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On Big Water
Route Map 6

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Diversey Yacht Harbor is completely surrounded by Lincoln Park, one of a series of waterfront parks that link together and run for many miles all along the lakefront of Chicago.  When I awoke in the morning after a heavy rain during the night, I looked out on a lagoon that continued well beyond the low bridge that I had seen the night before.  It was very cloudy and it looked like it might rain some more, but that did not discourage the kayakers and the oarsmen who were out on the water doing their laps for exercise.  When I climbedDiversey Harbor up onto Kobuk’s bow to see what was going on in the park there were joggers and walkers and cyclists using the broad paths that run for miles through this ribbon of urban greenery.  I felt slovenly and slothful for I had slept late and all of the many people I was able to see were intent on fitness.  Indeed, many of them looked very fit.

I liked the location where Kobuk was tied off, but when I talked with people in the yacht harbor they cautioned me that if I were discovered by the harbormaster he would have Kobuk impounded.  This sounded improbable, but I decided to not take a chance and went to see him.  Luke Pepin was his name and he moved from task to task like a server in a busy restaurant.  He was a young man with a goatee.  He took his job seriously and when he spoke with me he gave me his undivided attention, but not much time.  I explained my situation and particularly my desire to not have to pay Chicago rates just to tie my boat somewhere.  When I finished, he silently considered my situation for a moment and then offered me an empty slip for three nights, and told me he would only charge $25.  I was astonished and immediately accepted his kind offer.  Consequently, Kobuk and I became part of the wealthy elite in Chicago—that special breed that has enough money to pay two or three thousand dollars just to keep their boat in a Diversey slip for the summer season.  I had access to fresh water right at the dock.  I could take a shower in the nearby bathhouse.  I was a bona fide resident in a gated community.  I had a night watchman to check on things.  I lived there alone with row upon row of empty boats waiting for their weekend owners.

It is all a little embarrassing to admit after my recent harangue about the superiority of excitement over comfort.  But I do admit it: I went for the comfort.  Once this was settled and Kobuk had been moved to her new home, I went into a sort of catatonic shock, unable to do much of anything with myself for the rest of the day.  Chicago had become a sort of objective in my mind and the reality of actually arriving here caused some sort of unraveling.  Chicago is an exciting place and I did wander around for a couple hours on Bike Friday, but my explorations were undirected and my state was a sort of benumbed contentment.  I did not seek out a landmark or a tourist destination; I just pedaled around looking at the streets and shops and people.  Chicago is a civilized place, incidentally: in addition to its gorgeous collection of city parks it has a number of streets with designated bike lanes.  To make things even better, the sky cleared in the afternoon and the sun came out.

In the evening, I decided to go out again for a little while and wander up and down the streets of the Lincoln Park district.  As I was preparing for departure, a hefty, rolling-gated young man in a security uniform came walking along the dock and asked if he could help me with the bike that I was pulling out of Kobuk.  Although I declined his help, I did ask him questions about the yacht harbor and about places to bike to in the nearby vicinity.  His name was Durnell, and he was so eager to help that he kept offering to take me places or show me things instead of just answering my questions.  When finally it was clear that I was going to go off into the big bad city on my own, he insisted that I come to his car in the parking lot where he got pen and paper and proceeded to write down for me his name and cell phone number in the event I ran into trouble and needed help.  It was an uneventful evening though: I was neither robbed nor mugged and well before midnight I was back aboard and sound asleep.

Thursday, September, 15, 2005

I wonder if Kobuk would float if she were swamped or capsized.  I think she would but I really don’t know.  A wooden boat has a great deal of buoyancy when in a raft form, but the two engines on board might be enough to drag her down, I suppose.  I have been making this kind of speculation in the last couple days because the sorts of waves that have been coming ashore hereabouts have been looking very, very unpleasant.  They are not so terribly big, but they seem to be confused and patternless with intersecting cross waves constantly throwing up alarmingly steep and rapidly shifting peaks of water.  There is a good possibility that what I am seeing is nothing more than the awkward result of reflected waves coming off of sea walls and the churned up surface associated with active boating, all combined with the steady and consistent wind-driven waves coming of the lake.  I believe that out there a few hundred yards the action of the water is a lot more predictable, but if I am wrong . . .

Lake Michigan will be a big test and I have spent many hours thinking about the best strategy for getting up to its northern end.  The whole southern half of the lake is totally lacking any capes or bays, and this means that there is nowhere for a small boat to get away from the wind and the waves.  Most of the coastline is straight running sandy beaches.  Engine failure would lead to a gradual drift in the direction of the wind.  If the wind is favorable (that is, blowing off shore) then the drift would probably be lengthy since the lake is so big.  How lengthy is anybody’s guess, although probably a for number of days and maybe even weeks.  If on the other hand the wind is adverse and coming ashore, then engine failure would result in getting beached, but under such circumstances the waves would be relatively large and would begin hammering away on the hull as soon as it lodged in the sand.  Neither is a good prospect.

There are engineered harbors all around the southern end of the lake.  Any town located near shore typically has at least one.  In the greater Chicago area there are lots of these harbors, but elsewhere they Chicago Waterfronttend to be spaced a significant distance apart, perhaps as little as 20 miles but in a couple instances nearly 40.  More or less invisible until you are right on top of them, these harbors typically have narrow entrance channels that take you into an inner sanctum out of harm’s way.

Between the harbors, the shoreline is very straight and regular.  Rocky promontories are rare here in the southern half of the lake, and long stretches of sandy beach often occupy the distances between the harbors.  With conditions such as these, a pleasant day with offshore winds permits boaters to pull up on the sand and picnic or swim or generally enjoy the more carefree aspects of a boater’s life.  But if the wind turns bad and if it blows with any force, then those benign coastlines can become the wrecking places of stranded boats transported there by close-packed trains of breaking waves that roll in from far out and beat against the shore.

The big trick—the one that via luck or experience must be turned—is to not get caught out there when the conditions turn bad.  Since the only havens are the harbors and since the weather can turn on you almost as quickly as it does in the mountains, the distance one has to journey to get into a protected harbor is a fundamental of coastal cruising here that must always be kept in mind.

The northern portions of the lake are quite different, I believe.  Everything I have read indicates that there the coastline is irregular and often rocky.  It will offer a different set of challenges—and also should be more scenic.

I had intended to travel north along the western, Wisconsin side of the lake because the Door Peninsula and its extension of islands are famous for their scenery.  After studying a cruising guide, however, I came to the conclusion that the eastern, Michigan side of the lake would be a better cruising ground for Kobuk.  The harbors there are a little more frequent and slightly more consistently spaced.  Furthermore, the west side harbors are almost all entirely fabricated whereas the east side ones often give access to small rivers or natural lakes.  This means that overnight stops along the west shore are almost certainly going to require the rental of a slip whereas the protected places along the east shore may offer up beaches to ground on or protected pools in which to anchor.

I had presumed that winds on the lake would tend to blow from west to east, thereby creating generally rougher water conditions on the Michigan side of the lake but people I have talked with reject this notion and seem to think that any shore can get unfavorable winds at any time.  I hope they are right for I have decided to go east.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Chicago has always had the reputation of being a working city.  Whitman saw it as ‘husky’ and ‘brawling,’ and his imagery became the myth that transcended the fact.  Probably in earlier days the city was that way, but it is no longer.  Since I am staying in the upscale Lincoln Park district, I obviously am not getting a balanced view of what the city is all about.  Still, Lincoln Park is a part of Chicago and husky and brawling it is not.

For example, most of the many people who spend time in the park itself are health-conscious, exercise-addicted, achievement-oriented professionals determined to insure that their sedentary paths to great wealth do not make them physically soft.  On the streets and sidewalks the traffic is a civilized progression of self-contained individuals or isolated pods of a few friends or family members.  People do not yell at each other or harass each other.  Horns don’t honk.  People don’t bump on the sidewalk.  Loud speech in public is a rarity.

