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Trailer Boat Tales: 2000

Elk River Basin: Whaler Water Wonderland

Five days of trailer boating in NW Lower Michigan

We thought there was only one "Inland Route" in northern Lower Michigan: We were wrong! We discovered the secret of the Elk River Basin and its miles of connected inland waterways. A detailed narrative of our trip describes the fun we had cruising this waterway.

Preparation and Planning

The way we work it is: I get the boat/trailer/car ready; my wife, Chris, gets everything else ready, including all the travel plans and accomodations. So far, this has worked beautifully. This year, I've got new wheels and tires on the boat's trailer, moving up to 13-inch radials so we can tow the rig a little faster without spinning the bearings at the speed of light. Chris has plotted a course to Elk Rapids as a base, with Elk Lake, Torch Lake, Lake Skegemog, and Grand Traverse Bay nearby, the perfect waters to enjoy cruising around in our 15-foot Boston Whaler boat.

Last year we headed south in early June into a heatwave that nearly wilted us. This year we're going back north. We have no trouble getting to sleep on Monday night this week: the lows are in the 40's! Where is global warming when we need it? We pack some warm clothing in case the chill remains.

Wednesday, June 7, 2000

Birmingham, Michigan to Elk Rapids, Michigan
(225 miles)

Wednesday dawns with warm weather and clear skies. The temperatures are headed for the 80's; summer has returned. Even with road construction, there are no significant delays, and after a ten o'clock start we are in Elk Rapids by 2:30 p.m., checking into the Elk River Motel. They're located right off M-31 in Elk Rapids, along the east shore of Elk River. We've got a wonderful "suite", just a few feet from the river where we'll dock our boat at one of the motel's dozen or so courtesy docks. Room-22 consists of a living room, kitchenette (minus stove), bedroom, bathroom and shower. It is a comfy accommodation at a still-pre-season weekday price.

[Chart: Elk Rapids]
Dockside there is three to four feet of water at the end of the finger piers, enough depth to handle our boat without a problem. We're located on the Elk River, a two mile stretch of water that drains Elk Lake into Lake Michigan, a quarter mile to the west of us. Two dams control its level, insulating it from the seasonal rise and fall of Great Lakes Michigan and Huron. This year, Michigan is running much lower than in the recent past, while Elk Lake stays at its "normal" level.

Just across the main highway, M-31, we find Elk Lake Marine and an excellent launching ramp. For $5 you can put your boat into four- to five-foot deep Elk River on a well maintained concrete ramp. Trailer and Tow Vehicle parking is just down the road, with room for about a dozen rigs. Launching from here you must pass under the M-31 highway bridge a hundred feet upstream, with vertical clearance of about 11 feet. Should you choose, you can avoid both the bridge and the fee by using a "Public Access" site on the upstream side of M-31, with a dirt ramp, no courtesy piers, shallower water, and room for a only couple of cars and trailers.

About forty minutes after we pulled into town, we have the Whaler tied to a dock a few feet from our motel room. Based on a quick briefing from the desk clerk, we conclude we can navigate the local area without further aids, so we jump aboard and embark on a ten mile cruise of Elk River and the northern half of Elk Lake.

The skies have clouded up a bit this afternoon, but the sun still shines through occassionally, and we enjoy the fun of exploring new territory by boat. Elk Lake is a nice body of water, although not much heralded, and it looks like it would be good for fishing. Shallow areas still contain plenty of old timber and stumps on the bottom--there must be some bass in there somewhere!

After our two-hour cruise, we return to the motel, securing the boat for the night by removing all the easily-detached valuables like fishfinders, GPS's, cushions, and the like. This is the bane of a small boat: there is no lockable storage aboard. Although we feel the area is quite secure, our "big-city" upbringing makes us anxious enough that we feel better removing any temptations.

The skies look like rain overnight, also confirmed by the Weather Channel on the Cable-TV in the room, so we strip all non-essentials from the boat, rig the bimini top as a rain cover, and pull the plug on the cockpit drain. With most boats, pulling the plug on the drain results in a sunken boat. With the unique design of the Boston Whaler, pulling the plug results in no change in the boat's trim and a filling of the drain sump with about a quart of lake water. Why do this? Any rain that comes aboard will now drain OUT of the boat, leaving the cockpit high and dry. This is another great feature of the unsinkable Boston Whaler boat design.

