Saturday, October 22, 2016

notes from the road.

Today we marked our 1 month anniversary of being underway. We left Scotia this morning and arrived in Waterford, NY around 2:45 this afternoon. We traversed 6 locks, 5 of them in less than a two mile distance. The weather was miserable from the outset but we just needed to reach Waterford. It rained and blew and even flurried and sleeted on us. We were soaked, shivering and emotionally spent by the time it was all said and done. I'm still not warm after the hottest shower available (which was really only a few degrees above tepid). We also got a little off track and hit a rock. Hard. Hard enough to send things flying through the cabin and make the mast that is laying the length of the boat on the deck almost jump off its supports. In addition to that, Fozel is in the stage where he screams as if you're abusing him if you force him to do something that isn't his idea. He woke up screaming, screamed about having to be bathed, screamed about going to bed. Typical 2 year stuff, but disheartening nonetheless. Oh, and did I mention it's raining? The entire day. So all the tiny little leaks have been rearing their ugly heads are out in force. First in the cockpit where there is nary a dry spot to sit without risking a damp posterior and then below, where the portholes sweat and drop into the grab rails that send droplets onto your shoulders while you're eating at the settee or while you're reaching for something in a cabinet and an icy drop sneaks down the back of your shirt collar onto your exposed neck. So today, today was not a good day. So I'll have a drink and go to bed and know tomorrow I can try to make it better. I write this to show that life on a boat, this thing we're doing, ain't always paradise. It's real life and all the typical bs that goes with it plus a few added challenges. We chose this life knowing some days would suck but I'd still rather be here with my crew than anywhere else. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

unexpected delays

It's impossible to plan for every contingency. No matter how much you prepare, something can always happen that you did not expect and it is important to be flexible enough to be able to adjust when such things happen. In our case, a friend passed away unexpectedly back in Illinois. Ann needed to fly home to be with her friend in her time of grieving, so we decided that I would stay with the boat in New York and make sure not to keep it tied up anywhere longer than the allowed 48 hours. We were very fortunate in where we were when this tragedy struck. We just so happened to be stopped on Oneida Lake where a good friend, and former coworker, lives. Jon and Beth Norman were kind enough to offer us the use of their home and one of their cars. This has made all the difference in our ability to work out the logistics of getting Ann to and from the airport as well as letting me take care of some projects while Ann is gone. We will be forever in their debt. It is times like that this that make me reflect on two very important things. The first is that life is short and precious, the second is that there are good people and when you find them, hang on to them. The funeral that Ann is attending is for the husband of one of her friends from school. They went to school together from 1st grade through high school. Her husband was my age. They have two young children. Life can be taken away from you at any time, so make the most of every day. This just goes to reinforce our decision to take this trip now rather than waiting for someday, because there is no guarantee that someday will ever come. The Normans didn't think twice about inviting us into their home, feeding us, helping us find everything we needed in town. It is something we should all be willing to do for our friends. These are people who exemplify what it means to do unto others as you would have done unto you. They are the kinds of friends that everyone deserves to have.

he said...she said chronicles chapter 4

 Josh asked Ann if she wanted to shower or sleep first. He should have known how dumb that question was. She wanted something to eat! They quickly tidied up the boat and laid out what needed to be dried. 

Ann suggested Chinese food and there was a place a few blocks into town. A call revealed that they were closed for the weekend though, so they went with the alternate, local flair.

The Lighthouse restaurant provided abundant servings and they ate until they were almost sick. They were too full to enjoy the attached bowling alley, so they headed back to the dock to get cleaned up and take care of some laundry.

In town they walked past the local theater that was showing The remake of "Pete's Dragon". It had been a while since they'd had date night at the movies, so after doing laundry, getting cleaned up and still stuffed from the late lunch, they walked back up to the theater and paid their $6 each for their tickets. It was very relaxing.

That night they slept like the dead.

There were no alarms set and when Josh woke, he saw that Ann had been up reading for a while. She was trying not to disturb him, although a dump truck would have had a hard timing doing that.

They got ready to get underway once more. Ann made a quick run into town for a few groceries. With the help of the harbor master and a few friendly locals, they cast off again. The next mission was to take down Lake Huron.

The afternoon went smooth and quiet, the heavy weather that had battered the lake while they were tucked in nice and snug in the harbor had died down and left some wonderful conditions.