This is a place where money has muted the raw human interactions that so often characterize a working class neighborhood.  I know that many poorer neighborhoods do exist in Chicago, but it is also evident that neighborhoods like Lincoln Park are not that rare either.  Furthermore, the entire downtown—the power center of the metropolis—looks much more like the kind of place that people from Lincoln Park might frequent than like the sort of shell-shocked, bombed-out inner city no-man’s-land that sits in the popular imagination.  Chicago is a vigorous, dynamic place, but its association with meat packing and railroads and steel production and other such hard hat activities is no longer so perfectly appropriate.  It has become a more sophisticated place and in spite of its anxious desire to maintain an identity different from that of New York it is moving towards the sort of urban cosmopolitanism that has been for so long associated with the Big Apple.

A few days hence, a corporate announcement would inform the millions of residents here that the name of Marshall Fields department store soon would be changed to Macey’s.  This New Yorkification  of a Chicago landmark was a source of great distress for the general public, and I have to say that I sympathize with the anguish for Marshall Fields is a much more masculine and earthy name.  Still, there is a sort of élan conjured by the Macey’s name that captures well the evolving sophistication of this great city.

Sophisticated it now may be, but that did not stop the young graduate student drinking beers and downing shots in the Yakzee’s Bar late that evening from throwing up on my backpack.  He had consumed too much alcohol too fast and eventually it all ended up, mixed in with his unidentifiable dinner, all over the bar counter where my beer had been and down on the floor where the backpack was stowed.  Fortunately, I was using the bathroom at the time, well removed from his line of fire.  I had drunk sufficient beer myself to not feel unduly repelled by this turn of events, and when the bartender in a wallow of pity began providing me with free drinks as compensation, I began to view the event in a rather positive light.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

How can time slip by like this?  Each day I do so little but it takes all day to do it.  Kobuk is primed for departure but I seem to be caught in that old syndrome: inertia.  Tomorrow I must leave.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Waves were small and winds were light, and the marine forecast promised favorable conditions, so this morning early I took Kobuk on out of Diversey harbor and headed south along the coastline for Michigan City, Indiana.  It would have been about a 40 mile crossing to the east-southeast following a direct compass bearing, but I had decided to shadow the Departing Chicagoshoreline and that would add about ten miles to the trip.

Even though it was a Sunday, there we few boaters on the lake and our passage along the Chicago waterfront revealed the downtown in the glow of sunrise gold.  A lone kayaker was out there with me enjoying the quiet time on water with the whole of a grand metropolis only a short paddle away.  There is an eerie feeling of expectancy associated with being so close to such a metropolis, with all its activity and motion, able to see people walking and cars and trains moving, and yet hear nothing as you look at it, nothing but the slap and swoosh of small waves. 

I might have tried to cut the corner, moving offshore many miles in order to follow a more direct track, but the main engine had developed a new and more serious problem.  It now starts and runs with reasonable consistency, but will not run up to the proper level of rpms.  When working correctly, it tops out at 5,700 rpms and moves Kobuk along at over 30 miles per hour.  But now the engine only develops 3,500 rpms and can push us at only about eight miles per hour.  This new development discouraged me from getting very far from shore.

The four days of live-aboard rest in Diversey Harbor had put some stress on the boat’s electrical system. Between lights and electronic equipment, the drain on one of the two batteries had discharged it excessively and so this too was a problem.  It was one that I thought would be solved as soon as the little Yamaha had had time to recharge it.  Not far from Gary, Indiana, however, the gps began emitting sequences of beeps, signaling that the battery was low.  I shifted over to the main engine for a while to see if it would more effectively recharge the battery, and it did seem to do the job.

Heading south to the very end of the lake and then east past Gary, the coastline contains a diverse collection of industrial facilities.  Their massive size and blocky proportions and functional angularity dominate the horizon when looking landward.  The forested land, low-lying and flat, that appears sporadically between these monuments to industry is so overwhelmed by them that it has no capacity to capture your attention.

But once past Gary, the coast changed.  Broad beaches stretched for miles and behind them were forest clad dunes that occasionally exposed their sandy innards to the lake.  The dunes were large, rising many tens of feet.  The forest that crowned them gave this little world a special look, an alluring and beckoning littoral with a suggestion of northern vigor but no hint of desert aridity.

The Michigan City harbor has been developed by widening and channeling the mouth of a small stream that issues into the lake.  Out on the lake itself, a breakwater and lighthouseMichigan City Lighthouse guard the entrance.  Late in the day when I entered, I was looking for a place to tie off that would be close to a marina offering mechanical service—one where I could take Kobuk first thing Monday morning.  I ended up at a place called the Bridges.  It was a restaurant with a small number of boat slips next to it and the cruising guide has said that it would accommodate transients.

The Bridges is so named because it is tucked between two bridges that are close together, one for trains and one for cars.  The one for trains is the first one you come to heading upstream and it is quite a remarkable sight because it is an old iron structure sitting midstream on a huge cylinder that pivots.  Most of the time the bridge is open—that is, it sits midstream with its length running in alignment with the current of the stream allowing boats to pass on either side.  Beneath the bridge in its open position is a forest of posts and pylons that protrude above water level and look as if they used to be some sort of associated structure that no longer serves any purpose.

Whenever a train is coming, a high decibel signal is emitted that lasts for many seconds.  The sound is somewhere between that of a horn and a whistle, and you would hear it even if powering along on a noisy swamp boat wearing ear muffs.  The signal precedes the closing of the bridge which only stays closed long enough to allow the train to pass.  Kobuk and I ended up in a slip right next to this rotating bridge, and I was fascinated by the sight of this aged bridge opening and closing only a few feet removed from Kobuk’s stern.

When I inquired about staying for the night, I ended up talking with Dan Radtke who is the owner of not only the restaurant and its dockside facilities but also a waterfront inn and an adjacent lumberyard.  He has this little empire down by the water, and it seems that the lumber yard has made it all possible but that the dockside life is where he would rather spend his time.

Dan made arrangements for me and then immediately invited me to join him and a bunch of friends for a dinner of fresh perch that they had caught earlier in the day.  It was aDan and Friends dockside cook-out with perch and pork and corn on the cob and lots of beer.  This was a crowd of carefree and fun-loving men of my own age who had grown up together in Michigan City, made it big, and continued to live their lives in intimate association with each other.  Everybody seemed to know everybody else’s history and the stories of days gone by were no less delightful for being somewhat exaggerated.

There were two somewhat younger men there at the cookout, brothers named Steve and Mike Tuma.  They were not physically imposing, each being of ordinary height and with the rounded physique that accompanies a sedentary lifestyle.  Neither were they particularly outspoken or assertive.  I eventually learned, however, that they had created an entirely new business concept that had become extremely successful.  They help people who want to build their own homes by providing them with connections to design services and to panelized methods of construction (prefabricated pieces of wall).  They also arrange the financing for this sort of unorthodox approach to homebuilding.  Their business evidently was the first of its kind and it had taken off.  Now that they are wealthy they collect automobiles, and one person I met told me that they own dozens of exotic vehicles.  Steve does not look as if he has yet progressed very far into his thirties and Mike is even younger.

When Steve heard about the engine problems I was having, he suggested that he use one of his vehicles and a borrowed trailer to pull Kobuk out of the water.  That would make it easy to see whether the jet impellers were clogged, a possible source of the power loss.  Late in the evening, Steve and Mike and a friend of theirs named Dennis got Kobuk up out of the water.  With flashlights in hand we inspected the jet unit from both under the hull and from inside the engine box.  The jet unit looked clean, so the problem must be elsewhere.  Dennis is an amateur mechanic with the kind of mind that springs from possibility to possibility with the nimbleness of an acrobat, and he kept coming up with theories about what aspect of the system might be responsible for the trouble.  He eventually concluded that it must be a glitch in the fuel delivery system and he outlined for me a procedure for checking it out.

These young men, who until a few hours earlier had never even met me, ended up providing this kind of assistance until one in the morning.

Pioneer Pier, Michigan City:                              41* 43.339’ N  /  86*53.894’ W
Distance:                                                              51 miles
Total Distance                                                     2,357 miles

Cellular One Field
 Monday, September 19, 2005

One of the other men at the evening dinner had given me the name and phone number of Roy, a man who works on outboards.  I decided to give him a call before getting started on Dennis’ recommended procedure for troubleshooting the fuel system, and to my surprise Roy answered right away.  I asked him if he could repair the shifting problem with the Yamaha and he fussily declined on the grounds that he is not a Yamaha mechanic.  I lured him in, however, by describing the problem and asking for advice.  Before we were done on the phone he had agreed to come over and take a look.

