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Halo Around the Sacred Isle
It began a year earlier while my son Eric and I talked with my brother in law about our sailing plans. We had arrived at my sister’s house in North East Michigan and were preparing to leave the following morning for a cruise including the Mackinaw Bridge area and the Les Cheneaux Islands. I sensed some disappointment within Art at not being free to join us. After relating that he would be retired by next season, I committed to this cruise.
The head bus mechanic for the county schools system, Art had been sought after crew for several boats including an old Japanese built wood 44 ft ketch owned by an elderly gentlemen who had relied upon good crew to extend his sailing years. Those years sadly ended, and another good friend who had owned a C30 for several years had sold his boat. With his crewing opportunities dried up, he was full of enthusiasm when I called him in the winter to mark the last week of July as the date to shoot for. He asked if I had some idea of where we would sail and I offered that some thought had been given to sailing around Manitoulin Island, Ontario. It would be new water for both of us.
As a boy growing up in the area, I had not heard about Manitoulin. It wasn’t unusual for those on the Western shore of Lake Huron to know little about the geography of the eastern shore. They are separated by ninety miles of Great Lakes water, and belong to different countries. Manitoulin is the largest fresh water island in the world. It lies on the eastern side of Northern Lake Huron. On its northern coast is the North Channel and its eastern coast is the Georgian Bay. All three of these are large expanses of fresh water. Manitoulin is an Indian name meaning Sacred Isles. The Manitoulin Islands include the large island of Manitoulin with 1,068 square miles, Cockburn Island with 68, and Drummond Island with 176. Drummond is the western of the three islands and lies in Michigan waters. The Manitoulin Islands make up the northern section of the Niagara Escarpment.
Preparation for the cruise began in similar fashion as the year before with listing things needed to make the boat ready. It is important to do this early because boat work in Texas is more enjoyable if done prior to the end of May when hot weather sets in. My initial list contained sixty-eight items with the first—install a second reef to the main—and the last—wash sleeping bag. The list seemed as long as it did last year, but then, many things were taken from a set of notes that I made during the last few days of last year's cruise.
Things requiring extra time were tackled first, such as shipping the mainsail off for a second reef, a light air sail ordered, as well as a ball bearing for the headsail furling gear. Winter months were spent making plans and doing chart work. This included some surfing of the net for information on places to see and visit. When that list was completed, it was time to check the charts and establish waypoints and routes. While sailing demands some flexibility, many plans can be made ahead of time. Options can be noted that allow for wind and weather variables. Primary anchorages are identified and each possible haven noted.
Last year a freeware program called SeaClear was used in this preparation. This year I used a program called OziExplorer, written by a bloke from down under who created it to support his outback four wheeling activities. It’s a powerful program and takes just one day to register and receive the unlock code. The price was much less than a commercial package. It seemed a worthwhile tool for both the preparation and use during the cruise. I also wanted to upgrade my Ham Shack computer with a laptop that could be used in my business and with the boat. This year, I would have chart-plotting capabilities on the boat rather than just in the planning.
A flat bed scanner was used to get the charts from paper to the digital image needed. Several winter evenings were consumed with this task. With a chart book with pages twice the size of the scanner, each chart was scanned into a left and right image and then calibrated. In one instance, the full image of the page was wanted, so two halves were stitched together without difficulty. When all of the needed charts were finished, waypoints were chosen and set into routes based on a days worth of sailing and where suitable anchorages could be found. Last, each chart and waypoint list was printed and placed in a notebook suitable for cockpit use. This proved very valuable.
The mainsail was return shipped in about ten days but the new drifter took about ten weeks. If these had not been done in the off-season winter months, it would have taken much longer. For me, the task of maintenance and upgrades is an enjoyable part of owning a sailboat. Work progressed at a leisurely pace but the yellow marker seemed to be consistently marking thru items on the list.
Looking over the list, I see there are a couple of items not yellow. The towel ring at the galley sink never happened and the skeg that I wanted to test on the boat didn’t get built, but most everything on the list was done and checked off.
The days prior to leaving were more hectic than last year. With the boat ready the evening before leaving, I was treated to a favorite meal of spaghetti. On the road the next afternoon, I began to pay the price for indulging myself while tired.
The c250 water ballast is an easy boat to trailer and makes for enjoyable travel as it serves nicely as a camper on the road. It sets low on the trailer and the swim latter makes it easy to mount. For longer hauls, the motor is mounted on a bracket ahead of the boat [click photo for larger image]. The pull vehicle is a standard wheelbase pickup with mid size v8 with trailer package.
During stops the right front trailer hub was noticed to run warmer than the rest but not hot. I had a spare bearing but certainly didn’t want to tear up a spindle. If it ran any warmer, I would take the time and pull it for a look. It continued this way during the whole trip.
