It was a close matchup, with the bugs giving it all they had versus the stalwart crew of Thalia. But in an extended overtime session, Thalia eeked out a hard fought victory, and there was much partying in the streets to celebrate!
We left you last time with Karen’s update on our first day out on Lake Erie, as we worked our way west from Buffalo. That was Day 1 of the bug wars. Day 2 dawned bright, sunny, calm, and with many hopeful wishes for a bug free day on our way from Presque Isle to Fairport, OH. But alas, the bugs came out with an early lead and held strong until the final bell. Then, Day 3 dawned with more hope, hope that was dashed early despite the fact that we pulled out all of our ideas as a ‘highly evolved’ species to overcome those little buggers. At the end of the day, bugs were up 3-0 in this best of 7 matchup.
Here’s some of the early play-by-play.
Day 3 was by far the worst. We washed the boat down a total of three times and fresh new bug recruits showed up shortly afterwards. When we couldn’t keep them out of the cabin down below, it started to feel very claustrophobic. There was no place to run, no place to hide! At one point in the afternoon, I pointed the spray nozzle of our wash down hose steadily at the cockpit helm for 30 minutes. The bugs would swarm just beyond the water’s spray. I finally gave up and they immediately settled back on the boat, particularly in the cockpit where there was the least amount of wind. Karen and I made up primitive netting cover-ups for our head and neck, and put on pants and long sleeved shirts to cover as much skin as possible. Summer time cruising in Lake Erie, woo hoo!
Karen and I were no newbies regarding bugs. We have lived in many areas with summer-time mosquitos. And you can’t travel up into the mountains of New Hampshire or Maine without a sensible attitude about bugs. But what really got us was the whole-day-long challenge. Was our entire Great Lakes cruise going to be like this? Was it time to turn around and come up with a different plan for cruising? To help answer these question, we reached out to our friends Don and Heather, natives of Ontario with whom we met on our cruise to the Caribbean 10 years ago. They had heard about our plans to sail the Great Lakes, and they had done a similar trip in their boat before they headed south to the islands. Don was quick to reply and told us to stick it out, that it would get better. He had a much clearer explanation of what was going on than we could discern from Google or talking to other area boaters. He said that on calm days on Lake Erie, bug larvae rise to the water’s surface and hatch. This explained why we kept picking up more bugs as we motored farther from shore. We kept driving through their neighborhood, and they were hitching a ride with us, without our permission! Since they were water-borne, that explains why our water spraying only removed the dead ones; the live ones just moved out of the way.
We finally arrived at Kelleys Island in the western portion of Lake Erie and we agreed to go ashore for a nature walk, then huddle back at the boat to look at charts and our timing. We heavily considered an option B that would involve turning around and sailing back along the Canadian shore of Lake Erie, through the Welland Canal to Lake Ontario and maybe spending a little more time in the Thousand Islands area, close to where we had planned to leave the boat for the winter, and in the process hope for less bugs.
Just like in the other harbors that we arrived at on the previous 2 days, the bugs started to disappear as we approached the shore. Kids and grownups played at a sandy beach just beyond us, and kayaked and jet skied, not having a care in the world. Dang, this was frustrating! If we couldn’t commiserate with other people on shore, then how would we feel better? Regardless, we dinghied ashore. It felt fantastic to stretch the legs. Kelleys had a state park nearby and much of the island was undeveloped and well preserved. Back when the glaciers were busy working at carving out the Great Lakes, they left behind cuts in the rock, the largest evidence of which is on Kelleys. They call them the ‘Glacier Grooves’. Pretty groovy ehh?!
