Sunday, July 14, 2019

Day 13 - Fairport Harbour, Armour-All Man and Brennan’s Fish House


Our day begins at 2am - it is time to begin making our way back up the lake towards home and we’d like to do 75 miles today so we need an early start to arrive at our destination in time to pick up a few groceries we need for the rest of the trip.

While doing our pre-departure checks I notice that the green and red navigational lights on the bow have stopped working so I change the bulb and get them back online. Then as we’re leaving the dock the boat suddenly starts to swing and I realize the dingy we’re towing is still tied to the dock - amateur hour, or perhaps the brain is not yet functioning this early in the day. Luckily we avoid smashing into Geoff’s boat beside us and waking them up at sailboater hour, and are on our way.

Sailing in the dark is awesome..but a little weird. The idea of traveling throughout the night freaks out a lot of boaters, and I guess it does seem strange barreling your 15,000 pound boat through dark waters where you can see nothing ahead of you. That’s actually not true - you can see lights, and from a very far distance. So the trick with boating at night is being able to spot lights and recognize what you are looking at. Different types of boats have different rules for what sort of lights you need to show at night. For example, if you are on a medium sized sailboat under sail, you show red and green lights on the bow and a white light on the stern. If you are not sailing but instead using your engine, then you also need to show a white light at the top of your mast. Power boats are different too and show different lights depending on their size and type of vessel - for example fishing or towing vessels show different lights than a regular pleasure cruiser. The idea behind all these rules is allow a sailer to be able to identify the type of vessel and what direction it’s moving at nighttime based on the lights, so as to avoid a collision. But it is easier said than done, because most channel markers, buoys, and harbour entrances are also lighted, so distinguishing one from the other can be tricky.

As we are halfway through the Sandusky channel Ana points to a cluster of red, green and white lights in the distance and says, “What is that?”

“Not sure,” I reply. “Might be lights on the lighthouse at the end of the channel?”

At that moment the bow navigational lights on our boat stop working again. Then after a few minutes they come back. Then off again - likely a corroded connection. By now the lights ahead have moved so we know it is a ship coming in - probably a big one, but just as we realize that we are suddenly hit with a searing white spotlight in our faces, so bright we are temporarily blinded and it takes a moment to get our night vision back. This is the approaching ship trying to figure out what the hell we are, as they are surely confused with our navigational lights switching on and off. Most commercial vessels are equipped with powerful spotlights that can help them to see things at night, or blind a sailboater if so desired. Our nav lights fortunately blinked back on and allow us to safely pass by the big freighter, and I’m happy to get out of the channel and out into the open, traffic-free lake.

The ride is nice with a decent breeze our hindquarters, giving us a great push from the sails, but around 4am the skies begin to darken and we’re soon caught in a crazy lightening storm. But it is unlike the last lightning storm we were caught in as this is all sheet lightening bouncing from cloud to cloud, and not the fork lightening zapping down to earth-bound sailboat masts. But it is still scary as hell as the flashes are accompanied by torrential rain and strong wind. The storm comes in two waves and the whole thing lasts two or three hours, but finally passes and we are back to clear skies.

When the kids wake up we stop the boat for a morning swim and lake bath and then have campfire-style toast and cereal for breakfast. It is nice to finally have favourable winds so we get back underway quickly and arrive at the entrance to the Fairport harbour around 2pm. The long channel entrance, which leads to the Grand River, is bordered by a beach and town to the east and huge piles of aggregate to the west - gravel, rocks, coal, sand - waiting to be shipped out or in by freighter. I love the gritty, commercial aspect of some of the harbours on Lake Erie - signs of a still active industrial industry, but only a mere shadow of what it used to be during the heydays of the 20th century. The towns created by this industrial activity are usually themselves beaten down from the loss of businesses and jobs, and Fairport is no exception. After getting tied up in a slip in the Grand River Marina, which is the roughest of all marinas we’ve visited this trip - rotting dock boards, wobbly cleats, scary washrooms, deserted - we take a walk into town to look for a grocery store and a marine store to get some replacement bulbs, but I do not hold up much hope for that.


The walk is hot - damn hot - and we almost lose Tony as the threatens to return to the boat, but we blindly promise him that a cool lake swim is just minutes away. We finally reach the modest downtown core and, lo and behold, find a fully stocked, amazing marine store where I’m able to get bulbs, a kit of temporary navigational lights that can be used in the case of an emergency, or for a dingy, and we also decide to replace all of our docking lines with new ones. I could have spent another hour in there looking through all the stock, but the team is melting so we continue down to the lake and find a lovely park, beach and swimming area and take a dip in the cool water. The best part is the two huge nuclear cooling towers in the background, five miles away at the Perry Nuclear Power Plant, belching out huge clouds of vapour. But that’s not all we see. There is a man and his wife who have set up camp on the beach. The wife is sitting on a blanket and has lined up a bunch of spray bottles, that look to include glass cleaner and Armor All car polish. The heavily tanned, lizard skin man has stripped to the waist and sprayed himself with the Armor All to get that nice polished look, and is doing a little dance and spinning a frisbee on one finger. We’re not sure if he’s putting on a show for his wife, or for the the other beachgoers, or is maybe just enjoying life to the max in his own special way, but he is certainly having a lot of fun.

