Karen and Jerry's Great Grand Adventure 2010

All summer sailing around Lake Superior - counterclockwise. The blog runs chronologically, starting at the bottom.

The Last Leg

Barker's Island Marina in Superior, Wisconsin
to Maple Grove, Minnesota - September 10, 2010

It is my belief that one never completely returns from any voyage. Further, it is necessary to acknowledge that travel by sailboat is an incredibly impractical thing compared to most other methods. For all of that, it is also my preferred method of travel. If one wishes to move efficiently from one geographic location to another, cars and buses and aircraft come immediately to mind. But if one wishes to have a voyage of the mind and spirit, a boat is a better choice.

Jerry Powlas

It is the state of mind and the strength and depth of the spirit that must travel the farthest when one returns home. If this were not so, I don't think I'd need boats at all.

There is stress in the thing. I'm not a fish, I'm a creature of the land who occasionally ventures onto the water nominally in control and command of a thing no fish has any need of. Given a good mixture of skill and luck, my craft will occasionally return to the land in good enough condition to be able to put to sea again when Neptune and the weather gods permit. Sometimes this is not easy and always there is the stress that needs to be there to make the outcome favorable.

We have been home for several days. We have been unwinding for several days. Last night it stormed with wind and lightning and rain. I slept through much of it and in the morning noted that it was not a particularly stressful experience. On our cruise we figure we spent about a third of our time waiting out bad weather, including four gales. These were stressful experiences. Only a fool can make them otherwise.

When we pulled into our hometown, we headed right for the supermarket to replenish Karen's larder. There were a lot of people in that store, and at first they made me uncomfortable. I had not been in a crowd for three months. Once home, I noticed that the phone was almost ringing off the hook. Most callers wanted a contribution to this or that. Most of these were pretty rude, in the single-minded way of telephone solicitors. I think Karen's cell phone rang about once a month while we were on the boat. All calls were appreciated and important.

When you sail a dinghy onto a beach in a goodly surf, you learn -- among other things -- that the first landing on the sand is a temporary one. There is always a wave following you that will throw you much farther up the beach. You learn to wait on board for the next wave so you don't end up under the boat after the next wave has its way with you and your tiny craft.

In trying to understand the significance of the voyage we have just completed, I need to wait for the second wave. Not the one I came to the beach on but the one that follows. It will come, it always does. By then my mind and spirit will have adapted to the land and I will be ready to learn why I went and how I have changed.

It is my belief that one never completely returns from any voyage. You can come back to the same geographic place but time will have changed it in subtle ways, and the voyage will have changed the sailor as well. Eventually I will understand some of these changes and by then I will be able to fairly say that, insofar as it is possible, I have returned.

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In summary - Labor Day Weekend 2010

As August wound down into September, so has our time afloat. As we conclude the final section of our cruise and begin to focus on the long miles back to Duluth/Superior, we have been reflecting on our experiences on Superior's northern shore and Isle Royale. This section of our cruise was punctuated by the calls and dances of loons, many bald eagle sightings, and the wonderful people of Ontario's northern shore of Lake Superior.

Loon Dance 1

Loon Dance 2

Loon Dance

One of the most memorable moments had to be the repeat loon serenade at Isle Royale National Park's Moskey Basin. We anchored in Moskey Basin during our first summer season afloat in 1993. That year we were mesmerized by a loon concert that was amazing in length and number of participants. We were out paddling in the kayak in the evening in late July when first one loon and then another started up, perhaps as many as a dozen voices chiming in from all over the basin and, we suspect, in Isle Royale's smaller lakes just over the hills. Since then, we have referred to Moskey Basin fondly as "Loon Haven."

From then on whenever we've returned to Moskey Basin, we've always hoped for a repeat performance. But we know the old saying that "you can never go back." Indeed, those serenades were never repeated until this year, when we were able to go back after all. This year's concert was a marvelous encore. We were aboard, rather than out floating around with the loons in the twilight, but the current chorus and the memories intertwined beautifully. Moskey Basin is indeed a magic place for loon calls. We were blessed to be in the audience for another great performance of several minutes in duration.

While that performance was the most magic of them, we have been enchanted by many loon vocalizations during the entire northern segment of this cruise. I complained about the lack of loons on the southern shore of Lake Superior, but our time on the northern shore has made up for it. Heron DanceThe other bird of note on this shore has surely been the bald eagle. We have had many opportunities to see bald eagles in the past few weeks. Our sightings have been frequent and appreciated. We never tire of seeing eagles or loons. We have also seen one white pelican. We hoped for more, but that will have to do this year. One night, a golden eagle flew by shrieking, first up one coastline of our anchorage and then down the opposite side. Another day we saw a great blue heron behaving strangely: hanging out its wings (we think it was its wings) like an anhinga does to dry its feathers. Our perspective was from a great distance, but I attach a blurry photo in the hope that someone can explain what that was all about.

49th Parallel

49th Parallel sign

Nipigon, Ontario

Another point to note is that we have stayed in a couple of towns longer than we usually do on shorter vacations. We were held up in the town of Nipigon, Ontario, for example, for five days waiting for a mail package to arrive. You simply can't take five days anywhere, if you have a two-week vacation. But if you have the summer to spend at it, five days in a town make it possible to meet some of the people who live there. Nipigon will remain in our memories as a special place, not just because it's as far north as one can go on Lake Superior (north of the 49th parallel) but also because of the kindness of the people we met there. That would never have happened if we hadn't had the time to tarry a bit.

Another observation is that our personal hygiene while living on a boat may not be up to the standards we set at home (showers are more complicated and therefore not as frequent), but our boat is in better condition than ever before. With more use, our engine is working better than ever. Also while living aboard, rather than just showing up occasionally, we're able to stay ahead of the inevitable mildew, spider webs, and accumulation of grime. And our bilge is the cleanest it has ever been. We even know what's aboard and where it's stowed, something that is never clear when we commute between boat and home with weeks spent away.

Our deck is often muddy from anchors, rodes, and chain that have been thoroughly doused in the clay and mud of this north shore. I smile when I think of the fellow who did the recent Awlgrip work on the deck for us. It was a work of art. It really was. When he was done, he requested that we walk about the deck with socks on. We did that for the first few days as the paint was curing. But no matter how nice the paint job on a boat, one can't do that forever. Eventually the coating on the deck had better be as hard as nails because it will not be treated kindly in the course of cruising.

Our bodies haven't always been treated kindly on this trip either. When Mystic is tossed about and blown around, her sailors are treated like BBs in a can. The last 200 or so miles of this journey will be southwest into the prevailing wind. We're not looking forward to the last chapter, but we have made that trip many times in many wind conditions and sea states. Perhaps the weather will give us a free pass this time. I can always hope.

In summary, we are delighted to have had a summer to cruise the greatest of the Great Lakes. It has been one for the memory books in every way.

by Karen Larson

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Passage Notes - September 1-9, 2010

Todd Harbor to Windigo, both on Isle Royale
September 1, 2010

Karen's latest theory is that, even if the weather forecast for the day includes rough weather, there is a good chance the winds in the morning will be lighter than forecast and the winds and seas will build throughout the day. Based on that, we were up and out in the predawn, reaching the main lake by first light.

Initially there was not much wind, but since we were not so sure how much longer the water pump would last, we set the 170 and full main and did what we could. As the wind filled in, Mystic was in her glory and truly at her best. In the early part of the day the route to Windigo was a lopsided beat greatly favoring the port tack. That took us well out into the lake toward the Canadian side.

Lake Superior North Shore

Finally, the sun got high enough to develop the convection that brought down more of the upper winds and conditions began to resemble the forecast. We changed down from the 170 to the 150 and finally, amid rising winds and seas, put a foot reef in the 150 making it more like a 110 . . . and two reefs in the main as well. As we did this, the lifted port tack got increasingly headed until we were sailing a dead beat.

What looked like maybe two more tacks turned into more like 20 more tacks . . . and still we were not there. Because there was a lot of variation in wind speed, it was hard to get the sail area right. It was a perfect case for roller furling and I was wishing we had that feature by the time the wind went down to a very light breeze . . . while the waves still had white caps. That is a tough combination to sail in.

I knew that I was facing a near mutiny from the frustrated crew (who will remain unnamed), so we struck all and motored the last mile or so to the entrance of Washington Harbor, the entrance to Windigo. Once we were inside, the wind picked up again and, when we turned to go down the long channel to the Windigo ranger station, we had it at our backs for the first time in weeks. We shut down the engine and raised just the full 150 and made good speed down the channel, around Beaver Island, and down to the Windigo pier. There we struck sails again and motored a bit to lay alongside.

We had given the water pump some slack, but I was frustrated to have to acknowledge that we really are much more dependent on the engine than I would like. Karen does not like the endless pounding that was developing out there.

Windigo to Grand Marais, Minnesota
September 5, 2010

We sat out another gale in Windigo. Finally we got a smallish weather window and motored the whole 50 miles to Grand Marais with the wind just about dead on the nose. There was a strong leftover sea running but no great wind to drive it. We headed north toward the Canadian shore until the seas moderated and then turned down toward our Grand Marais. We had not been in our home state, Minnesota, since mid-June. We made good speed along the shore, picking up a fair current that might have amounted to more than a knot. I worried about the water pump, but I decided the engine would have to serve since the weather window was a small one.

Grand Marais to Silver Bay, Minnesota
September 8, 2010

We sat out yet another gale in Grand Marais, but it is a pretty classy place to do that. We could walk to grocery stores, restaurants, and the municipal liquor store, where cheap red wine and scotch are reasonably priced. In Canada, alcoholic beverages are much more heavily taxed. Finally, we saw the approach of the next weather window and prepared for the 50-mile trip to Silver Bay. The weather was very unstable; a mix of calms and gusty blasts. It reminded me of the conditions when we took the knockdown earlier this season on the eastern shore of the lake. MInnesota's Porcupine Mountains are close to the western shore along this coast and were providing williwaws mixed with near flat calms. We tried a full main and a storm jib, but that was pretty slow. We tried a main and no jib motoring in the calms. That was slow too. Finally we set the 110 and full main and kept a hand on the mainsheet, in order to release it in the gusts. That was probably as good a combination as we could set. Finally, when Silver Bay was in sight, the wind backed and died. We struck all and motored in as the wind picked up again just to tease and taunt us.

Silver Bay to Superior, Wisconsin, and Barker's Island Marina
September 9, 2010

There was one more small weather window the next morning and we took it. Initially, there was little or no wind. Finally, it filled in a little but on the nose. We motored through all of this with the main up but not drawing much. Finally, the wind filled in astern and, for the second time in weeks, we had a fair following wind. We set the 150 and full main wing-and-wing and finished the cruise going downhill in waves with small whitecaps.

We struck all at the narrow buoyed channel to the marina and motored in. The water pump made it. We made it. We were glad to be home. The weather window was indeed a small one. The next day it blew very hard but we were snug in a transient slip in the marina from which we had started at the beginning of the summer. We had closed the circle.

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Not your ordinary lake: A lake sailor's rant

Great Lakes

Just the other day yet another ocean sailor suggested that taking three months to sail Lake Superior seems excessive. Would he have said that about the Chesapeake? Would he have said that about the Pacific Northwest? The Baja? Those places have salt in their water and they're not called lakes. Therefore they do not have the same identity crisis we have here on the Great Lakes.

Lake Superior

Lake Superior





Pacific Northwest

Pacific Northwest

Downeast Maine

Downeast Maine



Today, on the third day in a row as we have remained sheltered from a mid-August gale with seas reaching as high as 14 feet (or so the weather predictions said), I'm feeling distinctly cranky about the prejudice that lake sailors are somehow not as challenged as ocean sailors and that lakes are, by definition, small bodies of water.

Consider Lake Superior more carefully. It is said that we have enough water in our lake to cover the entire United States with water a half foot deep. Only the Caspian Sea between the USSR and Iran covers a greater area and only Lake Baykal near Mongolia has more depth and volume. Because of its depth (just over 1,400 feet at the deepest spot), Lake Superior contains more water than all the rest of the Great Lakes put together. Therefore, I feel justified in arguing that this is no ordinary lake.

So why, like Rodney Dangerfield, do we Great Lake sailors “get no respect”? I can't answer that. But allow me to make a few photo comparisons . . . screen shots all made from the same map at the same scale. For the sake of full disclosure, I admit that the Mercator perspective works to the advantage of those of us in more northerly latitudes. But have a look on a globe someday if you can't believe this comparison.

I rest my case. This is a lake worthy of exploring for three months or three years or three lifetimes. With only four weeks left to go on our three-month vacation, we are keenly aware of the many areas we have left unexplored until the next time we visit.

Karen Larson

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Dance of the loons - September 6, 2010

Dance of the Loons 1

Dance of the Loons 2

Dance of the Loons 3

Dance of the Loons 4

The loons on Lake Superior are among our favorite creatures. We stop whatever we're doing whenever we see or hear their calls. We can't get enough. Our best opportunities to see and hear the loons happen on Isle Royale, a national park in northwestern Lake Superior. We were enchanted by a long and magnificent loon chorus at Isle Royale's Moskey Basin a few days ago with about a half dozen loons chiming in. There was a great echo in this basin that really enhanced the sound. Because we've only had an experience like that one other time (and in the same place), it was very special. Then just a few days later in McCargoe Cove, we had a loon experience of a lifetime. 

