Sailing in Lake Erie

The first thing that one notices about sailing in Lake Erie is the color. After sailing through the various hues of blue in Lake Michigan, The North Channel, and Lake Huron, the greenish-yellow tint of Lake Erie was rather worrisome. So, too, was the depth. I thought that we must be doing something wrong as we sailed along, five miles from land, when the depth had yet to reach 40 feet. In fact, throughout our entire leg to Cleveland, I don’t think that any of us ever saw something that reached 60 feet on the depth sounder. Nevertheless, Erie has definitely come a long way from the lake that was a pollutant dumping ground for so many years.

We stopped over at Kelly’s Island the morning of August 3rd for a diesel fill-up, and considered staying until the irrepressibly cheerless and bad-tempered owners of the marina led us to consider leaving as a far superior option. Even so, with about 45 miles to Cleveland, and not wanting to spend another night running shifts, we aimed instead for Lorain, Ohio. Upon arrival at around 9:30pm in the pitch dark, we discovered why the deal at the marina that we had chosen had been so cheap. The marina was, as our noses infallibly informed us, adjacent to a pollution disposal facility. Nevertheless, deals are deals, and as the marina was upwind, we had no real qualms pulling in for the night. Although we at first intended to go out and see what Lorain had to offer for night life, we were all far too exhausted and fell asleep almost instantaneously upon arrival, a decision that Pieter and I both severely regretted the next morning when, on a morning walk around town, we found a pool hall just 100 yards from the marina’s entrance. In spite of our disappointment, we left fairly early in the day to sail the next 25 miles to only our second big city of the trip: Cleveland.


St. Clair River to Detroit

Our trip down the St. Clair River to Detroit was both incredibly relaxed and incredibly frightening. As the border between the U.S. and Canada you get to see a cross-section of both nations and (as we Americans are far too fond of doing) comparing what they have to offer. The first section of the river absolutely goes to the U.S. Beautiful, intricately designed houses dot the western bank of the river, often as high as 4 stories, and with massive towers for corners like enormous medieval castles. A quick glance across the river, however, shows a radically different scene. The entire first stretch of the Canadian side of the river is a massive industrial complex, with smoke stacks jutting up to the sky, and massive piles of sand, ash and gravel, bespeckling the landscape like so many cow pies. Eventually, both sides fade into rather less extreme residential areas, and by the time we turned down the “North Channel”, even these had given way to mostly marshland and sporadic copses of trees. After navigating our way down the North Channel into Anchor Bay we began searching for a suitable anchorage.

I must unfortunately take responsibility for everything that occurred from there on out. Trying to find an anchorage earlier that day, I happened to see the words “Anchor Bay” and immediately stopped looking and announced that we had a spot. A place called “Anchor Bay” had to be a great place for anchoring, right? This was, as Ellen later told me, and I quote, “stupid”. Halfway across the bay, night was already falling, and as the bay was reasonably shallow, all the way across, but became too shallow too far out to actually anchor in shelter, John (to his credit) decided to anchor right there. After going for a quick swim and finish up the Mighty Ducks trilogy with D3 (perhaps the most cheesy movie of a series that got Joshua Jackson a part on Dawson’s Creek), we turned in for what was certain to be a rocky night.

