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.


  1. We spent 3 days in Sault Ste. Marie a couple weeks ago. Watched ships passing our RV site and also from viewing area overlooking Soo locks. Explored town (US side) on bikes. The Valley Camp ship museum is worth a visit. Would have loved to see you. Enjoy!

  2. Cathy, I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
    Michigan seems like a dream to me now
    It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
    I've gone to look for America


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