the bay to Harbor Springs to check out a boat parts store to pick up an impeller. Installed it in the afternoon while the big winds picked up. We rigged 8 lines to the boat to hold to prevent bumping into things. Ended up being a GALE just to our north.
Day 3: Attempt to Travel
Since the big blow was forecast to wain in the afternoon, we decided to start out in the slop and make a run to Beaver Island. With sails up and reefed (shortened), we proceeded to get pretty thrashed while having to tack for 3 hours in 17-19 knot winds before I decided we’d turn tail back to Petosky, and wait it out yet another day. I was trying to entertain but wasn’t that much fun out there!
Day 4: Finally Leave for the Bridge
Motor sailing (motoring, but with the sail up, thus the name), we boogied up and around and caught sight of the big, beautiful Mackinac Bridge around midday. Spent the rest of the day making it larger on the horizon. John was able to fulfill his trip bucket list of cruising under the bridge! We pulled into the marina in Mackinaw City, tied up, discovered we were at the wrong marina, and stayed put.
Day 5: Back West to Beaver Island
Woke up at first light to 50 degree temps & got going almost immediately. The annual Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven had ended a day or two ago and several of their vessels went past us in the opposite direction. It was nice of the United States Coast Guard to put on a parade of their ships for us.
Motored into the little, quaint St. James Bay of Beaver Island in the early afternoon. The water reminded me of the Caribbean–beautiful blues, greens, aquas, and whatever colors you ladies know that fellas don’t. I had the harbormaster talk me in via radio because I was unsure of the depths and the clear water made the bottom look closer. Surprisingly small marina that was mostly full of “loopers”. No, not a “pro jock” (See Caddyshack & the Dalai Lama monologue). These are people that are in the process of traveling the 6,000 mile long Great Loop–the Great Lakes down through various waterways through Tennessee & south to the Gulf of Mexico, then back up the east coast & finally back to the Great Lakes. Or wherever they started.
Interesting history, this Beaver Island. A guy declared himself king. (Oh, king, eh, very nice. Ow’d you get that, eh? (Sorry, now the Holy Grail is sneaking in)) At this point I shall yield to Google if you want to know more…….
Day 6: South to Charlevoix
Almost perfect breezy day. We caught it and flew!
Mistake alert! We needed to putter around in the little bay leading into Round Lake near Charlevoix, in order to wait for the drawbridge. Not being a local, I wasn’t aware of the Beaver Island ferry hiding just on the other side of the bridge. Nor did I know that this rather large, wide vessel would be piloted by a person who wanted to go through NOW! Just as the bridge lifted, I started us in and s/he started out. Not thinking the narrow channel would hold us both, I had to quickly steer to the side of the channel. Sides made of iron. A sickening “scrrrraaaaaaaape” was heard. However, no visual evidence was ever found for said scrape. Anyone ever been in this small Round Lake next to Charlevoix? Billions and Billions of dollars there. Wow. More concerts and festivals and ice cream in this port.
Day 7: Back to Drop John in Elk Rapids
It was a 5 hr motor across the glass-like water. Deciding to stay the night in the municipal marina rather than trying to snag a mooring ball here like last time, we tied up and unloaded and said our goodbyes. Gotta tell you that John has become a very instinctive first mate and a valuable deck hand. Very cool to see that.
I attempted to hook up the shore power, the boat’s plug in to the marina’s electricity. To no avail. They had just updated their equipment and apparently my old boat was now obsolete. Here only. Spent the night without charging things back up. No biggie, but it bugged me that they could not give me even a slight break in price.
MISTAKE ALERT!Getting tired of this theme yet? I’m only trying to make this stuff interesting for my three readers……
After staying alive from my home port to northern Door County to Northport near Traverse City, I tacked all day with challenging wind and waves to Elk Rapids. Here I was to pick up friend John, who would be my crew for a week. Planning a trip to sail under the Big Mack Bridge & back, we met at a mutual friend & college buddy’s new, gorgeous house on the bay.
MISTAKE ALERT: Never try to grab a mooring ball in 15 knot winds and 3 foot waves. Better yet, never try to grab a mooring ball in 15 knot winds and 3 foot waves during your first try ever.