We begin our return walk, but stop along the way to check out a band that is setting up in the park, and one of the musicians tells us they are a Grateful Dead cover band and will be performing a free show from 6 pm to 9. There are no Deadheads among us, and I doubt anybody is going to want to do this hot walk again, but if nothing comes up in our schedule, perhaps we will return. Our next stop is at the grocery store/mini mart where we pick up a few things and then make our way back to the marina.

For dinner, we decide to head across the river to one of the two restaurants there - Pickle Bill’s or Brennan’s Fish House. We dub Magnus the evening’s DDD - Designated Dingy Driver, and he first motors Ana, Stella and I across the river and up to the public boat docks by Pickle Bill’s and drops us off then returns for Tony and Angela. We decide on Brennan’s as Angela was told by a local at the dock that you go for Brennan’s for food, but Pickle Bill’s if you want to drink. The meal is excellent, and we enjoy such a great time together talking, laughing, and reminiscing about the trip, which is nearing its end. Tony and Angela are such good friends, and amazing travel companions - which is very hard to find, so we are fortunate indeed.


We are way too tired out by the quantity of food we consumed to even consider a drink at Pickle Bill’s, so we will have to save that for a future trip. Magnus and Stella dingy the Henriques back to the dock and then come back for us. As we push away, the two of them launch into the “Air Magnus” routine where they are acting as an airline pilot and and flight attendant, instructing us on “flight” times, lifejacket use, emergency procedures, and deplaning protocol. Hilarious!


We prep the boat for the final push back to Port Dover tomorrow. Even though it’s only Thursday, we decide that we’re ready to return home and if we leave by 4am we should be able to make the 100 mile run in about 15 hours and return to Paris Friday night which will give us the whole weekend at home to enjoy. Tony and I had planned for a final cigar and scotch, but everyone’s just too beat so we put that on hold for a future date and retire to our respective boats for a deep, Fairport sleep.

Day 12 - Roller Coaster Day


Of all the days on our Lake Erie sailing trips, this is the one that is the most predictable. We enter the park right at 9am and ride roller coasters like crazy until noon, getting scorched under the furious sun, then return to the boat for lunch and a chill out session. Next, we head to the water park and spend several hours water sliding and doing laps in the lazy river. We return to the boats for dinner then head back out to the park for more roller coasters and a beautiful evening walk on the boardwalk by the beach. The difference this year is we have not one but two great sets of friends to spend the time with!



My last moment of the day is nearly perfect. Ana, Magnus and I take a ride on the Wind Seeker, which we tried to get on several times during the day but they kept closing it for various reasons. The ride is simple - a bunch of swings spinning around a carousel, but the carousel goes way, way up high, uncomfortably high, crazy high. But up there the view is simply amazing - the lit up coasters, the blackness of the lake, the lines of fancy boats in the marina, all seen while being swung around rapidly, hundreds of feet above the ground. Why is the moment only "nearly" perfect? Well, we didn’t have Stella with us - she was taking on more monster roller coasters with her buddies.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Day 11 - Cedar Point, the Doerrs, and Our Friend Cesar



I slip the paddle board into the water before anybody is awake and go for a nice long ride. There is a surprising amount of swell in the water considering there is hardly any wind. I paddle over to the Seaway marina to have a look as we’ve never stayed at that one before, and then just cruise the shoreline back to our boat to get everybody up and moving. Magnus says he wants to get going so we can take huge walk, which I am totally up for. But it turns out to be just a ruse - once we’re near the shops he disappears inside one and spends forever looking around, finally deciding on a pocket knife that he buys, and then admits he didn’t really want to go for a walk in the first place. I force the walk issue and we do go for a short stroll before returning to the boat and casting off the lines for our next destination - the Cedar Point roller coaster park, the part of the trip the kids have been anxiously awaiting. Cabin Fever is slightly  behind us, as their attention is diverted to a huge dead snake they find floating by the docks. Tony later tells us the snake had a girth similar to his arm. Now Tony’s no Popeye, but he’s no string bean either, so we’re all suitably impressed or, in Magnus’s case, terrified as he has a major serpent phobia. In fact, I did see a few of those crafty Lake Erie water snakes lurking in the waters of the marinas during the past two days but kept that secret from Magnus so he didn’t have a spaz attack and refuse to ever swim in the lake again.

That north wind provides for a lovely sail to Cedar Point, which is located on a big peninsula very near to Sandusky. We eventually find our slip, after a wrong turn, and our friends the Doerrs (we know a lot of Doerrs; these would be the Geoff, Sherry, Ashton, Ty and Victoria variety) are there already, docked and cooking lunch on their boat bbq. They were in the neighbourhood for the big all star home run derby baseball event in Cleveland and decided to head further down the lake to get in on some amusement park action. The dock master comes over and gives Geoff hell for cooking on his boat as that’s NOT ALLOWED, so they finish the burgies off in the frying pan and invite us over for lunch, which we happily accept. It is great to have part of our dock family here with us - too bad the rest of the pack weren't able to join us too. I guess they are too cheap, or maybe just spent all their travel budget on new dingies.



