Monday, August 6, 2012

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 15, Friday

We awake to another sweltering hot day, have a shower, then made a nice bacon and eggs breakfast in the yacht club kitchen, which is fully stocked, clean and cool.  We then head downtown for a long, slow coffee at the gourmet roasters, then browse the fancy shops, where Ana finds a selection of divine purses but miraculously does not purchase one, likely because it’s full retail price, and this does not jive with her bargain hunting ways.

Around noon we climb a very old cobblestone street and find the Ashtabula marine museum, which is full of interesting marine artifacts, boat models, newspaper clippings, a somewhat functioning pilothouse from a freighter, a replica of the work yards including a functioning model train, lots of local history books and a bunch of other stuff I can’t even remember.  One of the older gents working there was an encyclopedia of marine knowledge and happy to share, so we spent at least an hour and a half there listening to his stories and poking around.  We then returned to the boats and were invited over to Endeavour for happy hour.  I mixed myself a perfect gin and tonic walked over to Andrew’s boat, stepped over to his boat, completely missed the boat, and did an immediate four foot drop headed for the mucky waters of Ashtabula channel.  Fortunately, as I slid down the side of his boat, my speed was restrained by my leg skidding down the fibreglass, and then actually halted by my elbow catching the edge of the boat.  My main thought throughout the disastrous collapse was to save the gin and tonic, which I did, minus a single large splash and lemon wedge which hit Endeavour’s carpet.   But I really should have seen this coming, you see I have a habit of spilling things on Andrew’s carpet and thus far in the trip I had spilled nothing so I was definitely due. 

After a soothing drink and some ice bags applied to leg and arm, we decided it was time to head home, as the weather was good and we just felt ready.  We prepped the boats and at 5:30 we left the Ashtabula dock, and we would arrive back in Port Dover exactly 23 hours later, exhausted from the overnight sail, but happy to be home and once again feeling very fortunate to experience such adventures right on our backyard.

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 14, Thursday

When we were planning our trip this year I told the gang I’d like to visit Ashtabula, which is a harbour town between Erie and Cleveland.  We have passed it many times, and from the lake it looks like nothing more than a giant coal pile, a post industrial wasteland.  As expected, I was made fun of, and expected nothing less.  But the last laugh was to be mine.

We left Cleveland shortly after 5 am and had a nice, smooth sail all the way to Ashtabula, stopping only for a mid morning swim and bath in the lake, which was highly enjoyable, and something we hadn’t done nearly enough of this trip, mainly because of the rough water conditions.  Andrew whizzed past us at some point and arrived in Ashtabula first, organized dockage for us and sent a slightly humbling email suggesting the town was “nicer than expected”.

Arriving into Ashtabula harbour is gritty indeed.  On the right, after passing the harbour entrance and rustic lighthouse, is the said giant coal piles and giant loading machines which are as black and dirty as the coal that feeds them.  To the left is a network of railway lines and hundreds, if not thousands of rail cars, some of which were being connected to engines which produced startling crashing noises whose vibrations could actually be felt through the boat.  After about a mile of this you round a corner to find a lift bridge and a cute downtown area.  We wait a few minutes then watch the lift bridge engage and rise up high into the air, giving us plenty of room to pass beneath.  Our docks are at Ashtabula Yacht Club, just a couple hundred metres past the bridge.  We get tied up, plugged in and get the air conditioning system humming, which is welcome as it’s turned into a scorcher of a day.  We then wander into town and find a charming little historic waterfront area, which is full of cool restaurants, bars, and the kinds of shops often frequented by “ladies who lunch” selling items such as fancy jellies, antique furniture, history books, soaps which look and smell edible, classy walking canes, statuettes made of stone, expensive purses, gourmet coffee and cutlery and plates which look much too nice to actually eat with.

The men and kids find a nice chophouse, called Briquettes, to enjoy a premium beer, and after reviewing the menu, which included smoked brisket, St. Louis ribs, homemade coleslaw and corn bread, decide to unilaterally veto the originally decided upon dinner plans (cook ham and potatoes in sailboat oven, resulting in dirty dishes and a boat interior hot enough to melt steel) and return for genuine US style barbeque.

