Rethinking the Plans

We had intended to stay here until the end of June.

We love it up here, and we wanted to give the house some much-needed attention. We actually were able to do that–and spend some time with Rob’s dad and play with Beanie on the beach.

We anchored the boat here for two nights last year, without anything happening. The water was too rough for us to comfortably sleep on the boat, and making our way out there in a dinghy was a pain. But the anchors held.

This year we’ve been here for a couple weeks. Rob has to reset the anchors whenever the wind changes. The bouncing caused the topping lift (the rope that holds the boom up, out of the cockpit when the main isn’t up) to break. We can jury rig something up until we get to a marina with a crane, but it’s still a pain.

Tonight is going to be quite windy (but we’re not getting any thunder storms). We decided that we would be able to do more for the boat if we were on board. We have a GPS with a drift alarm, so we could solve problems before they became major. So we’ll be going out there before the wind picks up. We’ll see how messed up the cabin is, do some cleaning, and take a look at our Waterway Guide and charts.

We’ve enjoyed being here, but next year we’ll keep the boat at a slip for a month. We definitely won’t be sinking a mooring here. It”s not sheltered at all.

So, we have to finish the dinghy before we go. We’re looking at leaving on Friday, weather-permitting. Our next port is Presque Isle, which is another 8-hour run, so we need a clear weather radar. We’ll round marker 13 (actually the marker to the outside of marker 12–we aren’t taking any chances!) by Thunder Bay Island. Presque Isle is the port we never made last year, so we’re excited to finally pick up where we left off. Entering and leaving Thunder Bay has never been boring, so be prepared for an adventure on Friday!

It's pretty bouncy out there!

Cottage Sweet Cottage

When we finally went ashore Thursday morning, Beanie immediately began dancing around. She knew where she was!

Jelly Bean made a beeline for the beach (without bothering to put on a bathing suit), rode her big wheel, and found all of the toys in the house, in their usual place.

So, here we are. We’re not sure how long we’ll stay. Before we leave, we have to replace the fuel pump, install the solar panel, fix up the dinghy, and replace the fraying anchor line with a chain.

Return to the Dragon’s Fangs

All right, we’re now back on the grid, at Rob’s family’s cottage on the Devil’s river.

So I will now recount yesterday’s adventure.

For those of you who are just joining us this summer, you need to know about our history on Thunder Bay. We encountered our first storm making the same run we made yesterday. A series of rather stupid events led to us being stuck at the marina in Alpena. We finally left, only to run aground by Thunder Bay island. (Here is a slightly more detailed narrative of the same story.) After more stupidity from the marina, who was now doing the repairs, we finally left Thunder Bay Labor Day Weekend, where we motored through weather influenced by a hurricane that had come North.

So, this is where yesterday’s story begins, with us approaching this adversary once again…

A freighter in the distance, as we left Harrisville

The engine had been doing well, for the first two hours, when it started stalling again. We drifted while Rob worked on the fuel lines again. He suspected vapor lock and left the side locker open to vent it. In order to see both the compass and our surroundings, I stood at the tiller, enjoying the rather pleasant weather.

At once, a cold, bone-chilling wind blew over. In the distance, we saw two islands. We were approaching Thunder Bay.

This year, we would go around, rather than between the islands. Most of the islands–and the shorelines–of Thunder Bay are surrounded by boulders. The depths will look good on the chart, but these rocks will come up out of nowhere. Last summer gave us a less cavalier attitude and a greater respect for these rocks that have sunk numerous ships.

Just as we passed the islands, the engine quit again. It was time to change course, so the wind would be to our side. We would sail as we executed the precise navigation that Thunder Bay requires. Rob looked up from his chart and grinned at me.

“Can you hold 300?” he asked.

For a moment, it was an easy, “Christopher Cross” sail, as we call it (referencing the pop song from the ’80’s). I remarked that it was much easier to hold 300 without a broken tiller. We were flying the genoa but not the main.

At once, the wind picked up so that it was hard to maintain the course. After letting out the sail, which didn’t help, Rob decided to switch to the working jib. As soon as the genoa was released, I had no navigational control over the boat, so I could not point it into the wind. He raised the sail, in water that was becoming increasingly rough, with rollers rocking the boat (and making a mess out of the cabin). First, the jib sheets became entangled in the moped (attached to the port side of the boat). When we freed it, the clip that held the line to the sail failed. We were in a crazy wind, hitting rollers to the side, with the jib flopping uselessly ahead of us.

