Sunday, July 21, 2013

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 15

Day 15 – Port Dover

Picture this.  It is midnight on Lake Erie.  The moon is full and bright, sky cloudless and littered with stars, and we are being pushed along by a gently humming engine and the lake’s gently rolling waves.  The periodic and predictable flash from the lighthouse of Long Point is visible in the distance.  Magnus and Stella are sleeping soundly below and Ana and I are sitting in the cockpit, together, huddled up in a blanket, watching the show of stars in the sky above, talking and feeling very much in love.

It has been a fine trip indeed.  And this moment alone with my beautiful wife has made it even better.

As we round Long Point, with the lights of Port Dover just barely visible 15 miles away, the wind suddenly picks up, going from 5 mph to over 20 mph almost instantly.  I adjust the sails for the increased wind, then we spend most of our time below in the cabin.  I pop my head out once in a while to check for boats and to ensure we are still on course, but the autopilot is doing a fine job taking us home.

We arrive in the marina at 4am, do an absolutely flawless docking and get the lines tied and power cables connected.  Ana calls Canadian border control and gets us cleared through with no issues.

We are back home, safe and sound, and after 350 miles, many new discoveries and a lot of laughs ends the 2013 Lake Erie boat trip.

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 14

Day 14 – Eastlake to Ashtabula

By 5:10, we had coffees poured, the lines cast off and were slowly motoring out of the Eastlake harbour, quite happy that we’d discovered another new spot on this fine lake.  The weather was hot, the wind was light and, fortunately, it was not nearly as buggy as the day before.  The entire trip was 35 miles and around 9 am we stopped the boat and jumped in for a morning swim and bath.  Even several miles offshore the water temperature was still over 30 degrees, so you didn’t get that spine shattering shock when you jumped in; it was more like leaping into a giant bathtub.

Arriving in Ashtabula gives you a glimpse into the area’s industrial history.  To your right is a series of giant coal piles and these huge machines on railway tracks which pick up the coal from railway cars, dump it into the pile, then later scoop the coal from the pile and load it into freighters.  After about a mile of industrial landscape, you reach downtown Ashtabula which, as far as I know, is the only town on Lake Erie that offers visitors free docking, free water and free pump outs.  The only thing they do not offer is electricity, and with a forecast temperature of 33, it’s tough to get by without the boat air conditioner.  But we do leave the boat at the public dock for a while as we walk into town for a coffee at Harbour Perks, a groovy little cafe steps from the water.  The kids and I hung around there for an hour or so reading magazines and playing chess while Ana hit the local Goodwill store, one of her favourite retail spots on the lake.

We returned to the boat, waited for the top of the hour when the lift bridge opens and piloted her a short ways down the river to the Ashtabula Yacht Club, when they do have electricity and do offer free dockage to associate club members.  By this time the temperature in the boat was 97 degrees Fahrenheit, so it took a quite a while for the ac to cool things down, which gave me time to get the grill fired up, sit in the covered cockpit and cook up some sausages for lunch.
We checked the forecast and both Friday and Saturday were looking to be extremely windy and stormy so we decided to spend a few more hours in Ashtabula, then do an evening sail all the way back to Port Dover, which was a 75 mile trip, but would get us back early Friday morning and give us the whole weekend back in home port.

We walked back downtown and hopped from one air conditioned shop to another, picking up a super cool orange Ashtabula t-shirt for Magnus (I assured him that nobody in his class would have a shirt with a big black coal digger picture on the front) and a round of ice creams.  Our plan was initially to leave after enjoying dinner at Briquette’s, an excellent local southern style rib restaurant, but instead we decided to get take out then have dinner on our way across the lake, as everybody was still full from the lunch sausages.  So we grabbed our food, hustled back to the boat, and did a high speed undocking in order to make the 5 pm life bridge opening, which we did, but just barely.

We soon had the sails set, motor running and were headed directly across the lake for Canada.  The home stretch is always very exciting, as it represents the final leg in what always feels like an epic and fresh journey every time we do it.  Magnus was desperate for a swim, so we stopped twice along the way and we all jumped in to cool off, even Stella who has been reluctant to swim in the deep parts of the lake.  Once again, swimming off your own boat, in the middle of a giant lake, on your own schedule, is an exhilarating and empowering feeling and there is really nothing else like it.

Friday, July 19, 2013

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 13

Day 13 – Cleveland to Eastlake

We had three choices for our next stop.  We could travel to Eastlake, Mentor or Fairport harbours, all of which were quite close together and only about twenty to thirty miles away.  Mentor was tempting, as it’s a beautiful yacht club with a big pool, but as we’d been there several times before and seen pretty much all of what there is to see there, we decided against going there.  We had not spent a night in Fairport, but had been there the previous year to a restaurant called Pickle Bills (see last year’s blog posting around this same time), which is the only restaurant I know of on the lake which has boat parking right at the bar!  We didn’t remember the marinas themselves being all that special, so we decided on Eastlake.

We left Cleveland around 6am and by then it was already hot and windless so I cranked up the motor and we did it power boat style.  As soon as were offshore a mile or so, the bugs began collecting in the cockpit, and got steadily worse, so I sent everybody down into the cabin while I did battle with the wretched creatures.  I counted at last ten distinct species.  There were the standard mosquitoes, who were biting my ankles, legs and shoulders then these little black flies, which look exactly like house flies, but have a nasty bite which, fortunately, don’t leave any marks but hurt like hell.  They concentrated their attack on my feet.  Then there were these little green bugs which instantly explode when you touch them, leaving an artistic green splatter on the cockpit cushions, bimini or boat hull, wherever you made contact.  I had thousands of these other little green suckers which didn’t leave a stain, but just landed on me and walked around on my skin for no apparent reason, every time I looked down my arm there were a dozen of them crawling around.  I saw fish flies, midges, moths and a couple gigantic yellow creatures that I had never seen before.  As the sun rose and the heat came I looked as if I was wearing a bug sweater so I had to get out my secret weapon.  We have this little Portuguese broom called a “basura” which is the most versatile, multi function tool on the boat.  It is a miniature corn broom, about two feet long and used, among other things, for swatting bugs, cleaning off spider webs, scrubbing the boat, cleaning the cushions, scratching one’s back, fluffing one’s hair, beating the children, wacking your wife ass, then using as a shield against the inevitable counter attack.  In fact, as I sit here looking at the basura, I’m thinking we should start mass producing them and selling them, as there is nothing quite like them available in stores.  Perhaps I’ll set up a little sweat shop in our basement and put the kids to work building corn brooms, man I get some good ideas early in the morning.

