Temporary Home

Monday, October 31, 2016

Freizeit was a travelling vacation home, but it was never supposed to be a home at home. Then Hurricane Ike hit.

By September 14, 2008, Ike had already wrecked havoc in the Lesser Antilles and Texas. It was still carrying the water it had picked up when travelling over the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and it needed a place to dump it. So Ike looked at Northwest Indiana and smiled. Or, more accurately, it cried, giving us 10 inches of rain in 24 hours.

The picture at the head of this post shows what the sky was like several days after the rain stopped. You can see the masts on the sailboats at the marina.

September 14 was a Sunday. After we got home from church, Roland went down by the Little Calumet River and saw crews trying to sandbag it. The river had already broken through in one spot, however, and Roland came home and told me to get ready to evacuate if necessary. Then he went to the town garage to help fill sandbags.

I packed clothes for both of us for several days. I also grabbed towels, Roland’s school bag, my laptop, and my camera and loaded them into my car. I left as soon as I saw the water come flowing down our street.

I also made sure to take the boat keys, as I knew that would give us a place to stay. Roland thought of the same thing, so after filling some more sandbags, we drove both cars to the marina. Many of the bridges over the Little Calumet were closed, and even I-94 was flooded, so it took us over two hours for what is normally a 20-minute drive.

The best thing about staying on the boat was its location. Both of our jobs were north of the river, so we didn’t have to cross the Little Calumet to get there. We did for church, though. Several people remarked that we went to the water to escape the water. Pastor Stumpf wanted to know if we had any animals on the boat, but we didn’t. No ark for us.

I’m not sure where we would have stayed without the boat to flee to. Several families from church offered their spare bedrooms, but I like my privacy. We probably would have gone to a hotel. Fortunately, we didn’t have to.

It was two and a half weeks before we could stay in our house again. The water came up about 5 feet on the lower level of our tri-level home, practically destroying the laundry room, the second bathroom, and the family room. Roland likes to joke that he filled a dumpster with the books he had to throw out. The water also rose almost a foot in our office, the garage, and the rooms behind them, which we had been using for storage. But the living room and kitchen were raised slightly and didn’t have any damage. Neither did top floor with the bedrooms and the other bathroom. So we returned home as soon as the town cleared the house for habitation.

The next time we stayed on the boat, it was under better circumstances: a vacation trip up the eastern coast of Lake Michigan.

You can read about that next week as I conclude this look back at our sailing adventures.

The North Channel--Part II

Monday, October 24, 2016

Some boaters terminate their North Channel trip at Little Current, and others go on to Georgian Bay. Although we would have liked to travel on, we didn’t have the time. So after attending church on Sunday morning, we left Little Current heading back west.

Our first stop was at a pair of islands called the Benjamins or, more accurately, North Benjamin and South Benjamin. After anchoring in a cove between the two, we took our dingy and explored the rocky terrain. The first picture shows Donald and Roland standing on one of the islands.

After a quiet night, we moved to a nearby anchorage at Shoepack Bay. Getting there was uneventful, but anchoring was another matter.

We had put the anchor down, and Roland was backing up to set it, when he heard a sickening sound. The rope between the dingy and the boat was too long for what we were doing, and it wrapped around the propeller. Roland had to put on his swim trunks and dive down into the water several times before he got it unwound. Fortunately, there was no damage.

The next morning we pulled up the anchor and navigated through some narrow channels to Spanish on the Ontario mainland. To get there, we had to go through Little Detroit, which is a very short channel that is not wide enough for two-way traffic. For several days we had been hearing people on the radio announcing “Securit√©, securit√©, securit√©, [#] foot sailboat entering Little Detroit going [east or west],” and we got a thrill out of doing it ourselves. We waited for two sailboats to come from the other way before signaling our intention to follow yet another sailboat through in the same direction we were going. The next picture shows Freizeit approaching Little Detroit.