Three days had been allocated for the trip from East Texas to Northeast Lower Michigan. Late on the second day, without finding a convenient campground, I decided to press on and arrived at my sisters shortly after 10 pm. A heavy price was paid for this decision. Traveling north along the Lake Huron coast, the mayflies after dark looked like a cloud at every place along the road that had a light overhead. These mayflies literally covered the front of the truck and boat as well as all the leading edges of the stanchions.
The next morning was spent updating my journal, washing the bugs off the truck and boat, and visiting with my nephew Matt and playing with his three sons, two of them toddler twins. My sister and her husband would return in the evening from a family reunion campout.
After lunch I went to visit mother. She was thin and frail having suffered from Alzheimer’s for more than thirteen years. It has been ten years since she has been able to communicate. Dad cared for her with great devotion until cancer took him four years ago. Tears filled my eyes as I reflected on their lives and that it had been five years since making the trip to Michigan when dad had learned he had cancer. When we talked, he shared that they offered him a year with a possible additional year if he took treatment. He opted for the one good year and I could find no fault with his decision. He did have that good year and traveled and did many things he wanted to do. I recalled speculating to myself at dads funeral that mother would probably be called shortly as well. Her strong body and my sister’s good care have kept her body alive far longer than I expected. They were wonderful parents, and I have always been proud to be their child. R&R, the name of my boat is taken from my dad and grandfather, both Richards.
I had intended to rig the boat on Sunday afternoon so that it would be ready to go the following morning but the wind had blown hard from the North all day and the forecast was calling for more the next. Our first leg was north to Presque Isle. It would be better to drive up the coast, than claw our way under motor the whole distance against a strong wind. Late that evening the forecast changed and called for much less wind shifting west. I spent the afternoon replacing a tire on the trailer in which I had discovered a nail.
Monday morning, with my brother-in-law Art for crew and his son Matt to retrieve the truck and trailer, we trailered the boat the five miles to the harbor at Harrisville and rigged and floated R&R. Just before my nephew pulled the trailer up the ramp to leave, he signed something to his dad, laid his head over to one side in a sigh and uttered words that I could distinguish as "bye Dad". He had lost all hearing at age three to spinal meningitis, but had never allowed his hearing loss to stop his gregarious spirit. He played school sports, graduated from technical college, married now with three fine boys and worked as a machinist. When we were out of the harbor and had our course set, Art said, "Matt was telling me when we were pulling away from the dock, that he wished he were coming with us." I wished he were as well.
The previous day while washing the bugs off, a nail had been found in one of the trailer tires. My habit of going around and planting a heal kick on each had revealed one to be low. The trailer was parked in a fine gravel drive into which all of the wheels had sunk. I could not tell by looking at it that it was low, even after knowing. Matt had noticed it and signed to me that it was broken (my signing is minimal but broke is an easy one). I walked him over to the trailer and showed him the nail I had found. Art related that Matt’s senses are very acute about the things around him. As with many things we hear often, the reality of the saying doesn’t sink in until we witness the truth ourselves.
The forecast proved only partly true. The winds were light all day but only clocked NNW. We motored the entire distance of 55 miles to Presque Isle in exactly eight hours for an average speed of 6.8 mph, a little faster than usually motored. The difference showed up at the gas pump. There was less than ¾ inch in the bottom of the six gal tank. It took 5.75 gal to refill for a fuel consumption of 9.5 mpg and a rate of 0.6 gal per hour. At 6 mph, the Honda 8 four stroke consumes 0.4 gal per hour and yields 15 mpg. The passage offered and abundance of miserable ankle biting black flies. By the way, there is another three-gallon can of gas.
Presque Isle Harbor is a natural harbor and like so many good harbors provides shelter for most points of wind. It was a favorite haven for old sailing traffic. For such a good natural harbor it is ideally located just south of the Northeast tip of Lower Michigan. This makes for a very nice shelter for mariners coming from the west across the top of Michigan, from the north from one of three passages into the North Channel or from the south it provides a departing point for the northern points. Because the harbor is large, an inner breakwater has been built within the last ten years and provides nice state dockage, with all of the modern conveniences. The old lighthouse is in walking distance and is open for a tour. My first stops in the harbor were before improvements were made and it remains a very suitable anchorage outside of the inner breakwater with good holding bottom and lots of space. The state docks will grant temporary dockage for two hours for five bucks, long enough to shower, visit the store and even the enjoy a meal at the restaurant or an ice cream cone. We ate an early evening meal of chicken fettuccine, followed by ice cream at the store. After walking the docks to look at all the boats, we motored across the harbor to anchor. Deciding to give a swim a try, I started down the swim ladder and found the water very cold. With some reluctance, I managed to finally get down into the water and within a minute or so began to adjust. Art went through the same slow process and made just as many comments. The swim proved enjoyable and invigorating. A bright full moon filled the night sky. Living in the south, it is always inspirational to view the sky at northern latitudes, as it always seems closer.