After beating off the bug sweater with the basura and trying to clean up the bug remains in the cockpit, I stopped the boat and ordered everybody in for a morning swim.  I also got out a bucket and rinsed off as much of the nasty bug stains as I could, which had completely ruined our beautiful cleaning job from the previous day.  If you can believe it, the water temperature was 32.9 degrees so jumping in didn’t give you that immediate cold shock, but was nonetheless most refreshing.

We pulled into the marina to find a small, secluded and very nice yacht club.  The girl working at the fuel dock assigned a slip to us and informed us that the first night’s stay was free, yay!  We got our boat docked, plugged into shore power and let the sweet a/c start working its heart out.  With the lake water that warm, it takes a while for it to get the temperature down, but it eventually did, which was a welcome relief from the heat.  We had a walk around the clubhouse and marina grounds, found a nice playground complete with a basketball court and tetherball pole, so we played a few rounds of each, then instead of dying of heat exhaustion, got our swimsuits on and headed down to the small, but nice little beach.  Magnus and I did some snorkeling for a while, but the visibility was very poor, so we swam around in half a metre of water and flipped over rocks, looking for crayfish or any other creatures of interest, but didn’t really find much of anything, besides some nice rocks.

Stella and her mom scoured the beach for rocks and sea glass and found some nice pieces so Stella took their collection and set up a display on the picnic table.  Ana settled into the comfy adirondack chair with a book and spent a couple hours reading while I either played with the kids or sat beside her enjoying the sun.  Magnus is a real water bug and did not leave the lake until we hauled him out so we could get ready for dinner.

We had a great meal in the clubhouse and met a bunch of the locals, in particular Buzz and Sally who were in the 41’ Beneteau sailboat right beside our slip.  We grabbed some drinks from the bar then they introduced us to some of the other members.  Dinner was delicious – we both had a seafood platter and shared a calamari appetizer, and the bottle of wine I got from the bar cost $12.50, which made me instantly angry with the Ontario government.
Buzz and Sally had sailed extensively through all the great lakes and described Lake Superior as their favourite.  If you look on a map you will see that these lakes cover an enormous area and the possibilities for exploring are limited only by your imagination, available time and budget.  But then, with a good imagination you can probably figure out a way to handle the time and budget issues, so imagination is really the only thing that matters.  Traveling these lakes is something I would love for Ana and I to do once the kids are older and into their own lives and boats.

We had a relatively early night, as we were planning for a 5 am start to Ashtabula.  We also began planning for our trip home, and since the forecast was looking very windy and possibly stormy for Friday, we decided that we might do a night sail the following evening across the lake to arrive in Dover sometime Friday morning.  But we’d wait and see how the forecast looked before setting out.

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 12

Day 12 – Cleveland

As it was to be another scorcher, we decided to spend a second day in Cleveland, taking advantage of the free second night the marina offered.  I used the car to do some beer shopping and fill up the boat’s propane tanks, then returned the car, got a ride back to the marina and spent the rest of the day in the pool with the kids.  This is the third time we have stayed at this marina, and every time it has been well over 30 degrees outside.

In the afternoon, we gave the boat a huge scrub down, which took two hours and cost me about two gallons of sweat, but after that Bella Blue was shining and beautiful once again.  This was the first time on the trip we had cleaned her so she was well overdue.

In the evening we sat out in the cockpit, watched all the racing boats going out for the weekly regatta, then retired to the air conditioned comfort of the cabin, watched a movie, then called it a night.

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 11

Day 11 – Vermillion to Rocky River and Cleveland

The previous day I had calculated the trip to Rocky River to be about 50 miles.  Not sure what fumes I was snorting, but the actual distance was less than half of that, which I realized around 5 am after already sailing for an hour.  Oh well, early bird catches the worm they say, which is very fitting because just around that time I was joined in the cockpit by an actual early bird who coasted in and perched himself on the steering wheel, looking right as me as I was typing on the laptop.  Hmm, that’s odd, birds don’t usually do that, I thought to myself.  Then he did something else birds don’t often do and flew right into the sailboat cabin below where everybody was sleeping.  I screwed on my courage, went below and found the bird up in the kids’ cabin fluttering around trying to get out through the glass hatch, which was firmly locked shut.  I was just hoping the kids didn’t wake up with the fluttering of wings, and they didn’t, but Ana sure did when the bird went into the main cabin where she was sleeping and tried getting out the locked hatch there.  I was basically standing there like an idiot, trying to point him the way out, when  Ana’s eyes popped open to discover our little visitor.  Fortunately, he found the companion way hatch right away and flew off.  That was only visitor of the morning.

We arrived at the Cleveland yacht club in Rocky River, and after a bunch of horsing around with the fuel dock hands, found out that our yacht club didn’t have a proper reciprocal agreement with them, meaning we couldn’t stay there.  In fact, they wouldn’t even do a pump out for us, which we were in desperate need of.  The kids had notice the big pool and waterslide located there so were a little disappointed when we told them we had to keep on going.

We continued along the way to the Edgewater Yacht club, which is right in downtown Cleveland, as that was the next place we knew of that had a pool, and the forecast was for 33 degrees with no wind so it was going to be a scorcher.  As we approached the fuel dock, we encountered a gigantic debris pile floating in and amongst the docks, surely the result of the storm the previous day, though it was hard to imagine how all that junk ended up in the far corner of this well sheltered marina.  After finding the fuel dock closed and the marina practically deserted (it was Monday, not much happens in marina on Mondays), we met a couple from our marina, who were just getting ready to leave as they had been there for several days.

As it was only noon and with a full day ahead of us we decided to rent a car, and within 30 minutes Enterprise car rental showed up, picked us up, took us to their office where they had a car ready to go.  We decided to split up so Ana dropped the kids and I off at the science centre and she took off for some retail therapy and to pick up groceries.  Right next door to the science centre is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame so we went inside there and had a look around, as there’s quite a bit that you can see for free without buying a ticket for admission.  One of these was Alex Van Halen’s drum kit from the Women and Children First tour, it was massive and awesome!  We also browsed through the gift shop which had a huge selection of music, including an enormous collection of vinyl.  I could not resist the temptation of having the kids hold up two Primus albums so I could grab a photo.  No, I did not buy them, as they were almost sixty bucks each and I do not own a record player, and I'm pretty sure they don't even call them "record players" anymore so I don't know what the hell I'd do with them.