Around 4am, Pieter and I awoke to a rather intense reality. The wind and waves, which had kicked up during the night, were bringing a storm of massive proportions right down on top of us. John and Ellen, who had been on watch, showed us the gps (one of our more reliable purchases), where we were surrounded by varying shades of green, yellow, and red, and ringed on 3 sides by storm cells and lightning bolts. Moreover, as we watched, John noticed something else unsettling. Our gps dot was slowly drifting away from our anchorage toward a lee shore a couple miles off at about .6 knots. To put that in perspective, .6 kts isn’t real fast, but we have managed to hit 7 kts sailing with both sails up and the waves with us precisely once. However, we were somehow managing to travel 1/10 that speed, with all sails down, 150 feet of line, 20 feet of steel chain rode, and our CQR anchor that should ostensibly have been dug into the ground, trailing behind us. Now, normally we could easily rectify the situation by motoring back to a safe location and resetting the anchor, or even just doing circles until the wind and waves calmed. Unfortunately, the frequent lightning strikes on all sides (supportively accompanied by thunder) gave us pause. How intelligent was scrambling around on deck, surrounded by a metallic lattice, waiting to get fried at any moment? In the end, we opted to wait and watch the gps, and only go out if absolutely necessary. The wind fortunately calmed and the rain abated when we were just under a mile from utilizing the BoatUs tow account that we have, and we managed to motor our way to relative safety and set the anchor (very firmly), returning to our watch routine. It was quite an experience, and one that we would rather not repeat, but as that has happened so frequently on this trip, the lessons that we have learned from other events helped us prepare immeasurably better than we ever have before, and when it was time to act, we did so quickly and efficiently. It was another misfortune from which we learned a lot, and whose lessons will remain with us for the rest of the journey. We fortunately didn’t have too much time to dwell on the previous night, as we had a planned meeting in Detroit the next day, so we got up early the next morning and sailed on to our next round of adventures.


South Baymouth to Lexington

We were unfortunately forced to remain in South Baymouth for three nights, due to the rather stormy weather conditions that rocked northern Lake Huron for a couple days. I say unfortunately, not because of the people, who were as kind and friendly as any we met elsewhere in Canada, but rather because of the unquestionably spare amenities available in the town. With no place open later than 10pm, we ended up spending inordinate amounts of time at the pizza parlor cum internet café, a place where they ostensibly charge $3 for 15 minutes of internet. This rule did not seem to apply to us, as they were kind enough to let us all use the internet for a cumulative total of about 23 hours, despite only paying the $3 fee once on our first day in town.

Although South Baymouth wasn’t exactly cosmopolitan, it was nice to have a few down days to poke around on the internet and relax. After a final night spent cuddled up watching The Mighty Ducks: D2 (a cinematic classic) we got up and hauled (relatively speaking) down Lake Huron with a northeast wind helping us along magnificently. There were only 2 notable aspects of that particular stretch. The first was a storm that we were fortunate to miss as we sailed down the lake, and watched as the rain and lightning passed a couple miles in front of us. The second was our use of Ellen’s iPod to listen to the 3rd Harry Potter book (the Prisoner of Azkaban for those of you unfortunate enough to not have an internal Harry Potter lexicon) for the entire length of the book, which led to none of us sleeping particularly well, but kept us very well diverted on shift.

We finally pulled in here to Lexington, Michigan, just in time to make some Saturday night bar friends, who invited us back home to hang out for a bit. We spent the following night playing pool and watching the Olympics (a rare treat when you have no tv and your only daily exhibitions of athletic prowess to watch are our splayed, splashing dives off the foredeck), and we got an early start the next morning, motoring down to the entrance of the St. Clair River.


The Georgian Bay

The week since we left Little Current has been significantly more relaxed and Laid-back than the maelstrom of activity that was LC. That’s not to say that we haven’t had our fair share of harrowing experiences (ruining your clutch in 28 knots of wind is fairly interesting by most standards) but we’ve also had a lot more down time for reading, writing, and obsessively playing the latest game that John told me I just had to have on my iPad.

Leaving our first anchorage after Little Current, we emerged into the Georgian Bay and 25 knots of wind, consistently blowing as high as 28, and coming, naturally, directly from the direction of our intended anchorage. John asked me before we left whether we should take the dinghy off the bow, but I told him that it might be a better idea to leave it up there to dry. This, as I would soon learn, was a mistake. Drying the dinghy became entirely futile, as it took somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds to become entirely soaked with spray. It was also in an extremely inconvenient spot, obstructing one of our lines so that we couldn’t furl the genoa, and providing rather unsteady footing when we had to drop the genoa instead. Later on as we approached the anchorage, we turned the motor on and tried to put it in gear. No one would ever mistake us for expert mechanics, but we were pretty sure that the rumbling, shaking noises coming from the engine and clutch assembly were a bad thing. Indeed they were, as we discovered that the wire controlling our speed in forward had somehow been shorn completely through, and the assembly itself was bent and cracked. John fortunately devised a way to motor us around (using a pair of pliers on the wire) and we managed to motor into our anchorage and some small respite from the wind. We sailed out the next day with a brisk 22 knots of wind, and had a fairly uneventful sail to Lake Huron and north, up to a little town called South Baymouth.

