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.