The science centre was the best I’ve ever been to.  They had a big space exhibit, including a small shuttle the kids could sit in, a replica of Martian landscape they could climb on and a model airplane with controls they could fly.  There was an entire floor filled with science experiments, all of which worked and all of which were accompanied by a display explaining what law of physics or theory the experiment displayed.  These ranged from a hang glider simulator, a shadow room, a static electricity machine that makes your hair stand up, electronic drums and keyboard, oscillator machines, plasma balls, all interactive and fun to use.

We returned to the boat, unloaded all the supplies, then hit the pool and relaxed there for a couple hours, returned to the boat for dinner, then went back downtown to the East 4th Street district and had drinks and some fancy poutine and chicken wings.  We were approached by several homeless people asking for money so had to explain to the kids how it’s possible that some people do not have a home.  Living in small town Canada does not offer much of a glimpse into street life so this was a good experience for them, as it was for us, makes you appreciate your situation in life a little more.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 10

Day 10 – Second day in Vermillion

Our original plan had been to travel to Lorain, but every single person we had spoken with the previous day advised against it, assuring us that it is grimy and there’s nothing to see.  Normally, I would jump at the chance to explore a new, unknown grimy location, but in this case, considering our lovely surroundings, we decided to stay and enjoy a down day in the beautiful town of Vermillion.  We had a nice long, slow breakfast on the boat, then spent the day wandering around town, drinking coffee, sitting on the beach, lounging at the pool, eating good food and enjoying having nothing to do and nowhere to go.  Oh yes, and I caught up on about six days worth of blogs!


The week before we left on our trip I was at the supermarket with the kids picking up groceries.  Magnus found the coconuts and asked if we could get one.  I said no way, but he persisted, saying “But Daddy, you always say to try new things.  Well, I’ve never tried coconut so we should get one.”  I finally relented and bought a coconut, but reminded him that he usually only followed that particular piece of advice when it did not involve vegetables.  The plan was to crack it open when we got home and let the kids sample it but we got busy and the coconut made it as a stowaway on our boat, where it bounced around the whole first week.

In the afternoon I finally decided it was time for the nut to be cracked, so I got out a hammer and smashed up the coconut then used a knife to cut out as much as the white flesh as I could and put it into a bowl for everyone to try out.  The kids tried it and thought it was okay and I thought that was the end of it.  But Magnus piped up a little while later and said, “Daddy, why don’t we take the leftover coconut and sell samples to the people here at the yacht club?”  Ana and I then gave him a battery of reasons why this was not a good idea.  These people are on vacation and they don’t want kids trying to sell stuff to them.  People have their own food on their boats and probably don’t like coconut anyway.  This isn’t our club and they might not appreciate transient guests hawking fruit.  But he persisted and suggested asking the manager if it would be okay.  I finally stopped and actually listened to myself discouraging him from acting on his own idea, then realized that I was wrong.  So we told him that if him and Stella went and got permission from the club manager then it would be okay.  So the two of them raced down the dock and were back in five minutes proudly reporting that they could indeed sell coconut to the members.  This set off a flurry of activity in the boat – sign making, product packaging, getting a float together, location planning, sales pitch and so forth.  It was decided they would set up shop on one of the picnic tables outside the pool area.  Stella’s job would be to hand out the product and Magnus would be on sales and cash collection.  Ana and I reconfirmed with them that this was entirely their operation, wished them good luck and watched them race off anxiously on their first business venture.

Twenty minutes later Stella returned asking for more coconut and reported that sales were brisk and they were down to three packs, which they were selling for a quarter each.  I gave her the sad news that there was no more coconut, unless I was to dig the broken shells out of the garbage and try to scrape more out of them, but that wasn’t a safe business practice.  So she returned to her shop and shortly after that I did sneak over there and take a photo of them – Stella was holding the bowl of ice with three remaining plastic baggies of coconut, and Magnus was holding up a sign which said, “Fresh, delicious coconut samples – 25 cents”.  It was quite an operation and at that moment I was a very proud father.  I thought to myself if there’s any country in the world that appreciates a couple of young entrepreneurs, it’s the USA, and today these kids have learned more about the world than they did the whole month of June in school.
Magnus asked me, “Daddy, what other fruit do we have on the boat that we could sell?”
“Nothing,” I replied.

“What about those bananas?” he questioned.

“We need those, and besides nobody is going to buy bananas, they are not really as exotic as coconut”

“How about some meat, what about that chicken in the freezer?” he pitched.

“Magnus, you are not selling raw chicken to the yacht club members, that will get us kicked out.  In fact, we have absolutely no spare food of any kind that you can sell.”

”OK Daddy, then I’m going to rip some pages out of my colouring book and sell those for a quarter each.”

“Magnus, you guys have done very well here, look at all the money in the bowl, great job!  But just sell the remaining coconut then you guys come back to the boat.”

I high-tailed it back to the boat, not wanting to stick around for the rest of the argument.  I had this sneaking suspicion that we had created a monster, and may return to the boat one of these afternoons to find the two of them have flogged our lines, sails, fenders, pots and pans, cushions, spare parts and all boat electronics.  I only hoped they wouldn’t be able to figure out how to uninstall the compass and sell that too.

In the end, after donating the two dollars of float money and the coconut to their cause they made a total of about three bucks each.  I’m not sure if they will ever let us back into the Vermilion Boat Club, but it was very exciting to see the entrepreneurial enthusiasm our kids displayed, and even more exciting to see Ana and I overcome our crusty adult sensibilities and allow our kids to act on an idea.

Before bed, I did notice Magnus, who I now like to call “De Coconut Mon”, doing a mental inventory of all boat contents, looking for product to sell at the next stop.