Given our newfound knowledge of Lake Erie bugs, we resolved to never again motor in calm weather. That objective became very easy to satisfy, as the next morning, while we were at anchor at Kelleys, the skies darkened, the clap of thunder could be heard, and the wind shifted abruptly out of north, putting the lovely sandy beach immediately downwind behind our stern. The forecast was for a chance of thunderstorms, but not until the afternoon. This present was coming early. Within 10 minutes, the wind had picked up to 20 knots. I was beginning to regret not having put out more scope, as the reviews of this anchorage cautioned you that the bottom was very hard and therefore poor holding. The thunder sounded all around us, the rain started pelting the water’s surface, and quickly the wind hit 30 knots, then 40. Thalia’s bow was swinging hard to port and I watched closely on our chartplotter to see if our position was changing, as all visibility to the shore was lost. The wind starting blowing so hard that the spray was chasing down the surface of the water in long white trails. The wind continued to build and our bimini rattled fiercely. Our ensign flag was whipping and cracking. Now, we were starting to drag and our position was moving downwind on the chart plotter. We decided to run the engine in forward to try to take some pressure off the anchor, as there was no way we could safely go forward to let more scope out. The engine helped, and as quick as it had come, the wind started to gradually ease, dropping down to 25 knots and then to 15. Now, 15 knots felt like the lightest puff of wind in the world! Cool, the boat had received it’s first wash down of the day, without our effort, and we were positively bug free!
This anchorage at Kelleys was wide open and exposed to the North, and as there were more thunderstorms forecasted for later in the day, it didn’t take an Einstein to determine it was time for us to move on. We headed to nearby South Bass Island, only 8 miles away. On various points of our trip earlier, when we told people of our trip itinerary, many had recommended these Bass Islands to us, and in particular a little harbor called Put-in-Bay. In fact, one guy told us that Put-in-Bay has the nickname of “The Key West of the MidWest”. Sounded good to us – we could use a party!
Ashore at Put-in-Bay, we learned how strong the storm had been. There were downed trees on the island, and boaters were calling it the ‘hurricane’. This felt like a slight exaggeration, but winds had reportedly peaked at 65-70 mph, and there had been tornado warnings on the Ohio mainland. But for now, the storm had sucked all the ugliest out of the sky and left us with a picturesque warm, blue sky summer day. Put-in-Bay has a little bit of a Nantucket or Oak Bluff feel to it. Boats clustered into the busy mooring field, and large yachts tied up at the marinas ashore. A couple launch boats continually circled the mooring field to pick up and drop off passengers. Oh, we were going to have fun with this place!
After some showers ashore, we setup for a walkabout town. True to form, there were bars and restaurants cheek-by-jowl along the main drag. But unlike Key West, there was a nice, tree-shaded waterfront park, complete with water fountain, historical plaques, and a sizable playground for kids. There was culture on this island too. Just beyond the humm of the main street was the prominent 352 feet tall Perry Memorial, coming in at about 50′ taller than the Statue of Liberty. The same Oliver Hazard Perry that we had read about back at Presque Isle was honored here for his success in The War of 1812. On Sept 10, 1813, Master Commandant Perry started the ‘Battle of Lake Erie’, using ships he had constructed back at Presque Isle just 6 months back. This was a critical battle of the war. The U.S. had failed in two attempts to launch attacks into Canada, one near Niagara Falls, and the other at Detroit. With our premature surrender of Fort Detroit, Britain had control over the Great Lakes. Without this vital supply link, defeat was looming ever closer. Perry, with his collection of 9 ships, sailed north from this spot and engaged the British fleet of 6 ships. Although they had fewer ships, the British were equipped with long range cannon, capable of firing up to one mile, while the Americans had only close range carronades. Just before battle, Perry hoisted the flag that was to develop an iconic message, “Don’t Give Up The Ship”. These were the dying words of Perry’s friend Captain James Lawrence. Ironically, Perry quickly had to abandon his flagship the ‘Lawrence’ as cannon fire had destroyed it, and he assumed control over the ‘Niagara’. In a strategic move, he forced the Niagara through the enemy line and fired broadsides until the British surrendered. Apparently, his crew asked him where they should take the captured fleet, and thus the name of the harbor ‘Put-in-Bay’ was born.
To acknowledge Perry’s success, this impressive monument was constructed, but appropriately, it is named the “Perry Victory and International Peace Monument”. While we won the battle, the monument was also recognizing the peace between the US, Canada, and Great Britain, and therefore you will find all three flags flying at the same height.
