Friday, July 9, 2010

Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 1

Day 1 - Port Dover to Erie, Pennsylvania

After spending last night loading and preparing the boat, we are up at 5am and throwing off the dock lines shortly after that. It is quite an exciting feeling knowing we are embarking on our first big journey on our new sailboat - the Bella Blue. We are planning on being away for about 18 days and our currently goal is to travel across Lake Erie to the town of Erie, Pennsylvania then work our way westward up the US coast line to the town of Sandusky and the nearby islands. For the return journey we will either come back along the US side and stop at the harbours we missed on the out journey or we may cross over to the Canadian side via Pelee Island and explore some of the Canadian harbours. This decision will depend on weather conditions and our experiences along the way.

First, a bit of background information. Our family, which includes me, my wife Ana and our two children Magnus, who is 5 and Stella, who is 3, purchased a 2005 Hunter 33 foot sailboat named “Bella Blue” in February of 2010. We had been looking for a sailboat for a couple years and finally the combination of extremely poor economic conditions in the US and a very favorable exchange rate yielded some fantastic bargains on boats and we were able to find a gorgeous sailboat which had been repossessed and was located in Port Annapolis which is in the state of Maryland on the eastern seaboard. Since we live in Paris, Ontario which is a 40 minute drive from the town of Port Dover snuggled away on the shore of Lake Erie, we are in a perfect location to own a boat. We have some previous sailing experience as I owned an older Hunter sailboat for about a year when I lived in Bahamas back in 1998. In fact, this is where Ana and I met so much of the initial time we had together was spent sailing around the Bahamas. It’s so much easier to find the love of your life when you own a boat…

As we power out of the safety and security of our home harbour, I feel a chill of excitement running down my spine. The winds are strong - from 15 to 20 miles per hour and coming from the north, almost directly behind us, which is probably the most difficult point of sail. We pull out the sails, cut the motor and begin our journey…with a nice cup of hot coffee for each of us sloshing around in the drink holders.

The first hour or two are excellent, but we need to pay strict attention to the sails to ensure we don’t jibe accidentally, which could cause damage to the boat with these strong winds. We are making about 5 knots, which is about 6 miles per hour but feels a lot faster on a sailboat with the wind rushing through your hair and the spray coming up on deck. I give Ana a turn at the helm so she can get a feel for the boat. She hasn’t done as much sailing as me so isn’t yet completely comfortable behind the wheel, but happily takes a turn. At this point the winds are strengthening and waves are getting larger. As we near Long Point the wind is really rocking and some of the larger waves are about 5 feet. Ana begins wondering out loud whether we are prepared to continue with such strong winds and chop but I assure her that we will be fine and Bella Blue can easily handle these conditions. As we round Long Point and adjust our heading for Erie, the winds almost immediately die and we are left crawling at about 1.5 knots. After struggling slowly for a couple miles we decide to fire up the motor to give us a bit extra speed and we then enjoy a beautiful motor sail across Lake Erie all the way to buoys marking the harbour entrance to Erie. The kids wake up around 8 and enjoy the ride across, splitting their time between sitting in the cockpit with us watching the other boats and hanging around below in the cabin playing games and watching dvd’s.

Erie has a huge protected harbour and probably a dozen marinas so is a very popular boating destination. We pilot the boat into the harbour and eventually find Perry’s Landing, which is one of the marinas that has a video phone where you can clear US customs. Coincidentally, this is the same marina we had Bella Blue transported to back in April so it is comfortingly familiar, as we spent many hours here putting her back together and preparing her for the initial journey to Port Dover.

After clearing customs we take Bella Blue over to the Bay Harbor marina where we have booked a slip for the night. Our elapsed time since leaving Port Dover is about 9 hours so it feels good to be at our first destination. We arrive to find a beautifully maintained, practically new marina with a lot of very large and very new boats. Upon docking, the marina manager greets us immediately and gives us the low down on all we need to know. This includes telling us that the boat next to us, named “Marlin” is a custom build fishing boat, one of only two that were built. The other one is owned by Jimmy Buffett. I like how this trip is going.

After getting settled, we take the kids for a walk down to a local playground where they burn off a lot of the energy they stored up on the long boat ride across. We stop for a quick pee break at the “Sloppy Duck”, a local bar and restaurant and the kids are thrilled to find a pond in front of it full of catfish and baby ducks which keeps them entertained for half an hour.

We return to Bella Blue just in time for the arrival of our friend Andrew who has a 36 foot Sea Ray Sundancer power boat docked next to us in Dover. He also lives across from us in Paris so we are neighbours in almost every way possible. Thankfully we get along very well and enjoy similar hobbies, mainly restricted to boating and drinking.

We meet a number of people on the dock, mostly Americans, all of which are super friendly and extremely hospitable. Every time we visit the US we are struck by how friendly people are. We are also usually shocked at the level of service you get everywhere. I think this is one big difference between the US and Canada; in the US people are very service oriented and take their jobs seriously. The service is nearly always superb and folks seem genuinely interested in doing a good job.

After a long day, I wind up going to bed quite early (with a pounding headache…think I didn’t drink enough water) and Ana stays up for a while visiting with Andrew, his friend Michelle and a couple other of Andrew’s American friends who live nearby and stopped by for a visit.

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