Monday, August 19, 2019

Shipwreck Alley

We are under way northbound in Lake Huron, just crossing Thunder Bay as I begin typing. We are bound for Presque Isle Bay for the night, our last stop along the "Sunrise Coast" of Michigan.

Saturday afternoon we rounded the tip of the "thumb" and turned south just past the Port Austin Reef Light and into Port Austin harbor. As we came in past the breakwaters, another trawler anchored in the harbor greeted us, the Deanna, hailing from Newport Beach, California. Seeing us arriving, the harbormaster hailed us, wondering if we were coming to the dock; they were able to confirm for us that there was sufficient depth outside the channel to anchor. We dropped the hook just outside the green buoy line (map).

Port Austin Reef lighthouse.

For reasons that are not clear to me, DNR has marked off a very wide channel in this harbor; it's wider than both the harbor entrance and the marina fairways. Not long after we had the hook set, the DNR police boat came out, passed us, and headed over to Deanna, which was anchored at the edge of, but inside, the marked channel. They apparently told them to move, and then headed toward us. Fortunately, we were well-positioned, and they simply wanted to know if we had enough depth in our swing circle, as apparently the other crew was worried about it.

It was a gorgeous evening, and we might well have splashed the tender and gone ashore for dinner; we could see some lovely patio tables at a riverside eatery. But when we had spoken with the harbormaster on the radio we asked about dinghy dockage, and they told us it would be $12 for a couple of hours. We left it on deck and ate aboard. We did get to hear the live music emanating from that same patio a short while later.

Spectacular and peaceful sunset over Saginaw Bay and the Port Austin breakwater, before the tintinabulation of the bells.

We settled in for a quiet evening. The harbor was calm and lovely and the music stopped at a reasonable hour. And then, at 1 a.m., the church bells started ringing. The recorded kind, played over speakers at high amplification. A series of hymns played for literally 45 minutes, coming right past my headphones and confounding what I was listening to on my computer, and waking Louise. Perhaps a glitch in the electronic timers, or someone bumped the "play all" button, or maybe the harbormaster requested it to keep those pesky parsimonious anchored boats from coming back.

Yesterday morning the forecast showed we could make good progress on the lake until early afternoon, when we'd have to be in safe harbor due to storms. So we weighed anchor right after coffee and got underway, crossing the mouth of Saginaw Bay. I had to alter course and speed to avoid an enormous freighter that was inbound for Saginaw, but we had an otherwise uneventful crossing until about a half hour out of Harrisville Harbor, our destination.

That's when the marine radio cackled with a small craft warning; the storms were in progress and headed our way at 40mph, with potential 65mph gusts and hail. We looked at the radar and did the math, figuring we might just make harbor by the time they hit. I did my regular daily engine run-up, holding it a bit longer than normal and shaving a couple of minutes off our arrival time, and we battened down everything on deck in our usual high wind protocol. Seas were already building to 3' or so and I had to steer by hand the rest of the way to port.

Vector looking diminutive in Harrisville Harbor this morning, even though you'd be hard-pressed to squeeze another boat in the anchorage.

We poked into the harbor just as the rain was starting. Again the harbormaster, seeing us coming, hailed us to get our intentions, and gave us directions for anchoring We dropped the hook in between the marina channel and boat ramp channel (map) and were well set before the wind arrived. Fortunately, the bulk of the storm skirted south of us (ironically, slamming Port Austin) and we only ever saw 20kt winds and moderate rain.

The harbormaster here was much more accommodating when I asked about taking the tender ashore, telling us to tie up to the west side of the fuel dock for a short visit. We were looking forward to getting off the boat for dinner, especially since it was a beautiful afternoon after the storm passed. Sadly, on a Sunday evening there were no dining options in town; the well-rated pizza place is carry-out only, and the sports bar was replacing their grill and so their kitchen was not open. We again ate aboard and figured to again leave port without going ashore.

That plan changed later in the evening when, while doing the route planning for the next few stops, I realized that this is the last grocery store we will see until the Soo Locks. The lone restaurant at the Presque Isle harbor is closed for renovations, and the two stops beyond that are remote anchorages. We needed to top up the produce supply for three more nights at anchor. The grocery opened at 9 this morning and we splashed the tender before that and arrived ashore right at 9. By 9:30 we were decking the tender and getting under way.

Thunder Bay Island Light.

As I wrap up we've just rounded Thunder Bay Island, having passed a half dozen or so shipwreck mooring buoys along the mouth of Thunder Bay, here in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve. The lake surface temperature is just 69°F today and we saw no dive boats out, but the lake water is so clear I can imagine it is some spectacular wreck diving with the right gear.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Tin Can Tourist

We are underway northbound in Lake Huron, hugging the coast of Michigan's "thumb." We have a long 50-mile day today, headed for the mouth of Saginaw Bay. The plotter is showing anchor down right at beer o'clock.

