Monday, August 15, 2011

Great Loop Completion

Ahoy Sailors - Joyce and I just returned from 2 weeks on Lakes Michigan and Huron, thereby completing the 6700 mile "Great Loop" around the eastern and middle states. We trailered the 24' Bayliner, sporting a new engine and rebuilt outdrive, about 600 miles up to a convenient launch ramp in Portage, Indiana, about 24 miles SE of Chicago. Turned out to be one of the few bargains on the trip, $10. to launch the boat and store the truck and trailer for 2 weeks.
    The bright lights of Chicago beckoned, and our first taste of Lake Michican awaited. Calm enough at first, the early afternoon breeze built to about 15kts, giving us a rough, slow ride with spray into Chicago. Stopping again at Burnside Harbor, (where we began last fall's trip down the rivers to Tampa, Fla.) we got a slip and set off by bike to explore. The Navy Pier shops and eats, art galleries, botannical garden, landscaped pathways and competing evening free band concerts are what makes big cities special.
    Back at the boat we were amazed by the parade of yachts leaving the harbor after dark, then learned they were all anchoring in front of the concert venue just a mile away. The late evening breeze nearly caused a problem when a cabin cruiser returned on one engine, then turned sideways and stalled out, drifting towards us while a crewmember was frantically pouring fuel into the tank.
Restarting just in the nick, they managed, with difficulty, to maneuver back to their slip.
    Departing early am, which was to become our modis operandi, as the calmest hours were at dawn, we motored next 29 miles to Waukegan, Ill. Having been a Johnson outboard motor dealer for 19 years, it was interesting to finally see the factory, now owned by the Sea-Doo jetski folks, and maker of Evinrude e-tec engines. Then 24 miles to Racine, Wisconsin for lunch, and 22 miles to Milwaukee. We learned of the 'German Fest" beginning that evening, so hung around for German music , beer, and ethnic foods. Most of these small towns are useful mainly as a break from the lake, but all were unique and worth visiting. In calm conditions about an hour seperated them, 24 miles to port Washington, 25 to Sheboygan, 30 miles to Twin Rivers, and 34 to Algoma. The salmon fishing tournament in Algoma attracted dozens of boats and space was tight at the marina. The launch ramp opened at 4am and continued to 11pm. Up at 4 Saturday 7/30, we had plans to cross the 75 miles to Leland on the Michigan side of the lake, and had just popped up on a plane in perfect, calm conditions when a sudden screeching noise and nasty grinding sound locked up the outdrive, just 20 hours after the rebuild!! Lucky it happened then and not an hour later in the middle of the Lake. 
    We anchored to await rescue, which came in the form of a Dad and son team on a small aluminum boat, who were kind enough to tow us back to Algoma. So now we had to get back to the truck so we could retrieve the boat and find a mechanic in the nearby town of Kewaunee. This involved a cab ride 40 miles to Green Bay, one way rental car back to Indiana, and 200 miles back to Algoma. 6 days later all is well ($2300) and we are again heading across Lake Michican to the other side. But this time it proves too rough, so we go further up the coast to Sturgeon Bay instead, which has a canal connecting lake Michigan with Green Bay itself. This is a very busy boating area. We stayed at a luxury resort type marina, beautifully landscaped, and tried again next day, this time sucessfully, to South Manitou Island, now a park, then the tiny fishing village of Leland, then to the amazing port of Charlevoiux, with its entry canal into a small natural lake, which opens to a much larger inland lake (over 10 miles long) with its own cruising and fishing areas and destinations. Then off to Beaver Island, another 15 miles out into the lake.
    Beaver Island, the largest Island in Lake Michigan, was once claimed as an independant kingdom in the 1850's by "King" Stang, and his band of Morman followers. The Kingdom lasted 5 years, when a US gunboat was sent to arrest him, but he was shot by disgruntled islanders, who preferred to take the law into their own hands.
    Blessed with continued calm conditions, we buzzed the 35 or so miles to Mackinaw straits, and Michigan City, where we purchased charts for Lake Huron, the north Channel, and Georgian Bay.
The continued calm allowed us to zoom past Mackinaw island and enter Canadian waters at the little port of Meldrum, on Manitobin Island (largest in lake Huron, over 100 miles long). Next day the wind was up so we slogged at 6 kts many hours to the next few parts, ending at Killarny on the north shore. There are numerous islands, many with "cottages", and an entire industry supporting the hermit-like lifestyle of these"cottagers".
    Next day we entered the unique Collins inlet, a very narrow slit about 25 miles long, and only a hundred feet wide at its most narrow. Then back out on the lake another 25 miles to Byng harbor ( named after a British revolutionary war general- these were loyalists, after all) and finally to aptly named "Snug Harbor", with well known and packed fish restaurant. It certainly looked like all the inhabitants were there, we just squeezed in and there was a line out the door when we left!
    We followed the "small boat channel" the remainder of the way through Georgian Bay. They call it the thirty thousand Island area ( to differentiate it from the thousand Island area of Lake Ontario) but who's counting. At times the well marked channel was only yards wide, twisting and turning among the rocks, with deep water right next to granite. You can anchor anyplace, but we worried about uncharted rocks. We were probably in a trickier place than I had prepared for. I would not go back without a backup engine, or twin engine boat.
    But in due course we made it to Midland, on a rainy day, just a few miles from where we ended the prevoius trip through the Trent-Severn waterway, and where it was reported we could get a rental car to go back for the truck and trailer, now in Kewaunee, Wisconsin. Alas, no rentals available, nearest airport was Toronto, 2 hours by car. I thought of buying a motorcycle, which could be put into the truck bed after the 600 mile trip back, but purchased a small, 10 year old Mazda instead, for $1000., which we used with no problems to retrieve the truck. We planned to sell it in Kewaunee, but found out there were some details to importing a car legally into the US, the most inconvenient was an inspection during which the customs people kept the car for up to 72 hours (looking for drugs, no doubt) So we had to return it to Canada, which Joyce did by following me back. We sold it to a used car dealer in Sault St. Marie for $500. This guy and his son (two Randys) could have been on TV like the 'Pawn Stars" crew. They were really funny.
    Back in midland we retrieved the boat and set out for Toronto, traveled along the north shore of Lake Ontario, then back down interstate 81 through New York and Pennsylvania. Very nice drive, arrived back home before dark, with two trailer tires almost down to the cords, just worn out since bought new in January of '09. Truck milage was about 2750, boat about 375 on Lake Michican and 300-400 on Lake Huron. We burned up a frightfull amount of fuel, enough to make me reconsider those Macgregor powersailors we used to sell. Maybe one 4th the expense, with a little sailing thrown in. There are charter boat available at several locations along this route and I greatly recommend a summer sailing trip among the many and varied islands and cities of our wondrous Great Lakes.- Cheers and Happy Sailing from Capt Jim and First Mate Joyce