Friday, September 10, 2010
It’s 6:42 AM. Garrick and Steve have the first watch. We cast off the dock lines a little over an hour ago and we’re now well underway. The stars are still up, peaking out from the clouds that are trying to roll in from the West. The sun is stretching some rays, bringing some color to the horizon. Today is to be our longest day, hence the early start. This does not daunt us as it is home port that we will be docking at tonight. Smoother seas, calmer winds and warmer temps are forecasted for our fifth and last day on Appledore IV on the Great Lakes.
Sunday afternoon, walking back to the house for lunch I asked Hugh about the waves I saw on the horizon. Still quite new to sailing I wanted to know if the weather out there would be too strong to take Gypsy M out for a cruise. We had gotten a lot done that morning, allowing us to spend the afternoon more leisurely playing. I wanted to know what I was looking at even if we wouldn’t be sailing.
We had started up the tractor, right after breakfast, to spend the morning logging and splitting more firewood. With chainsaw and ropes in the tractor cab we drove down the shoreline’s “driveway” looking for the two trees Hugh had plans on adding to the wood pile. Unfortunately they were unsuitable – one was too rotten and the other too deep into the woods to pull out with the tractor. As we drove along the rocky shore, we marked the route from the house to end of the island in anticipation of snow in a few months covering the route over the rocks and boulders.
“Since we’re not able to do any logging, let’s put the tractor to good use while we’re out here and straighten out the driveway.” Hugh said to me. We proceeded to relocate a few tire-eating boulders from the drive and put them in the boat cribs where they would be more helpful their massive weight preventing the ice from moving the cribs. The next tractor task was to put the johnboat’s trailer in the water. We wouldn’t be needing the smaller of our two boats in the water for a while. And we’d probably be wanting to park the Quean, the larger motor boat, at the more protected North dock. This meant I got to drive the johnboat onto the trailer, while Hugh operated the tractor. I was much more successful this time than previously. It only took me two passes to line the boat up with the trailer. Despite the extreme grimace that Hugh gave me as I approached the trailer, I did not crash the boat into the back of the tractor.
With some boulders moved and johnboat out of the water the next task was to take off the tractor forks and put on the bucket. We filled a gaping hole in the driveway with a couple loads of beach gravel and loaded the bucket with a previously felled and cut birch tree. Wood dumped at the wood pile it was now lunchtime.
Hugh’s response to my question about sailing was, “Well the waves are probably about three feet high. It wouldn’t be smooth sailing but it’s not unfeasible.”
I knew that as much as he loves to sail his stomach was telling him that the snack we had had two hours earlier was ancient history and food was of imminent priority. Maybe we’d go sailing afterwards; lunch however was the next “fun thing” to do.
Back at the house, Hugh checked his voicemail while I prepared lunch – homemade bean soup and crackers and cheese; perfect for a crisp fall day. Yes, fall seemed to be upon us with a 50 degree temp upon waking and highs in the sixties during the day. Maybe it would creep up into the low seventies, if we were lucky. A couple days previously, the weather had taken a turn and it looked like we were headed for Fall very quickly.
“Well the Appledore folks called and want me to drive.”
“When?” I inquired, thinking about my two week trip to Baltimore coming up in a week.
“Oh.” I knew that tomorrow meant he’d leave that afternoon if he took the job. Work at the sawmill had slowed down and he wanted to take advantage of any opportunities to make some money, when and where he could. As long as it was feasible. BaySail, the company that owns the Appledore schooners, had called him in late July asking him to drive for three weeks in August and September. The schedule was too erratic and was made unpractical by company we expected and my August trip to Baltimore. If he left that afternoon we’d be apart for three weeks, him gone for a week on the boat and then I’d be gone to work in Baltimore for two. I didn’t like the idea. Even though he didn’t express it, I could tell he didn’t like the idea either.
“Do you want to go?” I asked. I really couldn’t ask him not to go. My missing him wasn’t a good enough excuse. The decision needed to be his entirely.
“Well…” he said.
As I heated up the soup we talked about why not go and the feasibility of me joining him. Except for knowing that it was to start tomorrow, Monday and drive the boat from the Lake Michigan side of Michigan to the homeport on Lake Huron at Bay City, Michigan, he didn’t know all the details. There were a couple of phone calls to be made. The pay could always be better and he needed to find out if there was any upcoming work at the sawmill. A week at the saw mill was about the equivalent of a week on the boat. A week at home in his own bed is more desirable than a week in a short bunk.
