Lakes Erie, St. Clair & Huron (Buffalo, NY through Mackinaw City, MI) - 7/17-8/15/03:
It was good to be back in the Good Ol' USofA, and have the Welland Canal experience behind us. Though we certainly had lucked out with the weather, and lack of ship traffic. The short side trip through Canada, transit through the Canal, and re-entry to the US went far better than expected, considering the anxiety of all the "horror stories" leading up to it. Now in the Erie Basin Marina, we were very handy for a "day off" to tour Niagara Falls and visit our Orchard Park friends.
We rented a car, and the west wind on Lake Erie had kicked up considerably. In spite of the "triple" break-waters leading into the municipal harbor area of Buffalo, the waves seemed to find their way back into the marina. With our boat on a heavy-duty, concrete and steel tie-along transient pier, we soon learned it was going to be a very "bouncy" stay. In fact, throughout the day of 7/16 and two nights, we had to keep a constant watch on our fenders and dock-lines, with a couple actually fraying to the point of breakage. Diane felt more comfortable staying with Billie Jo and the boat, so the twins and I took off for Niagara Falls. We found a parking lot on the US side, and began our "turista visit;" and we REALLY did The Falls, on foot. We must have walked about ten miles to see all the sights, from every angle possible; of course both the American and Horseshoe Falls, as well as the elevator and walkway to the foot of the Bridal Veil Falls, the trip on the Maid of the Mist, and every souvenir and snack shop.
Meanwhile, back at the marina, Diane was rigging up extra dock-lines to ensure holding the boat secure, and the park surrounding the marina was preparing for a Mayor's Picnic event. At the very northern tip of the park, near our boat, was a large concrete "replica" of a lighthouse. Climbing the stairs to the large open windows provided great views of the marina, the harbor and Lake Erie, and the Buffalo skyline.
That evening we made the short journey to the Buffalo suburb of Orchard Park and the home of Chuck & Peg Stoddart. Peg was a close friend of Diane's in their "early years" back in Dover, DE. In fact, Peg served as our Maid of Honor at our wedding almost 38 years ago. Since then she has lived in the Buffalo area, and though we had kept in touch, we hadn't seen her for at least 30 years, and had never met her husband, Chuck (the Superintendent of Schools in Orchard Park). Their home was beautiful, and their spectacular yard showed the results of Peggy's passion and hard work. The Master Grill Chef, Chuck, provided the best cheeseburgers and hot dogs we'd had in a long time, What a wonderful reunion! And the "frosting on the cake" was the coincidence of Peg's mother, Bea, and sister Judy, from Maryland, visiting at the same time! Though we had enjoyed their company earlier in our voyage up the Chesapeake, it made our stop in Buffalo even more special.
To top off the evening, Peg and Chuck returned to "Souvenir" with us for a quick tour. Here we are in the saloon:
Day 1, 7-17-03: During our visit with Stoddart's last night, Chuck had mentioned to Diane that a local channel 7 TV news reporter that he knew professionally had recently been in touch about a school issue. In the conversation, he had mentioned that some friends from Minnesota were visiting in their boat. It got her attention, and after he explained a little more about our voyage around the Great Loop, she was inspired to contact us about recording an interview. So on a bright, sunny morning, as we prepared to depart Buffalo, she and a Channel 7, ABC News camera-man showed up to record the "event." They were both very interested, and spent most of an hour asking us questions, on and off camera, and taping our activities inside and around the boat, as we cast off. It was quite a send-off, and I've never heard if the segment actually "aired," and we never received a copy of the videotape. Sometime we'll follow up with Chuck and see what happened, if anything.
So, by 10 am, we were on our way west on Lake Erie, heading into 2 to 3' seas, toward Cleveland. There are a number of possible overnight stops along the south shore of the lake, and we knew it would take two big days to get somewhere west of Cleveland where we could make another visit with old friends from "Air Force in Delaware" days back in the early 60s. Before noon, we were abeam Dunkirk, 8 miles off-shore, and by 12:40, abeam Barcelona. It looked like Erie, Pennsylvania, might be a good stopping point. Phone calls to the two most obvious marinas revealed that one had diesel fuel, but no dockage, and the other dockage, but no diesel fuel. A third try to the Erie Yacht Club resolved the dilemma, but it was located three miles deep in the bay, through a no wake zone. So it took us forty minutes from the channel entrance, to arrive at the EYC fuel dock about 3 pm. After topping off the tanks, we were assigned to a slip that a resident boater hadn't vacated. So we volunteered to move back on the transient dock, which actually positioned the front of "Souvenir" directly across the opening of their lift well. But we were secure for the night.