Cabin Fever arrives shortly after us so we all have a welcome drink together and then head over to the marina pool for a chill down session. Along the way we notice the pool and grounds are lovely, but the Cedar Point marina, like the others, is suffering some damage from the high water and parts of their parking lots and lawns are under water. The pool area also has a hot tub, which feels surprisingly good on such a scorching day. The kids have just an awesome time together and I think Magnus and Stella are especially happy to be around their friends instead of stuck with us boring adults like they have been all week. During our hot tub discussions, Geoff fills us in on the cause of our engine issues back in Erie. Apparently, it’s because we had bananas on the boat. Bananas are the root of all evil for boaters, and we had a bunch of them in our fruit tray, ripening away. Sounds far fetched? Well, after the kids heaved the remains of the on-board bananas in the lake outside of Erie harbour as we were leaving, everything on the trip has gone swimmingly, so maybe there’s something to this long held superstition?


Dinner comes and goes and the six adults find themselves in the cockpit of Bella Blue with a bottle of champagne making a toast to our friend Cesar Marteleira, who is nearing the end of a battle with cancer. Cesar has been a great mentor to me since we first met nine years ago, after we had just bought Bella Blue and were into our first season at the Port Dover Harbour Marina. We were sitting on our boat and Magnus, who was a young curious boy of five at the time, noticed somebody in a sailboat a couple of slips down from us. He jumped on the dock, walked over in his bulky lifejacket carrying the ever-present Scooby Doo fishing rod, and when the resident sailor popped his head up from down below Magnus said, “I like your boat.”

The sailor looked at Magnus, then shifted his eyes our way, then back to this cocky little lad and replied, “Thanks. But it’s not my boat.”

“Whose boat is it?”

“It’s my brother’s.”

“Well tell him I like his boat.”

I decided to interrupt the dock showdown and walked over. I looked at the man and had a feeling I knew who he was. “Is your name Cesar?” I asked.

“Yes. Who might you be?” he replied.

“My name’s Kris Olson - I’m your cousin Arturo’s compadre.”

“Well nice to meet you! Arturo told me I might run into you guys down here.”

And since then Cesar has been a close friend of our family and we’ve spent countless hours together in the marina, on the water, and in our homes telling stories, eating good food, drinking homemade Portuguese wine, and sharing lots and lots of laughs. He came sailing with us the second time we had Bella Blue out and helped us rookies learn the boat’s systems and gave us a few tips, and many times since then he’s joined us for day sails in the area. Over the years we’ve also gotten to know Cesar’s daughter Melissa and son Justin and his brothers Louie and Horatio, and now his partner Kathleen. All amazing people.

I want to tell you what sort of person Cesar is, or at least how I perceive him to be. Cesar is a guy who lives life on his own terms, who loves life fearlessly, and doesn’t play by the rules he considers to be wrong or senseless. He always has time to talk to you, and he’s always had time to talk to our kids, and really talk to them, not just “at” them. He is a vagabond and a traveler, moving from place to place, keeping nimble, keeping fresh, making friends. He tells great stories - sea stories, girl stories, adventure stories, and it seems he’s already packed several lifetimes of experience into this one. He is a philosopher - he wonders why things are the way they are, and how they came to be this way, always questioning. He is cultured, well read, intelligent, yet not afraid to say “I don’t know.” He doesn’t give a damn about money - in a good way, and sees it having it simply necessary but not as a goal unto itself. Cesar has lofty dreams, but he’s the sort of guy who actually accomplishes his dreams instead of just sitting around talking about them.

Cesar is not the guy who’s supposed to get cancer. Both Ana and I have always felt like we have learned so much from him, but have so much more yet to learn. Since learning of this disease, he has faced it head on. When they gave him a few months and told him he could extend it a few more with chemo, but the effects of that could be devastating, he said no thanks, and that was two years ago. He has already kicked cancer’s ass, no matter what happens. He’s talked openly about his disease and hasn’t run away from it. Instead, he’s taken care of business, prepared, and used the time he’s had, magnificently.



But you want to know one thing that really pisses me off about Cesar? The guy just looks cool all the time. The day before we left on our sailing trip, we visited him in the critical care section of the Brantford hospital. There he was, lying in bed, with just enough beard scruff to be in a men’s cologne ad, coifed hair, tanned, with that ever present mischievous grin. Goddamn it, I’ve never looked that cool in my life, and here he is outdoing everybody in a hospital bed wearing a friggin backless blue gown. But that’s just him.

So the six of us do a toast to Cesar, our friend, from a sailboat on the lake he loves so much. I wish he was here.

Day 10 - Onward to Kellys Island


It was a busy night on Bella Blue for all except me. I sleep like a rock on this boat, and unless there’s an explosion or somebody starts scratching the bottoms of my feet, I probably won’t wake up. Last night those north-east winds created a relentless swell that bounced the boat around like a carnival bumper car. In fact the boat was getting kicked around so much that Magnus fell off the couch where he was sleeping and landed on the floor. Ana told him to go sleep with Stella, which he did, but then she started complaining he was too hot and sweaty so she wanted to sleep with us, but there’s not enough room in our bunk, so instead she shoved Magnus to the bottom of the bed where he lied crossways. That was fine for a while but then, for some unknown reason, he started tugging on Stella’s legs and waking her up. So Ana went to sleep with both of them for a while, but then he started pulling on her legs too, so she abandoned them both and while she was up went outside to readjust the fenders because the boat was bashing into the dock posts. Tony too had similar issues and used up a roll of duct tape sticking pool floaties and foam squirt guns to his dock posts. But like I said, I slept right through the whole night so all of this is second hand information.