A short while later, he showed up in gumboots and a yellow rain slicker, with a craggy faced that looked like a cross between James Whitmore and Gomer Pyle.  He was an older man who had been repairing outboards for 36 years.  I was grateful to have him helping me.  He had brought along a kitbag of tools and with almost painful deliberateness he began his inspection of the engine.  In the middle of the work we were inundated by an enormous rainstorm that brought down so much water that we were actually able to watch the level of the small river rise on the abandoned pylons under the bridge.  When the rain abated, Roy isolated the problem and together we removed the entire engine from the bracket on the back of the boat and carried it up to his vehicle.  Then, throughout much of the day, Roy took me with him as he tried to locate the one small part needed to repair the gearing: a $5 bronze coupler.  Nobody had it and in the end Roy had to order it from Wisconsin.  It was going to take two days for the part to arrive so Roy drove me back to Kobuk.

When I got back, Steve and Mike were there eating lunch.  They invited me to join them and before the meal was done they also had invited me to go with them to a baseball game in the evening.  The Chicago White Sox were scheduled to play the Cleveland Indians, and in my entire life I have never seen a major league baseball game.  In ten minutes of working the phone, they had a ticket to the game for me and everything was arranged for our 3:45 departure.

At the appointed time, the brothers showed up in their limousine which can easily carry a dozen people and all their coolers of beer.  Dan was there with his two daughters and a whole collection of buddies and by the time we departed the limo was nearly full.  En route to the game, we picked up three more high school pals and by the time we entered Chicago we were loaded to the gills, so to speak.

What a sight was this Cellular One Stadium!  We had seats in the nosebleed zone, out beyond the first base foul ball line, and when the game began the roar of the crowd reverberated mightily.  Here it was in late September with the Chicago White Sox leading their division but trapped in a tailspin that over the past month or so had seen their divisional dominance decline from fifteen gameWhite Sox vs Indianss to only three and a half.  It was the Cleveland Indians, furthermore, that were now in second place and riding a phenomenal winning streak.  The stadium was nearly full and I should imagine that anybody who might be considered a true White Sox fan was there that night.

As the purple of early evening blended into blackness and the stadium lights glowed ever brighter, the Indians over a number of innings slowly and steadily accumulated a four run lead, only to have it wiped out by a Sox rally in the middle of the game.  The crowd went wild and the fires of their fanaticism were whipped into a conflagration an inning later when the Sox took a one run lead.

I have never in my life seen such willful incivility as occurred in our section of the stands.  Two young men who were Cleveland fans were sitting next to us and the young boys one row back spent the entire game trading insults with them.  Well, they did so, at least, until the security staff booted them out.  This was quite surprising, actually, since all they had done was bad-mouth the Cleveland folk in a most appropriate, all-American way.  The Cleveland boys didn’t even mind; they were giving back nearly as much as they got.  In the end, though, it was the louder (and younger) ones who got booted, even though they were rooting for the right side.

It seemed particularly inappropriate to evict those young men since they obviously were less inclined to get physical than had been the participants in three earlier standoffs between groups of individuals having different philosophies of life.  These other encounters were all within a few rows of us and in each instance the security team had booted a few of the offenders who, as they were escorted out, often made obscene gestures to those left behind.  If our seating section of the stadium was representative—it does not seem likely, but if it were—then Cellular One Field must have been the scene of hundreds of near brawls that night.

Eventually, the Indians came back to take the lead and ended up winning by a couple runs—but, it should be mentioned, not without the Sox filling the bases in the bottom of the ninth and bringing to the plate their most productive home run hitter.  Ah, the divinity of eternal hope!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Sometimes the fates turn against you and their forceful interdiction leaves no choice but to accept whatever they might bring.  I would never have chosen to linger in Michigan City, but forward progress with a trip like this depends on many different things and some of them were no longer functional: the Yamaha, the main engine, and my health, for example.  It now looks as if the Yamaha will be repaired but only after a couple days.  The difficulties with the main engine remain a mystery and hardly a mechanic hereabouts wants to become involved with something so exotic. 

As for my health, swelling and soreness in the left leg drove me to a health clinic today where a doctor of marginal competence issued two prescriptions before hurrying on his way.  It will take a day or two for the antibiotic to kick in, so it seems that I am destined to recuperate at the same time as the engines receive attention.

Although the town has little to offer the itinerant tourist, I was very lucky to have fallen in with Dan and Steve and Mike, and their large circle of friends.  Steve and Mike are being particularly good to me, frequently calling to see if I need anything or if there is anything they can do.  They are the ones who told me about Roy and it was their leads that would eventually unearth a Mazda mechanic named Warren to work on the main engine.

Most people I know think that it is taking me much longer than necessary to do this trip.  I cannot refute them; others might progress a lot more rapidly than I have been doing.  I cannot find a good reason to stick to a schedule, however, and so I rarely feel any urgency about moving on down the line.  It would sound ridiculous to many, but I often chastise myself for not slowing down and spending more time ashore.

It is ironic that this is the only week so far when I have wanted to get to a particular place by a specific day.  While in Chicago, I made tentative plans to meet with Keenan Cluskey somewhere along the east coast of Lake Michigan.  We hoped to rendezvous on Friday night or Saturday morning because Keenan will be spending the weekend nearby with his family.  Each day that passes makes it less likely that the meeting can take place.  The irony is doubled by the fact that Kobuk and I are sitting here in harbor during a stretch of extremely favorable weather with light, offshore winds—a condition that is expected to change near the end of the week when the forecast is for north winds and waves 6-8 feet.  The only thing to do is to accept, accept.  Leaving before Thursday morning is completely out of the question and there are many things that could force an even longer delay.  And then, if the weather turns bad on Thursday or Friday it would be foolhardy to go out on an angry lake.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Late in the day, things began to come together.  One phone call led to another and eventually I was contacted by a mechanic named Warren who works for a Mazda dealership in Valparaiso.  This is his daytime job; in the evening he has a second one.  Between the two, he came to take a look at Kobuk’s engine.  In only a few minutes, he isolated the problem: Kobuk by the RR Bridgethe primary plug on one of the two rotors was not firing.  He thought at first that this was an indication of a faulty coil, but further tests of the wiring found the coil guiltless and laid the blame at the door of the computer that manages all electrical impulses for the engine.  This is an expensive piece of hardware that is manufactured in England.  It is not particularly amenable to repair.  Warren was nearly certain that the computer was malfunctioning, but to get the engine working adequately for the short term he did nothing more than switch the leads for the two sparkplugs that fire in that one rotor.

It seems that in a rotary engine the triangular cylinder is ‘advanced’ by the firing of a single spark plug known as the primary one.  The secondary spark plug is located nearby and fires a split second later to clean up any remaining gas vapors in the chamber.  It assists the first spark plug and contributes to its effectiveness, but does only a small proportion of all the work.  By switching the spark plug leads, Warren got the primary plug to fire and allocated plug failure to the secondary one.  This is not ideal because it means (1) that the timing is not exactly right for the firing of the main plug and (2) that gas fumes ordinarily exploded by the secondary plug would be wasted.  Warren could not see how this inefficient arrangement might damage the engine, however , so he thought it would be an adequate temporary repair until such time as the computer problem can be resolved.

Even as Warren was finishing up, Roy appeared with the Yamaha repaired.  We mounted it on the stern bracket and he began to reconnect all the attachments.  He was not able to finish everything before dark and in the deteriorating light his middle-aged eyes found it impossible to properly reassemble the bracket that holds the control cable ends for the throttle and shifter.  Eventually he had to give it up; he left with a promise to return in the late morning.

Deep in the evening Steve came down to the boat with printed pages in hand.  He had gone on line and had located the website for the manufacturer of the computer.  The pages were from the website and they contained a phone number for the company that I could call in the morning.  I am astounded by Steve’s labors on my behalf.  I think he must be held hostage to his very successful company the better part of twelve hours a day, but whenever he has a spare minute he seems to spend it helping me out.

