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1986 Transfer Trip

Day Two: Sarnia to Goderich

Sunday, June 15, 1986. Aboard Serenity


Sunday starts early for me. I am awake at 5 a.m. Why is it so hard for me to get any sleep on this boat? I should be so tired that I fall asleep immediately, but something, perhaps my own excitement and adrenalin, keeps me awake almost all night. I get only a few hours of sleep.

Following our plan, we have breakfast ashore today, at the little grill in the marina. We are in Canada now. A few subtle differences let us know we are in a foreign country, eh?

Sarnia Bay Marina is south of the Bluewater Bridge, which crosses the river at its narrowest point. There is a huge current running under the bridge. You can expect this because the entire body of Lake Huron, hundreds of miles long and wide, is drained into this river, and the entire flow of water, eventually destined to cascade over Niagara Falls, must funnel into a half mile wide channel.

Just north of the bridge, the lake is about 25 feet deep. As the water is constrained in the river's mouth, the force of its flow has scoured out the bottom to a depth of over 70 feet. The water races under the bridge at 5 knots or more. Since our maximum speed under power is just a little more than that, we'll have a slow passage against this flow.

Today is my turn to navigate. As a bonus, it's our turn to be lead boat. So I'll set the course for both boats! This won't be a problem; I've been studying navigation all winter It's really pretty simple: we head for the bridge; we hug the eastern shore to stay out of the stronger currents; we follow the freighter channel for a mile or so; then we turn right and head straight for Goderich on a 57 mile trek across lower Lake Huron.

By 0800 we are underway. The weather is fair and winds are light. It's a repeat of yesterday. We motor back into the river and resume our northward track. The waterfront of Sarnia is loaded with commercial ships and ports. We feel out of place in our little thirty foot sailboat. As we approach the bridge and the fastest current, we push the throttle wide-open. The knotmeter shows us making almost 6 knots through the water, but when you judge our progress against the shoreline, we are barely moving.

Eventually, we wear through the narrows and break into the lake. It is really not right to call this a "lake". Huron is about 35 miles wide at this point, and it stretches northward for almost 200 miles. In a few minutes we take our departure from the shipping channel, and head to Goderich on a course of 037. Little or no wind has come up this morning, so it is more noisy motoring at 5.5 knots. We have approximately 55 miles to go; we should see our destination in 10 hours.

Having never sailed on such big water, I have some anxiety about Lake Huron. Its storms have been strong enough to sink many large ships. But today, I need not worry. The lake is completely calm. Our wake is the only disturbance in its surface.

As navigator, each hour I mark our DR position along the single courseline we are slowly traversing. The day is boring. We are surrounded by open water, with no distinguishing features, and a haze limits our horizon. We have no LORAN on board. The only clue to our location is the DR plot and our depth sounder. The lake's depth is the one variable. As we run down our course, if we err to the left we will remain in deeper, mid-lake water; if we err to the right, we will enter shallower water.

By late afternoon, our DR position shows that we should begin to see the bottom shoal under us as we approach the coast. Unfortunately, the depthsounder does not indicate such a trend. When thirty minutes more go by, I--as navigator--announce that we must be off course and propose a correction to the right. This makes perfect sense to me, because we cannot possibly be "on-course".

Ray, the Skipper, vetoes my plan. His theory is, "when you're on a course, you stay on that course." He's running a ship, not a democracy.

Finally, we raise the coast. With binnoculars we sight the port of Goderich, well to our right. That's just where I said it would be, so I feel a little vindicated as a navigator! We change course and head for the harbour (Canadian spelling) entrance.

Goderich is principally a commercial harbor. It is formed by the mouth of the Maitland River and enclosed in a large breakwall. The dominant feature of the harbor is the Sifto Salt plant at end of the pier. This is a noisy commercial plant that runs 24 hours-a-day. We take a berth at Maitland Marina, a small (non-government) marina in the river channel on the other side of the harbor.

The town of Goderich, where we would like to go for dinner, is situated on a bluff that overlooks the harbor. We are down at lake level; the town is several hundred feet above us. I suggest we call a cab; that's turned down. We'll walk to town. I should say, we'll walk UP to town. Leaving the skipper behind, the young crew--we are all 35-40 years old--sets off on foot for dinner. There is a huge flight of stairs to climb. I am so winded and fatigued from climbing them that I feel like I am going to barf! So much for dinner. I can't let on how out-of-shape I am, as everyone else is climbing and walking like they do this everyday on the way to lunch.

Once up to town level, it is still a long hike to a restaurant. After dinner, it's a good thing it is downhill to the boat. But even after all this exercise, I am still wound up. I wander down the commercial dock to gaze at a couple of old lake freighters tied up there, and to investigate the plant, the source of so much noise in the otherwise still night. It's a warm night, with a calm lake and no wind. The pier is lit with pools of orange light from sodium lamps. The plant drones in the background. Mayflies swarm in the air. We are in a harbor. I am cruising. I have been waiting years to do this. I love every minute of it.

Continues with Day Three.

Copyright © 1995 by James W. Hebert. All rights reserved.
Page Last modified: October 19, 1996