After breakfast the rest of my gang walks into town to check out a few more stores while Tony and Angela rent a golf car and do an island circuit. I stay back and fiddle around with things on the boat, and then at noon we shove off and proceed to the gas dock for a pump and dump at the Boardwalk marina which is the only place with diesel and a pump-out station. Of course, their concrete dock is flooded and there’s an inch or two of water on the concourse which everybody has to wade through. Our diesel fill-up goes great but we have a minor accident with the pump out machine. I finishing pumping out our holding tank and hand the hose back to Magnus, who in turn hands it to the dock hand, but the system has a little hiccup, or burp, or something, and a gallon or so of “content” oozes out of the hose and onto the flooded dock, right in front of the diners having lunch in the waterside restaurant. The dock hand tries spraying it away, which would have been fine on dry concrete, but in this case the aftermath is water bound so his spraying action just spreads it around, turning the water brown. Magnus is simply grossed out but Stella is completely horrified and embarrassed and runs back to hide in the boat and tells me I better not put this in the blog. It’s all part of the fun.


The north winds are still strong and provide a lovely sail over to Kellys Island, which is less than ten miles to the east. Stella pilots the boat for the first half and Magnus does the second and we are soon docked at the Portside marina on Kellys Island, helped in by the Cabin Fever crew as they have already arrived. Once we are settled we walk into downtown, which consists of two streets and maybe a dozen retail shops and restaurants, and browse around. The general store has a surprisingly robust plumbing, electrical and hardware section and I browse the stainless steel screw drawers while the sweet a/c pumps chilly wind onto my ankles - what a dreamy feeling. It reminds me how much I hate socks. Which reminds me how much I hate winter, so I go right back outside and let the sun beat down on me.

It is time for the golf cart tour so we rent a six seater and take off for a circuit of Kellys. There’s not really a lot to see (especially if it’s not your first time) but always entertaining nonetheless. We stop for a quick walk on the beach on the north bay and then another stop at the nearby Glacial Grooves, which yes, does sound like a funk band, but it’s actually a bunch of glacier scarred rocks that will draw out the inner geologist in you.


The gang decides to go out for dinner so we head to the Island House restaurant - a place we’ve visited several times before and always had fantastic food. This time, though, it is hit and miss. Tony has a spectacular walleye meal, I have lamb which is pretty good, but the girls’ vegetarian portobello burgers are not great and the kids’ food is just ok. Maybe they lost a good chef? The ice cream we have at the shack by the marina does make for a nice dessert.

As we are starting on a dock walk to check out some boats, poor Stella wipes out on a partially submerged dock section covered in algae and scrapes up her elbow, but more devastatingly, gets a bunch of green slime mashed into her fashionable outfit. After some motherly patch up, she is feeling better, and we all call it a night.

Day 9 - The Fierce Seas Lead to Put-in-Bay


A strong north-east wind has blown up, creating flood warnings for the entire Lake Erie southern shore. The VHF weather station tells us the lake will rise up to nine inches today because of the force of the wind piling up the water on the coastline. Poor Vermilion - it is going to be seriously underwater.

There is a nearby grocery store we’ve been to in the past, but it doesn’t open until 10am so Ana, Tony, Angela and I go for coffee at a local coffee house while the kids are left in charge of getting the boat ready to depart. At 10:30 we walk to the grocery store but find it’s not just closed; it is empty. With no other nearby options we return to the marina and get ready to depart. Tony has been watching the weather and wants us to leave ASAP as the north winds look to kick up even higher this afternoon. We get Bella Blue all prepped for what is sure to be a rocky ride and then we are off.

The channel leading out of Sandusky bay is always rough and choppy but today it is extra bad. The waves are being pushed directly in from the north and some of them are massive - over 6 feet, maybe more - so the sailboat is lurching and diving wildly, and since the wind is right in our face we can’t even get any sail out to stabilize the boat. Everybody else is down in the cockpit when Ana sticks her head up, surveys the scene, and isn’t phased in the least. In fact, she joins me in the cockpit and buckles in for the wild ride, smiling the whole way, even as the boat crashes down into the waves and is tossed around like a toy. The kids are a little less enthusiastic - Magnus is about ready to barf when he comes out and lies down in the cockpit, but it isn’t long before we get sideswiped and he flies off the bench onto the floor, but laughs it off.


We make it to the shelter of the south side of Kellys Island and rendezvous with Cabin Fever, who are happy to continue onto Put-in-Bay, even though they too got pulverized in the waves. We continue on and make the entire 20 mile trip in a little over three hours. Park Place Marina is where Ana has booked us into and is familiar to us as we’ve stayed here several times before. Like everywhere else, this island has been affected by the high water and we see the ferry passengers disembarking from the Jet Express with rolled up pantlegs, walking through five inches of water on the concrete dock to get to land.