Everything went smooth until at about 7:30, when a freighter decided to make its turn south directly through Interlude. Josh's quick reactions and the better late than never reactions of the freighter's crew avoided a major catastrophe. Although the laptop will never be the same and will need to be replaced soon.

That night was restless for both Ann and Josh. They were both on high alert for anyone else who might get too close. New protocols dictated contacting every passing ship to confirm they were aware of the little guys out on the water.

The air lightened overnight and motor-sailing was the name of the game. Morning brought a fresh breeze out of the East. They would need this wind to get them to the south end of Lake Huron before tonight when the big wind and waves were scheduled to arrive.

They could duck into Lexington, but if they did that, they would be stuck there until at least Saturday.

The goal was to aim for making the mouth of the St. Clair River Wednesday night to give them an early start to run the river on Thursday.

Navigating the mouth of a new river, at night, with light rain falling--now there's a bad idea. Proper preparation helped though. Josh had studied the charts and knew what to expect. He briefed Ann on what they would be doing. They monitored the commercial traffic through the Vessel Traffic System radio and the AIS and when they were clear, they made their run.

The St. Clair River is known for its strong current. It is the singular point where Lakes Michigan and Huron drain into Lake Erie. Over the course of about 90 miles, the water drops about 8 feet. The mouth of the St. Clair is the tightest section and therefore has the fastest currents. As Ann drove under the Blue Water Bridges, Josh noted 10.1 knots Speed Over Ground (SOG).

But for Ann's sharp lookout, they'd have missed the mouth of the Black River and their stop for the night, the Port Huron Yacht Club.


She still couldn't suppress the surprise she felt upon pulling into an almost deserted marina. To her the season of sailing had just begun and in a way it had. They had put interlude in so late and they would be carrying on for the foreseeable months ahead so she was sad to see the boats being pulled to wait for months before seeing the waters of the Great Lakes again.

Rogers city was a quaint town with all the charm you'd expect. The main drag was just a short walk from the little marina and hosted a grocery store, a few local restaurants, some banks, a tiny movie theater and plenty of historic buildings. They pulled into a slip, paid in the office and struck out on foot to get the lay of the land. Before they'd made it out of the marina parking lot, one of the marina workers stopped them to see if they were in need of a ride. He was a pleasant man who seemed happy to help. They declined, knowing the town was more than walkable and needing to stretch their legs anyway. The wind cut through their sweatshirts as they made their way past a laundromat, florist, and funeral home. Lunch, late as it was by that time, was the first order of business. They found themselves at The Lighthouse. The food was okay but plentiful, the table full with a variety of goodies to fill their bellies. Ann checked her email while Josh checked the weather.

Once they were amply stuffed, they walked to the store to pick up a few things and wandered a bit, peeking in a few store windows and stepping into the renowned local meat market to check the selection of famous smoked meats.

Ann pulled her hood up against the wind as they trudged back under a graying sky. They gathered the laundry and bathing supplies and walked toward the main building. The laundry was put on and showers were taken. The warmth of the water was a welcome reprieve. Ann had been dealing with a pulled muscle in her back since a few rough waves before Mackinaw had jolted her around the cabin below overnight. She'd been on her way up he companionway and had been jerked sideways into the galley and had bruised her cheek on the overhead cabinets and pulled something in the middle of her back. Ever since then, moving her neck a certain direction pulled in a not so nice way.

She finished her shower first and went to check on the laundry and began writing some narrative for the blog. She was hopelessly behind Josh's speedy accounts and knew she should post soon. While Josh came back, collected bathing things and went to take care of a few calls, she sat and waited for the laundry and wrote.

Once the clean clothes were stowed, they debated on how to spend the evening. It had been raining off and on all afternoon and the wifi was spotty at best. They were both sick of reading so they decided to see a movie in town. For $6 apiece, they collected their 3D glasses from the theater attendant, bought some soda and popcorn and found their way to their seats. It was a cool little place. One screen and stage (it was also the local stage theater), plush seating and a very 1950s deco vibe, greeted them as they sat.

The theater darkened and they watched. After "Pete's Dragon" was over, they followed an unfamiliar route back to the marina, enjoying the interesting scenery.

They slept late the next day. Ann awoke first and got dressed. They needed a few things from the store so she walked up to purchase them from the Save-a-lot in town. They had hearty bowls of cereal before heading out again for the next port.

It was pretty calm, with some nice wind to carry them south. The sails were hoisted and off they went.

