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Section 8 (continued)

Lake Huron

(July 23 - August 5, 1999)

Friday, July 23, 1999.  We leave Hessel around 11:00 A.M. and head down the Snows Channel--weather looks iffy but storms are still a hundred miles or more to the west.  The Snows Channel runs in front of the Ferne cottage.  We scoped the channel yesterday using the dinghy's depth sounder to make sure there was enough water for Interlude.

An aside about water levels in the Great Lakes.  There are no tides in the Great Lakes which makes docking easy and consistent.  But, the lakes do vary in overall water level both within each yearly cycle and between years.  For example, this year the water is very low--overall they are down between 1.5 and 2.0 feet compared to last year.  Interestingly, that makes the charts, which read mean low water datum, remarkably accurate.  But it does make marinas an issue where they have been dredged.  We ask each how much water they have both at dockside and in the entrance channels.  A few marinas are closed to us because of our 5.5 foot draft.   By late in the summer, the lakes are expected to be down another half foot--part of the yearly cycle.  This will only complicate matters more.  The water is down because the last two years have had minimal snowfall and not much rainfall during the rest of the year.  We saw some photographs at the cottage from 1959 when the water was so low the cribs under the boathouse were completely out of the water--that's three feet lower than the current situation.

Wayne meets us in a small boat as we come down the channel, and snaps some pictures for us--you can see them on the web page, particularly the shots where we're trying to get Interlude into the boat house.  To quote Goethe:  "Yes, I guess not!"  Nice try, anyway.  What a wonderful experience to move slowly down the channel  in the Interlude.  This short run of a more or so is truly the culmination of a lot of years worth of dreams.  It would be wonderful if Mom and Dad Ferne could be here now.

A few words about the docks in this area.  As astute readers and neophyte hydraulic engineers, as I'm sure most of you are, you will note that docks in this area are, for the most part, not floating, but rather built on cribs of logs that are spanned by stringers. The decking is nailed to the stringers.  This crib design has been used for years.  Dad Ferne built the dock at the cottage decades ago, using logs spiked together to form cribs roughly four to five feet square.  These cribs are then filled with large rocks.  Surprisingly, they are relatively stable during the long winters when the ice freezes very thick.  Over many years the cribs will move a little, and require some adjustment, but for the most part, they stay put.  Many new docks in the area, today, are built the same way.  The boathouse at the cottage sits on four large cribs built-up in the same manner.  This is a construction technique we've seen nowhere else on our travels of more than 3,200 miles on this trip.

We exit the Les Cheneaux Islands by Middle Entrance and head to De Tour (remember the great dinner on Drummond Island--De Tour is where we caught the ferry). The De Tour Marina is a wonderful facility and we have 2 (count 'em) 50a circuits.   Good thing.  It's hot!  Part of the national heat wave.  We tie up to the "courtesy dock" and spend the afternoon watching the storms pass.   We use the afternoon to refill the water tanks, do some laundry, and get caught up on archiving photos to the Jazz drive. Jan fixes a wonderful gourmet pizza for dinner.

Saturday, July 24, 1999.  The morning begins with fog--the water is cold and the air warm and humid, therefore fog.  Bill walks to the local bakery, a landmark in the area, for some goodies.  Seems like half the marina is gathered at the bakery.  We go with local recommendations.

The trip up the St. Mary's River is tranquil and beautiful--especially in how primitive it is.  The shoreline is wooded and secluded, and the water exceptionally clear--brilliantly clear.  We make the trip in three hours and arrive in Sault Ste Marie.  We tie up at the George Kemp city marina which is adjacent to the freighter-museum, the Valley Camp.  This is a 600 foot long freighter that has been turned into a museum.  We tour the freighter and enjoy the exhibits and the views from the top deck.

For dinner we walk into downtown Sault Ste Marie (U.S.) and are disappointed.  There isn't much there.  So, once again, we settle for a hamburger and walk home.