We heard a loon making calls just 20 feet or so from our boat. He was making a one-note aggressive call that we have never heard before. Then he'd look above the water and below to see if that call had had any effect (we assume).

Finally, a second loon came up from below the surface and began an amazing display of what a ranger here at the national park described as "the vulture" position and some mock take offs and wing flaps. The ranger says this aggressive behavior was territorial in nature, probably in the hope of redrawing the boundaries before the mating season next spring, since all the loons will be heading south in a matter of weeks. This whole thing, which I thought of as a dance, lasted several minutes and was within 20 or so feet of our boat. As far as the loons were concerned, we were not there. They were totally focused on each other. Here are a few of my favorite photos.

Karen Larson

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Windbound in Paradise - August 23-31, 2010

by Jerry Powlas

As I write this we are windbound in Todd Harbor. As storm holes go, this one is not bad. These days I rate storm holes by these attributes (in no particular order):

  • shelter from waves
  • shelter from wind
  • good holding bottom
  • good depths for proper scope
  • swinging room for proper scope

Todd is letting in the strong southwest wind, but as it scores well on the other counts, four out of five is not bad.

On this cruise we have been wind/storm bound in:

  • Sinclair Cove, score zero
  • Pilot Harbor, score zero
  • Ganley Harbor, (the worst of them all)
  • Morn Harbor, score five, we were there for four days waiting out a gale
  • McCargo Cove, score five
  • and finally, Todd Harbor, score four

I expect we will be windbound in Windigo, which scores a four, since the depth is not optimal.

My favorite place to be in a high wind or storm is a marina, tied up to a stout pier with my best four or five mooring lines. You can't beat this. When you get tired of being pounded around, you just get off the boat and walk away and do something else, pretending not to be a sailor at all. 

We were not storm or windbound in Nipigon, we were "mail bound," which is to say we were waiting for some mail to catch up with us. My recommendation to others and my preference is to never do this. Still, in the five days we waited for the reasonably insignificant mail packet to arrive, we had some great experiences and made some new friends.

Nipigon, Ontario, to Lake Nipigon and back to Nipigon
(a car journey)
August 23, 2010

While "mail bound," we borrowed a car and drove from the town of Nipigon to the lake named Lake Nipigon north of town. This was a lovely and interesting drive. The terrain changed constantly as we drove to this very large and remote lake. When we finally got there, I was in awe of how large and wild the lake was. It is smaller than Superior of course, but it is plenty large and so wild that it remains uncharted. I classified this lake as one to admire from shore, not one on which to venture forth.

We dined for lunch at the only restaurant we saw on the whole trip. It was a joy to eat a meal cooked by others and after which I did not have to wash the dishes.

Lake Superior North

Race with the sun: Nipigon to Otter Cove
August 24, 2010

There are no good intermediate anchorages between the town of Nipigon, Ontario, and Otter Cove, a popular cruising destination. Over the years we have tried several intermediate anchorages but without good effect. The overriding tactical consideration was the entrance to the inner part of Otter Cove. It is not the sort of thing one should do in the dark. We estimated the time for the passage and calculated that we needed to leave Nipigon by early afternoon to make the entrance to Otter Cove with some daylight left. 

The mail finally came and we rushed around buying groceries and saying our goodbyes. Then we left on the late side. We stopped briefly at Red Rock for a pumpout and to refill our water tanks and moved on. Nipigon Bay looks like a very wide body of water, but much of is shallow. The buoyed route to Nipigon Strait should be followed carefully. We did this under power in light and then heavier air, mostly on the nose. The rough water on the bay was going to slow us down and make the race with the sun a close one.

We ran the strait without much need for close navigation work until we reached the south end where things get a little tight. Once out of the strait, I said, "This does not look too bad," meaning that the wind and waves were on the rough side but tolerable. Karen replied, "You have not got a clue." She was right. I had spoken too soon. Before long we were in 5- to 10-foot seas and pushing into a wind that was fine on the port bow.

The seas were big but not as steep as is typical for Lake Superior. The wind that was driving them was probably not enough to have created them, so we managed to make progress without doing a pounding belly flop over each wave. That sort of thing really slows the boat down. Finally as we neared Hawk Island, the conditions moderated. The wind went down and the wave height seemed to be cut in half. I can't explain this gift, but I was grateful. The sun was low in the sky, and we needed to get to Otter Cove before it set.

It was a tight race. We reached the narrow, shallow place at the entrance to Otter Cove just after sunset but before it got too dark to get through.

Back in the USA: On to Isle Royale National Park
August 26, 2010

We left Otter Cove in the earliest possible morning hour, determined to sail to Isle Royale and anchor in Duncan Harbor. The wind was light, so we set the 170 with a full main and worked the wind patches, motoring though the occasional calm spots.  Finally the wind filled in but backed so that Duncan Cove was directly upwind. We ran one long tack all the way out to Passage Island and, when the wind died, used that excuse to strike all and motor in to Rock Harbor instead of Duncan Cove. After clearing customs, we motored on down the Rock Harbor Channel to Moskey Basin. 

There is a narrow spot on that route that is not buoyed but really should be. We almost went aground there but did an neat "save" and blundered through. Once inside Moskey, we anchored and slept well.

Moskey Basin to Tobin Harbor: Stress test for an old guy
August 28, 2010

On my birthday, we left Moskey Basin and headed back to Rock Harbor. The wind was blowing rather well, but we reasoned that on this next leg we would stay near shore and duck the worst of it. First we shot the narrows at the opening to the basin again. Stressful, but we did it better this time using waypoints from the Superior Way cruising guide that we had preloaded in the navigation program. After the narrows, we set sail. As there was a lot wind, we set the storm jib and no main and made speeds of 3s and 4s down to Rock Harbor. We even vanged out the the covered mainsail to add more drag for the downwind run. It seemed to help.

Isle Royale National Park

The wind was blowing right into the Rock Harbor Marina, making for some very challenging boat handling. We took the fuel dock for fuel and pumpout and then took another slip to take on water. Both slips were, unfortunately, downwind tieups. The second slip was reserved for another boat, so we had to be quick about taking on water and be gone. While we were there, the lad at the marina happened to mention that NOAA was forecasting gales on that day, with winds of 35 knots. We weren't aware of that change to the weather predictions we had read earlier in the morning before starting out. We were expecting winds up to 25 knots. We had all of that. As we were leaving Rock Harbor, the wind was so strong we had to back all the way out of the marina because there was no place to safely turn the bow into the wind. Very stressful.

Once out of the marina, we quickly gave up on Duncan Bay again because the approach would be rough, directly upwind and into the waves, and we thought we would be unable to identify the narrow shoals we would need to pass between to get into Duncan. Instead we rounded Scoville Point and motored upwind into Tobin Harbor, a much easier anchorage to approach in a hatful of wind.

At the very end of this long bay, we anchored in a tight spot with little swinging room and almost no protection from the wind. We spent the rest of the afternoon hoping the windward anchor would hold. Very stressful. Finally, the wind went down with the sun, as it often does, and we spent a calm and peaceful night.

All in all, it was a stressful birthday. In fact, it has been many years since I've had a day quite that stressful. I guess I passed the test, but next year I want a calm and serene  birthday in some idyllic setting where I know all my boats are safe and I am not challenged in any way. Oh, and where there is no danger of running out of scotch.

Tobin Harbor to McCargoe Cove
August 29, 2010

We blew out of Tobin Harbor with a main and no jib, running downwind all the way.  When we rounded Blake Point again, we set the storm jib with a full main and beat to weather with that combination making good speed in a rising wind. 

Finally in a prolonged lull, we decided to raise the 150 in place of the storm jib. That lasted about 20 minutes and we were back in the strong winds again. We reefed the 150 and took two reefs in the main as well. This was a good combination, giving us good speed. Some of the time it was a little too much sail, so I pinched a lot when it was blowing hard and took a bigger bite when the "lulls" came. Most of the "lulls" were still pretty brisk; we made our best speeds in the lulls where I did not have to pinch. 

The situation started out looking like a lopsided beat favoring the port tack but finally the wind backed and we were faced with a dead beat to windward. By that time we were close and Karen had run out of patience with being pounded by the waves. She is normally a very patient woman but her patience had plumb run out. Considering this, and the fact that the entrance to McCargoe Cove was pretty close, we struck all and started the motor.

The water pump
August 29, 2010

We heard a new noise when we started the engine. We know most of the engine-related noises. There is a noise when the alternator belt slips. There is another one in the driveline that has been there since we changed the prop. I have never figured out what that one is. This was a new noise . . . and not a nice one. When I dropped the revs to idle, it went away and did not return when I advanced the throttle.

At this writing, I speculate that it is the water pump. Water pump bearings and seals will eventually fail on almost any engine that lasts long enough. In our case, I may have hastened this failure by running our 100-amp alternator on a single v-belt. That's a lot of torque for a single v-belt. The only way to make it work is to have it pretty tight. That's hard on the alternator, main bearing, and most of all, on the water pump. Once we were anchored, I checked the water pump and noted that I could feel a little play in the bearings. The seal is still good, but I'm worried. We will try to sail more and motor less, but we are facing a very long slog to windward to get home.

McCargoe Cove to Todd Harbor
August 31, 2010

In McCargoe I had my own little "delayed stress reaction."  As I said, Karen is a woman of almost infinite patience. She just decided it was my turn.

We stayed two nights in McCargoe and left early in the morning to play out Karen's latest theory, which is that since the wind appears to drop with the setting sun and rev up over the period of the day as the sun "heats things up," it is best to start any moves early as long as we're experiencing one strong wind after another.

This worked out pretty well. We motored out of McCargoe Cove, which has a fairly tricky entrance (but one that is buoyed), and then we set the main with no jib. That made pretty good speed, but we got greedy and set the storm jib as well. This combination gave us a little better speed as we reached and finally beat toward Todd Harbor. 

Finally, when we were a couple of miles away, some very dark and thick clouds started to move our direction. We figured that the storms that we could see on the weather radar earlier in the day had reached us and the jig was up. I was reluctant to use the engine, but I didn't want to sail in a thunderstorm if I could help it. The saying goes: "If you are wondering whether it is time to reef, it is time to reef."  The same goes for any thought of striking the sails before a big blow.

Based on that, we struck all and motored into Todd Harbor in high winds. The storm clouds that looked like the "blob that ate Cincinnati" passed by to the north without a drop of rain but with a goodly increase in wind. The engine ran fine and we anchored in Todd, which as I said, is a fine storm hole.

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Memory Lane 2 - September 1, 2010

Caution: This blog entry is a summary of nearly 20 years of sailing. Essentially, it's a "best of our log entries" and a retrospective rolled into one. - Karen

Earlier on this voyage, Jerry posted a sentimental blog that I think of as his trip down Memory Lane. As we revisited our former cruising grounds, primarily in the Apostle Islands of Wisconsin, he reminisced in his blog about previous sailing adventures we'd had over the years.

Mystic, double rainbow

Meanwhile I was taking a similar mental voyage because I brought along and was reading the logs of all our summer sailing adventures aboard Mystic starting when we bought her in the fall of 1992.

Our first full season was memorable in many ways. Jerry was at the top of our mast when a fast-moving storm swept over the hill and a nearby boat was struck by lightning. That was also the year that the prop shaft and propeller fell out of the boat and we took on water at an alarming rate. It was the first and only time (so far) that we broadcast a Mayday alert.

All were not near-death experiences, however, or we wouldn't still be cruising. There were magic moments. Over the years, my notes are dotted with exclamations over northern lights, loons, moose, caribou, otters, beaver, and eagles along with the fantastic scenery including sunrises, sunsets, and inky star-filled nights.

We had lots of company aboard that first year and soon learned that we preferred the simplicity of sailing as a couple. My son, Ryan, was 12 years old when we bought the boat and was our most constant companion. But because he also had activities that conflicted with weekend sailing, Jerry grew comfortable sailing solo in those early years.

One of the best chuckles I got from our first year's log was caused by a quip Jerry made that season following the Mayday call. The loss of our prop and shaft had been caused by our allowing the prop to unscrew itself a few weeks after we'd managed to back over our dinghy painter. After that, Jerry added a pointer to the log. "How to determine the proper length for a dinghy painter: Go to the hardware store. Get some line. Run it through the prop. What gets whacked off was excessive. What is left is just right."

A couple of years later, by 1995, I was ranting about the cold conditions that are typical on our overnight passages on a lake that never really warms up.
"Right now I'm wearing red, white, navy, purple, rust, off white, pink, and yellow. (Yes, 'yummy yellow' -- or so we've been told -- from a shark's viewpoint. Fortunately, there are no sharks here, and I'm not swimming.)

"I've got on long underwear, a T-neck, a fisherman's wool sweater, hooded sweats, my cross-country skiing pants and down parka, and on top of it all -- extraordinarily since I've never been considered 'small' in my life -- I'm wearing a suit of extra small rain gear. I figure this was designed for extra small male foredeck gorillas. And I've got my life jacket on over that! This year we got new life jackets primarily because my old medium-sized one wasn't up to that kind of a task. Even now, it's a bit difficult to inhale and move all those layers. (Yes, that includes two pair of pants with suspenders . . . with all the hassle that a head call entails. I try to avoid going to the head because the process is so elaborate.) Oh, and I'm tied to the boat like a fat little fishing bobber, in case I should happen to go overboard."