After a visit to see the lift bridge close up, which is nothing short of amazing, and a short break back at the boat, we return for a delicious dinner, then stagger back to the boats, have a quick nightcap and pack it in for the evening.

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 13, Wednesday

Woke up to a gorgeous morning, something we’ve definitely become used to on this trip, and decided to rent a car and do some exploring around Cleveland.  The Enterprise rental car folks picked us up at the marina, which was a great service, and after doing the required paperwork we headed off in our black Toyota Yaris towards the Cleveland Museum of Art, which is several miles east of the downtown area.  As we arrived we were surprised to find a beautiful suburban park with all sorts of interesting sites, such as the art museum but also the Museum of Natural History, a botanical garden, a large number of university buildings and the home of the Cleveland Symphony.  We first visited the art museum, whose centerpiece was a large collection of armour and weapons, tracing the historical development of armour construction and warring techniques.  They also had a large collection of Rodin sculptures, including two different sizes of The Thinker.  There were many parts of the museum under construction, but regardless of that, we still didn’t have time to see everything, but what we did see was excellent.  And like many museums in the US, it was completely free to visit, which is rarely the case in Canada, and I really don’t know the reason for that.  Perhaps there are more benefactors in the US, or people are more willing to leave money to cultural institutions?  What I do know is that every time we visit Ottawa we spend a small fortune on entrance fees to the museums and galleries there, which is sort of a shame as it does make it inaccessible to many citizens that can’t afford it.

After the art museum we scarfed a quick round of hot dogs in the park then visited the natural history museum, which the kids loved, as it had an outside section with a good selection of live animals, sort of like a mini-zoo.  Ana and I enjoyed the displays on the evolution of humans, and after better understanding the effects and results of evolution, it makes perfect sense that my family came from monkeys.  Though we’ve managed to shuffle off the cro-magnon man protruding eyebrow bones, we have certainly not moved much past the monkey like behavior.

We then drove back through downtown to see the West Side market, one of the oldest public markets in the US.  It was a perfect place to stock up on fresh vegetables and fruits, which was well needed as our vegetable selection back on the boat was down to potatoes, and I don’t even think those count as vegetables.  We could have spent hours there buying all sorts of delicious foods, but since the boats and our stomachs have limited food storage capacity, we dragged ourselves away and headed back to the boat.

After a lovely and refreshing swim we prepared a delicious supper on the charcoal grills, which were just beside the pool, overlooking the harbour where there were dozens and dozens of sailboats out racing.  Though we don’t often cook on charcoal, we managed to get it just right and the food came out perfectly, the main course being rib steaks and the sides including fresh tomato salad and green beans, roasted potatoes, and garlic toast, all done on the grill.  This was one of the best meals of the trip and we ate slowly, tasting and enjoying every bite, while appreciating the privilege we enjoy in being able to spend time in such lovely paces on such an amazing lake.

We finished off the evening with a trip downtown and explored Eest Fourth street, a pedestrian only area full of bars and restaurants, as well as the new Horseshoe Casino and Tower City, a high end downtown shopping mall.  We have seen a whole new side of Cleveland this trip and have a new appreciation for the city and what it has to offer.

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 12, Tuesday

Now well into our homeward bound stretch, we awoke at 5 am and threw off the lines for Cleveland.  The wind cooperated and we cruised down the lake, enjoying a nice ride most of the way.  As we approached Cleveland the wind picked up and a few nasty gusts rocked the sailboat, but she handled it well and before long we were safely tied up at dock at the Edgewater Yacht Club, one we had visited the year before, and had pledged to visit again, mainly because of the large pool which was being constructed.  Well, the pool was all done now, so after getting registered we went down and enjoyed several hours basking in the loungers and playing in the cool water.  I actually crashed out on a chair and, not being much of an afternoon napper, felt absolutely terrible when I woke up.  I took me a couple hours and a nice gin and tonic to snap out of it, after which we had a quick pasta meal then piled into Endeavour for a ride into downtown Cleveland to visit Shooters – the last remaining restaurant/bar from the heydays of the Flats, where the area was stacked with bars, clubs and, sadly, rampant crime which eventually forced the city to close down the entire area.