Aside from needing laundry done, there wasn’t anything else pressing that needed attending to that coming week. We were going to go look at the office space I’d be moving into at the end of September and discuss the necessary renovations – carpeting covering black and white vinyl flooring, possible paneling where the current hairdresser’s cabinets and sinks were, and a wall erected to create a treatment room separating it from the waiting/office area. Hugh could determine what needed to be done without me present. I’d be deferring to his expertise anyway, especially since he’d be doing the work, probably when I was in Baltimore.
It was now 3:30 PM, Sunday. Lunch was eaten and phone calls were made. We worked out the logistics and determined that I could accompany Hugh. We each had enough clean socks, jeans and underwear to last us until the end of the boat transport. We’d be picking up the boat, Appledore IV, a 85 foot schooner, Monday morning in southwestern Michigan in Pentwater. (For more information about Appledore IV visit www.baysailbaycity.org or see them on Facebook under Appledore IV.) Someone from the company would drive Hugh’s truck from Pentwater to Bay City, where we were to deliver the schooner by Friday night. There was a crew of two on board, Garrick, the first mate and Steve, deck crew. It was not clear if there was a cook aboard. If there was the cook would be getting a supply of fresh veggies I had just bought the day before. If not, we figured I’d be doing a fair amount of cooking. I was to be “volunteer crew.” This meant unpaid, do what ever is asked of you – swab the deck, clean the head (bathroom) and galley (kitchen), throw dock lines, be bow watch and fetch the Captain his Ovaltine and do anything and everything else that is requested quickly and cheerfully with a smile.
At home, each morning Hugh puts the kettle on to boil and asks me if I want anything hot to drink. “Tea for me” is my reply as he prepares himself some Ovaltine. The beginning of August he started running low and put it on the kitchen’s chalkboard shopping list. When I was in Baltimore in August I searched high and low for classic Ovaltine at at least four different brand grocery stores. They all had the chocolate but not the original. We were amazed that it was so hard to find. Two weeks ago I had to go to Traverse City, MI to pick up Victoria at the airport. She was coming for a week. Having an excuse to drive 4 hours to a big city, more than the Soo has to offer, I did lots of grocery shopping, including looking for Hugh’s Ovaltine. “Ovaltine – Yay!” I texted him. I could erase it from the chalkboard list now that we had a couple of jars for him.
“It’ll take me about an hour to pack.” I hurriedly packed clean clothes into duffle bags and dirty laundry into trash bags; we’d do laundry at the town laundromat Saturday on our way home. Into a box went the fresh veggies and fruit, including a fresh peach pie, I had just bought in Traverse City after returning Victoria to the airport a week later. A cloth bag was filled with snacks of homemade oatmeal cherry pecan cookies, pretzels, homemade gorp, chocolate, peanut butter pretzels, along with a week’s worth of tea bags for me and Ovaltine for Hugh.
I was a little excited but actually quite sad to be leaving the island for a week; especially knowing that I’d be home for a day and leaving again for two weeks. I love living on the island. There’s always something that catches my interest – new plants sprouting up or blooming, different foliage colors, birds coming and going, the morning light glistening on the webs wound in tree branches, cool breezes rustling the bay water, and sunsets of different color palates each evening.
We left the house at 5 PM Sunday. Laundry, food and clean clothes were on the boat. The last thing for us to do before rushing for the 6:10 ferry was to put the Quean on the trailer and pull her out of the water at the dock where the truck is parked. We do this when we’re not going to be home for a length of time; should the weather get rough it prevents the boat or dock from being damaged.
Off to the ferry; we had a long five hour drive ahead of us and we needed dinner along the way.
Being Labor Day weekend the ferry was busy. Full to be more specific. We were the third car not to get on the 6:10. Fortunately they were not sticking to schedule and were running as needed. Our wait was only an additional half-hour before we were on our way.
By 2 AM we were finally bunking down. 7 AM was coming quickly.