Sunday, July 25, 1999.  Wayne and Robbin drive up to join us for the day and take the Interlude through the lock into Lake Superior.  We begin by locking through the Canadian Lock (which connect Lake Huron to Lake Superior), a lift of 21 feet.  The Canadian Lock has recently been rehabbed and is now used for pleasure craft exclusively.  It takes us nearly two hours to get through the lock, so we must change plans and abandon our proposed trip to Whitefish Point where we were going to visit the Edmund Fitzgerald memorial and museum. 

Instead, we decide to go no further than Point Iroquois -- this point has a wonderful lighthouse.  At home, in St. Petersburg, we have a wonderful watercolor painting of the Point Iroquois lighthouse in winter, and we wanted to see it in person.  The decision to cut our travels short is a good one, because it is windy and the Lake Superior is taking charge.  We run the 20 miles without problems, but it was getting worse, and we were glad to turn back to the safely of more secluded waters.   But, before we were done, we got some wonderful photos and memories of the light.  

Point Iroquois is also significant in that it is the northern-most point in our Great Circle trip.  The latitude we recorded at Point Iroquois is 46 degrees, 30.5 minutes north.  We head south from this point on.

The beauty of this area is indescribable.  The water is as clear as it can be, as blue as it can be, and the air as fresh as possible.  One cannot describe it,  you must come here and have that thrill yourself.

As we returned to Sault Ste Marie. we locked down through the U.S. locks (there are four of them side by side) -- this lock was 1250 feet long and 125 feet wide.  We felt like a smelt in a bathtub. Beside us in the next lock was one of the super-freighters which now ply lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior.  The are more than 1000 feet long and 100 feet wide.  They are too big, by far, to exit these lakes via the Welland Canal, so the spent their lifetimes in these four lakes.

In the late afternoon we take Wayne and Robbins car and drive back to Point Iroquois to get a better look.  It is as good by land as it is by water and we enjoy a couple of hours touring, looking, inhaling, and experiencing.  Sorry to be so schmaltzy, but this place is sensational and breathtaking.

We then drive to the Canadian Sault for dinner, but discover that the recommended restaurant is closed on Sunday, so we drive back to the U.S. Sault for dinner at Freighters.  We all eat Lake Superior whitefish, naturally!

After dinner Wayne and Robbin depart for the cottage and a return to Columbus on Monday.  We've enjoyed spending so much time with them, something we haven't been able to do in the past.  They make great traveling companions.

Monday, July 26, 1999.  Today was to begin our foray into the North Channel of Lake Huron.  This is an area revered by cruisers for its pristine scenery, crystal clear water, and friendly people.  But, we remain at dock in Sault Ste Marie awaiting the passing of a cold front (bringing relief to millions, hopefully in this summer of the endless heat wave).  And that's fine, it gives us time to catch up on other stuff.Monday, July 26, 1999.  Today was to begin our foray into the North Channel of Lake Huron.  This is an area revered by cruisers for its pristine scenery, crystal clear water, and friendly people.  But, we remain at dock in Sault Ste Marie awaiting the passing of a cold front (bringing relief to millions, hopefully in this summer of the endless heat wave).  And that's fine, it gives us time to catch up on other stuff.

Tuesday, July 27, 1999.  We leave at 6:30am for the North Channel by retracing our trip up the St. Marys River.  However, we divert into the St. Joseph Channel for a beautiful trip winding around islands and through narrows.   The area is dotted with cottages and small marinas on the islands.

We end the day in Gore Bay.  I remember Al Gore, on a recent campaign visit saying:  "I'm really attracted to this area for some reason, but I'm not sure why--can Canadians vote for president?"  Gore Bay is a find.   It sits in a small inlet in Manatoulin Island, the largest of the string of islands that separate the North Channel from the bulk of Lake Huron.  Manatoulin Island is so large it has lakes within it, and there are islands within those lakes. 

At dinner we ask our server how exactly you get here by land.   For the first time on the trip, we don't know exactly where we are, nor how to get here.  As we enter the harbor at Gore Bay we're hailed on the VHF by "Absolut" another boat from St. Petersburg.  (I'm almost positive I've seen it at SPYC.)  We were busy docking when they hailed us, and I said I'd recall them on the radio once we were in, but they didn't answer when I called later.  The high hills in this area could keep VHF communications to much shorter effective distances than in flatter land.

