Finally I did it; I made a multiday trip in Fetch. I enjoyed 9 days travelling about 150 miles, from Traverse City to Cedarville. There were actually six sailing days and three were waiting for weather and just hanging out. The Great Lakes are excellent for boating with its clear, fresh and often warm water. One can choose from exposed to sheltered coastlines. The general area has a reputation for being able to get nasty in a hurry. Big thunderclouds can form quickly and give a small boat a hell of a time with big steep waves and squalls. Fortunately I didn’t run into any trouble and was able to wait out some windy days in the safe harbor of Charlevoix. Below you can see a rough outline of the trip.
Like I said in my last post I had to wait out some windy days with chance of thunderstorms before I could start my trip. I relaxed on a campsite and hung out in Traverse city. Tuesday, August 7th, winds had laid down and I headed over to the boat launch after stocking up on groceries. I parked my van at the Maritime Heritage Alliance and shoved off at around 2 pm. Winds were light NNE and at 5:30 pm I anchored in Bowers Harbor, about 7 miles north. It felt good to be under way, but I was a bit tired from the morning prep, so I didn’t go far. I took a nice swim and cleaned the Fetch’s hull as I swam around it, made some diner in the cockpit and enjoyed the sunset.
Next morning I made bacon and eggs breakfast with coffee. I didn’t know what to do with the bacon grease so I chucked it overboard. To my surprise this created a big embarrassing oil slick on the water. I couldn’t believe it, but the flat spot on the water got bigger and bigger and could be seen for an hour, slowly drifting away from me. I guess that was a no-no. Later on the trip I would collect it in a container.
At around 10 in the morning the wind started to fill in and I got underway. A 10 -12 knot NNE wind made for relaxed sailing up the west side of Grand Traverse Bay. Just as I was starting to make some nice progress up north the wind petered out and a bit frustrated I turned on the iron horse to not just drift there. However the wind came back after an hour and I had a nice sail up to Northport. Around 4:30 pm I anchored in a little cove at the very north end of Northport Bay. That cove is surrounded by waterfront homes with all their aquatic toys parked out in front. Power boats, sailboats, kayaks, standup boards were abundant and I was surprised how much people actually used them while I was there. It was a busy to and fro all evening of folks enjoying living at the waters edge. Good for them I thought, to be so connected with the water. Once the wind died I could see my anchor so clear as if there was no water at all.
Thursday the 9th I headed out at 9 am with hardly any wind. After motoring for an hour a 10-15 knot breeze from the East came up and made for a nice long tack to my goal; Charlevoix. I tucked a reef in the main and was surrounded by small whitecaps most of the crossing of the bay.
Even in covering the 18 miles distance one becomes quite aware of the curvature of the earth. At first one sees occasional treetops just out side of a projecting land point. Even standing up in the cockpit reveals much more of those trees. After an hour or so the trees are full in sight and the next landmark begins to show itself. Same thing behind you; slowly the departure area drops below the horizon till nothing is left. This was the first stretch of exposed water on this trip. I was a bit nervous at the onset, but seeing that the weather was stable I enjoyed the sail more and more. I tucked in another reef as I came around the point and around 1 pm the entrance to Charlevoix came in sight.
Most of the time I have my GPS on and as travelling speed varies, it tells me when I am expected to arrive. This gives me a peace of mind and eliminates a lot of messing around with charts. Charts are still very helpful in planning, laying out the route and keeping an eye on escape routes, but for general navigating and seeing where I am I love this little instrument. Since in a small boat one tends to kind of skirt the coast where possible, it’s very helpful to detect shallows and rocks ahead of time. Another thing I like about it is checking speed. Often I noticed that ones speed actually increases after reefing the main. I started thinking about this and came up with a few speculations:
- As the boat heels the driving force in the sail is now over the side of the hull and thus wants to turn the boat into the wind (rounding up). More heel generally causes more rounding up and weather helm (pull on the tiller) to compensate this. This slows the boat down. Easing the main some brings the boat more upright, but seems to reduce speed. After one tucks in a reef, the center of effort in the rig is lowered, thus less overboard and therefore creates less rounding up and less weatherhelm. The hull is also more upright and has less drag in the water. Often Fetch goes almost a knot faster after reefing.