The passage was mostly uneventful. The 4 hour shifts made the time pass quickly. There was a brief run in with a Canadian freighter that left both Ann and Josh a little shaken, but mostly no worse for the wear. After the incident, Josh insisted they contact each large vessel they saw on the AIS if they would have a close point of approach. It was Ann's first time to hail anyone over the vhf and truthfully, she didn't want to do it. She knew the procedure but was nervous about making a mistake. So, she did what she always did when there was some potential thing to be done that she wanted to avoid--she prayed no ship would cross their path. Ha! It didn't work. Within the first hour, as morning crept over the water, 2 freighters crossed her path. She waited as long as she thought she could, until each was 3 miles away, more than visible on the horizon before summoning her courage. Both times were fine and the second gentleman she spoke to was more than friendly in his response to her. He called her ma'am and told her to have a good day before signing off. It was a success! A few more calls and she was confident in her radio hailing abilities.

Before long it was 10 am and time to sleep. The sleep came easily and then the shift change again shortly after that it seemed. They carried on down to Port Huron, the last port before the St Clair River. As they were making their approach, the wind was howling and the rain began, beating all sides of the cockpit enclosure, trying to breach the canvas to soak them. Both Ann and Josh were above deck as they came closer to the end of their sailing day. Josh had dropped the main sail as the wind had been building through the afternoon and they were motor sailing with just the jib. The shipping channel had ship after ship funneling from Lake Huron down to the river and beyond, making for a stressful trek in the dark for Interlude. The visibility was crap and the rain was holding them captive, dripping here and there. They sailed along the western edge of the channel, staying just clear of the buoys and the large vessels. Eventually, after an hour of watching diligently for each red and green marker, and pulling in the jib (a task made more difficult by Ann's easily distracted brain and a wind that was unrelenting) the river opened up before them, revealing the US/Canadian border and a bridge arching between the two. By now the sky and water were black, lit by the city of Port Huron. The navigational aids were difficult to make out against the various flashing and non-flashing lights of the cityscape. They were, as usual, in unfamiliar territory. This was the beginning of their first River (beyond seeing the mouth of the Root River in Racine) and this baby had some current. As they picked their way south beyond the bridge, they looked for the opening of the Black River, where they'd find their berth for the night. Watching on the chartplotter, it appeared to be a quarter mile away yet. But Josh had spoken to the Port Huron Yacht Club where they'd stay and knew the markings to look for, mainly an open railroad bridge. "Here! Turn here!" He exclaimed. "But it's still a quarter mile down," Ann replied. Still, she's obeyed as he recounted his conversation. It was a good thing she did too. The river current, now nearing 4.5 knots was carrying them briskly down the river. Since she turned early, it carried them right up to the mouth in perfect timing to avoid having to traverse back north. The yacht club was mostly quiet when they made their approach. Once they tied to the pilings Ann began tidying below deck while Josh went to pay. This marina was still full. Mostly racing sail boats with just 2 small power boats, it was a snug marina. The channels to get into the slips were barely wider than Interlude. They were thankful to be tied to an outside wall and not having had to squeeze in. The commodore and his wife popped by to say a quick hello. It was already 11 by then so they downed a quick dinner and then collapsed into sleep.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

he said...she said chronicles chapter 3

The next morning they slept in. The boy was staying with his grandparents while they tried to get the boat to New York. The only good part about him being away was that there was the opportunity to sleep in and the knowledge that he wasn't having to suffer through the bad days. 

The wind and waves were still sloppy when they checked in the morning, but the forecast showed that there would still be a nice window that afternoon to take off. 

Ann went for a run and Josh got a few more things stowed that had been taken out to dry. She returned and they showered before they wandered back into town and grabbed some coffee and a bite to eat. 

Back at the boat they prepared to get underway once more. They slipped the dock lines and departed without fanfare. The waves were still rolling pretty high as they dodged fishing boats leaving the harbor. The winds had shifted though and this time Josh made clear his intentions to head east. 

Ann offered to take the first watch. Josh knew she was feeling green, but figured she thought it'd be better on deck for a while, so he went below and finished his book. The coffee earlier want going to let him rest yet. 

The wind, once again, conspired to foil the easterly path. "I've been trying to head up as much as I can" Ann said when Josh came on deck to relieve her. The wind forecasted out of the East was shifting north and heading them. It was getting pretty light to top that, so they used the iron auxiliary to supplement their speed. The light air did allow the waves to subside though. 