Appledore IV’s command was turned over to Hugh, as captain Monday morning. It turned out to be more difficult than originally thought to leave the dock. The dinghy was lowered to help nudge us out into the channel as the dock lines were cast off. Regardless of how much push the dinghy gave, Appledore IV would not budge. The chart and GPS plotter had failed to show a mud bar. It took Hugh’s talents at driving along with the aide of a second dinghy and a boat of fishermen to free us of the mud. We were about 40 minutes later leaving than had planned, but that was okay. Our first day was and easy cruise north up Michigan’s western side to our first stop at Frankfurt.
Monday was over cast and strong winds of 20 knots at our back. Rain sprinkled us throughout the day. The waves of four to six feet rocked us back and forth as we made our way at an easy seven to eight knots. With four of us on board, no there was no cook, we split up into shifts of two, taking watches of four hours. Hugh and I took the first watch while Garrick and Steve enjoyed their time below reading, napping, having a smoke and listening to music. Each hour the boat was checked: making sure nothing was squirting or flopping from the motor, that the alternator was properly charging, fuel tanks were at appropriate levels, and bilges weren’t over flowing. Our GPS coordinates were plotted on the paper navigation chart with time and speed noted. (I now have a new skill that I can put on my resume.) Fifteen minutes to watch change, it was my job to “wake the crew” and do one more boat check.
The wind to our backs and not much crew limited our raising any canvas. A staysail was set to help keep her nose pointed the right way, easing steering and adding a few knots of speed.
That evening as we approached Frankfurt we saw the waves crashing on the breakwater.
“Look at that spray, it’s higher than the light house at times,” Hugh remarked as he took over the helm.
The winds were still strong and the waves had gathered strength over the course of the day as the wind forcefully pushed the water, from Wisconsin to Michigan. On bow watch, I was supposed to make sure Hugh didn’t run over any unobservant fishermen. As we entered the town’s channel, behind the breakwater, the fishermen moved their boats out of our way. People who were taking walks along the shore got to watch an uncommon site, an old fashioned but modern, steel hulled schooner come into their bay. After setting anchor and dinner of burritos, Hugh and I join Steve in the dinghy for a ride to shore. Steve sets off in search of a hot shower. The marina office is closed so he goes searching elsewhere while Hugh and I take a walk through town. Steve is waiting for us at the dinghy.
“A nice old couple gave me the combination for the showers.” Steve informs us.
While he showers we take me back to the boat for my towel and toiletries and return to the marina showers. A hot shower was a nice finish to a pleasant day’s journey.
Day Two, Tuesday, Breakfast of scrambled eggs with diced tomatoes and green peppers was promptly ready at 7 AM. Weather reports called for strong winds and intermittent showers. From our advantage on deck we could see the waves coming over the breakwater. The bay was relatively calm and fishermen motored out into the waterway heading out into the lake. Watching them we grinned. Almost upon first sight of the breakers they would turn around and head back to their dock, knowing full well that it was not a day for them to be in those waters. We on the other hand, did not have the luxury to stay at anchor. We had to be in Bay City in four days and each day would be full of miles to travel. Our schedule had no leeway, so we pulled up anchor and set out.
Again on bow watch I looked for fishermen crazy enough to be in the waters, but spent most of my time returning the wave of folks watching us from the comfort of their front porches. Once on the lake we raised the staysail and continued our journey north. We’d be anchoring at Beaver Island, west of Petoskey and Charlevoix. Again, Hugh and I took first watch while Garrick and Steve enjoyed their time below.
We traveled with winds up to 30 knots and waves of eight to ten feet. Having steered Appledore IV some the previous day, I knew that it was better to leave the driving to Hugh. Occasionally a large wave would splash the deck as some of the six feet of freeboard (the distance between the water and the deck of the boat when resting) rocked back and forth. I was appreciative of my foul weather gear, hand me downs from a previous crew member of Hugh’s.
Watch change meant lunch for us and a nap. An apple I had earlier in the day hadn’t settled well with my stomach so all I wanted was something light. Bologna and salami are on my list of “don’t like” already and too heavy, so a sandwich of PB and honey was much more to my liking.
About an hour or so into our nap we’re awakened by the strong rolls that are making me squeeze Hugh in to the bunk wall.
“Do you trust them to get you if they can’t handle something?”
“Yup.” Said my confident captain.
Fifteen more minutes of strong rolls we’re rousted by Steve, “Uh, Captain, it’s getting pretty strong out there!”
