Touch the Earth, Kiss the Sea

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Our first evening at the cottage on Thunder Bay, I saw the sun beginning to set.  I said, “I gotta do something,” abandoned our Mario Kart game, and headed out to the beach with my camera. 

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So barefoot, in the sunset, I wandered across the place where it all began.

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It was here that Rob proposed to me, over the frozen waters, at the dawning of the new millennium.

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It was here that I first sailed, aboard the Sonnet.

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It was here that I faced my first storm.

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It was here that I took the helm for 6 hours, as Moonraker was taking on water.

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It was here that we set out, for 13 hours in hurricane weather, determined to bring the newly-repaired Moonraker back to our home port.

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It was here that we returned , won victories in arriving and leaving, before saluting our worthy adversary.

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It was here that we anchored for a month, when my blogging began to take off, with my guest post published on Miss Minimalist.  It was through that guest post that I met many of the friends who helped me through the challenges that were to com.

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It was here that I first began to look fear in the eye—it’s where my current journey truly began.

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Walking along the beach, wading through the water, where it all began, I saw how it all connects, how it all matters.

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Watching the sun set over this house of healing, I saw that the best, the worst, and the seemingly insignificant events of our lives factor so much into the grand scheme of things.

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All working together, to create the beauty that is life.

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Labor Day Weekend Antics

All right, so Labor Day wasn’t as exciting this year as it was last year (here and here and here are the posts from the adventures we had then!). However, we did have some fun playing around.

First, meet Mockingjay! She’s a zippy little catamaran (similar to a Hobie, but the brand is Pleasure Craft) that we bought from our friends (actually, the same friends who visited us in Tawas last year…sadly, they have had to move out of state…). I was determined to learn to single hand over the weekend, and it was surprisingly easy on this boat. Am I ready to try it on Moonraker? We’ll see how brave I’m feeling in the spring!

Can you tell where we are? That’s right–Thunder Bay is much more navigable in a boat the doesn’t draw much! We did hit rocks a few times, but this boat could handle it.

When we returned home, Rob welded together two bike frames to make a “tall bike.”

Unfortunately, one of the welds came apart, causing the bike to lose steering and crash (which caused issues with the other welds). Rob is busy researching welding techniques, so that he can repair it and make it a bit safer next time.

I hope you had a great weekend as well!

Leaving Thunder Bay, A Beautiful Anchorage, A Small Craft Advisory, and PISH

Yes, we are still alive!

We’re expecting limits to cell phone coverage (our internet access is through our cell phone), but we didn’t expect it to happen so soon. We were able to check in on Facebook and make short phone calls, but our coverage was so spotty that we were not able to upload photos.

So, what have we been up to?

First, we finally did it. Moonraker is no longer in Thunder Bay. It was calm when we left.

Here is Misery Bay, the place where our season ended last summer.

As we got out of the lee of the point, the water became more and more rough. We were beating into the wind, under power, with huge, square, “Thunder Bay waves” coming from all directions. It was drudgery. Remember how foggy it was during our trip last year? Well, this year, we could see the lighthouse clearly, but we couldn’t hold the camera straight in the waves!

Here is marker 13. Go around it (we didn’t last year)…

This is Middle Island light. You can actually rent the keeper’s house and be governor of your own island for a night. We might try this, for a getaway, sometime…

The keeper's house

Once we were out of Thunder Bay, things smoothed out a lot. We still weren’t able to sail, but we did grill hot dogs.

Then, we passed the Stoneport freighter dock…

And, finally, we anchored out in the harbor and were treated to a beautiful sunset.

There weren't any other boats anchored out, but a lot of sailboats were on moorings.

Since we got there late, and had a rough run, we decided to stay there on Saturday, to rest and recover…

Here’s our view, in the daylight…

We cleaned up the boat, relaxed, and rode the dinghy to shore. There, we picked up some provisions at the “boater trap” across from the marina (and its prices seemed low, compared to the price of groceries in Ossineke/Alpena…), and ate dinner at the yacht club’s restaurant. It was nice to enjoy some coffee (I haven’t been able to get grounds that aren’t horribly overpriced, so we have been doing without) and a hot meal. We planned to leave port the next day.

Then we looked at the forecast. Thunder storms. All day. We stayed anchored out during the day, then went to get showers in the evening. The marina let us tie up at a dock and pay $4 for the three of us to have showers, before returning to our anchorage. The showers were so warm that I actually had to turn the water down, so it was worth every penny.

During the evening, we dragged anchor as the winds picked up, so we moved in closer. The anchor held, but it was not a smooth night. None of us slept well, as we were rocked back and forth (to the point where things were falling off of the counters), and we kept watching to make sure we didn’t drift.

The storm affected the cell phone tower, so we lost service. We weren’t able to check the weather online, or let anyone know we were leaving. It was really rough, as we made our way out of the bay today. But it was manageable. We saw many sailboats leaving, under sail, and we decided to see if it would get any worse. The NOAA channel on our radio told us to expect 20 mph winds, and that there was a small craft advisory. Those last three words were enough to bring us back to the harbor, to the marina this time. There was no way we were spending another night anchored out in this.

So, here we are, in a slip, in Presque Isle. Everything here says “PISH” on it, and it took me awhile to figure it out. It’s “Presque Isle State Harbor.” And PISH seems to have the cheapest laundry I’ve seen at a marina ($1 for each machine). And the PIYC has free wifi, which is how I’m able to reach all of you. So we’ll spend the night here, at a very sheltered dock, then we’ll head to Rogers City tomorrow morning. It’s going to be high winds again, but if we leave early, we should miss the worst of it.

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

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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!