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
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
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,
to do much of anything with myself for the rest of the day.
evening, I decided to go out again for a little while
and wander up and down the streets of the
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 . . .
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 tend 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
presumed that winds on the lake would tend to blow
from west to east, thereby creating generally rougher water conditions
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
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.
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
Waves were small
and winds were light, and the marine
forecast promised favorable conditions, so this morning early I took
out of Diversey harbor and headed south along the coastline for
Even though it
was a Sunday, there we few boaters on the
lake and our passage along the
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
Heading south to
the very end of the lake and then east past
But once past
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.
arrangements for me and then immediately invited me
to join him and a bunch of friends for a dinner of fresh perch that
caught earlier in the day. It was a
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
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.
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
A short while
later, he showed up in gumboots and a yellow
rain slicker, with a craggy faced that looked like a cross between
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
by an enormous rainstorm that brought down so much water that we were
able to watch the level of the small river rise on the abandoned pylons
the bridge. When the rain abated,
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 departure.
At the appointed
time, the brothers showed up in their
limousine which can easily carry a dozen people and all their coolers
beer. Dan was there with his two
daughters and a whole collection of buddies and by the time we departed
limo was nearly full. En route to the
game, we picked up three more high school pals and by the time we
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 games 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.
have never in my life seen such
willful incivility as occurred in our section of the stands. Two young men who were
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.
the Indians came back to take the lead and ended
up winning by a couple runs—but, it should be mentioned, not without
filling the bases in the bottom of the ninth and bringing to the plate
most productive home run hitter. Ah, the
divinity of eternal hope!
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
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
circle of friends. Steve and Mike are
being particularly good to me, frequently calling to see if I need
if there is anything they can do. They
are the ones who told me about
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.
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
Late in the day,
things began to come together. One phone
call led to another and eventually
I was contacted by a mechanic named
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
and fires a split second later to clean up any remaining gas vapors in
chamber. It assists the first spark plug
and contributes to its effectiveness, but does only a small proportion
the work. By switching the spark plug
the only problem is weather.
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 and 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
night. There is always tomorrow.
‘ . . . 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
water, and no words better suit the mood of
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.
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 starboard
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
When I motored
into the South Haven harbor I began to get
some idea of what a big thing boating is here along the
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
24.605’ N / 86* 16.386’ W
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 . 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 pours 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.
is a place I would not bypass, even without the
planned rendezvous. The name reminds me
Saugatuck from the lake involves passage along a
winding waterway leading to a pair of small lakes that are linked by a
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
In 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
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.
39.236’ N / 86* 12.136’ W
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
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
plugs. A short pedal out of town to a
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
and purchasing at the local gas station. Here
No longer do I
hitchhike, however. Starting back in
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
suspended. Naturally, the swaying and
swinging of the cans disturbs the forward momentum of a pedaled bike,
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
introduced by the swaying cans is only wobble and, like a negative
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.
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.
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
but placid. Except for that very brief
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 disaster. 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
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.
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
indicator of exactly where you are. Here
in Grand Haven, for example, it is a squat square of red sitting on a
base. It stands at the end of the south
breakwater and is overshadowed by a tall, tapered, solid cylinder—a
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
when it strikes them at an angle the waves explode along the outside
sending up sheets of white spray and—when the waves are big
lake water across the breakwater’s broad back. When
the weather is up, these breakwaters are treacherous
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.
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.
But as I am
standing next to _____ the bike mechanic
watching Bike Friday transform into the sort of butterfly it used to
solution comes to me: I’ll store Kobuk here and bicycle to
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
solution. Back in
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.
incident up in the
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.
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
electrical systems, there is little to do. One
fuel gauge does not register properly and the small
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
pieces have broken free or are starting to do so (for NASA it is heat
for me it is sound insulation). The
floorboards and engine box need to be repainted and so does the bottom
hull where so much repair had to be done up in
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
that I saw no reason why she could not be pulled from the water on
Monday. I made the haul-out arrangement
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 of 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 schedules 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
anachronism in this modern world. But if
we want mental health we may have to learn from it.
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.
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.
motor out of the Grand Haven Municipal Marina
shortly before one, and on the way over to the entrance into
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
not particularly stimulating. I had
looked forward instead to Huron’s wild and rocky shore, to the towering
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.
Kobuk out onto
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
a dock that had a boat ramp on one side and a vertical embankment on
other. At the top of the artificial
embankment was a towering forklift that lowered its rubber-protected
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
runs of the
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
trailer. Late in the day, with Kobuk
looking like a sorry puppy abandoned at a kennel, I waved goodbye and