With several hours of travel and boating just concluded we don't need gourmet dining, so we sample the burgers and beer at Elk Rapids' Town Center Tavern. It's a local spot, with plenty of Red Wing autographed pictures on the walls, supplemented by some Budweiser promotional mirrors that feature Great Lakes freighters, including two of our favorites, the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Edward L. Ryerson. A nostaligic plus, the bar also has an ancient bowling game where you roll quarter-scale wooden bowling balls down a miniature alley, producing a joyous clacking of relays and solenoids as the pins and scoreboard respond to your efforts. It is exactly like one I recall from the 1950's in Lake Leelanau. A young boy, armed with some quarters from his mother's purse, experiences the delights of a non-video-terminal-based game of amusement. And unlike Hessel, where the kitchen was closed by six, the Town Center was just starting to get rolling as we left around nine o'clock.

With several hundred miles of northing, our daylight is stretched even more, and dusk comes well past 9:30 p.m. Overnight rain is forecast.

Thursday, June 8, 2000

Elk Lake, Lake Skegemog, Torch Lake
(40 Miles by water)

The polite precipation has fallen while we've slept, adding a inch or more to the water level. Dockside there is an interesting development. A fellow lodger's boat, an 18-foot bowrider with small I/O, has taken on a dangerous list and down-by-the-stern trim, probably the result of sitting uncovered all night and collecting sufficient rainwater to pull a transom drain below the waterline, further flooding the bilge. The owner and the motel staff are inspecting. The grounded skeg of the outdrive and the dock lines are all that are keeping her afloat at the moment.

As for the Boston Whaler, she sits exactly as I left her, although there is some water beaded up on the varnish of her mahogany seats and console. I hop aboard and replace the drain plug. (With my weight in the stern she will trim down another inch or two and flood over the top of the sump.) In a few minutes I scoop a quart or two of water out of the sump, sponge off the decks and seats, and the boat is dry and ready to go. Meanwhile, the sinking bowrider has been pulled all the way forward in her slip to rest on the bottom, awaiting a pump to clear the flooded cockpit. It looks like the water has risen well above the oil pan of the engine, so there might be more damage than just wet cushions aboard.

While Chris packs the cooler, I haul the 6-gallon tank over to the gas station across the street for refilling. Wow, gas prices have lept to over $2.20/gallon up here; they were just hitting $1.50/gallon a few days ago down south.


Going on the theory that charts are cheaper than props, and after looking at all those stumps in the water yesterday, I make a crucial investment: a beautifully done $10 chart booklet published by a local company. It gives excellent data on the entire Elk River Basin, a series of waterways that extends much farther than I ever suspected.


Generally, if one refers to "The Chain of Lakes" in northern Michigan, I'd think they were talking about the Crooked Lake/Burt Lake/Mullet Lake/ Cheboygan River system. But in this area "The Chain of Lakes" refers to the twentyseven miles of navigable water above Elk Rapids formed by Elk River, Elk Lake, Lake Skegemog, Torch River, Torch Lake, Clam River, Clam Lake, Grass River, Lake Bellaire, and Intermediate River. At that point a dam intervenes, but the chain continues upstream another twentyone miles via Intermediate Lake, Hanley Lake, Benway Lake, Wilson Lake, Ellsworth Lake, St. Clair Lake, and Six Mile Lake. There it peters out into a small stream only a few inches deep, but continues into Scotts Lake and Beal Lake.

By any definition, this is a long series of interconnected lakes, and they offer excellent boating opportunities for even the smallest of boats to enjoy.

Elk River

The construction of a dam in 1905 at Elk Rapids caused the level of Elk River and Elk Lake to rise several feet, widening the river and breeching the sand bar between Elk Lake and Lake Skegemog. In the original channel of the river, the depth ranges from four to nine feet. The old river banks, now flooded, are about three feet under water, but 95-year old stumps and trunks of dead trees break the surface and provide a built-in system of navigational aids. For the few detached shoals and stumps, the locals have kindly provided buoyage that marks these hazards with white vertical floats, often labeled "STUMP". If you see an occassional Clorox bottle float, it likely marks a stump or other hazard, too. There are no "official", government provided aids provided along the waterway.