Moonrise over the lake vies for attention with the Sanilac breakwater light.

Yesterday afternoon we had the hook down in Sanilac Harbor (map) right around 3:15. The entire harbor bottom is covered in weeds, which confounds our depth sounder and also makes anchoring, and, later, weighing anchor, more of a challenge. We dropped where the chart says there was plenty of depth and we were out of the way of the busier-than-expected harbor.

Vector in Sanilac Harbor.

I soon learned the reason for that, after I splashed the tender and headed ashore to explore. It turns out that today is the annual Sanilac Antique Boat and Vintage RV show, and the harbor was filling up with old woodies, and the Tin Can Tourists had already set up shop all over the adjacent park. The street leading to the harbor was closed off, and a couple of food trucks and carts were set up for the weekend.

This 60's Frolic had highly polished side fluting.

Long-time readers will know that, before Vector, we lived in our RV for nearly a decade, and for nearly two years before that, I was fully engaged in the project of converting a Neoplan bus into what would be our home. As such we were well immersed in RV culture, and I even became something of a figure in RV and particularly bus conversion circles as a technical expert on systems. So this was sort of a flashback into a former life for me.

A '36 fifth wheel with its custom '38 International tow vehicle.

You might say I am a bit jaded, as it was plenty for me to just admire these vintage rigs from the outside and enjoy a few glimpses through doorways, without having to venture inside any of them (many were open for tours even yesterday evening, although the show started this morning). Also, it was enough for me to enjoy their beauty without having to drill down into makes, models, and age, although I recognized quite a few marques.

Lovingly restored Vagabond.

On the water side of things, I am not much of a vintage boat fan, and a number of readers were disappointed that we eschewed the antique boat museum in Clayton and any number of maritime museums along the lakes. But these lovingly cared-for boats were certainly things of beauty; unsurprisingly for the region, Chris Craft was well represented. Keeping anything in that kind of show condition is more work than I would be able to muster, and looking at boats (or RVs) is something of a busman's holiday, so the whole show took me less than half an hour to take in.

Most of the smaller boats, like this 39 Chris Craft, arrived on trailers, then were brought around to the docks.

I scoped out the grand total of three restaurants in town as dinner options; the over-priced waterfront joint was already booked solid from 6-7:30. There was also a very nice hardware store in town, and a Family Dollar had we needed any provisions (we did not). I was also nearly mown down crossing the street at the four-way stop by some idiot buried in his cell phone as he made a left turn, and pulling a heavy trailer. I jumped out of the way at the last second, screaming. No harm done, except a bit of a sore throat later.

This once-futuristic trailer has a teardrop back and the entry door in front.

We returned ashore for dinner at the Blue Water Grill, a casual sports bar in town, where the food was decent and a third the price of the waterfront place. Even the nice selection of drafts was well-priced. Afterward we walked to the mini-mart at the Marathon station, as somehow we forgot to replenish the beer supply in Detroit, and we were completely out. They had the local Great Lakes brews in stock and I picked up some Edmund Fitzgerald Porter.

The DNR police were cruising past when we pulled up this ball of weeds. It cracked them up.

This morning we again pulled up a hundred pounds of weeds with the anchor, but Louise has gotten quite good at removing them with the boat pole as the chain comes up. We left the harbor with a giant mustache of them stuck behind the snubber, but that all came off under way after a few miles.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Lake Huron

We are under way northbound in Lake Huron. We're back up to our normal cruising speed of about 6.5 knots for the first time since leaving Lake Erie on Sunday, and the plotter says we should have the anchor down in Port Sanilac by 3:30 or so.

Shortly after my last post, we splashed the tender to go ashore; no small feat in itself in close to a knot and a half of current. I had figured to land at the downtown bulkhead, but it turns out that the decent restaurants as well as a needed gas station and a nice grocery store where actually a mile or so downriver behind us, near the public boat ramp and the old Chris Craft factory, which is now a marina.

Picton Castle at the dock in Algonac. Flux is docked under her bowsprit.

We did not want to eat at the marina's restaurant, and so instead we landed at the boat ramp and lined the dinghy around to a bulkhead to keep it out of the way of ramp users. The excellent Catch 22 Bistro was just a block away; their walls are absolutely crammed full of Chris Craft memorabilia. After dinner we walked to the Kroger for a few provisions and a gallon of gas for the tender; no way did I want to run short in these rivers, where the current could sweep us away and our dinghy anchor won't even reach the bottom.

After dropping Louise and the groceries back at Vector, I tendered back ashore at the downtown bulkhead, tying up just in front of Picton Castle. They had just wrapped up a tour stop here, scheduled to shove off in the morning, but even closed for the day, a number of visitors were milling around the dock checking her out. Immediately adjacent to this dock is the ferry landing for the small car ferry to Canada, which came and went constantly during our stay.

Dinner at Catch-22 amid the Chris Craft and Garwood memorabilia.

