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Section 7

Lake Erie

(June 25 - July 9, 1999)

Friday, June 25, 1999. We hung around the dock in Buffalo until 10:30 am because there was a UPS package due to be delivered by that time. It had material from Sterling that Bill was to review yet that day. Well, it finally came at noon, and we left Buffalo. We planned to swing by another marina for fuel up the Niagara River in Buffalo, but when we found out we had to pass yet another lock, we measured our fuel carefully, called both Dunkirk and Ashtabula for fuel availability and price, and decided to wait until Ashtabula.. We hung around the dock in Buffalo until 10:30 am because there was a UPS package due to be delivered by that time. It had material from Sterling that Bill was to review yet that day. Well, it finally came at noon, and we left Buffalo. We planned to swing by another marina for fuel up the Niagara River in Buffalo, but when we found out we had to pass yet another lock, we measured our fuel carefully, called both Dunkirk and Ashtabula for fuel availability and price, and decided to wait for fuel until we reached Ashtabula. It is at this point that Bob and Trish leave us.  They are renting a car to explore the Niagara area before they head home to St. Petersburg.  Having had them on board was just wonderful and great fun.  Their help on all the locks earns them their "lock-degree" and our gratitude.  They made the process a lot easier.

Before I begin a description of our first day on Lake Erie, a few words about the Lake.  Lake Erie is not like the other four Great Lakes in that it is shallow, relatively speaking.  Most of the lake is less than 100 feet deep.  In Lake Ontario we had seen depths of 600+ feet, and the other lakes can approach 1000 feet deep.   Further, Lake Erie runs for several hundred miles oriented from southwest to northeast, and prevailing winds are from the southwest.  As a result, Lake Erie is noted for being rough--even awful.  Further, there are few natural bays, rivers or islands to attract boaters, in particular cruisers.  So, some of the guide books say skip Lake Erie altogether and take the Trent-Severn Waterway directly into Georgian Bay in Lake Huron.  But Interlude is too big for the Trent-Severn, so we have no option by to transverse Lake Erie lengthwise.  But, we had wanted to do that anyway, since we have family and friends near the Lake.  It is with a little concern that we begin our passagemaking in Lake Erie.

We cross the 35 miles to Dunkirk, New York  in three hours and tied up at the Dunkirk Yacht Club. Lake Erie is calm and the water beautiful.  We are instantly and warmly welcomed at the Club, and enjoy their Friday cocktail hour with both regular club members and some others passing through. Several members offer cars if we need one, and several offer to come along as deck hands. Very friendly people, and a nice club. Their entire clubhouse is built on stilts over the water and well off the sea wall.

A comment about yacht clubs. In Florida we treat boating as a 12-month a year proposition. Our clubs stay busy all year round and there are boating activities going on all the time. We have full-time dockmasters, even dock assistants available to help tie-up boats. Further, we have professional staff to answer telephones, take reservations, and we have restaurants, bars, etc. In the north, things are different for an obvious reason. Clubs (or at least boating activities) are seasonal, with some seasons as short as four months. As a result, they don’t tend to have the professional dock staff, and some clubs are self-help (as a member at Dunkirk described it). Each member puts in so many hours each month to keep-up the club. The net of this is that clubs in the north are a lot different than in the south, and we need to change expectations accordingly.

We found a great family restaurant for dinner, and had an old-fashioned fish fry which we both felt was first class. It reminded both of us of the wonderful way Mom Ferne used to fix perch for dinner.

Saturday, June 26, 1999. Today we intentionally got a late start at 9:30 am. We are staying at a fuel dock in Ashtabula, Ohio, this evening and don’t want to block his fuel business until late in the day. According to the navigational computer if we leave at 9:30 am we should arrive about 5:30 pm, and after we spend an hour fueling, it will be near his closing time, so that should be OK for us to then remain at his fuel dock.  The fuel dock is the only space he has large enough for Interlude.

For the first time in the trip we traveled most of the day on the bridge deck. With our bimini up and providing shade, and the temperature perfect, we chose to sit outside. This is an absolutely perfect day—with clear skies, cool temperatures, and calm seas. The water is deep blue and crystal clear. This is a great day to be alive. Finally, at 3:30 pm, we come below decks as it is getting warm and the sun is coming under the bimini.

