Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Lake Erie - The Ride Home

At exactly 6 am Bella Blue leaves the dock on her way home to Port Dover. The marina is quiet, with many boaters sleeping off the excesses of last night. The air is humid, muggy, and saturated with strong lake smells – fish, birds, weeds, and muck. Ana helps me to get launched and underway and then she goes back to sleep for a while. I take Bella Blue out into the open lake and find a glassy surface with not a breath of wind, which has become a bit of a trend on this trip. The only fantastic sailing we had was the first day with my dad and brothers when we sailed from Port Dover to Port Colborne – the reverse route of today.

I lock in the auto pilot and sit back to survey the view. On the lake are dozens of small fishing boats and also many marked fishing nets to be avoided so as to not foul the sailboat’s prop…or the net. I can see a giant lake freighter far out in the lake, headed toward the Welland Canal. Wind turbines are scattered along the shoreline as far as the eye can see. Only a few years ago there was just a handful of these, and a few years before that there were none, but they have multiplied like forest bunnies. Some people do not like this change, but I wish there were ten times as many of these clean power generators on the lake, and it could easily handle that.

And…the bugs. I know I am back on Lake Erie because the boat is covered in bugs. I went into great detail on the Lake Erie bug ecosystem in a previous post, so let’s just say that all of my little friends are back today. We didn’t seem to get much bug action on Lake Ontario or in the Thousand Islands, besides the ravenous mozzies that came out for an hour at dusk, but at least they didn’t kamikaze themselves onto the boat and make a huge mess.

Once everybody is up, and there are no longer any boats in sight, I let Bella Blue glide to a halt and we go for a morning bath and swim. There is simply nothing more invigorating than whipping off your clothes and having a refreshing and chilly morning bath in a Great Lake. Any Great Lake will do. It’s especially satisfying when you have a hundred bugs mashed into your hair.

Cabin Fever roars past us around 10 am on their way back to their home base of Turkey Point. I switch to channel 14 and give a giant “Oh Yeah!” which is a rallying cry the Henriques invented years ago, but there’s no reply so I give him one on text instead which is instantly returned. We continue with our slower pace of 7 knots and inch ever closer to Port Dover.

As the sun heats up, Ana and I grab drinks and sit on the front of Bella Blue while the kids remain down below reading, and the auto pilot guides us home, straight and true. Despite being on vacation for two weeks, Ana and I haven’t had that much time alone together, but now we finally do, and it’s a nice way to finish up the trip. We’ve both loved traveling with Cabin Fever – the morning swims, the amazing meals we shared, happy hours on the upper deck, route planning, exploring new towns, joining forces in fixing boat problems, getting through the Welland Canal, and so many laughs along the way. It is not easy finding people you can travel with, so we feel extremely fortunate. We are sad that our friends Andrew and Victoria we not able to join us out on the lake (major problems at work), especially since they helped us out so much with the logistics of this trip.

We also talk about our overall impressions of Lake Ontario. Our plan for this trip was to get a feel for the lake and decide if we’d like to spend a season there. Two of the stumbling blocks are the cost of renting a seasonal slip, which is quite a bit higher than what we pay currently, and secondly the lake temperature, as it’s known to be much colder than Lake Erie, and Ana’s number for swimming (as we discovered during this trip) is 26 degrees. Surprisingly, we found parts of the lake that were indeed 26 degrees and warmer – even right in the middle of the lake, while other parts were as low as 19 degrees.

The one big advantage of Lake Ontario is the sheer number of destinations that are within reach on a weekend trip. From Port Dover, there simply isn’t anywhere to travel to that is reachable within a normal weekend. A long weekend, sure – you can travel to Dunnville, Port Colborne, Dunkirk, or Erie, but that’s about it. So for people like us that get a kick out of exploring new places, I think we could cover a great deal of ground (water) with one season on Lake Ontario. We would probably do another trip to the Thousand Islands but go up the US side this time to explore Rochester, Oswego and other towns along the way, and then find a whole new set of anchorages, and maybe even progress a little further down the St. Lawrence to Brockville. During this trip, we didn’t cover anything in the west end of the lake - Port Credit, Oakville, Hamilton, Burlington. We have only scratched the surface.

Another big region for us to explore is Georgian Bay. Several years ago we spent a season in Sarnia on Lake Huron and did a two week trip up to the North Channel, which was simply incredible, and definitely one of the highlights of our boating experiences. But we didn’t have enough time to get to Georgian Bay, which is practically a Great Lake in itself. We might consider spending a season in Bayfield, which is further north than Sarnia, and then do a two week adventure to Georgian Bay. And we haven’t even talked about the two giants – Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, which we haven’t even touched.

We’ve been at it for eight years now and have probably covered more of the Great Lakes than 95% of boaters, but we still have much to see. By the time we leave Ontario for the next phase of our lives, I want to be able to say that we’ve truly sailed the Great Lakes.

We cruise into Port Dover under a cloud of bugs that we dragged in with us from the lake, giving us the look of Pig Pen from the Peanuts cartoons. Only after a hundred buckets of water do we get the cockpit clean and the topsides in presentable shape. Ana and the kids have already cleaned up the boat down below, so she is looking great on the inside. We dock into our slip with ease and we are home! The kids are very happy to be here but all of our friends are out on the lake in their boats enjoying the gorgeous afternoon, so we simply get packed up and wait for Ana’s folks to arrive, which they do nearly an hour early, and we are all happy to see them.

By 3:30 pm we are back home, giving us plenty of time to get the van unloaded, put away our gear, get laundry going, do a bit of yard work, and get some thick sirloin steaks thawing for dinner.

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