Beginnng just a few hundred feet from the 11-foot high outfall of the dam into Lake Michigan, we've got a whole day's boating ahead of us on beautiful and sheltered inland waterways. We cast off around 11 o'clock, and head upstream, our twentyfour-year-old Mercury outboard motor smoothly idling us along at 5 MPH. The weather is perfectly fair, the skies clear, and the temperature soaring into the 80's, but on the water, in the shade of our bimini top, it is completely comfortable.

Elk Lake

With wind from the SW at 10-15, we cruise down the western lee shore of Elk Lake, in relatively calm and very clear water. The surface of Elk Lake has an area of over twelve square-miles, and in the central lake there are depths to almost 200 feet. Navigation is straightforward, but Chris consults the chart booklet to find that it contains quite interesting supplemental information about landmarks and unusual hydrology along the way. These add to the pleasure of our cruise. In the southeast corner of Elk Lake about six and a half miles upstream from Elk Rapids, a broad opening in the east shore of Elk Lake permits entry to Lake Skegemog, over a shoal with a limiting depth of five feet in its center portion.

Lake Skegemog

Formerly known as Round Lake, Lake Skegemog is much shallower than Elk Lake, reaching only 29 feet at its deepest. The chart booklet warns it is also quite foul with stumps and deadheads, so we are advised to proceed slowly and with caution among its four square-miles of surface.

Our transit of Lake Skegemog is brief, only long enough to permit us to enter the Torch River which flows into the lake along its northeast shore. This area is foul with many stumps and dead trees, but a passage with a minimum depth of about four feet is possible by following the natural channel. The edges of the channel are again marked with old stumps, but here and there the locals have added their own small red and green reflective markers. A few stumps detached and lying in deeper water are marked with white floats.

Torch River

Proceding northward from Lake Skegemog, we cruise upstream in the Torch River against a noticeable current draining from Torch Lake. In this region the chart booklet provides a welcome inset with a large scale (1:10,000) plate of the area at the confluence of Rapid River and Torch River, where the water shallows to only two to three feet in spots. The bottom here is just sand, however, and should not be too hazardous if you do happen to touch. As we approach the region for the first time, we are momentarily confused about which channel to follow until we sight a small road sign indicating "<---TORCH LAKE" (i.e. Torch Lake to the left) tacked to a dead tree trunk. Again, thank the locals for this additional buoyage.

We continue upstream, stopping for gas at a friendly merchant right on the eastern shore of waterway, the big marina to the west side appearing to not have gas available.

"Your price of $2.09/gallon seems reasonable after what we've been paying on the highway," I tell the nice woman who comes to help us from The Sandbar Shop.

"Yes," she replies, "we just got a twenty-cent-per-gallon price increase yesterday, but I haven't had time to reset the pumps!"

Upstream from here the waterway passes under the second highway bridge to intervene, carrying County Road 593 across. The vertical clearance is listed at ten feet. If you cleared the bridge in Elk Rapids, you'll have no problem here. Watch for shoaling along the eastern side of the canal upstream of the bridge.

Torch Lake

From under the highway bridge, the vast, 18-mile-long expanse of Torch Lake opens for you. Under the clear sky and strong June mid-day sun, the water of Torch Lake takes on an incredibly beautiful series of shades of blue. A vast sand bar shoal extends outward from the southern shore, culminating in a rapid drop off from 2-foot to 20-foot depths, and changing color from light aquamarine to deep blue in the process. During daylight this distinction in color will clearly mark your course. At night, use extreme caution to avoid the sudden shoaling on the bar.

In terms of Michigan's inland lakes and surface area, Torch Lake's 29 square-miles are second only to Houghton Lake (31 square-miles). However, Torch Lake is much deeper, averaging 200 feet in depth to Houghton's mere eight, and therefore it contains more than twenty times the volume of water. Judging from the modest flow into Torch River, it would appear that the turnover interval for the water in Torch Lake is quite long.

From here, we jump northward on plane, up the lake, stopping briefly along the eastern shore at the town of Alden, which has a municipal harbor with a protective breakwater. You can leave your boat at a courtesy pier and make a short exploration of the town and shops, although we leave that option for a future visit.

