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Author Topic:   July 4, 2005: THREE LAKES CRUISE
jimh posted 07-19-2005 01:11 AM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
We had a nice holiday weekend cruise over the July 4th weekend which covered three of the Great Lakes: Michigan, Huron, and Superior, thus the title, ""THREE LAKES CRUISE."

To cover these three Great Lakes in a long weekend, we started at the Straits of Mackinac. We trailered CONTINUOUSWAVE up to Mackinaw City late on Thursday evening, getting her in the water and into a slip about 3:30 a.m. It was quite an adventure driving up so late. We did not get on the road until 8 p.m. after a full day at work. I do not recommend launching after such a long day. Our fatigue took its toll on us and the equipment.

We awoke Friday next to BACKLASH. Steve and Carolyn had driven up from Ohio earlier and had slept through our late night arrival. Morning was quite a shock: the overnight temperatures were down to around 45-degrees. It was overcast and a big westerly was blowing through the straits, winds 25-MPH and gusting. The waves were 6-8 feet in the open water. We paid the marina bill ($22) and moved our car and trailer to the long term parking lot a block away.

We left Mackinaw City around 11:30 a.m. and motored slowly across the Straits to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We just made about seven miles progress and pulled into the marina at St. Ignace. We thus marked our first Great Lake, Huron.

It was good to have a lay day of sorts to catch up on our sleep. We spent a lazy afternoon in the marina, doing a little boat keeping. The rest of our fleet was coming north from Illinois and was still on the highway. They were due to arrive on Friday evening.

The marina at St. Ignace was remodeled two years ago. It is much improved. There is a very big sea wall with complete protection enclosing the harbor. The boulders are huge white rocks set into a crystal clear water. The shower and bath facilities are the best I have ever seen. The docks are floating and very nice for a small boat like a Whaler. You can just step out of the boat and onto the dock, unlike at fixed height docks where you often have to climb up five feet or more to the pier height.

Communication by cellular telephone revealed that the rest of the fleet would arrive late. We just relaxed and went to an early dinner.

We ate at the Mackinac Grille, just a few hundred feet from the marina on the main street in St. Ignace. They were having a Friday fresh fish special. I have never had better Walleye. It was delicious, and only $12! This was better dinning than we expected from St. Ignace, which has always been a bit déclassé compared to Mackinac Island. The same owners also have a restaurant on the island, so they know how to cook and go a little upscale.

The stormy weather seemed to blow itself out during the day, and by late evening the skies had cleared and the wind was down to just a breeze. To show you how it had been blowing, the 130-foot schooner sailing from the marina as a tour boat broke its boom on its 3 p.m. sailing when it jibed around with a double reef in its mainsail. This huge boat looked like it needed about 20-knots to even move, and everyone aboard, including the crew and master, were quite surprised when the 16-inch diameter wooden boom cracked in half. I guess it was blowing out there.

When we awoke on Saturday we found GAMBLER next to us in the marina, and young Dave fast asleep under all of its canvas. And even more surprising, we found WHALE LORE in the parking lot, still on the trailer, with LHG and crew asleep in the car (a vintage Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, of course). They had both arrived very late in the night.

By early afternoon we were all in the water, fueled up (gasoline was $2.70/gallon), and ready to go. We set off to the east, ignoring our chance to make a quick trip to Lake Michigan by sailing west of the bridge. There was still quite a swell rolling up from the west, making the upwind miles not quite as attractive as you'd like.

We looped around Mackinac Island, which looked beautiful on this summer day, and continued northeast to Hessel. We dropped into the harbor there for lunch and a quick visit to E. J. Mertaugh Boat Works, a very longtime Boston Whaler dealer. They have sold hundreds of Whalers, and they all seem to still be afloat in the surround Les Cheneaux Islands.

After a guided tour from Dave on the radio of the many islands and passages--he grew up in this area as a summer cottage resident--we got back into the open water of Lake Huron and ran downwind at speed to the Detour Passage LIght. There we turned north into the St. Mary's River, stopping off at the municipal marina at the village of Detour for a shore break.

Departing Detour around 4 p.m. we made our way north and took the eastern route around St. Joseph Island. The winds and waves were very cooperative, and we had a great run, finally making a pit stop for some fuel at Robert's Landing, Ontario. (Here gasoline was CA-$3.75/gallon) From there we veered back into the main channel and took a direct leg to the Soo via Lake Nicolet. We overtook the 858-foot ore carrier ROGER BLOUGH as she steamed upstream.

