Tuesday, July 21, 2015

North Channel 2015 - Sarnia to the Middle of Lake Huron

We rise at 4am, brew coffee, untie the lines and set off for the first leg of our adventure.  Outside it is warm, still, humid.  We quietly slip out of the marina like burglars and are soon beneath the Bluewater Bridge under full engine power battling our way against the relentless 4 knot current.  Bella Blue makes slow progress but eventually pushes through into the wide open lake where I then pointed her directly towards Tobermory and set the autopilot, which will steer us all the way there.  Ana grabs a blanket and falls asleep in the cockpit while I keep watch, enjoy my coffee and wait for dawn to break.
With the dawn comes a thick fog, and soon I can see no further than a quarter mile.  This is an especially dangerous situation for a boat, especially when you do not have a radar system that can detect approaching vessels.  Fortunately I still have a cell phone signal so I look on marinetraffic.com to see if there are any nearby freighters.  This website is quite incredible as it shows the location, speed, heading and much more information for commercial vessels outfitted with an AIS transmitter, which is a global standard marine signaling system that broadcasts and receives vessel information.  I see there is a large freighter coming at me, but he is still a long ways off so at least I don’t have any big ships to worry about; just the little ones which don’t often have AIS equipment.  An hour later I do indeed find myself on a collision course with this freighter, and he hoots his high volume horn to suggest I alter my course before he pounds us into little fibreglass chunklets.
As the morning sun heats up it burns off the fog and the visibility improves considerably.  The wind has died completely and the lake is a sheet of glass.  By now the kids are up so we have a breakfast of cereal, toast and fruit and settle in for the long ride.  At 10 am we have already been on the water for 6 hours so we stop the boat, strip down and have the morning bath, which has become almost a ritual during these trips.  Lake Huron is a big, deep, cold lake and the surface water temperature is only 18 degrees, but what a way to wake you up in the morning!  After watching Magnus and I jump in and suffer instant cold water paralysis, the ladies decide to skip the morning bath and come to terms with their grime.  Since our nerves are frozen and we are feeling no pain, I grab two masks from the cockpit lazarette and ask Stella to fetch us some pennies, as we want to check the water visibility.  The water in Lake Huron is the deep blue colour of the cleanest ocean water, unlike any fresh water lake I have ever seen.  Magnus and I float on top of the water and let the pennies drop and watch them flutter down at least fifty feet, then lose track of them.  It seems almost impossible that the water can be this clear.
We are now back on autopilot, enjoying the beautiful day, but not enjoying the dozens of flies who have decided to hitch a free ride on our boat up to the North Channel.  Ana and I take turns beating them to death with the Portuguese basura (miniature, multi-purpose corn broom, see http://blog.lifeisgrand.org/2013/07/2013-lake-erie-sailing-trip-day-13.html for a elaborate description of these versatile tools), but it seems that as soon as you kill one, two more land on the same spot.  But since I really have nothing else to do, I spend two hours killing flies and make quite a sport of it.
At around 2 pm Ana notices the skies to the west darkening so we put the boat into lock down mode and just barely get everything secured before we are hit with a squall.  The high winds and heavy rain lasts less than 3o minutes, and soon the system passes by us.  It’s always a little scary when you watch a storm bearing down on you knowing you are in the middle of a giant lake and have absolutely nowhere to go to escape it.  There were a few lightning flashes in the storm, so sitting in the belly of an enormous lightning rod brings with it a certain level of anxiety.  I am very glad when it passes.
The time somehow goes quickly, and soon it is already dusk and Ana takes photos of the gorgeous sunset.  A giant trimaran sailboat (triple hull, very fast) passes by in the distance, which is only the fourth boat we’ve seen all day, the rest being large freighters. The kids are busy reading, playing games and drawing and throughout the day each of us has taken the opportunity for a nap so we are all feeling pretty good.  I heat up the chili that Ana prepared earlier this week and we enjoy a delicious boat supper.  I think every sort of food tastes twice as good when consumed while sailing.
Darkness falls and we discover it is a moonless night, granting the stars their chance to really shine.  If you can get past the horror of being in the middle of a freshwater sea, in pure darkness, with nowhere to turn to for help and nobody to count on except yourself, then sailing at night is the most peaceful  activity you can imagine.  It is actually easier to see other boats at night than during the day (as long as they are lighted properly) and you can spot an oncoming vessel when it is many miles away.  After a while the sky clouds over and we are left in complete and utter blackness, which still sort of creeps me out a bit, even though we’ve done it dozens of times.
As midnight approaches, so does the end of day one of our journey.  Magnus is sleeping soundly on the converted dinette, knocked out from the seasickness pill he took after the rolling waves started making him nauseous.  Ana is snuggled up with Stella in the v-berth.  I sit with my pc typing these very words, and pop my head out of the cabin every ten minutes to scan the horizon for lights.  I will stay awake as long as I can, but when I start to fade I will wake up my partner for her night shift.  By morning, we will be in Tobermory.  But for now, we are at 44° 38’ 72” N  81° 54’ 60” W

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