Rob climbed on top again, but he was unable to reach the corner of the sail. I tried to point us into the wind, to no avail. Finally, I tried to engine, which hadn’t been starting. By some miracle it started, and I motored us into the wind, where Rob could attach the clip.

I killed the engine and we sailed well. Rob raised the main, and we were making good time.

Then I saw, dead ahead, trees in the water.

It was Scarecrow Island, completely surrounded by a rocky reef. We needed to pull a tack, to get away from it. In order to be able to tack, we needed to gain enough speed to turn the boat, when we were temporarily out of the wind.

And speed wasn’t happening. The wind died completely.

Through gritted teeth, Rob said, “We’re not running aground!” and started the engine. It ran just long enough to get us a safe distance from the island.

Then, we sailed, making about 2-3 knots, in a barely-there wind. We regretted lowering the genoa. That island was still next to us. I gave it a wide berth.

Our destination, still far away

Alpena, in the distance

Reluctantly, we decided to fly the genoa again. Rob climbed on top, and I could hold the course with the main while he made the switch in light wind. The wind then stopped completely.

Then the magic began…

We sailed in on a perfect beam reach, surpassing hull speed. We came in north of the family property, then sailed downwind, under main only so we would reduce our speed, to the beach, where we set anchor.

Scarecrow Island, off our stern (finally!)

Time to celebrate–we’re in Moonraker’s new home port!

The house

Cat

We spent last night at anchor, to make sure they were well set before we came ashore. Now we’re getting settled in at the house. We will spend June here, doing some repairs and upgrades to the boat (like getting a new fuel pump!). Sometime near the end of the month, we will round marker 13 one more time and sail to Presque Isle, then into Lake Michigan.

Also, it is out of respect, not due to superstition that I have changed the name of this post category. The Lakes are not to be defeated, and we won’t presume to say that we will or have already done that.

Epilogue to the Alpena Story

Remember this place?

And remember this?

Well, we had insurance pay for a new tiller handle, along with the fiberglass repair. A week before we left Alpena, I called the marina to make sure they had replaced the tiller, since they had not mentioned it in our previous conversations. It turns out that they forgot to order a new one, so they epoxied the old one together, so we could leave. They would ship us the new one. We just wanted to get the boat back to Bay City, and the epoxied tiller did fine in the rough water we encountered on both legs of that trip.

A month later, no tiller. And no word from Alpena. So we gave them a call. They said that they could not find a tiller that would fit our boat, so we would have to send them our old tiller, so they could make a new one. We suggested that they just send us a check instead, for the amount insurance paid them for the tiller. They agreed that that was a good idea.

As of last week, there was still no check. So Rob tried to call the marina. They were closed. He called the city manager, who said he would talk to them.

Yesterday, we got our check. And the insurance adjuster said to let him know if we can’t find a tiller for that amount, and they will send us another check. So, if you’re going to Alpena, stay in a hotel or one of the nice campgrounds rather than the marina. But, by all means, get Progressive insurance!

300 to Starboard

I have been working on this post ever since I heard a song that reminded me of the trip through the fog last summer. I hope you enjoy it!

“Course change to 300, in 5 seconds. 5…4…3…2..1…Mark!”

My husband’s voice echoed through the billowing fog that engulfed our small sailing yacht. I looked away from the wall of white before me, toward the identical wall to my right and clenched my right hand and the battered, wooden tiller handle. My downcast eyes stared at the roughly cracked wood, held together by the strap from a life jacket with a metal clamp over the top. They followed the 44-year-old curved handle up to the white knuckles of the hand controlling it.

No. I shouldn’t do it. I wanted to do anything but pull that tiller toward me.

According to Rob’s navigating–using only manual instruments and charts–Bay City was through the wall before us. To turn to starboard meant to motor to Alpena. We saw no landmarks; the shore could be within feet of our boat, or there could be no land in sight. All we had were the charts and our skill.

