Rounding The Hand

Next morning we were blessed with blue skies and temps in the upper 50s! Who would guess that in the middle of summer we’d have to wear jackets to stay warm. We filled the water tanks, ate breakfast and prepped the boat for departure. There was a gentle breeze, unfortunately out of the exact direction we were headed. We sucked down a good cup of coffee, filled up our water tanks and then shoved off.

Melanie was dressed like it was winter. I set up shop down below and worked and was cozy warm because I took the engine cover off so it would heat the cabin. A little loud but well worth it! We zigzagged up the coast of Michigan (because we cannot sail directly into the wind) using the motor to help propel us along and made steady progress until we passed around the northern tip of Thunder Bay. Late in the afternoon we rounded the point and set a course for Presque Isle. There were many sailboats, trawlers and other vessels on the water; more than we have seen in a while. We also saw another boat from Sandusky headed south! It’s been amazing how many people we have met that are sailing up here that are from either Cleveland, Sandusky or Gibraltar which is over near Grosse Isle, Detroit. The wind slowly died during the afternoon but stayed strong enough to give us good forward movement along with the engine. The waves did decrease and this allowed us to go a little faster.

We pulled into Presque Isle Bay around 8:45pm just in time to drop the anchor and watch the sun set. Glorious colors from reds to pale purple painted the sky. We watched the show for a while before sneaking below for a cup of hot tea and then a glorious warm bed where we slept hard. I was wakened by the sun streaming down through the hatch and into our V-berth in the front – blinding light woke me from a pleasant dream and off we went.

Coffee, then breakfast and we raised our anchor out of the crystal clear water and motored out into Lake Huron, raising the sails and setting course for Hammond Bay, some 30 odd miles away. There was a gentle breeze from the South West, so we took advantage of that, setting our sails for only the 2nd time this trip WITHOUT the motor. Blissful quiet as we slipped along around 5 to 6 knots – actually faster than we can motor – and relished in the beauty of the day. A few hours in, the wind pooped and we started the motor to continue to make decent time. We wanted to reach our destination before sunset; its always awkward going into an unfamiliar place to anchor in the dark.

Then the wind switched to the north West, directly where we were heading and piped up to 20 to 25 knots! This led to the waves gradually building until they started to break over the boat and with 8 miles to go, we decided that it was not worth the slow, painful slog. We could fight the weather and take 4 hours to go 8 Miles OR look at the charts and find a place behind us to take shelter. We found a marina at Rogers City that was behind us about 8 Miles, so we turned and with the waves and wind now pushing us, our four hour slog became a calm, quick hour and a half. We pulled into the marina, tied up and unwound after being beaten up just a little.

Based on the recommendation of a fellow sailor, we took a walk and found a restaurant called “Up North 23” and had dinner there. It had a beautiful view of the angry lake. The next day while I worked, Melanie, Mike and Mary walked around town, going to museums and shops and enjoying a full day while the wind took its anger out on the lake. That evening was the final super moon of the year, called a Sturgeon Moon. Around 9:00 p.m. it rose above the horizon, a buttery yellow ball that was just beautiful. Despite my efforts I was unable to get a decent picture of it. We fell into bed soon thereafter while the wind blew itself out during the night.

An angry lake

We left Rogers City on a dying breeze in the morning and as the day progressed it got hotter and the wind disappeared completely. We entered our anchorage point at Cheboygan Bay right around the dinner hour after an uneventful day, dropped anchor and lowered the dinghy and headed into shore to see what we could find. Cheboygan is actually a small port on a river, so it was bustling with activity. We found a nice dog friendly restaurant and ate dinner before heading back to the boat to enjoy the sunset.

Saturday morning Melanie had a very sore hip. She had either thrown out her SI joint or pulled a muscle and we needed to see a chiropractor. We raised the anchor and motored into the river. The drawbridge opened and we found a dock close to where we had eaten the previous evening. Two chiropractors that advertised as open were however closed so we disappointingly walked back to the boat, passing by a farmers market on the way. We stopped, browsed and bought a few fresh veggies and then headed back to the boat, untied and headed out through the drawbridge again into Lake Huron. To our left side the two towers of the Mackinac bridge appeared on the horizon 12 miles away. We waited for Mary and Mike to raise their anchor and join us, then headed off towards the looming bridge.

