Friday, August 23, 2019

On the shores of Gitche Gumee

We are under way in the ship channel, headed for Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior. Winds today are gusting to 20 knots, and so we will not be heading out into the lake or even crossing the bay.

Our cruise Wednesday afternoon through the St. Joseph Channel in Canada was absolutely beautiful. The channels are deep and rocky, and the current is swift in the narrower sections. Even though it is still August, some fall color is already starting to show here, the farthest north we've ever been in Vector.

Sunset from our remote and peaceful anchorage at Glen Cove Tuesday.

We cleared under a single fixed bridge on the route, at the Twyning Islands, connecting them and St. Joseph Island to the Ontario mainland. We ended the day back in US waters just east of the southern tip of Sugar Island, where we dropped the hook in a dredge spoil pile (map). This channel of the St. Marys River is scoured to rock through much of its length, and while there are a couple of protected anchorages on the Canadian side, we can't use them without clearing customs in both directions. The spoil pile provided holding where there would otherwise be none.

This anchorage, while not as remote as Tuesday's, was also mostly dark and quiet; a Corps of Engineers crane barge arrived in the evening and tied to the shoreline a half mile from us, and left again in the morning. We had a nice dinner and a quiet night aboard.

Cruising the Wilson Channel on approach to the Twynings Islands Bridge. Much of the scenery looked like this.

Yesterday morning we got an early start, heading upriver and into Lake George, where I could let the autopilot drive for an hour or so. More fjords, current, and spectacular scenery, this time alternating between Canadian waters on our starboard and Michigan to port, eventually brought us back to the main ship channel at Sault Ste. Marie.

We cleared in with Soo Traffic, and a short while later we arrived at the George Kemp Marina, another DNR marina in downtown Sault, almost immediately downstream of the Soo Locks. We backed in to a 45' slip as directed (map) and were secure alongside by 1:30 in the afternoon. We immediately started in on "dockside errands," with Louise starting on several loads of laundry (we really need dockside water for laundry) while I pressure-washed what seemed like tons of bug poop off the aft deck areas.

The lake is still very high, and this camper on the Michigan side was flooded.

That still left me an hour to explore town on the e-Bike and swing by the grocery store, on the other side of the hydroelectric canal, for some much-needed provisions, including replenishing the critical beer supply. Long-time readers may remember that we stopped here in Odyssey over a decade ago,  and not much has changed about the small downtown area since then. We spent the entire visit watching the locks back then, rather than strolling the town.

Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan is all about the Soo Locks. What tourism is here is here for the locks, and it supports a small handful of souvenir shops and tourist restaurants. The rest of the infrastructure supports the Coast Guard station, which includes a Sector command, and the Corps of Engineers, who run the locks and also maintain an office, a survey crew, and channel maintenance crews here. By contrast, the Canadian counterpart across the river is a larger city, supporting a Walmart, numerous restaurants, and the like, being, as it is, in the temperate part of the country.

Our dinner venue, overlooking the lock across the street. I love the vintage sign.

Last night after dinner, I spent about four hours on routes, plans, and contingencies. The fall color and crisp temperatures were something of a wake-up call; we need, in short order, to be moving steadily south. We have a target of leaving Chicago, our final city on the Great Lakes, on October 3rd, to be queued for the Lockport lock on the Illinois Waterway when it reopens on October 5th after a two-week maintenance closure.

The timing would support us spending perhaps a bit over a week here in Lake Superior. That's not really enough to get to the most interesting parts, which would be the Apostle Islands or Isle Royale, and certainly not enough to make it to Duluth and back, but it would be just enough to get out to the Pictured Rocks and a short stay in Munising. Again, long-time readers may remember we stopped in Munising in the bus and took a tourist cruise past the pictured rocks.

The view from our marina. Laker in the background is a museum ship; historic Water Street homes are at right.

Alas, the weather on the lake will not be conducive to even getting that far in a week's time, or possibly even longer. With each passing day the odds increase that we'll be stuck somewhere on the lake for several days, picking our way back. A 60-mile stretch, ten full hours, from Whitefish Point to Grand Marais with no intermediate safe harbors of refuge means we'd need a full-day window in each direction to even make it to the next town.

This morning's re-check of the weather confirmed that it would be a bad idea to even cross Whitefish Bay, and so we opted instead to merely have a taste of the big lake, going as far as the Gros Cap Reef and then turning around for one of the few accessible anchorages, in a small bay called Waiska Bay and known locally on the VHF as Whiskey Bay. On the shores of the bay are a Native American casino and a state park where, as it happens, we stayed in Odyssey, just before our stop at the locks.

This CoE building from 1942 still says "War Department." For those on the water it is easy to forget the CoE is still part of the Army, in the Department of Defense.

The wisdom of our decision was confirmed as we made our approach to the reef light, bouncing over steepening waves as the St. Marys gave way to Whitefish Bay. As soon as we turned around to put wind and waves (and current) behind us, the ride got much more comfortable.

Knowing we would be in a marina last night, we had our mail and another package sent. Our mail arrived yesterday, but the other package was delayed. We lingered a bit at the dock this morning, but ultimately had to drop lines without it. We have to pass this spot in the other direction, and we asked if we could drop by the fuel dock and pick it up. We stopped at the same dock on our way out for a pump-out. The package arrived, according to tracking, a couple of hours after we left.

The "Tower of History." Little more than an elevator to a tiny overlook, built in brutalist style. We did not ascend.

We crossed the channel to the Canadian side to uplock through the Canadian lock. The big locks that handle the freighters and tugs are both on the American side, with the actual St. Mary's Falls in between. The Canadian lock is much smaller and easier to use for pleasure craft, and the CoE prefers pleasure craft and other small vessels use the Canadian lock. As we entered the lock, the pilot boat was coming out from locking down. We did have to wait about ten minutes. Clearing in with customs is not required just to use the lock.

The Canadian side of the St. Marys River upstream of the locks is very industrial, basically a large transfer port for bulk material, arranged in tall piles. I was too busy navigating to get a photo. That was out of sight, though, as soon as we rounded Pointe Aux Pins, and the lakefront is now quite scenic.

Approaching the Canadian Canal lock. US-flag pilot boat is just exiting. Lock keepers were very friendly.

Update: We are anchored in Waiska Bay (map). We are now at 603' above sea level, 210' below our record, set in Knoxville three years ago. Shoals surround us so we are pretty much mid-bay, and even in this little bay the wind is stirring up some chop. As long as it does not get too bad, we'll splash the tender and run the 3/4 mile to shore, where we spotted another restaurant down the street from the casino. If that doesn't pan out, the casino has a dock and three restaurants.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed that area. I somtimes traveled on our frighters thru the locks when I worked for a GL shipping company. It never ceased t amaze me how silly folks were to camp or build sheds so close to the water.


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