Michigan City BreakwaterThursday, September 22, 2005A Windy Day

Now the only problem is weather.  Roy returned in early afternoon to complete the Yamaha job, and after that was done I was ready to go.  But to leave now makes no sense.  The wind is adverse and strong and even if conditions were good it is too late to reach Benton Harbor which is some forty miles up the coast.  The marine weather forecast calls for thunderstorms this evening and small craft advisories all day tomorrow.  Now it is nothing but cat and mouse.  Kobuk is the mouse and autumn on Lake Michigan is the cat.  The mouse must exit from the hole only when the cat is not looking.

Friday, September 23, 2005

As the sun fired the eastern horizon I pedaled over to the harbor entrance where a long breakwater reaches out to a boxy, stubby, white lighthouse aMichigan City Shorend where broad sandy beaches extend away in both directions.  The wind was coming down from the northeast, full of gusto and herding oceanic waves up onto the beaches.  The seagulls were all together standing with their beaks to the wind and constantly realigning their feathers, staggered and ruffled by the larger gusts.  They were no more inclined to fly than I was to boat.  The waves were piling in with white combers along their crests a good distance from shore.  They would smash against the breakwater leading to the lighthouse, sending up spray and spindrift that flew over the top and settled on the restlessly undulating waters of the port channel.  Sand was being lifted by the wind and whipped across the concrete sidewalk paralleling the beach.  It was awe inspiring and exhilarating, but it was not a day to be on the lake.

With small craft advisories running into the evening, Kobuk and I stayed snug in our slip near the Bridges restaurant and resigned ourselves to departure the next morning.  The wind and waves were forecast to abate in the middle of the night.  There is always tomorrow.

When Steve and Mike showed up to invite me out to dinner, I was readying Kobuk for an early morning departure.  ‘This can wait until morning’ I thought to myself, and quickly abandoned all work for play.  When I got back at three in the morning I was in no shape to carry on with the departure preparations and so even with the better part of a week in port I found myself in the morning scrambling to get organized.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

‘ . . . And a gray mist on the sea’s face / and a gray dawn breaking.”—these are words that Masefield used to express his love for open water, and no words better suit the mood of Lake Michigan on this autumn morning when cool, damp air wisps throught the cabin and tingles the skin.

No time is better than fall.  It has the stark simplicity of desert.  It is more austere than a medieval monk. It premonotes death and reminds you to live.  When fall arrives the pleasure seekers flee.  Crowds wither away to nothingness and you can find solitude.

Some men are addicted to substances, some to love.  A few are captive to risk, and not so few to power.  But me, my addiction is simple peace.  When no one is there to ask of you, when no one can command you, when you are alone with the grand and impersonal world around you—then can your mind float free and your spirit stay still.  I love it.

Outside the Michigan City harbor, small swells were running down from the north and the gentle wind was out of the northeast.  Under main engine power, Kobuk headed north along the coast, driving into the oncoming swells and charging from crest to gulley to crest, each time surging down the back of a passing swell and hesitating slightly with the onset of the next one.

At first, I failed to choose the proper speed or angle of attack.  On this particular day, a speed of 23 miles per hour carried us along quite nicely for a minute or two until an awkward configuration of swells would lift up poor Kobuk’s hull and then slam it down with an unpleasantly harsh bang.  By throttling back just one mile per hour these periodic episodes of hammer-hull disappeared completely.

So, too, with the angle at which the oncoming swells were struck.  At first, I simply paralleled the coast, keeping Kobuk a more or less constant distance offshore, and this route caused us to strike the swells just a few degrees to port of the bow. But the motion of the boat was eased considerably by closing with the shore and angling a mere 2-3 degrees more to starboardLakeside Homes

At first I resisted this course alteration because with the shore so near I thought it would inevitably force us to come about and tack out to deeper water.  For no good reason I was not in the mood to zigzag up the lake.  Still, occasions would arise when the charging swells looked threatening, and that would persuade me to bear off towards shore a little in the hopes of easing our motion.  Gradually, I got closer and closer to shore to shore.

Only then did I realize the obvious: near shore where the water is shallower, the obstruction down below would slow the speed of the swell peeling along the shore, causing it to bend around and break on the beach at an angle slightly less removed from perpendicular than would have otherwise been the case.  I realized that by staying a little closer to shore I would automatically receive those oncoming swells at a more favorable angle.

These small alterations in speed and course were almost imperceptible adjustments to the conditions and yet they made an enormous difference in the way the boat felt in the water.  The competent mariner must learn subtleties such as these, I suppose, and the acute observer might recognize the way in which insignificant events can precipitate remarkably different outcomes.

After having used horsepower to make rapid progress down the lake and to top off the batteries which had been discharging for so many days, I converted over to the little Yamaha and carried on at a much more leisurely pace.  In the afternoon the seas became calm—almost oily—and a ghostly silence surrounded us.  A thickening haze settled in, converting the horizon to an almost imperceptible line that hardly separated the lake from the sky.  A pale tint of slate blue permeated the look of both the air and the water, and the coastline of forest and sand became a smudgy streak with no highlights.  It was not a dark or foreboding day, but it was a day without contrast.

John called me, John Lauter from Rotary Power Marine Corporation.  He had talked with the mechanic named Warren and felt that the diagnosis of computer malfunction in the main engine might be incorrect.  There on the still waters with both engines off and using the cell phone, he talked me through a series of diagnostic checks on the engine.  In the end, we discovered that one of the spark plugs was burned out and that most likely the only necessary repair would be to change the plugs.  This is a little embarrassing—but it is such good news that I will gladly put up with the embarrassment.  Finding the right kind of spark plugs may not be easy since they are peculiar to rotary engines, but it certainly will be easier and cheaper than fooling with the computer.  I was very grateful for the help that John had given me on this weekend day.  It does a great deal to make up for the many times I have tried to call him and only been able to leave a message.

South HavenWhen I motored into the South Haven harbor I began to get some idea of what a big thing boating is here along the Michigan coast of the lake.  A flooded river channel extended for miles inland and it was lined on both sides with boats and boat facilities of every sort.  I was looking for a spot where I might be able to tie off next to shore without having to rent a slip but miles of shoreline were businesslike port facilities and there seemed to be no choice but to seek out a rental slip.  Eventually, though, we came to a municipal park with boat ramps and boat slips.  The slips were intended for rental to transients, but immediately downstream from the boat ramps there was a short stretch of sandy shore with weedy banks dropping down to near the water.  The ‘beach’ was only a foot or two of sand extending out from the bank, but that was all Kobuk needed and so we spent the night tied to a picnic table with the branches of a weeping _____ tree dangling their leafy strands on Kobuk’s bow.

After dark, I cycled around in the light rain looking for spark plugs.  The only possibilities were an Auto Zone and the WalMart, both located a couple miles from the center of town.  Neither place had the exotic NGK plugs that John specified, however, so the search was abandoned and I returned to the downtown.  I stopped in at a local bar for a bite to eat and ended up talking for a couple hours with a woman named Doris, the mother of the owner and a regular patron of the place.  

South Haven Boat Ramp:                   42* 24.605’ N  /  86* 16.386’ W
Distance:                                              61 miles
Total Distance:                                    2,418 miles

South Haven Lighthouse
Sunday, September 25, 2005

In the morning as I was preparing for departure, a gentleman driving a pickup truck pulled up next to the picnic table to which I had tied Kobuk the night before.  He inquired as to whether I had spent the night there and as innocently as possible I told him ‘yes.’  He very politely informed me that tie-offs there were not permitted and went on to tell me about the transient docks on the other side of the boat ramp.  I appropriately acknowledged my error, thanked him for the information, and untied Kobuk from the table.  In no time at all, we were motoring down the busy estuary, past the docks and boats and marinas and apartment buildings, and out onto the open lake.

I was committed to being in Saugatuck harbor by noon.  I planned to meet there with Keenan and Lynn Cluskey who were driving over from their summer cabin so we could spend a few hours together. By leaving fairly early, the trip could be done at a leisurely pace and this made it possible to properly appreciate this remarkable shoreline.