Bay City was home. They had a state-of-the-art shop, excellent hauling equipment, nice facilities, and a great staff. Alpena was the opposite. For the past week, we had been stuck there, waiting for fuel. Who ever heard of a gas dock being empty?! The showers were dirty, although that wouldn’t matter now. A dockhand had crashed our boat into the dock, and their harbor master was nowhere to be found. This was not a place I would trust with my beloved Moonraker.

“Are you sure?” I asked again. Through the fog, I could see my husband nod. Of course. A 6-hour run would be much safer than the 15 hour trip to Bay City.

With a heavy heart, I pulled the tiller handle towards me. For most of our two-week trip, I’d taken the helm. When we first entered Thunder Bay, I had piloted us through a storm. Yet the tiller never seemed as heavy as it did that afternoon.

I pulled and pulled. I could think of nothing else. Somewhere, deep within my heart, I did actually comprehend that we were in danger. While I blinked back the tears, mourning the loss of our dream, I looked around me, seeing nothing but fog, and briefly wondered if we would see land again.

Such thoughts were to be banished immediately. We had no choice.

I could not consider that the tiller handle was broken and poorly repaired. We hoped it would hold together in the current, calm conditions. The weather report did not call for a storm, but it had not called for fog either. I could not consider that we would definitely die in a storm. That there was so much fog that we could see nothing. That we were headed for a distant port that I did not trust.

300. The round compass sat across from me, mounted on the weathered, white bulkhead. Slowly the wheel within it turned: 210, 250, 260, 300. That number became my focus, my chi, during this long meditation. Maintain 300. As the propeller on the engine caused the boat to pull to port, I pulled the tiller handle toward me, in a sort of rhythm. Focus on 300. Not on fear. Not on loss. And definitely not on danger. Everything depended on 300. I had to make the compass say that. Nothing else could occupy my mind. Our lives depended on that number. And on Rob’s ded reckoning that it was right. Yet I knew where we were going. Were we really is so much danger we couldn’t make it to Bay City? What about Roger’s City, to the North? Anything but Alpena.

I remembered the day after our tenth anniversary, when we had set out on this trip. When I was grocery shopping that morning, an old song from the ’80’s had played on the radio. “It’s so very plain for me to see, the dream is over.” I found this line playing over and over in my head. Dream is over. Dream is over.

Moonraker was our dream. After a turbulent spring and June, we had set out to spend a month sailing around the Mitten, into Lake Michigan. Now it’s over. Over.

No.

300. Nothing more. I had to job to do and I could do it. Back to 300, to the task at hand. I could hold that. I may have doubted myself as a helmsman in the past, but that day I knew I could do it. I could keep us alive.

Yet my mind wandered.

Dream is over.

My mind took me back to the morning we left Alpena. Finally! I had told our friends that we were leaving that morning, rain or shine. Our friends, in turn, had cautioned us. Two people, from a boat we knew, from Bay City, had died in a storm the day before. Be vigilant, one friend wrote.

And we were! The forecast was perfect, even though the fog was beginning to rise as we past Thunder Bay Point. We would be having dinner in Presque Isle. Would it be the seafood buffet, or would we save our money and grill out? Thinking the latter, I bought charcoal before we left Alpena. Cook-outs were fun, and our 4-year-old would have a chance to run around and play. The charcoal was still sitting in the boat when we pulled it out at the end of the season.

Rob sat down with his navigational equipment, and I took the helm. Wearing her life jacket, our daughter chattered happily, as Rob told me our course. 45. Northeast. We were going to cut it close to Thunder Bay Island, but the charts all indicated we could pass. I held 45.

We did not know that Thunder Bay Island had a magnetic pull. That, if you fail to round the markers, far away from the island, it will cause your compass to read incorrectly. 45 was not 45.

Beginning to question it, Rob sent me below to retrieve his navigational equipment. I was in the back, with his parallel rules, digging for his dividers, when it happened.

The sickening thud. The vibration below my feet.

The keel hitting the rocks.

We were stuck. Trying to force the rudder to move, with the boat in reverse, Rob snapped the tiller handle.

We sent our daughter down below, hoping that the Wonder Pets would keep her occupied, while we attended to the situation.

We finally freed our boat by throwing out the anchor, while I swung on the boom. We tilted sideways, lifting the keel off of the rocks. Once again, Moonraker was floating.