Little Current: Our Favorite Town in Canada

Little Current, Ontario is our favorite town in Canada yet (sorry Thessalon, you’re definitely a close second). When we first started walking around the town we thought it was going to be awful because all of the stores were closed since apparently the town shuts down at 6pm, according to the women who worked at Farquhar’s (the name of quality in the North). This included the beer and wine store, which apparently closes at 6 every day except for Friday. However, after talking to a few friendly locals, we met a couple that was going to a beer store out in West Bay and was more than happy to give John a ride there. We’ve started to realize that everyone in Canada is super friendly. That first night was our first experience at the Anchor Inn, the local watering hole in LC that’s also a restaurant, a hotel and has free wifi. We absolutely love it there. The bartender, Bruce, is a big sailor and was really into our trip and gave us some advice about sailing in the Caribbean. We also met Pat that night, the guy who really made the rest of our stay in LC absolutely fantastic. Once the bar closed, we brought our new friends back to the boat to continue the good time we were having. Apparently we had too much of a good time since the next day we had a friendly visit from the harbormaster, who politely told us that we could not stay that night at the marina, and also that we were not allowed at the other harbor he managed, which was the government docks. This was one of two firsts for us in LC. We knew it was going to happen at some point, though I was surprised that it happened so early in the trip.

Thankfully our new friend Pat stopped by the boat after it happened and helped us find a different place to stay for the night. After calling all the marinas in LC numerous times, with all of them telling us they had no transient slips available, Pat showed us a good place to anchor for the night in a bay close to the town so we could dinghy in. He also had an itinerary for us (he’s definitely a man with a plan), which included driving us around to get our errands done before we had to leave the marina at 8pm.

When we went to the anchoring spot, we ran into a little bit of trouble. But really, we ran aground on some rocks that weren’t marked on our charts, which incidentally are not supposed to be used for navigation. Dustin immediately got in the water to confirm the obvious, that we were indeed on top of a reef. He attempted to push us off, but was not successful. In the meantime I sat and watched the bilge for about 10 minutes. Thankfully we did not take on any water. There was a couple dinghying back to their boat and came up to us and offered to give us a tow, which we gladly took. After only a few minutes we were off the rocks and happily anchored. This was our second first in LC. On the bright side, we now know how to rectify the situation and the only bad thing that happened was a slight scratch in the gel coat on the keel.

That night we went back to the Anchor (second time that day for John and me, third time for Pieter and Dustin… I wasn’t lying when I said we love it) with Pat and made some more new friends. The next morning we realized that we still had stuff left to do, such as post on the blog, so we definitely needed to stay one more night in LC. After spending a few hours at the Anchor during the day to use the internet, we found a slip at the government docks that we could move to. When we were trying to bring the anchor up, however, we saw that it was stuck in seaweed. Naturally Dustin was the one who offered to get in the water to get it out. However at some point he kicked a whole cluster of zebra mussels and got maybe 20 cuts on his foot/ankle/calf and was bleeding a good amount once he got back onto the boat since he decided that it was good idea to keep standing on his foot. Since I’m the “health and safety expert,” I got to clean up his foot since he more or less refused to since he “wasn’t bleeding that much.” Thankfully the cuts weren’t that bad and after putting pressure on them for maybe an hour they finally stopped bleeding. I was definitely more worried than he was.