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 9

Day 9 – Vermillion

We awoke to a boat basin which must have been cleaned up overnight by an army of volunteers, as the only remnants of the previous night's party were a few dozen floating beer cans and cups and a whole lot of boats which were eerily silent.  I also suspect that the hordes of hormone filled, skinny, ambitious 17 year olds just may have left some pockets of misfired seed scattered on the grass throughout the long evening, so I was careful to watch where I stepped when Magnus and I went for a morning walk to try and find abandoned carnival prizes.  The most common prize were these stuffed bananas that had dreadlocks and Rastafarian hats and since I wouldn’t let him waste any money on the games, he negotiated me into joining him for a scavenger hunt.  He actually did find one, but I checked it thoroughly for foreign substances before letting him have it.

We took off early headed for Vermillion which is, without a doubt, the nicest town on Lake Erie.  The wind was directly in our face so we motored the whole way and made it in less than two hours.  Vermillion is the only port on Lake Erie which has built lagoons and has hundreds of canal front houses, which you pass by while coming in the harbour.

We wanted to get into the Vermillion Boat Club marina as it is located right downtown and the only one with a pool, but we motored by it and didn’t see a single empty slip.  We circled back one more time to see if we somehow we missed one, and one of the sailboat members flagged us over and told us we could have his slip if we could wait ten minutes, as he was on his way out for the weekend.  When he left we grabbed his slip, got registered, then went for a walk around town.  There happened to be a Corvette show in town so while Ana and Magnus went to dig around in the consignment store, Stella and I checked out the cool cars.  There were some fine specimens there, to be sure, but I wonder who is buying Corvettes these days?  Every time I see one, it’s being driven by sixty plus, grey hair dude, and you just know that he has wanted a Corvette since he was old enough to drive, but couldn’t afford one until about four decades later.  Hey, at least he finally realize his dream, but it’s just too damn bad that you can’t live in reverse and have those slick wheels when you can really use them to impress your buddies and pull chicks.  By the time you’re sixty, you don’t really care about impressing anybody anymore and you’re either happily married or been divorced so many times it doesn’t really matter anymore.

After the car show, we went to the farmers market which, surprisingly, had hardly any food and was instead full of knick-knack vendors, so we walked to the supermarket instead and did a grocery run.  By this time the pool was calling so we returned to the marina and went poolside for a couple hours, soaking up the hot rays.

After grilling up and enjoying a delicious pork roast on the club grills, we walked down to the beach to experience a famous Vermillion sunset.  You see, as far as I can tell Vermillion is located exactly between where the sun sets and Detroit and you know that the most beautiful sunsets in the world are found where pollution is the most terrible.  We weren’t alone, there must have been fifty other people there to enjoy a sundowner.  While waiting, we all skipped rocks, looked for driftwood, had rock throwing contests and searched for sea shells.  When the sunset came, it was just as nice as expected.

We head back to the marina and the kids did some fire fly catching along the way, proving that Ohio must be the firefly capital of the world.  We settled in around the campfire with some of the local boaters and had a lovely time, enjoying some good, old fashioned American hospitality.

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 8

Day 8 – Huron

I woke up early, made a coffee, removed the door slats and was struck face first with a beautiful, sunny day and an enormous SQUEEEEEEEEK!!

“Wake up kids, we are out of here!” I ordered.

Our destination was Huron, Ohio, just 15 miles or so away so I asked Ana to pilot the boat today.  Ana truly loves everything about sailing...except the sailing parts.  I shouldn’t say she doesn’t love it, it’s probably more accurate to say she just hasn’t done a lot of it as I’m almost always the one at the helm, navigating on the chart plotter (this is the device that shows you the map of the lake, depths, marinas, wind speed, boat speed, boat heading, water temperature and is your main navigational aid), trimming the sails, watching the wind, reading the water and looking out for boats.  I guess you could say I happily hog the boat.  But the last couple days I`ve been showing her how the chart plotter works and have been trying to get her piloting the boat more, just in case I fall off the boat one day with the autopilot activated and the rest of the fam finds themselves an hour further into their journey with no father figure on board.  So this morning she agrees to take control, and does an excellent job from start to finish like I knew she would.  To make it fair, I tried to replicate her standard passenger duties, so I first had a nice long shower, using up all the water on board, shaving my legs, washing and conditioning my hair, then dried off using six towels and applied grapefruit pre-moisturizer, plum moisturizer and just a dab of melon post-moisturizer.  I then put on her pink moo moo, wrapped a fresh towel around my head, then went through the standard routine of plucking my eyebrows, picking zits, applying make-up, de-hairifying my upper lip (which didn`t take long), trying on a few different sets of clothes and finally selecting an outfit, then doing my hair up nice and pretty.  After that was all done, I was ready for duty and presented myself in the cockpit.  But wait, I forgot the nails.  I grabbed two bags of nail accessories from the cabin below and cleaned all the herbies from betwixt my toes, scraped off the cuticles, dug out all the dirt from beneath the nails, then removed all traces of nail polish and reapplied new stuff, laying down a beautiful French manicure style jobbie on all ten fingers and toes.  Every time we hit a big wave I smudged the job, so had to start from the beginning about eight times.  With fresh nails, hair, and body, I was finally ready and fit for duty, so I grabbed one of Ana’s saucy novels, laid down on the sunny side of the cockpit, told the captain to watch the bloody spray and caught up on my reading.

In the end I decided that whole complicated, never-ending routine was infinitely more painful and exhausting than simply driving the boat, so as we approached Huron, we changed places and I was much happier.  But I did look and smell a whole lot better than usual and man, you should see my nails.

The recent storm had obviously caused a lot of damage as there was junk floating in the water which must have come down the Huron River and was now causing a real menace.  Much of it was twigs, bark and leaves, but there were also many full logs and trees bobbing around.  Slow moving sailboats and their big keels can usually just push the flotsam out of the way of the propeller, but a big, fast moving powerboat on plane can easily have its props ripped off by hitting a log.  We manoeuvred through the junk and up the river and soon arrived at the Huron Boat Basin, which is the municipal marina.  We were assigned one of the last two slips and docked into a completely packed marina.  We were immediately welcomed by one of the boaters there who informed us this was the River Fest weekend, the biggest boating event of the year in Huron and were extremely fortunate to get a slip.  The marina was very cool, as it was shaped as a huge semi-circle, bordered by a wide, concrete walking path, and directly behind it was an amphitheatre where bands played every weekend.  The kids eyes lit up as they noticed the carnival rides which were being set up in the park beside the marina, but after dropping a small fortune on the Cedar Point tickets, I gave them the stink eye and said, ”Don`t even think about it. ”

We went for a walk around town and didn`t find much of interest, besides the Harbor North marina which was a big Hunter sailboat dealer with lots of nice big sailboats for sale.  We had the manager show us 38` and 41` Hunters which were very nice, especially the 41`, but considering how much more money we would need to put into it, we decide we are much better off saving our cash for a future catamaran purchase.