We continue northward, along the eastern shore, enjoying the variety of homes and cottages built there, which range from the simple, small, rustic log cabin to the most ostentatious modern three storey lodge imaginable. Turning westward, we plane across the mile and a half of lake in a few minutes, coming on shore just north of French Point, which provides a comfortable lee from the SW breeze. Another boat is beached ashore and exploring the point, although signs advise "PRIVATE PROPERTY." We remain on board and begin the return journey. Our trip log indicates we have come over 16 miles from Elk Rapids.

We hug the western shore, staying in its lee, and have an easy upwind but downstream passage back to Elk Rapids and our berth at the Elk Rapids Motel's dock.

We freshen up and get over to Perl's New Orleans Kitchen for dinner in time for the 4-6 p.m. happy hour. They offer a nice variety of "Cajun" cooking at moderate prices. It might be the best place to eat in Elk Rapids.

After dinner we stroll the docks of Elk Rapids' Edward C. Grace Memorial Harbor on Lake Michigan, where there is a wide variety of boats (200+) available for us to comment on and discuss, including some excellent restorations of older wooden classics in the 40-50 foot range. We also scout their boat launch ramp, which we plan on using to gain access to Lake Michigan.

After all this activity, we conclude with GAME FIVE of the Stanley Cup Finals, whose viewing is becoming something of a tradition on these early summer trips. I'm too pooped from the day in the sun and on the water to stay up until the end--the game goes into triple overtime--and I abandon it before the final outcome. It rains again overnight. Oops, I think I forgot to take the plug out this time.

Friday, June 9, 2000

Grand Traverse Bay, East Arm

The rain lingers into mid-morning. I peek out at the Whaler a few feet away at the dock. No change in her static trim. After coffee and oatmeal, our breakfast staple at home and on the road, I dash out to check the boat. A few inches of water are aboard, but they drain immediately after I pull the plug. No harm done. Unfortunately, we have to check out of the Elk River Motel because we could not get lodging there on Friday and Saturday nights, in spite of calling quite a bit in advance. "Some people book a year in advance," the owner tells us, "and they come back every year." It is a nice place! They agree we can leave the boat and trailer there for the rest of the morning until the weather picks us.

With boating weather a little while off, we pack up our stuff and take a side trip to Traverse City. About forty years ago, when you came up north on vacation and went to Traverse City you felt like you were up north. Now we're in Elk Rapids, we feel like we're up north, and when we go to Traverse City it feels like we aren't on vacation anymore; it feels like we're back in the city! Times have changed!

We get back about noon, clean up the boat, drive it a few hundred feet over to the launching ramp and haul it out. We trailer it down the main street of downtown Elk Rapids, turn into the parking lot of the municipal marina, take the tie-downs off, and drop her into Lake Michigan. (There's another $5 fee in there, too.)

The weather has returned to sunny skies, and the winds are forecast to be southwesterly at 10-15. We cast a weather eye to the big lake: it looks pretty tame. Off we go.

As we exit the breakwater of the marina and enter the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan, we are reminded--jolted really-- about the water clarity. Cruising along on plane at 15 MPH in about 20 feet of water, I glance over the side and clearly see huge boulders on the bottom. It is hard to remember just how clear the water is here.

Soon we are out in really deep water, the depth sounder pinging over 600 feet down, and the wave pattern is curious. There are two patterns, really, one from the southwest and one from the north, and they seem to be meeting out here in the middle. The farther out we get, the more the northern pattern is building. Our initial plan was to get across to the lee (for SW wind) of the Mission Peninsula, cruise southward for a while, then come back downwind to Elk Rapids. But things have changed. Soon we are banging into some pretty big waves, the SW pattern has disappeared completely, and it is all coming from the north, where we have about 100 miles of open water for a nice long fetch.

I turn on the Marine Band VHF Radio and tune to the weather broadcast. Everyone is still talking about SW 10-15, and here we are in the middle of the bay with Northerly at 20! Local variations, I guess!

By the time we make it to Mission Peninsula, we are extremely glad to get into the lee of Old Mission Bay; we pounded the last half mile on plane to escape the open water. We have come upwind only a mile or two in the crossing, and the conditions are getting quite a bit worse than when we set out. We'll have to change plans.

We can cruise southward along the eastern shore of Mission Peninsula in relatively calmer water, but there is no point in getting south of Elk Rapids. We'd only have to fight our way back up wind again, and it would not be a picnic cruise.