Approaching the bridge

As we got closer, Mackinac Island slowly came into view with its historic Grand hotel showing as a fat white stripe across the middle of the island. Clouds peppered the sky hiding the sun, making it raw and chilly. The bridge rose out of the water, getting higher and higher as we passed Bois Blanc Island to our right.

The wind came and died number of times and it gradually became overcast. Around 2:30 p.m. we passed under the bridge and entered Lake Michigan. We have now sailed Southern Cross in four out of the five Great lakes. Only Lake Superior remains. The wind continued its downward spiral, slowly fading away as the clouds covered the sky. We arrived around 3:45 at Trailhead Bay on the other side of the peninsula from Mackinaw city. We dropped anchor in 17 ft of water and I watched the anchor hit the sand! The water is very very clear! Not quite used to it, Lake Erie is so shallow it’s always brown from the mud and sand that gets stirred up by the waves and the freighters’ propellers. We rarely see clear water there.

Passing under the bridge

After we dropped the anchor, I lowered the dingy and went to pick up Mary and Mike, practicing my rowing skills. Melanie made a delicious dinner of bangers, mash and sauerkraut along with a tomato and cucumber salad. We finished the day with this delicious dinner before falling into bed. The night was calm and serene. The boat barely moved on the flat waters. I woke the next morning with the sun streaming in the window and went up to survey the land. The water was calm and so clear that you could see rocks and stones on the bottom! 17 ft! I don’t think I have ever anchored in fresh water this clear before. After a delicious breakfast we hauled anchor and tried to sail.

The morning breezes were very light and we started off moving only around 1-2 knots, not a good speed when you need to make 30 miles before sunset. But, as the day progressed it gradually increased until we were doing almost three knots which was palatable for a while at least. It’s just nice to not hear the engine and hear the water gently lapping against the hull as we pass through it. Our persistence paid off though, and by 11 AM we were doing between 5 and 6 knots with a good 10-15 knot breeze pushing us along with the waves. We sailed the entire distance to Beaver Island and only turned the motor on to take the sails down and come into the harbor. Now that’s how a day’s sailing should be!

We docked the boat, took Windsor for a walk and then went to the local grocery store. It was closed but we had a nice walk along the shore of the crescent shaped harbor. We came back and bought a breakfast burrito at a local mini mart and enjoyed a good meal before heading back to the boat. We dropped Windsor off for a nap and borrowed the marina bikes to take a bike ride, riding around the harbor to the point where the lighthouse was located.

Beautiful homes, museums and a very picturesque view greeted us. Around sunset we returned, closed up for the night and hit the hay.

Beaver Island Harbor entrance

It was quite chilly when we woke up the next morning. We had a lot to do. Mary, one of our companion travelers had some sort of infection so we needed to get to a doctor. The closest one that could write a prescription was on the mainland at Sutton’s Bay, a small offshoot of Traverse Bay. It was a long distance and we had a late start. Leaving the dock, pumping out the holding tank and getting on our way took a while and there was no wind to boot.

Horsing around with WIndsor

We set the sails in the hope that they would help us and motored out of the harbor. Eventually in the late afternoon we entered Traverse Bay and the wind came up a little and helped us toward our destination. We arrived around 8:00 p.m. with daylight still helping us find our anchor spot. The last half hour of the journey, Melanie made a light dinner for us which we then took over to our companion boat. We enjoyed some food and fellowship before collapsing into bed, exhausted after a long day.

Stormy Days and Helpful Hands

The sail from Port Huron was quiet and fast as the wind pushed us gently towards our destination. The sun peeked out weakly from behind a thickening layer of cloud. During the late afternoon we could see storm clouds ahead of us with heavy rain pelting the land and waters ahead of us. The way the clouds were moving made us think that we could dodge the rain, but with only 3 miles to go to our intended anchorage the weather broke loose, turning towards us, and began pounding us into oblivion. Wind, waves and rain lashed the boat for at least an hour. The rain was coming so hard it stung and made it hard to see, so we turned our backs to the weather but the wind was pushing us away from our destination. After the first wave of wind and rain passed, we decided to bite the bullet and head straight into the weather, enduring three more waves of binding wind and rain until finally it calmed down and we were able to enter the harbor safely and drop anchor. We closed up and came down to survey the damage below. All the window seals had leaked and we were soaked and cold so changing into dry clothes and some hot tea and food in the belly was in order.