Here in the southern part of the lake, the west coast is an almost continuous stretch of sand—sandy beaches behind which are bluffs that look to be either sand dunes or deep layers of soil.  These bluffs are reasonably high—that is, many tens of feet—but rare indeed are rocky outcrops.  Sometimes the bluffs maintain a more or less constant elevation above the lake and at these times the exposed flank looks like compacted soil.  At other times, the modest relief is in the form of haystack hills strung along side by side, and then the exposed faces are quite clearly sand.  Whether sand or soil, the forest is continuous along the crest and, whenever the descent to lake level is not too precipitous, it pouSpike and Keenanrs down to the edge of the beach.

What with its bluffs and dunes and sandy beach, the coast is inherently repetitive and monotonous.  This may sound critical but it is not intended that way.  The constancy of the pattern actually generates a sort of hypnosis that is hard to resist.  To understand the effect, consider Ravel’s “Bolero.”   This piece of music also is repetitive and monotonous, but that is what makes it so powerful.

Saugatuck is a place I would not bypass, even without the planned rendezvous.  The name reminds me of New England where I grew up, and since my childhood memories are extremely positive I react favorably to most anything suggestive of the region.  And that is not all: Saugatuck has the sort of name that suggests individuality and uniqueness.  No committee, no corporation, would ever dare attach a name like this to a place it wished to promote because its distinctiveness might alienate potential consumers.  Unlike ‘Pleasant Grove’ or ‘Cedar Heights’ or some such banality, Saugatuck sounds real.  I very much relate to Steven Vincent Benet’s willingness not fall in love with American names.  When he glorifies places like ‘. . . Medicine Hat / Tucson, Deadwood, and Lost Mule Flat,’ I feel like standing up and applauding.  (It doesn’t bother me in the least that one of those names actually is Canadian.)

Getting to Saugatuck from the lake involves passage along a winding waterway leading to a pair of small lakes that are linked by a narrow strait which is overtopped by a bridge.  The town is spread along the north side of the waterway and the first lake that you come to; the bridge takes you to the sister town of Douglas which runs along the southern shorefront of both lakes.  Both towns are clean, quaint, and very, very prosperous.  I hate to think what real estate costs here.  You feel as if you are in the Michigan equivalent of Aspen.  Specialty shops abound and public places are perfectly maintained.  The tax base obviously allows the local government to do its job well, and everybody is perfectly aware of what must be done to sustain the flow of visitors.

Good Life in SaugatuckIn one sense, private property is a little less private here that it would be in other places.  Every house is well-maintained; every private lot is groomed and manicured.  It is as if city ordinance prohibits seediness—either that or social approbation does it.  In any event, don’t go to Saugatuck if you hope to see the idiosyncratic or eccentric.  Everybody is perfectly behaved and the entire town is perfectly socialized.  I exaggerate, of course, but I think you get the point.

My critical tone is misleading since, like most everybody else, I like this place.  It is coherent and tasteful, and this cannot be said about very many towns in the United States.  It is sad that places of this sort are so rare and it is particularly unfortunate that when they do exist their very character tends to imply higher levels of disposable income than are healthy.

I tied off at the public dingy dock (the sign said ‘no boats longer than twenty feet, please’, so Kobuk was only about 6” illegal) and spent the afternoon with Lynn and Keenan.  It was the perfect time of year to be here since Labor Day was the end of the ‘season’ and yet most commercial establishments have remained open.  Gray skies and rain showers accompanied us throughout the afternoon, but the chill air and wetness were a welcome relief from the extraordinary string of warm sunny days that have accompanied me ever since the departure in late May.

It was so quiet around town that I decided to spend the night at the dingy dock.  Signage explicitly prohibits this, but I figured nobody would notice, and even if they did I would only have to motor out into the middle of the shallow lake and drop anchor.  Nobody did notice, and in fact I remained tied there throughout the following day and night without coming to the attention of the local authorities.  It is just one of advantages of arriving after Labor Day.       

Saugatuck Dingy Dock:                      42* 39.236’ N  /  86* 12.136’ W
Distance:                                              23 miles
Total Distance:                                    2,441 miles

Monday, September 26, 2005

Out on the lake, the winds were blowing from the north and waves were bearing down from that direction.  That, at least, is what the marine weather forecast claimed.  I took their word for it and stayed in town for the day.  It looks as if tomorrow may offer an opportunity to move up the lake since winds are supposed to shift then and come out of the south.  That is only for one day, though; the next day is supposed to see north winds again.  I only plan to move when the winds are favorable so it looks as if tomorrow will be a brief opportunity to make some progress towards the north end of the lake.

Even for Kobuk and me, the boating season is nearing its end.  It would be nice to get up to Mackinaw City before storing Kobuk for the winter, but the unsettled weather may make that impossible.  Today I went online and purchased an airline ticket out of Detroit for returning to Salt Lake City and so now there is a schedule to keep.  I depart from Detroit on October 12th.  Before then, Kobuk has to be stored and cleaned up and I have to find a way to get to Detroit.  That means there are only about ten days left for making progress up the lake.  With the variable weather on the lake, it looks as if we will be lucky to make progress any more than one day in two.  The opportunities could easily be less than that.  From my point of view, it is critical to not become impatient and venture out when conditions are marginal.  I honestly believe that Kobuk would be capable of handling pretty rough conditions, but only if captained by someone with plenty of experience on these waters.  I don’t have that experience and so I am the limiting factor, not Kobuk.

All day long the winds swept across the small lake and into town.  Kobuk bobbed and bumped at the dingy dock and I went off to do such errands as buying gas and locating spark plugs.  A short pedal out of town to a NAPA store finally unearthed the necessary spark plugs.  The store did not have them but assured me that they could be gotten in by opening time tomorrow.  That was good enough for me.

In these times of elevated prices, each port or harbor presents the challenge of finding gas as cheaply as possible.  At the start of the trip, gas was never available next to the river and so I got in the habit of hitchhiking to town and purchasing at the local gas station.  Here on Lake Michigan, most harbors have dockside gas available but its price typically runs 30-60 cents more per gallon than at the local gas station.  Only when there is no real alternative do I resort to purchasing gas from a marine supplier; whenever possible I get to a land based gas station.  I have found that small towns are usually a better bet than larger ones.  Gas stations typically locate on the periphery instead of downtown, and the distance to the periphery naturally is less in a small town.

No longer do I hitchhike, however.  Starting back in Chamberlain, South Dakota, I began experimenting with systems for transporting gas using Bike Friday.  Until I got to Illinois, I employed a system that involved lashing the boat hook to the handle bars and then hanging jerry cans on the ends of the boat hook.

Initially, I would pedal to the gas station and then walk the bike back to the boat loaded with gas.  Eventually, though, I decided to try riding the bike with the filled jerry cans suspended.  Naturally, the swaying and swinging of the cans disturbs the forward momentum of a pedaled bike, but gradually I learned to manage their oscillating motion.  Part of it was learning to pedal more smoothly, but an even larger part was coming to the recognition that any wobble introduced by the swaying cans is only wobble and, like a negative feedback loop, only leads to less rather than more of this errant motion.  Once this is recognized, it becomes easy to simply accept the wobble and not fight it.

Recently, I have discovered that the whole operation can be done with a lot less fuss by just using two small loops of small dimension line.  By passing half of one of these loops under the handle of a jerry can and then slipping the two ends of the loop over the end of the handlebar, the gas rides along with no more motion or commotion than with the old boat hook system.  Whatever system is used, it is impractical for me to pedal off for only one jerry can of gas; one needs to go for two.  Considering the rate at which boats consume gas, this problem is purely theoretical.