Mystic in distance

But later in that log I was also making cheerful noises about nature, specifically the birdcalls at Isle Royale, a marvelous national park in Lake Superior.

"I had forgotten how many birdcalls and other sounds of nature you hear up here. Even before we reached land at Isle Royale, we could hear the high loud notes of the white-throated sparrow singing 'Pure, Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada' (kind of a commercial, but it works). The bird is also reported to sing about Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody, but I like the Canadian version better. It is amazing that a bird that size can belt it out like that, but it does. Closer to the land, it becomes clear that the sparrow is only the lead vocalist in a chorus of calls we don't even recognize, but punctuated with loon calls, gull squawks, warbler trills, woodpecker drummings, and other delightful noises all orchestrated by serendipity."

The passage in that log that made me laugh was the memory of our pursuit of the wily porcupine on the Ontario shore at Otter Cove.

"It was so warm that we had dinner in the cockpit. While we were eating, an osprey flew by and Jerry saw anther furry critter (probably another porcupine) at the water's edge. After dinner, we went paddling in the kayak again. This time we definitely saw a porcupine.

"There was some movement by the bank of a small stream, a very small stream, so we paddled in stealthily to get a better look. I had the camera set to 'capture' whatever it was and was trying signal for Jerry, who was providing the 'go power' and steering from the back seat, to stop and be quiet because it was right ahead of us, whatever it was, and if we stayed quiet it would come back out again. He thought I meant by pointing 'right there ahead,' that he should go ahead, so he shoved us another five feet over a bunch of shallow deadfall and through a thicket of prickly pine branches. The person in the front, naturally, is the first to encounter the prickly pine branches, while the person in the back, the steering person, begins making valiant efforts to free the boat from the deadfall where it is beached and wedged in an awkward position for effective retreat. A two-person kayak, when in a very curvy stream, is suddenly much longer than it would otherwise seem.

"I feared by this time that the creature might be a beaver (and we've had close encounters of a somewhat unpleasant kind with beavers in the past) or, worse, a small bear. It was definitely black and rather large and it lumbered when it moved. Finally the creature reappeared. It was a huge black porcupine and, incredibly, it hadn't noticed us flailing about wildly in the pine branches. By now we were in full shade with my low-speed film, but I shot a few anyway at a 60th, although I knew better. Finally, the porcupine figured it out and climbed slowly up a tree for safety. Then it thought better of it, since we weren't leaving (wedged there as we were), so it climbed slowly down the tree and lumbered off into the woods. Eventually we did disengage ourselves and left with some dignity."

Intervening years included the year we sailed without an engine, the year Mystic was hit by lightning (and we continued that summer season without a depth sounder, a chart plotter, and many other electronic instruments), the year of the 600-miles-in-two-weeks-vacation (my poor planning produced too many grand passages and no time to enjoy the destinations once we'd arrived), the cold year with the malfunctioning cabin heater, the year we sailed to and cruised in the North Channel of Lake Huron, and the following  year when we cruised there and then brought Mystic back home to Lake Superior. There was the summer the lake level was a foot low and the year of the unseasonably cold summer.

In the log of 2007, I made another attempt to describe the cold conditions we face on passages, particularly early in the season.

"It was lunchtime by then, so I went below to make lunch. I had planned to make soup and salad but quickly revised those plans to something less hot and sloppy. Mystic was jolting around rather significantly and the galley was no place for the timid. I began making sandwiches instead. Turns out the galley was no place for the weak of stomach either, because by the time I'd finished making lunch I knew I wanted no part of it. My appetite was gone entirely. I managed three baby carrots and a forkful of ham salad and realized that someone in my condition should not be eating. I haven't been seasick since before we got married, more than 15 years ago, but I've had a few queasy spells. I figured this was a queasy spell.

"As freezing as it was, my place was clearly in the cockpit and at the helm as often as possible. I dressed in all the clothes in my possession. (This included a sweatsuit, the wind outfit, and also two parkas: the winter one and my foul weather gear, not to mention two pair of fleece socks and my sea boots and the overalls that go with my foul weather rig. Oh, and the life jacket too, of course. Did I mention the hat and facemask and ski goggles?) With all that, it wasn't too bad out there, but it was going to be a long day."

There was also a description of a fast-moving storm that overtook us as we approached Thunder Bay, Ontario.

"We had some wind during the night, but nothing significant. We slept like babies. This morning we got going at a leisurely pace. There wasn't much wind so we motored out of the Flatland area and toward the first patch of wind we could find. We put up the 150 and main and drifted toward Welcome Island. It was a lovely downwind drift in the sun. Not too hot. Not too cold. No stresses or surprises with gradually increasing speed.

"But wait! What's that cloud formation to the northwest over Thunder Bay? Probably should keep an eye on that. Yep, it's getting mighty dark over there. It's clearly raining over there. Meanwhile we saw a ship and decided to turn the AIS receiver on to see what's what in 'the shipping news.' One ship? There were five all around the area! Who knew? But the other four were not underway. Two were outside the breakwall, which we thought was a bit unusual, but the other two were in port, as they should be.

"Was that thunder we just heard? Next thing we knew the wind picked up. We decided to get the sails down and did that without delay. Then the rain began. Jerry had just gone below to get his foul weather bottoms. We were already in our coats. While I was at the helm during this brief moment (it was my choice -- he gave me first right of refusal to go get my foul weather bibs and boots) all hell broke loose in three stages. First, it began to rain. Then it really began to blow and strong seas began coming at us from abeam. Then all the visibility went to zero and it POURED! That was when I was a bit sorry about having given up my chance to put my pants and boots on. My shorts and socks were soaked immediately. And I needed goggles to see!

"Jerry came back to relieve me. I went below to dry off and suit up. About that time three of the four ships in the area decided to get underway! Visibility returned for him, fortunately, while I changed, sorted out the radar and AIS signals, and realized that one of the ships just outside the breakwall was not showing up on AIS (apparently not sending his signal) and he was underway. It was all rather exciting, but it didn't last long. The rain quit and we arrived at the end of our journey."

As compensation for the fortitude one has to have to sail in northern climes, that was the first year we ever heard the wolves of Isle Royale howl.

"The highlight of our day had to be our event of the morning in McCargo Cove. I awoke at 0500 to the sound of wolves howling. It went on long enough for me to figure out where I was, what I must be hearing, and to wake Jerry up so he could hear it too. We have never heard wolves at Isle Royale in all our many trips over the past 15 years. And they seemed pretty close and loud. There must have been at least three singing together. Jerry was surprised at how deep and low-pitched the voices were. I'm not sure what we were expecting, Hollywood's version of wolves or coyotes baying at the moon perhaps."

Mystic in the cove

There were a couple more memorable moments with wildlife. The first of these was in 1998. It was also in McCargo Cove. No wonder that place is so special to us.

"Jerry and I were up by 0530 and went for a pre-breakfast paddle. It was better than a trip to the zoo. A bald eagle flew off in the distance. Then we saw otters, golden eyes, and the heron. Around the bend in the creek was the most magnificent bull moose we've ever seen. He stood sedately for photos like the prince that he is. Next we saw a beaver, parts of the loon family again, and finally one otter came and checked us out in some detail, intrigued, it seems, by the clicking of our camera. Once we got to our boat and I was making breakfast, a cow and calf moose swam by. It wasn't yet 0800 and all this had already happened. How would we ever top it?"

Perhaps we did top that a few years later (2002) in the Slate Islands:
"Several neat surprises on our exploration: a hummingbird that hovered right in front of my face about a foot and a half from me wondering, I suspect, if my life jacket offered any nectar.

"Next we came across a family of otters -- a mom and three little ones (three we think; it was a bit hard to count all of them at once). First we saw the adult and were taking photos when we realized that there were three little heads watching from nearby. And as the adult rounded them up, we noticed that a beaver was also in the picture and where the otters had been was the beaver lodge. Jerry noted that the beaver was the humorless sort and was trying to run all of us off and otters were everywhere around the kayak since we were blowing downwind into the fray, clicking photos all the while, of course. The beaver did an impressive tail splash at one point, and the otters retreated. But the next time we looked, they were back at the lodge (or at least some of them anyway). We wore ourselves out shooting photos and figure this was not an uncommon scene. The beaver lodge is there, and so are a bunch of otter slides, signaling that they live there too. Anyway, it was fun to see.

"Around the next bend, Jerry noticed a magnificent caribou right on the shore. Wow! A big rack of antlers and not particularly worried about our being nearby shooting photos. He wandered along the shore and eventually went into the bush, but not until after we'd taken lots of pictures."

I got a last chuckle at our lack of preparation for our vacation cruise in the log of 2008. This one only tops the year that we headed out on vacation and made several miles before we realized that we had had forgotten our dinghy (the loyal kayak).
"The nice thing about a 17-mile run in those conditions is that it can't last forever. We arrived in Knife River sometime after lunch, about 1400 or 1430. The wind continued to build all day and was good for one thing: drying our soaked clothes as well as our towels from morning showers.

"Since there was no time for a test sail or short cruise in advance, we're referring to this as our breakdown/shakedown cruise. Here is a list of what went wrong:

  • The previous night we discovered that the GPS/NavX/AIS wasn't working on the Mac PowerBook and that I had accidentally trashed all the U.S. Lake Superior charts. So the navigation software we're familiar with was not available to us, and I couldn't get 'the shipping news.' But hey! We remember how to navigate the old way and besides we had Tiki Navigator working on the PC.
  • Unfortunately, halfway through the very bumpy voyage, the PC couldn't see its mouse anymore, and new batteries didn't help. But hey! There's always the finger pad on the keyboard. Too bad we didn't know our way around Tiki Navigator very well (since the program was new to us).
  • Meanwhile on deck, the kayak was swinging in its carrying strap, which we'd raised too high to take the pressure off the shroud, the kayak's rudder wouldn't stay in its holder, due to an accident when we launched it (poor thing), and the depth sounder was almost illegible because of humidity in the readout.
  • Down below, we had major leaks port and starboard now that we were taking gallons of water on deck, and I didn't like being down below much because I was queasy. But I also didn't like being on deck and being splashed upon with ice water.
  • And when we arrived at Knife River (where we've never been before), we discovered to our utter chagrin that we didn't have our Superior Way cruising guide aboard. But hey! We had the Great Lakes Cruising Club binder, a working chart plotter (although much of it was a mystery to us), and actual charts. We made it inside safely.
  • When we arrived, we discovered a final calamity we didn't know about. The sail slide holder that we'd just installed the previous day when we installed the new mainsail, had fallen out and was sitting on the sidedeck waiting for one more slam dunk and big wave to finish its trip overboard. It was like a diver poised on the high dive considering the distance.

"So we docked, paid for the night, introduced ourselves to a couple of neighbors, and set about drying clothes and repairing equipment.

  • I loaded charts on the Mac, but the rest of the GPS/AIS failure continues to baffle us.
  • Tiki Navigator could see its mouse following a restart. And learning to use it will take time. Knowledge comes with experience.
  • Jerry dried the depth sounder with my hair dryer.
  • We searched the big cabin access ports and tiny access port in the head for leaks. Dry as could be. We removed the Vetus vent on the cabintop near the big hatch. Nothing. Just a bunch of dry spider webs. So we cleaned the mildew that accumulates under it and rebedded it. The mast boot looks OK. Hull-to-deck joint? (It's probably too low to cause these leaks since water seldom travels uphill.) Chainplates?
  • Jerry replaced the sail slide holder with a more robust version that is screwed in.
  • We'll buy Bonnie Dahl's newest version of Superior Way (4th edition) as soon as we find it. Silver Bay maybe? Isle Royale? Thunder Bay?
  • Clothing and towels dried. Heater works. We have plenty of food. Life is good."

In reading our logs, I'm reminded that we have our good days and our bad days aboard. There are funny and exciting moments to compensate for the frustrating and anxious ones. We manage to maintain our sanity and sense of humor most of the time. I generally end each log entry on a positive note, as I did on a September day last year.

"Along with the eagles, there are two other boats in the anchorage with us. It was a beautiful day for a sail. There was a terrific sunset just now. Dinner is over. Life is good. Tomorrow we hope to paddle up the stream here. I like to see the wild rice growing there."

Karen Larson

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Passage Notes - August 18-19, 2010

Morn Harbor to Red Rock, Ontario
August 18, 2010

We were penned up in Morn Harbor for four days while a gale raged outside. There are other "storm holes" mentioned in the cruising guide. We stayed in Sinclair Cove and Pilot Harbor during very high winds and even tried to anchor in Ganley Harbor, but none of these qualified in my mind as good "storm holes." All lacked a good holding bottom and swinging room, thus forcing us to use short scope. Unlike these, Morn had a good clay bottom and fine swinging room and, although it is a bit deep forcing us to anchor in 25 feet, the anchors held for four days which was a great comfort. In addition, most of the wind could not find its way into Morn Harbor. It did produce a raging surf at the entrance such that I would have had to have a very good reason indeed to shoot the caldron going in or out.