We enjoyed a few drinks at Shooters, and as we sat were treated to the arrival of a thousand foot freighter slowly and carefully navigating the small channels, which is especially impressive for onlooking boaters, knowing how difficult it can be for moving even small boats around in tight waterways.  After this we went on a nice walk around the area, admiring the amazing infrastructure, from the lift bridges, to the raised highways, to the railway lines, to the winding channels.

After Shooters, we cruised back to the marina, had a nice cocktail and retired for the night.

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 11, Monday

We decided to keep enjoying the easy pace and stayed another day in Vermilion.  After a wonderful bacon and egger in the clubhouse, we walked into town, checked out the marine stores, thrift stores, grocery stores, had coffee, had beers, returned to the boat for dinner, then returned to Linwood to sit on the beach and enjoy the most amazing sunset.  We then walked back downtown and enjoyed drinks and appetizers at an intriguing restaurant called Steak and Lube, an eatery devoted to the worship of all things powered by gasoline – race cars, motorcycles, airplanes, snow machines....and boats.

Very fitting.

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 10, Sunday

Spending three nights in the same marina was a record for us, so we were ready to move on.  We took off around 9 am, en route for Vermilion, Ohio, which was about a three hour ride.  We had a nice wind and good sail and shortly before arriving at our destination, we pulled the sails down and stopped for a nice lake swim.  Andrew passed us along the way so had the docks organized for us, at the Vermilion Yacht Club.  We got tied up and headed directly for the beach, as it must have been 35 degrees outside, so we were ready to hit the lake.  The club had access to a semi-private beach, which was clean and great for swimming so we spent a few hours soaking up the sun, then returned to the boats to get cleaned up before dinner.

The clubhouse had excellent kitchen and bbq facilities so we hauled our gear there and made a delicious meal.  While waiting for things to cook, we sat on the Adirondack chairs on the front lawn facing the channel watching the boats go back and forth.  Vermilion is probably the most scenic boating town on the entire lake as is consists of a network of channels weaving through the town and is home to many marinas.  To give an indication of the boating culture in this town, the central water tower, which rises high in the middle of downtown, has emblazoned on it the letters “Vermilion Sailors” and an image of an anchor.

After dinner we took the advice of a local boater and walked down to the beach to an area called Linwood, which featured an ice cream shop which quite literally propelled you back in time.  They served malts, old fashioned ice cream, had candy jars with prices varying from 25 cents right down to 2 cents, red upholstered booths, soda jerks, Slush Puppy machines and prices that were simply way too low to be believed.  Outside the shop was a big park which had many kids play apparatuses and a covered area with four lighted alleys of shuffleboard.  And everybody looked to be well off, happy and pretty much exclusively white.  The whole place had this strange, but warm, out of place feel, which started to make more sense as we worked our way through the park and found an iron gate barrier locking out the rest of the city living in present day from this enchanted forest.  As we exited the gates there was a giant sign identifying this as Linwood Private Family Park with access available to members only, or guests of members.  As guests of the yacht club, we were allowed access, but I guess it wasn’t available to the general public.  We talked about this a lot after the experience, and it certainly seems to be the rule that if you have money or status in the US, you get the good stuff.  If you have no money and no status you get the crap.  An ugly truth or just a misguided perception?  All I can say is, I feel lucky we were on the good side of the gate, at least for a little while.