We went to bed early, exhausted from the cold wind and rain. The next morning we awoke to low clouds and no wind, so we fired up the motor, raised the anchor and departed. There was a lot of mud and weeds on the anchor, so it was quite difficult to lift. Once secured we headed out of the harbor and up the coast to our next stop, Harbor Beach. Without wind we ended up motoring all day, arriving early in the afternoon. We dropped anchor just inside the break wall in about 15 feet of water. After work, we took a boat ride in the dinghy to shore. It was a quaint little town with a few shops, a small grocery store and a diner. We stocked up on some items before ordering a pizza which we ate at the picnic tables on the beach. It’s nice to be able to get off the boat. The sun peeked out later in the day as the clouds receded to the South and we were blessed with a glorious sunset. I awoke around 3:00 a.m. and was witness to a cloudless sky peppered with stars. I spent a few minutes looking at the amazing sight before heading back to bed.

Friday morning was sunny but again, no wind. After a cup of coffee and a light breakfast we raised anchor and started motoring towards Port Austin. The lake was calm, but being a Friday there were many people out getting an early start to the weekend which made working down below rather interesting. The boat bounced quite a bit over the waves made by passing vessels.

We were headed to Turnip Rock, but could not really get close enough with our deep keel to see it clearly. So we headed around the Port Austin reef light and into the harbor. That was an adventure! There were weeds and grass up to the surface of the water and we almost had to plow our way through, at full throttle going about a half mile an hour. We were able to make it through, but had a ton of weeds wrapped around both the rudder, the keel and the propeller. A little bit of back and forward with the gear shifter to shake it off and we were able to safely dock.

Melanie made a wonderful dinner of Jambalaya and after eating, we found a good ice cream store where we enjoyed a scoop before heading back to the boat. We spent a few hours watching TV while we did laundry and then fell into bed. Saturday was clear but very humid and there was almost a misty fog covering the water. We walked into town and went to the weekly Farmers market before taking showers and preparing for departure. Mike had another block in his water intake, so we had to return to dock and blow it out. Once that was accomplished we left without issue. The lake was flat and calm, almost no wind. We were headed to Harrisville. It was a lot cooler and more comfortable out on the water but we had to motor the entire trip.

At some point the wind did come up enough for us to set some sail to help our speed, but without the motor, we were only doing 2 knots. We arrived in Harrisville around 7:00 p.m. and it took three tries to get safely anchored. The weeds in the harbor were terrible! First time I dropped the anchor and Melanie started to back up the boat it just dragged along the bottom picking up weeds and branches which I almost did not have the strength to lift and clean. I got it up to the water line and then had to use a boat hook to get the weeds and the mud off. It must have weighed 100 pounds! Second attempt, same results, so we called the harbor Master and he told us where to drop where the weeds were not as bad. Third time we hit paydirt and were safely anchored. Melanie made salmon burgers and a delicious salad for dinner and we chatted until dark before falling into bed exhausted.

In the morning we took Windsor into shore to potty and spoke to a couple of locals that were taking their powerboat out of the water. We had a nice chat, and then returned to the boat to raise the anchor and head into the gas dock to fill up with diesel. Apparently this is the only Marina for about 100 miles in either direction that has a working diesel pump! Then we were on our way, once again on calm waters which sadly required the motor. So we set the course and were on our way to our next stop. 7 miles out of port, the bracket holding the alternator to the engine broke in two places. I hastily shut down the engine and there we were, dead in the water. After a quick discussion we decided to head back to Harrisville, so we hoisted our sails and sailed back to the entrance of the harbor where our friends who were following behind on their own boat towed us in.

We dropped anchor and I began working on the problem; disassembling the alternator and removing it from the broken bracket. During this time, the wind switched 180 and started blowing quite hard, about 20 mph. I looked up and saw that the docks were rather close. I looked at the anchor alarm and sure enough, distance from our anchor point was steadily increasing. Then the alarm went off – we had to think quickly – there was no way for me to reset the anchor in this wind; we HAD to get a dock.