There was a huge line of food vendors setting up beside the carnival so we walked down the strip, scoping out the food we`d be sampling later.  As we were walking, Magnus said, “Daddy, what`s Wisconsin cheese crud?“

”I have no idea, where on earth did you see that?”

”It`s on a sign over there,” he said pointing.  I looked over to see a vendor with a sign in front saying Wisconsin Cheese Curd.

”It`s actually called cheese curd,” I replied, ”but I like it better your way.”

We wandered around for a while, then I finally relented and bought the kids some tickets to go on the super duper pirate ship bouncy castle, which they loved, until the tattooed carnie dude reached in and started yanking kids out at random telling them their time was up.  I didn’t get mad at him, if he’s working the carnival circuit at 40 he’s had enough shit in his life.

The people started to pile in and by evening it was jammed and the Alien Blues Band was rocking the amphitheatre with jacked up, rocking blues tunes.  All the boaters were on their boats and docks getting pleasantly, albeit slowly pissed on all the Bud Light and Coors Light they were drinking.  We went back up to the food vendors and ordered up some philly cheese steak sandwiches, whatever the hell that is, and gobbled them down.  We listened to the band for a while - the guitarist/lead vocalist was an absolute shredder, which made me wonder why I’d never heard of him.  He was probably wondering the same thing about me, so I guess that made us even.

We returned to the boat for a drink and waited for the fireworks, which started shortly after 10pm and were shot off a short distance away across the river.  I must say, they were amazing!  They went on for a very long time and were explosively loud, bright, varied and very colorful.
We went to bed shortly after that, thinking about how you never really know what to expect on boat vacation.

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 7

Day 7 – Cedar Point

The only twenty minute run you will ever do in a sailboat is either the trip from your slip over to the gas dock to get your holding tank contents pumped out....or to travel from Sandusky to Cedar Point.  It is about a two mile trip and when you have two wide eyed kids, chomping at you to get there, you max that throttle and haul rudder across the bay as fast as you can.  The marina at Cedar Point is massive, over 750 slips, and 80 of those which are reserved for transient boaters.  After getting checked in and buying our passes for the park, we motor over to our slip to find, as usual, that we are one of only a few boats in the transient section.  Of the 80 slips, we've never seen more than eight of them occupied.

Our day at Cedar Point was great, we spent the morning at the amusement park enjoying some rides then the afternoon at the adjoining water park, which is where you want to be with that hot afternoon sun.  Magnus was tall enough this year to go on any of the big boy rides, but one ride on the Sea Dragon with his head buried in my lap was enough proof that he wasn’t quite ready for the roller coasters.  Ana took the kids on the kiddie rides and exploring some of the shops when I went to hit a couple of the big rides.  I went on two roller coasters, one called Raptor and another one, new this year, called Gate Keeper, both of which were pretty good, but nothing compared to the Top Thrill Dragster which I went on the previous year with my brother Marty and nearly filled my shorts.

We returned to the boat at the end of the day to make dinner, wind down and figure out our plans for the following day.  As Ana and I were sitting below in the cabin, talking, we suddenly noticed a painful squeaking noise originating from....somewhere.  We looked inside the boat, but it wasn’t coming from there, so we went out in the cockpit, waited a few minutes, then our ears were again pierced with a ruthless squeak.  I hopped off the boat and onto the dock, inspecting all the metal fittings, connectors, bolts and pins I could find, but the squeak wasn’t happening anymore.  I jumped back on the boat, and seconds later SQUEEEEEEEEEEEK.  “Jesus Christ, what the hell is that?” I shouted.

“It has to be coming from the dock,” Ana said.

“But where?”

“I have no idea, get back on the dock and wiggle it around and I’ll try to see where it’s coming from”

I jumped back on the finger pier and started jumping up and down like a madman, trying to tease out a squeak, but with no luck.  So I hopped back on the side of the boat and rocked it violently, Slipknot style, determined to get a squeak.  Again, nothing.  I even went on the main dock and leaped from side to side, but it didn’t budge.  I just couldn’t get a squeak, until I went back in the cockpit, sat beside Ana and waited for the swaying boat and dock to quit moving.  Then, perfectly on cue, SQUEEEEEEEEEK.

“Arrgggg, make it stop!” I cringed.

“If it does that all night, there’s no way I’ll be able to sleep,” Ana said.

We went down below, put the slats up on the door, cranked up the music and enjoyed dinner, squeak free.  After this, we went for a walk down to the pool, listening to the wretched dock cruelly squeak at us as we left.  I was surprised to find a hot tub, which we hadn’t previously noticed, so I slid into there while Ana went down to the office to use their internet connection.  At 8:50, the lifeguard shuffled us out as the pool was closing for the day, so we walked back to the boat, endured a few more squeaks, then locked up Bella Blue for the night, put on some music, and slept right through the racket.

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 6

Day 6 – Middle Bass Island to Sandusky

We head out early as the forecast was calling for heavy winds later in the day.  We sailed to Sandusky, which took a little over two hours, and got a slip at one of our favourite marinas – the Sandusky Yacht Club.  It felt very strange being in a slip without Andrew’s boat Endeavour beside us as we’d jointly discovered this lovely location and had many a fun evening here.
The Sandusky Yacht Club has the best restaurant in the city and we happened to arrive on buffet Wednesdays so tied into a delicious, gigantic lunch which was followed up with a giant helping of their signature dessert dish – bread pudding.  You have never experienced bread pudding until you have tried the SYC version.