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 9, Saturday

Now that we were back to the core team, and able to cram into a compact, we rented a vehicle and headed out for a day trip.  We sent the chicks to get the car, as they are usually much better able to negotiate prices and upgrades, and were none too surprised to see them pull up in a shiny, black, seven seater SUV, which we didn’t even have to jam into, everybody got a seat including the kids, what a treat!  We head west out of Sandusky and drove to the peninsula of Marblehead.  We did a full circuit of the peninsula, seeing nothing much of interest, other than the Marblehead lighthouse, which is sort of a Lake Erie relic.  We weren’t able to go into the lighthouse as there was a wedding ceremony being performed there, for a gargantuan bride in what we all agreed was the most hideous wedding dresses ever manufactured on planet earth.  Her bridesmaids must have really loved her, or perhaps they were all part of the same clown troupe, it’s really anybody’s guess.

We then rolled on to Port Clinton, which is a small town with a lot of marinas, and the take off point for the Jet Express ferry to Put-in-Bay, resulting in hundreds of macho, muscled, tattooed dudes with vodka sipping bikinied bombshells on their arms, waiting for the next ferry.  We skirted around that chaos and instead found this cool little lakeside restaurant called Dock’s Beach House, whose food was acceptable, but venue was amazing as they were located right next to their own private beach and supplied a live band playing on the giant patio overlooking the crashing waves of the lake.  We were treated to a very talented folk band who sang their hearts out while we flooded our livers and filled our gullets, a lovely afternoon indeed.

After this we did a short walk into the historic downtown, which really didn’t have too much to offer, then hopped in the SUV and cruised back to the boats, quite happy that we have finally seen the area, after talking about doing it on previous trips.

We had a small snack on the boats, then watched a movie and hit the sack.

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 8, Friday

Today was to be the end of phase one of the trip as Marty and Jen were planning to head back home.  We started the day with a big walk around the docks to gaze at the giant power yachts and sailboats and before long had scoped out our ideal “retirement” boats, though unfortunately the funds required to purchase these would require another 160 years of work so we’re still trying to fiddle the numbers on that one.  After the walk the whole gang headed downtown, stopping for coffee along the way then exploring some of the shops.

We had lunch back at the boat, lounged at the pool in the afternoon, then met up at the club restaurant for our final dinner which, as expected, was tremendously good and included the previously mentioned succulent bread pudding, which I ate so fast I lacerated the insides of my mouth with my out of control chewing.

We bid our farewells to Marty, Jen, Leif and William then returned to the boats for an eerily quiet night.

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 7, Thursday

After breakfast on the boat we powered out of the Cedar Point marina across the bay to Sandusky Yacht Club, one of our favourite marinas on the lake, not just because of the incredible restaurant, spotless docks, helpful staff and cheap bags of ice, but also because it’s a prime location for Ascot Spotting, a game we created to keep us occupied and entertained while visiting yacht clubs far superior to our own with members at least half a dozen social classes above us.  You see, this is the most underappreciated aspect of owning a boat, not only does it give you the freedom to travel on your own time, by your own rules, from place to place, but it also allows you to access places you would otherwise not be allowed into; namely – fancy yacht clubs.

Here’s how the game of Ascot Spotting works: first you need a boat, doesn’t really matter what kind but it does have to be nice enough that you are not immediately thrown out of harbour (ie. A 12 foot aluminum fishing boat with a 10 hp, 20 year old Johnson, covered in walleye guts would probably not get you in).  Before you enter harbour, make sure that you’re hung all your wet laundry out on the lifelines, including towels, underwear, dish rags, carpets, and even j-cloths, and try not to let anything fly off on your way in.  One way to do this is to tie the drying items to the lifelines with used bits of string, or whatever else works - if you are looking for ideas get on the internet and google “gypsy laundry tricks”.  Next, when you radio the harbourmaster, avoiding using words such as “fuck”, “shit”, “butthead”, “ho”, “boat fire”, “whisky dick” or any other such vulgarities, especially when referring to his mother or wife.  If all goes well, you will be assigned to a particular slip, but don’t worry about that, just navigate in to wherever the giant boats are located and find an empty slip there.  If none are available, just throw out an anchor, you can float into dock on pool noodles later.

