There was snow this week in Salt Lake City, a colossal dump of Sierra cement that somehow slipped by its western barrier and draped itself on the spring landscape of budding trees and green lawns. Away it all melted in the blink of an eye--as is the way with spring storms--leaving behind a slick, watersoaked palatte of overbold colors spread out at the feet of the whitened Wasatch peaks. Spring is here and Kobuk awaits.
I do have a plan, an adjusted plan that scales back a little on ambition--a more "realistic" plan that presumes a rate of progress governed more by last summer's experience and rather less by abstract notions of what can be done. To put it simply, the intended route will remain about the same but the intended daily travel distance will be forty miles instead of fifty--with weekends free, of course. This is all part of a growing concern with I might do if ever I arrive at a final destination and have to admit that the trip is over. Such a poor prospect deserves to be postponed.
Actually, there is a practical side to the plan: the high price of gas makes fuel economy even more of an issue than it was last summer when eagerness to get somewhere often overrode efforts to conserve on fuel. At six miles per hour, the little Yamaha can carry us forty miles in a day without straining whereas a target of fifty miles per day would too often tempt me to fire up the main engine. So forty miles a day it is, five days a week.
The math says that I could be pub crawling in Halifax before the start of August when I will have to return to Salt Lake City for a few weeks. If I get back to Kobuk in September, the trip down the New England coast could happen in early fall. Mt. Desert Island, Gloucester, Plymouth, Martha's Vinyard, Newport--places like these deserve to be visited in the quiet season, not during the halcyon days of summer.
Can you imagine what this leg of the journey is going to be like? We all have fantasies, but this one is in special class. Thirty thousand islands in Georgian Bay, forty five antique locks in the Trent-Severn, Iroquois and les trappeurs, a stop at my Alma Mater in Montreal after forty years of absence, the Gaspe rocks, Anne of Green Gables, and at last the open Atlantic.
Nobody knows it but the Canadian Maritimes is an unspoiled treasure in a world gone mad. We may have heard of Nova Scotia, but who has ever been there? And as for New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island or the Gaspe or Anticosti--well, most Americans conceive of them with no more specificity than they might imagine quarks. What could be better than places that nobody knows about? Of course, Canadians know they exist, but even Canadians tend to bypass the region and there aren't even that many Canadians in the first place. I have to be extra careful to not sink Kobuk before we get there because this is a region I have lusted to visit for decades. My greatest anguish is the harsh reality that it may be necessary to bypass Newfoundland.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
It was May 3rd and late in the evening in Grand Haven, and I had just gotten back in town. The streetlights cast a pale and angular yellow light on the pavement, silhouetted the budding trees, and cast the classic midwestern homes along the street in a theatrical light that made them appear larger than real. I was cycling back to my room at the Fountain Motel when suddenly a dark form darted out beside me and began to pilot me along the sidewalk, never more than a few feet from the spinning front wheel. I was so surprised at the abrupt and silent appearance that for a few seconds his identity was a mystery. When at last I realized that it was mr. rabbit keeping me company, it was not his shape or size that gave him away but his fitful lurching side to side in his mad dash forward. All in silence, this was--and then he was gone. A small thing, I suppose, but somehow it reminded me of the unearthly pleasures that I have been missing since last fall when I left Kobuk behind.
Getting ready for spring departure was to have been a few days work, but that of course ended up being a grotesque underestimate. I had planned to have Kobuk back in the water by Saturday the 6th and then head out onto the lake on Monday the 8th, but a wooden boat is a little like a middle-aged woman: unfit for public viewing until a great deal of time has been spent on grooming and the like. The labors paid off, though; compliments on her appearance have been frequent and spontaneous by those happening by in the last day or two. By yesterday, resting patiently on blocks in Keenan's boatyard, she had a bright new look from the rub rail down--slick white hull sides, a glistening new black boot stripe, and a restored underbody with a protective coat of rust-colored, copper-laced, obscenely-priced bottom paint. Every time I lavish this kind of money and labor on her I end up loving her a little more. If it is possible for a human to care so much about a mere inanimate object then one would think that the two partners in a loving human relationship would need do no more that simply shut up and look pretty to keep each other's affections.
All week long the weather has been highly cooperative--cool and clear and not particularly windy. The work has progressed without the irritations of painting between rain showers, working with items that blow over and blow away, or laboring in oppressive heat. Even today, with its still air and cool humidity and hazy atmosphere, conditions are excellent for completing the last few pre-launch jobs. Engine maintenance is the order of the day. Greasing, oil changes, fuel filter replacements--these are the sorts of things on the to-do list. Progress is remarkable and setbacks are few. All of it is helped by an unknown Samaritan, a man with his own boat detailing business who sees my project, strikes up a conversation, and ends up offering me a ride to the nearest auto supply store for miscellaneous items that otherwise would require a five mile bicycle trip. I wish I had not forgotten his name. He is just one more example of the kindly and open-hearted America that I had not known existed before I started this trip last summer. He worked for fifteen years as a welder of stainless steel with a company here in Grand Haven that then laid him off in middle age. He started his own boat detailing business and now has more work than he knows what to do with. This is quite believable, actually, since the collection of boats hereabouts is something to behold. And I am not talking about little runabouts or small daysailers. This is powerboat country--big powerboats with freeboard so great that out on the lake Kobuk would be hidden from their view if not located some distance off.
Near the end of the day, Todd comes by to see if I am ready for launch. He is the yard foreman here in Keenan's Marine. Over the past week, he has occasionally stopped by to check on my progress and now he is ready to get this little boat into the water. I have a few things left to do and he helps me through them with the loan of such items as a hacksaw, gear oil, and an electric pump-out for engine oil. By closing time, Kobuk is ready to go and Todd fires up the massive fork lift and maneuvers for the pickup. Once properly positioned, the fork lift cradles Kobuk on its two giant tongs, lifts her high above the pavement, transports her to the water's edge, and then sets her down in the waters of Spring Lake, between two long finger docks. In five minutes the job is done and Kobuk is tied off on one of the docks. The main engine starts first try. Half way there. Then it is time to start the Yamaha, but for some reason she won't catch.
I am convinced that the starting problem with the outboard is associated with the modifications I have done to the jerry can that supplies the fuel. I lengthened the fuel intake tube and in the process I must have somehow interrupted the fuel flow that should occur. The new arrangement should permit the can to be strapped in an upright, out-of-the-way position rather than lying flat on the floor, but if I have screwed up then I may have to undo the work. I sit down and contemplate the situation. Fuel seems to pump ok using the priming bulb so it seems as if the problem must be something else. Then it occurs to me that I replaced the fuel filter and that maybe I installed it backwards. Sure enough--five minutes work to reverse the directional orientation of the fuel filter and the Yamaha starts right up. Kobuk is ready to go.