So we limit ourselves to about a mile or so of coastal exploration, then we turn back eastward to cross the bay again, this time going almost at right angles to the waves. The little 15-foot Whaler handles this beautifully. We don't take a drop of water aboard as we cross at about 9 MPH, just below planing speed with a high bow-up trim. This is probably the worst fuel economy speed, as we've almost sucked the 12-gallon tank dry. Or at least we've almost sucked the 12-gallon tank down to the point that the fuel pickup is running dry, as most of the fuel is being pulled to one end of the tank by the high-bow trim.

I should mention that there is a little history with this engine having a problem with the carburetor floats sticking. So, just as I feel like the engine is getting a little fuel starved, I grab the primer bulb and give it a couple of squeezes to try to get the fuel feed going again. I must have overdone it, because very shortly the engine dies from fuel starvation, the floats probably stuck again as if the carburetor bowl were full of fuel, but it remains untimely empty.

The point at which this happens finds us almost back to the eastern side of the bay, north of Elk Rapids, that is, upwind of Elk Rapids, and approaching the eastern shore which shoals quite rapidly to 3-4 feet with boulders. I am thinking, "Yeah, boulders like those ones I saw on the bottom on the way out!"

You can see that I have motivation to get the engine going again, quickly. [Maybe you are wondering why we always have these problems out in the big water; we didn't have as much as a single misfire yesterday in five hours of operation on inland water. Well, I am asking that same thing!] Unfortunately, we are now wallowing downwind, adrift in a 4-foot sea and 20 knot breeze, engine konked out. Fortunately, we are on an unsinkable Boston Whaler, which continues to track downwind without showing the slightest tendency to broach, driven by the sail pressure on the bimini top, I guess. In any case, it is a very stable platform to work from, and I have no problem straddling the engine, removing the cowling, tapping on the carburetors in exactly the right place (as I have done now about ten times in the past two years) with the long-necked plastic bottle I keep aboard just for this purpose. I change over to the full tank--probably should have done this before returning-- and the engine starts right back up and runs perfectly the rest of the way. In fact, I was so confident it was going to start I think I put the cowling back on before I tried it.

We work our way offshore a bit and back into safer water, and run down wind into the inlet of the harbor. Another fun day boating. Give me a Boston Whaler any time.

Finally, we haul the boat and head up to Kewadin, where we've got reservations at the Wilderness Bay Lodge. We check in. The accommodations are fine, too much really with a full kitchen, living room, bath, bedroom, and deck overlooking the lake. The down side is the place is on ground sloping from highway to lake, and there is no good place to park the boat, and no place to turn the trailer around. We have to drive down to the bottom of the hill, un-hitch the boat trailer, walk it around, and back it down into a spot. It is a good thing we can handle our boat and trailer by hand; otherwise this would have been an impossible job.

The boat is safe on the trailer for the night. We head north to Torch Lake and Petersen's 31 Tavern, on M-31 naturally, where we have a very nice Perch dinner, and then scout the boat ramp for the northern end of Torch Lake. We find a nice DNR run site with a concrete ramp and courtesy pier, but it is open to the lake to the south. We return to Kewadin via E. Torch Lake Drive, circumnavigating the lake by car, a feat which we have not been able to accomplish by boat. Even at 35 MPH, it takes over an hour to make the loop around the lake.

Since we've got the boat snug on the trailer and under the mooring cover, it does not rain a drop overnight. Of course.

Saturday, June 10, 2000

Torch Lake

This morning the wind has reverted to southwesterly, and it has the flag on the pole down at the lake shore out straight with the ends snapping. That means 20 knots or more. We're located right at the northern end of Elk Lake, which has whitecaps rolling up the lake and crashing ashore. The nearby boat ramp just down the road is a modest effort; there's no courtesy dock, no concrete ramp, just a gravel road into the lake. "Kentucky style boat launch," Chris calls them.

We've already explored Elk Lake pretty well, so we hitch up the trailer and head north on Cairn Highway. Cairn Highway is named for an interesting stone cairn on the east side of the road just a few miles above Kewadin.