I walked around what passes for a downtown now, where the go-to hangout joint is the local Dairy Queen. A couple of dollar stores and pharmacies and the large Seafarer's Union hall are along the otherwise sparse waterfront. Still, it was an excellent stop, and with good holding in constant current, Vector did not move even half a boat length in any direction all night.

In the morning we weighed anchor for the uphill climb to Port Huron. It was a pleasant cruise, but the 23 mile trip took over five and a half hours. We averaged just 4.3 knots while making turns for 6.5, so a little over two knots against us the whole way. Along the way we passed the towns of Marine City and St. Clair, with the former looking like it would have been a very nice stop, with several waterfront cafes and a cute downtown. But there is literally nowhere to anchor on the American side, and we did not want to pick our way up the Belle River to the sole marina or go through four border crossing clearances to anchor across the river.

Marine City from mid-channel. The lighthouse is decorative.

At Port Huron we also had no choice but to take a dock, but at least here the Black River is relatively wide and deep, and there was a choice of four workable docks. We stopped at the very first one, the Port Huron Yacht Club (map), where our reciprocity let us take a spot on the face dock for $1 per foot, including 30-amp power, and we would not have to wait on the Military Street drawbridge in both directions.

After we tied up I took the e-Bike for a spin around town, bumping into the Thursday evening concert series in the waterfront park and exploring the quaint downtown, which still sports a number of going concerns including a handful of well-rated restaurants. We walked to dinner at the Vintage Tavern, which was good, if a bit pricey for this part of the country.

Vector at the Port Huron Yacht Club.

Across the St. Clair from here is the larger town of Sarnia, Ontario, which is where the Canadian Coast Guard maintains its communications center for this region -- we've been hearing them since mid-lake Erie, where the transition happens from Prescott Coast Guard Radio. Also in Sarnia is the Vessel Traffic Control center for the shipping lanes from Lake Erie to Lake Huron; listening to Sarnia Traffic is highly recommended coming through here in order to know about ship movements. Ships only monitor Traffic and not the international hailing and distress channel here, so they also need to be hailed on the Traffic channel, which is VHF 12 from Lake Erie to the middle of Lake St. Clair, and then VHF 11 the rest of the way to Lake Huron.

Our forecast said the lake would get better throughout the day, and so we lingered at the dock over coffee this morning. CBP was out walking the docks, presumably looking for anyone who might have arrived overnight without clearing in. Just as we were making ready to leave, three freighters were converging on the port, and we waited at the dock until they were past the Black River entrance.

This morning's challenge was the St. Clair Rapids. The narrowest part of the St. Clair River is between the abutments of the Blue Water Bridge, connecting Port Huron and Sarnia (never mind that the water here is green). Every drop of water leaving lake Huron passes under this bridge, and the current can get as high as seven knots. That's higher than Vector's cruising speed and just two knots shy of her top speed, where she burns a gallon of diesel every five minutes.

The reason we keep running into tall ships.

We had advice that by hugging very tightly to the Canadian side, which is the inside of the bend, we'd find a counter-current right up to the bridge. Sure enough, after passing the Port of Sarnia berths our speed picked up until an indicated 7kt, or about a half knot behind us, until we rounded the edge of the bulkhead at the foot of the bridge, where our speed dropped to less than 3kt in the span of two boat lengths.

Almost immediately the stabilizers centered themselves because our GPS speed had dropped below 4, and we found ourselves rolling through the rapids. Typically the term "rapids" conjures up shallow water with awash rocks; these rapids are 40' deep and still just as rough. We quickly hit the speed signal override on the stabilizers, and I advanced the throttle to 1800rpm, which got us up to 2.5 kt for the worst of it. Past the bridge and still clinging tightly to the Canadian bank, our speed gradually ratcheted up, and I was able to bring the throttle back about a quarter mile from the bridge.

We continued veering into Canada along the southeastern shore of Lake Huron until our speed climbed back up to 6 kt, and then we turned onto a direct course to Sanilac. This was, bar none, the strongest current we've ever seen, at close to five knots in the short stretch under the bridge, edging out the Gulf Stream and the Lower Mississippi, at just over four knots each.

Looking back toward the St. Clair river entrance and the Blue Water Bridge from the calm of Lake Huron.

Holding the boat just a hundred feet or so off the shoreline on the approach and departure, and wrestling the helm through the rapids, took all of my concentration and both hands, and so I missed getting any photos of the Lightship Huron permanently docked in Port Huron, or the historic Grand Trunk Western depot, more or less right under the bridge.

If all goes to plan we should be anchored in Sanilac's protected harbor this evening, and tomorrow we will continue north along the "thumb" of eastern Michigan. Harbors are few and far between here, so tomorrow will either be a very long or very short day, depending on how we feel.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


We are under way northbound in Lake St. Clair, just abreast of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, as I begin typing. The lake has a bit of a chop but is mostly comfortable, and we intend to be off it entirely by this evening, as tomorrow it is forecast to be untenable. While small in comparison to its neighbors, this is by no means a small lake, and it can get rough. Some call it the littlest Great Lake.