The dock hands are amazing - they do everything I wrote about in a recent journal about what makes a great dock hand. But admittedly, they do get a lot of practice. One of the lads comes by for a chat and tells us during one busy day last week his phone reported that he walked 22 miles in one day, running up and down the docks, catching and releasing boats.

The sun is blazing, but we head out for a walk down the busy strip. There are people everywhere popping in and out of the shops, sitting in the many bars and restaurants, and zipping around in golf carts. One group does a horrific job of parallel parking their golf cart and wind up with two wheels up on the sidewalk. Fortunately, two of the dudes are quite large so they muscle up the cart and drag it over until it plops down back onto the street.

Put-in-Bay is unlike anywhere else on the lake - one guy we meet calls it the “Florida Keys of the North” and it truly is like a small chunk of the Caribbean has been copy pasted onto Lake Erie. The funny thing is that unless you live in the shoreline areas of Ohio or Michigan, or are a boater that travels the lakes, you have almost certainly never heard of it. Which is fine, because it’s busy enough already!


After picking up some groceries we return to the boat for afternoon snacks and drinks and then the four of us rent a golf cart and do a big circuit around the island. Sadly, it’s a crappy gas powered one so we are forced to inhale fumes during our lovely ride. I don’t understand why they even allow gas powered golf carts in a place like this when the electric ones are so much quieter, cleaner, and functionally identical. Despite having rented a golf cart every time we’ve been here previously, we still love it and discover some new things every time - such as a little nature trail we found.

While we are gone Angela and Tony put together a fantastic meal of bbq skewers with shrimp, tomatoes, and squeaky cheese (Haloumi) so we do some dockside dining and then hang out there visiting and having drinks until darkness falls and the bed calls.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Day 8 - Beware the Geese


We decide to spend another day and night in Sandusky as the dock spaces are available and there’s no good reason to leave. It’s already hot at 8:30 but I take an hour long solo walk to the closest state liquor store to pick up some cheap US booze while the ladies and kids Uber to a shopping mall and Tony gets to work on boat projects.

Back at the boat I get to work on my own projects, changing out a shower sump, cleaning up 14 years worth out dirt from the top hatch which I have to completely disassemble to access, as well as washing down the boat, which hasn’t been properly cleaned in quite a few days. Tony has taken over the dock DJ role and is playing some fine tunes for us as we work. We are so busy that we don’t even have our first beer until 3pm, but we enjoy a Black & Mild cigar to make it extra special.

I’ve been telling Tony about this great fish sandwich shop called the Sandusky Fish Company, so we take the short walk there and order up a couple of perch meals. The inside of the small shop is blazing hot, fishy, and full of people either ordering or waiting for their food. The staff behind the counter are literally melting from the heat and much of the brow sweat is dripping into the fries, providing extra salt. We soon get our orders and sit down at the lakeside picnic tables, surrounded by copious amounts of Canada goose shit, but otherwise pleasant.

We unwrap our food and the crackling of the aluminum lined wrappers attract the attention of three of the resident scavenger geese, who are obviously used to getting handouts. The geese walk right up to our table, and one starts hissing at me with his dirty red tongue sticking out and beady black eyes full of anger. I try to shoo him away with my hand but he doesn’t even flinch. His little buddy has actually crawled under the table and is within striking distance of our nut sacks and that’s when I lose it. I roll up the towel I brought with me and slap that goose right across the face, which gets his attention and he recoils backwards. They all back off, and Tony and I return to eating our perch sandwiches and fries, which are not nearly as good as the sandwiches, but not worthy of goose food either.

The bold Canada geese once again make their move, slinking forward, hissing, beady eying up our food. I do another mighty swing with the towel, but they are staying back just far enough. Just then Tony has a brilliant idea. “Let’s scare them away with music,” he says.

“Oh, that’s a good idea. What have you got?”

Tony plays a song from his phone speaker, and it’s a Journey tune but has no effect.

“Try something else, but just make sure it’s not Bryan Adams,” I say. “Hit them with some Led Zeppelin.”

“Okay, I’ll put on Greta Van Fleet,” he replies triumphantly as he points the iPhone at the grimy geese like a Star Trek phaser set to stun and hits the play button, letting the Led Zeppelinesque sounds ring out across the park.

“It’s working!” I scream as the geese recoil backwards, all dazed and confused, and Tony advances on them with the sonic weapon, pushing them back even farther. It is a remarkable scene and after getting the upper hand on the geese we sit back down to finish our meal in peace. Unfortunately, the geese villains have set upon a young couple sitting at a table near us, and now there are seven geese surrounding them.

“Put on some music, right now, that will stop them!” Tony yells over to them.

“OK,” the girl says, “But all I have is Drake!”

“For God’s sake, don’t play that bird music,” Tony says as he comes to the rescue and scatters the geese with more Greta Van Fleet, driving them back to the waters edge. Before they can regroup and launch a counter attack, we roll up our wrappers, toss them in the bin, and skedaddle out of there back to the marina, leaving the nice couple to fend for themselves.