Our last night in LC was spent with Pat and some more of his friends, who invited us to their house to hang out. It was so nice going to a real house that had a real kitchen/bathroom and, best of all, incredibly comfy couches and two fantastic dogs. I seriously believe that everyone in Canada incredibly friendly. It’s Minnesota nice to a whole different level; something that I didn’t think I would ever say. It made it difficult to leave, which we finally did at 5pm on Sunday. Big thanks to everyone we met there, especially Pat, for showing us around Little Current and making sure our time there was well spent and so much fun. Based off of the time that we had there this past weekend, I’m sure we’ll all be back in the not too distant future.


The North Channel, part 1

Thus far, the North Channel has been an amalgam of beauty, hilarity, and outright horror. For reasons that will become clear later, I would suggest that those with easily upset stomachs avoid reading the very end of this post, as there are some graphic descriptions that may be too much for the unprepared.

Crossing the border into Canada was one of the simpler processes that we have had to endure on this trip. As we did our utmost to outrun the black storm clouds behind us, (and failed miserably, becoming absolutely drenched) John called up the Canadian coast guard, told them that we were coming into Thessalon, Ontario, and gave them our passport information. Aside from their brief, albeit intense curiosity in the precise number of beers in our ice box, they did not seem overly invested in the customs process. I say this because, apart from that phone call and one very large and imposing sign that marked Thessalon as a Canadian Customs location, we did not see a single indication that any customs bureau or indeed officer had ever been in, or was aware of the existence of Thessalon. Given the stories that I’ve heard about crossing the border into Canada by car, and the draconian strip-searches that by all accounts occur regularly, I walked around all day in semi-discomfort, expecting at any moment to be dragged down to the boat by an irate customs official, hell bent on verifying the exact quantity of beer cans in our possession, and become incensed that we had underestimated our total by four.

Me fears were, thankfully, groundless, and as we looked forward to the evening, Pieter and I decided to check out what the bars look like in Thessalon. As we stared at the imposing “closed” sign on the door of the bar, we felt a vague sense of confusion. How could the only bar in town be closed at 10pm on a Saturday night? A helpful passer-by informed us that the bar is open only when the owners feel so inclined. Examining their posted hours was therefore entirely unhelpful, as they choose to ignore them and close on a whim. We started back to the marina, feeling vaguely dejected, with little conception of the 180 degree shift that our night would soon take. As we neared it, we happened to pass a house, filled with lights, with people spilling out from inside onto the porch. We walked up to ask what there was to do in this town, which they helpfully informed us was “not much”, but invited us inside. After picking up John and Ellen, we happily complied and walked into one of the wilder parties that I have seen. We left the next day at 4pm, the incredibly friendly dockmaster having informed us that we could leave whenever we pleased, and after a day of hanging out with some of our friends from the night before. We’d all like to send a huge thank you to the kids in Thessalon, Ontario, who welcomed us so warmly and showed us such a great time.

Our next few days were spent in idyllic relaxation, travelling a few miles from one island to the next, swimming in the morning, and pressing on only when embarrassment compelled us to, feeling that 2pm was, really, a bit late to be getting our day started. In fact, the only complaint that we could really make was of the wind at night. In the anchorage on East Grant Island, our first night out of Thessalon, we were perfectly protected from the southeastern wind that escorted us in there, but not, unfortunately, from the northwestern wind that kicked up around midnight. I would complain about being forced to remain on watch for a couple hours that night, but John kindly woke me up 20 minutes before my shift to inform me that the Northern Lights were in the sky. I came out on deck to find beautiful green lights dancing in the northern sky. The clouds obscured much of them, so the colors were not as vivid as they apparently sometimes are, but John managed to take a couple of great pictures, and I sat entranced, staring at the northern sky until the lights began to fade towards the end of my shift. They did not, however, wake up Ellen and Pieter, which Ellen was quite upset about the next morning. The next night on Sanford Island, which protected us nicely from our northwestern wind, but left us rather exposed when the wind started blowing from the southeast that night, I watched a rather more terrifying beauty as the skies north of us lit up with cast quantities of lightning strikes for the majority of my 2.5-hour shift. I was sent off to bed with a vision of the northeastern sky, which reminded me strongly of Mordor, given the red-infused black sky, with lighting strikes coming down intermittently, and a tall tower, angrily blinking red against the black background. Beautiful, but not precisely settling.