We arrive in Ashtabula at 5:00 PM and tie up to the gas dock. We take on fuel—all the diesel he has in his tanks. Since we took a lot (over 700 gallons), he gave us free dockage for the night. We went to a fine local restaurant and turned in.

Sunday, June 27, 1999. Today we arrive in Cleveland and rent a car for a drive to Columbus so Jan can attend a meeting and we can go to a funeral. That good or bad timing, depending upon how you look at it.  The trip is uneventful and we cover the 60 miles in about five hours. Lake Erie is relatively calm even though there are storms and showers in the area. We use the radar to track their development and movement.  The manageable seas are due to the prevailing southerly winds which prevent the seas from building appreciably.

We arrive at the Lakeside Yacht Club in Cleveland and tie up to a secure dock well-inside the breakwater. This appears to be a good place to leave the boat for a few days. Upon our arrival, our dockside conversation is drowned out by the roar of the Cleveland Grand Prix race that is running around the runways at the Burke Lakefront Airport—within a stone’s throw of the Interlude. We really know how to pick ‘em.

As we are preparing to leave the boat and run to the taxi, we have our first accident of the trip. Bill installed a two-step boarding ladder since the dock was not low enough to accommodate our five-step ladder. This left a large gap between the bottom step and the dock--in hind sight we should have had a three-step ladder, too. Naturally, we have to leave for the taxi in a driving downpour, and as Jan stepped off the ladder, she missed the long step to the dock.  To compound the problem, she's wearing a long denim skirt. Missing the step she was thrown off balance, and drops straight into the water.   As she fell, she scraped the dock but landed safely in between the dock and the boat. She could have hit her head on so many things, we were lucky.  To make a few moments of panic into a short and happy conclusion, she’s OK—bruised and scraped, but OK. And Bill has learned his lesson. No more big awkward steps. Jan’s sore, but it could have been so much worse. Let' s hope this is the only problem of this nature on the entire trip!

Tuesday, June 29, 1999. We return to Interlude in Cleveland from a two day trip to Columbus. While Jan was at her board meeting, Bill did shopping for a host of small items needed on the boat. One item is a pressure regulator for dockside water. Almost always upon our arrival at a dock, we make a direct connection between shore side water and the Interlude. We do this via a food-grade water hose. This connection means we have our tanked water for times when we’re off-shore. Some docks have such high water pressure they’re causing our connection hoses to burst. So Bill worked with a plumbing wholesaler in Columbus to assemble an in-line water pressure regulation system. Hopefully, this is the end of our bursting hose problems.

In the afternoon, Mary and Roy Gienke, Bill's aunt and uncle, came from Medina to spend the evening with us.  Jan fixed a wonderful pork loin on the grill.

Wednesday, June 30, 1999.  Bill gets up very early and flies to NYC for some consulting with a client.  Jan spends the day working on our condo house plans.   In the afternoon she is joined by Ann Euranius and her two beautiful daughters, Megan and Erin.  Ann and Jan had been classmates at Capital, and for the most part, hadn't seen each other in nearly 30 years.   They spend  the afternoon getting "caught up".

Bill returned about 7:00 pm and the five of us went out to dinner since Ann had a car.   We eat at Macaroni Grill and have a good time.

Thursday, July 1, 1999.  Jan's still sore from her fall and we're concerned that there might be a cracked rib or something else wrong as a result of her tumble into the water on Monday.  So, we call Mary and Roy and ask them if they know of a walk-in clinic that has x-ray capability.  They take her to the clinic and find out she is just bruised and sore.  The clinic suggests a stronger anti-inflammatory drug and more ice which seems to help her feel better. 

Bill spends the morning washing down Interlude, hooking up the water pressure regulator system (it works fine), and cleaning and stowing the large ball fenders that we use for locking.  We won't need them again for 1000 miles or more, and they take up a lot of deck space, so we send them back to the generator room.  In the afternoon, the KVH electronics technician works on the satellite TV system which isn't performing up to snuff.   It's still under warranty so we feel this is a good thing to do while we're here in a big city.