After four days, I was going stir crazy. Karen was also ready to go at the first opportunity. That came on Wednesday morning. This was a blessing; we had thought the first window for departing might be Thursday, or even Thursday late. The forecasts did not predict a large window but it was enough.

We motored out of the entrance, around to the north side of Simpson Island and up Simpson Channel. The wind was on the nose at force four to five, and the seas were lower than appropriate for that wind, because there was not much fetch, either in time or in distance. It was a bouncy ride, but the boat did not pound much. We could have sailed this stretch, but I had no interest in prolonging the passage, which would have been a dead beat to windward.

When we reached Nipigon Bay and headed west, I thought we might get a break and be able to sail, but the wind strengthened and backed, so it was still dead ahead. Now there was more fetch and little Mystic did pound as the waves built in size. This only lasted for a few hours. Then the wind grew so light we still couldn't sail. In the lee of Vert Island the waves subsided. We motored on until the wind came back up as a force two and we set the 170 and full main. We sailed for a little over an hour before the wind died again.

By this time, we were close to the Red Rock marina, so we struck all and motored in. As often happens, the wind came up just as we reached the breakwater. Just a tease. The blow that I thought might come soon never did materialize but, by making good time, we got to the marina before it closed and got a slip assignment instead of hanging on the fuel dock all night.

Red Rock to (the town of) Nipigon, Ontario
August 19, 2010

We explored the town of Red Rock a bit in the morning and then motored 4 miles up the Nipigon River to the town of Nipigon. I have not spent much time motoring Mystic in rivers, and therefore lack experience in dealing with the eddies and swift currents that develop in places. We followed the well-marked channel and arrived at the town dock without mishap but with occasional depth readings that were less than a foot below our keel. As I write this, we a looking at staying several days, waiting for weather to clear and some mail to arrive. The town is within walking distance and has a good grocery store, laundromat, and library.

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Passage Notes - August 12-14, 2010

Pikes Bay (Slate Islands) to Rossport, Ontario
August 12, 2010

We raised anchors in Pikes Bay in the early morning after the rain stopped. We decided that -- provided we did not mind getting rained on -- we could make the passage to Rossport and that the weather window for that passage was small and closing. Strong wind warnings were forecast. As befits our "in-depth planning," it did not rain any more for the rest of the day.

Lake Superior North

Because Pikes Bay is in the middle of Ontario's Slate Islands group, it is the ultimate storm hole. It is also at about the center of the impact area where the very large meteorite that created the Slates struck. The bottom of the bay is full of slash, and the entrance and exit are white-knuckle events, but the place is special to us so we don't mind. Once out of the bay, we tried a different (for us) way out toward the western exit of the islands. After a couple of tries where the depth got down to 6 feet, we turned back and took our somewhat longer, but more familiar, route.

As we were backtracking, the fog rolled in. Because "mist and fog patches" are often called for in the forecast, we tend to downplay it. In this case, the fog was a major factor. Visibility went down to a pretty consistent 600 feet. GPS chart plotting is not accurate in the islands, probably because the charts were made a long time ago and do not register well with the actual GPS positions. In the Slate Islands, it is not uncommon for our computer chart plotter to show our boat moving along the land near, but not in, the water. Since the offset error does not seem to be consistent enough for us to rely on it, other forms of navigation are particularly necessary. With the fog, one of the best forms of navigation, the Mark One Eyeball, was defeated as well. By the time we reached the main channel between Mortimer Island to the north and Patterson Island to the south, we could not see land on either side, even though they form a fairly narrow channel. As we had radar and rough clues from the chart plotter, we were able to work our way to the north side of the channel where we could occasionally see the shore and avoid a chance encounter with the obstacle named Kate Rock that lies closer to the southern shore.

Once out in the main lake, we turned for Schreiber Channel and the fog thickened. I had hopes that the fog would have wind in it. There was not much wind to start, so we motored for a while until the wind filled in. Finally, we set the full main and the 170 and made reasonable speed. 

Occasionally, the fog cleared and the wind dropped until the fog closed in again. During these periods, we motored or motorsailed. This pattern continued for the rest of the day: fog and wind, clear and calm, then more fog and wind. Sometimes the wind was light, sometimes it was so strong that we left the 170 on deck and made very good speed with just the main. 

Once in Schreiber Channel, we started encountering boat traffic. Sometimes we could see the other boats; sometimes the encounters were managed by radar.

Finally, we broke out of the fog for the last time near Rossport, struck all sails, and motored to the marina. In these foggy conditions, radar is a big help but we have noticed before that not all Canadian buoys show up on radar and not all are placed where the chart says they should be. 

It was a short crossing, but a tough one. Although we had enjoyed the sailing parts, we were ready for a little marina life.

Rossport to Morn Harbor (Simpson Island)
August 14, 2010

We probably had a little too much marina life (two nights tied to the dock) and so resolved to depart for Morn Harbor to sit out a blow that might last several days. Morn is not exactly on the way to Red Rock, our next destination, but it is a good all-weather storm hole and nothing more directly on the way to Red Rock fits that description.

Once out of Rossport, we set the main and 170 and headed closehauled north around Salter Island, tacked, and went south down Simpson Channel. Once we were in the channel, the wind began to rise until it was hard to winch in the big 170. That's the warning signal that soon we will not be able to carry our big jib, so to simplify preparing and eating lunch, we struck the jib. The wind continued to increase until we were making very good speed with just the main.

After lunch, we decided we did not need a jib and continued with just the main. Near the southern end of Simpson Channel, I knew we would be heading out into the main lake where the wind had a good deal of fetch to work on the waves. That would mean a little more wind and much bigger waves. Based on that, we struck in the comparative calm water at the south end of the channel and motored around the tip of Simpson Island into 3- to 5- foot seas for the brief time it took to reach the entrance to Morn Harbor. 

It was a rough ride but a short one. We had some concerns about entering Morn Harbor in such rough conditions, but we managed it and relaxed a little in the calm water inside the harbor. We motored to the north end of the harbor and anchored in 24 feet of water. We believed we would be safe there from the predicted heavy weather and we prepared for the possibility of having to stay for several days.

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Passage Notes - August 8-10, 2010

Pilot Harbor to Simons Harbor
August 8, 2010

We left Pilot Harbor for the second time with a forecast of variable winds and the assumption that they would be light as well. This turned out to be true, which was the exception that proves the rule. Nonetheless, we were leery since we had been beaten up the last time we tried to cover this stretch. We motored a while in alternating dead calm and very light zephyrs dead on the nose. I was beginning to believe that, no matter what the forecast said, this stretch of coast would always have the winds blowing along the coast, preferably from the north or west or northwest. 

At one point, we thought we might be seeing the dreaded black smudge on the horizon to the west that locals had warned us about. Their warning was that it could be 30 minutes from the sighting of the black smudge on the western horizon to the development of 6-foot waves at the shoreline. Another cruising couple had confirmed this claim with their own observations. This particular smudge went south and did not bother us.

Finally the wind filled in a bit offshore and we motored out to it, set the 170 and full main, and ghosted along at 3 to 4 knots. Like magic, the wind went down as we reached the approach to Simons Harbor. We motored in and set our anchors.

Simons Harbor to Pulpwood Harbor
August 9, 2010

This passage was done entirely under power. We had either a flat calm or very light wind on the nose. As was the case on the second passage from Pilot Harbor, the swell was from the south and what little wind there occasionally was blew from the north. The swell was not a leftover sea. We could make no sense of this. 

Pulpwood Harbor to the Slate Islands
August 10, 2010

We motored out of the complicated Pulpwood Harbor anchorage and headed toward a fog bank a few miles offshore. There was no wind at the anchorage, but I had high hopes of a goodly breeze once we reached the fog. This has often been the case in the area around Thunder Bay, where we can almost expect 10 to 15 knots of wind in the fog, even if the areas outside the fog are calm. Unfortunately, no wind was in this fog, and we motored to the Slate Islands with the running lights and radar on and sounding our not-so-very-loud foghorn. The fog broke up in time for us the make a very complicated entry on the eastern side of the Slates and, sadly, the wind sprang up from the south as we motored through the islands toward Pikes Bay. An afternoon passage might have been made under sail, but it is hard to know that ahead of time.

Motoring and Sailing Passages

We have had some fairly long passages that were mostly under sail but many more that were mostly under power. I've thought a lot about the reality of this. 

Even with lots of time to cruise, certain factors favor the motoring passage on Lake Superior. Anchorages are far enough apart so one must make reasonable progress or wind up making many approaches in darkness. This should be avoided when possible.

With good weather forecasting (not always available), we choose to neither sail nor power when there are small craft warnings or strong wind warnings. This leaves us moving from anchorage to anchorage in force 1 through 4 conditions, when the highest winds are forecast to be 11 to 16 knots and the waves will tend to be 3 to 5 feet or less. Given the normal errors in forecasting, that means we will see some force 5 conditions, but nothing stronger most of the time.

By skipping stronger wind conditions, we tend to avoid the passage of cold fronts and even the "first day of the (following) high." What is left is often light and variable winds. Sailing in light winds is my very favorite kind of sailing, but if we have to make 20 to 30 miles in a day, light winds could make for a long and frustrating day indeed.

Here is my process for estimating how much progress we can make under sail:

  • In general I assume that we can make about half of wind speed all the way up to the hull speed of our boat. Our hull speed is about 6.75 knots, I call it 6 knots. If half the wind speed is above hull speed, I use hull speed. If we must sail a dead beat, I assume that the speed made good will be about .7 of the speed through the water. Thus, beating to weather at 6 knots will yield about 4 knots. Beating at 3 knots will yield 2 knots made good.
  • I use other corrections. When sailing or even motoring against heavy waves, I assume that if we are showing less than 3.5 knots on the knotmeter, we are not making anything significant to the good. I don't know the dynamics operating here, but experience has shown that I have to keep the speed above 3.5 knots or we will be looking at the same island or part of the shore for a very long time with no apparent progress.
  • Another guideline I use is that if the true wind is abaft the beam but the relative wind can be brought forward of the beam, we will do better than half of the true wind speed. Sadly, it follows that if the true wind is light, and well aft, we will have trouble making much from it because the boat speed is subtracted from the true wind speed to calculate the relative wind speed. Remember that the relative wind is the only wind the sails know exists. Thus, a 3-knot wind from dead astern will yield little more than a knot or so of progress.

If we have 3 to 5 miles to cover, none of this limits our ability to enjoy a good sail and, believe me, we much prefer sailing to motoring. But if we need to crank out 30 or more miles to get to the next anchorage, making a knot or two to the good just is not going to make our day. If we are trying to beat bad weather or darkness, we are even more motivated to make the crossing, even if under power, rather than bob around out there.

Given this rationale would we rather cruise in a powerboat than a sailboat? No, definitely not. If the possibility of sailing exists, we want the ability to do it in a boat that is fast and weatherly for her size. I would never give that up . . . well, at least not as long as we can still sail. What I do wish for at times is a propulsion system that is as quiet as my car (quieter than my truck) and one that still has a 300- or 400-mile range. I think that could be done with a boat like Mystic, but I also think it might need to be designed into the boat from the beginning of the design process. Motoring quietly and with no vibration would  be a lot like sailing . . . but with the reliability the iron jenny offers and the wind does not.

Jerry Powlas

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Electronics on boats - August 20, 2010

(Harking back to earlier in this cruising adventure, published now while Karen and Jerry are enviably out of contact with civilization.)

I've received a couple of reader comments on my previous blog entry, where I described part of our electrical and electronic suite. These comments took exception to our use of electronic navigation. It was suggested that we were somehow surprisingly impure, particularly for editors of a magazine named Good Old Boat. I'll settle that first. My own personal definition of a good old boat has almost nothing to do with how she is equipped or operated.

Navigation equipment

There has been an interesting debate in this area. There are numerous advocates against various aspects of electronic navigation and they are quite vocal, while those who use electronic navigation tools are generally quiet and perhaps even too content to spur themselves to represent their side.

Since this is a hobby, I personally see no reason why we should be critical of each other for using or not using particular methods of navigation. So first, I advocate tolerance.

Karen's navigation instructor said over and over again that a prudent navigator uses more than one means of determining his position. You might want to post those words over your navigation console.

The common argument for using traditional methods states that electronic methods are to be avoided because electronics are delicate and prone to failure. The argument goes on to state that electronic methods yield dangerous errors. We publish some articles that take that point of view mainly because I sincerely believe our readers need to be reminded that electronic methods can produce errors. I'm not talking about small errors in position, but rather life-threatening, ship-killing errors. Yup, you can't trust that stuff.

Oddly, what is almost never said is that traditional methods also produce errors. In fact, I think I've seen just about every method of navigation, every technique, every device fail and produce errors; the life-threatening, ship-killing errors every navigator needs to avoid. Often these errors are caused by simple mistakes. Sometimes they're caused because the navigator simply did not follow the process correctly because he was tired, in a hurry, distracted by other immediate needs of the vessel, or because he was poorly trained or careless.

I can recall one night in Pamlico Sound when the boat's motion was so violent on one tack that I could not plot a fix. I could plot it on the other tack since the wave motion was better, but I had to guess when to call the tack near shore on the "bad tack" because I couldn't keep hold of the parallels and pencil and hold the chart still. All methods have limitations. All methods can yield errors.