There is a problem, however--the usual one. An unseasonably strong storm is moving in and the forecast is for 40 mile per hour winds and 8-12 foot waves arriving sometime during the night. It looks as if I will be spending a little more time here in harbor.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
In the middle of the night the wind and rain began. Kobuk lurched and started as each separate gust snatched her and tested her moorings. The sound of squally droplets drumming the deck and pelting the canvas convinced me that stuffed away in my coffin bunk, rolled up in my overstuffed sleeping bag, was the ideal placed to be. It was cozy but I had not yet adjusted to the raucus ruckus of rambunctious weather--and sleep was a fitful thing. There was no anxiety, just a heightened sensitivity to the prospects of a loosened mooring line or an unbumpered collision with the dock. How good it was to be in harbor.
The gray light of this dawnless day came through the lowering clouds with the parsimony of a New England puritan. It was impossible to judge the nearness of the overcast but it seemed to be right upon us, low enough to touch. The wind gusts and rain squalls continued with the wind more vigorous than the rain and both accompanied by temperatures not far removed from freezing. I hurriedly dressed in the clammy cabin, grabbed my backpack, slid the Bike Friday out onto the dock, donned the cheap plastic Costa Rican poncho, and pedalled off for a cup of coffee.
Mojo's was my place of choice. A new operation that has only been in business for a few weeks, it is a non-chain coffee house that sports live music every evening, lovely and lithe female employees who look too young to drink, and lower than usual prices. I settled in and stayed long enough to enjoy the evening music. In other words, I did nothing but hang around in Mojo's all day long. Only once did I venture out: in late morning I was down to my last few bucks and had to go to the bank to get some cash. This may not sound like much since the bank was only a couple blocks along on this main drag in Spring Lake, but when I walked down there with the poncho on, the wind flogged its plastic so badly that the back of it split up its entire length and by the time I had returned my shoes had waded through water two inches deep and the wind-whipped rain had managed to soak me from the butt down. My hands were numb and it took an hour or two to warm up--many hours to dry out. What during the night had been little more than shadow boxing was now a full blown slug-fest, and the fury of it all continued all day.
There could hardly be a more appropriate way to start out this season. The winter in Utah had put me back into the pattern of living by the clock, but now I was being reminded that preoccupation with a preconceived schedule is, when you are on the water, a direct route to Hell. Kobuk may be ready and I may be too, but the weather has the last word and, if it chooses, the first word as well. Kobuk will not go out on that lake when the visibility is dismal, the waves are big, and my hands are cold. If that means arriving somewhere "late," so be it.
Actually, this business of forsaking schedules started even before I got to Kobuk. When I flew to Michigan from Salt Lake City on May 1st, the Delta flight was cancelled and I was routed to Atlanta instead. A scheduled 4:20 PM landing in Detroit stretched on interminably and I found myself deposited there shortly before midnight with one bag missing. By the next day, everything was sorted out, of course, but the experience reminded me to settle back and let go of schedules. The best way to cope with this sort of situation is to have other things to do,and so today my backup plan was to read and write and organize the online courses. To me, all three are work, and not just the online courses. But I associate work with neither unpleasantness nor money: I associate it with accomplishment. Reading and writing are my preferred paths to self-improvement and is not the pursuit of self-improvement a struggle to accomplish? If labor is not fun then it is time to look for something else to do. If labor is done only for money then it is just one of the many forms of prostitution.
I did, indeed, stay all day at Mojo's. I have spent more than my share of time in coffee houses over the years, but never before have I arrived at one early enough to be its first customer and stayed long enough to watch them close their doors. It was a new experience. I don't know where the time went. I was never bored and the hours just slipped on by with the storm raging outside, never letting up. It was probably the suggestiveness of the rain and the reality of the coffee, but I had to pee a lot.
I had been planning to head on out as soon as the weather abated but it never did. It was unrelenting and by 9:30 in the evening when dusk was darkening into night the downpour was still slanting past the windows. Eventually, I had to pedal back to Kobuk in the rain--a cold and miserable business that involved a mile or two of windward labor. Was this work? Well, yes, it was, and although it may not have been pleasureable in and of itself it was a part of a larger enterprise that permits me to categorize it as having been fun.
Friday, May 12, 2006
Cold, gray, and clammy--but no longer windy. That is the scene this morning when I emerge from my cave-like bunk up in the bow and look out at the yacht harbor. Everything is wet in a Seattle sort of way. The rain continues to fall, but now it is a drizzle and the still, flat waters of the harbor reflect their pinging pattern. The foggy cabin windows transmute the outside world into a blur of pastel colors, and the plastic curtains in the canvas zip-ons are even less transparent. I open up the cabin top a few inches to get a little flow of air and through the slit I see the 20' fishing boat that was tied up perhaps ten yards in front of Kobuk. She was fine last night when I went to bed, but now she is flooded and half sunk with her starboard beam well below the water and her mooring lines straining to keep her afloat. When I return from taking a shower, she has mysteriously flipped the opposite way. She must have snapped her mooring lines for now her port side has dropped deep, deep down, crunching her superstructure up against the dock. Definite damage there, and later in the day I learn from Todd,Keenan's yard foreman, that it is his boat and that it may indeed be a write-off. He has no idea how all this happened. The rain was extreme but surely not sufficient to sink a boat. It must have been the wind, somehow, that did this dirty deed.
According to the weather forecast, the rain was extreme. Over two and a half inches fell (if being shot out of a cannon is the same thing as falling) and this quantity exceeded by a wide margin the local record for May 11th. The winds may not have been a record but at 40+ miles per hour they were gale force material. Not only that, the daytime temperature was as cold as the local record as well. All in all, it was a good day to not start the trip. Today is better, distinctly better, although the rains do continue and the daytime temperatures in the low 40's are even colder than yesterday. Outside the harbor, according to the short wave radio, 8-12' waves are beginning to abate but small craft advisories are still in effect. This will be another day of waiting.
It is not as if there is nothing to do. What between cleaning up the boat, topping off the gas, shopping for groceries, getting ice for the cooler, relearning how to operate the GPS, and various other ordinary tasks the day fleshes itself out nicely. In fact, it is pleasurable to do these things without constantly trying to complete an entire list before the sun drops. There is enough to do to keep me busy but not so much as to keep me stressed.