- When the wind keeps increasing (as it often does after one reefs) and one reaches the same amount of heel as before reefing, now the center of effort is lower than before and has more of a driving force. Also it’s more forward, creating less weatherhelm. I’m sure there is a lot more to it.
Fetch’s jib is cut a bit full and tends to create more heel than desired when the wind picks up. When I bend on the smaller jib (thanks Dan), which is much flatter, she points better and is quite fast upwind (for her size that is). In a 15 knot breeze she tends to go about 5.4 knots upwind, with occasional spurts of 6.5 knots when slipping off a wave.
With the breakwater of Charlevoix in sight I lowered sail and motored between the breakwaters to the bridge, which opens every half hour. Beyond this bridge one enters Round Lake, which is about a quarter mile across. There is protection from any wind inside this anchorage and the town wraps itself cozily around it. While getting some gas I heard that one can stay for free along the wall for a few hours, so that’s what I did. I tucked far behind a sight-seeing boat and in fact stayed there for the night. Right behind me was a couple in a Catalina 22 from ’75, called ‘Catnip’. I really liked the interior layout of that boat. A small dinette to port, an unobstructed V-berth forward and a sliding galley to starboard creates much more living space than on Fetch. The boat has a cast iron swing keel of about 400 lbs, which drops 5’ down and together with almost 8’ beam makes for much more stability as well. I became a bit puzzled by this; should I sell Fetch and buy one of those? I would be more comfortable inside and be able to handle more wind. It is about 1000 lbs heavier on the trailer which is dubious, but on a windy lake that would be a nice bonus I thought. For a few thousands bucks one can pick up a used one. Or I could build a bigger boat with that layout, but that seems insane, considering the amount of work and expense. Hmmm, something to think about… I hope Fetch can’t read my thoughts. I later ran into another couple with the same design and they really liked it a lot as well.
Beaver Island is about the only harbor north of Charlevoix, so I planned to stop by there on my way to the Mackinac Bridge. The east side of the bay offers no protection anywhere so it makes for quite an exposed 30 mile haul to the island. High wind warnings were in effect however, so I stayed in town most of the next day. This 25 knot easterly that was blowing, was not to be ignored for a small boat like Fetch. I took some pictures of a 26’ yacht arriving from a down wind run.
Charlevoix is a quaint little tourist town, that’s kept nice and tidy. There is even a curfew at night for the teens of certain ages to head home at certain times. A siren will go off at around nine I think and soon thereafter the younger teens start moving toward home. Main Street is full of wondering visitors enjoying many galleries, ice cream shops, restaurants etc. Unfortunately the street clogs up with cars every half hour when the bridge opens, but so be it. There is wonderfully restored library a few blocks away with public computers and even a dedicated teen room (no adults allowed).
I saw an ad for an enormous boathouse for sale. The boathouse is right there in town and is beyond believe in size and luxury.
After a day in town I was ready for a change. There was supposed to be good protection in Oyster Bay, in the north end of Charlevoix Bay. I left town around 6PM and had an adventurous ride. Winds were still over 20 knots from the East and Fetch was making over 5 knots under jib and jigger alone. This was one of the few times I actually used the mizzen. Fetch balances nicely with those two sails, but with the main up as well, the mizzen tends to make for too much weather helm in all but the lightest breezes. The folks I had met in Charlevoix in Catnip were there as well. I anchored in about two feet of water to get out of the wind and made dinner. Around sunset I noticed a family of five Cranes (Sandhills) quietly appearing out of the reeds. They didn’t make any sound and just poked around in what seemed their backyard.
The next day (Saturday) was still windy and I sailed around on Charlevoix Bay for a few hours before I headed back to town. I visited with Dean Phelps on his 44’ steel Diesel Duck troller ‘Jubilee’ designed by George Buehler. Dean is an advocate of those designs and helped deliver several in the Far East and even talked some boaters into having one build. He spends his summers here and lives in the Philippines during the winters. Anchored out, he often rowed ashore in his beautiful tender, called a Trinka (made by Johanssen Boatworks in Florida).