We were fortunate the following night on John Island in a beautiful little cove on the southeastern side of the island. The night was cloudy, but calm, and we awoke to an idyllic vision of the rock strewn cove, and cute little sand beach, bathed in sunlight. After a much needed swim to the island and back, broken up by a solid hour of playing in the sand on the beach, we returned to the boat to decide our ideal course of action. We eventually all agreed to take 3 days to cover the distance from John Island to Little Current. It is a distance that should really only require two days to complete, but we felt compelled to take our time and really soak in the beauty of the channel, rather than rushing through it. We pulled into Eagle Island that night, another Island that perfectly protected us from every direction except the northeast. If you’ve made it to this point in the post, you can probably guess what direction the wind ended up blowing from that night, tearing in 180 degrees from its daytime direction, and forcing me to spend two hours on deck, reading John’s Henry Kissinger book to stay awake, and periodically using the handheld compass to take bearings on the other boats in the anchorage to ensure that we didn’t move. We didn’t, and as everyone woke up that morning, we began to prepare for our quick trip down to Clapperton Island, the stop before Little Current.

And it is here that our story takes a turn for the horrifying. Those who easily suffer indigestion would do well to steer clear of the following section. Before we left, I decided that I needed to use the head. I unfortunately found it full of “water”(it was definitely poop water) and unfortunately had to pump it out before using it. It only emptied halfway before bubbling back up on me, and being the intelligent, educated young man that I am, the only thing that I could think of to rectify that situation was to continue pumping it perhaps 20 times. Eventually, John suggested that the system might be over-pressurized, and that “someone” should open the pump out cap on deck to let off the pressure. “Someone” turned out to be me, and I blithely walked up on deck, completely ignorant of the horror that was about to unfold. I began to gain an inkling when I cracked the cap (at first incredibly difficult to turn), and a bit of “water” dribbled out onto the deck, figuring that I had no choice but to keep going, I turned it again, and more of that unpleasant substance spurted out. I waited for the flow to stop before, assuming that all the pressure had been released from the system, turned it again. I had front-row seats to the show as built-up pressure shot the cap out of its lodging, and erupted a geyser of “water”, disturbingly reminiscent of Old Faithful that sprayed the deck, rigging, my hands, and the shins of my favorite pajama pants, and sent the crew of Reaching South (until this point supportively watching from the cabin) scrambling to deck for fresh air.

Needless to say, our plans shifted somewhat in response to this unexpected development. We turned our boat directly for Little Current and got ourselves moving as fast as we could possibly go, while simultaneously undertaking the most thorough and enthusiastic deck-swabbing since Britain’s navy ruled the seas. We finally arrived in Little Current that afternoon, all gratefully running for the bathroom when we did. We looked forward to a couple days of relaxation, exploring the town and meeting the people, but what we found in Little Current was ever so much more than we could have possibly predicted.


Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is a truly surreal place. We finally made it up to Mackinaw City on July 9th after a 2-day sail from Leland, which culminated in a long downwind run to the Mackinac Bridge from the Gray’s Reef passage, flying a spinnaker in what we have recently discovered is called “California Style.” Essentially what we did was fly the spinnaker directly in front of the forestay, using the jib sheets on either side to control it from the cockpit. It is actually quite enjoyable to do, but requires that one remain attentive constantly, and after 3 hours, continuing to hold onto the spinnaker in 5-7 knots of wind became rather exhausting, having decided very early on that I wouldn’t let anyone relieve me until we made it under the bridge. Unfortunately, time constraints forced us to turn the motor on a couple miles short so that we could make the harbor before dark, but it was nevertheless a profound experience to steer under the Mackinac Bridge and just stare up at it towering above us, as the tiny shadows of cars raced across it. It also felt significant in terms of our journey. None of us (with the exception of John, who has been sailing the Great Lakes since before he could spell his own name) has ever sailed in Lake Huron, and it felt noteworthy to have finally entered a new body of water after spending a wonderful (if perhaps protracted) time in Lake Michigan.