But with a boat stress is never far away. Early in the afternoon, a fellow walks by on the dock and comments to me that the Yamaha appears to be leaking gas a little. This causes a cascade of worrisome thoughts for when I take a look I too can see multihued burps occasionally radiating out from where the Yamaha's lower unit enters the water. Now I recall with alarm that when I drained the gear fluid some of it had the appearance of water and some looked a little milky. Since I had never done this job before, I did not know what to look for, but in retrospect there is no doubt in my mind that the stuff that came out looked a lot less healthy than the new stuff that I subsequently added. If water gets in there, the manual says, it can cause the lower unit to burn out. The thing to do, of course, is take it to a Yamaha dealer and have it looked into, but that is not a simple matter late on a Friday when the nearest dealer is miles away. Let's not even think about the expense. Maybe the repairs that were done in Michigan City last fall were not done properly; maybe the mechanic failed to reinstall a critical gasket or seal. Maybe the lower unit is only waiting for Kobuk to get out on the lake before packing it in. Maybe I should go back to bed.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
This should be departure day for the weather report claims that the coastal zone is languishing under favorable winds and small waves. That it is heavily overcast and occasionally raining should not be allowed to deter me from setting out, but of course the combination of Yamaha worries and a chilly gray day do just that. Now that Kobuk is ready to go, I have to recognize that further delay is nothing more than my own timidity.
Still, it is a good idea to further explore this matter of gas (or oil) leaking from the Yamaha. I pedal over to Grand Isle Marina where they sell Yamaha outboards and find myself talking to a barrel-shaped young man named Jimmy Quiroz. He is not a Yamaha mechanic, but he performs the regular service routines on them and when I explain the nature of my concern he begins to ask me questions that seem intended to diagnose the most probable circumstance. After I have explained all the details (consider yourself fortunate that you do not have to read about them), he seems relaxed and in response to my probing admits that he is not particularly concerned. It seems that the gear oil might be leaking but he claims that there are only two ways that that might be happening: either the nuts used to drain and refill the oil are loose or the propellor has been struck hard enough to create leakage around the shaft that drives it. Since I am very sure the engine has never struck bottom in any significant way while running, I eliminate that possibility and resolve to go tighten the nuts a little more. Before I could leave, however, Jimmy pressed upon me both new washers for those nuts and, if you can believe it, a new mechanic's manual for the engine. I am astounded to be treated so well and head back to Kobuk with every intention of tightening a couple nuts and then casting off.
Nut tightening turns out to be a gratifying exercise since I am able to do it--something that allows me to believe that they must have been too loose. So now I am ready. But wait a minute. I walk out to the end of the pier to check on wind, drift, other boats and the like, and while out there I notice that Carrie is over by my boat trying to raise me. When I go back to Kobuk, she has in hand a cup of coffee for me and invites me to come on aboard her (and her husband, John's) boat for a while. It is a spacious, sleek SeaRay that replaces an old, wooden Chris Craft that they labored over for years. The two of them have stopped by to talk with me on a few different occasions. I like them both very much. I am sure it has nothing to do with the fact that they like my boat.
A cup of coffee leads to rounds of beer and before I know it the afternoon has slipped away, and the evening as well. Friends of theirs--Bernie and Pat, and Tab and _____, stop by and also end up spending the rest of the day. All this while, the cold, gray, rainy weather outside is kept at bay by the Sea Ray's excellent heating system. Carrie calls for ever more heat and all that cabin warmth is hard for me to resist since I am living most of the time without it. Stories get traded about boating screw-ups and close calls. Everybody has them to tell. I listen in awed silence as these good friends tell on each other by revealing their most embarrassing moments and most humiliating experiences. When finally I drag myself away, it is twilight and a light rain is falling. I don't feel the least bit bad about failing to leave today. This is a good thing, I think.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Ok--this is it: I've got to get out of here. The lowery weather continues unchanged, but the forecast for the near shore waters is not too negative. The wind is out of the north, evidently, and this is the direction I am heading, but winds are light and the waves are not big. The north winds are expected to continue for a couple more days and that of course means the waves will gradually become a force to deal with. Better to get started today for tomorrow and the next day do not look like good bets.
I have Bernie helping me as I check out all systems and prepare to cast off. The main engine runs fine and I shut it down. The Yamaha also runs fine, but just when I have become convinced that it also is now bug-free it dies. Bernie and I spend over an hour trying to figure out the nature of the problem and eventually we manage to link it to my gas tank modification. The extension of the gas line intake inside the tank has gotten a kink in it and that has cut off the fuel supply. After removing this handiwork and returning the tank to its original condition, the Yamaha purrs uninterruptedly and I depart for points north.
It takes nearly an hour to work Kobuk under the two bridges and then down the channel past the Municipal Power Station, the Municipal Boat Dock, and the Coast Guard Headquarters. Then it is out through the causeway channel, past the lighthouse, and into open water. By the time I get there, it is clear that the new pulley for steering the Remote Troll does not work much better than the old one did. Some problems never go away.
I point Kobuk north into the wind and waves and set out for Whitehall. Since already it is afternoon, I fix myself peanut butter sandwiches while the Yamaha is running us around in circles. Suddenly the phone rings and it is Carrie who is on shore with a couple others watching my departure. She wonders if I need to be rescued--a reasonable question considering Kobuk's foolish tendency to chase her own tail. I explain that "No, no--everything is alright." Then I explain why I am not running in a straight line and end up trying to redeem something of my nautical reputation by shutting down the outboard, firing up the main engine, and bounding up along the coast at good speed and more or less along a single bearing.
There is little to be seen for the clouds kill all highlights, rain often falls, and the shore looks dreary in its waterlogged condition. Everywhere, though, it is beaches lying at the foot of sand bluffs that rise tens of feet above lake level. The sand bluffs are heavily forested, but next to trees the most commonly sighted objects are houses that string along the coastline in a virtually continuous fashion. This has been the pattern ever since Michigan City down in Indiana. I don't know if most people realize that the east shore of Lake Michigan is one of the most extravagant beach environments to be found. It goes on and on, mile after mile, and at least in summer is an idyllic place for those who wish to lie on the sand or who yearn for the opportunity to alternate between a fresh water soak and a solar one.
Not far from Whitehall, the main engine quits--not all at once but in a sporadic series of declining rpm's over a minute or two. Well, that's nice; time to restart the Yamaha. The last few miles are uneventful as the little engine gradually moves us toward the harbor entrance. As is usual by mid-afternoon, the waves are building and since we are heading into them, forward progress becomes ever slower. When we turn to go into the narrow, steel-walled channel leading to White Lake a cauldron of confused waters threatens to overwhelm the steering of the Yamaha. Already the steering system only sporadically works to turn the boat to port. This combined with the fact that it sometimes becomes overwhelmed by following waves that wish to slew Kobuk broadside means that entry into a harbor channel almost always proves to be one of the most exciting moments of a day.
The lake inside is a lovely elbow of placid waters and Kobuk motors up to the far end where the twin towns of Whitehall and Montague sit facing each other across a narrow bay. They are connected to each other by a low bridge over the stream that issues into the bay, a structure that defines the head of navigation even for a small, shallow-draft boat like Kobuk. I tie up Kobuk in the marshlands right next to the Montague town boat ramp, so close to the ramp itself that I could toss a half-full jerry can to it. It appears to be public property and it should do for the night's lodging.