Hugh J. Gray was the founder of the Michigan Tourist Bureau, which apparently erected the cairn as a monument to him. It consists of 83 large stones, one from each of the counties of the state of Michigan. A plaque there attests to the site being halfway between the equator and the North Pole. You might think this would imply it being at the 45th Parallel of Latitude, but it is not. The site of the cairn appears (from the Chart Booklet) to be closer to 44° 57' North. Further, neither of these positions (again, according to the collateral material in the Chart Booklet) represent equidistance from pole and equator. By one reckoning, that position would lie at 45° 08' 41" North latitude, the difference being due to variation in the shape of the earth's surface as you go from equator to North Pole. Next time I go by there, I'll take my $99 GPS and let you know what it reads.

Its location notwithstanding, the cairn looks quite nice and is probably worth a visit if you're already in the neighborhood. Strangely, no highway signs guide you to it. Back to boating...

We haul the boat up to the north end of Torch Lake and the DNR ramp we scouted the night before. The conditions there look better than at Elk Lake. The waves are smaller, and the water is a little deeper to shore so the waves are not breaking as they come in. We decide this is the place for today's adventure, and we launch the boat.

There is just enough water available from the ramp out to motor out into the lake, although there was, predictably, a hump just beyond the end of the ramp where all the power-loaders have built up a shoal. But even there the depth was three feet, so we had no trouble getting underway with the engine down.

Our pace has been really leisurely this morning, so it is almost noon by the time we are underway on Torch Lake. The entire morning it has been blue skies and sunny. As soon as we get about a half-mile down the lake the clouds roll in and it turns cold and ugly. We grin and bear it, and a half hour later the big dark thunderheads roll by to the northeast, leaving us in sun and wind. We work our way down the western shore of Torch Lake, just cruising along, having a late lunch, a few beers and some salty chips--pretty much the lifeblood of boating--and enjoying the cruise. We congratulate ourselves for persevering; the weather is improving and there is no real threat of rain.

We stop for a few minutes to enjoy the lee of Amick Point, and we are just slowly motoring along at idle when I notice a very strange hazard in the water. It appears to be a toppled dock piling, a very large one set in about 10-15 feet of water, and built from big logs and stones. The thing is about 8-10 feet square on a side. It is quite a big structure, now lying slightly on its side, and only a few feet below water. It looks so big we do not want to come right over it, but we circle it a couple of times, gauging its size.

Curiously, the otherwise well-informed chart booklet shows nothing at all in this area.

Our cruise takes us down to Sand Point, in whose lee I am tempted to jump in for a quick dip, but the temperature probe on the fish finder is flashing "58.2°F" at me, and I am dissuaded easily. Sand Point is a beautiful spot, and the lucky owners are sitting in their Gazebo, enjoying the day. We turn easterly and head across the lake.

On the eastern shore we're exposed to the waves, but we are rolling downwind with them so they are not a problem. The Boston Whaler is renown for its ability to track in a following sea, and it shows it again today.

This side of the lake has a wilder appearance than its western counterpart; there are fewer beaches and more heavily wooded areas. The homes or cottages are spaced farther apart and appear more rustic in most cases. I've seen this same pattern on Mullett Lake, where the eastern shore is also subject to more waves and weather and seems to be less developed or less desireable than the more sheltered western side.

The YMCA's Camp Hayo-Went-Ha has a prime spot and a very nice facility on the lake shore. If you want to get your kid into boating, send him there; they've got sailboats, sail boards, canoes, kayaks, rowboats--a little of everything.

By three o'clock in the afternoon our semi-circumnavigation is complete and we are back at the launch ramp. We've covered about a third of the 29-square miles of Torch Lake, and we have not seen a single other boat out there today, although here near the ramp there is some activity. A couple of wind surfers are zipping around, and one of them is currently capsized about 100 feet in front of the ramp. We idle back and wait a few moments for him to get back up and get going again, clearing our approach. The waves look bigger than when we launched. They probably are. They're almost straight on to the dock, just slightly at an angle to it. We slowly approach the courtesy dock that splits the concrete ramp area, and tie up to the downwind side. This keeps the boat from banging the dock too much. I run the engine out of fuel to keep the carb bowls dry, then I tilt the outboard up so there is no danger of hitting the skeg as we try to get her forward into shallower water and on to the trailer.

I drive over from the nearby parking lot with the trailer and back it into the surf. I just need the last roller in the water to winch the boat on the trailer. There is a little complication today, too, as the surf has built up a layer of sand on the ramp about three inches deep, right about where my car's wheels are going to end up. I better be careful not to get too far into the sand or there may be a traction problem with my rear wheel drive, non-locking rear end tow vehicle.