Once again, we had great timing as we noticed the skies outside darkening, wind whipping up and weather warnings appearing on the television.  We decided to do a quick run to the grocery store before it got really nasty, as we were running low on non meat consumables.  We got soaked running there, and a minute after we arrived to the store we heard warning sirens going off and a weather warning on the radio advising that a tornado warning had been issued for the Sandusky region.  The staff told us we better get back to shelter quickly so we did a ten minute speed shop, then bolted back through the streets, keeping our eyes peeled for funnel clouds.  All the talk of tornados had Stella terrified so she was bawling as we ran across the parking lot and finally into the safety of the yacht club.  We ordered some drinks and watched the weather channel which showed the tornado touching down east of Sandusky and causing all sorts of damage.  The winds had picked up to 80 mph so it was a very nasty, though fortunately, short lived storm.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on the boat with Ana taking full advantage of the laundry facilities and doing laundry runs back and forth while the rest of us spent the time relaxing, reading and playing games.   Evening was equally slow, we cooked a great dinner, watched a movie then crashed out hard for another uninterrupted boat sleep.

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 5

Day 5 – Put-in-Bay and Middle Bass Island

I woke up with a remarkably clear head, considering the quantities of Buzz Balls and tall boys consumed the previous evening.  Additionally, because of the overnight rains we had sealed up the boat tight, closing all hatches and plugging all holes, which always produces oxygen depleted environment, perfect for turning a six pack stinger into a 26 ounce pounder.  Seems that in life, sometimes you are just not meant to get a hangover, and I thanked the gods for that one.

The mission for the day was to get the ferry schedules figured out so that Chris and Melissa could make it back to Pelee Island in time to catch their Canada bound boat.  But before all that, we need a good solid brekkie so after showers we walked over to the best breakfast place on the strip and enjoyed a great meal and decent coffee.  It’s easy to find, just start walking down the main street and when you get to a place that doesn’t sell beer or knick-knacks you are there.

After breakfast, Melissa checked the ferries and bought the required tickets, leaving at 12:15, then we walked over to Perry’s Monument, which is a 350 foot tower built to commemorate the American’s defeat of the British in the Battle of Lake Erie in the year 1813.  The view from the top was okay, but you couldn’t see too far because of the haze hanging in the air, but we were at least able to see the whole of South Bass Island and at least part of the nearby islands.  As we walked around the observation deck, I couldn’t help thinking about some lunatic jumping up and over the concrete rail and plunging to his gory death.  Then I started thinking about us walking around at the bottom and one of us getting flattened by just such a suicidal maniac.  Then I started thinking that would be an excellent beginning for a horror novel.  Then I wondered why I hadn’t written a horror novel yet.  Funny how the mind makes these strange leaps.  I was soon distracted by a thread in my shirt tickling my neck, which got me back on track and away from that macabre train of thought.

We trotted over to the visitor’s centre, a place we’d somehow missed on the previous four visits here, and discovered an excellent exhibit on the Battle of Lake Erie, as well as a 15 minute movie on the battle, which was surprisingly well done.  By the end I was imagining myself as a low ranked sailor on the US Niagara, loading up a 30 pound cannon ball, suddenly and violently ripped to shreds by a deadly shower of wooden timber shards as an enemy projectile rips through the hull of my ship.  Man, what the hell did they put in those Buzz Balls to produce such gruesome thoughts?  Mental note – pick up a case before we leave.

Soon, we are waving goodbye to our friends and are sad to see them leave.  They were great guests to have aboard, not just because they brought a great deal of alcohol, but because they were carefree, eager to help, excited to learn and so great with the kids.  I sure hope they get married some day and have kids of their own, sometimes you just meet couples who you know would be the best parents in the world.

Shortly after they left on the ferry, we threw off the lines, went for a quick pump out, filled the tanks up with $90 worth of diesel and headed over to Middle Bass Island, a short 2 mile trip north of our current location.   We had visited there last year but really hadn’t explored much, so  we wanted to spend a day and have a better look around.

We went to the Middle Bass Yacht Club, got a slip, had some lunch, then rented a golf cart and began our whirlwind cruise around the island.  If Put-In-Bay and South Bass Island is Disneyland, and Pelee Island is like a beaten up teeter-totter in a forgotten playground, then Middle Bass Island would be something akin to the local shopping mall parking lot carnival.  Yes, there a few interesting things to see, such as “JR Walleyes”, “Hazard’s” and the giant lily pad swamp near the airport, but by far the highlight of the visit was the walk around Lonz Winery.  As dusk approached, we went for a walk over to the abandoned winery, counting a dozen bunnies along the way.  We explored the area for a while then headed west along the shoreline in search of some diving cliffs that the dockhand at the marina had told us about, which we never did find, but did discover a large population of fireflies, which kept the kids busy scurrying around in the long grass, catching dozens of them.  This particular species were large and very easy to catch.  As we rounded the corner of the island, mosquito hour had arrived and they began their attack, so we picked up the pace and headed down a heavily wooded path, which seemed to lead back to the marina.  Halfway through, I looked to my left to be rendered speechless by a vision of the enchanted forest.  Before me were thousands of fireflies, from the forest floor to the treetops, flashing their fires at random, creating a mystical, magical scene.  The rest of the family soon reached this spot and we all stood there for a few brief moments, entranced by the picture before us.   But soon the mozzie bites were too much to bear so we continued on and were soon back in the marina and in the boat.  We finished off the night by watching Cloud Atlas, whose storyline defies description, but suffice to say that, though it was watchable, it confirmed my belief that Tom Hanks and Halle Berry should probably move onto other careers.

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 4

Day 4 – Pelee Island to Put-in-Bay

We woke up to a stunningly beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky to be found, a nice steady wind, and an eager crew.  Before leaving the marina, we do a bit more snake hunting and fishing, while Ana and Melissa walk over to the Pelee Island Co-operative, located directly behind the marina, to try and find some more bandages for her hand.  I felt compelled to tell the group about my grandpa’s thoughts on the concept of the Co-op.  You see, Saskatchewan is the home of the Co-op and every small community in the province has one.  The typical Co-op is a general store that sells everything from hardware to groceries and my grandpa always says, “If the Co-op doesn’t sell it, you don’t need it.”  Turns out, she didn’t really need those bandages.

As we were preparing a bacon and egger breakfast on cafe Bella Blue, Magnus and Stella managed to catch a turtle, so we were summoned over to inspect the prisoner.  I took a couple pictures then put him back down on the dock, where he scurried away and plopped back into the water.  These marina waters were alive with creatures, from the plentiful snakes to turtles, giant carp, cranes, bass and sunfish.