Late in the afternoon, Beth and Don Maxwell drive up from Columbus.  Beth is formerly Beth Ullery and she and Dave (her late husband) were among our best friends.   She has remarried to Don Maxwell, and we arev really glad to see her happy and well.   We talk up a storm and plan to have dinner nearby.  They'll spend the night with us here on Interlude. 

For dinner we took advantage of the Maxwell's car and drove down the lake to Hornblower's Restaurant which is a converted boat tied-up to a dock.  The restaurant advertises that it is a "barge and grill" -- love the humor in that!   ...and the food was really good, too.  After dinner we watched "Air Force One" on the boat ---a great action film.

Friday, July 2, 1999.  We got up leisurely and saw the Maxwell's off.   Wish we could have found a way to have them travel with us to Sandusky, but it didn't work.  We'll try to get them on board again when we're heading south in the river system.  We made the run to Sandusky easily in 4 hours, and tied-up in Battery Park Marina near Cedar Point about 2:30 PM.  Bill works on a scrub-down and Jan does some laundry in preparation for new guests.

By 5:00 PM family begins to arrive. First Rich and Nancy Ferne (Jan's brother and his wife) arrive with some of Nancy's family who stopped by to see the boat.  Next,  Karen Ferne, our niece showed up followed by  Wayne with his wife Robbin, with their kids, Megan and Brent .  Wayne is another of Jan's brothers.  They'll stay aboard and Wayne and Robbin will travel with us  into Lake Huron.  Finally, John and Sherry (still another of Jan's brothers) arrived and we have the makings of a party.  We order pizza to be delivered to the boat, and enjoy a fine evening sitting on the bridge watching the activity in this busy marina, and getting caught up on everybody's lives.

One of the highlights of the evening is learning that the plural of "Canada Goose" is  "Canada Geese", not "Canadian Geese" -- so please, dear readers, mentally correct any previous incorrect references in this tome.  At 10:30 PM we watched fireworks at Cedar Point Amusement Park across the bay, then everybody hit the hay.

Saturday, July 3, 1999.  We spent the day leisurely talking and watching the passing boat parade in Sandusky, Ohio.  Our position in Battery Park Marina is such that literally hundreds of boats pass within "arms reach".  Consequently, we have the opportunity to critique docking expertise, maneuvering expertise, quality of sun tan, etc.  Wayne and Robbin's drove their car to take us to the grocery, a fruit stand, and of course, West Marine.  We purchased replacement speakers for the bridge deck.   In the afternoon, Bill got the speakers replaced, and the new ones look better (white instead of black) and sound terrific..  We spent the day leisurely talking and watching the passing boat parade in Sandusky.  Our position in Battery Park Marina is such that literally hundreds of boats pass within "arms reach".  Consequently, we have the opportunity to critique docking expertise, maneuvering expertise, quality of sun tan, etc.  Wayne and Robbin drove their car to take us to the grocery, a fruit stand, and of course, West Marine.  We purchased replacement speakers for the bridge deck.   In the afternoon, Bill got the speakers replaced, and the new ones look better (white instead of black) and sound terrific.  

Late the in the afternoon all the family  met at  niece Karen's condo in Port Clinton and then had dinner at John and Sherry's new home in West Harbor.    It was so hot we picnicked inside and moved to their deck  to watch fireworks (the first of many) across the harbor.  It's great to get the family together.  By the way, Port Clinton is the waterfront town where we had our first boat, a 27' Paceship sailboat, that Lisa named the Sun Bum.

Sunday, July 4, 1999.  Happy Independence Day everybody!   We got up later than usual and enjoyed a quiet morning reading the newspaper, continuing to watch the boat traffic, and generally staying in doors.  It is very hot!  Setting records.  Our thermometer registered 98, and it was over 100 inland in many places.  The same is to continue tomorrow, and perhaps into Tuesday.

In the afternoon, we watched a drama unfold before our eyes. A small cutty-cabin sailboat overturned and sank near the entrance to the marina.  There are thousands of boats around, so the sailors were quickly rescued and taken ashore.  The sailboat remained vertical as it sat on the bottom, with only the top of the mast showing above the water.  During the next three hours we watched as Towboat US brought a crane boat and three divers to recover the boat.  By late in the afternoon the boat was re-floated, pumped out, and ready to bring to shore.  But then the crane boat wouldn't run, so it had to be towed.  Quite a sight, a tow boat pulling the crane boat which was pulling the sailboat.  Nothing like a lazy 4th of July!