What’s supposed to happen is that you motor up alongside the 2-feet diameter floating mooring ball and grab a line running from it with a long-handled hook and attach it to the bow (front) of your boat. The ball has a very heavy anchor which allows the boat to stay there enduring whatever Ma Nature can dish out.
Friend Chuck (local small-animal DVM), monitoring my progress from his picture window 500 meters away, via text: “Need any help?”
Mistake-Maker: “Naw, I’m going to try this on my own. Besides, I’ve seen it done on YouTube once.”
I promptly swung the hook into the water to snare the line and whiffed.
The 5/8” diameter line disappeared under the boat. Oh-oh. This feels familiar. I flipped her into neutral and waited. No sickening sound of a prop being tangled. Whew. But wait, as the wind and waves worked their magic on her, the boat started to turn ass into the wind. YES! She’s tangled around the prop after all and the wind & waves, now banging hard on the Tessa Marie’s flat stern, are starting to put tremendous pressure on the fouled prop. Quickly I nabbed the line with the hook below the swim ladder and muscled the boat against the forces which gained me a couple of feet so I could tie it to a cleat. Now the pressure was no longer on the prop.
I waited for what seemed like the longest 30 minutes of my life for help to come.
Chuck arrived on his personal watercraft. I grabbed the swim goggles I had aboard and prepared to enter the churning slop to view how much money I was going to have to lay out. Chuck insisted that a mask & snorkel would be a much better idea, but you know me.
NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE #1: Climbing down the short swim ladder on back of the boat, I had to hang on for dear life. She was bucking like crazy. Finally dropping into the water, I immediately started bopping while the boat was weaving. It was like being in a washing machine. In all of my lifeguard & Senior Lifesaving teaching and training, I had never been in a situation like this. Already gassed, I attempted to take a peek at the carnage below. Caught a glimpse of the line caught in the gap between the rudder & the rest of the keel, but not the prop! Came up with my breath completely used up and tried to grab a quick breath. Since the waves were crashing off the flat back of the boat, as I fought to take a breath, I ended up with a big slap of water in my face and a sufficient amount of water in my mouth & trachea to cough and gasp instead of exchange air. Then down under the water I was pushed. On the edge of the panic I learned about in water training, I managed to reach up and grab the bottom rung of the swim ladder. Since it was quickly moving 3 feet up and down, my single-handed grip was quickly broken and once again I was sent below. With the next bob & weave, I grabbed ahold with both hands and managed to hang on through a couple cycles, then was able to stick a foot on the bottom rung. Waiting for the timing to be correct, I got the other leg nearby, and then both feet were on the ladder. Finally able to scramble back aboard the heaving vessel, I was completely spent. I’m sure Chuck saw the look on my face that I had just narrowly escaped drowning. He yelled to me that he was going to go get his mask & snorkel.
While he was sitting on his watercraft near shore, his mask was tossed out to him, but it went into the drink. 15 minutes of searching yielded nothing, so off to the store his brother and sister went to purchase another set.
When he got back out to the boat, I had recovered from the earlier attempt and decided to try again myself with the same goggles. Being SO MUCH wiser this time, instead of climbing down the bucking bronco, I just jumped in feet first, and this time I had a square seat cushion-type personal floatation device with me to hang onto.
NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE #2: When I surfaced, I got slammed back down under water and caught another lung-full of water along the way. All the floating square did was get in my way. Sorta swimming around to the side a bit, I grabbed ahold of a line hanging off the side of the boat & gain a breath. I steadied myself enough to give the stuck line a single kick. A mere 30 seconds into this attempt, I was so tired I didn’t think I could make it the 5 feet back to the ladder so I managed to wave Chuck over to me with his watercraft and I quickly grabbed its side. I spent the next minute expelling numerous gut-wrenching dry heaves. (I’m sure Chuck thought I was a goner again.) After 5 minutes, he dropped me at my gyrating ladder and I climbed aboard once again.
Chuck is Mr. Clutch-Mr. Pressure-Mr. Cool. He tied his watercraft to my boat and slipped into the water wearing the brand-new mask & snorkel. Duh. Oh, plus a full ski lifejacket. Double duh. He calmly paddled around in the chop like a turtle. With his face in the water, it took him about 2 minutes to kick the fouled line free. Charles is The Man.