After an enjoyable night in Mackinaw City, playing pool and meeting some Mac-city locals who showed us a fantastic time, we got up and motored across to Mackinac Island, eating breakfast along the way, and arrived approximately 3 minutes after they began accepting guests for the day. We enjoyed a couple events that first day that seemed particularly notable. The first was that both Pieter and I finally got haircuts. These were particularly necessary, as Pieter was sporting an afro that brought his already substantial height up to about 6’6’’, and I had a mop hanging off my head that kept making me think that I had seaweed in my eyes while swimming. The second event, however, was absolutely amazing, and that was our dinner that evening at the restaurant “The Woods”, courtesy of my Uncle David, who was kind enough to offer us a meal there. We would all like to take a moment to thank Uncle David publicly, as dinner was absolutely incredible, and as a result, is intricately linked with our memories of the island. We also got to visit the Pink Pony, a bar on the island that John had been telling us about since we began the trip, so it was great to finally see what he was talking about.

We spent the next day working on the boat, cleaning the deck, and generally preparing for our trip into the North Channel. As we pulled away from Mackinac Island the following day, we started talking about our time there, and about how surreal a location it is. We all had a great time there, but the thought that people actually live there, some of them year-round is very strange to think about. Walking around the island and seeing everyone on bicycles or horse-drawn carriages, while also enjoying the rather more modern amenities of fantastic cell reception and wi-fi internet creates an interesting juxtaposition that we couldn’t entirely come to terms with. The island is in one way, so separate and different from the rest of the world, accessible only by boat and in rare cases, by plane. At the same time, however, it is so obviously intrinsically linked to the outside world that supplies it with raw materials, employees, and, most importantly, customers, and given electronic information today, it is frustratingly impossible to truly escape the outside world on an island that at first glance appears so apart from everything. The only parallel that we were able to draw to something vaguely similar was to Disneyland and other such resorts. Both are enclosed resorts, disconnected from, but nevertheless strikingly linked to the outside world. Everything on the Island has “Mackinac” stamped on it, and you kinda get the feeling that no matter what you buy or where you buy it, the money will probably end up in the same place. As a tourist location, Mackinac Island is fantastic, and does its job quite well, but everything seems sort of manufactured and not entirely genuine. Having said that, however, it is worth noting that none of us has any complaints about our time on Mackinac Island, and we all fully enjoyed all of the kitschy touristy activities, but none of us (with the possible exception of Ellen, who is kinda on the fence) have altered our life plans to include buying a house there.

At any rate, we left Mackinac Island on July 12th, and headed northeast, beginning a new chapter of our journey in the North Channel, hence the regrettable delay on posting this update, as wi-fi is rather scarce up here.


South Manitou Island and our First Storm

Stopping over at Manitou was an… adventure. My uncle recommended a natural harbor in South Manitou as a safe place to anchor and a cool little island to see. As we motored in, it was clear that he was right. On the Eastern side of the island there is a bay that is protected from the South, all the way around through the Northeast. The bay is also quite deep with a steep drop-off close to shore, so we could anchor in close without worrying about running aground, particularly with our 3 foot draft. None of us, but especially John, felt comfortable trusting the anchor to hold all night, so we posted 2 hour watches until the morning, which gave us all some time to catch up on our reading, writing, and kindle solitaire.