We opted to stay on the American side at Soo Saulte Marie due to the bother of customs and immigration when re-entering the U.S.A. should we have gone ashore in Canada. We got the last four slips at the municipal marina, another bargain at $22. The bath and showers there were fine, but not as posh as those at St. Ignace.

We trudged off to a late dinner at the famous ANTLERS BAR, about a half mile walk from the marina. It was after ten o'clock before we ate. We had put about 115 miles under the keel, and everyone was quite tired. Back at the dock it was lights out and to bed.

On Sunday the weather continued very fair and warm. We relaxed in the marina and had a lazy morning at the docks. About 11 a.m. we cast off and moved to the fuel dock to take some fuel aboard. Gasoline was $2.80/gallon. We topped off the tank again. Just as we left the marina we met the 1004-foot EDGAR J. SPEER coming down and loaded with ore. She blew FIVE SHORT on the ship's whistle, apparently to alert some recreational vessel it was straying a bit too close.

Cf.: (d) Doubts or failure to understand signals
When vessels in sight of one another are approaching each other
and from any cause either vessel fails to understand the intentions
or actions of the other, or is in doubt whether sufficient action
is being taken by the other to avoid collision, the vessel in doubt
shall immediately indicate such doubt by giving at least five short
and rapid blasts on the whistle. This signal may be supplemented
by a light signal of at least five short and rapid flashes.

We hailed the Canadian Soo Lockmaster (callsign VDX23) on VHF-CH-14 and got clearance to enter the lock. About eight recreational boats came with us, and we were soon lifted the 17-feet to Lake Superior level at no charge and with no formalities other than our vessel registration number. We continued upstream in the St. Mary's river, making about eight miles up the river until we came to its head at Lake Superior.

We anchored for lunch south of the shipping channel and had a view across our transoms of the vast water of Lake Superior. We could see that it would take another ten miles or so to really make it to the beginning of the open lake proper (Whitefish Bay), but we were content to stay where we were, the vast water very apparent from that vantage already.

We counted this as LAKE SUPERIOR, marking the second Great Lake of our cruise.

Making our way back downstream in the St. Mary's River, we met the 680-foot JOHN J. BOLAND (formerly the CHARLES E. WILSON) that had just come up through the locks. We hailed the American lockmaster (callsign WE21) on VHF-CH14 and were told to wait clear of the entrance to the MacAuthur lock.

While waiting we listened to the radio traffic of the commercial ships. The COASTAL PILOT says:

"Upbound vessels intending to transit the locks shall contact the lockmaster...after completing the turn at Mission Point... for lock assignment."

In practice this is done very concisely. We monitored this radio exchange:

The 770-foot ST. CLAIR: "Soo Locks--St. Clair. We're at the Mission."

SOO LOCKMASTER: "Roger St. Clair. It will be Poe and clear."

(I.e., they are to use the Poe Lock and the lock is clear and open for them)
That was all they said. The big vessel would lock through with hardly any further communication.

The MacArthur lock cycled up and released several small boats. The traffic signal went green and we motored in. Locking here is very simple. The lock attendants just toss you a long line, and tell you to hang on. Again there is no charge and no paperwork or formalities at all.

The lock cycled down in quite a hurry, and soon we were back at the lower St. Mary's River level, 17-feet below the level of Lake Superior. After a quick pit stop at the Marina in the Soo, we were back on our way south.

We took the scenic route on this leg, veering off the main channel to follow the curve around Sugar Island and along the Ontario mainland. As we approached Lake George, we knew the wind was building in our faces, but we were not prepared for what we found.

At the northern end of Lake George there is quite a current flow southward into the big lake, and against this was a fetch of about ten miles of open water and a stiff 25-knot breeze. In the shallow channel leading into the lake the short chop was miserable. Our leisure cruise was now suddenly a pitch to weather and for quite a ways to go.

We toughed it out across Lake George, actually finding that faster was better. Once we got on the tops of the waves around 27-MPH, the ride smoothed out, well at least it did for the 24-feet of water line on our hull. I think it was a bit rougher for the smaller boats.

Eventually we wore through that trial, and we were rewarded with some pleasant cruising in more protected waters. At the south end of the passage to the east of Sugar Island, we jogged back to the main channel, the part of the passage we had skipped on the upbound journey. We followed this south around the west shore of Neebish Island

This eventually led to some really open water in the area of Munuscong Lake, where, unfortunately, the southeast fresh breeze of 25-knots or more was blowing up against the main current of the river.