After cleaning up, we threw off the lines and set sail for Put-in-Bay, with Captain Chris at the helm.  I was more than willing to hand the boat over to him and take on a passenger role for a change.  After giving Chris an overview of the boat and its controls, he took over and was a natural helmsman.  He and Melissa are keen to buy a sailboat so have been researching them and learning as much as possible.  As our course was directly upwind, he had to tack back and forth to make headway, but with a steady ten knot breeze, he kept up a great pace and provided a lovely sail, by far the best of the trip.  Ana and I sat together at the bow of the boat, with our feet dangling over, getting treated to a frequent, refreshing splash of cool water.  I’m pretty sure that’s the first time we’ve sat together on our boat while somebody else piloted and it was relaxing indeed.  Every time I looked back at Chris, he had a big smile on his face and was doing the thumbs up, definitely a natural sailor.  Melissa was stretched out on the deck, soaking up the vitamin D and bobbing her head to the great tunes playing over the stereo.  As we were slicing through the waves, feeling the sunshine, it occurred to me that it was Monday and the rest of the world was at work.  This broadened my smile.

After 15 miles of sailing we arrived at Put-in-Bay, located on South Bass island, which is the busiest of the Lake Erie islands and a little slice of the Caribbean right on our doorstop.  We walked over to the US Customs video phone and were cleared through after providing our passport information.  Chris and Melissa were astounded at the simplicity of the process, after being verbally accosted many times at the highway border crossings between Ontario and New York.

Our fine guests disappeared then returned with a six seater golf cart and we took off to explore the island.  The island is not very big so it takes less than an hour to explore most of the roads.  We made stops at the Perry Caves, Sand Bar, grocery store and the liquor store, where Chris procured us four Buzz Balls, which he grabbed from a big tank of ice cold water.  The guy working the cash register said, “You guys ever had these before?”

We replied, “No”.

“Well,” he said, “be careful.  The first one will go down okay, but after that watch out.  These four are enough to keep you going all night.”

Sounds like a party.  Chris distributed a Buzz Ball to each of us.  On closer inspection of the package I found they were 20% alcohol, which would explain the “Buzz” part of the name.  Ana nearly spit her first mouthful out so she handed hers over to me which I dutifully drank, then finished off my own and was well on my way to a state of intoxication.  We drove the cart back and Chris and I got settled in the gazebo, which was on the dock beside the boat, while the kids and ladies walked back to town to do some retailing.  Before long, the skies darkened and it turned from a sunny, beautiful day into a fierce downpour, so we hustled back into the boat, grabbed some talls boys from the cooler and continued our conversation.  The rest of the gang soon arrived, soaked from head to toe, but looking quite happy with their purchases.

We cooked up a great chicken dinner and spent the rest of the evening in crazy conversation, Pictionary and making all sorts of obscene references to Buzz Balls.  We tried talking Chris and Melissa into going out to experience the Put-In-Bay nightlife, but they were content hanging out with the family.  Or they may have climbed out the front hatch after we went to sleep and did some family-free clubbing.  If so, they hid it well the next day!

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 3

Day 3 – Erieau to Pelee Island

Shortly after 4 am we left the dock and were on the lake, headed for Pelee Island, roughly 55 miles south west of us with a strong south west wind directly in our face.  It was a very rough ride but Bella Blue did well slicing through the wind and crashing over the steep waves.  Sadly, the crew didn’t do quite as well as both Ana and Magnus were immediately sea sick and spent the entire ride laying down, trying to keep their insides inside.  Magnus did have a brief vomiting episode but did feel much better afterwards and went back to eating his toasted bagel as if nothing had happened.  Stella was fine the whole way through, just a little bored with the long ride.

Around 12:30 or 1:00 we arrived at Scudder Marina, located on the north end of Pelee Island.  This island is home to Canada’s southernmost point.....and not much else.  As we would soon discover, compared to the US islands only a few miles to the south, Pelee Island leaves much to be desired.

We had been in touch with Melissa and Chris via text messages along the way and they arrived by ferry to the west side of the island around noon and planned to hike the six miles up to the marina where we would meet.  So after our arrival we went for a short walk around the docks and found an impressive population of Lake Erie water snakes living on and amongst the rocks.  Some were as large as six feet long, while others were less than a foot, so not sure if they were different species or just a momma and baby thing.  Magnus has always been terrified of snakes, so I was surprised when he was keen to get a closer look at them.  Stella, him and I crawled around on the rocks to have a good look and snapped a few photos.  As we were poking around, Melissa and Chris appeared on the horizon, lugging backpacks and sweat stained from pits to ankles as the day had become very warm indeed.  We guided them over to the boat where they got their stuff unpacked into the v-berth which would be their home for the next couple nights.  I was overjoyed to see Chris whip out a couple dozen tall boys of various varieties and we found a suitable place for them in the cooler.  I had kept my beer supply to the absolute minimum in anticipation of picking up some cheap US suds, and there was barely any left so this was a welcome addition to the supply.

After a couple drinks we went for a walk to find the bakery which, we were told, was a mile down the road.  Along the way we encountered some beautiful little lakeside cottages, some of which had their own secluded beach areas and decks overlooking the bay.  We found the bakery, ordered up some fresh bread and snacks, and our guests bought the kids two bags of those little flavour-packed jelly beans, which became the fuel for an extended game of “close your eyes, open your mouth, chew the jelly bean I toss in there and guess what colour it is.”  Nobody was particularly good at it, though I think Ana got the most right.  They all tasted like lime to me.

We slowly wandered back to the boat, along the way passing a school, in front of which was a big sign saying, “Warning - No Hunting - School Zone ”, making us wonder why you would need to remind people it’s not a good idea to sqeeze  off rounds in a schoolyard.  As we returned to the dock, we found it so hot and muggy that we took the boat out to the  middle of the bay, cut the engines, and jumped in for a cool, refreshing swim that actually turned into more of a community bath after Ana brought the bath gel up.  Sadly, Melissa wasn’t able to partake, as the day before leaving on their trip she had broken a coffee carafe while washing it and sustained nasty and deep cuts on three of her fingers.

After returning to the dock I got the grill fired up and barbequed steaks and Portuguese chorizo for dinner.  Despite the full bellies, we manage to stay up for a while chatting but eventually we pack it in and hit the beds, all of us exhausted after a very full day.