For about an hour, Rob steered while I sat on the side deck, looking for the sudden shallow spots that seemed to come out of nowhere. After two hours, they had disappeared. We rounded marker 13, indicating that we were far enough from the island that our compass would not be affected. We left the bay and motored toward Presque Isle, out in the open Lake.

We turned off the DVD player, and our little girl sang while she colored at the dinette.

Feeling home free, Rob sent me below to get him a glass of iced tea. “I can finally relax,” he said.

Finally. Relax.

Down the stairs I walk, not watching where I am placing my feet. To the refrigerator, which is set inside the counter. I retrieve the iced tea pitcher, and pour him a glass. Without looking, I hand it up to the cockpit, where he sits. Now, to get me one.

It’s wet.

The carpet.

Is.

Wet.

The phrases all come to me, phrases I would rather keep out of my head. I try to abolish them from my mind. Taking on water. Disabled vessel. Sinking.

Sinking.

It is then that I notice the fog. We can see nothing. We are nowhere. We are in the middle of a white nothingness.

And we are sinking.

Moonraker, my boat, my home, my soul, was sinking. And we were as well.

300. This was my focus. I heard the bilge pump turn on again, as it had been doing about every 30 minutes. It was keeping up. For now. Below, in the v-berth, we heard our daughter laugh. She was watching cartoons. We kept handing her snacks. When things calmed down, we would let her out, when Shaun the Sheep lost his appeal. She smiled, not knowing what was going on. If she knew, it would be too much. Too much for her, for us…

Dream is over.

At the helm of Moonraker, I could fly. With the sails out, wing-in-wing, going downwind, nothing was impossible. In her I felt a freedom I had never thought was possible. This summer I experienced a life I had never known existed.

A wind blew through my hair, and I knew that if we raised the sails, we could do it again. We could make port faster, faster. Sailing was what Moonraker wanted to do.

But we couldn’t. We couldn’t because of the keel…

There it was. The keel. The thought I kept trying to abolish. The keel. If it separated, if we strained it, if it fell off… It was unthinkable. And there was no point. If the keel fell off, we would have no time to think, before it was over.

Over. But it wouldn’t happen. It wouldn’t.

300. We didn’t deviate. We wouldn’t. We would live. Thunder Bay. I had nearly lost a boat there before. This time I would not. I would see the other side. Yet, now, we were not moving in that direction. We were going back to Alpena. Back. But if we made it, there would be another day.

300. Nothing else. That helm was my duty, my calling. It was all I had to worry about. We could see nothing, but I trusted my husband. If I maintained 300, we would make it.

Through the thickening fog, I saw a distant beacon. Thunder Bay light. This time we would keep our distance. 300 kept us out past the magnetic pull, past the rocks, past the danger. Marker 13 materialized out of the fog, directly to starboard.

300. I wanted to go back to Bay City, to the place we knew. But I trusted Rob. I trusted his navigation. This was the route he had told me to take. Alpena, Alpena. He thought anything further would jeopardize our lives. If we made it to Alpena, we would be all right… The pump was running. We were floating. We would live. We just had to keep going. 300. 300. 300.

We were still encased in the fog; we were still being swallowed by it. In the distance we heard the roar of a motor at full speed. Before I even had time to tighten my grip on the tiller handle, the power boat rushed past us, too close for comfort.

We both shook our heads, marveling at the idiocy that went beyond words.

300. We plowed ahead, ahead. Then, with no warning, we began to see trees off in the distance, to starboard. Thunder Bay point. We were in its lee, which caused the fog to lift. Ahead, in the distance but now in sight, was the break wall. Alpena.

300. I still watched the compass, but it was safe now. It was time to call the marina. We already knew they did not answer radio transmissions, so Rob dialed the cell phone.

“We’re taking on water. Can you pull us out? We’ll be there in an hour.”

“Taking on water? Are you all right?”

“The bilge pump is keeping up, but the boat needs to be pulled when we get there.”

“All right. We close in 45 minutes. We’ll pull you first thing in the morning.”

We would be spending the night on a sinking boat, because they wouldn’t stay open for an emergency.

Slip 37.

We sat in the cockpit, taking it all in. Beneath our feet, the pump ran every 30 minutes. It wasn’t increasing. Moonraker was our home, and this was our last night on it. Until….