Near Holland

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

After the new spark plugs were installed, the main engine fired up with a vigor and rambunctiousness that I really hadn’t expected.  I am not a mechanic, but even I could tell the difference.  There also seemed to be a difference in top end rpm’s at full throttle.  When I purchased the engine I was told that it should be able to generate 6,500 rpm’s.  It never did do that—even after the engine had been broken in and even after bringing it down to near sea level, it would never turn over any faster than 5,700 rpm’s.  Now, however, as I briefly rev up the engine while tied to the dingy dock, the needle swings past 6,000 with no trouble at all.  I would like to run Kobuk at full throttle to see if there is a noticeable improvement in performance, but there is not likely to be an opportunity to do so for a few days.  Here in Saugatuck, the waterway is a ‘no wake’ zone while out on the lake the waves are most likely too big to allow such a test.

And, sure enough, once outside the twin breakwaters the water was rough.  The wind and waves were out of the southwest so I could run Kobuk with them, but the water was anything but placid.  Except for that very brief spell in Chicago Harbor when there was a confusion of cross-hatched waves, this is the first time I have had Kobuk in such seas.  By Lake Michigan standards, the waves were small—perhaps 2-4 feet—but, considering Kobuk’s low freeboard and open area aft, this was more than enough to catch my attention.  I motored along with the little Yamaha and gradually became comfortable with the fact that the bluff bow and broad beam gave the hull a natural buoyancy more than sufficient to lift Kobuk up and over the passing waves.  The Yamaha functioned without a hitch, but the Remote Troll for guiding it often was overpowered by the waves.  Occasionally, Kobuk would slew around to present her starboard beam to an oncoming wave, but at least when they are this small they did not have the ability to put us in jeopardy of being rolled or swamped.  Over the winter, though, I must work getting the Remote Troll to work more reliably.

The weather forecast had indicated that the wind and waves would moderate in the afternoon, and this had contributed to my decision to venture out on the open water.  I had thought I could find out how bad it is and then return to harbor if it was too scary.  If, on the other hand, I decided to continue I might expect easier conditions as the day wore on.  I had plans to make about 55 miles before the end of the day.

What actually happened is that the waves got bigger and bigger.  The wind did not increase, fortunately, but the waves grew larger with each passing hour.  It was an exhilarating day.  The sky was a china blue and puffy white clouds were scudding along at a breakneck pace.  There was no sign of latent storms, no indication of increasing cloudiness, no hint of heavier winds.  Still, the waves got larger until by mid-afternoon an approaching one would occasionally break the line of the horizon as I looked back at it from my seated position in the cockpit.  This implied a wave height of 4-5 feet.

The top of Kobuk’s stern is less than two feet above water level so whenever I would watch an approaching wave it would always look as if it was coming in for a visit.  The top of it would bear down on us and its shifting, mottled, rounded shape would ride at us above the level of the stern until it looked as if it was about to come aboard.  But then the stern would lift and the wave would pass with not so much as a splash.

As this look of near disaster came and went with almost every passing wave, I rapidly became adjusted to the fact that, at least in seas of this size and shape, Kobuk could cope without a problem.  The conditions were ideal for learning how to handle Kobuk in rougher waters—threatening enough to challenge but not so threatening as to suggest imminent On Lake Michigandisaster.  In fact, the longer period associated with larger waves actually made Kobuk a little easier to handle.

All this was highly deceptive, however.  Every once in a while I would see a lumpy, large wave with a curling whitecap at is crest.  The white water wouldn’t last; it would disappear as the wave changed shape.  Still, the odds were good that sooner or later something of this sort might develop on wave that was approaching Kobuk’s stern and I had no idea whether the result would be disastrous.  I concluded that we should make our way into the next available port: Grand Haven located a few miles farther along up the coast.

Now it was time to test the main engine in these rough conditions.  With it running, I cruised along at a speed that more evenly matched the speed of the waves, and this made it easier to handle the wave action.  At the same time, it introduced a couple interesting complications.  One was that the engine would have to labor to carry us over the crest of a wave and into the trough ahead of it, and this meant that there was little sense in trying to go any faster than the waves themselves (which seemed to be moving at about 10-15 miles per hour).  Another was that the additional speed made it easy for Kobuk to begin surfing down the front face of a wave only to bury her bow in the back of the wave up ahead. Once the surfing started, throttling back would make no difference to her speed and so the only way to avoid driving into the next wave was to peel off to the left or to the right, just as a surfer might do. 

If no such evasive action were taken, Kobuk would drive forward into the next wave and her bow would settle into the back of the wave so deeply that the water level would be up around the rub rail, virtually even with the topsides.  But there would be no splash and the whole front end of the boat would rise in a fashion that was neither hesitant nor abrupt.  I am very, very pleased with the seaworthiness of this little riverboat.  Even so, it was a bit of a relief to eventually make entry into the protected waters of Grand Haven harbor.

Grand Haven Municipal Marina:                      43* 04.090’ N  /  86* 13.912’ W
Distance:                                                             32 miles
Total Distance:                                                   2,473 miles

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The weather forecast is not at all promising.  North winds are kicking up a ruckus and tomorrow they’re supposed to blow at gale force.  After that, they may shift to the south but the monotonous, static-laden voice of the NOAA weather broadcaster seems to think they will push waves as big as the ones Kobuk and I ducked in here to escape.  By late in the weekend the winds and waves are expected to moderate but that’s a little too far in the future for me to pay much attention.

These enforced layovers in Michigan harbors are not so bad.  All the time I was on rivers I kept feeling a need to move on the next day unless I was tired or Kobuk had a problem.  But here on the lake, it is just a waiting game.  Fortunately, the ports we have stopped in—Michigan City, East Haven, Saugatuck, Grand Haven—all have had a maritime flavor.  Many of the river towns turned their backs on the river but here on Lake Michigan every port town seems to nurture its association with the lake.  Not only does each have elaborate port facilities and lots of boats; they all have shops selling to the boaters, museums depicting the historical importance of the lake, and beach parks drawing locals down to the water.  Rain or shine, the port entry usually has a number of people fishing there, some of them idling on the breakwater with their lines in the water, some in small craft slowly trolling up and down the entrance channel.Grand Haven Beacon

When you enter a port, you typically pass between two long breakwaters extending perpendicularly out into the lake a long distance.  More often than not, one of the breakwaters will have a lighthouse mounted on it.  Each lighthouse is architecturally unique, a silent and symbolic indicator of exactly where you are.  Here in Grand Haven, for example, it is a squat square of red sitting on a white base.  It stands at the end of the south breakwater and is overshadowed by a tall, tapered, solid cylinder—a beacon located in the middle of the breakwater and painted in the same color of red as the lighthouse.  The hue is close to that of a firehouse, but with the darkened suggestiveness of dried blood.  When rough water comes in straight off the lake it can turn the entrance channel into a wave pool of epic proportions, but when it strikes them at an angle the waves explode along the outside walls, sending up sheets of white spray and—when the waves are big enough—sluicing lake water across the breakwater’s broad back.  When the weather is up, these breakwaters are treacherous places to be.  To stand out there in a storm must be awe inspiring, but it is easy to get swept away.  The south breakwater at Grand Haven has a plaque commemorating the loss of two teenage boys who were taken by two different storms.  In their photographs, they look charmed and golden, happy and unselfconscious.  It’s hard to believe that their luck could run out so abruptly.

Clouds coalesced over Grand Haven and the steady breeze became a blow.  Late in the afternoon the rain began.  I zipped up the curtains and settled down to an evening by the glow of the Coleman stove.  Late that night the wind became intemperate and wildly unpredictable.  It buffeted Kobuk, snapping her out until her mooring lines became taught and then suddenly spanking her back against the dock.  I went to sleep with the hull lurching and gyrating on the flat water and then banging either bow or stern against the dock.  In the middle of the night when the rain temporarily subsided, I dragged myself out of the bunk, dragged on some pants, and went out with a spare line in hand to run a spring line that would lessen the motion.  As I returned to sleep I could not help thinking about what it must be like out on the open lake.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bike Friday has developed an aneurism in its rear tire.  It all started a couple weeks ago when cracks in the sidewall began to sprout Kevlar fibres.  Since then, a lesion opened up and began running out toward what little remains of the working tread.  Small at first, this fissure has become a gaping, labial obscenity that distorts the shape of the tire by causing it to bulge outward and kink sideways.