Another guy I met in Round Lake was Steven who owned a Nimble 24 (the only other yawl in the harbor). He was an Episcopal priest with a passion for sailing. His boat had a remarkable amount of living space down below. Before this he owned a Potter 15, which made this current boat look even bigger inside.
The funny thing being in that harbor was that all above mentioned small boat owners got together at times discussing where they were going and how the weather was affecting their plans. Some gave me advise about how to best sail to Beaver Island. I figured it would be just like this along the Pacific Coast where cruisers keep running into each other.
Sunday morning the wind had laid down and at 8:30 I signaled the bridge to open. I motored the first hour waiting for the wind to kick in and when it did, I was soon reefed down. All day the wind was west 10 – 15 knots and I could just lay Beaver Island on a port tack. Fetch did great, doing about 5.5 knots with first a single and later a double reef. After about 4 hours the waves got a bit smaller in the lee of the island and after 6.5 hours I sailed into the St James Harbor at the north end. The approach to the marina was very shallow and one yacht was aground. I tied up to a somewhat funky dock and was welcomed by a lady, welcoming me to the island. She was the harbormaster and for a buck a foot I could stay where I was she said.
I soon found out that the whole island is somewhat funky in a pleasant way. The mood was very laid back compared to Charlevoix. Just a few buildings along the main street; a community center, a pub, a restaurant etc. Not geared toward tourists so much, more like a downtown for the local community. It reminded me of Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands, WA. After beating to windward all day for 30miles I had a beer and diner in the Irish pub ‘Shamrock’ and as the alcohol entered the bloodstream I felt more and more blissful. It felt great to finally have arrived on the island in little Fetch. That evening, a guitarist with harmonica entertained the crowd with songs along a pirate scheme. I was tempted to stay on the island for another day, but the forecast was for another day of light winds from the west, which I couldn’t pass up. The next day was going to be another 30 mile haul to the Mackinac Bridge (say Mackinaw) without much in the way of shelter along the way and I wanted to minimize the risk of running into high winds.
Monday morning I left at 10AM and again it took about an hour of motoring before the wind kicked in. I didn’t want to just wait for the wind, because I wanted to get there as soon as I could. The wind was from the south, on the beam at first and later more from the southwest and following. For a while I had a hard time steering as the waves rolled under the boat, but after I hauled the centerboard mostly up this vastly improved. Reducing the grip of waves on the centerboard makes for a much easier run downwind. Fetch still rolled quite a bit in this following sea and it goes about as follows:
As a wave approaches over the quarter, first the stern gets picked up, the boat rounds up a bit and leans to leeward. The wave crest passes under the boat, the stern ‘slips off’ the backside of the wave while the boat falls off a bit and leans to windward. Sometimes there is about a thirty-degree swing from one side to the next. At the same time one tries to compensate with the rudder in a gentle kind of way as to not slow the boat down too much. This goes on for hours and is quite tiring.
Boats like Fetch with a fairly flat bottom tend to roll like this more then keel yachts. I was watching some keel yachts as they sailed along side and they just heeled lightly without much of a roll. In higher winds they too will roll in a following sea however.
At about 1:30 I arrived at the Grays Reef Light, which is about 80 feet tall. The concrete sides seemed battered by the waves and Cormorants like to hang out there and dry their wings. At this point they keep a dredged channel through the reef, which deeper boats can use to cut through. I figured that Fetch could hop over the shallows a bit to save time and I passed just south of the abandoned light in water as shallow as 12’. Even at that depth one can clearly see bottom.
By now the bridge was about 15 miles away and just became visible. Only the middle of the car deck was above the horizon and it would take me over three hours to get there, running downwind in a 10-15 knot wind under full sail. Ever so slowly the rest of the car deck rose from below the horizon, till finally I was right under it. From little Fetch it sure looks enormously high and elegant at the same time.