By the time we return, the skies have darkened and there’s a bit of sheet lightening bouncing around so the pool is cleared of people - perfect time for a swim. We take a refreshing and electricity-free dip and then return to the boat, and the ladies and kids arrive shortly after that to show off their purchased treasures - clothes, iPhone case, Sushi-Go card game, and a jar of honey. There is even something for me - new shaving lotion, which I think may be a hint that it’s time for a shave, as that hasn’t happened for several days.

Ana made a shepherds pie at home before the trip so we pull it out of the freezer and get it cooking while we have an Holrique happy hour. Ana uses my mom’s receipt for this dish, but this time she added in a bunch of Portuguese hot pepper sauce to liven it up. Over dinner we discuss the Saskatchewan palate, and how typical prairie food doesn’t offer much in the way of spice.

“The food is plain, just like the Saskatchewan topography,” chimes in Magnus, the grade 9 geography expert.

We spend a lovely evening huddled in Bella Blue’s air conditioned salon, having drinks, laughing, enjoying our last evening in Sandusky.

Day 7 - Sandusky Yacht Club - Ahhhhh…


I need some exercise so get up early and go for a big paddle board ride up the river and dip into the shoreline to check out the damage from the high water levels. It is only 7am but already hot and headed up to over 30 degrees for today. We’ve only owned this stand-up paddle board for a few weeks but I’m very happy we decided to get one. My brother has had one for years and a sailor buddy at work is fanatical about them, so on the first hot weekend we had in Port Dover we found one on sale at the local marine store and picked it up. What  I didn’t know about stand up paddle boarding is that the stroke is very different than what you use in a canoe or kayak. The movement has everything to do with your core and each stroke is basically a full body crunch, whereas paddling in a canoe leans more heavily on your arms. Both Ana and I were hoping the kids would have latched onto it more, as they were initially excited, but they haven’t shown much interest yet. Hopefully it will come.

Before leaving on the trip I made three quiches to bring along, so after heating them up in the oven, the six of us sit down for a big breakfast and eat enough to probably get us through lunch too. Boat dining etiquette is a little different and you’re allowed to get away with things you never could at home - such as feeding your guests food that’s nearly or already past its prime - for example the blueberry muffins and cherries I put out with the quiche. Any food on a boat has a short life, so it’s constantly a race against time, and everybody knows it!

Stella and I go up the lawn by the office for a couple of games of corn hole, but it is already raging hot so we don’t last long. These corn hole boxes are made of concrete and very fancy, plus the bean bags are new and of equal size and weight, unlike the ones we were using back in Erie that smelled of wet dog and some were so empty of beans it was like tossing a piece of fabric.

Ana is calling every marina in Sandusky and strikes gold by getting us slips at the Sandusky Yacht Club, which is probably the best marina on the lake. She is so good at organizing things that sometimes I can’t even believe it. The club just celebrated their 125th anniversary so they have been at it for a while, and it shows. Besides the beautiful docks they have a big pool with an outside bar and dining area and a magnificent club house with a library, laundry facilities, showers, and a gourmet restaurant that serves incredible food and the most amazing bread pudding in the world - it truly is the stuff of legends. I sometimes dream about their bread pudding. We find out they are having a seafood and prime rib buffet tonight, so make our reservation for 7pm. It’s going to be huge.

The dock master assigns us slips right beside each other and we get tied up and electrified. It is incredibly hot again today and every surface I step on puts griddle marks on my feet. Instead of going straight to the pool or hunkering down in the air conditioned library like normal people we take a walk into town. Tony and Angela make it as far as the West Marine store where we browse around for a while in the AC, then they throw in the towel and head back to the marina. The Olsons continue on to downtown, where the girls go shopping and Magnito and I find a barbershops for haircuts. Magnus is at the age where he cares about his hair (that happened to me to around his age…but it quickly passed), so he is initially reluctant, but then reconsiders and gets the sides and back trimmed up, but leaves the top lusciously long and so thick that it resembles wolf hide.


Before we melt into the ground like the evil witch in the Wizard of Oz, we scurry back to the marina and jump in the busy pool, while Ana makes trips back and forth to the clubhouse for switching out laundry loads, which has piled up after a sweaty week on the water. The pool water is not exactly cool, but it is refreshing nonetheless and we have a great dip.

It is soon time for dinner, so we return to the boats and since it’s a rather fancy yacht club restaurant, Tony and I try to figure out some way to fashion ascots, thinking maybe we could string together some of our wives’ underwear, but the mechanics of it overwhelm us, and neither of us have ever seen an ascot in real life, so all we have to go on is that red one that Fred from Scooby-Doo always wears. We give up after barely any effort at all and instead I put on a pair of jeans and a long sleeved linen shirt, which fancies me up miles beyond my normal boat wear of swim trunks and sunscreen.