I have considered ordering replacement tires, but since I don’t know when I will be where it is hard to choose a town to which they might be shipped.  I kept thinking that in just a few weeks the trip will be done for the season and so tire replacement could be a winter project, but the malignancy has become too extreme to ignore any longer.  With each revolution of the wheel now, there is a bump in the ride, giving a little jolt like the ones you get when you pass over the regularly spaced expansion cracks in concrete sidewalks.  I avoid pedaling fast and I dare not inflate the tire very much.  Wherever I go I mentally calculate how long the walk would be back to Kobuk.

Sometimes the mind becomes so fixated on the particular nature of a problem that it cannot see the obvious solution.  I simply assumed that Bike Friday’s odd geometry would make replacement of tires for its undersized wheels something that could only be done by locating a very specialized source of supply.  I never stopped to think about all the bikes with small wheels that are out there nowadays.  Somehow, my mind finally escaped this paralysis and realized that a standard bike shop might—no, almost certainly would—have the right size tires.  I tracked one down in Grand Haven and in no time at all Bike Friday was being outfitted with a perfectly adequate replacement tire.  A few other lesser mechanical problems had cropped up during the course of the summer, so I asked the young man who was doing the tire work to take care of them as well.  I was standing beside him watching him do the work, and by the time he was done, my mind had been jogged into recognizing a solution to a more significant problem than replacing a tire on a bike.

Somewhere up along the Michigan coast I must arrange for winter storage of Kobuk and then find a way to get to Detroit for my October 12th flight to Salt Lake City.  But it is hard to plan because I do not know how far the unsettled weather on the lake will allow me to get and that means I do not know where to look to find a storage arrangement.  Will there be storage facilities in the town we happen to end up in?  And if they exist will the price for them be reasonable?  How long will it take to get the storage taken care of and how much time should I set aside for getting to Detroit?  Will there be bus service or must I hitchhike?  If I end up hitchhiking, how will I transport the collection of items I have come to realize need not be on Kobuk?  These are not particularly intractable problems, but the uncertainty surrounding them will detract from the pleasure of cruising up along the Michigan shore.

But as I am standing next to _____ the bike mechanic watching Bike Friday transform into the sort of butterfly it used to be, the solution comes to me: I’ll store Kobuk here and bicycle to Detroit.  There will be plenty of time to make the trip; it’s only about 180 miles and I will have at least a week to get there.  A few phone calls later, everything is settled in my mind.  There are marinas nearby that will store Kobuk inside for the winter at an acceptable price and the storage suitcase for Bike Friday is ready and waiting to be converted into a bicycle trailer.  Planning ahead is not one of my strengths but whenever I do happen to settle on an articulated course of action—as has just now happened—there is a mild sense of exhilaration associated with the relative certainty that it implies.  I love uncertainty, but perhaps even more do I love variety, and after the past few months of unregulated travel, a structured itinerary does not sound so bad.  Besides, I need the exercise.  After the last month of slothfulness, with Kobuk no longer requiring any physical assistance from me to make forward progress, a few days of elevated heart rate will do me good.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Kobuk has performed very well since this trip started, but there are a few things that need to be checked or repaired or modified before setting out in the spring.  The actual jobs will be done then rather than now, but a list compiled while everything is fresh in my memory would lessen the likelihood of overlooking something.

There is, for example, the excessive rain leakage around the zip-on canvas curtains.  This is a constant nuisance, but a winter of contemplation ought to yield up some simple solution.  Back in Bismarck, when it rained so hard, I discovered a workable approach to the problem, but now I need to find a simpler and more elegant way of holding the leaky bottom edges of the windows outboard of the carlings.  The canvas all around is beginning to show signs of wear so total replacement may be necessary after only one more season.  Thus, an immediate fix is a temporary one while a more durable fix involves redesign of the actual curtains themselves.

Then there is the Remote Troll.  It wasn’t designed for constant use at full throttle and it never dreamed of being pressed into service in relatively heavy seas.  But it is going to have to function in these adverse conditions, so over the winter I have to find a way to make sure that the pulley and cable system is reliably activated by the little metal drum.  Perhaps a non-skid coating of some sort could be put on the drum.  Perhaps there is a type of cable that is coated with something less susceptible to slippage.  Perhaps a thicker cable would grab better.  Perhaps all that is needed is even more cable tension.  I don’t know what will work best, but the people at Remote Troll should be expecting a call from me in the next month or two.

Also, it would be nice if the electric control cable and toggle switch that activate the Remote Troll were long enough to take anywhere on the boat.  On the other hand, all sorts of cable lying around in the cabin would be a nuisance.  The way it is now, I can use it anywhere in the cabin and also from immediately behind the seat.  It even is long enough to hold while standing on the side deck to take a pee overboard while cruising down the river (a behavior for which, if asked, I would have to take the fifth).  It would be helpful, though if the control switch could be taken to the back of the boat or, indeed, even up onto the front deck (risky but fun).

Another problem is the two plastic jerry cans.  They are indispensable but they take up too much space.  They need to be mounted outboard, perhaps on the sides of the cabin aft of the side windows.  They would obstruct free movement forward to the bow out there, but as it is now they constantly get in the way for gaining access to the engine, the tool storage under the port seat aft, and even the Coleman stove which is stored beside the starboard seat aft.  If I were ever to use the port-a-potty located inside the starboard seat, they would be a bother for that as well.  If mounted outboard, their weight farther forward would improve trim, I think, and would also lessen the risk that escaping gas fumes will collect in the bilge.  On balance, their outboard obstruction to forward movement is a price worth paying.

On the floor immediately in front of the port seat, there is a third jerry can that directly supplies fuel to the Yamaha.  I installed strapping that holds the can upright against the starboard side, but the can was designed to lie flat and its intake hose only works in that position.  I tried unsuccessfully to replace the intake hose with one that would draw from the bottom, but obviously I need to try harder.

Remember the incident up in the Dakotas when during transit around a dam the hatch top for the anchor tackle box flew up and ripped off because I failed to latch it?  I repaired the damage and have since been vigilant about securing the latch, but what it really needs is some sort of stopper that prohibits it from opening too far.  I did build a stopper into the box itself, but it only keeps the top from opening too far when the boat is stationary.  When moving, the wind levers the entire hatch against the stopper and in fact that is what ripped out its hinged back.  If I install a metal extension arm inside the box then the wind would lose its mechanical advantage and it might even survive on that inevitable day when I fall against it.

When traveling on rivers, the two-shelf galley on the port side is perfectly adequate for dishes and cutlery and cooking utensils, but out in rougher waters when the main engine is scooting us over a little chop everything bounces around a little.  I should find some way of establishing peace in the galley.  It may be no more complicated than hanging a few more utensils and laying down a non-skid pad for plates and cups and glasses to lie on.

Modifications always interest me more than maintenance and repair, but of course are less important.  Overall, Kobuk has stood up well to the summer of abuse but a few things do need to be attended to.  Aside from oil changes, grease for the jet drive, and inspection of all mechanical and electrical systems, there is little to do.  One fuel gauge does not register properly and the small gauge that tracks rpm level and hours of use for the Yamaha has never functioned.  The adhesive used to secure the sheets of sound insulation inside the engine box has not done its job and a number of pieces have broken free or are starting to do so (for NASA it is heat tiles; for me it is sound insulation).  The floorboards and engine box need to be repainted and so does the bottom of the hull where so much repair had to be done up in South Dakota.  Then there is the exterior oak trim which is severely weathered and needs sanding and oiling.

This is not a bad list for four months and 2,500 miles of travel.  Baring the unforeseen, when I return in the spring it should be possible to get Kobuk back in the water in less than a week.  But of course to bar the unforeseen is neither advisable nor—from my point of view—desirable.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

The ‘to do’ list for storing Kobuk and skipping town is not excessively long.  I wrote it out as soon as I was certain Kobuk was done for the season, and it was sufficiently short that I saw no reason why she could not be pulled from the water on Monday.  I made the haul-out arrangement with Keenan’s Marina and we agreed that I would deliver Kobuk to them at 11:00 AM.  That meant I had three full days in which to clean up my affairs and clean out the boat.  At first I had thought that that would be more than enough time, but now in the middle of the second day I find myself unable to get ahead of schedule.  To some extent, this is the inevitable consequence of a poorly developed sense of urgency but I think it also fair to blame my lack of pracFarmer's Market 1tice over the past few months: I have not had to deal with scheduling since May.