I almost flunked out of Officer Candidate School over the study of celestial navigation. It was a near thing. This was ironic, since in the years that followed I shot only one line of position and even then I took almost a half day to calculate it. Others, who were much more skilled and had almost daily practice, could shoot and calculate much faster, but even from the very stable deck of a heavy cruiser, the errors of celestial navigation were considered to be measured in miles. Other piloting techniques were needed in close quarters. Celestial was no good for close quarters and fixes could only be shot under certain conditions of lighting. Even on the open sea after a week of clouds and rain, the navigator would duck from shadow to shadow hoping not to meet the captain, who might ask him the standard question, "Where are we?". All he had was a week-old fix and a very theoretical DR plot.

When I compare those days with today, I smile. My boat is equipped with miracle gear that allows me to get a pretty accurate fix very quickly most of the time. I can't trust it completely, but I can almost always trust it more than a celestial line of position and a DR track.

Electronics can fail. Anything can fail. On a boat, eventually many -- if not most -- things will fail. Traditional tools and methods do not fail from lightning strikes and minor electrical problems, but they are not free of failures. They are simply free of electrical failures. All in all, we have had good service from our electronic devices and when they did fail (most eventually did), we had back-up methods and equipment which allowed us to continue to navigate.

There is the argument that electronic equipment for boats costs too much. The phrase "costs too much" will have a different meaning for each boater. Certainly I could go into a marine catalog and pick out a suite of the latest gear that costs more than my boat. I won't, but I could if I were a wealthy man. If that happened, I could probably smile at my traditional critics.

I remember a fellow boater who said, "I don't want to hear about inverters in sailboats." Those were his exact words. I don't think this was a cost issue. He was sailing a Baba 40, which probably cost him between 10 and 30 times as much as my C&C 30. I never mentioned my inverter to him again.

Generally, the cost of electronics for boats has gone down over the years, while the reliability, accuracy, and range of functions has gone up. Our current GPS receiver cost us about $70. It feeds very accurate position information to our laptop, which we would own and have on board anyway. I'm writing this on that laptop while aboard. The navigation programs we use on the laptop were pretty reasonable too. One costs less than $60, the other less than $180. Either would work just fine alone. Together, the receiver and computer produce amazingly fast and accurate positions and other important information to help us navigate safely.

Yes, but what if they fail? The cables for the computer rest on top of a pile of "traditional gear:" two sets of parallel rulers, various slide rule-type calculators, hand-held bearing compasses, and suchlike.

Have we ever been down to those? Oh my yes. We have also cruised a summer without an engine, lost our prop, done soundings with an improvised lead line when the depth sounder failed, and sailed home and taken our slip under sail when a fuel filter clogged up.

All that means is that we have been sailing for a while. There are lots of ways to do things, and it is best to know more than one.

The other two computers aboard, mentioned in my previous blog, are the ones we used in prior years and are just there to back up the one we use. They are old, and it takes two of them to do all the things the replacement computer does. Back-up equipment is good too.

And finally, at the end of a long day's sail, we often enter an anchorage under sail and put down the hook without troubling to run the engine. The next morning we often sail off the anchor without disturbing the peace and quiet of the setting. Sometimes the traditional ways are best.

Jerry Powlas

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Karen's Lake Superior impressions - August 2010

Lake Superior Southeast Corner

(Harking back to earlier in this cruising adventure, published now while Karen and Jerry are enviably out of contact with civilization.)

This afternoon as we rounded Otter Head on Lake Superior's eastern shore, we concluded the first leg of our cruise of Lake Superior's east coast. That far corner which encompasses Michipicoten Island and has Michipicoten River and Michipicoten Harbor at the farthest extreme, is a section of our lake that has been mostly unknown to us, since it's as far from our usual cruising grounds as we can get on Lake Superior. We'd touched in a couple of spots while coming home from the North Channel of Lake Huron a couple of years ago. Over the years, we'd visited Michipicoten Island a few times, but this far corner had largely remained a mystery to us.

Now we know that sailing this section of the lake is "wilderness cruising" in the truest sense of the word. There are very few people and very few towns in this stretch of coast. There are several parks but few towns and few visitors of any kind. There are very limited opportunities to pump out, buy fuel, get shorepower, or buy groceries. The same goes for laundry, showers, ice, and water supplies. There is no Internet connection and no Coast Guard or towing assistance if one gets into trouble. It is a very remote part of this mostly remote lake.

Several themes have emerged in the two weeks we've been cruising in the "Michipicoten corner": serendipitious encounters with traditional craft, the helpless fear when our boat's exposed and things don't go as planned, and the kindness of strangers.

Europa tall ship

Traditional vessels -- As we neared this corner of the lake, we were fortunate to cross tracks with two of the eight tall ships heading to Duluth for the Tall Ships Duluth 2010 festival the following weekend. First we met the barque Europa under full sail, and two days later we were fortunate to see the HMS Bounty under power. We were able to get close enough for good photos in both cases. Our next special encounter was with one of the few Canadian commercial fishing boats on the lake. The Bessie E pulled into the anchorage where we were staying one night. It was a delight to chat with the crew and to buy some fresh salmon and whitefish from them. This morning, as we were leaving our anchorage, we had the pleasure of meeting a war canoe with 11 people paddling the lake coast and living much as the Indians did many years ago.

Bounty tall ship

Fear of losing the boat -- Twice during this two-week cruise on the "wild side," we were caught in exposed anchorages during big blows. Both anchorages should have been (theoretically) more secure than they were. In addition, the winds wound up being much higher than forecast. There are no really good all-weather holes that might have offered better protection in the circumstances. Still, we were frightened twice in two weeks -- not for our lives but for the safety of our boat. We have known fear that lasted for hours on end. It's not a good feeling.


The kindness of strangers -- In this corner of the lake, where provisions and services and help are not at hand, we are grateful to Katherine and Terry who picked up some groceries for us when they had a chance to borrow a truck and drive to town (and gave us the last of their bottle of scotch as well!). We are appreciative of Brad Buck and the gang at Buck's Marina in Wawa, Ontario, who offer a service of fueling and pumpout at an anchorage several miles from the marina. They also let us ride with them so we could visit the grocery store when they drove to town to make a bank deposit. These things enabled us to push "reset" on our supplies, making it possible to cruise in the wilderness for another week or two. We're also grateful to Jennifer and Fred Bagley, whose anchor held in one of those awesome blows when ours would not. Theirs was a gift of security when they invited us to raft up to their boat for the rest of the day and overnight.

My overall visual impressions of this corner of the lake are of massive and craggy bluffs interspersed with isolated beaches. The rocky bluffs are better than clouds in the way they conjure up a host of imaginary and surreal creatures: whales, reptiles of all types such as turtles and lizards and dragons, goblins, porpoises, and people. Some of the beaches between these amazing rocks are rather incredible in their own right since they may just as easily be made up of sand or pebbles or large rocks while coexisting within sight of one another. How Lake Superior manages to sort her rocks by size -- and even by color sometimes -- from one beach to another is a mystery to us.

War Canoe

In fact, this corner of the lake seems shrouded in fog and mystery. There was the mystery of the cloudy water in Oakes Cove. This large bay has a milky white water unlike the crystal clear waters of the rest of the lake. What sediment or mineral could possibly exist solely in this cove? In addition there's the spooky appearance and disappearance of Michipicoten Island. This large island, an impressive and predominant feature of this far corner of the lake, is sometimes visible and sometimes invisible, depending upon weather conditions. Its otherworldly vanishing act was considered enchanted by the ancient inhabitants of these shores. We agree.

Maybe it's just the immense scale and the fact that these rocks and this lake have been around for millions of years that impressed us. At one point, Jerry said that he'd love to have just one snapshot of one cove taken every 1,000 years over each of the past, say 10 million or so, years in order to perhaps understand the geology. How did these rocks come to be the way they are today? Maybe a time-release trip through the ages would help explain the cross-section in time that we are fortunate to observe today.

Bessie Em

The rugged beauty of the rocks and beaches has made up for the distinct lack of wildlife on this shore. While there are caribou and moose and bears here, we have not seen any. We have seen an osprey, a couple of eagles, many loons, and the ubiquitous herring gulls. Perhaps we'll get lucky on the next leg of this east coast now that we've turned the corner toward the northeastern section of the lake.

Suddenly yesterday we realized that we'd dallied too long in this corner. It's time to make some longer leaps toward home. Today, instead of a 10-mile hop to the next anchorage, we motored and sailed 35 miles, passing some lovely spots by. There's nothing for it: we'll have to come back.

Karen Larson

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Passage Notes - August 7, 2010

Pilot Harbor to Ganley Harbor to . . . Pilot Harbor
August 7, 2010

We departed Pilot Harbor with forecasts of winds of 11 to 16 knots, (force 4). We headed west toward Otter Head. We were tempted to set the 150 with the main and had it unbagged and ready when the wind came up quite a bit. To be safe and comfortable, we set the storm jib with the full main and made fairly good speed, except in those areas where the wind dropped down to almost nothing leaving steep seas of maybe force 4 and force 5. The wind was off the land and shifty and gusty. Finally, one of the lulls ended with a blast from well abeam and we took it with a knockdown.

We plowed on for a little while longer, but I could see we were no longer making a lot of progress, caused as much by the lulls as by the blasts. We struck all when we had Ganley Harbor abeam and motored in. The wind, which continued to rise, was quite strong in the anchorage. That -- coupled with a difficult entry with many shoals, a bottom with poor holding, and very little swinging room -- made our failed attempts to anchor a frightening and frustrating event for both of us. Karen was hauling and throwing anchors with no good effect, and I was trying to control the boat in a very confined space as each anchoring attempt ended by dragging.

Finally we left Ganley and I swore I would never try that anchorage again. We initially headed west again, but the winds had reached force 6 and 7 and we could not make good progress to windward in the heavy seas. Ultimately, we turned east and ran the 10 miles back to Pilot Harbor . . . where we also had great difficulty setting anchors because the wind in the anchorage was quite strong and the soft mud in the bottom did not offer good holding. After many tries, we got the big Fortress anchor to hold and sat back to rest. We did not trust the situation, however, because we had just seen our entire anchor arsenal fail in this anchorage, so we launched the kayak and I tied a line to a tree on shore (I never tie to trees). We settled in to wait out the blow, which finally went down with the sun.

To add to our confusion, we checked several weather buoy reports around the lake, all farther out to sea, and found that they were reporting what was forecast. We have no idea why our corner of the lake was experiencing such high winds and waves.

No answer for a wind or a maiden's heart.

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Passage Report - August 1-4, 2010

Brul' Harbor to Oakes Cove
August 1, 2010

Lake Superior, East shore

We woke to a light rain in Brul' Harbor and, after checking the weather, determined that, aside from rain, we could have an easy passage to the mouth of the Michipicoten River about 10 miles northeast. There was almost no wind and only a very small leftover sea. As we motored along, the shore began to take on a kind of "Land before Time" aspect. The rocks were wet from rain, and looked like they were frosted in the light mist. The scenery came and went as the haze and fog allowed. I could imagine that we were seeing the place pretty much as it has been for the last 10,000 years.

When we got within radio range, we called Buck's Marina (located about a mile up the Michipicoten River) to see if we could get in the river for fuel and a pumpout. They said that not even they could go in and out at the time because of a dredging project and suggested that we divert to Oakes Cove a few miles away. This proved to be a very good anchorage. We put down both hooks in a sand bottom in 10 feet of water. Buck's Marina offers a service for deep-draft boats by bringing fuel and pumpout to them at anchor near the mouth of the river or in Oakes Cove.

Oakes Cove to Pilot Harbor
August 4, 2010

We spent two days in Oakes Cove working out the logistics of fuel, pumpout, and groceries and determined to leave the next day. When the morning came, the weather reports suggested we either move very soon or we might be stuck another couple of days waiting for better weather conditions. We pulled the hooks and motored away into a very light wind on the nose. This was forecast to change into a strong westerly eventually raising a 6-foot sea, still right on the nose.

As we progressed, the conditions developed as predicted. The seas got heavier and the winds grew stronger until we were pounding pretty hard and losing speed from the trains of large waves that could almost stop Mystic. As the winds and waves grew, we finally reached a point where we would hit two, three, or even five large waves in a row. Each would be a "belly flopper" for Mystic. At the end of even three of them, our speed would drop from the middle 5 knots to the low 3 knots. Then, if the wave trains would allow, she would slowly accelerate back to the middle 5s again.The prediction was that it would only get worse, so we pressed on. Mystic's bow plunged down in the troughs so deeply that the deck was level with the lake. Then she rose to the next wave and did it again. I suspect that every "small boat" has some combination of wind and waves beyond which she will make little or no progress directly into wind and waves and another point where she simply cannot hold her bow into the wind. I've seen little Mystic in both of these situations and try to avoid them. I had the feeling that this would be one of Jerry and Karen's just-in-time arrivals or it might be one of those not-quite-soon-enough arrivals.

Finally about an hour from Pilot Harbor, the conditions improved a bit, and we began making good speed through the waves again. We anchored in Pilot Harbor and later took the kayak out to see what the seas had developed into by mid-afternoon expecting to see 6-footers, but to our surprise conditions were no worse than when we came in. Worse weather is predicted, but we are snug here in the cove as we write this.