We were privileged to greet friends of John and Sherry on the boat when 10 of them stopped by unexpectedly for a visit.  Later in the afternoon, we returned to John and Sherry's for another picnic, (joined by nieces Sara and Beth with Beth's husband Rob) and then back to the boat for the big Cedar Point fireworks--by midnight we're exhausted, say good-by to the family, and turn in.

Monday, July 5, 1999.  We say good-by to Megan and Brent who are driving back to Columbus and their summer jobs.  We take Interlude out of Sandusky Bay heading west.  The trip to Toledo is uneventful except that Lake Erie gets shallower the further west we go.  As we approach the western end of the lake, we find that we need to enter the Toledo ship channel about nine miles from Toledo to assure consistently deep water.  On the way in we pass the Toledo Light, which is one of the most picturesque lighthouses we've seen to date.

We tie up to the dock at the Toledo Yacht Club that is a beautiful vintage building, and scrub down.  Once again, we've grown a layer of small insects which need to be washed off. In salt water we didn't have the bugs, but we had salt. In fresh water there's no salt, so we have bugs.  We wash down regardless.

For dinner we are joined by Robbin's mother, her brother and his wife, Andy and Debbie.  We have a wonderful meal of bratwurst which Wayne and Robbin had brought from Schmidt's in Columbus.  A real treat--we've enjoyed Schmidt's sausage for years and years--none better.  It was a pleasure to have Robbin's family on board and we had a pleasant evening of conversation. 

After they left,  the four of us walked around the yacht club, and into an adjacent yacht club. To our great surprise, we walked past a familiar large yacht by the name of Sea Dozer--the infamous "rude dude" who had thrown a fisherman from his boat by her wake back in North Carolina (see Trip Diary - Monday, May 3, 1999).   No one was aboard, and that's probably good, since I'm not sure what we would have said to them.

Tuesday, July 6, 1999.  The weather is forecast to turn sour in the afternoon with a passing cold front.  This is both good and bad news--it's good since it may bring some relief from the 100 degree heat; it's bad news since we have 60+ miles to cover to reach our destination in Detroit.  So, we get a good start and retrace our route into Toledo, this time taking the ship channel north toward Michigan.

The journey through the Detroit River and past downtown Detroit is interesting and provides lots at which to look.  Since the Detroit River divides the U.S. from Canada, we spent a couple of hours traveling right down the line separating the two nations--rather novel, and a testimony to peaceful coexistence since this is for the most part, just any river. No patrol boats, no customs people boarding and checking, etc.  The only thing present is current running against us--probably in the range of 2-4 knots.  The current slows our trip north, but provides a wonderful flushing action for the waterways in the Detroit area.  The water in the river is clean and clear even though we are surrounded by industries that aren't. We are surprised by the lack of commercial traffic on the river--perhaps this is just a slow holiday week.

We leave the Detroit River and all the industry and enter Lake St. Claire--a large but shallow lake that with the St. Claire River finish the connection between Lake Erie and Lake Huron.  A short distance into the lake we leave the ship channel and route ourselves directly to the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club.  We are invited into this club as the guest of Interlude's previous owners, Bob and Vickie Liggett.   The club is a beautiful facility  with a neat draw bridge connecting the walkways in the marina.

Wayne and Robbin met a friend for dinner (Wayne grew up in Detroit), and we met the Liggett's for drinks on Interlude and an update on the changes we've made to the boat, then a tour of their beautiful home and a wonderful dinner in a historic restaurant in Detroit called the Roma Cafe (highly recommended).  Bob and Vickie have suggestions for us about our trip north, and we spend the evening talking about boating, raising children (they have three young daughters), etc.  All in all, it's a wonderful time and the Liggetts are perfect hosts.  We also make arrangements with Bob to ship the spare set of propellers we purchased from him for Interlude to Viking Boatworks in St. Petersburg when we're headed south in the fall.  In the meantime he'll keep them in Detroit in case we need them while in the Great Lakes.

Wednesday, July 7, 1999.  We spend the day at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club.  In the morning, we dinghy to St. Claire Shores to look around at "Nautical Mile" then lunch at Jake's before we head back.  In the afternoon, we tour Detroit with our niece, Beth Ferne Johnson, and visit the church where she is the pastor.  It is a pleasant afternoon.