We had a quiet and peaceful night Sunday, after the numerous go-fast boats finally quit for the night. Our tenuous grip on the rocky bottom held fast with 100' of chain. We were directly abreast of the Detroit River Wildlife Refuge, and all evening we saw and heard lots of birds. About 11pm or so, something let out a howl (coyote, I would think) and in the span of a minute or two, hundreds of other voices had joined the chorus. The refuge has just built a new visitor center, fishing pier, and boat dock, but they are not yet open, else I would have tendered over.

Approaching Detroit, with the Renaissance Center center frame beyond the Ambassador Bridge. The ship ahead of us is the Whitefish Bay, who just pulled away from the dock and passed us.

Monday morning we weighed anchor to make the 10:45 opening of the Grosse Ile Parkway bridge, which is hailed on the radio as the "grow zeal free bridge" (the subtleties of French have been lost over time). We then had to putt along slowly to stretch our arrival at the Grosse Ile toll bridge to 11:30. The mainland shoreline from here to Detroit is an odd mix of going concerns, abandoned and decaying infrastructure, and land repurposed into waterfront development.

We left the Trenton channel and in relatively quick succession passed Wyandotte and Ecorse before rejoining the main channel at the Ecorse channel junction. Although we are not required to do so, I cleared in with Sarnia Traffic on channel 12. Just as we were coming up on the River Rouge outlet (leading to Dearborn), an enormous freighter, the Whitefish Bay, announced on that same channel that they were leaving the dock on the Canadian side, and we had to move over to the American side of the channel to make room, costing us a half knot or so. Overall we had about 1.5 knots against us.

Sunset over the Detroit Wildlife Refuge from our anchorage.

After passing downtown Detroit to port (and downtown Windsor, Ontario to starboard) we arrived at the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor, with its very robust decorative lighthouse. We plowed through a little hump of silt at the entrance and tied alongside the first T-head (map). There is actually a designated federal anchorage in the river just outside this harbor, but there's no good place to land a tender, and it's a deep anchorage. At $1.25 per foot we were happy to have a secure dock for Tuesday's forecast high winds.

We made passing arrangements with the tall ship Bluenose, who seemed confused about whistle signals.

As luck would have it, a Grand Banks that had been gaining on us out on the river came in right behind us, and they turned out to also be loopers, the first we've seen in these parts. I was happy to meet Matt, Jen, and their son Felix aboard Long Way Home. We did not get a chance to spend any time with them, as they had a previous commitment with family across the river, but there is a good chance we'll run into them further along.

The RenCen. Instantly familiar.

With most of the afternoon ahead of me, I set out on the e-Bike to explore the neighborhood. I started by heading west along the very nice new Detroit River Walk to the Renaissance Center, locally known as the RenCen, a mixed-use facility that is now the world headquarters of General Motors. I've never been here before, but walking in the door I was instantly in familiar surroundings.

A big part of that is because architect John Portman (of soaring hotel atrium fame) used essentially the same blueprints, but on a smaller scale, for the Bonaventure hotel complex in Los Angeles, right down to the elliptical cantilevered conversation pods. I've spent more than my fair share of time in the Bonaventure (and many other Portman hotels). Like its smaller west coast cousin, the RenCen also hosts a hotel, the Detroit Marriott, which occupies the center tower.

Looking south through the "Wintergarden" area of the RenCen. Center-frame across the river is Ceasar's casino in Windsor, Ontario. Yes, Canada is due south of Detroit, no matter what the Journey song said.

The other familiar memory called up for me here was of the General Motors building in Manhattan, which I visited a number of times in my youth. There, too, huge swaths of the first floor were given over to an all-marques GM new-car showroom. The cars here, other than the ones on the rotating center turntable, are all unlocked for visitors to have a test-fit. In addition to actual cars, a life-size, 3,800-lb replica of a Silverado pickup is made entirely of Lego bricks, and is incredibly detailed.

Lego Silverado.

In the RenCen I also found a half dozen restaurants, a food court, a few shops, and a station for the People Mover. I did not have time to explore more of downtown, but instead I rode back past the marina to the Warehouse District to scope out a couple of our walkable dining options. Before I left the RenCen I noted the Mariner's Church across the street, and beside it the entrance to the tunnel to Windsor, where, for $5 (US or CDN) one can take a bus across for a visit.

A number of tall ships have been cruising downriver, likely returning from another tall ship event. In addition to Bluenose we again saw the Nao Santa Maria, and this, the Appledore IV, whom we see regularly in NY and Key West.

By dinner time, the forecast for rain had been pushed back to 9pm, and we walked a few blocks east to the Atwater Brewing Company for dinner. They had a large selection of their own brews on draft, and we found all three that we sampled very good.

The retail arcade in The Guardian Building.

