Thursday, July 28, 2016

Saturday, July 23rd – Exploring our backyard

Stella and I started our day early at 12:45 am. We sent Ana and Magnus to bed for some well-deserved rest and then spent a long time together out there in the dark looking at constellations, talking, and scanning the horizon for boat lights. Stella is so inquisitive, always asking questions, always wanting to know how things work, and is never short on words. Usually the night watch is a quiet, contemplative affair, but with Stella it was a never-ending conversation. She eventually got tired and jumped back into bed, and just minutes after that Ana joined me in the cockpit with a blanket and pillow as she wasn’t able to sleep well in the vberth. After Ana fell asleep I grabbed the laptop and caught up on several days’ worth of journals as the wind pushed us closer and closer to Long Point. I soon got tired of writing so just kept watch for a few hours, probably dozing off a bit here and there, but didn’t see a single boat besides a big freighter far in the distance moving up the US coastline. We eventually creeped up on Long Point and slowly rounded it, turning north for the direct run to Port Dover. The wind slipped in strength and was soon completely gone so I wound up the sails and let the motor power us all the way back to Dover, arriving in the marina at 7am, making it a 21 hour trip from Loraine. When we were 30 seconds from our slip Stella’s head popped up from down below and as she was having a wide look around a huge smile stretched over her face, obviously happy to be home. We had a flawless docking (felt like the first of the trip), reported in by phone to customs and were all cleared and officially back in Canada. The best part was that it was only Saturday morning so we still had the weekend ahead of us

I immediately went to bed while Ana and the kids went for a drive into Port Dover. Four hours later I was up, groggy as hell, but awake. Most of our friends were out on the lake as it was another scorcher, but we'd had enough of the boat for a while so instead we jumped in the van and went for a drive with no particular destination in mind. That's the beauty of living in south-western Ontario; there so damn much stuff to see and do that you can just get in your vehicle, start driving and you are bound to find something cool every time. We took the lakeshore road all the way to Port Rowan, a town we've never really explored, and were happy we did because we found some groovy little shops, including a Thousand Villages, an old fashioned candy shop, a menswear store with great deals and probably the best antique store we've ever been to. Along the way we stopped at two wineries and a great unmanned roadside vegetable stall where the farmer simply puts out his produce and a price list and you take what veggies you want and put your money in a box. Yes, the honour system still lives in some places. So we loaded up on corn, berries and new potatoes for dinner.

We returned to the boat just in time to notice a strange electrical smell that I first thought was coming from the diesel engine after all the hard work it did last night, but then realized it was coming from the shore power outlet.  The cord was extremely hot so I pulled out and found that the end had melted and so had the housing inside the electrical outlet on the boat itself. I suspect a loose connection had caused the problem, as we'd had issues with this plug in the past, so I had actually bought a replacement, but just hadn't installed it yet. So I got to work digging out all the burnt components while Ana started dinner. Our friends Geoff, Sherry and their gorgeous baby girl Victoria stopped by for a visit so I had Geoff help me troubleshoot the electrical issue while the ladies kept watch on Victoria doing laps around the cockpit. Shortly before the meal we got a call from Tony and Angela saying they were stopping by in their boat for a drink. We helped them get docked, ate a quick meal, and then returned to their boat for happy hour. We left the whole dinner mess for the kids to clean up, as sort of a challenge, but hey, we'd been cooking and cleaning all week so it was definitely their turn.

Tony and Angela had their friends John and Caroline with them and were on their way back from having dinner at Hoover's Marina – about 7 miles east of Port Dover. We call this the home of the "hundred dollar hamburger" because by the time you power up your boat and crank up those twin 350's to get you there for lunch, you've already burned a hundred bucks in gas. We were halfway through our first beer when a dude pulled up in a Sea Doo and kicked us out of his slip, which we thought was empty. So they moved the boat to an empty slip on the next dock over, right beside our buddy Jimmy. Remember that old Kim Mitchell song "I Am a Wild Party"? Well that song was written about Jimmy after he took Kim out to the Norfolk Tavern one night back in 1989. Kim woke up the next morning face down on the beach with two black eyes, a tattoo of Speedy Gonzales on his ass, a broken toe and was wearing only a ladies bra and one sock. The first thing he saw with his one eye that could open was Jimmy sitting on the deck of the beachside restaurant drinking a vodka martini, giving him an eighteen tooth smile and a rousing thumbs up. Kim thought to himself, man that guy is a wild party and the rest is history.

We visited for two beers and then Tony and gang took off, probably scared of what would happen if they stayed too long next to the Wild Party. We wandered back to our boat and found that our children had washed all the dishes and put them away, wrapped up the leftovers, washed the table and hung up the dish towels. That bought them a whole lot of parental goodwill, I can assure you of that.