In the evening, the sun shines momentarily--the first time that has happened since the middle of last week--and a bicycle tour around both towns reveals them to be the sorts of small, quaint, lakeside villages that most of us only see in movies like "On Golden Pond." Already, problems are beginning to accumulate. Not only did the main engine quit; the Yamaha failed to shift into reverse when I was driving Kobuk into the marsh. Furthermore, the misbehavior of the Remote Troll is beginning to bug me. Now some problems tend to take care of themselves, and the stoppage of the main engine may be one of them. There have been two or three occasions over the years when this sort of thing has happened, only to mysteriously solve itself some number of hours later. I will try running the engine in the morning to evaluate the efficacy of neglect as a method for repairing mechanical problems. As for the other two problems, I will deal with them in the morning.
Depart Ferrysburg, Keenan's Marine: 43* 04.873' N / 86* 12.659' W
Arrive Whitehall, Montague Boat Ramp: 43* 24.679' N / 86* 21.424' W
Distance: 33 miles
Total Distance: 2,510 miles
Monday, May 15, 2006
Kobuk has so much stuff aboard that there are no more nooks and crannies left for stowing new equipment. For example, just before leaving Keenan's Marine B_____ offered to give me an extension cord that I had to decline because I could think of nowhere to put it. One of the items I do have on board is a pair of hipwaders that I bought last spring in anticipation of groundings and cold water in the Bighorn and Yellowstone Rivers. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I bought them after the trying week of wading for hours in the icy waters of the Bighorn the preceding fall when I first tried and failed to get this trip under way. In any event, today is an opportunity to use the hipwaders as I fiddle with the pulley system for the Remote Troll and the gearing cables for the Yamaha. Both jobs have to be done from outside the boat and so the hipwaders finally get pulled from their unopened purchase bag. In a short while, a reasonable try has been made at solving both problems. The shifting problem had an obvious cause and probably is now a thing of the past. The Remote Troll problem, however, is as undetectable as ever and probably will not yield to today's efforts.
Now, as for the main engine--I can confidently assert that neglect is, indeed, an effective repair strategy. It has worked, and so in late morning I decide to head out. My radio will not receive the marine weather forecast, but conditions here in Montague look promising. Winds were supposed to be from the north, but here they are blowing from the east and the clouds are all moving east-to-west as well. Not only that, they are blowing gently. Nothing could be more favorable for a journey up this coast, so in late morning we set out.
Once outside the harbor, it is evident that the real wind direction is out of the north and that waves are building, building. But by now I am decided and so everything is battened down for a day of plowing into waves. There is no sense in using the big engine since anything more than 5-6 miles per hour would only subject the hull to undue punishment so all day long we "beat" to windward powered by the little Yamaha. In flat, still conditions, the Yamaha moves Kobuk at about 6.1 miles per hour, but now with the resistance out of the north the top speed is noticeably lower. At the start of the day it is around 5.7 miles per hour but by late in the day when conditions have deteriorated even more, that figure is down to around 5.0. The usual pattern is that a stretch of somewhat less bumpy water allows the hull to gain some momentum and get up to, say, 5.5 miles per hour, and then a train of nastily shaped waves comes along that sends bangs and shudders through the hull and slows us down to about 4.7 miles per hour. Then along comes a spell of relatively smoother water and the pattern repeats itself.
The plan for the day is to get to Ludington, but as the hours pass it becomes ever more evident that the adverse conditions are slowing progress so much that arrival would only be a short time before dark. I decide to nip into Pentwater for the night, about a dozen miles short of the goal. One of the things that really slowed us down was wearing Little Sable Point, one of two headlands that separate separate the southern half of Lake Michigan from the northern half. There is no question about it; all that literature about how much worse the wind and water conditions get in the vicinity of a headland is correct--absolutely correct. But we motored on, constantly running the windshield wiper to clear the water--not so much of the rain that continues to fall but largely because of the frequent sheets of spray that explode up over the bow. Riding in a small boat like Kobuk in conditions such as these is rather like riding in a larger ship that is experiencing dirty weather at sea, except in miniature. The pitch and roll are just as extreme but move to a much faster rhythm. The magnitude of the motion may be less, but the more rapid pace of movement tends to replicate the feeling of being in extremis.
Pentwater was a good choice. It is another one of those lovely little towns that makes you think about retirement. It has a main street from sixty years ago spruced up with twenty-first century wealth. It has The Brown Bear, a tavern with the best hamburgers I have ever had anywhere. They come with what appear to be two half pound patties cooked to order, and I sat there at the bar stuffing this down my gullet and watching the improbability of the Detroit Pistons losing a playoff game to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers. Afterwards, I sat for some time in stunned silence trying to absorb both the meal and the basketball game. Then it was off to bed in the bow of Kobuk, tied off at the Pentwater town loading ramp dock. It appears that this early in the season nobody much cares if you tie off at a place like this. In the summer, I would imagine that anybody who hung around on site for more than 15 minuites would be harassed to move on, but in mid-May when the weather is foul nobody uses the place. I should mention, though, that just before dark the sun came out and cast a golden slant on the peaceful landscape, raising my hopes for a change in the weather.
Pentwater, Public Boat Ramp: 43* 46.496' N / 86* 25.743' W
Distance: 38 miles
Total Distance: 2,548 miles
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
With optimism as my guide, I had interpreted the golden rays of evening light as a sign that the gray weather was waning away and that tomorrow would be the start of a new regime. With this thought so firmly established as to be something of an obsession, I declined to zip on the boat curtains and opted to sleep with the aft area exposed. This was a calculated decision designed to leave the impression that Kobuk's illegal stay at the town boat ramp was not to be an overnighting.
In the night, though, the rain returned and a collection of showers passed through, unaccompanied by any sort of significant wind. When I arose early in the morning, there was baling to do--nearly three pails of bilge water that had to be sponged out for lack of a bilge pump sufficiently small to get into the very lowest recesses. With everything shipshape and a chance to look around, I could sit down and enjoy the stillness and the fog. It looked like a good opportunity to get my first experience with foggy conditions. The light airs almost surely signaled glassy waters and the fog seemed sufficiently thin as to permit visibility of at least a few hundred yards. Why not do the twelve miles northing up to Ludington in this condition? If my judgment about lake waters was incorrect I could always return to safe haven here in Pentwater. And as for the fog, I would simply work my way up the coast keeping sufficiently close as to always have the beach in sight. If the soup thickened to the point where I couldn't see a thing, I would just turn right and beach Kobuk until things cleared up a little. I figured that if the waves began to kick up they would have to be pushed by a wind that also would clear away the fog. The wonderful thing about being a novice is that one can construct impeccable theory and then act upon it without having to worry about the ugly reality of contrary experience.