Yesterday I again took the e-Bike out for some exploration. I rode all the way to the end of the River Walk, where the remains of the Joe Louis Arena are being slowly dismantled. From there I rode through Hart Plaza, which seems like it ought to be a vibrant public space but was, rather, little more than a homeless encampment, perhaps emblematic of the study in contrasts that is modern Detroit.

Looking over the main lobby in the Guardian Building.

From Hart Plaza I made the short ride to the historic Guardian Building, just to see the splendid and well-kept 30's-era lobby areas, before riding around Campus Martius Park, the nominal center of the city. From there I rode out Woodward Avenue, the main drag, all the way to the complex of new sports stadia on the edge of downtown, just past the theater district. I ended my tour back at the RenCen, where for 75 cents I hopped on the People Mover and made the full loop, just for the view.

The James Scott fountain on Belle Isle. My photo could not do it justice.

After a quick late lunch stop at the boat I rode out to Belle Isle. The entire island is a park, and as an urban park, it rivals Central Park, larger in size and also designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed the layout of the national mall and one of my alma maters). By rights it ought to be an urban gem, like its distant cousins in New York and DC, but Detroit's financial troubles doomed it to a shadowy ghost of its former grandeur. It has been leased to the state and is now operated as a state park. I circled the entire island, stopping at the famed fountain, the "casino," the Conservatory, and just outside the Detroit Yacht Club.

The Casino building at Belle Isle. For the record, I can distinguish between excrement and this decidedly modern clock.

At dinner time we strolled along the River Walk to the RenCen for dinner at the upscale Italian place, Andiamo. New York prices for Detroit quality, but we enjoyed sitting outside overlooking the river and the food was acceptable. I think it's a captive audience, with the Marriott hosting a booming conference business.

The aquarium, conservatory, and formal gardens. Not open on my visit.

A day and a half of exploring and two evenings out was plenty of Detroit, and yesterday evening we stowed the e-Bike after dinner and settled in for a final evening of unlimited air conditioning. Around 9:30 we were both rousted from our seats as a loud crash, a sharp movement, and the immediate sound of engines revving told us we'd been hit. A 35'-ish express cruiser had slammed us with his swim platform as he was trying to dock at the other end of the T-head. Inspection in daylight this morning revealed nothing more than a scuff, but sheesh, people, get some boat-handling lessons.

This morning we dropped lines after inspecting for damage and offloading the last of the trash and recycling. The channel west of Belle Isle would have been our preferred route upriver, but at this water level, clearing the fixed bridge would be dicey. Rather than even hassle with it, I cleared in with Sarnia Traffic and we took the ship channel up the Canadian side, departing it when we reached the lake.

View toward Windsor over Hart Plaza.

Update: We are now anchored in the North Channel of the St. Clair River, across from downtown Algonac, Michigan (map). Our old acquaintance the Picton Castle is tied to the bulkhead downtown across from us. We arrived here via the Middle Channel, which has a 7' bar across the entrance, and I had to stop typing until now. The St. Clair actually has a broad delta in Lake St. Clair, with the bulk of the flow taking the three largest channels. The South Channel is the ship channel, and we wanted to keep clear of that as long as we could. In the morning, we'll take the ship channel all the way to Port Huron.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Roller coaster ride

We are under way on Lake Erie, headed for the Detroit River. In just a few minutes we will enter Canadian waters, leaving Ohio behind. When we drop the hook this afternoon we will be in Michigan. The forecasted one footers on the lake are actually 2+ footers, on a short period, so it's quite the choppy ride, but it will be worse tomorrow so we're just plowing through it. We have four hours ahead of us, a good time to catch up the blog.

Even though I posted that we'd eat aboard on Monday, we actually decided to go ashore together and see if we could find dinner in town. We splashed the tender and ran upriver to Black River Landing. The docks were still posted with a $15 entrance fee to the Rockin' on the River festival that had happened in the enormous park over the weekend, but it was deserted on a Monday evening.

Cedar Point at night.

Lorain is clearly in the process of revamping its main street; I would guess eliminating some angle parking in favor of wider sidewalks for cafes and the like. We walked through the construction detritus on our way through town. The only place open on a Monday night was the sports bar, Scorcher's, but it was decently rated, had a large selection of drafts, and the food was fine. We were both happy to get off the boat and stretch our legs.

In the evening, the gleaming white lighthouse on the harbor breakwater was awash with light; a historical society maintains it and it seems to be a major attraction here. I tried to snap a photo but the brilliant white overexposed against the fading sunset background. You'll have to settle for the sunset shot before they lit it all up.

Sunset over Lorain harbor.

We lingered a bit in the morning, as the lake forecast improved throughout the day, but we had the anchor up well before lunch and headed out on a straight-line course to Sandusky. We were not even an hour out when the weather radio started squawking about an enormous thunderstorm with 50-knot winds. The radio alerted pretty much every five minutes for the next hour as the storm moved across the area, and eventually it hit us.

