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.

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