At Spanish, we walked downtown, where there wasn’t much to see. It was a hot day, so we waited until the sun started going down before climbing up an observation tower and hiking partway along a nature trail. That was much more worthwhile than our walk into town had been.
The following day we headed to Blind River, also on the Canadian mainland. The trip was very picturesque. We sailed through Whalesback Channel, which takes its name from a rock or island simply called Whalesback” after its shape. Among the other partially submerged rocks were some very insignificant ones with a very significant name—Page Rocks.
Blind River wasn’t anything special, nor was the trip from there to Thessalon, also on mainland Ontario. It was a nice evening, however, so we went to a festival in downtown Thessalon. After eating dinner at a fish fry fundraiser, we walked around looking at vintage cars and listening to vintage music from a live band.
From Thessalon, we headed back to DeTour. The trip was a rough one, with sunny skies but high winds. We didn’t even try to sail as we navigated around reefs and pounded through the waves. We had to stop at the Drummond Island Yacht Haven to clear customs, and fighting the wind to dock was quite an experience. Then we pounded through more waves until we got to DeTour.
The next day we left Donald in DeTour with the car and asked him to meet us in St. Ignace that afternoon. It was Saturday, and we went to the 5:30 p.m. mass at the Roman Catholic church near the St. Ignace marina so that we could leave early the next morning. That we did, with Donald and I going by car and Roland taking the boat back by himself, as he had come.
It took Roland longer to get home than we had anticipated. That’s because the boat had some mechanical problems, and Roland spent several days at Charlevoix waiting for parts to arrive. The mechanic finally got it fixed, however, and Roland eventually made it back to Holland.  
Although the trip wasn’t without mishaps, this time we made it to the North Channel and returned home with the boat intact.
Living on the boat during our North Channel vacation was good preparation for the following year, when Freizeit became our temporary home. That’s the subject of next week’s post.

The North Channel--Part I

Monday, October 17, 2016

Now that we had a bigger boat, we were ready for another attempt at the North Channel. This time we made it, but we still had some unwanted adventures along the way.

By July 2007, Caroline was married and John had a summer job, so neither of them was available to go with us. But Roland, Donald, and I made the trip. Or, more accurately, Roland made the entire trip and Donald and I joined him for the best part of it.

The timing was good. Our home marina had kicked boaters out for the year because of construction at the nearby casino. As a result, we had moved Freizeit to Holland, Michigan—a location that cut several days off the trip. Even so, we needed approximately four weeks, and that was two more than I wanted to take off work. So Roland sailed up the east cost of Lake Michigan by himself.

Donald and I planned to drive to DeTour Village, on the eastern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and meet Roland there. But between bad weather and mechanical problems, Freizeit was still a day away when we crossed the Mackinac Bridge. So I joined Roland at St. Ignace and we sailed the final leg to DeTour together. Donald drove the car to DeTour and met us there.

The first night out together we anchored at Harbor Island, which was where we were heading when disaster struck on our first trip. This time we made it without incident and had a peaceful night at anchor. It was a good thing we were well rested, however, because our first mishap had simply waited until morning.

When we tried to raise the anchor, we discovered that the rode (anchor line) was wrapped around the keel. Roland and Donald got into the dingy and rowed around and around the boat until the rode was unwound. Although it was a hassle, we chose to view it as a learning experience. The next time we dropped anchor, we didn’t let out as much rode.

Once we got underway again, we began out eastbound trip, marina hopping along Manitoulin Island on the Canadian side of the border. The first stop was Meldrum Bay. There wasn’t much to do there, but I remember it as the place where we (or rather I) had our second mishap. The marina was somewhat rustic, and we had to walk to the nearby campground to take showers. As I was coming back in the dark, I missed a step down onto the gangplank leading to the dock and twisted my ankle. We iced it and bound it up with an elastic bandage, and I rested it as much as possible.