Fortunately, it was coming right at us head-on, so even though it was some 12 miles across, our closing speed was over 36 knots and we were through it in less than 20 minutes. Given our recent lightning experience. we clenched every time we saw a flash, but Vector took the wind and seas in stride.

Just emerging from the storm, as seen on our radar.

At some point the Coast Guard issued a small craft warning, but "seek safe harbor" has a different meaning in a 6.5-knot boat when confronted with storms moving at five times that speed. Our anemometer recorded the wind at 47 mph before it quit working, and we know it went higher than that. Visibility also went to zero for several minutes and I had to activate the automated fog horn.

The forecast called for rain on Wednesday and Thursday, so we planned on heading out to Cedar Point to ride the coasters on Friday. With two full days in Sandusky, we made plans to rent a car and head to Dayton to see friends, and gave them the choice of days. They chose Thursday, and I booked a car for that morning. We figured to be at anchor for both days, after the yacht club quoted us $2 per foot for dockage, and after making the turn around Cedar Point we headed down the channel and all the way to the coal docks.

Sunset over Gibraltar Island, Put-In-Bay.

We dropped the hook in a small embayment next to a long-abandoned berth (map). A small boatyard with a pair of Travelifts is at one corner of the bay, but no other traffic uses it. It was peaceful and calm behind the breakwater with only the sounds of the locomotives and rail cars moving coal. It rained through dinner time and we had a nice meal aboard, but things dried out by evening and we took the tender ashore for a brief walk downtown, landing it right at the foot of the main street.

That was not going to be a good option for leaving it all day on Thursday, and so after our nice walk through town we explored a little in the dinghy looking for other options, settling on the small city marina they call the "Paper District," where we could leave it for the day for $15.

I passed this Amphicar in the dinghy at Put-In-Bay.

Wednesday I had planned to spend the dry parts of the day exploring downtown Sandusky and maybe scoping out a place for dinner. Morning brought a beautiful day, and a check of the forecast revealed that rain, if any, would be limited to perhaps an afternoon sprinkle. Plans on a boat are always fluid and subject to change by the weather, and we quickly re-evaluated our plan to wait till Friday to go to the park.

First and foremost, both the park and its attached marina would be much less crowded on a Wednesday than a Friday. Moreover, the dockage rate would be $95 instead of $110. And by taking two nights at that rate, Vector could be secure at a dock while we went to Dayton, rather than riding unattended at anchor in forecast 25-knot winds.

Our view from the dock. We could hear the ratcheting of the lift hills until the park closed.

A quick check with the Cedar Point Marina revealed we could come right in, and so we weighed anchor and made the half hour trek, and were tied alongside one of their 50' slips (map) by 11am. We spent most of the day in the park, riding perhaps seven or eight of the big coasters along with the giant Ferris wheel and the 300' tall whirligig. In the hottest part of the day we took a short break back at the boat and then went to dinner at the nice seafood place right at the marina. We left the park just ahead of the 10pm closing time.

We had to forego a few of the biggest and newest coasters because the lines were just too long, even on a Wednesday. And perhaps the most famous of all, the Top Thrill Dragster, was inoperative the whole time we were there. Still, we had a great time, and I would be happy to return. If we come by boat we will definitely stay in the marina again, where guests get a one-hour early entrance to the park before the public opening time.

Sunset over Cedar Point as seen from The Big Wheel. Before I got barked at for taking photos in the park; SMH.

Thursday morning Enterprise picked us up bright and early, and we spent the entire day making the round trip to Dayton to visit over lunch with good friends Di and Pam. After lunch we had a tour of their brand new house and some more conversation before heading back; we returned by way of Marysville, where my Honda motorcycles were made, downtown Marion, where we stopped for dinner at a cute Italian joint in an old warehouse, and the quaint downtown Bucyrus. We also made a stop at Walmart to make a return and stock up on a few items.

Friday morning after returning the car we took the Cedar Point shuttle over to their lakefront hotel, The Breakers, and strolled the boardwalk there before making ready to get underway. We were off the dock just before checkout time, as a phalanx of power boat clubs made their way into the marina for the weekend. We made a quick stop at the free pumpout on our way out.

The lake forecast was not great, and while, in hindsight, we should have just bashed our way over to Put-In-Bay on Middle Bass Island while it was still a weekday, instead we headed right back to the same spot in downtown Sandusky where we had spent Tuesday night. I tendered ashore at the free dock in the park just one bay east and explored the town on the e-Bike; we returned to the same dock at dinner time and walked a few blocks to the Shore House Tavern for dinner.

Vector at Put-In-Bay, as seen from The Keys restaurant. Photo: Julie Snyder

Saturday morning as we motored out of Sandusky bay into the lake, an incoming looper hailed us on the radio. We chatted briefly, and when we told him we were headed to Put-In-Bay, he warned us that it was the weekend of the Powerboat Regatta. Sure enough, we dodged and weaved our way through traffic the whole way across, including narrowly missing a Kelley's Island ferry boat that failed to give way. We arrived to the bay to find every mooring ball and dock taken, some rafted four deep.