Beyond the entry channel, the lake had a flattened surface of oily immobility with no waves to speak of and only a gentle undulation of sweetly flowing swells left over from the previous day's wind. There is an enchantment associated with fog: one moves in an unchanging world that has but two components--a tame and only gently breathing water surface of glassiness, like slate blue silk horizontally rippling in slow motion, and a lid of gauzy whiteness that reifies silence and mutely implies a hidden world just beyond your ken.
Not far from Ludington, a gentle breeze sprang up to crack and craze the water's surface, but the fog persisted. Dead ahead out of the mist there appeared a continuous line of buoys that ran perpendicular to our longshore direction of travel and disappeared into obscurity out to "sea." There was no choice, though--the only way around would be out and around since the buoys appeared to extend all the way to shore. So out we went, losing contact with shore and continuing onward for a disturbingly long time. With the buoys on the right, Kobuk carried on for some good distance until there emerged from the fog an apparition--a ship at sea, but curiously raised on pylons just as would be an oil platform in offshore waters. The buoys swept around this ghastly image and after passing it the GPS indicated that the distance to Ludington harbor was so little as to trivialize the idea of reestablishing contact with the shoreline. For the first time, I followed an instrument bearing without being able to see what we were headed for. This was turning out to be the perfect training run for in addition to these minor complications the lake began to roughen up as the fog lightened enough to allow some hint as to where the sun might be in the sky.
Ludington's outer harbor is a wonderously spacious tract of calm water with a broad, sandy beach and a city launch ramp tucked in behind a short, rock breakwater that runs parallel to the shoreline and protects the put-in and take-out operations from the roughness that might occur if the weather happens to be driving waves directly in through the harbor entrance (as itwas threatening to do this day). I tied off at the ramp facility, rather than passing into the inner harbor, and spent the afternoon ambling around town. While there, I happened in the public library to find a man who could explain the larger significance of the buoys and elevated ship--although he had no idea why such a vessel should be planted in one spot like that. He explained that the local power company (whose name I have forgotten) has an energy conservation project with which the buoys mark netting that keeps fish out of the intake and outflow channel. It seems that hydropower has been created using a small reservoir near the coast. Water released from the reservoir generates power as it descends to Lake Michigan. There is nothing unusual about this arrangement, but what does make it unusual is that during the hours of low electricity demand the excess power is used to pump water back up to the reservoir! Thus the need to protect the intake from fish.
No sooner had I secured Kobuk and taken Bike Friday up the ramp than the coast guard arrived to launch their flashy, new steel (or aluminum?) hulled vessel that with perhaps 35' overall and massive rubrails of inflated rubber. Trim on the silvery-pewter vessel was in brilliant orange and the four men who took her out were dressed in matching orange jumpsuits. They took their job very seriously and seemed intent on doing things with proper protocol and nautical precision. Near the end of the day when I returned to Kobuk, the very same craft returned to dockside and the four men immediately tied off and came over to talk with me. They wished to do a boat inspection. They were young and terribly, terribly serious. At my age it has become hard to show the proper respect when such youthful certitude begins to lecture on the importance of rules. I tried my best, however, to conform, and when one of them pointed out to me that regulations do not permit staying overnight at the boat ramp I found a way to be cooperative and succeeded in extracting from them the concession that it would be ok to motor out around midnight and anchor in the outer harbor waters. They rejected my suggestion that I nudge ashore on empty public beach, and returned to their boat to go out and do more inspections. But then they relented and as they motored by inside the breakwater they called out to me and suggested a short stretch of unused sand just south of the boat ramp where it would be acceptable for me to beach for the night.
I am proud to say that Kobuk passed her inspection with flying (orange) colors and became the recipient of the standard document certifying seaworthiness. Evidently, the next time the Michigan coast guard wishes to inspect, one need only show the certificate.
Ludington, Public Boat Ramp: 43*57.278' N / 86* 27.714' W
Distance: 15 miles
Total Distance 2,563 miles
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
With so little forward progress yesterday, I feel myself under some inexplicable pressure to do a bit more today. Kobuk and I are out on the lake early in an effort to round Big Sable Point before the wind springs up. To get there quickly, the main engine is pressed into service and it carrys us along at a marvellous pace. We clear the point before the conditions have changed and carry on up the coast. But after only a few miles the engine begins to die--just as it had done a couple of days ago. I turn off the ignition and switch over to the Yamaha, making a mental note that maybe neglect is not such an effective strategy after all.
As usual, it is a cloudy day with a north wind. The breeze stays light until late morning, but then begins to pick up--and with it come the waves on the bow. By early in the afternoon, Kobuk has come to within a couple miles of the Arcadia harbor entrance. Although Frankfort was my planned destination for the day, the prospect of spending a few hours beating into bad stuff persuades me to take refuge in Arcadia. The last little bit before ducking into harbor is a nasty ride as Kobuk bucks and plummets on the steep faces of the choppy sea. The waves are not big but their shape has a mutant character and their passages are unpleasantly close.
I plan to spend the night tied off next to this sleepy town, but the prospect becomes a little less enticing after I have had a chance to look around. Not that it is not picturesque; like virtually all the towns along this coast it is a postcard place with more than its fair share of visual appeal. But the town is dead. There is a gas station but it is closed. There is a restaurant but it is closed on Wednesdays (as well as a few other days of the week). There is a lawyer's office, but I don't need a lawyer. Otherwise, there is mostly a collection of lovely houses on lovely lots with lots of lovely landscaping, relatively few sidewalks, and streets that seem to go unused. The idea of moving on to Frankfort becomes more and more appealing, and especially since it is only another ten miles up the lake. By midafternoon, my little sojourns over to the city park that is next to Lake Michigan have convinced me that conditions have ameliorated and that I can do the last leg of the day's planned voyage afterall.
In this instance, the conditions do prove to be better and by six in the evening Kobuk and I are approaching the harbor for Frankfort. A funny thing happens then: the sky begisn to split apart and shafts of sunlight start to play on the Frankfort lighthouse and along the coastline near the town. Then, when the GPS indicates a mere .6 miles to this destination, a fog bank moves in, first obliterating the sunlight, then obscuring the harbor, and finally masking the lighthouse altogether. To watch your destination come into view and gradually enlarge, and then to have a curtain drawn across it just before you have reached it--well, this is a disconcerting.
Frankfort Public Boat Ramp: 44* 37.872' N / 86* 13.812' W
Distance: 55 miles
Total Distance: 2,618 miles
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Spray is exploding over the protective breakwater that provides an entrance to Frankfort's Betsie Bay. The wind and the waves are out of the north. It is cold and cloudy and the rain is coming down in fitful sheets. Let's wander up and down the streets of Frankfort to see what it is like.