Without hesitation he donned his foul weather gear and boots and up on deck. Steve and Garrick looked relieved that they have help; someone with more experience is welcome to take the helm. The wind had picked up to gale force plus winds (over 35 miles per hour) and some waves were up to twelve feet.
I joined them up on deck. The next few minutes we’re all pitched here and there as a wave swamped the deck and heeled the boat. There’s nothing to be scared of, just better to be safe than sorry. As we talked about our day’s travels thus far and to come I saw coming over the portside stern a wave talker than Hugh stands. Instinctively I knew that it was not going to go under us, it was going to crash on top of us. Not large enough to do damage, but enough water to put a couple inches of on deck.
I didn’t have my foul weather pants on, just my coat so I went below and remained there as I was not on watch and not needed. I tried to nap and tried to read but the rolls were making me a little queasy. Preferring anyway to be up on deck, even in the wet, I put on my gear, did the hour’s boat check and went up on deck. The guys were decked out in the bright blue, red and yellow of safety harnesses and clipped onto jack lines (safety webbing that runs along the length of the deck, allowing for the ship to be tended to while still being securely attached.) It was our turn for watch in an hour anyway. Garrick and Steve remained on watch until the change, smoking the occasional cigarette and swapping sailing stories with Hugh.
Eventually I got brave and pulled out my camera to document the excitement. That night after securely setting two anchors, one off to port and one off to stern, I was going to download my pictures of the day and post them on Appledore IV’s Facebook page. I rummaged through my camera bag to realize, much to my chagrin, that I had somehow neglected to pack my download cord. It would have to wait until I got home. Oh well.
We were the only boats in the bay at Beaver Island that night, which pleased Hugh. He had expressed concern that if there were too many boats we might not have enough room to swing on anchor with the wind. With no other boats and calmer winds it was a peaceful night, but still anchor watch was made every three hours to check for anchor drag. Again, better to be safe than sorry. It was a good day. No one had gone over board or hurt, no line had been broken or holes poked in the ship, the only casualties were the deck box, which ironically held the safety harnesses and the parallel rule used for plotting our position, which slid of the chart table into the sea of rolling oblivion.
I was able to post a Facebook status update about the day’s adrenaline rush. One friend remarked I was crazy to be out there and another asked “Why?!?” My response was “Because it’s fun and we were actually being quite safe, just not something you’d want to do in a smaller boat or with a less skilled captain.”
On day six of our eight day trip in Canada’s North Channel in Gypsy M we encountered large waves in the five and six foot range and strong winds of 30+. It was a good experience to ready me for Tuesday’s gale force plus, so it wasn’t anything of concern. I knew Hugh’s sailing skills and being on the larger boat meant we were much safer.
Day Three, Wednesday was traveling through Mackinac Straights and under the Mackinac Bridge. In July, Hugh and I had talked about sailing under the Mackinac Bridge on our first four day sail, but the winds and travel days didn’t permit it. Now for the first time I got to sail under the bridge. This time it was on a schooner with a 85 foot mast under a bridge that was 135 feet off the water. We easily cleared it without scraping any paint, neither theirs nor ours. And a good thing too, as if we had scraped the bridge it would have taken them years to get around to painting it. It takes eight years to paint it and then they start all over again.
Day Four, Thursday was relatively uneventful. Day Two seemed to have encapsulated all the excitement of our five day trip into one day. We left Cheboygan, Michigan Thursday morning. Under heavy overcast skies we motored with a staysail flying down the northeastern side of Michigan to the Saginaw Bay. Foul weather gear was worn throughout the day, more for warmth than water protection. The storm system had blown itself pretty much out and brought in mid-fifty degree temperatures. The wind was now coming from a more northern direction, still to our backs having shifted with us as we proceeded south. For those of you who are not very familiar with sailing, even if there is wind, it is not helpful if it is coming down your back or directly at you. To harness the wind with the sails we needed it to be more from the East, but that did not happen, so raising any more sail than the staysail would have been useless. Hugh said that maybe tomorrow, Friday, the wind would be out of the East and we might raise the foresail.
During the day we passed Rogers City and various lighthouses and large bouys that we can see occasionally, when the weather is right, from the house thirty miles away. I had never been to this part of Michigan. Similar to finally meeting someone in person with whom you have spoken with on the phone, it was neat to see the source of the spectral lights.