Diane called a taxi to find a local grocery, and after going to The Club too early for dinner, we wound up dining in private on the boat. Docked next to us, was a beautiful 75' Lazarra that belonged to the local Mercedes dealer; a very interesting fellow who told us how to "get a deal" on a car, and about, Rodger, his favorite hired deck-hand on the Welland Canal that he had used on trips to Florida for 13 years. We passed along Rodger's name and number to our friends on DeeLight, who were still cruising the north shore of Lake Ontario. They actually used Rodger later when they came through the Welland, and apparently he was a good as "advertised."Day 2, 7-18-03: At 9:30, we departed Erie Yacht Club, crossed the bay, left the east-bound channel, then rounded the point and set a westerly course toward Ashtabula an hour later. Before noon, we were abeam Ashtabula, 5 miles off-shore, and continued on toward Cleveland. There we were planning to visit the family of Bob Becht, who had been a pilot in my Air Force Squadron in the early 60s, and we were "mutual" Best Men in each other's weddings. So, in consecutive visits on our voyage, we would have reunions with our Maid of Honor and Best Man, whom we hadn't seen in years. Several phone calls determined that a couple of marina options west of Cleveland near their home, either didn't have transient dockage available, or didn't have suitable depth. So we agreed we would stop in Fairport, just east of Cleveland, and use that as a base for our visit. We reserved two nights at Grand River Marine. It turns out their fuel dock, offices, and part of the marina was on the west bank of the Grand River. But after we docked there and registered, they assigned us to a tie-along space on a dock on the other side of the river. We finally got situated, and with the shore power cables (which required re-wiring one of their 30 amp receptacles). There was plenty of space for Billie Jo to romp, untethered, and after securing a rental car, we were able to take the twins to a very nice beach on the harbor shore through the little town of Fairport. That evening, Bob and Nancy Becht, made the drive from their home in Bay Village, west of Cleveland, to visit us on the boat. We then drove around to the other side of the river, to a well-known local restaurant, Pickel Bill's. The next day, the twins got some more beach time, then we drove to Becht's home for a wonderful dinner and visit, with lots of reminiscing.
Day 3, 7-20-03: Becht's had previously owned a boat they kept in a marina in Sandusky, and they made their own "mini-loop" one year from the Cleveland area, up through Lakes Erie and Ontario, and into the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. That had fulfilled Nancy's and their daughter's "desire" for long range voyages, especially on the Great Lakes. But Bob expressed an interest in joining us for a "leg." So, with his recommendation, we made a reservation for two nights at Cedar Point Marina in Sandusky at the west end of Lake Erie. The big attraction was a huge amusement park right next to the marina. The plan was for Nancy to bring Bob to our boat this morning so he could ride along on the 80 mile cruise past Cleveland to Cedar Point. Then Nancy would meet us there to take him home. We had a west wind, about 10-15 knots, with 3'+ seas, so it was a little bumpy. But the wind and waves diminished during the day, so it was about as good as it gets on Lake Erie. We departed the Fairport channel entrance about 9 am, and by 1 pm had arrived at the Cedar Point channel entrance, and a half hour later docked on pier 11, slip 38 (our second choice, after they tried to get us into one that was too narrow for the cross-wind docking).
We had a nice lunch, and after we said good-bye to Bob and Nancy, we bought the twins Two-Day Passes at the amusement park, and said, "Go for it!". They had a ball for 7 hours, and we had a nice nap. The area had a water-park, and rides of every type and size, including sixteen roller coasters; a couple of them were the "highest, fastest, meanest" in the land, and Paige expressed a preference for a "milder" experience. Blake wanted to "try" a couple of the coasters, so the next day Papa bought a ticket and went along. By the time Blake was persuaded to go on one of the more "aggressive" coasters, he gained the confidence that he could do anything. Before we were done, Blake and I had done 10 of the 16, including one unique "loop-de-loop twister" where the riders actually survived in a standing position! What a blast! The kids spent another 10 hours at the park, outlasting several "ride stoppages" during "threatening weather" (i.e. lightning and wind). It was a grand finish for this part of our voyage with our grandkids; seven weeks that none of us will ever forget!