We had planned to anchor anyway, and the anchorage was empty, mostly owing to a rocky bottom that makes setting a challenge. We had to drag it across the bottom before it set well, but then we had a very nice spot right off the 350' tall Perry Monument (map). By the end of the day, two sailboats had come in and anchored near us. Shortly after we anchored I got a text from a friend in New Orleans who grew up near here; his sister had sent him a photo from her lunch spot ashore and he recognized Vector.

The view from our anchorage. The Perry monument can be seen for miles.

The real challenge turned out to be getting ashore. There is a launch service, which nominally will pick up in the anchorage for $3 per person, but the moorings are their first priority and they told us the anchorage was "captain's discretion." We monitored their radio and some mooring customers waited a long time for pickups. We decided to splash the tender and take our chances with the docks.

I headed ashore stag, and for $10 the town dockmaster put me at the shorewardmost end of a dock otherwise entirely rented out to a club, in a thick mat of weeds. It was all that was available, so I just dealt with the weeds by paddling the last 50'. I spent a half hour or so scoping out the whole town and then spent less than five minutes atop the monument, after waiting in a half hour line. There was a line to get down, too, but that was much shorter.

It looks calm from up here, but if you look closely you'll see every ball taken and boats rafted four deep at the city docks.

It's difficult to describe the atmosphere at Put-In-Bay. Ohioans think of it as the Key West of Ohio, but, honestly, Key West is more laid back. We found it more similar to Block Island, RI. Lots of tiki bars and other open-air venues, with many bars and restaurants having bouncers outside. Rental golf carts choked the streets, and people wandered around town in everything from thong bikinis to Cleveland Browns jerseys.

On this event weekend the town was overbooked, and restaurants don't take reservations on weekends, although some seem happy to take them when you don't actually need them. I made a round trip through the weeds to get Louise for an early dinner, and we just wandered until we found a place that still had sidewalk tables open since it was only 6pm. Our food didn't arrive until after 7 so it all worked out.

Typical of the entire town on a busy Saturday afternoon.

It was a great spot to just watch the zoo. Several folks staggered past that were already three sheets to the wind, which was no surprise considering I watched people pounding Margaritas at 4. One gal in a thong was hamming it up for the less-than-sober appreciative guys. And no fewer than five bachelorette parties passed by us, including one on one of those pedal-car contraptions that, in many other cities, would be a rolling bar (not legal in Ohio, apparently). They clearly stopped for a few along the way.

I had originally figured two nights here, and had it been mid-week or maybe even a less-crowded weekend, we might have stayed and tried to enjoy another of the many eateries in town, or strolled around the park. But neither of us wanted to plow through the weeds again just for more of the same, and, besides, the lake forecast for tomorrow was worse than today.

Vector and her two neighbors at Put-In-Bay.

In another half hour we will be back in the US and hunting for an anchorage with some shelter from these winds. Tomorrow we will make our way up the Trenton Channel, where we hope to find a bit less adverse current than the main channel of the Detroit.

Update: We are anchored in the Trenton Channel of the Detroit River, west of Grosse Ile and just south of the Grosse Ile swing bridge (map), in Trenton, Michigan. As we entered the river depths were shallower than charted, and we had to bypass our planned anchorage and pick our way here through the shoals. In the morning we will clear through the swing bridge and push our way upriver against a knot or so of current.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Have you ever seen Lorain?

We are underway westbound in Lake Erie, bound for Sandusky, Ohio by way of Lorain harbor. Sandusky could have been a long single day, but we wanted to linger in Cleveland this morning. Lorain is about the halfway point and has a protected harbor. Today's post title is a favorite mondegreen from a Creedence classic, our first on the boat. When we were in the bus, pulling into a rest area, there's a bathroom on the right.

Not the best lighting, but our only chance for this shot. That's Vector inside the "C".

Shortly after my last post, I called the downtown marina in Cleveland to see if they had room for us, or at least a place to land a tender. They told me they were full up, but the long face dock was being reserved for a large yacht that was unsure if they could make it in. They told me the yacht was sending someone over to measure, and they should know by 2pm if the dock would be available or not; coincidentally about the time we would arrive. They said we could tie up the tender if not.

Vector docked behind the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

As we got closer to Cleveland we could see a very large but familiar yacht anchored offshore of the breakwaters; a quick check of the AIS confirmed that it was Bella Vita, whom we had encountered docked back in Clayton. We guessed this might be the yacht in question and we knew for sure there was no way she was getting to that dock.

World's largest rubber stamp.