Here we have an undeveloped town, one with very little in the way of second homes along the waterfront, no chain restaurants or even chains stores of any other type (gas stations and an Ace Hardware don't count). The town used to depend on the timber industry and its position as a Michigan terminus for a cross-lake ferry, but both those sustaining enterprises disappeared long ago, the lumber business first and the ferry back in the 1970's. Since then, Frankfort has survived (but not actually thrived) on its good looks. Tourism has become the basis of the economy but its extremely seasonal nature has tortured the local small businesses and caused a general outflow of the young people who have had a hard time finding work that pays a reasonable salary. Lots of houses are up for sale.
But on the other hand, there is no sign of neglect--few shabby homes and little in the way of potholed streets. All in all, the town has been struggling but not in the desperate way that so many small American towns have done in the past few decades. The difference is that this is an attractive place, one of those ever-scarcer little hamlets with the timelessness of Brigadoon. All is not well in Frankfort but when you look around the problems do not yet manifest physical symptoms. You see a pristine village setting that is not yet coveted by the wealthy. The process has begun; a second home crowd is now a seasonal force in the area and the result is a smattering of new homes and refurbished older ones. But the onslaught is still a year or two--or maybe even five--away. Then will come the big money and the big developments and the ever so heartless process of death by architectural extravagance.
The town is restless to make it big, to make a mark, to make some money. It wants to do it now. It thinks it can be done without paying a price. It would like to attract "development" but of course it does not want the sort of development that will make the place look crowded or unsightly. I wonder what sort of development that will be. There seems to be an American fantasy, a willful attachment to the notion that it is possible to have it both ways. Many times in the early years a lovely place retains its charm even as the money and the people flow in, but eventually the absorptive capacity of the place is overwhelmed by the ever increasing desire of outsiders to have a piece of the place. It is like a wetlands, a swamp of primeval beauty, that at first is tolerated, then adjudged to be of some significant aesthetic value, then sees incursions by those who have the means. Before long, the swamp becomes a thing of the past and a new and totally human design is imprinted on the landscape. It may become a beautiful scene with stately homes each having its own private lagoon and boat dock, but no longer is it a swamp. So what will it be Frankfort, a stoic and probably hopeless resistance of the 21st century or a last dance with the angel of death? The latter does offer a moment of glory, but so quickly is it gone.
The townspeople do not see things this way, of course, because they live daily with problems that seem to demand attention: how to attract jobs, how to create affordable housing (red flag, perhaps?), how to diversify the economic base, how to diminish the seasonality of the visitor industry, how to keep the young from leaving town, how to get businesses to offer a reasonable wage to employees. These were the kinds of concerns that dominated discussion during the evening meeting at the public library. A local boy named Joshua has returned to his childhood hometown to be the city superintendant and he was speaking to a standing room crowd about the best ways to manage these kinds of problems. His principle theme was the need for cooperation and for community concensus about what to do and what directions to take. As an outside observer I could not help but feel that the strong turnout and serious commentary suggests an educated and concerned citizenry, but I wonder if most people there recognize the character and the magnitude of the transformation that is about to hit them.
Friday, May 19, 2006
Sun! Not just a fleeting break in the clouds but a handsome swath of blue with the yellow sun gazing at it from the east. There are clouds about but they are few and ragged and appear to be in retreat. The change in weather is welcome but its character has not yet altered in the most important way: the strong wind continues out of the north and its waves behave like storm troopers. The delicious sunlight puts dangerous thoughts in my mind but discretion prevails and I once again reject the idea of an open water passage.
One thing that saves me from such foolishness is the prospect of bicycling up to Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Park. A lady in a shop told me that the park is only about ten miles away. That deluded me into believing that the dunes are near at hand. Further inquiry brings me to the realization that they actually are twice that distance away, but bicycling even twenty miles (make that forty) should be manageable. Just as Columbus never gave up on the notion that the Orient is just beyond the next island, I never overcome my initial prejudice that the dunes are near at hand. In early afternoon I set out for points north, eager to see the giant dunes and had the pleasure of rolling though a spring fresh landscape of very gentle terrain--so nearly flat as to make cycling easy but sufficiently undulant as to put curves in the road and lakes in the hollows. And roll I did, mile after mile--after mile. It turned out to be a 32 mile pedal to the entrance to the park and from there the scenic loop highway added a few miles more. Here in the dunes, the terrain is not flat; one is in fact pedalling up and down the sides of stabilized sand that away from the water is blanketed by beech forest but near the lake is overrun by little more than hardy grasses. The dunes rise more than 400 feet from the lake and their lakeside aspect is an abrupt descent, as steeply sloped as might reasonably be expected from a pile of golden sand. Stand at the top of the highest dune next to the lake and look out. Far below, the "wrinkled sea . . . crawls" inspirationally, looking vast and unconcerned. One day soon, Kobuk and I will be a speck of white inching past this monumental landscape.
When at last I arrive back in Frankfort, cramps and dehydration have drained the spirit from me. I am good for nothing and can do no more with the evening than go to the local movie theatre. The film I see there is a comedy in which the hero looks for ways to salvage the American dream from the evils of its own success. He does so in a Hollywood sort of way and everybody lives happily ever after, but the film is somehow not so satisfying--at least to me--because it leaves the impression that regardless of the system the most great efforts of an individual always can put things right. Any guesses as to what the film might be?
Just as with the forces that I believe are about to bear down on Frankfort, the poor family in the movie RV is unaware of the extent to which world around us teaches us what to want and what to strive for--even when we know very well that these things will bring neither contentment nor durable happiness. Of course my view of the film is tinted by my own philosophical biases. I imagine that Joshua, the city manager who also attended with his young children, came away from the film with a rather different impression of it.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
I dared not mention it whilst the ruse was still unfinished, but yesterday I had a secret agenda when I cycled so far north. I knew there would be a headwind all the way there and I thought Mariah would be tempted to alter her point of attack on the way back. I have come to believe that her persistent northerliness is a little personal and if that is the case then it only stands to reason that she would view my long pedal home as altogether too easy. Would she not be tempted to change her tactic and back around to the south? But if she did that--why, if she did that, then Kobuk and I would be able to leave in the morning! All forces, no matter how powerful, are subject to certain physical laws, and a wind shift to the south would likely last for the better part of a day, at least.