Day 4, 7-22-03: It was time for our last travel day with Paige and Blake. We had a good day's ride from Cedar Point, up the Detroit River past the city of Detroit, and into Lake St. Claire (the "little great lake" between Lake Erie and Lake Huron). There we planned to leave the boat at MacRay Harbor for service, while we returned the twins to Minnesota and made another home visit. It was cloudy, with occasional showers, and a north wind about 10 knots, and 2' seas. We departed Cedar Point Marina and left the Moseley Channel about 10 am. Our course curved between several islands, finally past North Bass Island, and across open water to merge into the Detroit Ship Channel entrance about 12 noon. We passed downtown Detroit about 1:45, headed up the western shore of Lake St. Clair, and passed the Clinton River channel entrance by 3 pm.
At this point, I must digress to provide some background on a very special young man, Jason Johnson. Jason grew up in the small town of Afton, MN, on the St. Croix River, which we call our Home Port. He loved the river, and boats, and boaters, and during much of our twenty years of house-boating, Jason was a familiar sight around Windmill Marina. Of course, when he got into high school, he worked at the marina with gas dock and yard duties, as our son and daughter had for several years. Jason never wavered from his dream to become a marina manager, and he actually found a four-year college in Maine that offered a major in marina management. The summer before his senior year, he made a connection through Joe Riley, the Windmill Marina Manager, with Bill Chamberlain, manager of MacRay Harbor in Mt. Clemens, MI (where he'd been recruited from the municipal marina on the Mississippi River at Lake City, MN, several years earlier). Bill offered Jason an internship, and after Jason's graduation this spring, a position as Assistant Operations Manager. MacRay Harbor is one of several huge marinas (600+ slips) just north of Detroit, and they have incredible facilities and amenities. What a place for Jason to launch his career! He's a very bright, personable young man, and he and his entire family have become very good friends. So that's why it was very appealing for us to visit, and leave "Souvenir" in Jason's and Bill's care for a few weeks. We had a pretty good list of work to do, including hauling the boat, cleaning and painting the bottom, replacing worn-out zincs, waxing and buffing the entire boat, as well as engine maintenance.
We enjoyed dinner that evening with Jason at the Crew's Nest, then obtained a rental vehicle and began preparations for the trip home. But not before the twins had a couple good swims in MacRay's beautiful pool. Bill and Jason had found an empty, indoor slip for "Souvenir" that was part of a "condo-package" for sale. Very nice accommodations!! Quite an experience, backing your boat into a garage right behind a condo with a two car garage facing the other way.
So this was the end of our voyage with our Grandtwins along. It was time to pack up, and take them home so they could have a little time to get ready for the Sixth Grade! It was seven grand weeks, with the greatest grandkids, since toured Washington DC, and departed the Norfolk area. What a once-in-a-lifetime experience to make such a cruise with Paige and Blake to share the fun!
Day 5, 8-12-03: While on our home visit, Jason did a great job supervising the work on "Souvenir." We spent a lazy morning trying to decide whether to take another "day off" or head across Lake St. Claire to the ship channel and up the St. Claire River toward Port Huron at the foot of Lake Huron. It was cloudy with a breeze out of the north, so we finally decided to say goodbye to Jason and Bill, and departed beautiful MacRay Harbor about 11 am. We didn't want to start the generator till we got out into deeper water in the lake. Then I discovered the low battery and had to jump-start it. By 2:30, we found our way up to Port Huron, after passing a sleek 63' Sea Ray that had buzzed by us earlier, stuck on the wrong side of a red marker on a sandbar. He was REALLY stuck, and we heard him on the radio calling the Coast Guard and Seatow. We could have stopped overnight, but it was early, so we decided to venture out onto Lake Huron to check the wind and seas. Not too bad; north (headwind) 10 to 15 knots, 2-3'; we kept going and looked for the most reasonable overnight stop up the western shore; Lexington, or Port Sanilac. We decided to go for it.
