Onto The Big Lake They Called Gitche Gumee

Friday, June 9th

Sleeping in the front birth of the boat puts me directly under a clear hatch, which in turn provides me an awesome view straight up the mast rising 52 feet above the water. My first morning sleeping on the boat I woke to that view, however it looked as though the harbor was socked in with fog. Closer examination reviled that it was just a layer of dew on the glass. Waking this morning provided the similar foggy view but this time the mast was much more visible than yesterday. Now it is true, the Harbor indeed is socked in with fog.

My view from bed, but not this morning

Today is the big day we set sail and take this bad boy to its new home in Holland Michigan. The reason Chad asked if I would help sail it home is that his wife Michelle is unable to take the time off to make the entire trip. I feel bad that we have to say goodbye to Michelle for now and need to make the trip home in the van that brought us up here.

Despite the fog, all other weather indications are favorable for a trip on the Great Lake Superior (Gitche Gumee). After yesterdays sea trials we worked to get everything ready for an easy departure for this morning, even lashing down bikes we brought along just so I can say this is also a biking adventure.

After a quick breakfast, Michelle helped us push-off the dock. Just as we moved past the break walls of the harbor, they quickly disappeared behind us in the thick fog. Under diesel power, using GPS to guide us to our ultimate destination for the day and radar to avoid a collision with other craft, we steamed ahead as if no other world existed beyond was what visible a few feet from the boat.

Leaving Bayfield WI

The fog would remain a mainstay of our morning cruise, keeping us pushing forward under diesel power. Occasionally the sun would attempt to make an appearance in our little world, giving us false hope the fog would soon burn off. A couple of times we would simply motor out of the fog giving us a view of the horizon, but like an ever impending gloom, we were thrust back into to the soup, often appearing thicker than the previous patch.

By mid-afternoon, the fog left us permanently but the mild wind remained pretty much on the nose of the boat making a heading hold a little bit of a chore. At one point, while taking the helm (steering wheel for you land lubbers) I noticed the wind speed was up to a point that made deploying the sails a viable option. I brought this to Chad’s attention as he was taking a little break below. The direction of the wind vs our heading would not allow a direct sail to our destination so Chad charted headings that allow us a good tack there. So it was on to use this rig as it was born to do… “Hoist the sails!”

I first need to describe that the main sail on this boat is a type that is a bit unfamiliar to Chad as it unfurls from inside the mast. Quite a handy operation actually as it also keeps the sail well protected when not in use. Uniting lines and pulling others we attempted to unfurl the main sail. It only came out a few feet before it became lodged inside the mast. Unsure of what was happening, we decided trying to figure it out while bobbing like a cork miles from shore was not the place to figure it out. We gave up on setting sail and went back to steaming ahead on diesel. However had we actually deployed the sails it would have been just a futile effort. Shortly after our failed efforts, the wind dropped below an effective sailing speed… that is unless we wanted to delay the arrival to our destination by maybe a day.

We continued motoring to our destination of Houghton on the Keweenaw Penninisula, taking turns at the helm. Manning the helm requires a constant check of the GPS screen to check our position vs the line we should be on and maintaining a course heading of approximately 70 degrees. The absence of an autopilot requires occasional bump of the wheel for minor course corrections to keep us going in the right direction.

This first day of sailing with a destination on the agenda has introduced a whole world of new experience for me but the one thing that has me completely bewildered is where in the heck did these fly’s come from? The last thing I expected to find way out here many miles from any type of landform are insects.

With the Keweenaw finally coming into view we are still many hours from reaching it. With night settling in around us a spectacular orange full moon crested the horizon. As the moon climbed higher in the sky it provided good light to work around the cockpit, necessitating the use of any lights from the boat.

With darkness we could make out the flashing beacon that marked our entry into the Keweenaw Waterway. This marker gave us our first visual reference to steer the boat towards, now only an occasional glance at the navigation aids was necessary; a check of the radar for other boats and the GPS to count the nautical miles to our destination.

We reached the entrance of waterway shortly after midnight. Using GPS to monitor our position in the shipping lane and well place marker buoys made navigation a fairly straightforward task. However, we had other issues to attend to and that is contacting the operator of the drawbridge in Houghton so we can pass under. Nothing in the nautical charts explains hours of operation, procedures, designated times for opening or anything. Use of the good ole internet with our phones didn’t provide any answers either. A last-ditch effort we called Houghton police to see if they knew the hours of operation. The officer did not know but he took our number to call back with hopefully some information.

The report we heard back is nobody is answering the phone at the drawbridge office so it looks like we will have to wait till morning to pass under. At 3:00 am we tied up at the sea wall just a couple hundred yards from the bridge, to get some much-needed sleep.

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