We continued banging our way to the southeast. The weather was fair and the sun strong, but the winds and waves against us made it a tiring journey. We passed west of Lime Island around 5:30, and now we hit the really open water west of Potaginnissing Bay. At this point we split up a bit. We took the shortest and straightest course to Drummond Island Yacht Harbor, heading directly to windward and into the waves. Several others broke northward and worked around in the lee of the many islands there, looking for some wind break.

About 6:30 p.m. we were at the dock at Drummond Island, the manager at the marina kindly waiting around for us to arrive. BACKLASH was soon arrived, with GAMBLER and WHALE LORE shortly after. We were all glad to be in relatively calm water, although the marina was open to the east and a little ripple was still blowing through. We had put over 90 miles under the keel, and much of it to windward.

Things are quite informal at Drummond. There is no restaurant at the marina, but the harbormaster pointed us to two thirty year old cars in the parking lot which we could use to go to dinner. "The keys are in them, and just leave the keys in them when you get back."

After showering up we struck out in our vintage automobiles, finding a tavern down the road still open and serving dinner. This was another late evening. Back at the docks the wind was still quite fresh, and the boats had a little hull slap against the ripples blowing over from the shoreline. We were so tired it was not at all a distraction to sleep. We were out like logs under a dark sky with some modest fireworks exploding over the island to the east.

Monday morning was cooler, still very overcast, and with some dying wind still ghosting from the southeast. A bit of fog and haze hung over the bay. Between rain showers we made the long hike to the rustic bathroom and shower. Several cups of coffee on the dock took the chill out of the day.

By late morning we were ready to depart. We moved over to the gas dock and took enough fuel aboard to be comfortable in making Detour, about 12 miles away. Gasoline was $2.85/gallon on the island. We paid the dockage bill, again just $22 and an extra $4 for using the car.

We set off into the mist to see how bad the fog was. BACKLASH and GAMBLER said they'd follow shortly. WHALE LORE slept in late.

Conditions were hazy but visibility was about a mile, making it easy to find our way back to the St. Mary's River among the many islands and shoals in the area. We set off into a fog on a course for Detour, and we raised the marina entrance out of the mist without resorting to GPS navigation.

At Detour we took on more fuel, a bit more economically priced about $2.70/gallon. The harbormaster kindly gave us empty slips to use so we could go to town for brunch. We struck off on foot, settling in at a local tavern on the main street, where the entire town had turned out for a holiday parade.

We had a relaxed lunch with hot soup and sandwiches taking some of the chill off from the rainy, hazy morning, and watched the Independence Day Parade go by--it was quite a production!

We got back underway as a flotilla in early afternoon, turning south for the Detour Passage and back to Lake Huron. Now the southeast swell was with us, and we cruised gently downwind in some 2-3 foot rollers, coasting along the shore of Michigan's eastern upper peninsula. The fleet became slightly separated in the fog, but we all reassembled at the eastern "yacht entrance" to the Les Cheneaux Island. We idled along past Cedarville. A couple boats made stops there and at Hessel for shore leave. We continued on, cruising out past Marquette Island, and turned southwest for St. Ignace.

It was a beautiful run across. The clouds were dark and low, but the waves were down to just ripples. A gray mist hung above the water. The lighting of the sun filtered down through the clouds, giving the lake an eerie appearance. BACKLASH and CONTINUOUSWAVE cruised along on plane for 10 miles or more, enjoying the afternoon.

We arrived at St. Ignace around 4:30 p.m., glad to be done for the day and ready for a break. Surprisingly, there was still plenty of room in the marina, and we had no problem getting four slip all together. GAMBLER and WHALE LORE came in about an hour or so later.

We made plans to reprise our dinner at the Mackinac Grille. A wise advisor once said never to order fish on Monday's, as it was generally not fresh. However, the manager said he was cooking whitefish that were swimming that morning. Somehow the meal was not as delightful as it had been on Friday. That Walleye they served was unbelievably good and could not be topped. And I think we were a little too tired to really enjoy it. The long days of boating were starting to wear into our reserves.

At this time of the year and at this latitude, civil twilight stretches to about 10 p.m., so the fireworks show began quite late. First we enjoyed the sounds of other fireworks coming across the water from Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City. Finally, the local show started, and many rockets and bombs were fired across the harbor to good effect. Relaxed in a dock chair with a glass of Drambuie, I think I fell asleep and missed a good part of the show.