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 2

Day 2 – Erieau

The rest of the sail went by without problems and by midday we were closing in on Erieau.  After the single floating sailboat we did not see another vessel during the passage, but now the lake was alive with action as there were fishing boats everywhere, in fact Stella and I counted 23 of them.  We also spotted some fishing net markers directly in our path, and attempted to go around there, but after a mile and a half, with no end of the markers in sight, we decided to cut across them and fortunately did not get anything tangled in our keel or rudder.

We arrived to a clean, well organized, well marked marina and within minutes we were in our slip, registered and being taken on a guided tour of the marina by Cathy the manager.  Erieau is one of these special places that nobody knows about.  The town itself is small and located on a peninsula between Rondeau Bay and the lake, and the nearest city of any size is Chatham, another place that few people know much about.

The kids and Ana immediately put on their suits and were in the swimming pool, while I decided to go for a walk and enjoy a nice Cuban cigar.  After a long, successful sail it is good to treat yourself, no?  I wandered around, found the beach, which was gigantic, nearly void of people and very inviting.  I went for a nice walk along the shoreline then cut back into town and snapped a photo of what I can only describe as the perfect marine trifecta - welcome to the Erieau Marine store/Liquor store/Beer store, one stop shopping for boaters.  And less than a block away was a convenience store where you could pick up a pack of hot dogs and buns, so there truly was everything a boater could possibly need for supplies.

After that lovely cigar, I went for a dip with the kids, then did some dock walking and saw hundreds of fish and some big turtles, as well as a few baby turtles which Stella was absolutely smitten with.  Ana soon joined us and we did another tour of the town, stopping for ice creams at the convenience store, then the curio shop, which I refused to enter as those places tend to trigger a knick-knack attack for me.  That’s the feeling that your house or boat is about to be buried in a nonsensical heap of crystal figurines, ceramic elephants, aprons embroidered with “Please kiss the cook”, collapsible back scratchers, carved Indian heads, Sea Monkeys and, if things go really bad, a Slap Chop that will forever take up valuable, limited cupboard space and never get used.

We decided to go for an early dinner so settled in at a newly opened brew pub/restaurant, called the Bayside Brewing Company.  After admiring the gleaming new bronze beer vats, we were led to an enormous fifteen person table on the deck overlooking the bay.  The beer came in two varieties, regular and light, and in cups, pints, mini pitchers and full pitchers.  I floated the idea of splitting a pitcher, which Ana declined, so I ordered a pint.  That pint tasted so good I ordered another one, which we shared since Ana liked it too.  For dinner, I had a gourmet perch sandwich, strangely served in two toasted hot dog buns, but was delicious.  The owner came by at the end of our meal to ask how everything was and told us that they have been very busy thus far this season, with people traveling from a wide area to visit the restaurant, which did not surprise me much at all.

After our meal, we walked over to experience the marina/liquor/beer store (man, I love typing that!).  The marine store was extremely well stocked so I picked up a few spare boat parts, but was stopped in my tracks by Ana when I started eyeing up the equally well stocked beer fridges.  Yes, I knew cheap US brews were only a couple days away, but still....

Outside the store there were a few fishermen cleaning their catch, which consisted of a dozen huge walleyes and rainbow trout, obviously all those boats were out there for good reason.  The well built clean station was right alongside the lake, and in the lake sat a dozen hungry turtles, snapping up the fish bits that were thrown out to them.  What the turtles didn’t grab, the hundreds of fish beneath them did, providing for a very well fed population of creatures.

We returned to the boat and somehow managed to get through half a movie before passing out. 

2013 Lake Erie Sailing Trip - Day 1

Day 1 – Port Dover to Middle of Lake Erie

The annual Lake Erie boat trip is finally here, but this year will be different as our ever present companion Andrew Holmes has moved to Kingston and will not be joining us.  Our plans for this trip have changed several times, at one point we were planning on exploring the east side of the lake and a portion of the Erie Canal but we decided to once again hit the west side of the lake and venture into some areas we have not yet seen, but also return to a few of our favourite places.  Our friends Cesar and Kathleen were planning to sail with us in their boat for the first couple legs of the journey, but at the last minute decided to hold off and leave a bit later than us.

Our “final” plan was to leave Port Dover Friday evening, do a 110 mile overnight run to the town of Erieau, then the following day make a 55 mile run to Pelee Island, where our friends Chris and Melissa (the daughter of Cesar) would be joining us to spend a couple days on the boat exploring the islands.

By 7 pm the boat was loaded, diesel tank was filled, holding tank emptied and Port Dover was in our rear view mirror.  It is always exciting leaving harbour on a big trip as you really do not know what awaits you out there in that big lake.  And yes, Lake Erie is a very big lake, approximately 250 miles long by 40 to 60 miles wide, and known for its violent and rapidly changing sea conditions when storms blow in.  So we do not take this trip lightly, we pay close attention to the weather forecast and avoid sailing when bad weather is eminent.  Though it was a wet and windy day, the evening and overnight forecast looked pretty good with favourable winds.

By dusk we had made it out to Long Point, at which point we turned west and pointed the boat into the blackness in the direction of Erieau.  Night sailing is an amazing experience and is much different than sailing during the day, and things often are not what they appear to be, as we would learn once again.  Shortly after rounding the point, we could see what appeared to be a lighthouse ahead, very far off in the distance.  I checked the chart and Erieau did indeed have a lighthouse with a flashing light that matched what we were seeing, except that it was 75 miles away.  We looked back at the lighthouse on Long Point, which was five miles back, and blindingly bright, and decided that the light we were seeing must be from Erieau.  So we sailed on, headed toward the lighthouse, which would make our navigation dead simple.

I went down below to grab a couple hours sleep and gave Ana the helm.  As I was getting ready for bed, Ana called me up and said the light was moving, so I quickly returned to the cockpit in time to see a sailboat ahead of us and maybe 50 metres off our starboard side.  The boat was bobbing around in the middle of the lake with a single anchor light on, close to nothing and right in our path.  We listened to the radio for any calls from the boat but there was nothing, so we don’t know if they were perhaps asleep at anchor, or had boat trouble or perhaps something else.  But yet again, we were fooled by the lights on the lake and completely misinterpreted what was actually there.  We were very lucky to avoid a collision and can add this to the “lessons learned” section on our sailing resume.

As midnight arrived, we continued our course westward, sliding through the blackness and paying close attention to the lights.