When we got up Friday morning, it looked like we’d woken up in paradise. The day was incredibly hot and without a breath of wind, and when we looked over the side, we could clearly see the sandy bottom about 20 feet down. Needless to say, we couldn’t help but take a swim to shore, which was only a few hundred feet away, where we discovered that while we did have to pay to anchor in the Manitou’s, it only cost $10 to anchor for a week, which is hardly prohibitively expensive. After purchasing the pass, we decided that it was time to clean the bottom of the boat, and it was during this process that we discovered one of the great perks of our rotund little Island Piglet. Whereas a boat with a 6-foot keel would be largely restricted, we could take our Island Packet into water just under shoulder height allowing us to stand while cleaning the bottom,which gave us significantly more leverage than trying to scrub while swimming, which given our level of swimming ability and general fitness (with the exception of Ellen, who actually, you know, used to swim) would have probably been a multi-week process if we had to be constantly swimming. As it is, we managed to get just about half it done before we got distracted and decided to head to Florence lake on South Manitou where John could try his luck with “dumb inland fish.” Much to John’s dismay, the inland fish were not nearly as dumb as he had hoped.

After wandering most of the island and realizing that we had exercised more that day than we had in the entire preceding month combined, we decided to head back to the boat for some well-deserved rotisserie chicken and man-n-cheese, and a long, well-deserved sleep. Unfortunately, the night didn’t quite progress as we’d hoped. After setting two anchors to make absolutely sure that we wouldn’t drift, and falling peacefully asleep to the slow rock of the water, we were rudely awakened an hour or so later by our heaving boat, getting slammed by waves coming from the East, which of course was the only unprotected side of our nice little cove. We rested poorly for a few hours, periodically checking the anchors before we noticed, out in the distance, lightning in just about every direction imaginable. Having checked the weather just before bed on our GPS and seen a small cell of precipitation up in Lake Superior, we were very surprised to see a few short hours later an enormous mass of rain, thunder, and lightning, seemingly about to descent from every direction. We quickly raised one of the anchors to avoid spinning around and took the bimini down. We then secured all the electronics we could in the oven and covered the mast with cushions before settling down in the cabin away from any metal and prepared ourselves for the horrendous, black-lookng storm that seemed to be bearing down on us.

All in all, the storm turned out to be very anti-climatic. We had lightning coming down around us for about 10 minutes, but there was very little rain and it all passed over fairly quickly, leaving the sky a vaguely threatening shade of gray. Since John and Pieter were gastronomically indisposed due to illness and seasickness respectively, Ellen and I posted watch for the rest of the uneventful night and morning, but we were lucky to have had our protocols tested in a storm that ended up being so short and under conditions that were in our favor in terms of location and timing. We learned a lot about our preparations, things that we need to be able to do better and faster. We got a lot out of our first storm and we will continue to develop and hone our preparations so we can better face heavy weather when we run into it. All things considered, South Manitou ended up being a great place to ride our the storm, but we weren’t entirely unhappy about departing for Leland Harbor, where we are now, before heading up to Mackinac Island.


Frankfort, MI and Crystal Lake

It’s been an interesting week here at Reaching South. As we pulled into Frankfort Harbor on June 30th, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. We experienced alternator trouble on our way up Lake Michigan from Saugatuck, namely that our alternator was refusing to charge our batteries, a rather concerning problem to have on a foggy night in a shipping lane, when having instruments such as our GPS and radar functioning would have provided some measure of comfort. However, we made it through the night with our charts. After a short, unplanned stop in Pentwater to recharge our batteries from shore power, we made it the rest of the way to Frankfort uneventfully.

After a brief 3-4 hour nap while at the marina, we all seemed to experience a collective release of tension. We knew that whatever we were going to do in Frankfort we wouldn’t be frantic about it. A good thing too, because after a couple of hours spent on Crystal Lake, which is just north of Frankfort where my family has a house, that afternoon, we all kinda felt like it would be hard to drag ourselves away from the place. We spent the next few days truly relaxing and enjoying ourselves in a way that we had not yet experienced since starting the trip. We met several members of the Crystal Lake Yacht Club that first night, all of whom were eager to share their advice and support, and some even offered us accommodations at different stops along our route. For all these conversations, we are endlessly appreciative.