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Michipicoten: the disappearing island

Earlier on this trip, as we left Indian Harbor headed for Brulé Harbor, we witnessed an unusual phenomenon: the disappearance of an island, one that disappears and reappears frequently.

Michipicoten Island

Michipicoten Island gone

Disappearing Island

On that day, the Canadian weather service predicted "mist and fog patches." There was indeed a light mist in the air. The world was cloudy and grayish with reduced visibility on the nearby shoreline that even took on a land-before-time aspect with light swirling tendrils of fog here and there. But more peculiar is that, after we'd been out there for a while and had been watching the distant horizon over the lake to see where it was raining and where it appeared to be clear, I was suddenly struck by the fact that on that day we could not see Michipicoten Island or the northern shore of this corner of the lake. We could see both at a distance of 25 to 30 miles the previous day. But as we moved ever closer to them on this day, they were gone. Vanished! It was an interesting trick, since the horizon looked normal and far away. Yet a couple of large landmasses that should have been on that horizon were simply not there. (Obviously, I don't have a photo of the island that's not there in an otherwise nomal-looking horizon. Sorry.)

Others have had this experience as well. In the popular Lake Superior cruising guide, Superior Way, author Bonnie Dahl says, "Michipicoten Island has long fascinated those who have traveled up and down Lake Superior's eastern shore. Standing off in the distance, this second largest island on the lake takes on a blue-grey hue and will sometimes seem to rise out of the water and at other times seem to recede into the mist. It was this mysterious quality of undulating appearance that made the early natives awestruck and superstitious of this island that they called Michipicoutou."

Upon reading that entry in the guide, I joked with Jerry about what would happen if we happened to be at Michipicoten Island when it disappeared . . .

Michipicoten Island up close

When we later rounded the corner of the lake and headed west, as close as we would be coming to the big island on this cruise, it was yet another foggy day. This time Michipicoten behaved as would be expected in the fog: it was visible, if only dimly. (I have included two photos of the island on that day and a clearer photo taken from an anchorage north of Michipicoten on what could be considered a "normal" day.) And several days later, as we moved farther away from it heading north, Michipicoten did what any landmass should do: it disappeared from view slowly, dropping into the horizon like the setting of a sun.

Karen Larson

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Passage Notes - August 1, 2010

Indian Harbor to Brul' Harbor
August 1, 2010

As we left Indian Harbor heading up the coast, we encountered force two winds on the main lake and the small waves that force two can make. We were concerned about rain cells between Minneapolis and Duluth showing on the weather radar and about one cell out in the main lake to the north of us. We figured we'd outrun the weather to the west and duck the cell to the north because it would go east.

Given the volatility of the situation, we did not want to set the spinnaker, fearing the wind would build, so we set the 150 with no main. This is an excellent sailplan for downwind work when there is enough wind. With no wind shadow from the main, the jib will set and pull well with relative wind anywhere from well forward of the beam to dead downwind. Gybing is simplicity itself, as are setting and striking sail. The wind did build, reaching force three with small whitecaps and larger seas. For a while we made good speed, occasionally reaching almost six knots. Eventually, the wind went down and we were left wallowing in the leftover seas. By that time, we were near the entrance to Brul' Harbor, so we struck sail and went back to battery charging.

As it turned out, the small storm cell to the north of us made a valiant effort to get us by coming south toward Michipicoten Island, but it eventually lost strength and disappeared from the radar. From what we could tell, the large cells that threatened Duluth and the last day of the tall ship festival there went south missing the area . . . a good outcome all around.

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Passage Notes - July 30, 2010

Sinclair Cove to Beatty Cove
July 29, 2010

After being beaten up for a day in Sinclair Cove by storm waves that warped into the opening, we were glad to leave. We encountered a leftover sea with force four winds that could not create those waves, but could sustain them for a while. By the time we had charged our batteries, we had less than an hour to go to Beatty Cove. This, combined with the difficulty of moving around on deck in these large steep waves, convinced us not to set sail. That was a tough decision because we can see that we may not have enough fuel to continue to motor as much as we have been.

Beatty Cove to Indian Harbor (Cape Gargantua)
July 30, 2010

By the next morning, the lake was downright placid and my concern was that we might not have enough wind to sail. Once out of Beatty Cove, we encountered a gentle force one to two on the port quarter. We set the main and spinnaker. That rig brought the relative wind ahead of the beam where the spinnaker really showed us what it could do. We were making 3 to 5 knots over ground in a relative wind that could not have been much more than that. We kept the spinnaker up for the whole passage and reluctantly struck both sails as we rounded Cape Gargantua and motored into Indian Harbor. We need more passages like that one. We need to extend our fuel range and we would much rather sail anyway.

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Passage Notes - July 26, 2010

Grand Marais, Michigan, to Batchawana Bay, Ontario
July 25, 2010

We slipped our lines off the seawall that is "the marina" in Grand Marais, Michigan, in the dark and were idling out of the breakwater at 4:55. In the lake we met a leftover sea that was coming from just a little west of north. We were heading east, so it was on the beam. These old rollers were enhanced by their encounter with shallow water near the shore, so they were steep and deep. Most of the coastline of Michigan's Upper Peninsula has a shallow bank that extends quite far out, so our rhumbline would have had us in shallow water much of the way. We motored north for a while to gain some depth. As expected, the waves were pretty brutal in 20 feet of water, but not so bad in 50 feet, and downright friendly in 100 feet and more.

There was little wind and, as it was from astern, we did not raise sail. We had a long passage ahead of us and could not complete it in daylight if we were making 2 knots. Shortly before lunch we sighted an odd-looking form on the horizon to the southeast that we could not make out. It turned out to be a fishing tug, but during our investigation of this sighting, Karen checked the AIS, and learned that the tall ship HMS Bounty was in Whitefish Bay steering to round Whitefish Point on her way to Duluth.

With that cat out of the bag, we left our track for Batchawana Bay and motored for an intercept around Whitefish Point. With AIS, this is easy: just do all the things that would cause a collision. When we got close, we radioed our intentions to maneuver for photos and our promise to avoid contact. Bounty agreed to this and, as she rounded Whitefish Point, we made one run down her sunlit side.

As the photoshoot was progressing, the wind finally came up and that -- combined with our off-course position farther south -- made for a beam reach when we finally raised the main. The wind had become a strong force 4 to 5, so we made very good speed with no headsail at all. This is a nice way to sail Mystic, particularly when we are trying to spot small navigation buoys, as we were in the approaches to Batchawana Bay.

We sailed for the rest of the day except for powering into the wind to drop the main, and for setting the anchors. We arrived in Batchawana bay and set our anchors in a good sand bottom over a very large flat pan that would have held a couple hundred boats with swinging room for all. We were the only boat anchored there. We were anchored and settled down in time to have supper on the hook. It doesn't get any better than that.

Batchawana Bay to Sinclair Cove, Ontario
July 26, 2010

We motored from Batchawana Bay to Sinclair Cove. We tried to sail at one point, but the fickle wind went from force 1 to a dead calm just about the time we got the main and spinnaker up. After about an hour of bobbing along at less than a knot, we struck all and fired up the little red beast in the bilge again and motored into Sinclair Cove. We are on the part of our cruise where services are very much in short supply and we are beginning to worry about all this motoring and the associated fuel consumption. During the second half of the passage to Sinclair Cove, I lowered the cruising speed to extend our range. We are planning to enter a lot of "nooks and crannies-type" coves where we will surely need an engine, so fuel is now of primary interest. After refueling from one of our two jerry jugs, the next morning, as I write this, we have 20 gallons in the main tank one full six gallon jerry jug, and a little less than 5 gallons of kerosene in the heater tank. The engine can burn this fuel if necessary. It is essentially number 1 diesel fuel without the antifoaming additive. I don't think it will come to that, but I will spend some time with the charts and make some estimates to make sure. And we would like to sail more than we have for the past week. That would be the best solution of all.

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Passage Notes - July 23, 2010

Munising to Grand Marais
July 23, 2010

We departed Munising mid-morning. We motored along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore waiting for the wind to fill in. It finally did fill in from the west. We shut down the engine and set the 150 and main. We loped along in force 2 to force 3 winds, alternating between a broad reach and a wing-and-wing dead downwind. Dead downwind boat speed is subtracted from wind speed to determine relative wind speed. Sadly, relative wind is the only "real" wind there is as far as the sails are concerned, so we were happy when the GPS said we were doing 5 knots.

Eventually we sighted the tall ship Europa, a three-masted barque, and set out to intercept her and take photos. She was heading for Duluth with a heading of west northwest. We were pointed at Sault Sainte Marie with a roughly reciprocal heading. That made the intercept easy, and we did it under sail. We even shot the photos under sail. Karen got about 200 pictures of the Europa.

After the encounter with the tall ship, we headed toward Grand Marais. The wind died a couple of miles from the breakwater and we motored in.

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The test not taken - July 22, 2010

(Harking back to earlier in this cruising adventure, published now while Karen and Jerry are enviably out of contact with civilization.)

This summer -- before leaving on our three-month cruise of Lake Superior -- I figured it was finally time to pack an abandon-ship bag. I'd researched it and we'd discussed it for years but, until this year, I never got around to putting the supplies together. I even had our personalized list ready to go. Our list is based on those of other sailors but adapted to our sailing environment. We sail on fresh water, for example, so desalination kits and bottled water seem unnecessary. On the other hand, we're surrounded by wilderness and might well come ashore miles from any town or road. Our ditch kit must include some food and land survival tools, rather than supplies to keep one going for a prolonged period in a life raft.

Included in the kit is a book about foraging ashore: what you can eat and what you can't or shouldn't eat when living in the wild. A friend of ours has made foraging a hobby. His advice to us was to read the book, practice in the woods, and learn everything there is to know about what grows in our region of the country. He's right, of course, but I'm unwilling to keep all that information in my head. He's younger. My brain is already filled up with useless trivia.

And useless trivia is what I hope this book contains. It is not our plan to abandon ship. In 20 years of sailing on this lake, we've never had to do it. Like so much of the safety equipment sailors carry aboard, we hope never to have to use our ditch kit. I don't plan to study for a test I hope never to have to take. But if we are to be tested this way someday, I hope it will be an open-book exam. Because I have the book.

Karen Larson

Freshwater boat abandon ship kit/
survival kit in two backpacks

Packed. Ready To Go:

Survival Kit
  • canned food
  • hard candy
  • granola bars
  • canteen
  • multi vitamins + aspirins
  • survival blankets
  • mesh bag
  • couple of washcloths
  • eating utensils
  • matches (waterproof kit)
  • can opener
  • Swiss Army knife
  • pliers
  • machete
  • spare batteries in bag
  • laminated chart
  • small first-aid kit
  • paper and pencil
  • survivor book
  • book about eating plants
  • clothes in bag:
    • socks,
    • gloves,
    • thermal underwear
Survival Gear


  • handheld VHF
  • handheld GPS
  • compass
  • money and documents

On Life Jackets:

  • flares
  • signaling mirror
  • flashlight
  • knives

In Kayak:

  • sponge
  • pump
  • line
  • shovel

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Eureka Europa - July 24, 2010

Friday, July 23

Europa 1

Today on the way to Grand Marais, Michigan, from Munising, Michigan, we crossed paths with the barque Europa on her way to the Duluth Tall Ships Festival (July 29 through August 3). I've had the idea in my head for the past week or so that we just might see one of the tall ships as it heads west and we head east. Now, as we approach Whitefish Bay, through which all ships must pass, the odds really increased. Earlier this morning I thought once again that we could -- just might -- get lucky today!

Then, when it happened I thought that if you wish strongly enough for something, you just might dream it. So I wasn't sure. At first, as we saw the Europa from a great distance, we thought she was some sort of aid to navigation. Then we thought she might just be the wheelhouse of one of the lake's many freighters. Then we KNEW! It had to be one of the tall ships! Because I had such high hopes for this sort of thing, we had an article from Lake Superior Magazine about which ships would be visiting Duluth. Then it was a matter of narrowing this one down based on the photos.

Europa 2

Eureka! We called Europa on the VHF to let the captain know that we would approach for photos but we would not get in his way. He responded that if we were taking photos, he'd spread a bit more sail. And so he did! We approached to within shouting range. It was a wonderful experience.

The Europa is a three-masted barque from the Hague, in the Netherlands, built in 1911 in Hamburg, Germany. She is 185 feet (counting a significant bowsprit) with a 109-foot mast clearance. She can spread up to 30 sails. For more about her, see <http://www.barkeuropa.com>.

Karen Larson

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First Impressions - July 23, 2010

A couple of new sailing friends we met in the Keweenaw Peninsula town of Hancock spent one evening at the same anchorage we did about 40 miles east of the Keweenaw in Huron Bay on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Rick and Kelly arrived there after we did on Saturday and they left for home the following morning in the rain. We continued our journey east later that day after the rain had stopped.

Keweenaw Lighthouse

That, I think, summarizes the difference between sailing and cruising. This year for the first time -- with 12 weeks to spend at it -- we're cruising. Our previous weekends aboard and even our two- or three-week vacations were spent sailing. Like Rick and Kelly, we had deadlines to meet and sometimes we had to leave somewhere in the rain in order to be somewhere else on time. Not this year.