Next, under his direction, we managed to set up a system of lines to transfer the load back up to the bow where it belonged.
I left the boat out in the stiff wind and waves overnight. In the meantime, Dr. Hero, his family, and John & I were invited to an amazing steak dinner with new 15 friends and family at the gorgeous cottage of another college friend, Marty, and his wife, Sandy. It was quite literally the best steak I’ve ever eaten. In fact, after the previous 2-hour drama, the food and drink never tasted better. Thank you so much to the entire Elk Rapids crew who showed us unparalleled hospitality. John & I will never forget the pampering we received from Marty & Sandy, Chuck & Kim, and their families and friends.
Dr. Charles: Your patients and their owners have relied on your wisdom and experience for over 30 years. Man, am I glad that you are also an old salt.
Trying to rig up a line that would allow me to be able to leave a dock single-handedly more easily:
I lost track of the end of the line while watching my bow drift toward my neighbor. All of a sudden there was a loud, fast THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP. Oh crap. I just wrapped the line around my prop. As I quickly popped the transmission into neutral, the engine died. Oh crap again. That can’t be good.
THEN (GET THIS)
While leaning overboard a bit to catch a glimpse of the now twisted line, I found myself coming up for air. Yes, ladies & gentlemen, I SLIPPED OFF AND WAS IN THE WATER between the boat and the dock.
Lucky #1: Still grasping the twisted line and treading water while fully clothed, I saw the Tessa Marie starting to slowly pivot around the end of the dock and toward the next boat over. Ok, picture a fat old man trying to use his old sidestroke to pull this big fat (in a good way, honey) boat to the dock. Tiring quickly, I finally reached the dock and grabbed a post and tried to muscle her over.
Lucky #2: A boater on the other side of the marina saw this cluster**** and darted over. I handed off the line and he secured the boat to the dock.
Lucky #3: The marina owner and I were able to untangle the fouled line fairly easily without having to go diving.
Lucky #4: There was no damage except to the line.
There are no pictures or video of this occurrence. At least I hope not. Thus, it didn’t really happen.
Part 2: Washington Island-Across Lake Michigan-Between the Manitou Islands-to Northport, Michigan
How’s that for a title?
It’s the middle section of the green leg
The wind was forecast to be almost perfect for my first “crossing” of the year. Leaving right at sunrise, it started slow but soon was amazing. The Tessa Marie maintained 7.5kts all of the way over. Made it in less than half the time as earlier passages.
Check it out (Click photos to enlarge)
Apparently banging a sailboat upwind right in her wheelhouse for five hours is hard on ‘er…..
It was a day trip up Wisconsin’s Door County and another day over to Michigan to pick up sailing buddy John at a mutual friend’s near Traverse City. A trip via sailboat under the Mackinaw Bridge was on his bucket list.
Due to wind being right on my nose, it was a full day of motoring at 6 kts (6.9 mph) from my home port of Oconto, Wisconsin to Washington Island. As I arrived for the night and saw the approaching storm both via doppler phone app and naked eye, I decided not to anchor where John & I did last year (when we got lost on the dinghy trying to find the sailboat in the dark). Instead, I headed for the only marina in Detroit Harbor. As was the case last year, the staff left early so there was no one there to grab me and help me in. And then the wind picked up. I picked out an empty slip & turned ‘er in. Luckily there was a sailor there nearby and helped me in. Five minutes after all lines were secure, I noticed a fishing boat approaching the marina. MISTAKE ALERT: Of course, I had just taken their slip. Having to quickly move their fenders (dock bumpers) and tie-up lines to the other side, they were not happy. After telling me I had to move, I helped them in and offered alcohol and managed to humor them enough to let me stay. I decided to only tie up for the night and not use their facilities or power.
Of course the storm went around the island.
I left to begin my Lake Michigan crossing at sun up. Having met the marina boss last year, I called him later and told him I had to tie up there overnight but didn’t use anything other than their dock cleats friction. I’m just honest like that. He decided he’d only charge me as a 25 footer rather than a 35 footer. YOWCH. That’s still around 50 bucks. How’d that work for me?
Next up: Photos & video from the trip across Lake Michigan, between South & North Manitou Islands, and up and around the Lelanau Peninsula to Northport (It was a blast)