It was now fully dark outside and there was plenty of noise coming from dock two so we went over to join the Doerr boys and friends for a couple of Yeti-cold beers and told them all about our sailing trip and heard of their nice day on the water at Turkey Point. After an hour or so I went back to the boat to grab a drink and noticed Ana's phone flashing so I looked at it and saw a message from Angela saying they had experience a double engine failure and were being towed back in by the Coast Guard! We ran back over to the slip they were in beside Jimmy just as they were arriving. Jimmy, his girl Kristi and his buddy Steve were there doing shots out of a gallon jug of Jack Daniels and had the country music blaring, but they put the party on hold to help get the disabled vessel docked. We got Tony's boat tied up and then offered him the keys to our shit hot mini-van to get them back to their cabin at Turkey Point. Now I knew that Tony had never driven such a sexy vehicle with so much raw power and intense masculinity, so I had to give him a detailed briefing on how to best handle our sweet ride.

So we said goodbye to the Henriques for the third time this week (it doesn't get any easier), had a final drink with the remnants of the partiers on dock two and returned to the boat for a very good night's sleep.

And thus ends the Olson summer sailing trip for 2016.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Friday, July 22nd – The ride home

Because there was a big lightning storm predicted for last night we abandoned our original plan of leaving at 3am and sailing to Ashtabula, Ohio. Instead we slept right through the storm and woke up at a lazy 8am to overcast skies and the remaining winds from the storms which had passed. I checked the radar and the storm system had moved eastwards and there were no further incoming systems of any concern. So we decided to take advantage of the favourable conditions and make the long run back to Dover.

I went for a walk while the rest of the gang was getting ready. I strolled out to the end of the promenade that ran all the way through the marina to the outer break wall. I had a look at the water and I couldn’t see any whitecaps or dark clouds to the west. While I was out there I scared up a small duck family – a mom and a dad and a single tiny duckling that must have just recently been born. They all took off swimming but soon the baby duck took a right when his parents took a left and he went off on his own out into the middle of the bay. I watched for quite a while as the parents made their way across the water, either not realizing the baby wasn’t with them, or not too worried about it. Eventually I lost track of the duckling but I walked back on the promenade and over another concrete path build on top of one of the break walls towards where the parent ducks had swum to. By the time I got to the end and caught up to the parents, that little duckling had already arrived and was swimming around in the vicinity of his parents. I think there was some sort of deep lesson to be learned on parenting, but I was just happy the little duckling made it back to his folks.

It was about 10 when we threw off the lines and pulled away, or at least tried to, but one of the fenders got stuck on the dock and stretched it to the limit while the stern of the boat was propelled out and we nearly smashed into the boat docked beside us. Something finally gave, not sure it if was the fender, the rope or the dock, but we popped out and motored quickly away, hoping nobody saw amateur hour on the dock. We coasted into the fuel dock and the attendant lashed down the front line too quickly which again forced our stern out and smashed the front of the boat into the dock, this time much harder. What the hell is this, bumper boats?? We did a fast fill up and pump out and got the hell out of there before we caused any more damage to the facility and, more importantly, our boat. Once in the open waters we set the sails and programmed the route into the autopilot, which would take us right up the middle of Lake Erie to Long Point where we’d make a turn north and head straight into Dover.  The southeast wind was quite strong at first, but then died down as the day heated up.

I got the grill out at lunchtime and cooked up hot dogs, which we topped up with the leftover chili from the night before- Lake Erie Chili Dogs! After eating we stopped the boat and jumped in for a swim (and bath for some of us) to cool off. Though the water was a balmy 27 degrees, it was still cool and refreshing and a much needed break from the heat.

We sailed on, and on and mid-afternoon I experienced a perfect sailing moment. We had a strong, steady south-west wind pushing us along rapidly and smoothly. Magnus was laying in the shade of the cockpit having a stellar afternoon nap. Stella was down below in the vberth reading a book and relaxing. Ana was up on deck at the bow lying on a comfy chair enjoying the sun and alternating between reading a book and napping. I was sitting on the deck, near Ana, with my feet dangling over the edge catching a splash of water every once in a while when the boat dug into a big wave. The sky was clear, there was no land in sight, no boats anywhere and we had the entire lake to ourselves. When moments like this come along, I always stop, breathe them in and try to capture a mental picture of that exact point in time that will stay with me forever. We are so fortunate.