This year only the weather can cause us to leave one place in order to go to another. We too would leave a cozy spot -- rain or not --if the wind shifted or a threatening storm were on the way.

There are many differences in our cruising experience this year when compared to previous years. Now, as we conclude our exploration of the civilized section of the lake along the northern shores of Wisconsin and Michigan, I'm looking back to previous experiences, scanning forward to what surely will follow, and making comparisons with the first third of our time on this great lake.

We haven't made any overnight passages yet this year, although one or two will most likely happen before we're through. It has been within our time constraints to make shorter hops and -- since numerous towns and anchorages have been available so far on the south shore of Lake Superior -- shorter hops have been possible. As a result, we haven't had the lee cloths in the bunk we use on night passages and we haven't run a watch schedule with one of us in charge of the boat while the other sleeps.

Because we've been exploring the more populated southern shore of this lake, we've spent more time in marinas than we're used to and we've had more fresh food available than usual. We've also been much more connected so far, through email and cell phones. And it's been warmer here on the south shore. We can wear shorts more often and we haven't had the winter jackets out in several weeks (although that could be due to the lack of night passages). Another reason it's warmer this year is that we're sailing from late June through mid-September. We did not have to include a week or weekends during the "shoulder seasons" of May and October in order to get our "sailing fix." Skipping the early spring weeks and the late fall ones will make a difference in the temperatures we'll experience this summer.

Another thing we've noticed in our travels along the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is that we've seen and heard more sandhill cranes than ever before. But we've seen and heard far fewer loons. When we head north to the Canadian wilderness, that ratio will reverse. The Michigan shore doesn't have the island archipelagos that make good summer habitat for raising young loons but it must offer exactly what the sandhill cranes are looking for.

We've had more light winds this summer than usual and have been able to fly our new spinnaker a great deal. That is a stark contrast with those previous years when we spent more time thrashing about in heavy winds and seas while being clipped onto the boat with our tethers. We can give our WxWorx program credit for some of that. With the help of this satellite-based weather program, we're able to miss the bad stuff much more reliably than ever before. And we can also thank our more relaxed schedule. Now that we're cruising, rather than just sailing, we have more flexibility about when to go and when to stay put.

This summer -- although we've had some days in which Mystic was nothing more than a motorboat with a tall mast -- we've had some of our best sailing days ever. Our hops average 30 to 40 miles in a day. Since we're in a part of Lake Superior where there are few islands for gunkholing, we've crossed large open stretches in our day hops. On those stretches, the winds have been much more consistent than the frustrating winds that eddy and funnel around islands, causing us to change sailplans often (reefing and letting out reefs in the main and raising and lowering various jibs, since we have not yet added a roller furler).

Now as we head toward northern shores, we'll be leaving one kind of cruising behind and substituting another we've always referred to as "wilderness cruising." We've always enjoyed the challenges that go with that. The difference this time is that we'll really be "cruising" and not just "sailing."

Karen Larson

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What's wrong with this picture?
Or: Karen's rant about Michigan docks

The DNR Waterway Commission of Michigan must have great expectations. That's my conclusion after visits to docks along the Upper Peninsula. The engineers who designed these docks for the DNR clearly believe Lake Superior is going to rise by a foot or two and they want to be prepared.

Dock: High expectations

On other parts of Lake Superior, people buy or build little stepladders so they can climb up to board their boats more easily. Those little stepping stools wouldn't sell well in Michigan. At every dock we visited, it would be wise to add a small ladder that hangs from the dock so you can get down to your boat. Just to prove that I'm not making this up, we actually saw those ladders in use by the resident boaters in Munising, Michigan. That didn't help those of us in transient slips, however.

Boats in Michigan are often so low in relationship to the nearby finger piers that you can't see a thing from the cabin of your boat. If you hear someone on the pier walking by making casual comments about your boat, in some marinas you may be able to see his or her shoes. In Munising we were so low we could see the hulls of all the other boats in their slips by looking out our cabin windows below the level of the pier.

Approaching a very high dock has certain disadvantages and I can't think of any offsetting advantages. You can't simply step from boat to dock with docklines in hand. Instead, you have to grab a passing cleat or post at waist or chest level and haul yourself up to the dock. This can be an athletic feat. Move quickly! You have a boat that's still underway and the poor guy at the helm has little or no control at very slow speeds. You'd like to get docklines on a cleat or two before you're either smashed by your boat or left hanging from the finger pier as your boat floats off . . . it's just a matter of which way the wind is blowing as you make your approach.

Docks: Upright posts

And one thing more: the Michigan docks have large upright posts that complicate things in three ways. They're generally built of 6 x 6 lumber. Therefore, they stick out at regular intervals beyond the finger piers by 6 inches. My first complaint was that these posts tend to interfere with the person who would like to step to the dock with the docklines. I first noticed this problem when Jerry very nearly rubbed me off on a series of posts as he made his approach. I soon learned to stand back farther.

My next complaint is that these very tall posts make getting your line to a cleat difficult if you want to get to a cleat ahead of the next post. You must pass the dockline either around or over this massive post . . . and perhaps even the one ahead of that.

My third problem with this arrangement is that these posts don't extend all the way down to the lake bottom. They extend just a few feet below the finger pier, making it possible to catch your boat's deck or lifelines when waves or a passing boat's wake bounce your boat around. Therefore, you need to set up very large horizontal fenders or fenderboards to fend your boat off from the posts.

Why this is so common throughout Michigan's Upper Peninsula I cannot guess. I can only wonder what will happen to the rest of the docks on Lake Superior if the folks in Michigan are right and the lake does rise by a couple of feet.

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Passage Notes - July 22, 2010

Leaving Houghton (again)
July 16, 2010

We were more or less trapped in our slip at the Houghton County Marina waiting for very stiff wind to shift or diminish in force. When a little hole appeared in the wind, we did an all-hands evolution to the gas dock for fuel and a pumpout. Due to the big gusts, it took three people on the dock and two of us on Mystic to bring her to the gas dock. We had used another 10 gallons of fuel since refueling in Copper Harbor.

Perhaps the wind hadn't diminished as much as we thought. We motored southeast down through the Keweenaw Waterway to Portage Lake, where we encountered force 7 and 8 winds. The fetch was not great, so we didn't encounter the kind of waves that such winds can generate. Still, we were heeled over smartly under bare poles. We anchored in the lower part of the waterway and left the next day for Huron Bay.

Houghton to Huron Bay
July 17, 2010

Eastern Michigan chart

We made the crossing to Huron Bay with the 150 and full main on a broad reach. Toward the end, the wind went light and we set the spinnaker. I was amazed at how that sail kept us moving in almost no wind. Near the entrance to the bay, we picked up a smaller Columbia, perhaps a 23, that wanted to race. He did a good job of it, cutting the corner off a point with a large shoal by taking advantage of his shallower draft and then sailing really well down the shore. Finally, we got out of the shallow water, noticed that the wind had increased, set the spinnaker to the pole, and pulled away smartly.

We anchored near an RV park and power boat basin. It was amusing to see how the other half lives, but I did not want to stay two nights.

Huron Bay to Big Bay
July 18, 2010

What wind we had was light and right on the nose, so we motored all the way and anchored in Big Bay in sand. Big Bay is open to the main lake; even the smallest waves from the main lake caught us on the beam and rolled the boat a lot more than I would have thought possible for such small waves. Anytime your anchorage is exposed to the main lake, you have to hope the wind lines up with the rollers, or you may have a rough ride.

Big Bay to Marquette
July 19, 2010

Pictured Rocks 2

Once again, we had light wind dead on the nose, so we motored. About an hour and a half out of Marquette, we could see that we were going to lose the race with some big black clouds that were raining on the mainland to the west of us. The weather had said "chance of showers and thunderstorms". It says that most days. This time we caught part of the cell we had been watching for most of the morning.

As thunderstorms go, it was a pretty nice one. The Canadian weather forecasts always caution that there are "higher winds and waves near thunderstorms," but this time the warning did not apply. The rain was more like a gentle warm-front rain, and the winds and waves did not increase. There was lightning and thunder enough, so the effect was more like a medley of "April Showers" and "Singing in the Rain" with sound effects from the 1812 Overture. Conveniently, he storm blew through before we had to enter the harbor at Marquette. We had been on the edge of the cell. A few days later we met an old friend who had been in the center of the storm. His experience was more typical.

Marquette to Munising
July 21, 2010

Pictured Rocks 1

We motored, motorsailed most of the morning, and by afternoon finally had the wind to cruise along the colorful cliffs of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore under the 150 and full main. When the "photo opportunity" was finished, we headed for the Munising City Marina. At that point, the brisk winds that had been forecast developed. We struck the jib and finished the day being blown around on just the main.

Jerry Powlas

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Passage Notes - July 14, 2010

Ontonagon to the Keweenaw Waterway
July 5, 2010

We left Ontonagon in very light air and motored most of the way to the western and upper entrance point for the waterway that cuts the Keweenaw Peninsula in half. With about an hour to go, the wind filled in to a light, but reliable, force two. We set the 170 and amused ourselves with a dead beat to the entrance. This made two hours' work out of what would have been the remaining hour of motoring, but we'd rather sail when we can. We remarked that this was the first time we had seen this entrance to the waterway in daylight. Every other time we have arrived here late at night after a long day spent coming from the Apostles.

Keweenaw Waterway to Copper Harbor
July 7, 2010

We motored from the Houghton County Marina, located just east of the lift bridge, and back to the Upper Entrance in no wind at all, then we continued motoring to Copper Harbor with not the slightest breeze to tempt us. There was the occasional cat's paw, but no lasting wind we could use. Copper Harbor has a sea buoy and a range that runs through some ship-killing rocks on both sides. One sailor advised us not to try this in the fog that was forecast but which did not appear. Now that we have seen this entry, I agree with him totally. No electronic system beats running a range, and we needed that kind of accuracy going in and back out again.

Copper Harbor to Lac La Belle
July 10, 1010

Again we motored in very light air most of the way from Copper Harbor to the Lac La Belle entrance. With the entrance in sight, we tried to sail the rest of the way in almost no wind. A leftover sloppy sea made sailing impossible. We eventually struck and motored in.

Mystic used 10 gallons of diesel fuel from Pike's Bay in the Apostles to Copper Harbor. A small amount of this went to the diesel heater, but the bulk went to the engine. Mystic's Autoprop helps us get very good milage. I use 12 nautical miles per gallon for planning, but we often get 13 1/2 miles per gallon in fairly flat water. Most propulsion systems can't come close to that. With two 6-gallon jugs in reserve and a 20-gallon tank, we could hope for 432 miles under power. That is a lot of range and is completely unnecessary here on the south shore of the lake where fuel is fairly easy to find. Once we leave civilization and head into the Canadian wilderness, that kind of range will become very desirable.

Lac La Belle to the Lower Entrance of the Keweenaw Waterway
July 13, 2010

We left Lac La Belle and motored out into the lake past a major shoal along our track. The wind filled in to force three and perhaps force four at times. With the 150 and full main wing-and-wing, we made good speed. Eventually the wind pulled a little more forward and we jibed the jib and struck the whisker pole and finished the passage on a broad reach with both sails set to starboard. This was a lovely sail, and we were pushed along by a favorable current so we made good time. With the wind off the lake, the air was cool and comfortable.

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This is why we sail - posted July 13, 2010

(Harking back to earlier in this cruising adventure, published now while Karen and Jerry are enviably out of contact with civilization.)

MysticSometimes a camera simply can't capture a scene. The late morning sun has cast a river of diamonds between our boat and the shore. The shore is a series of long stretches of wooded hillsides backed by what we call "mountains" here in the Midwest. These increasing elevations blend from deep forest green in front to a hazy pale blue at the most distant level. This color morph phenomenon is a common scene but one I love dearly.

There is a row of low clouds over the mountaintops. This last layer of white looks like one last level of color in the panorama before us. But these clouds and any others in the sky pose no threat. There is nothing at all on the water from the shore to the far horizon. We have seen only one fishing boat and one sailboat all day.

We're flying our new spinnaker in very light air as we head 30-some miles northwest toward the next port on the northern coast of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I figure that, with our lovely spinnaker, we must surely look like the most beautiful girl at the dance. But there's no one here to appreciate our colorful sail. Like the up-sun photo of the hillside, a photo of our spinnaker is another photo that I can't capture, since I'm aboard the boat. Some photos must be stored in one's memory bank instead.

The forests shelter a few cabins along the shoreline, but if anyone's home it's unlikely that they have run to the window to look out in awe upon our lovely sailing vision a mile or so offshore. Instead, I wax rhapsodic over the view of the shoreline and on the feeling of complete contentment that prevails aboard.

We have everything we need here on our cruising island. We are well fed, well rested, and absolutely comfortable in every way. We haven't followed the news in more than a week. There's just enough breeze to keep us from being fried out here on this downwind sail. And for once on Lake Superior, we're not freezing.

We are completely at peace, absolutely content, and totally relaxed. This is why we sail.