In the north I was noticing big clouds building, probably over Lake Superior. While running the Straits of Mackinac those clouds grew to enormous thunderclouds with icy tops and a menacing dark bottom. Even though they were far away to the north, some of it managed to move upwind toward me and almost rolled over me after I passed the bridge. The bottom of it showed swirls of all shades of grey.
After the bridge I could go to St Ignace or Mackinac Island and decided on the latter. Islands tend to be more interesting and I wasn’t going to be disappointed. As I approached the island, the dark clouds moved in rapidly while the wind lessened temporarily, so I turned the motor on and made a run for it. Hopefully I would just make it before the downpour started. However, somehow the cloud veered off and I didn’t get rained on. This cloud with gusty winds created some excitement and on top of that several ferries arrived at high speed all at once. About 6 or 7 ferries arrive and leave about the same time every hour. Some ferries, called High Tails, spew a huge waterspout high up in the air behind them, seemingly to show off. The ferries go so fast that they bank like a speedboat as they turn in the harbor. Ashore, there were beautiful Victorian buildings all around the harbor and to the west I noticed a huge white building that was the Grand Hotel, as I would learn later. All in all, it was a very exciting arrival at Mackinac Island. It felt like discovering an exotic paradise.
After a 9 hour run that day, I arrived in the harbor at 7 pm and tied up at the marina, which gave me a reduced rate, being small and not needing hookups. I started wandering through the main street and sensed that something unusual was going on, but I couldn’t figure out what. There was a particular smell in the air and lots of bicycles all over. It took me quite a while to finally realize that there were no cars! No cars anywhere and people went about by bike and horse carts. That smell I was talking about was horse manure.
Somebody recommended the Horn’s Bar to get a bite to eat, so I did. Again beer and food did wonders to my sense of well-being. I was so exited by my trip that day that I showed a short movie I’d shot of Fetch sailing to my waitress Kara. She too was about to embark on a long road trip and was quite intrigued by my trip. I ran into her several times during my stay in town, which was quite fun. I took a stroll through town that night and was amazed how many bats were flying about. There were particularly many of them under the porch of the Haunted House, of all places. The owner of this tourist attraction was desperate because about 200 of them decided to roost in a display cabinet on the wall. How appropriate though!
The next day (Tuesday) I rented a bicycle and biked the 8 mile perimeter road around the island. Somebody at one of the bike rental places had invited people to build cairns (small stone piles) along this path and to hand in pictures of them. They were everywhere and quite fun to watch.
Apparently, in 1812 British soldiers with the help of Voyageurs and Native allies captured the island at the onset of the war. On the Battlefield of 1814, Americans tried to recapture if back to no avail. After the war it was handed back to the Americans. Both St Ignace and Mackinac Island were important fur trade centers in the 17th century. Recognizing the historical importance, the island was declared the nation’s second national park, after Yellowstone. Twenty years later it was turned over to the state, which still owns and runs most of it.
I finally arrived at the Grand Hotel, which I had seen from the water. A splendid hotel indeed with 275 rooms, the longest colonial porch in the world and a grandeur sendom seen. Build by several railroad companies using Michigan white pine, it opened in 1887 and is still one of the outstanding landmarks on the Great lakes. Guests are delivered by horse carriage and after 6 pm, the dress code calls for jackets and ties for men and ‘ladies at their loveliest’.
Wednesday the forecast was for light westerly winds, while the following day rain and easterly winds were expected, so I decided to leave the island and head over to the school. I left around 10 and had a relaxed sail to Cedarville in Les Cheneaux Islands. At 2 pm I tied up at the school’s dock. This was going to be my home for the next 10 months or so. Not a bad place to be, right on the water with lots of islands in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
As you, the reader, may have remembered from previous posts, I will be teaching the second year students at the Great Lakes Boat Building School this winter. However, before school starts in mid September, I’m going to try to participate in a small boat rendezvous in the North Channel in Canada, about a hundred miles east from the school, so stay tuned!