Tied up behind us on the face dock is Nancy's Dream, a Hatteras with the hailport of Belleair FL--it turns out to be Mike Mahrer also of St. Pete.  What a small world.   He is chatting with Larry Kelly of Naples, and they invite us to the Hatteras Rendezvous in Little Channel .  A "boat rendezvous" is a gathering of like boats (same manufacturer as in the case of Hatteras, but it might also be like-minded boaters, as in the Trawlerfest) at a particular location for a couple of days of gab, seminars, common meals and general fun.  We would love to attend the Hatteras gathering, we're so close, but we have to be in Mackinaw City on Friday night so that we can fly out on Saturday.  So, we'll miss the Hatteras event. Nuts!

Back to the Mahrers for a minute. To demonstrate what a small world it is, we met the Mahrers' when Wendell Twyman brought them by our house in Bayway Isles.   Wendell's company, Architectural Woodsource, did the extensive woodwork and cabinetry in our home, and he was working with the Mahrer's on their new home in Belleair.  So we had hosted them briefly at Bay House.  The Mahrer's have a 58 foot Hatteras and a 74 foot on order for Spring 2000 delivery.  They have been naturally anxious about moving to such a large boat and were glad to hear we handle a 70 footer by ourselves (no professional crew) with few problems.  What a pleasure to meet them again along the way.

Both Larry and Mike knew Interlude when it was Motivation (the first of three names this craft has had).  The first owner is an engineer and that accounts for some of the very neat systems on Interlude.  He has moved to an 85 foot Burger, which he handles himself, again without crew.  We understand he's improved on some of the ideas he developed on Interlude.  It would be fun to meet him and see what's new.

At dinner, we feast alfresco on local rainbow trout--perfectly grilled at J&B's Restaurant.  The fish were caught earlier in the   day--fabulous.  And as we chatted with the owner/chef, he indicated he had spotted our arrival into Gore Bay--the word gets out quickly, as usual.  You can't be a big fish in a small pond (excuse the close-in metaphor) without people noticing.   We chat with another couple in the restaurant who are from the North Channel area and feel it is the best  cruising ground in North America (they haven't been to Florida's West Coast yet).  There are many people around here who agree with them.   The Mahrers are so in love with the area, the leave their boat in Harbor Springs in the winter and never move it from the Great Lakes.  They keep a runabout in Florida.

Wednesday, July 28, 1999.  We planned to get an early start on a day of sightseeing and an hour or two of SCUBA maintenance in a quiet cove.  But we awake to small craft warnings and marine advisories with a wave of storms passing the area.   From the weather channel we observe a significant wave crossing overhead and we decide to sit it out.  Shortly thereafter the weather channel goes off the air due to participation in the air (satellite-direct TV is great, but it cannot see through heavy rain.) 

We left at 10:30 and arrived at Little Current around 1:30 after waiting for the fuel dock to clear where we would spend the night.  At the fuel dock we filled up with fuel after determining  the price taking into consideration the conversions of liters and Canadian dollars.  We also do a pump out and add water...in all, this process requires more than two hours, but it needs to be done.  During the afternoon the weather looks better...the overcast and rain changes to high humidity and higher temperatures.   We're getting some of what the rest of the country is getting.

In the early afternoon several big boats come into this small marina--mostly Hatterases.  The gathering for the rendezvous is starting.

This area of the North Channel has more pleasure boats than we've seen since the 4th of July weekend at Port Clinton or the weekend in Bay City.  This is remarkable because we're in the middle of nowhere.  During the trip in, here in the vicinity of Little Current, we probably saw over 100 boats moving about the waters.  This area really appeals to the cruising mentality.