Once you are safely and securely tied up, get all that extra junk cluttering up your boat and throw it on the dock, there’s so much more space out there.  Try to put any spare engine parts in a Ziplock or a plastic grocery bag so you don’t leak too much diesel on the nice composite decking.  Also, if you have your Rottie or Pitbull with you, and you probably do, then make sure you put a rope around their neck and cleat them off to your boat, or probably a neighbour’s boat, as it’s likely you’ll have laundry hanging off your cleats.

Now comfortably settled, the first thing you need to do is to set up lawn chairs right on the dock behind all the big boats.  If the junk off your boat has completely covered the dock, then just take the lawn chairs and set them up on the grass outside the club restaurant.  Alternatively, another excellent place for the game is the club parking lot, but if you do that ensure you take along some sort of canopy, or a paddling pool, as it can get very hot on the asphalt.  In any case, before you get set up, make sure you prepare a cooler with a good selection of hard liquor and jumbo shot glasses – this is a very important part of the game.

Now, the game itself.  The beauty of Ascot Spotting is the simplicity of the rules – anytime you see a man wearing an ascot, you shout “Wanker!” in your best Scottish accent, and everybody has to throw back a double shot.  You get one point for each ascot you spot.  You get a bonus point if there is a 40 year age spread between him and his female companion.  You get another bonus point if he drives an Aston Martin or a Rolls Royce or has a boat longer than 70 feet.  The first one to ten points wins, but you rarely have a winner as you’re normally ejected from the club well before that point. 

After a quick round of Ascot Spotting (Jen won), we had lunch in the club restaurant, which is said to be the best restaurant in Sandusky, and we have little doubt of that.  The piece du resistance of the meal was the bread pudding.  It was the most amazing dessert I’ve ever experienced in my life, and rest of the gang at the table agreed.  After lunch the boys went off to stock up on cheap US booze and engine parts, while the ladies took the kiddies to the pool.  After we returned with a booze purchase that took two trolleys to cart back to the boats, we switched with the ladies so they could go grocery and clothes shopping while we joined the kids at the pool and did our best to ignore them and focus on drinking rum and cokes at the pool bar.  We later rendezvoused at the boats, cooked a light supper then finished off the day with an evening happy hour.

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 6, Wednesday

The plan was to leave the dock at 6:30 am sharp destined for Cedar Point amusement park.  We were underway slightly past target, but considering the chaos of organizing four excited kids and four exhausted adults within 150 square feet of closed sailboat cabin, jammed full of luggage, dirty clothes, food, drinks, coolers, books, games and spare parts, I’d say we did pretty good.

Cedar Point is located at the end of a long peninsula which originates at Sandusky, Ohio and stretches far out into Lake Erie, creating a huge natural harbour which can get quite congested and rough at times because of all the boat traffic and swirling wind, and it was indeed rough this morning.  We made it to the docks at Cedar Point marina in under two hours, and were very happy to get registered and tied up.  The park opens one hour early for guest of the marina so we were able to get in by 10:30, which gave us a half hour jump on the big crowd.  We split into two groups – Ana, Jen and the kids then the rest of us, whose mission was to ride as many roller coasters as possible so we head immediately for the Top Thrill Dragster, the second tallest coaster in the world, which is the most terrifying ride I’ve ever experienced.  Sadly, Andrew chickened out of this one so Marty and I got saddled in and heard a loud voice say “Arms down.  Head back.  Hold on.”  The sounds of revving engine was deafening and the inevitable take off came suddenly as the yellow lights counted down to green then the car exploded from a standstill to 120 mph in less than four seconds then shot vertically up a 420 foot tower then straight back down, leaving your stomach contents looking for a fast way out.  All I can say is the experience was intense!

We did a few more coasters then met up with the A team and spent some time taking the kids on rides, then we all returned to the boat and had a nice long, leisurely lunch and a welcome break from the heat.  We then got our swimsuits on and returned to the park, but this time to the water park section and spent the afternoon on water slides, lazy rivers and swimming pools.  The kids had a real blast, as did the adults, and by the end of the day we were all exhausted, though not too tired to have another big meal back at the boat!

