Sunday, June 11th
Docking just shy of the drawbridge in Houghton in the wee hours, we were up a little bit after 8:00 am when hours of the bridge resumed. After some breakfast, we radio the bridge operator and were told he would open it at 9:00 for us.
Once we made it past the bridge we pulled into fuel dock of the boat harbor immediately on the other side. Even though harbor operation hours began at 8:00 there was not a body insight to give us fuel. Were able to talk with another gentleman who had a boat in the harbor. Had a lot of local information for us, but no clue as to where the person responsible for selling fuel could be or how to get ahold of them.
Checking the weather forecast for the day did not show agreeable conditions for being on a boat on Lake Superior today. About an hour after docking, the guy who was the one-time harbor-master, and still keeps a sailboat there, showed up. He confirmed our decision to forego sailing today and even suggested we take the slip next to a much larger boat that would block the wind for us when it increases later in the day. Unfortunately, he was unable to get fuel for us, since we’re already docked there. That will now have to wait until morning.
So our Saturday was spent as nice sunny day in Houghton doing things like washing the boat, inflating the dingy and securing it to the davits on the back of the boat.
Sunday morning and ready to depart Houghton was similar to yesterday, in that we didn’t feel the need to wake early. Our much-needed fuel wouldn’t be available at least till 8:00 am. Hoping the guy working today is a little more responsible about showing up for work. A check of the weather showed a slight hiccup in today’s forecast, and that is the mention of a; “slight chance of thunderstorms”. We’re not sitting one more day in the same place on a “slight chance”.
Once fueled up we headed out the eastern side of the Keweenaw Waterway. A beautiful morning greeted us with sunshine and zero wind, warm enough for Chad and I to be in shorts and a T-shirt. Just lazily taking in the sights of the waterway, even watched an eagle fly across the water searching for breakfast as we ate ours.
Before long it became apparent Lake Superior was just around the next bend because the air grew cooler, sending each of us below for sweatshirts and pants. Leaving the waterway and putting the protection of land further behind us, we found a wind that allowed us to turn this motorboat into a sailboat. We hoisted the sails and managed to make headway at about the same speed the motor had been taking us. That didn’t last long because our “slight chance of thunderstorms” was turning into an “Oh it’s gonna happen for sure”, so we dropped the sails and continued on with the motor.
Still able to get good cell service we looked at the weather radar and it was apparent the storm would miss us to the south but we would not avoid the rain. Just as the rains started Chad asked if I would take the helm so he could go below and get a little sleep. “No problem Chad. I got this. If any thing comes up I’ll stomp on the deck”. The rear cabin where Chad has been sleeping in is directly below the cockpit so summoning his help this way would be very simple not to mention a rude way to wake.
Chad had been below about 15 minutes before it became apparent the storm was going to have more of an effect on us than predicted. The winds began to pick up I kept an eye on the wind gauge as it climbs to 25 knots, then up to 30, then to 35. Decided if it reaches 40, Chad is going to hear some stomping above his head. With the winds sticking right around 35 to 37 knots it had become very difficult to hold our heading, so I turned the boat 15 degrees to the starboard (right) to take the wind head on. Figured the storm and its wind would not last long and I can get back on the original heading no problem.
With waves building along the wind I didn’t have to summon Chad, he poked his head out of the hatch to see the heck was going on. “Chad you may want to come up. I’m having a bit of difficulty here”. He disappeared below to get all of his gear on. Long before this point we each had changed into gear to protect us from the cold as well as the rain. Also put on our life vest, which includes a harness to keep its occupant from falling overboard. By the time Chad made it to the cockpit the lake was getting whipped up pretty good.
Chad and I traded places at the helm. I moved to the forward starboard side of the cockpit and clipped my harness in well out of Chad’s way so he can maneuver the wheel as if he was trying to balance the boat on the end of a stick.
By now the Lake is really giving us a ride. At one point we get rolled very hard to the port side. Bracing with my feet on the opposite seat and a death grip on the center rail to hold my position, I look back at Chad and the F-word just impulsively jumps out of my mouth as to say; “I’m not comfortable with this”.
If Chad was feeling concern for our safety he surely wasn’t showing it, now working that wheel with even more vigor to keep us pointed at the on coming swells. With even more RPM’s on the motor Chad states “we’re not making any headway we’re gonna run with this for a bit”. “I’m gonna turn us around. Hang on.” Broadside to mother natures furry, even if just for a second or two, is not what I want to be doing right now but…
Chad’s timing is perfect on the turn and I discover that running with the waves, life is so much easier. We’re not getting pounded but rather rolling, pitching, rising and falling all at the same time. Trying to take care of things at Chads request like securing the dingy, which has begun to swing at the back of the boat, a bit of uneasiness is starting to brew. “Oh crap I’m going to lose my lunch.”
As I’m trying to decide if I should make my way to the side of the boat, Chad declares we’re going to run for some islands a couple of miles away to be sheltered from the waves. This track changes how the waves come at the boat. So no longer is it a somewhat agreeable attach from the stern (rear), we’ll now get bombarded with a rear quartering attack. Which means pretty darn good rolls from side to side have now been invited to the party. Keeping my eyes glued on the horizon and locking into the rhythm to our ride, my seasickness subsidies. The streak of not puking continues. Hoorah!
Fortunately, as the storm moved on the waves became less menacing. With another storm threatened on the radar, Chad decided to check the charts for a harbor or a bay we can anchor in for the evening. He told me to take the helm. As he unclipped his harness to go below, I realized I don’t know the secret for moving the rudder in order to balance a boat as the swells attack and retreat. “Chad I’m not comfortable with this,” I said. “You’re fine,” he said as he slipped below.
Finding a harbor on the chart about 10 miles up a bay became our destination for the night, which would be about a net gain of 20 miles towards home from our departure point this morning.
Running in the Bay the waves were much calmer, making the trek a rather enjoyable sight-seeing trip, compared to what we came from. Approaching the harbor I sized up the situation and wondered what the heck Chad had found? It was basically an inland pond with a short channel connecting it to the lake. I could see some small fishing boats but there were certainly no sailboats and wondered if we could even get one in there. As we entered into the channel Chad kept a close eye on the depth sonar, while I rode the bow to get a visual on any bottom. At one point Chad throws the prop into reverse, bringing our forward progress to an immediate halt. “See anything?” was his question from the cockpit. Unable to detect any lake bottom, I used the boat hook, which is a pole used for docking, to test the depth. I determined it to be at least 6 feet deep because that’s as far as I could reach with the hook and still couldn’t touch bottom. We needed at least 4.5 feet to clear the keel of the boat. We’re good to go.
The harbor was very rudimentary accommodations but we were able to find a dock that allowed us to tie up for the night and safely ride out any storms that threaten the area tonight.
After we were all settled in and reflected on the day, Chad decides he can finally inform me that the instrument that shows wind speed, also stores the highest speed encountered for the day. He breaks the news that it recorded a 72 knot (82 mph) gust! He never witnessed it go above 45 knots (51 mph).