The wind was gradually building and moving back to the East, lifting the boat into a North- Northeast course. It wasn't as easterly a course as Josh wanted, but taking would have them going south of East, so it would have to do. 

The sunset over Wisconsin and had a tint of red too it. Josh hoped it would bring the sailor's delight. 

As he settles into his watch, he eased the throttle and the sails kept them moving along at a good enough clip, so he decided to secure the engine and coast along under sail. 

They had reefed before Ann went off watch in anticipation of building wind over night. Josh was not anxious to make the same mistake twice. He knew they could make more speed through the relatively flat waters with full sail, but didn't want to end up overpowered while Ann was on watch later that night. 

She got up once to use the head, but otherwise appeared to be getting some good rest. The gentle motion tonight should make for great sleeping. Josh hoped it would hold for a while. If they could keep this course and speed they'd be to the upper peninsula by late Sunday afternoon. That's not the way the weather works though. 

It was stable for now. The dying breeze left calm seas. The Automatic Identification System (AIS) showed a large bulk carrier off port quarter. Josh tried hailing them using the Digital Select Calling (DSC) feature of the radio, but had no luck. He had yet to have someone respond to the direct call. Still, it was a comfort to have the ship's name, position, speed and heading beamed directly to your hands. The fact that it handled calculating the closest point of approach and time to the closest point of approach just made Josh lazy. No need to make up a maneuvering board and do the math. It was also nice not having to burn the power that RADAR would eat up. 

Shortly after 1 AM, Ann was on watch by herself. Josh had already been up once to help shorten sail. A light appeared on the horizon. It looked like a small orange/ white triangle. Ann kept an eye on it and it appeared to be getting bigger rather quick. She opened the laptop and started studying the charts. She saw nothing that could be an aid to navigation anywhere in the vicinity. It seemed to be getting closer, bigger too fast to be another boat out here. She decided to watch it for a few more minutes before waking Josh. Then it became clear, as the triangle grew into the tip of a crescent, that for minute, Ann had been afraid of running into the moon. She recounted this to him sheepishly as he took over watch at 2 am. 

The building seas made for an uncomfortable ride. Josh knew that if they could get close enough to the Michigan coast, the waves would be much smaller and more manageable.he set his course due East. By the time Ann came on watch at 6, they were still about 10 miles from relief. Josh had started the engine to help plow through some of the worst waves. 

Ann, not looking like she was too excited to be vertical, took the watch like a trooper and listened while Josh explained his plan. He then went below and collapsed. A couple of hours later, he heard Ann shut down the engine and noticed that the motion had calmed. She had brought them into the lee of Michigan and was headed due north towards the Manitou Passage on a beam reach. 

That morning's watch went very smooth for Josh. He unfurled the jib and soon was surfing down waves. The impeller recorder 8.1 knots through the water while the chart plotter showed 7.6 knots speed over ground. It was as fast as he'd seen Interlude move. 

Josh stayed south of the shipping channel as they passed the Manitou Islands. Had there been more time, he would have suggested a stop, but between it being so late in the season, and the ideal conditions for making distance, he decided it was best to keep moving. 

A beautiful day of sailing in the protected lee of Michigan was going to capped off with another night of building seas and winds. Passing Cat Head Point, the waters to the east opened up and the longer fetch allowed the swells to grow. The winds had been building and were predicted to continue that way into the darkness. 

Interlude was chugging along at 7+ knots as though she didn't want another night of this either. Josh had the evening watch and got tucked in with the reef still in the main, and the jib half furled. The course was set for the Grey's Reef channel. Once through there, it would be a couple of green cans to starboard then the Mackinaw bridge. That would signal the transition from the home waters of Lake Michigan to the conquest Lake Huron. 

It was 4:10 on Monday morning when the giant span of the Mackinac bridge looped directly overhead. Josh was tempted to wake Ann to see it, but she was in the middle of her off-shift sleep and he thought she'd rather have her rest. 

As the sun lit the morning sky from behind a heavy bank of clouds, the rain refused to stop altogether. It would spit and stop and spit and stop. 

Lake Huron must have known of the plans to duck into Rogers City and get some recovery time, so she let loose some of her heavy stuff that morning. Though Hammond Bay isn't huge, it gave enough room for the strong southerlies to build a few waves. 