For dinner we are joined by Nils Erik Aaby, an old friend of our family who works in Detroit, but lives in Denver.  Nils Erik taught in the Business School at Pacific Lutheran University with Bill many years ago.  We've stayed in touch ever since, and the last several years we've done a session of spring skiing with Nils Erik and his wife, Mary Jane.   We had drinks at the Tower Pub in the Grosse Point Yacht Club, and dinner in the Binnacle Room.  Good food, good company, good fun.

Thursday, July 8, 1999.  Up and with a good start at 8:00 AM for Port Huron, about 60 miles to the north.  The first part of this trip is across Lake St. Claire.  Just like Lake Erie, this is a shallow lake and known to blow up--small craft warnings are posted at 10:00 AM with the approach of a cold front, but we make it through with no problems.

The second part of this journey is up the St. Claire River which is wide and deep.  We encounter several freighters along the way and many fisherpeople (mostly men).  The shore is U.S. on the west and Canada on the east.  Very interesting.  For the most part, the Canadian shore is less developed but neater.   The U.S. shore is more developed but junkier.  However, there are stretches of wilderness and areas of beautiful homes on both sides along the way.

At 1:05  PM we arrive in the Black River, which is a sharp turn to port off the St. Claire River.  We know it is 1:05 PM because we've just missed the opening of the bridges which lead to our marina.  We have almost a half-hour to wait since these are controlled bridges opening only on the hour and half hour.  The Black River is very narrow, and rather than attempt to hold place in the crowded waterway, Bill executes an about face and returns to the wide St. Claire River to wait out the time and prepare lines for dockage.

We arrive at Port Huron River Street  Marina and are informed there is a large box waiting for us from Sony.  The monitor has been returned for the navigation station in the pilot house--Bill is elated and spends the first minutes of dock time installing the monitor.  It works beautifully.

We have lunch at the Quay Brew Pub a couple of blocks down the river.  The walk feels good and the local brew is acceptable.

Port Huron is the starting point for one of two annual summer sailboat race events.  The first is the Chicago to Mackinac  race which is to be run this weekend.  The second is the Port Huron to Mackinac race which is to be run next weekend.  Port Huron is always party town when the 300+ boats convene in the narrow river prior to the start of the race.  We will be working our way north during these events and hope to see some of the boats underway.  We will plan to avoid Mackinac Island until well-after the races.  At any rate, the signs are up and the town is prepared for the onslaught--it must be really exciting.

For dinner we grill the beautiful strip steaks that Wayne and Robbin have brought along. We wash them down with a 1993 Ridge Zinfandel--a memorable dinner.   While dinner is cooking, Wayne and Robbin attend  an "Art in the Park" performance of operatic arias performed on a nearby hillside.  Gee, culture, too!

We end the day sitting on the bridge deck in the dark enjoying the mild evening.  We go below just as the rains start.

Friday, July 9, 1999.  We get a leisure start today since we have only 50 miles to go to reach Harbor Beach on Lake Huron. It has rained all night, and the morning is windy and rainy.  We listen to the NOAA weather forecast, and they predict rain and thunderstorms plus winds of 15 to 25 mph.  We decide to go anyway, perhaps against our better judgment, but driven by a schedule (one important reason not to have a schedule).

The day proves uneventful but very windy, by the time we are within five miles of Harbor Beach, winds are blowing in excess of 30 mph.  To make matters worse, as we approach the dock, we're asked to stand off until the boats at the gas dock have cleared.   We wait for 15 minutes trying to hold position with a strong wind off our port bow quarter.  Not a fun experience but Interlude takes the choppy seas without even requiring the stabilizers.  Eventually we tie-up and shut down the engines.

In the afternoon, we take a marina shuttle into the town of Harbor Beach.  Not much here, so rather soon we walk back.  At least the exercise is good for us.

In the afternoon, we take on 600 gallons of fuel and do a pump out.  Bill also fixes the computer mouse on the pilot house navigation system, and Jan works on house plans for our meeting in St. Petersburg with the architect next week.

For dinner, Robbin and Jan make a wonderful spaghetti and meatball dinner. Excellent.