Mackinaw City, Three Lakes Down One To Go
21 August 2019 | Straits Marina, Mackinaw City
Robert & Alice Smith | Waiting for a Break
I say three lakes because we sailed across Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair and Lake Huron. St. Clair was a power boat trip of some 20 or so miles.
So here we are in Mackinaw City having left Buffalo some eight days ago. The sail across Erie was notable only in that we hobbie-horsed for some 24 hours sailing as best we could westerly winds. You know tacking back and forth. We finally called it a night when we rounded Pelee Island hoping to find a safe anchorage. It was late at night or actually very early in the morning and the wind was blowing 15 to 20. We came around the island to anchor behind the breakwater only to find that the direction was parallel to the line of the breakwater. No safety at all. So we powered out into the bay and dropped the hook in two to three foot waves and 25 feet of water. It turned out to be not too bad a night.
The next day was up the Detroit River against a two or three knot current. I found a possible anchorage behind a river barrier and we drooped the hook for the night. Peaceful sleeping but then.... Time to pull up the anchor. Oh crap, weeds galore. I mean weeds that took me more than 30 minutes to clear from the chain and then the anchor. Wow!!
Our next anchorage was just before entering Lake St. Clair, then powering across the lake to a spot sort of open to the south west and guess what, yup it started blowing from the south west. Wind against the river current of 2 knots so we sat broadside for most of the night. We were safe and tired so no problemo.
Next day onward up the river to Port Huron and then the Lake. The Lake was calm, after clearing the last bridge we sailed out onto Lake Huron at an incredible three knots. So what, we had planned plenty of time for this passage so we relaxed and enjoyed the sunset and calm waters.
We made it to a Harbor of Refuge for the night having covered almost 80 nms. We pulled in after midnight, found a spot and dropped the hook. Ah so peaceful. sleep!!
The next morning there were decent winds but to sail we had to head out into the main body of the lake and then jybe back. Lots of sailing to make so few miles up the track, but that's sailing. So we continued on; out, then back across Saginaw Bay toward Thunder Bay. Around 1600, I was on watch and could see a shelf cloud heading in our direction. To be cautions I called for a double reef for the main and jib. It slowed us but then it hit. IMG, 35 plus wind driven waves with the white caps being blown off the tops. Time to get rib rolled up, yup as you can imagine that was not easy but these old fogies got it done. It passed and we were back sailing north.
Then later that evening somewhere around 0200 another frontal burst of energy hit us. This time we were ready for the 35 plus knots but unfortunately it was on our nose. I decided to hove too, that is slow the boat essentially letting us set still in the water as the wind blew us sideways as we decided what to do next. After an hour I decided to head back to Thunder Island off of Alpena and find a safe anchorage to wait out the blow. We debated, we talked, we wondered what was best for us and LB. Sitting out in the lake with waves building was more than I wanted to expose us to so I decided to turn back and sail toward Thunder Island. Go move BoB!!
An hour and half later we were powering into a small bay where we could drop the hook and relax. 0500 and we were safe and asleep!!
Let me take a moment of your reading time to talk about weather changes on these lakes. Looking off into the distance you can see dark clouds. A look at the radar and there is pretty heavy rain up ahead. Then a shelf cloud begins to form. This is a very particular cloud formation signaling strong down drafts. The clouds go from gray to darker gray and then almost purple. This thing coming at us has a lot of energy and we know from experience it's going to get a little dicey. So we prepare, we talk to each other about what happens when. My Alice is far more cautious than me and I listen to her as she starts to worry. We are reefed, we can get rid of the jib easily and can turn and run if we have to. All lines are secured, the enclosure is closed up tight, I'm ready with the engine and we continue on. Then BAM!! Again another of these burst of energy. I timed it. Less than 15 minutes and it was gone. I'm glad we were out in the lake where we were safe. No shoreline, no reefs, just open water.