The rest of the day passed by not quickly, but not slowly, and after a delicious pasta dinner Stella and I headed to the vberth to catch a nap while Ana and Magnus took the first shift. The kids were determined to do some night sailing, as they were just too tired to participate the first day. Sometime after midnight Magnus woke us up, announcing it was time for our shift. Stella shot out of bed like a Mexican jumping bean and was in the cockpit with her mom before I was even able to rub the sleep out of my eyes. And it was now Saturday.

Thursday, July 21st – Loraine, Ohio

We left Kelleys at a leisurely 9:30 and had a beautiful 27.5 mile sail to the town of Loraine, Ohio. This is a town we’ve passed by many times in the past but have never stopped at, mainly because there are marinas to the east and west of it that we really love but also because several people in the past have told us there’s not much of interest to see there. Not liking to leave stones unturned, we were happy to finally get to see Loraine. We pulled into a gigantic marina and navigated gingerly to our assigned slip. There was a man there who helped us to dock the boat, and gave us a warning to watch the boards of the finger pier as they were getting a bit rotten and he had actually fallen right through his dock a couple of weeks before.
We checked in at the marina office and the two staff members were very helpful and friendly. The younger of them gave us directions how to get downtown, but did warn us there wasn’t much to see and that the nicest building down there was the police station. We learned that Loraine used to be a big ship building center, making it a prosperous and busy city, but that industry had shut down many years ago. To make things worse, the other big employer in town was US Steel but they had just recently shuttered the steel plant, putting hundreds of people out of work. This is a common theme we find as we travel the US side of Lake Erie and it illustrates so perfectly the creation/destruction cycles of capitalism. When things are good, they are very good, but at some point there is a shock in the market and things turn bad in a hurry. But it’s not usually long before those capitalist seeds are again planted in the hopes that they will flourish into something beautiful.
We did the hot walk (it must have been close to 35 degrees outside) downtown and found an absolute ruin. Perhaps only every third building was occupied, and many of these were artist studios. Many of the buildings themselves were magnificent and reminiscent of prosperous days gone by. There was an antique store open so we went inside to enjoy the air conditioned air and to have a look around. Their specialty seemed to be WW2 government propaganda signs as they were plastered all over the walls. The music being piped in was dreadful – it sounded like the soundtrack to Coronation Street played over ancient gramophone and it kept looping, and looping. From there we continued a block or two and found a coffee shop where we stopped for a cold drink, and Stella tasted her first cherry Coke. Yeah, that stuff is dreadful - one sip is about all you can take. Even Magnus found it to be too sweet, and that’s saying something.
We did a full circuit of downtown and then retraced our steps back over the bridge, along the way discussing how this town was probably ripe for redevelopment and could well be a thriving city once again if the right municipal policies and economic environment were in place. But for now, that downtown was a dead duck.
We walked to the sister marina of the one we were staying at (in search of the pool), and along the way found a lovely waterside neighbourhood with recently develop condos, plenty of green space, and a sign saying that three bedroom units were available for under $150k. We had a nice dip in the pool that was welcome after our sweaty, hot walk. We sat in the deck chairs for a while, dozed off, and then shook off the sleepies and walked back to our marina. By this time poor Stella was really dragging her paws and she announced to the family that she was feeling bummed out. Ana spun the lid of the water bottle she was carrying and blasted Stella (and me) with lukewarm water in a jovial attempt to shake the funk off. Stella didn’t see it that way. She burst into tears and had a mini-meltdown. So I took the water bottle and gave Magnus a blast in the face which turned her cries into laughter and she was okay after that.
Back at the boat the dockside breaker had tripped, so with the AC dead it had rocketed up to a nuclear 97 degrees in the cabin, but thankfully the fridges work on DC and the Yeti had plenty of ice so at least we could have cold drinks. I got the bbq fired up and slapped down some greasylicious burgers. As I was moving back and forth from the cabin to the cockpit I smashed my toe full force into one of the door panels and produced a shattered toenail worthy of the London Tate Modern Art Gallery. For the past few months my toenail had been slowly releasing itself from my toe. Ana said it was probably some sort of nail fungus, but I think the nail was just worn out. The obliteration was perfect and cut the nail right back to the skin, leaving two artistic fragments hanging, triumphantly. After the kids and I admired it for a while, I let them rip the pieces off and swordfight with them. Immediately after this the kids got the blue and pink clothespins out and clamped them to every fold of loose flesh on their faces – nose, ears and lips obviously but also eyelids, jowls and foreheads. You can have a lot of fun on a boat if you use your imagination.