Actually, although I classify it as a mishap, it wasn’t anything unusual. For klutzy me, spraining my ankle on vacation is almost the norm. I don’t let those sprained ankles keep me down long, either.

From Meldrum Bay we went to Gore Bay, which had a nice marina. My ankle was getting better, and it didn’t take much walking to see the few sights there, anyway. First, we visited a building that housed an art display, a restaurant, and an observation tower. Then we walked by All Saints Anglican Church, established in 1880.

Our next stop was at Kagawong, which was my favorite spot on the entire trip. The picture at the head of this post shows Freizeit at the small marina there.

That afternoon we took a picturesque walk to Bridal Veil Falls. Donald climbed over the stones and walked behind the falls. I wanted to join him but wasn’t sure my ankle was up to it.

We also saw two churches. St. Paul’s on the Hill United Church was built in 1881 and is the oldest building in the hamlet. St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church had a mariner’s motif, as you can see from the stained glass window in the picture below. The unique pulpit was made from the bow of a boat wrecked in a storm in 1965.

The other picture is Bridal Veil Falls. You can see how it got its name.

The next morning we went to the Kagawong public library to check our e-mail. It was very small, with two computers for library patrons and about the same number of books that we had on our bookshelves at home. But considering the size of the town, we were surprised it even had a library.

Our final stop on Manitoulin Island was at Little Current. It is a very popular stop for boaters, and we had to circle a while before we could reach Spider Bay Marina by radio to get a slip assignment. We didn’t write it down, but Donald and I both heard it as “Pier 1, Slip 3.” Unfortunately, we were already a ways down Pier 1 when I saw that Slip 3 was occupied. Before I had time to say anything, we struck bottom. After several attempts and a lot of help from other boaters, someone finally towed us free. Amid the cheers of the onlookers, we left that Pier and came to Pier 3, Slip 1, which was where we were supposed to go in the first place. I still don’t know if they said it wrong or if we heard it wrong, but at least there was no permanent damage. Not like the grounding on our first attempt to sail the North Channel . . . .

We stayed in Little Current for two nights so we could do laundry and spend time shopping. Although the Canadian town looked like small town America, it wasn’t particularly picturesque. I wasn’t impressed with the shopping, either. But we did see a nice sunset.

Now it was time to turn around and take a different route back. I’ll talk about that next week.

Moving Up

Monday, October 10, 2016

Most sailors dream about moving up to a bigger boat, and Roland and I were no exception. By August 2002, we had done our research and decided to purchase a new Beneteau Oceanis 331. The 34-foot boat would give us an additional 10 plus feet in length as well as another 3 feet in width.

Within a week we sold one boat and purchased another. Roland went to the Michigan City Boat Show on a Friday while I was at work and put down a $1 deposit to hold the one the dealer was displaying. He returned on Sunday—with me—to put down a larger deposit and complete some paperwork. The dealer and his wife delivered the boat by water about two weeks later and took us on a shakedown cruise to show us how to sail it. That was necessary since Freizeit was not only larger but had a wheel instead of a tiller and roller furling instead of the sail-raising system we were used to.

The boat was delivered in early September, so we only got out once or twice before the season ended. The next season we spent more time on Freizeit, including an extended weekend trip to Milwaukee, for which I scheduled two days off of work. This trip included my brother Donald but not my daughter, Caroline, who was working at Camp Lutherhaven that summer.

The plan was for Donald to come up on Wednesday. I would go to work on Thursday as usual and then take the train to Waukegan, Illinois, where Roland, Donald, and John would pick me up. But things don’t always go as planned.

When Donald hadn’t arrived at our home by eight or nine on Wednesday evening, Roland wondered if he had forgotten. Well, yes and no. He had remembered about the trip but forgotten the day. We weren’t sure we could afford the extra day before leaving, so Roland and John sailed to Waukegan by themselves. Donald drove to Waukegan, and we both joined the cruise there.