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 5, Tuesday

We awoke to another sweltering hot day, so after a quick breakfast, Marty, the kids and I went for a walk before the heat became unbearable.  This when I learned that young William could actually walk in six directions at the same time – in fact I think it would have been easier wrangling a herd of dizzy cows down the sidewalk then trying to keep William walking in one direction.  Leif is another story, he usually goes in a single!  So we sent Stella and Magnus running after him while Marty and I double teamed William.

Later that morning, we packed up the boat, filled up with diesel, and headed off sailing for Kelleys Island, putting Marty in charge at the helm.  It was quite a nice sail across, as the wind was co-operating, the waves were small and the sun was shining.  We arrived at the north side of Kelleys, got the boat anchored, then all jumped in for a refreshing swim, which was welcome.  I then got the barbeque set up and we cooked a nice easy hot dog and hamburger lunch, and washed it down with a couple brewskis.  We then sailed around the east side of the island and encountered some pretty big waves, which had been building all day from the constant breeze, and which provided for a pretty rough ride at times.  After an hour or two we pulled up to the docks, got tied up, had a few happy hour wobbly pops with Andrew on his boat, then packed up the team and wandered into town for a walk.  Kelleys Island is less busy than Put-in-Bay so it was perfect for a leisurely stroll through the streets.

We decided to try out a restaurant we hadn’t been to before called Kelleys Island House restaurant and were treated to what was definitely the best meal of the trip.  The food was unbelievable, the service was impeccable, the company was tremendous, prices were good and the laughter was plentiful.  After a long, leisurely dinner we returned the boats, got the kiddies tucked in, and enjoyed the rest of the night on the dock.

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 4, Monday

Even after two practically sleepless nights, all it takes is one great sleep to put you back on track, and that’s how we found ourselves at 8 in the morning.  We started the day with a round of Raisin Bran and a bit of sweet Morphine on the stereo, which was quickly shut off by my less musically adventurous family in favour of the sound of the sea gulls screeching outside.

There seemed to be a small storm pushing through, which was causing very windy conditions, so we waited for a break in the weather, then when it came we blasted out of dock over to South Bass island, home of the infamous Put-in-Bay, a rollicking, crazy, busy tourist town that would seem to have been lifted right out of the Caribbean and dropped in western lake Erie.  The plan was for us to find dockage in time to meet Marty, Jen and their boys Leif and William, who would be arriving on one of the morning ferries from Sandusky.  Andrew arrived first and got us docks immediately across from the Jet Express ferry terminal, and just a short walk away from downtown.  As we were docking a couple of the locals slithered up in the water – Lake Erie water snakes, which live only in the Lake Erie islands and were endangered at one point but, judging by the quantity of them around, were back to a pretty healthy population.  Andrew told Magnus they were scoping out a way into the boat so they could cozy up to him in bed later that night, thankfully Magnus knew he was lying otherwise he would have been terrified as he has always had a real fear of snakes.

Marty and the gang arrived before noon and after a complimentary round of drinks courtesy of Endeavour’s beer fridge, we rented some golf carts and blazed a path around South Bass island.  Circumnavigating the islands doesn’t take too long as it’s very small, so we made plenty of stops including the peace monument, which is a 300 foot tower with a viewpoint on top, Perry’s caves (which were pretty lame), an ice cream stop at a beach on the south side of the island, the grocery store, and finally a bar for a few cool drinks.  The heat was stifling so we did our best to keep in the shade and maintain a high level of liquidation.

We returned the golf carts then went back to the boats and made an especially delicious steak dinner with the help of the gas barbeque which was located on the dock under a nice gazebo and dining area.  We spend the rest of the evening visiting and trying to figure out sleeping arrangements for eight in our little sailboat, which sleeps six more or less comfortably, so we were a little squeezed, though we were able to make it work.