They would make short work of the distance though, harnessing the building wind to over 7 knots of boat speed with a reefed main and a reefed jib yet still being overpowered. Josh estimated that they were seeing low twenties with gusts into the high twenties. 

Rogers City was just what they needed. A quiet little marina. Decent docks, helpful staff, and friendly people. It was almost exactly 47 hours since they pulled out of Sheboygan.


The morning was unhurried. Ann went for a sunny run north along the lake, following a paved footpath into the hills of the wealthier part of town and past the beach where the blind sailors were racing. Josh did some tidying and organizing while she was gone and when she returned they both showered, dressed and walked along the river to a local coffee spot called weather center cafe. Thy walked back along the same path and prepared to take off. 

As they were pulling out of the mouth of the harbor they skirted some charter fishermen. The waves were 2-3 feet and the wind was blowing. The sails were hoisted and off they went, sailing on a starboard tack north toward the manitou islands. 

Ann stood the first watch, strumming her uke, adjusting the sail trim and adjusting course as they went. The sky was clear and bright and the temperature was comfortable. The day progressed without incident, watches changing every four hours, Josh and Ann exchanging details of what was happening on each watch before retiring below to rest up. 

Around 1 am, Ann noticed a bright white light on the horizon. It was brighter than any of the navigation lights she had encountered thus far. As it grew larger and brighter, she felt a sense of panic rise inside her chest. She consulted the chart plotter and the navigational charts and saw no markings for anything of the sort. They were in the middle of the lake in the middle of the night. What could it possibly be? She stifled the urge to rouse Josh before she knew what it was but still it seemed to be growing out of the horizon, rising out of the inky water. The white light began to take shape. A peak came into view and what looked like a jib sail that was completely illuminated. The rest of the brightness came over the horizon  and Ann could see the bottom of this phantom sail curve around and make the bottom edge of what turned out to be a crescent moon. She had to chuckle at her own panic over colliding with the rising moon. 

Seas began to build and up to this point Ann's stomach had been feeling iffy at best. No trips to empty her stomach had been needed but if things became much worse she wasn't sure how long that would last. Josh remembered they had some seasickness medication and got some for her before the next watch and almost magically and instantly she felt better. The sleep she got was better and she was sharper. 

While her stomach was better, the seas had become unmanageable and the rocking was constant but unrhythmic. When Ann came back on watch at 6, the sun was still an hour away from rising. The gray sky slowly brightening to port was a reminder of hopefully calmer conditions to come. They starboard tack they were on had helped them north but had done little to reach the opposite shore. Josh told Ann his plan to get closer to the Michigan shore to seek some calmer seas and then to carry on north. She did her best to slowly steer closer to the wind to seek the shelter and ease the discomfort the seas were dishing out and by the time Josh came back on watch at 10, they were just a few miles off the coast of Michigan, once again sailing north on a nice beam reach in much smoother waters. The day carried on with little excitement as they made their way toward the Manitou Islands. They planned to go between them and the shores of Michigan. The channel was wide and well marked and the wind cooperated in their task. 

Night soon fell and so did the rain. They closed up the cockpit with the canvas  and only got slightly wet where the continuing rain saturated the top of the bimini to the point it could hold no more and dripped here and there al over the cockpit. The rain was just a piece of the puzzle. This dark night was also the night they would encounter the straits of mackinac. Having yet to navigate at night, Ann was understandably nervous. The rain sluicing down the forward windows coupled with the boat bouncing up and down on the waves made visibility low. The red and green buoys blinking in the distance marked their path. As there was a trail of them, guiding them toward safe passage, it was hard to judge which was closest and which ones followed. Using the charts on the computer and the chartplotter, they picked their way north and then east around the buoys safely toward the mackinaw bridge. 

Once they got through the stickiest portion, it was time for Ann to go off watch and rest up. She would miss sailing under the bridge itself, lit up 155 feet over the north end of Lake Michigan. 

She came back on watch at 6 and was tasked with finding a place to pull in for a night before they carried on. She navigated a few reefs along the south channel route they had taken and then set to work poring over the waterway guide book they had. Ann was nothing if not fastidious. There were a few options on the table but she hoped they could have some wifi so they could check email and FaceTime the babe and do laundry. Rogers City was a good compromise. The town was walkable from the marina and had what they needed. They carried on until around 1 pm when then navigated the winding navigational channel into the tiny marina.