We hoped to sail all the way from Waukegan to Milwaukee on Friday, but there were thunderstorms in the distance, so we decided to stop at Winthrop Harbor, Illinois, right before the Wisconsin border. We arrived just as it started to rain, and we did sit out some thunderstorms that night.

On Saturday, we finished the trip to Milwaukee. We had some good sailing for a while, but the winds weren’t coming from the right direction. We eventually took the sails down and motored the rest of the way, just barely beating the rain again.

After going to church on Sunday, we sailed back to Winthrop Harbor. We could still see Milwaukee in the background when we also started seeing storm clouds and lightening behind us and travelling in the same direction we were. We considered taking shelter before Winthrop Harbor but decided to try to beat the storm if we could. Rain isn’t a hazard when sailing, but lightening is, especially with the sails up. So we took them down and motored. We managed to beat the lightening to Winthrop Harbor, but we got soaked on the way.

Donald had left his car at Waukegan, so I took the train there on Monday and picked it up, then drove it to work. Roland, Donald, and John had an uneventful sail home.

Das Zeltlagermanie didn’t have enough room to sleep four adults comfortably, but Freizeit did. That’s one of the advantages of moving up.

But it took several years before we made another try at the North Channel.

Murphy's Law

Monday, October 3, 2016

Murphy’s law says that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. A good sailor tries to anticipate what can go wrong and prepare for it. Roland and I were not good sailors in 1995 when we made our first attempt to sail Lake Huron’s North Channel.

By 1995, we had already sailed for three seasons. But we had stayed close to home, and our experience was limited to the wide-open spaces and uncluttered depths of Lake Michigan. Now it was time to try something different.

It was to be a two-sailboat trip. Donald would bring his 18-foot Precision, Scheherazade, along as well. Twelve-year-old Caroline would sail with him during the day and sleep on Das Zeltlagermanie at night, and eight-year-old John would reverse that. The picture at the top of this post shows the five sailors as we got ready to leave Indiana.

It was the first time we had trailered Das Zeltlagermanie more than a few miles. Now we were making the much longer trip to DeTour Village—my childhood home—on the eastern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We stopped several times on the way to redistribute the weight on the boat to prevent swaying.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and perfect sailing weather when we left the marina at DeTour and headed for our first anchorage at Harbor Island. We had been out for about an hour and were sailing in moderate winds. Das Zeltlagermanie had just completed a tack when . . . Crack! Suddenly the spreaders from our aluminum mast were on the cabin roof and the sails, shrouds, and lines were dangling in the water. The mast had snapped just below the spreaders without giving us any warning.

Close behind in Scheherazade, Donald and Caroline realized that we were in trouble. They quickly took their sails down and came alongside to help.

Working almost without thinking, Roland, John and I pulled the sails and lines out of the water. Then Donald came aboard and helped retrieve the mast and secure the rigging so we would not lose it as we motored back to DeTour. We were proud of how calm we stayed in the crisis. I even thought to snap this picture after we got everything straightened up:

Back at the marina, we took the sails and lines off and stowed them away, and we removed the broken mast and tied it to the trailer. Das Zeltlagermanie looked naked and forlorn. But she was a conversation starter, and almost everyone at the marina came by to ask what had happened.

Das Zeltlagermanie still offered us a place to cook and sleep, so we stayed at the marina that week awaiting instructions from the insurance company. We used the time to sightsee the Eastern Upper Peninsula by car. One of the places we visited was the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. That might have been a mistake, as the museum and our vacation shared the same theme. But we did have dinner in nearby Paradise.

Sightseeing on land did not satisfy us, however. It was supposed to be a cruising vacation and we still had a motor, so we decided to take the boats on a weekend trip to Canadian waters.

In company with Scheherazade, we left the marina on Friday to cruise up St. Mary’s River. That night we anchored on the east side of East Neebish Island, rafting the two boats together. It was the first time Roland, the children, and I had anchored out, and we slept well. Donald woke during a thunderstorm and kept anchor watch until it passed, but our anchor held both boats through the thunderstorm and high winds.