Behind us, to the SE, dark clouds passed going NE. So it looked like we were ahead of the weather. But by the time we got to Port Sanilac about 4:30, we were getting pretty steady white caps, with occasional waves over 3'. Worse, Port Sanilac Harbor did have a break-water across the north side, but the slips opened to the east. So "stern-in" meant backing across a pretty good cross-wind. And at the end of the down-wind finger, they had one of those ugly vertical 4x4s bolted to the corner instead of a solid looking piling. So after two aborted attempts, I tried "bow-in" and rammed it home with no casualties or damage; a successful landing, and continuing entertainment for the local audience. Several transient boats that followed us in were even more entertaining, and not all without damage. It wasn't a great stop, but it was a safe harbor, with more miles traveled (75) than expected in a short day. It was great to be back to The Voyage, and have a good start up Lake Huron.
Day 6, 8-13-03: It's a gorgeous morning on Lake Huron, with clear skies and light breeze out of the north. But "Souvenir" (and everything else in the harbor!) is covered with dead bugs.....not "May-flies" we're familiar with, but small bugs, really stuck to every light colored surface. Time for an unplanned wash job on the boat. Finally, we're ready to depart about 10 am along with several other transient boats that also had to have a hose job. We deferred starting the generator in the harbor again, due to stirring up lots of muck in shallow water. So after we cleared the breakwater, and set a northbound course up the coast, I went below to start it. No luck this time, even with jump-starting off other batteries! We have a dead soldier! Checking the charts and cruising guide, the next decent harbor up the shore is Harbor Beach. A phone call determines no mechanic on duty, but we can pull into an open slip for a couple, and they'll give us a short ride into town to a NAPA store for a new battery.
12 noon we enter the harbor, and follow the marked channel to the right toward the Harbor Beach marina at the far north corner. However, a radio conversation with the dockmaster reveals some confusion about approach instructions. The marked channel is actually leading me to a large ConEd utililty plant, and it's too shallow to go directly from there to the marina. So I finally understand that I need to do a 180, return to the main harbor entrance and follow within 50' of the inside breakwater wall (no markers whatsoever!) all the way around the harbor, past a north entrance, to the fuel dock of the marina......and "it's shallow, especially crossing the north entrance, but should be OK for 4 1/2' draft." It was shallow alright. We went VERY slowly, and measured under 5' in several places! It seemed like it took forever, but we finally found our temporary tie-up dock. I immediately set about removing the generator battery from the boat, and caught a young female dock-hand in a marina golf cart headed for shore. It turns out, she was the only one on duty over the lunch, but she kindly offered to take me into the NAPA store, and said she'd wait while I hauled in the apparently dead battery.
It was a typical small town shop, with two men and a woman behind the counter, serving two customers who appeared to be local farmers. One of them was a big, rough looking guy in bib overalls, who had everybody looking through catalogs and grungy old metal drawers for parts for some hydraulic fittings. They were totally consumed in their search, and I was advised they'd "be with me in a minute." After about ten minutes, I caught the attention of the woman, and asked if they had a battery tester. Much to my surprise, she led me through narrow aisles to the back of the store, found the tester, performed a fairly sophisticated protocol, and the machine confirmed that my battery was, in fact, dead! Wonderful! Do you have a replacement? I don't know, you'll have to wait for one of the guys. Another ten minutes watching the search for a hydraulic fitting, and I went out to check my ride. She was still there, waiting in the marina van. No problem! Finally, a few minutes later, one of the men broke away from the other search, and began flipping through a huge bank of catalogs, trying to identify my replacement battery. Just as I'm losing faith in the whole project, without a word, he disappears in the back room, and comes out with a shiny new battery that looks pretty similar to my dead soldier. Hooray, it's back to the marina, ride out to the boat at the end of the dock in the golf cart, thank the patient young dock-hand, re-install the new battery, and we're on our way, carefully, the same way we came in (warned not to go out the north entrance -- locals only!).........two hours later. Generator works again!