Fighting the surging boat, Chris and I manage to get the Whaler started up the trailer. I am holding the boat back from surging over the trailer with the stern line wrapped around the last dock piling, while Chris is winching it slowly up the trailer. We just about get the boat stabilized on the trailer. Chris pauses for a second to catch her breath. The situation changes suddenly.

In an instant, another boat, a 20-footer, approaches the launch site from the lake with a second boat, a 22-footer, in tow. The first guy hits the upwind side of the dock and makes fast to it, leaving his towed friend bobbing in the lake behind him.

The second boat begins to blow down onto the dock, so its captain hauls in on the tow line, pulling his bow to the upwind side of the dock, setting his boat broadside to the wind and forming a tee across the end of the courtesy dock. He has about one foot of his boat on the upwind side of the dock and twenty one feet of his boat on the downwind side of the dock. He is casually holding on to the line that tethers him to the stern of the other boat. This lasts for about one second, then the waves begin to swing the end of his boat around the dock, a tendency he attempts to resist with the 1:21 mechanical disadvantage of his grip on the towline. His wife stands transfixed in the cockpit. The wind off the lake continues at about 20 knots. The surf into the launch ramp rolls in unimpeded from 18 miles of open lake.

About three seconds have elapsed since these guys first appeared on the scene. I apply quick analysis to the situation: "Hey," I yell, "What the hell are you guys doing? You're gonna hit my boat!"

"I'm disabled," the guy yells back. I wonder, is he talking about himself or the boat?

The stern of the 22-footer is swinging around faster, aiming its big outdrive right for my little tilted-up outboard's prop and skeg. No one on either of the other two boats moves. I have only one choice. I jump in the lake--it's about four feet deep at the end of the ramp I discover-- and fend off the outdrive. With a big shove, I send him back upwind for a moment, then I dash back to my trailer winch, finish grinding the Whaler up on the trailer, jump in the car (soaked to my armpits) and get my boat out of harm's way.

A few minutes later, my soaking wet shirt hanging on the boat's rail to dry and me still wiping the lake water off the leather seats of my car, the 22-footer, on its trailer, roars past us in the parking area without a word from its owner. Like they always say, if you want entertainment, go down to the launching ramp.

All this excitement wraps up our boating for this trip. After this, it is all downhill. Later we have dinner at Vasquez's Hacienda, a Mexican restaurant on M-31 south of Elk River. Probably won't be on our keeper list. I think the Saturday special being Prime Rib at a Mexican Restaurant should foreshadow something.

To put a nightcap on it, we drive to the end of the pier at Elk Rapids, sit on a bench, and watch the big thunderstorms roll across the lake. Lightning flashes all around. The entire horizon disappears in mist. "We've got about 30 seconds to get back to the car," I say to Chris. We retreat to the Crown Vic, and a downpour hits a few seconds later. Then just as fast the skies clear and the sun pops out behind a wall of clouds on the western horizon. We also stroll past the gas dock at Elk River Marine, where the pump price has soared to $2.50/gallon.

Back at Wilderness Bay Lodge, I am delighted to find that Dallas won GAME FIVE, so there is more hockey on TV tonight. Chris crashes out early, while I endure two overtimes and watch New Jersey take the Stanley Cup in GAME SIX.

Sunday, June 11, 2000

Kewadin to Birmingham
225 Miles

The weather finally turns on us, but we can't complain. We had four straight days of sunny skies and good boating, with temperatures well above average for early June. We depart the north country with temperatures in the low 60's and the skies completely overcast. All the way home there is rain, and the farther south we go the more rain we hit. With the new Goodyear Marathon radials on the trailer, and four new Michelin Symmetry radials on the car, we have a surfeit of traction

     The 2000 June Boating Trip
       Boat........"ContinuousWave", 1976 15-ft Boston Whaler Sport
       Motor.......Merc500, 1976 50 HP 4-cylinder 2-stroke outboard
       Trailer.....Shorelandr SS-16, 1988, single axle, no brakes
       Tow Car.....Ford CROWN VICTORIA, 1993, 4.6L OHC V-8
       Crew..........Jim, Chris
       Duration......5 days
       Dates.........June 7 - 11, 2000

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Copyright © 2000 by James W. Hebert.

This article first appeared June 12, 2000.
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