The meal is beyond good. In fact, I’ve never seen a seafood buffet like it - they have lobster bisque, crab cakes, glazed salmon, grilled cod, scampi, white clams in wine sauce, lobster mac and cheese, mussels, fried popcorn shrimp, a boatload of fresh shrimp with seafood sauce, rainbow tapia fillets, and an endless supply of crab legs with melted butter. Beyond the seafood there is a long table full of bush (a.k.a “salad stuff”), which I avoid as that just takes up precious plate real estate, and a chef carving up thick, juicy slabs of prime rib with au jus and rosemary roasted potatoes. The whole thing is simply decadent and the food is delicious. Of course, there’s a of table of desserts, which include all sorts of cakes and sweets, but I go directly for the bread pudding, and load it up with fresh cream. It is heavenly. I eat a full plate of it, and consider going back for more but my stomach can’t take anymore. What a feast.

It is Friday night and there is a band playing at the pool bar so we all waddle clumsily over and plop down into chairs, like walruses, hoping they don’t collapse under the strain. It’s a husband and wife team and the husband Bob is a multi-instrumentalist playing guitar, harmonica, clarinet, flute, saxophone, and a couple of other instruments he didn’t even get to. Their setlist is a little crappy, but things pick up a bit when a small bow rider glides up the channel and into  the dock, right behind the stage, in front of a hundred people, and one of the girls somehow does an endo and flips over the side of the boat, ass over teakettle, splashing into the water. Fortunately she’s not hurt, but it takes a while for them to turn the boat around, get her into position, and then fish her out, fully clothed, and the damn boat is still not docked yet! The worst part is that the diving act happens right at the end of a song, so the band stops and everybody turns around to watch the spectacle. The one guarantee in boating is that the time you screw up the worst, and totally botch the docking process, will be when there’s a large group of people there to watch it.


The band gets back on track and we stay for the set, including the finale where they play an incredible cover of Bob Segar’s “Turn the Page”. Bob is shredding on guitar, ripping it up, and his wife even has to back away a bit so she doesn’t catch fire. Stella dances with me, and there’s few things better in life than dancing with your little girl as she snuggles her head into your body and you sway back and forth together on a hot summer night.


The walk back to the boats gives me a moment that emblazes itself on my memory. I’m holding hands with my beautiful wife as the floating dock creaks beneath our feet. To the north, an amazing fireworks display is exploding from the rollercoaster park at Cedar Point in a shower of colour and light. To the south and west are menacing storm clouds, swirling around, enclosing the marina, with sheet lightening flashing behind the blackness, in stealth. Across the channel is a public park, and I can hear a baby crying and a dog barking and a mom and dad talking. I can still hear Bob Turning The Page, in a endless finale of bent guitar notes, wailing and moaning. Lastly, I feel and hear the wind passing by us, on its way somewhere else, carrying the sounds and smells of a great, Great lake.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Day 6 - What Makes a Good Dock Hand?

I awake early from my unbelievably good sleep and jump on the paddle board to see if Captain Tony has the coffee on yet. It is a lovely, gorgeous morning and many boats are already streaming out onto the lake, getting an early start for US Independence Day. There is a slight current in the river, and the water is chocolate milky with all sorts of organic floaties passing me by - grass, logs, leaves and sticks, picked up by the high water levels.

Tony and I enjoy a coffee on Cabin Fever. I don’t drink much for caffeinated drinks anymore, but on a morning like this, it is the right thing to do, and will surely keep me buzzing all day long. We discuss the events of the past few days and I’m very happy we seem to be back on track, but truthfully, nothing every really goes to plan when boating, so I’d say the trip has been a roaring success so far. During our trip to Lake Ontario with Tony and Angela last year, Cabin Fever had some engine issues so got sidelined for a few days while we carried on, but all the engine issues have been resolved and are now running smoothly.

For the next few hours we poke around town - Tony, Magnus and I walk up to the Harbor Marine boat store to pick up some supplies while the girls browse through the shops downtown. Harbor Marine is an amazing marine store and I actually find everything I was looking for - new US and Canadian flags, lifejacket whistles, VHR radio connections, and sealant. Tony stops in at the hardware store next door to pick up a hole saw blade he needs for a slight boat modification which will enable him to mount a big shade umbrella for the back of Cabin Fever - rather necessary on these scorching hot days.


By noon, Bella Blue is off, headed for the town of Huron, only eight miles away. Again, the wind is right in our face so we motor the full way and arrive after about 90 minutes and get two slips at the municipal Boat Basin, which is a nifty round marina, bordered by a big amphitheatre used for concerts. The two dock lads who help us get tied up are fast, courteous, polite, competent, knowledgable, and completely unlike anything we’re used to at our marina. Don’t get me wrong, the kids that work at our marina are nice, but it just doesn’t seem like they have had any training and certainly possess no great customer service skills, which is a shame because if they worked like the kids in the US do, they would probably make a bit of money in tips and certainly have a happier population of local boaters. Just in case any dock kids come across this posting, here are the skills that are very important to boaters, and will earn you tips:

  1. Know how to catch a boat
    • Tie down the stern line first, which will slow the boat and bring it closer to the dock - if you tie down the bow line first it will cause the bow to ram into the dock and the stern will kick out.
    • Always wrap a line around a cleat or post instead of pulling on it directly - this gives you much more leverage.
    • Have a boat hook ready because many boaters don’t know how to properly toss a line and you will sometimes need to fish a a spaghetti mess of line out of the water.
    • Be sure the gas dock or pump out station has proper post guards or fenders in case the boater doesn’t have fenders out - the last thing you want to do is damage a boat
    • Have lines ready to toss to an incoming boat in case they forgot to attach lines (and know how to properly toss a line)
  1. Know how to launch a boat
    • Ask the boater how they would prefer to be launched; some have a very specific way of getting off a dock
    • If it’s a sailboat, don’t push on the damn lifelines! Instead, either push on the boat hull or the thick wire sidestays
    • Make sure the line you toss ends up on the boat and not dragging in the water
    • Look for any lines hanging off the boat and remind the customer to pull them in
  1. Say hello and ask how the customer is doing
    • This may seem obvious, but it’s simply good manners.
    • Introduce yourself if you don’t already know the customer and ask if they are locals or visitors.
  1. Offer other services
    • “Do you need a pump out today?”
    • “Are there any supplies you are short on?”
    • “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
  1. Make the payment process fast and easy
    • Have a colleague take care of the payment while you are finishing up fueling or pumping out
    • Have change available
    • Make sure you know the prices for everything and know how to work the credit/debit machine
    • Know the exchange rate in case the customer wants to pay in a different currency
  1. Assume nothing
    • Visiting boaters may be coming to your marina for the first time and don’t know anything about the layout, so telling them to go to Dock 3 won’t help much, especially if your docks aren’t clearly marked, which is usually the case. Give specific instructions.
    • Have an easily identifiable colleague (“girl in the red shirt and long hair”) stand at the end of the dock where you want the boater to go, and then guide them to the slip
  1. Be knowledgable about the marina and its surroundings
    • Know where all of the local marine stores and hardware stores are
    • Have a listing of all local marine mechanics and boat repair shops
    • Have a listing of all local restaurants, bars, shops and other places of interests
    • Know some basic facts about your town - population, main industry, famous sons or daughters, history
  1. Help boaters dock their boats
    • On windy days, people can really use the help docking and sometimes there’s not any other boaters around to assist
  1. Know how to use a pump out station
    • Have a cap removing tool on your person at all times
    • Ask the customer to pump some water through their toilet to fully clear the line
    • Give the tank a rinse once it’s empty and empty it one final time
    • If you spill anything on the boat, rinse it off
    • Wear disposable plastic gloves (for your own protection)
  1. Know how to fuel a boat
    • Know the rules (does everybody stay on the boat or get off)?
    • Remind the customer to run their engine blower to get rid of fumes
    • Ask the customer how many gallons the tank will take so you can better judge when it’s getting full
    • Do your best to not spill any fuel in the water; top it off very slowly or ask the customer how to tell when the tank is approaching full
  1. Know how to handle emergency procedures
    • What do you do if somebody falls off their boat while docking?
    • What if there’s a major fuel spill from a boat?
    • What if a boat catches fire?
  1. Monitor the VHF radio
    • When a boater is trying to hail a marina on channel 16, it’s intensely frustrating when nobody answers
    • Every dock worker should be carrying a small handheld
  1. Say “Hello” to your customers and be friendly
    • You are the customer service representative of your business - act like it

It is blazing hot outside so after Ana takes a paddle board ride, we go up to the marina office to enjoy the high powered AC and there we find a wide screen television dialled into ESPN, showing what seemed to be a professional level hot dog eating contest. Yes, they will put pretty much anything on tv. But I will admit, I am utterly transfixed and can not draw myself away from the spectacle. The reigning world champ, Joey Chestnut, demolishes the competition by eating 71 hot dogs in 10 minutes. You read that right, and that includes the buns. Competitive hot dog eating is easy, you grab two wieners, eat them rapidly, take a bun, dip it in a glass of water, shove that into your mouth, then grab another wiener or two and use the meat to force down the soggy bun, then stick another bun there and repeat until for ten minutes. Joey Chestnut did well, but did not beat the record of 74 hot dogs he set last year, so he was a little disappointed, but he did gain 24 pounds of body weight in the process. I think my personal best is four hot dogs in one sitting, but I must admit I’ve never really tried that hard.


Cabin Fever arrives a few hours later and we put together a magnificent dockside patio for welcome drinks, then we all walk down to the beach for a swim to cool off. The lake temperature is now up to 29 degrees C, which is an incredible change from just two weeks ago when it was still 18 degrees - see what a bit of proper summer heat can do? The swim is magnificent, but we don’t linger too long as we can see a ridge of thunderclouds coming our way from the lake.


Luckily, the storms miss us and we settle back into our dockside patio for a dinner of bbq sirloin steaks, fresh corn and salads. We originally thought that Huron was putting on their big fireworks display tonight, but it turns out that they do theirs on July 5th since Cedar Point - a large amusement park 10 miles away - does their big show on the 4th. So after an Holrique family meeting (Olson + Henrique….get it?), we decide to take Cabin Fever up to Cedar Point and anchor out for the fireworks show. It’s an easy ride there and there are plenty of boats doing the same thing. We toss out a stern anchor which cuts down on the rocking motion caused by the slight chop on the water and enjoy the show, which lasts for 20 minutes or so.



We cruise back, arrive around midnight, have a happily uneventful docking, and then collapse into bed.