The ruse worked. Maria shifted. As I cycled home, I did not face a headwind, but neither did I get much assistance from behind. Out of the west the wind began to come, and by this morning the waves and wind were coming up from the southwest. This next stretch of open water is one of the two most intimidating on the lake because there is no real protection between Frankfort and Leeland, a small harbor forty miles north. To get there one must pass by three headlands and through the channel that separates them from the Manitou Islands, a dozen or so miles offshore. It is an area with a reputation for bad seas. In addition, a deep embayment between the first two headlands--Point Betsie and Sleeping Bear Point--creates what is in effect an 18-mile openwater passage across deep water and distant from shore. So in addition to having an elevated potential for treachery, the day's passage also would be Kobuk's first tentative babystep offshore. Maria had been set up and now there was a chance to go: light southwesterly winds pushing insignificant little waves under a clear blue sky. The weather forecast claimed the conditions would hold until mid-afternoon when the expectation was that the wind would veer back to the north and thunderstorms might develop. Kobuk and I set out.
To quickly round Betsy Point, the nearest of the three, and to get the house battery properly recharged, I used the main engine for the first few miles. Even before getting to that initial headland, the engine appeared to suddenly falter, not as before but by pushing the boat at a noticeably slower speed than it usually does. Distressing this was, and I could not fathom it. The rpm level was not dropping and the jet impellers are tied directly to the engine's drive shaft. What could possibly cause a drop off in speed? Surely, there is no significant current in this area to account for it. The boat did not seem to be in the least bit out of trim. I could think of nothing else to explain what was happening. I fretted and stewed over this question until Kobuk had rounded Point Betsie and started the long open water passage to Sleeping Bear Point. Preoccupied with the mystery, I shut down the engine and went back to set up the Yamaha. It, however, already was down in the water! Somehow, the surging over small waves must have joggled the engine in a way that it jumped out of notch in the bracket that holds it up in the tilted position. Well, this is one mystery I was happy to see penetrated.
The day wore on and I wore down. It was crisp and fresh and sunny but as Kobuk approached Sleeping Bear Point the wind got up to its usual afternoon frolic and we spent a good amount of time sliding and slewing on the faces of passing waves. It was coming from behind us, though, so the only worry is that its direction remain unchanged. Once past Sleeping Bear, the coastline bears off more to the east, making the latter parts of the passage less exposed to southwesterly swells of this sort. The final hours were spent in a counterpoise between more protection from the prevailing direction of the wind and waves and a greater intensity of their activity. By late in the day when Kobuk rounded the Leland breakwater, the sky was clouding over in the northwest and weather obviously was moving in. Within an hour of tieing off at a Leland dock, we were enveloped by a local storm--not a thunderstorm but a good enough replica if you leave out the lightning.
Leland Municipal Dock: 45* 01.643' N / 85* 45.710' W
Distance: 41 miles
Total Distance: 2,659 miles
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Mariah does not like to be tricked. All night long she shook and sobbed and shrieked and raved. In early morning before it was light I had to get up and resecure the forward mooring line. The harbor may be protected, but Mariah knows the way in and she had tugged and shaken the line so much and so hard that it worked a little loose. Kobuk was backing and bobbing more than seemed right, but I might not have noticed if there hadn't been a loud screech and an instant in time when she was held paralyzed as if clamped in a vice. This awakened me and brought me to a surprising level of alertness, and only then did I notice the bow line looseness. At the time I was puzzled by what had awakened me in the first place, but later in the day I noticed a gouge at the aft end of the deck only inches from the transom. It was next to one of the evenly spaced vertical posts mounted along the side of the high dock, the row of which was meant to accomodate the variation in freeboard that different hulls would present when tied up close. These posts only ran down to the water, not into it. Evidently, the commotion became so great within this little harbor that Kobuk dropped down into a hollow of the chop and slipped her aft deck under the bottom of that post. Then when she heaved upward on the next piece of lumpy water she was pinned momentarily. It's a good thing the post pinned her near the rigid outer edge of the deck where it meets the side of the hull; if it had found a zone of planking between ribs and stringers it surely would have stabbed through the plywood and pierced Kobuk most unpleasantly while she jigged around, making the damage worse and worse. As it is, the battle scars are unsightly but of no real significance.
Before the trip began, I bemoaned each new mark and scratch that Kobuk might incur, but now I derive a modest satisfaction from them. As I move around on this little warrior I now see a whole collection of scars that testify to incidents that I can quickly and easily bring to mind, each capable of being interpreted as a lucky escape and thus a testimony to Kobuk's destiny as a survivor. Up there on the bow is the v-shaped groove in the rubrail, a reminder of when Kobuk drifted headlong into the v-shaped leading edge of a bridge support on the Bighorn River. High overhead, the top of the white antenna for the short wave radio is wrapped in black electician's tape as a way of giving it more rigidity after having been snapped and broken by the substructure of a bridge. Every time I spunge out the bilge I can see the upthrust fracture of plywood where Kobuk was nearly holed by a rock not far from Bismark, North Dakota. Along the port side there is a mighty gouge that was taken out of the rubrail by a protruding piece of iron at a dock in Sioux City. Back where the Coleman Stove is stored there is a plywood patch on the interior of the hull, part of a repair for a puncture of the hull that occurred down at the south end of Lake Powell. Back on the transom, below the waterline are the caulked holes from the screws that held trim tabs in place before it was necessary to remove them before they were torn off during one of Kobuk's many groundings on the rapidly flowing Missouri. There are other flaws and mars, but these can act as examples of the ways in which one can love because of blemishes and not just in spite of them.
More and more am I becoming superstitous. It is all very well to be a paragon of reason when you are living in a highly manageable world, but when you have a little less control over what might happen to you, superstition affords a certain mysterious comfort. The fact that Kobuk has survived a number of close scrapes is sufficient to reassure me that she most likely will survive the next one--no matter how persuasively the laws of statistics refute this reasoning. The fact that wind direction changed when I cycled back from Sleeping Bear Dunes is ample evidence to me that Mariah does exist and behaves in a willful manner. As a matter of fact, I have even begun to sympathize with the primitive notion that separate spirits reside in each individual rock and tree and elemental form of nature. After all, if Mariah is a universal wind that prevails everywhere then I will constantly worry that she lying in wait for Kobuk and me. But if she is a different spirit on each lake and in each new area then my treachery will not have to be forgiven because soon I will have moved on to a different aeolian domain.
I slept late since it was evident that Kobuk would be harbor bound until there was a change in the weather. When at last I did crawl out of the cubby and take a look around, the wind was out of the north again and combers were peeling their spray all down the outside face of the harbor breakwater. At least it was sunny. But that didn't last: as the day progressed, storms passed through and the ferocity of the wind fitfully abated to more reasonable levels of insanity. One of the pleasures of this sort of trip is that when the weather is bad it is not necessary to sit out in the middle of the ocean taking on the chin. Instead, one can retreat to the security of a harbor, the warmth of a coffee shop, and the peace of a library. This I did do (except for the library, which in Leland is closed on Sundays).