Our passage into the North Channel will be through Mississaggi Strait, the eastern of the three channels or straits from northern Lake Huron. It separates Cockburn and Manitoulin Islands, a distance of 38 miles from Presque Isle. Weather was clear with NW winds putting R&R on a close reach in 3 ft seas. Always enjoyable when possible, we sail off the anchorage and when clearing the lee of Presque Isle, tuck a reef, and before long, a second. The passage is swift at about 6.5 mph.
Another sailboat, larger than R&R follows our departure less than a mile aft. While we are double reefed, she carries full main and working jib. It takes half way to the strait for her to catch us. She is giving considerable leeway to the rhumb line and makes her pass two miles to our lee. It is possible that her skipper is using the gps to lead him to the waypoint at the strait but has not monitored his cross track error or allowed for leeway with his course. When we make the strait, she is about a mile ahead but has gone extra distance to get there. The skipper was probably not accounting for his leeway by pointing above his mark
When in the strait, this other boat's captain starts his motor to stay off the lee shore and avoid making a tack in the middle of the channel. His jib flogs as he motors forward. He could have tacked, as there was room in the channel with no other boats. Here is what got him. The course through the strait should have been a good one, but the wind altered course by being directed down the channel. The boat ahead was already on the right side of the channel because he had given so much leeway and was now close hauled in order to make the channel. We had made our mark in the middle of the channel and were able to give way to the oncoming wind and make the channel without tacking or motor. If doing again, I would have stayed up wind more.
A few words about cross track error. There are at least three good reasons for monitoring cross track error on a long leg. 1. Saving time by staying on the rhumb line, which is the shortest distance between two marks. 2. If leeway is given, the course to mark continues to change, pointing ability may be lost if the course is close hauled. 3. The rhumb line may be selected with hazards to either side. Leeway may carry a boat into those hazards.
Into the North Channel, we rounded the northwestern corner of Manitoulin and made our way south into Meldrum Bay. The passage had taken nine hours to complete the 52 miles completely under sail, using the motor only to enter the breakwater. On arriving the first order of business was to check in with Canadian Customs. The harbormaster was a young man who may have been a college student. He was pleasant, helpful and able, probably also on an endangered species list. He assigned a slip and gave directions to the customs office, which was the next door to the left of his in the building at the end of the jetty.
After waiting at the door for a captain to finish, as he was leaving he offered me some advice, when asked if anyone besides the captain has left the boat, be sure to tell them no, so as to avoid a reprimand. Entering the small office with copies of our driver licenses, I pickup up the phone, which is connected directly to customs. After the initial information was exchanged about the boat, who was on board, where the entry point was, how long a duration and for what purpose, there was a battery of questions including, are there any tobacco, alcohol, drugs, or firearms on board? Do you plan to leave anything in Canada when you depart? Two more times came the question, is there any form of alcohol aboard? The lady excused herself for a few moments and when returning, gave instruction to return to the boat, allow no one to get off, and wait for a customs official.
This seemed a bit unusual and when I got back to the boat, I instructed Art not to let on that we had walked up the hill to the restroom when we arrived. About an hour and a half later a young lady hailed the boat from the dock, and woke both of us from a short nap. She introduced herself and asked to see our identification and copied the driver license information from each and repeated the round of questions previously asked about alcohol twice, rephrasing it slightly the second time to make sure that I understood that wine was included. Following her questions, she asked if we had any to which we asked if she could give any specific insights as to our intended circumnavigation of Manitoulin. She gave us a few must see locations and wished us a very enjoyable stay in Canada and expressed hope that we would find it enjoyable enough to return often. She also reminded us that Canadian VHF activity in the area was on channel 68 instead of 16.
Meldrum Bay is a small settlement with only a few houses, a hotel with restaurant, and the government docks. An old marina building didn’t seem to be in use. There were however some Otters who lived around the docks that weren’t too shy but did manage to escape my camera that has a delayed shutter, because they seem to want to surface just long enough to get air. We visited the outfitters store and enjoyed ice cream bought at the take out window at the restaurant.
Early in the evening, an older gentleman drove up, backed his old station wagon up near the docks, got out and opened up the rear. Covering the back end was an assortment of home baked goods, lots of breads, several pies and a cake or two. This was a daily ritual for him in boating season. I asked if he got a decent split with Mama and he assured that she got it all. I thought about getting the camera to take a picture of this feast but it was useless, the many boaters cleaned him out in ten minutes. One thing amazed me— the exchange rate was something like 1 to 1.6 and he could tell you the price for any item in either rate without a moments thought. He was left with one loaf of French bread.
Late in the afternoon a large Catamaran arrives and takes a berth next two us. On board is a large contingent of young people who file off with a lady riding herd. We are intrigued because it sports twin Honda 9.9s mounted beneath the rear cross beam.