Wednesday, July 20th – Water snake bay and Kelleys Island

By the time I woke up (which I think was only 7:30) Ana was already showered, dressed and plucked. Tony too was up and outside the boat enjoying the hot, calm morning. My first job was to get some coffees rocking and then I moved onto breakfast. In Sandusky I had picked up a tube of that fantastically unhealthy American pork sausage that they use to make the biscuits and gravy so I slabbed that baby up and threw the discs into the frying pan. Angela still hadn't emerged from the aft cabin, but after consulting with my wife I said, "Tony, you may think your wife is sleeping but Ana was picking up some Instragram activity so I think she's up!" She appeared shortly after that, laughing.
Ana and Angela fixed up the picnic table under the gazebo beside our boat with all the breakfast stuff and we enjoyed a hearty meal while enjoying the views and having a great chat. After this we went snake hunting as the dock walls are a favourite hang out for the Lake Erie water snake, and we managed to spot two of them, thanks to Stella who has a keen eye for snakes. Now Magnus did not participate in the snake hunt because he is deathly afraid of serpents, and has been since he was a baby. I've always wondered if it's because of that time I put a garter snake in the crib with him for a joke and it crawled all over his face.  Looking back, maybe that wasn't such a great idea.
After we were all showered we threw off the dock lines, said good-bye to Put-in-Bay and set sail for Rattlesnake Island, which was located only a few miles west. We weren't sure what was there, as we had never been close to it before, but as we approached we realized it was a private island complete with private houses, a private marina and dock and some very large boats. Not wanting to get shot for trespassing, we turned north and sailed up to Middle Bass Island, finding a lovely anchorage in a small bay on the north-west side of the island. We tossed the anchor, tossed in the Hydro Force Marine Pro supersonic dingy, tossed ourselves in the water, and then tossed back a beer. Actually Tony did not toss back a beer as he had to fly their airplane home later that day, and prefers to pound half a bottle of tequila before he flies to get that intense drunk on instead of the sleepy beer feeling. It makes him a much better pilot.
We lobbied hard but just could not convince Magnus to join us for a swim, even though everybody else was in the warm water, enjoying floating around on pool noodles or leaping off the boat. I said, "Magnus, there are no snakes in this water. It's way too far from shore and the snakes never come out this far."
"I don't care," he said, "I'm not going in."
"Well, your loss. The water is absolutely beautiful and snake free"
Shortly after saying this, I was floating on a noodle with a scrubbie brush cleaning off the waterline of the boat when Stella pointed out across the water and said, "What's that?"
Tony replied, "It's a snake.  But keep quiet and don't say anything unless it gets close to the ladies"
So we watched this big snake swimming through the water with his head straight up navigating his way right across the lake to the nearby island. Shows what I know about Lake Erie water snakes. Fortunately neither the ladies nor Magnus noticed the snake, so there was no panic, although later in the day I think Magnus got wind of it because he asked Stella if there had been a snake in the water. She lied and said no, what a good girl.
After our delicious swim we put the sails up and had a slow, easygoing cruse eastwards to Kelleys Island, propelled by a steady 6 knot wind. But since we weren't in a rush…there was no rush and we arrived at the Portside Marina a few hours later. Kelleys Island is larger than Put-in-Bay but has much less tourism and is a slow, friendly, easy-going place. We rented two golf carts and set out for a rapid island tour. By this time the temperature had really skyrocketed so the breeze created by the roving golf cart felt great. We drove to the State park and got out to have a look at the beach and then continued on driving though some nicely shaded country roads until we found the Kelleys Island Brewery – that's worth a stop.
We ripped back to the golf cart rental place after enjoying a quick drink and then walked over to our favourite restaurant on the island, called the Island House, for an early dinner so that Tony and Angela could catch the 18:10 ferry back to Put-in-Bay. As expected, the meal was excellent and reasonably priced too.  They even served PBR tall cans for $2 – PBR being "Pabst Blue Ribbon", an outstandingly mediocre American lager, so I just had to try one of those.
By then it was time to get the Henriques to the ferry so we walked the two blocks to the ferry dock, said our goodbyes and waved them off. I had been hoping we'd be able to sail them back to Put-in-Bay and paddle them to the airport shoreline in our dingy (as that's something we're yet to do…) but we simply ran out of time, so we left it up to the Henriques to figure out how to get to the airport from the ferry dock. We would learn later that Angela had her very fist hitchhiking experience as they thumbed up a golf cart ride to their airplane!
We sent the kids off to play mini-golf and returned to the boat salon for an after dinner chill out. When the kids returned Ana and Magnus walked back up to town to check out a few shops while Stella and I went snake hunting on the docks. Both teams scored. Stella and I spotted one snake while Magnus returned, beaming, with a switch-comb. His hair is going to look so nice.
By then we were all wiped after all the sun and swimming so we watched a spot of tv and crashed hard, putting the wraps on another fantastic day in the islands.