Monday, May 22, 2006
The first thing I did this morning was check the flagpole to see which way the wind was blowing. It was still coming out of the north, but the NOAA weather forecast called for a shift in the middle of the day with light southwest winds throughout the afternoon. This is one time I was actually rooting for the weather service to be right. I put off departing until early afternoon and did in fact benefit from the marvels of modern meteorological science. With a light southwest wind and the surface of the lake looking undulant, I set off for Charlevoix. It was an excellent day trip on a fine afternoon with the the sun bright but with a chill in the air and lake waters that were laying down for once. Actually, as the afternoon stretched on towards evening the waves did begin to kick up, but they were marching up from behind and only helping to nudge Kobuk forward.
I had started out using the main engine, a habituation that arises from the need to get that house battery recharged after an extended stay ashore, but after only a few miles the same old problem began to recur. This time, at the first sign of a faltering, I immediately switched over to the Yamaha and continued on like that for the rest of the day. All along the coast of the Leelenau Peninsula the southeast wind pushed us, slewing us this way and that and treating us to the occasional roller coaster ride down the face of an advancing wave. When we passed the northernmost point of land and angled off to the east to cross the mouth of Grand Traverse Bay, I expected a little lull in the vigor of the wind and the waves, but in fact they both just swept right around that point and kept on pushing us. As the afternoon wore on, the air got frigid and I got chilled. But the cold in the air was not extreme and here near its northern end the lake waters were beginning to take on a clarity that I had not seen before. Sometimes when we passed over a shoal I would find myself concerned that the water was getting too shallow. Even when out away from shore the good part of a mile, the lake bottom would sometimes look as if it were something you could touch by leaning over the carling and dipping your arm in. I knew from the depth finder that there was plenty of water, but its transparency was sometimes a shock. It is without question the clearest water I have motored in since leaving Wyoming.
Like so many other towns along this Michigan shore, Charlevoix is a picturesque gem that has the feel of a place from a byegone era--in particular, the post-war era before interstates, when small town America was a significant source of national identity. Each of these Michigan towns is sustained by the visitor industry, of course, but the shortness of the summer season has kept them from expanding uncontrollably. All are still small enough to retain some autonomy, receiving thus far only half-hearted attention from the WalMarts of the world.
Small towns have a great advantage: they exist as little islands in a sea of nature and anyone who lives in one is constantly aware that just beyond the fringe lies an organic world in which the forces of human action--although far from being invisible--obviously are not so powerful as the forces of the natural world. It results, I think, in a natural humility that is rarely found in modern urban America. Most people nowadays live in cities that by historical standards would have to be considered massive. Even just a couple hundred years ago there would have been no more than a score of cities around the world with a contemporary population as a large as that of, say, Indianapolis or Peoria or Sioux City. And these are lesser stars in the modern American firmament. When you live in a place this size, it is possible to go for weeks on end without seeing a single thing beyond the limits of human manipulation, and this is unhealthy.
Charlevoix Municipal Marina: 45* 19.011' N / 85* 15.444' W
Distance: 35 miles
Total Distance: 2,694 miles
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Last night I changed the fuel filter on the engine to see if perhaps the surging and stalling problem was not in some way connected with contamination in the fuel supply. With two spare filters in reserve, I set out northward across glassy waters that only occasionally crinkled under the hint of a south wind. We flew along in these calm conditions with land on all sides becoming ever more distant until eventually there was nothing but open water ahead and behind, with the dark, linear smudge of Beaver Island distantly to port and a similar line of distant land--the northernmost stretch of lower Michigan--off the starboard beam.
Eventually, in this stretch of open water, an object appeared a point or two off the bow on the port side, and it looked like a sinking boat with bow and stern still above water. I considered heading for it immediately to see if someone might be in trouble, but then decided to postpone altering course until somewhat closer. I estimated that we were only a couple miles from it, but as the minutes went by and neither its size nor its bearing changed significantly, it became clear that it was not as near as I thought. Eventually, it coalesced into a Great Lakes tanker, a rusty giant with elevated superstructure fore and aft--and gradually over the next hour our courses converged on the narrow channel next to Gray's reef through which we both would pass before heading east into the Straits of Mackinac. We arrived together at the channel and I followed the great hulk through, trailing behind it like a dingy on a line.
By the time we were in the Straits of Mackinac, the south wind had got itself cranked up for the day and the Straits were beginning to take on the choppy conditions for which they are famous. At this point, after almost two hours of smooth running, the engine died again, disabusing me of the comforting notion that at last the problem had been solved. Ah, well--it is not as if this was an new and unprecedented situation. Back to slow-motion travel.
When first entering the Straits of Mackinac from the south, the two great towers and suspension cables and vertical support wires of the Mackinac Bridge were clearly visible, even at this distant location over fifteen miles away. Once reduced to the slow pace of the Yamaha, the giant ship that I had so recently passed began to run up our rear and I felt a real need to get out of its way. This necessitated heading for the south side of the Straits since that seemed to be the direction of quickest escape. By the time the tanker had passed, we were fairly near the bridge and I wanted to be over on the north side to reach my destination: Mackinac Island, only a short distance up to the northeast of the bridge in Lake Huron. After scanning the waters with the binoculars to confirm that all was clear, I headed north across the Straits. Once under way, another large ship came into view on the far side of the bridge, and I began the mental calculus about whether it would be sensible to turn back for now or continue on. There appeared to be sufficient time so I decided to carry on. The crossing, however, was painfully slow: from the time when Kobuk passed the point where she was more or less perpendicular to the bridge highway at its southern suspension tower, it took the better part of twenty minutes to reach a similar position relative to the northern one. By this time, the great white ship already had passed under the bridge and was bearing down. As it came under the bridge it was gradually changing course from northwest to west and I sat anxiously on Kobuk, moving at a snails pace and hoping that the arc of course change would not terminate just when pointed in our direction. We were clear, though, and my nervousness was unwarranted.
This is a big bridge, but even as we passed under it I did not realize how big. Somehow, being out here in a grand, wild landscape with little besides water and forested flatlands all around makes the bridge look like a human construct on a scale appropriate to the scene. It did not look overwhelming or magnificent. In fact, it even looked delicate and fragile whenever you viewed it from any distance. Only later did I discover that this is (or at least was) the largest suspension bridge in the world. Its designer claims that it is the only suspension bridge in the world that is designed to withstand infinitely high winds. Yes, you read that right; he claims that the bridge can withstand any wind--not just the highest wind ever recorded or the highest wind ever visualized as the maximum one conceiveable, but an infinitely high wind. Math is a wonderful thing and in some cases it has proven superior to common sense--as, for example, with Einstein's theory of relativity--but it does seem that that engineer has a lion's share of self-confidence. It somehow makes one want to see truly stupendous cyclone come roaring down through this Strait--seeing as how it would not do any real damage.
Mackinac Island Municipal Marina: 45* 50.990' N / 84* 36.932' W
Distance: 64 miles
Total Distance 2,758 miles