We had planned to be back on the highway by Monday evening, but it was much too late and we were much too tired to give that any thought. We enjoyed a quiet evening in the marina, and slept comfortably on the boat.

On Tuesday we awakened to a crisp morning with skies still overcast. The wind held light. We assembled the fleet and headed west for the Mackinac Bridge and Lake Michigan. Passing under THE MIGHTY MAC fulfilled a dream I have had since I was a child. I have made dozens of trips across the bridge in a car, but this was my first pass under her beautiful span in a boat. After a few minutes of photographing all the boats, we said our farewells across the waters. BACKLASH and CONTINUOUSWAVE headed for Mackinaw City to get back on the trailers waiting there; GAMBLER and WHALE LORE headed north for some more sailing before returning to St. Ignace and their transportation home.

We soon had our Boston Whalers back on their trailers. An hour of so of scrubbing and stowing, and they were ready for the highway. We rolled onto the interstate, about 275 miles of road ahead, and settled in for the drive home.

It had been a very fine cruise, about 284 miles in total for us, and we achieved our goal: Three Great Lakes in a long weekend!

Backlash posted 07-19-2005 09:20 AM ET (US)     Profile for Backlash  Send Email to Backlash     
A great trip and excellent narrative as usual Jim!

Some photos of the trip can be seen here:


Buckda posted 07-19-2005 01:06 PM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
Great narrative.

What JimH failed to mention was exactly how large those waves were when we made that 90 mile run to Drummond Island!

Steady 3-5's, stacked up against the current makes for a tough slog and lousy economy. The occasional 6-7 footer in there added insult to injury. Obviously, not a lot of photography was happening in these seas.

There was a point, shortly after Lake George, where we made a critical error in not turning to port and returning the way we came - stopping at Hilton Beach for the evening. It would have required the bother of going through customs at Drummond Island Yacht Haven in the morning, however, it would have saved us quite a bit of pounding. For my part, I must admit that an "alternative port" didn't even enter my mind - I guess that's something that has to mature in a seasoned skipper...but moving forward, I hope it's something that I think about in a similar situation.

Beyond that, it was a great trip - I logged a total of 300.0 miles on my GPS and burned about 97 gallons of fuel. Going through the Soo Locks in a private vessel is something that I had never thought I'd do - I'd been through them once on a tour boat ride as a child and always thought it would be cool to do in my own boat.

home Aside posted 07-19-2005 01:19 PM ET (US)     Profile for home Aside  Send Email to home Aside     
Another nice tale of the exploits of the BWGLCC, well done. In the photo of the Whalers in the Locks, I see Chris working onboard Continuouswave, is that Jimh way up at the top of the lock looking down at her ? If not, it sure looks like him, if so great job climbing that ladder Jim, who says guy's our age (not giving up specifics here) can't handle a good challenge ?

Great photos of the trip, I'm sure looking forwad to seeing you all at Charlevoix & Kelley's Island



Backlash posted 07-19-2005 04:26 PM ET (US)     Profile for Backlash  Send Email to Backlash     

No, that is not Jim at the top of the lock! Chris is at the bow and Jim can be seen at the stern just to the left of Larry's head - in the light blue shirt.


Buckda posted 07-19-2005 05:30 PM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
Pat -

The differences in security measures on each side of the locks were vast.

The Canadian side, with virtually no commercial traffic, allowed pedestrians (Tourists) to walk out on the lock door once it was closed. I was at the back of the lock behind Steve, and I looked back and this guy in a t-shirt and shorts with a camera around his neck is looking down at us from the top / center of the lock gate. On the American side, while they did not ASK for our registration numbers, I'm certain that they have them. I counted quite a few security cameras on the facility, and tourists are relegated to a viewing platform erected behind a high fence with barbed wire. Granted, it's a commercial facility run by the government and all of the freighters pass through there, but it was still quite remarkable.

I was actually suprised they allowed us to lock through, and even more suprised that there wasn't a small fee associated with passage.

The Canadians also had cuter "lockmen" - one man and two pleasant young women.

jimh posted 07-20-2005 09:52 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Re the Soo Locks: on the Canadian lock there was some strange eddy current where we were that kept pushing us away from the wall. It made it a bit tricky as you had to motor up to the wall and quickly grab one of the vertical cables before the current pushed you away.

The Canadian lock is only used for small boat traffic.

Thanks to Steve for posting those pictures. I have a few I will contribute when I have a chance.

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