The rest of the cruise up the western shore, across the mouth of Saginaw Bay (from the "thumb of the mitten" of Michigan), was quite pleasant with 1' diminishing seas. With 95 miles behind us, even with the late start and the maintenance stop at Harbor Beach, we made it to Harrisville Public Harbor by 5:30. Seemed like a good place to call it a day. We stopped at the fuel dock for a fill up, and the two young dock hands (Danielle & Brian) were EXCELLENT help...unusually competent, pleasant, and efficient! We had our choice of several slips, and looped around the docks, and eased "Souvenir" back into a convenient location at slip 35. On the way, we spotted a boat name "Wine Seller" and later met the owner, who of course was a wine distributor. He claimed he had heard of our boating friend back home in the same business who also has a boat named "Wine Seller." Danielle gave us ride into town for a great "home cooked" buffet at The Old Place Inn. Then Brian picked us up to bring us back to the boat.
Harrisville was a nice little town, and that evening, the community gathered at a park by the marina for a local band doing a "rock concert." We strolled the crowd with Billie Jo, and met a father/daughter couple who had a cabin on the lake in Lexington, which we had passed the day before. They later wandered out on our dock and stopped for a visit. Our neighbor was a friendly retired couple (Ed Black) on a trip on their classic old Hatteras from down on the Clinton River near MacRay Harbor. And we met another couple, Pete and Kim on a trawler named "Pokie Hontis," with a Golden Retriever name Misty, that Billie Jo enjoyed romping with. A good day, and a beautiful evening.
Day 7, 8-14-03: Another gorgeous day on Lake Huron; mostly sunny, light north wind, 1' to calm seas. Very unusual, and we should be able to make it to the Straits of Mackinac today. We depart Harrisville about 9 am, northbound. About 11, we're rounding the green marker (G'WR'1) 7 miles north of Thunder Bay Island at the shipwreck, Nordmeer. It was a 430' freighter that cut on the wrong side of the marker in 1966, and much of the superstructure is still sticking above the waterline with a severe "list." Quite a sight. We now begin the long curve to the NW around the top of lower Michigan, and pass Presque Isle about 12 noon, and Hammond Bay about 1:30. Pretty uneventful cruising day, and we have 120 miles behind us when we decide to stop for the night at the County Marina in Cheboygan, MI. By 3 pm, we're docked in slip 71. Diane got a ride to a grocery store and reported back there's not much of a town, so we decide on dinner on the boat. This was the afternoon of the "Big Black Out," and as the news reports come in, we hear that it hit the Detroit area we left just two days earlier. A phone call from our son in NYC relieves us that he's OK, but "walking home from work." Fortunately, he wasn't stuck in any tunnels didn't have to cross any bridges. And later, we learned from Jason, that MacRay Harbor was on emergency power, which would not have helped us if we had been in that indoor slip. We couldn't have run our generator inside, and probably could not have raised the electric door to get our boat outside. We got out in time! I got access to a phone line in the office, and checked an e-mail from our traveling friends, Marv & Betty on DeeLight. We had left them on Lake Ontario at Oswego, exactly one month ago. They had passed us in the Detroit area while we were home, and now we had almost caught up with them. They were in St. Ignace, MI, just across the Mackinac Straits. Depending on our route and timing into Lake Michigan, we may cross paths with them at Beaver Island.
Day 8, 8-15-03: It's hazy with a breeze, and less than 1' chop in the Mackinac Straits, and we only have 17 miles to go to Mackinaw City. So we depart about 9 am, and by 10:30, we're docked in slip B82, at the Municple Marina. The winds are forecast to pick up tomorrow, so we make plans to stay two nights, then check out all the tourist traps. We've decided to pass on the opportunity to take a ferry across to Mackinac Island to see the horse carriages and fudge factories. The town reminds us a lot of our old favorite, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, main street ending at the lake, lined with shops and restaurants. We actually encounter some folks from the Detroit area who "headed north" until they found "electricity." Lots horror stories connected with the Black Out. We met a hot dog 57' Carver owner out of Manitowoc, WI, who shared all his wisdom about traversing Lake Michigan, and good and bad places to stop. It was Friday night and we had a planned date with Carver at Green Bay for Monday morning, but hadn't decided whether to go along the north shore and down the western shore of Green Bay itself, or head down the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, then cross over to the Sturgeon Bay Canal through Door County. The seas were forecast to be 4 to 6' with a S to SW headwind, so it was easy to tie down a couple extra docklines, and "wait and see." But Lakes Ontario and Erie are behind us, and Lake Michigan and the Illinois Waterway ahead will complete our Great Loop. Stay tuned for Stage 10..........