Nobody knew if and when we would be back.

And yet we had survived. We had proven our skill to each other, to ourselves. There was no question: we would sail again.

Whether on Moonraker or on another vessel, the water was calling us. And we would answer.

A Wonderful Sail!

I haven’t posted in awhile, because we ran into Internet issues. Our MiFi is wonderfully portable, but we do have limited bandwidth. Now it’s reset, and we’re ready to go!

So, we left Tawas on Sunday. It was a bit cooler and lumpy. We left motoring directly into the wind. Moonraker took the waves smooth enough for us to enjoy hot tea as we began our trip.

We changed course at the freighter dock, on the edge of Tawas bay. Rob turned up the music on our iPod and pulled me up to dance with him in the cockpit. The flag was blowing furiously toward the portside. We wouldn’t be using anymore gas that day!

My left arm got a workout, as we sailed on a close reach all the way back to Bay City. Our speed was 7.5 knots, which is 2 knots above hull speed (which is supposed to be Moonraker’s top speed; it’s the speed it goes under power). We were heeled quite a bit to port, which is not something we’ve ever experienced on that boat. We were bouncing in 4-5 foot waves, but I got good at pouring tea under the conditions!

The river was full of boats under sail, which was a very unusual sight. We didn’t start the engine until we were within sight of the marina.

The sun was out while we were underway, so we arrived in Bay City good and tanned. It was, however, cold in Bay City, so not many of our friends were there to greet us. We were able to see many of our A-dock neighbors at the campfire, though. It was good to be back.

Aboard Once Again!

45 days ago, we thought that Moonraker was totalled, after we ran aground in Thunder Bay. Yesterday morning, we drove up to Alpena to climb back on board. Moonraker was in the water, in the same place she was that day in July when we sadly removed all of our belongings. The first order of business was unloading everything back onto the boat.

Unfortunately, my camera battery died right after I took that picture, so it was charging while we watched Alpena fade into the distance.

Thunder Bay was not going to let us out easily. We motored directly into the wind, in very choppy water. First, we encountered 4-foot waves, which we uncomfortable but not a problem. Then the 10-foot swells started. Occasionally, at the bottom of a swell, we would feel an uncomfortably familiar vibration in the floor and hear a low thudding sound. It was just the boat vibrating against the water, but it still gave us chills.

As we left Thunder Bay, we had to turn sideways to the swells, which were increasing in frequency. We have never seen anything like this in the Lakes; we wonder if Hurricane Irene was affecting the wave patterns. Rob sat at the dinette plotting our course, and he was thrown to the floor, along with his charts and navigational equipment! Beanie, of course, was unphased. The waves always criss-cross at the edge of Thunder Bay, so we were being rocked from all directions.

Once the swells calmed down, Rob’s charting revealed that we had been mistaken about the time it would take us to sail from Alpena to Tawas. Instead of making Tawas by dinner time, we would be there around 11:00 p.m! We considered stopping in Harrisville, but decided that we would rather be on our boat. This would mean navigating at night, but that couldn’t be anymore difficult than navigating in the fog.

Here are some pictures we took after the swells calmed down:

As the sun was going down, our engine began stalling. It would run for about 5 minutes, then begin sputtering and stalling again. Finally, it would not start up again. Rob got out his tool box and did a repair as we drifted past Oscoda.

When we removed the float bowl on the carburettor, it was filled with milky gasoline. We think that there was water in the gas tank, and the swells mixed it in the the gas. We will put a water separator into the fuel system when we get back to Bay City.

With that mishap behind us, we motored our little Moonraker into the night. Above us were more stars than I have ever seen. It was breathtakingly beautiful and eerily silent. We gave ourselves lots of room to get around Tawas point, going even beyond the markers. We are not taking anymore chances with shallow water.

At 11:30, we arrived at Tawas Harbor once again. My parents, who are cruising on their boat for the first time, met us at our slip on the floating dock. It is wonderful, and very unreal, to be back here, living this lifestyle again. It took me over an hour to walk down the dock, because everyone is friendly and wants to chat and to hear our story. It’s great to be back.

There were stars up above, all around the mast.

Watching the compass at night strained my eyes so much, that they are still a bit bloodshot and puffy today.