Sure enough, when we called back about fifteen minutes out they told us the dock was available and we could come right in. By 2 we were tied alongside at the "Rock & Dock," behind the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (map). At $2 per foot, this is the most expensive marina in Cleveland, but it's the only one right downtown. And on a Saturday afternoon in the height of the season, it was packed and hopping, with three boat clubs taking up the bulk of the dockage, their members congregating in circled chairs every few dozen feet.

Our neighborhood from Terminal Tower. Vector is just about center frame, above the dome (click to enlarge).

In the immediate neighborhood is not only the aforementioned Rock Hall, but also the Science Center, the William G. Mather steamship museum, the Goodtime III tour boat, a popular trendy nuevo-Mexican joint with three sand volleyball courts, the waterfront "Cleveland" sign popular with tourists, a pedal-boat and jet ski concession, and First Energy Stadium, where the Browns play.

Fountain of Eternal Life, with Terminal Tower (looking much shorter than reality) in the background.

Our good friends Jo Ann and David arranged to come down to meet up with us at 4pm, and in the meantime I walked around the neighborhood getting my bearings. At some point I noticed the access road to the pier was closed off, with police directing traffic, and when I investigated I learned the Browns were having a scrimmage at 4pm. That meant no parking available anywhere and miserable traffic, so our plans for cocktails on board went right out the window.

Instead they picked us up in front of Rock Hall and we went down to The Flats neighborhood for dinner, after first battling our way through the game traffic. With them was a six-week-old puppy, whom they are fostering for a guide dog program. The dog was incredibly cute and garnered lots of attention everywhere we went. They are old hands at this, having now fostered several guide dogs, and even adopting one who washed out of the program (due to allergies). Apparently, foster handlers get first dibs on adopting dogs that don't make the final cut.

Nari the guide-dog-to-be.

Parking at the Flats was also tight, because having just a single downtown game would have been too easy. The Indians were also playing downtown, at Progressive Field not far away. Riding around in the dog-mobile, a long-wheelbase Chevy van, limited our choice of spots. Eventually we made it to our restaurant, appropriately the Thirsty Dog, and discovered we could have driven right up to it in the boat. If we ever come back and anchor we will keep in mind that The Flats has easy boat-in access, right on the Cuyahoga River.

The most I could capture of the rotunda ceiling at Heinen's, formerly Cleveland Trust.

This is the same river, by the way, that caught fire several times, once in my childhood memory, eventually leading to federal environmental regulation. While I would not drink out of it, it's come a long way since then, and now tour boats run up and down the river all day, turning around at Collision Bend before the riverfront becomes strictly industrial.

The floor of the same space, complete with intact Cleveland Trust logo and a harmonious arrangement of tables.

After dinner, David and Jo Ann took us on a brief tour of downtown. Urban renewal has also come a long way in the decade since our last visit here, when they also drove us around downtown. They also ran us out to Walmart to reprovision. We were hoping to wrap the evening up with a brief visit aboard Vector, but parking was still impossible in the very popular waterfront area, even well after the scrimmage was over. We agreed to try to reconnect the following day instead.

Yesterday morning I put the e-Bike on the ground and set out to explore a little of downtown on my own. I first made my way to the Terminal Tower, a landmark building that held the record as the tallest building outside of New York City for quite some time. The lower levels that once comprised Cleveland Union Station are now a shopping mall, but still decorated in the original Beaux Arts style. The mall is dying on the vine.

Cleveland breakwater light on our way out of the harbor.

I purchased a 1pm ticket for the 42nd floor observation deck, and had nearly perfect conditions for an expansive view in all directions. Afterward I rode through downtown some more, stopping at Heinen's Downtown market, cleverly integrated into a nicely done restoration of the Cleveland Trust rotunda building. Lots of Cleveland's historic buildings have escaped the ignominious fate of similar buildings elsewhere, and are making comebacks through repurposing. This morning, looking for a post office, I ended up in The Arcade, now mixed use with retail on the lower levels and a Hyatt hotel above.

The Arcade, now a Hyatt hotel with struggling retail below.

We again got together with Jo Ann, David, and Nari-the-puppy in the evening. Parking was not as tight, and we got the chance to do a little tour of Vector and some cocktails aboard before heading off to dinner; at my request we went a bit further afield to Little Italy, which involved a lovely drive through the parkland of Doan Brook gorge, past the cluster of museums around Wade Oval, and through the campus of Case Western Reserve University. We had a nice dinner at Mia Bella.

Nari visits Vector before dinner. Steamer William G. Mather in the background.

While fairly busy all weekend, the marina was positively empty this morning, and after my excursion to the post office we offloaded the last of the trash and recycling and made ready to get under way. It was a great stop and I could easily have spent another few days in Cleveland, but there is much left for us to explore in the great lakes before the marinas close in Chicago.

Update: We are anchored in Lorain Harbor just west of the east breakwater (map). It was a flat calm cruise and we made excellent time. We're eating aboard tonight but I may splash the tender and go ashore just to have a look around. Tomorrow morning we will head to Sandusky.