I radioed the dockmaster and explained our problem and then set up for a rather unconventional docking. We let the anchor drag far enough so I had enough anchor line on the boat to allow me to let out line and control our docking. Gently we guided the boat into a slip with help from many people on shore. Thankfully no damage and we provided great entertainment for the dock patrons. Once tied up we went ashore to pay for the night and Melanie started talking to a gentleman on shore who was bringing dinner to his daughter who worked at the marina. He turned out to be Mayor Jeff Gehring and at once he jumped on the phone and started calling around to find someone who could fabricate the part for us.

A few hours later we had a newly fabricated alternator bracket in hand. Jeff would not take payment from us. The kindness and helpfulness of the people at the marina as well as Mayor Jeff was overwhelming! We rewarded ourselves with a trip to the local ice-cream shop for a treat to top off the day. God REALLY took care of us. Next day was a day of miserable, rainy weather, so we paid for another night and I worked, while Melanie cleaned dirt and debris from our leaky windows and then used silicone grease to help seal them, which did the trick! No more leaks!

A large sailboat called Island Dancer had pulled in the previous evening and it was someone we knew from Sandusky! I had traveled with them 6 years ago through the Canadian maritimes to deliver a boat to Boston. I sailed as far as Prince Edward Island and then returned home, but it gave me experience as to what to expect when we took our own journey starting in 2017. We spent the evening chatting about our adventures and catching up on each other’s lives. It was an unexpected surprise and really great to see them. Before we realized it, it was almost midnight and we had chatted the night away! We went back to our boat and fell asleep to the sounds of train whistles as three or four trains passed through town in quick succession.


The day before is always chaos. Melanie ran around all afternoon buying our food and supplies and preparing for our trip. Thursday evening we went to a fundraiser dinner and then came home and made our final pre-departure checks. Friday morning she ran the last few errands and then we dropped the dock lines and left. First stop was the gas dock and a fill up and pump out. While refueling we spilled diesel; it’s always a problem because of the shape of the fuel filler hose. This time though was the worst yet – almost 2 cups spilled into the cockpit, so after MANY paper towels and much mopping up we headed out to the lake to begin our adventure.

We were headed North West to Detroit and the wind was blowing from the North West, so it looked to be a long afternoon of motoring. The wind was light so we motored the entire way. It gradually backed slightly to the West so we were able to unroll our head sails to help us move along a little faster. We scooted along nicely at 5 knots under sail and motor. The islands slowly fell behind and the towers of the power plants in Detroit and Toledo took shape on the horizon. Windmills to the North in Canada spoiled the beautiful skyline. As the afternoon wore on, the wind came up and eventually it was too rough for me to work so I came up to help Melanie steer the boat.

Pointing out the islands

The wind came up to over 20 knots which was quite a rough ride, our forecast of one foot waves was actually three to four footers with spray blowing over the boat. We were a little concerned that our Anchorage would not be suitable. We slogged on into the heavy wind and eventually the tower marking the entrance to the river came into view. We turned in at the tower and started motoring up the Livingston Channel towards our anchorage and as we did, the wind died and we ended up anchored in about 10 ft of water near Sugar Island with the river current gently holding us in place. It was a beautiful sunny evening, calm and quiet.

We woke up the next morning to a sunny day with not a cloud in the sky, and after breakfast and a good cup of coffee, we hauled up our anchor, along with about a half ton of sea grass and mud! We fired up the motor and headed over to the Livingston channel for the long haul up to Lake Saint Clair. Shortly after entering the channel, a huge tanker passed close by, it was rather intimidating. I guess we will have to get used to that. We stayed close to the West edge where there was less current, which allowed us to go slightly faster, 4.5 knots instead of 2.

Beautiful, expensive homes lined both sides of the river. We made slow progress with the current trying to push us backwards. At one point our depth went quickly from 30 down to 7 ft and we caught huge chunks of weed and grass on our rudder and propeller. We turned quickly into the channel and once there, I had to reverse, then forward, and reverse a few times to “shake” off the debris. We made slow progress northward and by noon we could see the buildings of downtown Detroit and were within sight of the bridge that crosses the river over to Windsor.