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 3, Sunday

The overnight sail was thankfully non eventful.  As the clock passed midnight I was well into my late night heavy metal set list, which is pretty much the only music that can keep me awake while doing overnight runs.  I started with a bit of vintage Pantera, then moved on to a couple Gojira albums, a band I have recently discovered which has seen a lot of action on my ipad in recent weeks.  I then put on Metallica’s Ride the Lightning, and I enjoyed that so much I followed it up with Justice and a few tracks from Master of Puppets.  I then slid back into some comfy Mastodon and followed that up with some Primus, but you really have to be careful with Primus.  If you accidentally play Hail Santa you will instantly fall into a coma and be plagued with dreams of giant pigs, spastic chickens, Jello-like substances and muddied mayhem, all to the sluggish sawing of tuned down double bass strings.  Now that’s exactly what you don’t want to happen when you’re piloting your family across the lake at night time, though if one did fall asleep, chances are you would just wake up three hours later and three hours further along in your journey cruising on auto-pilot and nobody would notice, but I didn’t want to test that theory and get run over by a thousand foot coal freighter.

The wind remained heavy throughout the trip, and by morning the waves were pounding the boat, which made it difficult to sleep, except for the kids, who are able to sleep easily no matter how rough the ride is - in fact I think Stella sleeps better when the boat is getting pounded.  Though we were able to make a simple breakfast, the rough conditions did prevent us from taking our mid morning bath and swim in the lake, which was a shame as that’s the best part of the morning after a long passage, so instead everybody had a shower in the boat along the way.

By late afternoon we finally arrived in Middle Bass island, and Andrew had arrived shortly before us.  We got the boat tied up and registered and left for a walk to explore the area.  The marina itself was quite nice, though the staff was not particularly helpful or friendly, but when we found out it was a municipally owned marina, it all made sense.  Seems the profit motive removes the requirement for good customer service, as we are very familiar with from our own marina at Port Dover, so this came as no surprise.

We wandered down a road towards what looked like an old warehouse...or something, which was located right on the waterfront facing the nearby South Bass island and village of Put-in-Bay.  I looked over the building, which I guessed had had been quite majestic at some point, but was now in a dilapidated condition and said to Andrew, “The place looks is totally abandoned, I wonder what it used to be?”

“I’m thinking it used to be a winery,” he replied.

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“Because it says “Lonz Winery” in ten foot tall letters up there,” he noted sarcastically as he pointed up towards the top of the building.

“That doesn’t prove anything.”

We poked around the ruined building for a while then moved on down the road where we discovered a nifty little restaurant called “JF Walleyes”, which had a large wading pool attached to it, perfect for the kids to play in while we sucked back some cold, well deserved drinks.  We also had some dinner, which was mediocre, but after two nearly sleepless nights and the vicious late afternoon sun, we probably weren’t tasting or feeling much at that point.  We returned to the boats and it wasn’t long before we were in bed and sleeping like the dead.

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 2, Saturday

The US customs video phone worked on the first attempt, so I got us registered and returned to the boat, ready to begin the search for a diesel mechanic.  The guy who gave us the tow the night before, came by and gave me a hand with the engine, but we were still unable to get it working so he pulled out his rolodex and started calling mechanics.  After a number of attempts he finally found one who was willing to come by to have a quick look, otherwise the earliest we could get help from the others would have been Monday, which would have really thrown off our plans.  But that’s sort of how boating works, as soon as you get too elaborate with your plans, something will always go wrong, whether it’s a mechanical failure or weather that just doesn’t cooperate.  In our case, the plan was to make a giant run all the way down to the Lake Erie islands, where we were going to meet up with my brother Marty and family.  But now we were stuck in Erie, but as it turns out, Marty and family were going to be passing right by on the way to Sandusky, so we sent them a text and they were able to meet us for lunch.

The mechanic arrived and I joined him below, not wanting to miss an opportunity to learn something about my engine, as I was clearly lacking skills, and if you want to be a good sailor you really do have to know your boat, and be a proficient as possible at fixing things.  Marty, Jen, Leif and William arrived shortly after that, and they all went ahead to the nearby restaurant as we worked on the engine.

After an hour of troubleshooting, the mechanic finally isolated the problem to a blocked fitting in the first fuel filter, and he was able to simply bypass that filter, after which he got the fuel system bled and she started up and ran perfectly.  Eternally grateful, I asked him how much the bill was, expecting several hundred dollars, but he humbly asked for seventy-five bucks.  I gave him a hundred, thanked him profusely then trotted in an overjoyed fashion over to the restaurant and joined the gang for lunch.