Not that I am behind schedule.  By the time Monday arrives, Kobuk will be cleaner on the inside than she has been since she was launched over three years ago (well, excepting for the inaccessible bilge).  The exterior is a mess, but Keenan’s will power wash the hull while Kobuk is up on the fork lift and then when I return in the spring I will give her a more detailed scrubbing.

But let me return for a minute to this question of scheduling and timetables.  They are such an integral part of modern life that we live by them even when we don’t think we do.  We may occasionally get a block of free time to do with as we wish, but its very brevity profoundly restricts our freedom.  We think we are liberated at last but in fact we are constrained by whatever it is we have to do and wherever it is we have to be at the end of that block of free time.  Those who are wealthy can escape to a more distant location or to a more exotic (and more expensive) setting, but all must confront the realities associated with the ‘return,’ that inevitable day when the time is over and the ordinary demands of daily life reassert themselves.

Let us say that we have a week of vacation and decide to go backpacking in the Uintah’s.  We feel an enormous sense ofFarmer's Market 2 relief at the prospect of getting away from our daily routine; we even delude ourselves into thinking that we are completely free of all the normal constraints of being in a specific place at a specific time.  But have we really escaped?  Most likely we will drive to the trailhead on Friday evening and set up camp there, eager to set out in the morning.  We have no idea in advance what this trek in a pristine alpine setting will offer up to us, but because we only have a week we have established a time and place to start the journey as well as to end it.  In order to get from point A to point B within the prescribed time frame, we have planned out how much foot travel we wish to accomplish each day and this has strongly suggested to us where we should camp each evening.  We have selected what are likely to be a beautiful route and pleasing campsites, but that is not the point.  The point is that we have really only substituted a new schedule and timetable for the one we are escaping.  This is one reason why some people simply stay home and do nothing during a vacation.  I could never do such a thing, but there is a certain logic to it.  For those of us who are out on the trail, we usually begin to feel stress around the second or third day when either we have fallen behind schedule, or we don’t care for the pace we have set for ourselves, or rain has eroded our desire to hike, or a magical place must be prematurely abandoned because of the sacred schedule.

We are so oppressed by scheduFarmer's Market 3les that we come to view a week or two as significant.  In fact, they are insignificant and only when we begin to think in terms of months, or even years, do we begin to find the sort of peace that comes from not having to be somewhere at a certain time.  All this is nothing more than a complicated way of saying ‘slow down,’ I suppose, but in order to slow down we have to have a strategy for getting it to happen.  The biggest hindrance to finding such a strategy is the misguided tendency to value money more than time.

Actually, the mere attempt to assign some sort of value to time is profoundly misguided.  There is no way to quantify something so unique.  We may measure the passage of time, but that is not the same thing as measuring its worth.  Like a light bulb that can only be illuminated or not—must either be on or off—time is something we have or do not have; there is virtually nothing in between.  If we do not have it then we are the instruments of something besides our own self-will and our lives are effectively worthless.  If we do have it then we are free to do with ourselves whatever we wish and can justifiably think of ourselves as having the potential to be human.

To me, there are few things more human than the Aboriginal practice of walkabout.  With its lack of concern about direction or duration, there is a tendency to dismiss it as an anachronism in this modern world.  But if we want mental health we may have to learn from it.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

The mundane business of preparing a boat for winter storage imposes a regimen that is in many respects enjoyable to execute but could hardly be considered memorable.  All the little tasks are in their own way satisfying, just as they are when we clean a house or complete any other project of specified limits.  The work itself rarely stimulates us nearly so much as the idea of doing what we have set out to do.  Our level of contentment or discontent is far more affected by the degree to which we manage to satisfy our notion of what needs to be done than it is by the nature of the tasks and conditions that surround us at the time.   It is a good example, I think, of the way in which the world existing within the head is comparable in its effect on us to the stimulus of the exterior world.

This tension—or balance, if you will—between the internal world and the external one is fascinating to me.  I find it hard to focus on either without some sort of stimulus involving the other, but it is nearly impossible for me to appreciate both at the same time.  If the world around me is exciting and I am paying attention to it then it is very hard to think about anything much and my emotions rule.  If I am caught up in a web of thoughtfulness, the external world only passes by in a state of vague existence, rather like the countryside does after a few hours of non-stop driving.  And yet it is hard for me to think if there is not a constantly changing environment around me, just as I cannot get much satisfaction from everything around me unless my mind is giving it some sort of meaning or significance.  I don’t know: perhaps there are just some things that are intended to be unsolved mysteries.

Monday, October 3, 2005

I was not quite ready to give up Kobuk at the appointed time so I called Angie at Keenan’s marina and arranged for a somewhat vaguer delivery time in the early afternoon.  Angie was perfectly agreeable to ‘around one,’ which of course implied that it might be a little later.

Grand Haven WaterfrontI did finally motor out of the Grand Haven Municipal Marina shortly before one, and on the way over to the entrance into Spring Lake where Keenan’s is located I was seized by nostalgia.  The voyage up a couple miles of the Grand River took us by riverbank forest succumbing to the russet colors of fall.  We passed tugboats and docks, and crossed under two bridges.  We came up on red and green channel buoys and sighted industrial enterprises and small boat docks here and there.  It was a microcosm of months past cruising down the lower Missouri and up the Mississippi and Illinois.  I was not sad to see the end of it for this season, but it did occur to me that I may never pass this way again.  God willing, there will be other rivers and other coastlines, but probably none of them will have the same look or the same feel as this river world through which we have so recently passed.

I was not expecting much from this Midwestern part of the trip.  Before ever setting out I had it in my mind that this leg of the larger voyage would be somewhat monotonous and not particularly stimulating.  I had looked forward instead to Huron’s wild and rocky shore, to the towering bluffs of those maritime provinces in Canada, to the aquamarine waters of the Bahamas.  All this lies in the future—and what could be better?  We will get there, Kobuk and me, we will eventually get there, and having it out in front of us is a wonderful thing.

But the leg of the journey just completed was more rewarding than my prejudice had thought it would be.  There is no sense in my waxing poetic about a part of the journey that already has been narrated, but it is worth noting that it most certainly gave more to me than I did to it.

I took Kobuk out onto Spring Lake for a mile or two to test the main engine.  The new spark plugs did make a difference, although my earlier impression that the maximum rpm level would be much higher did not prove out.  The motor turned over faster than ever before but only by a slight margin and still less than 6,000 rpm’s.  I was satisfied, however, that the chronic, summer-long problems with a balky engine had been cured through the simple expedient of changing the spark plugs.  This encourages me to adopt a blue sky attitude about how Kobuk is going to behave when the voyage resumes in the spring.Winter Storage at Keenan's

In the middle of the afternoon, under skies that already are blue, I steered Kobuk up a narrow channel with boat docks on both sides towards a dock that had a boat ramp on one side and a vertical embankment on the other.  At the top of the artificial embankment was a towering forklift that lowered its rubber-protected fork down deep into the water.  Kobuk backed into position and the lift raised her out of the water for winter storage.  She looked absurdly small up there resting on the tongs of this industrial machine.  But still, she looked beautiful to me.  Her bottom showed the scars of small battles fought in those upstream runs of the Missouri and her waterline was fouled with grime and algal growth.  On balance, though, she had survived with minimal damage.  There was one distress, though, that will have to be relieved before returning to the water: the trailing end of the forward Keel Guard—not the new one installed in Pierre, North Dakota but the older one that has been on the hull for a couple years—has begun to delaminate and will eventually come off entirely if not bonded with some sort of effective adhesive.

As Kobuk waited beside the storage building until a crew could come to power wash the hull, I set up the Bike Friday and packed its trailer.  Late in the day, with Kobuk looking like a sorry puppy abandoned at a kennel, I waved goodbye and set out for Detroit.

Keenan’s Marina:                   43* 04.879’ N  /  86* 12.698’ W
Distance:                                  4 miles
Total Distance:                        2,477 miles

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