After a few days of strenuous activity, which included perch fishing, wake-boarding, and swimming in the beautiful, clear Crystal Lake water, we got down to work. After consulting with my uncles, who are both electrical engineers, we realized that our alternator was incapable of charging so much as a AAA battery, let alone a set of 3 deep cycle marine batteries. Fortunately, the previous owner of the boat gave us a spare alternator when we bought the boat, so we changed the alternators our and found that the old alternator does indeed charge the batteries, albeit very slowly.

With that major inconvenience solved for the time being, we moved onto perhaps our most important duty in Frankfort: celebrating America’s birthday. My family has a tennis tournament every 4th of July at Crystal Lake, so at least part of our day was already planned out for us: I played tennis poorly while John, Ellen, and Pieter met my myriad of cousins and other extended family members. After a much needed refreshing swim and pontoon ride, we found ourselves a couple hours later at a get-together at a house just up the road from my family’s. I didn’t know the family, but we were immediately welcomed in. We found even more people offering us advice, encouragement, and even a ride to town to catch the Frankfort fireworks. Afterwards we headed into town for a few more drinks to celebrate, though we managed to pull ourselves together the following morning to leave Frankfort around noon (ish).

All in all, we loved our time in Frankfort and at Crystal Lake. We really appreciate all the friendly recommendations, advice, and assistance that we received. All things considered, we would really have like to stay a couple extra days to spend some more time relaxing on the lake, but we do have a timetable (of sorts) to follow and some interesting weather in the Manitous that we apparently just couldn’t wait to hit.



We have been in Michigan for a few days now preparing to set off, and it seems like we are stopped at every turn by yet another set of issues that we need to deal with, or another long list of supplies that we need to purchase. We just got our new Garmin GPS wired up and running (mostly due to John’s electrical expertise), and we got our second layer of teak varnish on this afternoon. Now, as we need to wait 24 hours between coats, and everyone recommends somewhere between 5 and 8 coats of the stuff, we are torn between our desire to get out of here as soon as possible and get out on the water, and our desire to not be looking at cracked, peeling, and generally ugly-looking wood 3 weeks out. We will be spending at least a couple more days here, as we wait for a few of our other endeavors (mostly the ones focused on ascertaining the quality of/life left in our sails) to be sorted out, but it would be in no way surprising if we decided to leave somewhat earlier, and bring teak sealing supplies, in order to finish up our work under way. After about 3 weeks of being stuck in the same building together with intermittent and decidedly frustrating progress toward our goal, we are all going a bit stir-crazy, and it would do us a lot of good to be on our way where Ellen can fantasize about dropping John off the boat into a proper body of water, instead of the muddy trickle of the Kalamazoo River that we are currently on.

In other news, we met a couple members of the Saugatuck Yacht Club last night,  Bob and Kathy Kubasiak. They were incredibly kind to us, giving us an entire slide show presentation of their sailing adventure in the 1980s, which followed a route very similar to ours. We are eternally grateful to them for their kindness, advice, and boundless patience in answering our myriad questions. From reexamining our route, to recommendations of some of the equipment that we will be taking, to countless stories about the beauty along the way, their assistance cannot be overestimated. We gained a whole new perspective on the voyage that we are undertaking, and we cannot thank them enough.

Our conversation with Bob and Kathy has reinvigorated our efforts to keep working hard so we can leave as soon as possible on our adventure. Right now we are hoping that the thunderstorms that are predicted for tomorrow morning miss us so we can apply a few more coats of teak varnish during the day. If things do not work in our favor, our departure date will be pushed back another day or so and we’ll most likely be spending tomorrow organizing the boat, attempting to find a place for all of the things that we have accumulated in the past few weeks, as well as all of our personal belongings. If it does happen to rain, we will be lucky to have a few hours extra to spare for this gargantuan task, mostly due to the vast quantities of clothing that Ellen has decided to grace us with, and the overabundance of tools that Dustin seems to feel are necessary. Although we seem to be continually delayed, we can safely say that we will be sufficiently supplied to found a small metropolis wherever we end up.