On Saturday, we visited St. Joseph’s Island in Canada and then headed to Bruce Mines on the Canadian mainland, were we docked and spent the night. After attending church and doing some sightseeing on Sunday, we headed back to DeTour. In spite of our earlier mishap, we were enjoying our vacation.

Since we were motoring and Donald and Caroline were sailing in light winds, Das Zeltlagermanie got way ahead of Scheherazade. I navigated while Roland steered, and I kept a careful eye on a shallow, rocky area marked on the chart. We did not have a depth sounder or a GPS, but I was sure we were quite a ways east of the rock bed, so I was not concerned.

I had just relieved Roland at the tiller when he looked over the side and yelled, “Rocks!”

Too late.

Crunch. The rudder struck a boulder and was propelled forward, breaking the top rudder bracket and putting a small hole in the transom. The hole was above the water line, but we could no longer steer the boat with the tiller. Roland tried steering with the outboard motor, but he could not find the adjustment to loosen the steering. Despite the light winds, a strong swell made steering difficult. And without loosening the steering, the motor was too stiff to steer a straight course.

There were no other boats around us, and we did not know how far back Donald and Caroline were. We would have used the radio to call for help, but the antenna was at the top of the mast, and the mast was tied to the trailer back at the marina. We did not have a handheld VHF for backup, so we were unable to contact anyone.

When we saw a boat off in the distance, we shot off two flares but got no response. The boat was too far away, and it may have been too light to see the flares anyway.

Using the motor, Roland steered Das Zeltlagermanie in a circle to keep it from floating closer to the submerged rocks and further damage. Other than that, there was nothing to do but wait. We could only hope that Scheherazade or another boat would come by and see us, or that Donald would send out the Coast Guard when we did not return. It was mid-afternoon when John spied sails to the north. “There’s another boat,” he cried. “Could it be Uncle Don and Caroline?”

This time Roland tried the air horn. Three short blasts. Three long blasts. Three short blasts. Then a long pause.

Of in the distance, Caroline recognized our denuded sailboat and turned to Donald. “It’s Mom and Dad! They’ve run out of gas!”

“Get the air horn from the cabin and we’ll signal them back. Scheherazade to the rescue!”

Donald’s boat and motor were too small to tow us without our steering, so he used his radio to call a towboat. When the towboat arrived, it towed us to the Yacht Haven on Drummond Island. Roland, John, and I left Das Zeltlagermanie there for the night, borrowed a car, and caught the last ferry to DeTour. We got there around 10:30 p.m., just before Donald and Caroline arrived at the marina in Scheherazade.

By then we were all starved, but DeTour rolled up the streets at 10:00 p.m., and all the restaurants were closed. We had left all our food on Das Zeltlagermanie, and there were no stores open to sell us groceries. My family still had a cottage at DeTour, so we slept there that night. But there was no food in the cottage, either, and we went to bed hungry. To me, that was the biggest disaster of our vacation.

The next morning we ate a hearty breakfast before taking the ferry back to Drummond Island to get Das Zeltlagermanie out of the water. That wasn’t easy, either, due to the lack of steering and a steep boat ramp. But eventually we got it out and made our way back to Indiana.

We never did find out why the mast snapped. Our best guess is that we had unintentionally weakened the structural integrity of the mast when we widened a hole to replace a baby stay and added further stress by providing insufficient support at that point when trailoring the boat to DeTour.

Landing on the rocks was my fault. I simply misjudged the distance.

Two lessons we learned were to always carry a handheld VHS and don’t rely soley on judgment when determining distance from a reef or other impediment.

The dealer repaired the boat and the insurance company covered most of the cost. We spent several more years sailing Das Zeltlagermanie on Lake Michigan, and we didn’t give up our dream of sailing the North Channel.

But first we bought a bigger boat.