Under the monument are the remains of 3 US servicemen, and 3 British servicemen. This site, managed by the US Park Service, was a fine tribute to this important moment in our nation’s history. Hats off to our men and women in olive green uniforms and Smokey The Bear wide-brimmed hats!
Back in town, our sojourn to the Perry Monument a distant memory amongst the cacophony of tourists navigating their way through the streets. Karen and I settled in at the Mojito Bay, a large thatched roof establishment with beach sand for a floor and a couple guys on guitars on a raised platform behind the bar strumming signature Key West specials from Johnny Cash and the like.
The mojitos and rum punches went down without a fight, as we tried to recall something vague about bugs and an Option B. By this point, bacholerette party troops were swarming all around us, as well as less obvious but quite likely collections of guys on their bachelor party outings. Not to be forgotten were the 50-something couples like us who ordered the microbrews and nice wines, and tipped better than those younglings, doing our part to balance the equation! I’m sure these kids had something important to celebrate too, but Karen and I were laying down an early win in the bug wars and this was the beginning of a turnaround streak! One point for Thalia.
Put-in-Bay is just 20 minutes by car ferry from the Ohio mainland. While some people bring their cars, the island is small enough that you can get around the main town by foot or by golf cart. Karen and I are big walkers, but this midwest crowd was definitely partial to the golf cart.
To continue the Key West theme, they even had a marina and bar area named “The Keys”.
We had a lot of fun at Put-in-Bay, but alas, after two days it was time to move on. We filled up with diesel and water and set sail with a gentle southwest wind allowing us to close reach our way to the Detroit River.
Settled in that evening at the William Milliken State Harbor just north of downtown Detroit, we enjoyed the fruits of the state’s labors. Michigan, or more precisely the Department of Natural Resources, has a fine reputation for managing many harbors and marinas along the coast of Michigan, and this one was no exception. Just outside the gate is the Detroit Riverwalk as well as a neighborhood under transition from old abandoned brick warehouses and store fronts, to hip restaurants and breweries, like this rooftop venue of the Atwater Brewery.
The city of Detroit, with a little help from the big dogs in town – General Motors – has revitalized the waterfront, like so many other cities we have visited recently. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the Riverwalk was packed with families, young couples, seniors, and a few scruffy sailors like us. They have a beautiful concert venue right on the water as well – Chene Park.
With our stay in Detroit, we rounded out the week with 4 good days since the bug wars began, putting the final score at: Thalia 4, Bugs 3. Yoohoo!
Continuing with Option A, we proceeded past Detroit into the sizable Lake St Clair. While it is about 11 miles across, this lake is chronically shallow for a deep keel boat like ours, so we had to stick to the dredged ship channel that cuts across the lake. As we plugged along under motor sail, my mind drifted off into fond memories of my Dad describing to me his old mahogany sailboat he had restored here in Detroit when he and my mother wintered during his residency at Ford Hospital. He used to sail that boat with my mom on Lake St Clair, and now 60+ years later, we were doing the same.
The dredged channel looks wide enough on the chart but when you are in it, trying to squeeze over to the side so that a lake freighter can pass you, it seems very skinny.
On the north end of Lake St Clair, the channel leads you into the St Clair River for about 25 miles to the beginning of Lake Huron. Normally both the Detroit and St Clair Rivers have a southbound current of 1.5-2 knots, but due to heavy spring rains, the current is a step higher than this at the moment. In parts of the St Clair River, we saw three knots, and it was a slow slog up to the town of Sarnia, Ontario. This was our first landfall in Canada, where we had the pleasure of raising our Canada courtesy flag! I hope all you Canadians appreciate our respect for your country with our big flag. All the normal sized courtesy flags were sold out!
We will depart tomorrow under the Blue Water Bridge, which has the highest current on the river – some people report between 5-7 knots – so that will be interesting given our engine can push us at a max of 6.5 knots! Assuming that we are successful, we will be in Lake Huron and onward we press!