Early in the evening, we walk into the town of Little Current for a look-see.  Not too much going on, but we do find a pleasant stop for dinner.  When we return, we work our power such that we can turn on air conditioning in the salon (it means turning everything else except bilge pumps off) since we only have 30 amp instead of our usual 50's.  We'll move the A/C to the bedroom later tonight.  Regarding the heat: the locals are in extacy.  It's never been this warm here for so long (two weeks) before.  It seems tropical to them.  To those of us who have come north to find cool, it's a little much.  On our way home from dinner, a fifteen minute walk, we spot yet another thunderstorm in the distance.  The instability continues...

Thursday, July 29, 1999.  Since we aren't going far today, we leave about 9:00 AM and work our way through the islands of the North Channel to the "town" of Melodrama Bay.  We tie up at the very small marina which can handle perhaps a dozen boats.  We are bigger than the next three combined.  We spend the afternoon doing a major washdown on the hull which is covered with spiders, webs, and bugs.   Comes with the territory.

We left in the morning with small craft warnings and wind warnings up.  However, NOAA weather radio has been feeding us this everyday and generally we have nothing worse than showers.  So, this time we watch the weather channel and look carefully at the satellite photos.  It shows a wave of weather passing to the south so we go--and without problems.  It is windy when we dock, but we're getting used to it.

(While on the way, Bill got a call from Sony--the monitor is fixed (again) and they're shipping it to Mackinaw City marina.  We should have it tomorrow night. Hurray.)

Docked next to us is an old sailing ship of probably 55 feet in length.  This boat is being used by the Boy Scouts for weekly cruises.  We chatted with one of the boys.   This cruise includes kids from Madison, WI, and they've logged some impressive miles in their week.  What a great experience they're having.

About 5:30 PM we watch as a station wagon comes down the gravel road.  It has a sign of "home baked goods" on top of it and we've been warned about this guy.   So, we head out to the picnic table and stand in line for our turn.  This guy's wife bakes all day, and then he sells it at the marina late in the afternoon.   We bought a bumbleberry pie (If you don't know what that is - it is a mixture of berries.  We asked what was in today's and the guy said, "blueberry, raspberry, strawberry and rhubarb.")   We also bought four raspberry muffins. When we got back to the boat, we went with the motto: "Life is short, eat desert first!"  So we had warm (like in still warm from the oven) bumbleberry pie with ice cream.  Fabulous.  Check out the photos of this local color.

For dinner, Jan makes reservations for us at the Meldrum Inn, a short walk away.   By calling in for reservations, we are able to request a local specialty of a whole baked whitefish for two. Well, dinner is great; the whitefish is simple but perfect.   The dinner is served on a large platter with the fish about 16" long down the center.  On one side is a simple salad of greens and on the other side is rice.   Dinner for two on a platter --- and you get to figure out how to get it neatly on your plates!. 

After dinner we watch the Boy Scouts clowning around on the end of the dock--diving, jumping, having a good time. We move to the bridge and watch the sunset; a perfect evening and we didn't even need long sleeved shirts!                                

Thursday, July 30, 1999.  We get an early start on our long run back to civilization.  By 7:00 AM we're on our way for the 90 mile trip to Mackinaw City.   The day is perfect and we enjoy our last few hours cruising the North Channel then turn south through the Mississagi Strait in the the main body of Lake Huron.  Then we run west under Cockburn Island, Drummond Island, and the upper peninsula of Michigan.   Finally we pass between Mackinac Island and Round Island, then turn south just before we pass under the Mackinac Bridge and head to our marina in Mackinaw City. 

Upon arrival, we receive news that the monitor has arrived from Sony in Illinois and immediately we set about installing it.  It works (again), and we'll give it a test when next we depart port.

The dockmaster in Mackinaw City indicates today is the hottest day of the year (100 degrees) and may be the hottest day in three years.  We're grateful that they marina has two 50A circuits for us, since we turn on the air conditioning as quickly as we arrive.

Saturday, July 31, 1999.  Saturday, July 31, 1999.  We leave the boat at 7:00 AM to catch a taxi to the Pellston airport where we'll rent a car to drive to Detroit (5-1/2 hours) so that we can board an airplane.  Sounds like fun, huh!

Thursday, August 5, 1999.  We arrive back at the boat about 11:30 PM after a long day of travel.