Motoring under the bridge to Windsor

We reached the mouth of the Detroit River and entered lake St Clair around 2:30 p.m. . Just in time, a large tanker was bearing down on us as we exited and turned a quick left to go north up the west coast of the lake toward our anchorage. We anchored near Grosse Pointe Farms in an area where there were many boats anchored and enjoying the day. Melanie made a delicious dinner of spaghetti and meatballs with salad while we watched as the boats gradually departed until just three were left. We ate dinner with our friends, chatted a while and then I rowed them back to their boat and returned to ours, hoisted the dinghy back up and secured it for travel. A quick hour of TV and then we collapsed in bed for the night.

The evening was rather rough and wavy but in the morning we awoke to a dead calm lake. We raised anchor around 8:00 a.m. and started motoring across the lake toward the entrance of the St Clair River. About halfway across our friend’s boat had engine trouble so we switched off the engine and simply sailed slowly on the gently developing breeze. It was a sunny day with wispy high clouds passing gently by. We started motoring again once we entered one of the St Clair River tributaries, passing by homes and marinas. Then Mike’s engine alarm went off. They dropped anchor in the river just out of the channel and we motored around them while he tried to fix the issue to no avail.

Motoring up the Saint Clair River on Sunday Morning

So we decided that we would head up the river to get reservations at a marina, and they would call a towboat and meet us there. We had been radioing the marina without answer most of the morning. Suddenly a voice over the radio said that they heard us call and they heard the marina answer, but of course, I could not hear the marina. Their radio was apparently not powerful enough. He relayed our requests for a dock to them and then provided us with a phone number so we could call and make arrangements for us and the crippled boat.

We arrived at the marina and got ourselves settled in just in time to help Mike and his wife arrive. Melanie made a delicious dinner for us and our new friend Tim, who had helped us to get our reservations set up. Then a quick walk to the grocery store for supplies and a well needed stop at the local ice cream store. We collapsed into bed and slept hard, seems like we do that every day while traveling. Due to a bad weather forecast, we decided to make our stay 2 days long to recoup, fix Mikes engine issue and avoid the bad weather. It turned out that a quick blast of water down the radiator hose cleared a huge chunk of weeds that was clogging the water intake, hence the overheating issue. Its always wonderful to have a cheap fix like that!

It was good that we spent two days at Algonac. The wind howled and storms blew through the areas that we would have been motoring through so we dodged a bullet. Next morning we were on the road by 8:30 and made making the slow slog up the river. The current in the St Clair River was much stronger beyond Algonac as it was a single wide river instead of three tributaries. At times our speed dropped to less than 2 miles per hour. It was cloudy and the wind was blowing right in our faces so we were unable to use the sails to help us at all. Beautiful homes lined both sides of the river for miles. The odd tanker came flying by us downriver and as the day wore on the skies cleared and the sun finally peeped out. We started off the morning with Melanie heavily dressed – wearing two jackets – as the wind was very cold. I however was cozy and warm below as the engine heats the living area of the boat. Around 4:30 we pulled into Port Huron yacht club, tied up without mishap and then Melanie cooked dinner for us. We finished off the day by taking a walk around the immediate downtown area and wouldn’t you know it – we found a great ice cream shop to “sample”; the Michigan Pothole flavor is rapidly becoming my favorite fix for my extreme chocolate lover palate. After that we took a quick shower and then off to bed for an early start.

The wind woke me up in the morning. Howling through the rigging and making a low moaning sound indicating at least 20 mph winds. We watched a club member preparing for a sail and I was sure that the boat was a familiar design; one I had seen in South Africa as a child. I asked the skipper as they passed us by. “Its a 30 Square Meter” he said. I was right! Sleek fast boats, they caught my eye as they would sail gracefully by.

After a quick discussion we turned Mike’s boat around at the dock by hand and helped him to cast off. His boat is not very maneuverable as it has a full length keel. We left without mishap and headed out into the river and over to the Canadian side where the current is not as strong. Actually, with the wind helping us we made quick work of the remaining mile and a half and finally entered lake Huron. With the wind from behind we were able to turn our motor off for the first time and sail. Glorious quiet for me at the computer! We can actually sail faster than we can motor. Our next stop was Port Sanilac. We delayed departure until about 10 as there were huge storms rolling through that area and I wanted them to clear out before we took off. But that is another story…

The captain at the wheel