Day Five, Friday we left before the sun had cracked the skies with light. On bow watch I lit up with the spotlight the channel marker bouys as Hugh motored us out of Alpena, Michigan. Our last and longest day of transiting the Great Lakes.
The wind decided to not listen to the weather forecasters and continue to blow from the north, rather than an eastern direction. Putting more than the staysail up would not happen.
Calm seas and partly cloudy skies meant that foul weather gear could be stripped and I could actually bring my laptop up on deck to write when I was not doing boat checks or driving the boat. Towards the end of our first watch we stopped in West Tamas for a “pump out” and a “fill up.” The black water holding tanks, from the toilets and showers, needed emptying and the diesel fuel tanks needed filling. This was the closest and most convenient location to do this before arriving at home port, even though Bay City was still six hours away.
At five o’clock Hugh got up from a nap and began munching his way through the galley. Our watch was to start in an hour. I knew that if I left making dinner up to Steve, Hugh might not get fed until seven. A hungry captain is not a good thing; the two people to keep happy are the captain and the cook. My priority was the captain. Being the self-appointed assistant cook I conferred with Steve, acting head cook, about dinner plans.
Dinner according to Steve was leftovers. This basically meant we were each be responsible for scraping up whatever we could and wanted from any food stuffs still edible. We ran out of ice in the picnic coolers on day two of our journey so the coolers, which contained veggies were now room temp and acting as containers ripening any bacteria and mold growing on the veggies. The electric icebox contained leftover macaroni from last night’s fish supper. I pulled out the skillet, melted some butter, sliced up some of the carrots, mushrooms, zucchini and tomato that still looked decent. With a little water, salt, pepper and paprika, dinner was starting to look decent. In went the leftover macaroni along with a couple packets of pink salmon. It was my version of my dad’s “Tuna Noodle Surprise” but mine was salmon and no surprises – I knew exactly what was in it.
“Yum!” Hugh assured me as he gobbled a plate down in two minutes before going on watch.
It’s been now five days on the lakes and a bit over four hundred miles. We’ve motored up the western side of Michigan, across the north end and down the eastern side. I’m stinky and in need of a good shower; fortunately for Hugh, he is as well. We both showered two nights ago in Cheboygan and look forward to one tonight at the dock. We’re expecting to dock about 9:30 PM Friday night. Hugh and I have the boat all to ourselves tonight. Steve is departing immediately for a much anticipated 10 days off, visiting with friends and family. He’s been on board all summer. He and his girlfriend will be spending some of that time on Drummond Island. He might go visit Hugh and go sailing while he’s up there and I’m in Baltimore. Garrick will be at home in his own bed tonight, but back on the boat with the next crew tomorrow, Saturday, at 7:45 AM, ready to take her out for day sails. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be very ready to head home.
It’s been an interesting experience for me. I’ve enjoyed watching Hugh at work; navigating the schooner through narrow channels coming in and out of ports, gently taking command in rough seas, and listening to what the first mate has to say about the workings of the boat. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned to tie a highwayman’s hitch and coil and ballentine lines. I got to hoist the staysail with its halyard, which takes some strength. I worked the downhaul and secured the sail on my own while Hugh drove. I had never secured the staysail before and was glad I had watched Garrick do it a couple of times. Later I indicated to him that we had lowered it and I had secured it. I asked him to look at it and make sure I did it properly. It felt good when I received a thumbs up!
I tossed dock lines and secured fenders (not like cars, think bumper cushions for boats). I’ve enjoyed plotting our position on the charts, seeing where we’ve come from and where we’re headed. The rolling of the ship lulls me sometimes and throws me others; I’ve definitely developed stronger “sea legs.”
There’s nothing like being in fresh air, even when it’s blustery and the sea is rough. I’m glad I came, even though I miss home, I’d have missed Hugh tremendously. I’m glad to have had the opportunity and I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but not all the time. I enjoy our own bed and the little delights of life on Shelter Island too much.
Sitting on a log was a red squirrel. I spied it before it saw me. I had startled it. It looked up at me with wide eyes and an “Ohh my gosh!!!” look on its face. Its front paws opened wide as it prepared to bolt, suddenly dropping the spruce cone it forgot it had between its paws. “It’s okay little one,” I said to the red squirrel as I walked passed it, on my way to get Hugh and me our own snack this past Sunday morning.