We had a nice lunch and visit, then returned to the boat, on the way noticing that the sport fishing boats in the harbour had all returned, and the captains were busy cleaning fish, many of which were ten pound plus walleyes, larger than any I had ever seen.  The ladies and kids went back to the boat and Marty and I took off on a booze run to stock up Bella Blue with cheap US suds.  We returned to the boat with an ample supply, had a quick cigar and beer then we parted company – Marty and gang headed for Cleveland by land and us back on the water aiming for the islands.  We had been in constant contact with our friend Andrew throughout all the drama, as he was in Dover with his boat Endeavour, waiting to see how we made out.  We always do the annual two week boat trip together and are somewhat strange bedfellows as he has a 36 foot Sea Ray power boat which cruises at around 25 miles per hour, compared to our sailboat which does around 7, so he gets from place to place much quicker than we do, though it somehow all seems to work out fine.  He had set out early that morning and was on his way down the lake, with a plan to rendezvous in Middle Bass island the following day.

It was 5:30 when we left the dock, and we would arrive at our final destination exactly 24 hours later.

2012 Lake Erie Sailing Trip – Day 1, Friday

Boat vacation.  Our third annual two week excursion around Lake Erie was about to begin and we were ready.  In fact, we had never been so ready.  Our lovely 33 foot Hunter sailboat, named Bella Blue, had been carefully prepped, packed and pampered in preparation for our departure, and she was yearning to go, as we were.

We arrived at Port Dover around 3pm, packed away our gear then gave her an extensive cleaning from bow to stern, and by the end of it she was gleaming and bug free.  We threw off the dock lines around 6pm and encountered a beautiful, strong east wind which carried us under sail power at over six knots (six knots is about seven miles per hour), providing an excellent start to the trip.

As the sun was setting, we rounded Long Point and changed course, pointing her south west, heading directly down the middle of the lake towards the Bass Islands, approximately 140 miles away.  The waves out in the lake had become quite large so we decided to fire up the engine to give us a bit more speed.  The diesel engine started easily and ran least for a few minutes, and then she died.  So we started it again, got it running for a minute, then it stalled.  Although not a life and death situation, it was enough to instill a certain unmistakable level of panic on the boat.  Bobbing around in four to five foot waves on a moonless night in the middle of Lake Erie with a disabled engine and two small children is enough to tie your stomach in knots.

I pulled out my engine manual and started troubleshooting and within minutes was pretty sure that I didn’t have a clue about diesel engines.  I tried my best to appear confident as I tried a few things, and was pretty sure that it was a problem with the fuel getting to the engine, but after an hour of trying, we turned the boat south toward Erie, Pennsylvania as that was the closest port where we could find a diesel mechanic, and we weren’t comfortable with sailing toward our final destination with a non functioning engine.  Fortunately, the wind stayed strong so Ana sailed the boat toward Erie as I continued trying to fix the engine, and in the process got soaked in diesel and probably a little stoned from the fumes as I started noticing small kittens running around the boat, speaking to each other in what sounded like Finnish.

I eventually gave up on the engine, said goodbye to the kitties and went out to the cockpit to join Ana and get some fresh air.  It was actually a lovely sail as the sky was clear and filled with stars and the wind provided a fast least until we approached the entrance of Erie harbour, at which point it completely died, and were left with having to call Boat US for a tow.  Luckily we were current on our $65 yearly membership which provides for unlimited free towing in US waters, so we were soon met by Eric in his tow boat and he tied up to us and gave us a slow ride into Wolverine marina..  We arrived around 4 am so after we got docked I went over to the US customs video phone, tried calling a dozen times, received no answer, then returned to the boat not at all surprised as this is exactly what happened last time we arrived in the middle of the night and tried to check in.  We were asleep by 5am and woke up two hours later to a brand new fresh day in the USA.