Karen Larson

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Walks with spiders - posted July 10, 2010

(Harking back to the beginning of this cruising adventure, published now while Karen and Jerry are enviably out of contact with civilization.)

Song of the surfI'm walking along a 2-mile trail that encircles a small peninsular lump attached to a large island. As I wander, I'm listening to the sounds of spring bird calls, the chatter of squirrels, the song of the surf as it hits the shore, and the occasional 'blurping sound' as the waves smack the inside wall of a small cavern hollowed into the sandstone rock that makes up the Apostle Islands.

I'm also taking it in visually. I haven't been walking in this particular piece of heaven for several years. It's good to be back. I'm enjoying the play of light on the leaves in this dense thicket, the brand-new shine that the dripping wet trees have acquired following last night's rain, the expanse of blue water when I catch a glimpse of the lake beyond my tree-lined path, and the reddish sandstone background with which Mother Nature highlights the surrounding green. This beautiful rock became the building blocks of this country's brownstone buildings at the turn of the previous century. Luckily, there is still a lot left to enjoy right here where the other brownstone blocks were quarried.

At peace in these woodsI am at peace in these woods. Almost. It's never perfect, not even in paradise. A few annoyances filter through. The paths are muddy with some large puddles due to the frequent spring rains. Sometimes a mosquito buzzes past my ear. And I know, down deep, that bears live here. I should be whistling or making some sort of noise so I don't startle any nearby black bears. Unfortunately, my feet don't make a sound on the path that is a combination of wet leaves and pine needles. Not a twig snaps. On this walk in other years, I've been more aware of the bears. I should be paying attention. After all it's spring. Momma bears have young ones to protect. But I've never seen a bear here, and have other things on my mind.

Specifically, I'm thinking about spiders. I'm the first to walk this trail this morning. I know this because I'm clearing the path of all the spider webs that have been strung across the trail since yesterday evening by these busy architects of the insect world. Each time I wipe another of their gossamer strands from my face, I have cause to ponder on the amazing ability of the lowly spider to accomplish such a feat. How can these small eight-legged creatures string these threads at face level across the 3- to 4-foot expanse spanning this trail? After all, spiders cannot fly. They can't even launch themselves into space, can they?

I have an ongoing campaign against spiders on my boat. That's personal. But this little irritation is philosophical more than personal. It's not enough that spiders have the means to accomplish this impossible feat. What, I wonder, could be their motivation for doing so? What do they hope to catch with these lightweight strands strung so high? A human? A bear?

That brings me back to thoughts of bears in the woods and I make a bigger attempt to make some noise while wandering through their territory.

Karen Larson

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Waiting out a storm system
July 4, 2010, Ontonagon, Michigan

Passage Notes --
Black River Harbor to Ontonagon, Michigan

Keweenaw Chart

Again we departed in light air but this time we were leery of spreading too much sail. Finally, when we had the sense of the thing, we set the spinnaker and full main and when the breeze went aft, we set the spinnaker to a whisker pole. We made very good speed with this rig but took it down when whitecaps appeared behind us and also far in front of us. Finally we settled on the 110 and a full main, running downwind wing-and-wing in what might have been force 3 and then force 4. About midday the wind went light, and the flies came with vengeance.

These flies look like house flies, but they bite and can swarm in such numbers that they can make a white boat look black. Some hereabouts call these villains black flies; others reserve that name for an even more insidious creature that is smaller, and seems to have a more infectious, lasting bite. Anyway, the flies that came to us are of the variety that can be found many miles from the land. Perhaps they breed in the water since they never swarm very far from it.

Finally, covered with flies, and frustrated by light winds, we motorsailed and finally struck all to finish the passage. The marina here in Ontonagon is a ways up the river, where strong winds from the south banished the flies but have made the last two days incredibly hot.

As I write this, the barometer is at 1002 and we are waiting with hopeful expectation the passage of a cold front with associated rain and thunderstorms. That should cool things down a bit. We plan an early departure for the upper entrance of the Keweenaw Waterway.

Passage Notes --
Saxon Harbor, Wisconsin, to Black River Harbor, Michigan

As we left the marina, the wind was light and we set the full main and spinnaker. We had this sail up for about 2 minutes when the first of many gusts dropped a cat's paw abeam. The boat accelerated like a muscle bike and showed us how easily the spinnaker could overpower an 8,000-pound boat with a crew of two. I asked Karen if she had been able to look at the knot log before the fire drill strike. She had not, but my guess is we were going very fast.

Finally we settled into a rhythm with the gusts by setting the 150 with a foot reef, and the main with two reefs. Such as we had arrived so were we departing. The wind was from the land and, as is often the case with wind from the land, it was shifty and gusty. We were moving along the shoreline just to leeward of the Porcupine Mountains, which are an old mountain range, worn down by time and rain, but still high enough to make formidable williwaws.

We finally got fairly comfortable with Mystic's reactions to these blasts and deemed the day to have been a good sail. The wind, being from the shore, had no fetch to speak of, so we could turn all that sail power into speed . . . of which we had aplenty.

Jerry Powlas

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Bayfield to Saxon Harbor, July 2, 2010

We left Bayfield, Wisconsin, in winds of force 1 to 2 and carried our new asymmetrical spinnaker down the channel to the south end of Madeline Island. We are still learning to use this sail. I'm convinced that a crew of 2 should not be flying a 695-square foot spinnaker in very much wind. In this case, it gave the boat a lot of speed that it would not have had with any combination of white sails. I never thought the difference would be that great. Maybe in heavier air it wouldn't be that great. Hull speed is hull speed, after all.

Apostle Islands Chart

On the other side of Madeline Island, we were exposed to the main lake and the wind picked up. We had winds of force 4 to force 5 for most of the rest of the crossing. We dropped the 150 jib and sailed on the main while we prepared and ate lunch. This kept the boat flat for the cook and was more comfortable for both of us during the meal.

After lunch we put a foot-reef in the 150, which takes it down to something equivalent to a pretty flat 110. We also took two reefs in the main. When all was hoisted, we were making pretty good speed and keeping the rail out of the water. Even though we were sailing in a fresh breeze, the waves had not had time to build up, so it was a comfortable ride. Most of the crossing was a lopsided beat with port tack favored. This was a good thing because that put the waves just forward of the beam. On our very short starboard tacks, we lost almost a knot punching into the waves.

Finally toward the end of the crossing, the wind dropped back to force 4, and we shook out both reefs in the main. We needed the extra sail power to punch through the building waves. After we weathered a prominent spit, we fell off an a screaming close reach. This brought the speed right up there and gave us plenty of power to punch into the building waves.

We reached Saxon Harbor, Wisconsin, in mid-afternoon after having a great sail.

Jerry Powlas

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June 25, 2010, Pike's Bay Marina, just south of Bayfield, Wisconsin

So far, this cruise has been a pilgrimage back to our beginnings as a cruising couple. We left Barker's Island Marina mid-morning on June 20 and anchored in Bark Bay for the night. We had not been in Bark Bay for years and, although it is a good anchorage with a sand bottom, it's not in the cruising guides, so nobody goes there.

Jerry Powlas

On the morning of the 21st, we started a cold, messy beat to Sand Island in occasional showers and thunderstorms. Sand Island is where we rescued the Russian kayaker who had managed to cram himself and three women into a Russian-made two-seat fabric kayak with an outrigger and an unmanageable sail. We had been able to see that they were in trouble in high winds and seas and so we had dropped our anchors clipped to a fender and offered to rescue them. The skipper declined our offer, but a few minutes later (while we were still in earshot) the women mutinied, overruling the determined skipper. (Honest, you can't make this kind of stuff up.)

This time, the wave wrap in Sand Island's Lighthouse Bay was so brutal we couldn't keep things on the galley table, so when the thunderstorm passed we moved on to York Island where Mystic had been hit by lightning some years ago. The next day we sailed to Presque Isle Bay south of Stockton Island. In our early years we cruised the Apostle Islands for so many seasons, we rarely used charts to travel between the islands. Stockton Island was a favorite in those days. About 15 years ago, Karen soloed from Schooner Bay to Julian Bay on the east side of Stockton in small craft-warning conditions. "Solo" means I was not aboard (Karen and a female friend made the trip). I thought she wouldn't take Mystic out on that day, but she did.

This time, we sailed from Stockton to Bayfield in the morning. Bayfield is the lovely little town that is the gateway to the Apostle Islands. We spent the last night following our weeklong honeymoon cruise in a bed and breakfast Inn in Bayfield. This time, we stayed one night in the city marina and then motored over to Madeline Island to visit a weavers' guild located there. Karen's family held a reunion on Madeline island 17 years ago. We used Mystic to give the family sailboat rides. Some of the "children" from that occasion are married now.

This time we stayed overnight in the marina on Madeline and, in the morning, we crossed the channel to Pike's Bay. There are two marinas in Pike's Bay. The feud between them, when the new one came to town about a decade ago, led to having a fence erected right down the middle of one pier thereby dividing one facility from the other. Nineteen years ago, we spent our honeymoon cruise on a Catalina 30 named Windsong, which we chartered out of Port Superior in Pike's Bay. She is still listed in the charter fleet all these years later.

This time we took a slip in the "new" marina called, not so strangely, Pike's Bay Marina. This is a pretty fancy place. I suspect we will not find grander shower facilities during the rest of our cruise. This morning we could see the "blob that ate Cincinnati" on doppler radar moving through Duluth and headed our way, so we have taken yet another slip and will wait overnight to let the storm pass.

In the morning we will start heading northeast along the south shore of the lake. That will be the end of Memory Lane. We have made parts of the voyage that lies ahead before but then we were primarily in "delivery mode," where we were moving fast and only stopping when we had to. This time, we will be stopping to see so much of what we have missed on those trips. Saxon Harbor will probably be the next port.

Jerry Powlas

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What do you do all day? - June 24, 2010

As we prepared to leave on our three-month cruise, several non-sailors asked us what we do all day on the boat. How does one explain to the non-sailor that it's not like spending three months at a lake cabin or even like spending a day soaking up the sun on a powerboat? On our first day out, we spent from mid-morning, when we left our home marina, until we anchored for a late dinner either sailing or motorsailing.

Karen at the HelmWhen we're underway many hours are spent navigating, keeping watch, making sail changes, and tweaking the lines to get the most out of the sail combination of the moment (it's never exactly right for more than 15 minutes before we're considering alternatives as the wind increases or decreases). We're always appreciating the changing scenery. No matter how often we've passed that way before, it's never the same twice. The weather, the time of day, and even the time of the year vary. Sometimes when aboard, we're plenty busy just sailing the boat because the weather is challenging or there are lots of ships about. But in light breezes, such as those we had today, I read to Jerry while he keeps watch or one or the other of us gets busy doing little projects on the boat. Today, in particular, Jerry had a handful of projects that he had meant to get to before we left the dock. Those kept him busy while I stayed at the helm and kept a lookout.

When we're at anchor, we go kayaking, or hiking, or both. We appreciate the serenity, if we're alone, and the local action, if there are other boats in the anchorage. We paddle around crowded anchorages with sample copies of Good Old Boat. We meet a lot of people that way and everyone has an interesting story, if you take the time to listen. We also read together when at anchor. And we're always working on a project or two. Even if it's a brand-new boat, there will be cleaning and maintenance chores. On our boat, a good old boat, there are cleaning and maintenance jobs in addition to upgrades and Jerry's many "inventions and improvements." He's always experimenting.

And finally, we go to a marina from time to time (maybe every three to five days) in order to buy fresh groceries, do the laundry, pump out the holding tank, fill the fuel tank, dump the trash, get water, and so on. A trip to town also gives me a chance to connect by cell phone or email or both. The marinas are very social places and we enjoy visiting with other boaters and the local folks in town. We can take walks and paddle our kayak too when "in town," but we generally get our jobs done and head back out to an anchorage.

Non-sailors also wonder whether we sail overnight. We've done that many times. This lake is big enough to sail for several days of non-stop sailing if you want to get from one end to the other in a hurry. But I don't expect to make many overnight passages on this cruise; we have the time to make short hops and drop into many anchorages we've had to pass by in the past. We're looking forward to doing exactly that.

This is the summer cruise in which, as never before, we'll take time to stop and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. Already today, our first day out, we've seen a loon and heard his call and we were thrilled by the otherworldly chorus of calls by a couple of sandhill cranes. What I should tell the non-sailors who ask what we do all day is that we're busily engaged in the business of running our boat and appreciating the glorious world in which it floats.

Karen Larson

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Preparations - June 17, 2010

We have been preparing for our three-month cruise on Lake Superior since a little before the snow stopped falling. We are preparing the boat, ourselves, and the world to accommodate our absence.

Along with the usual spring-commissioning tasks, we've had to step the mast and adjust the rig, since she was inside to have her deck painted and her non-skid renewed.

Karen Paints Most years we upgrade some things or add some new items. This year we are doing a lot of that. Over the winter, we made a monstrous asymmetrical spinnaker from a Sailrite kit. We also built the spinnaker snuffer sock from a Sailrite kit. The spinnaker required some changes in the rigging. We have added another halyard and a topping lift and we overhauled our whisker pole.

We replaced our stalwart but well-aged West Marine AGM batteries with a pair of Odyssey batteries made with a new thin plate pure lead technology. The West Marine AGMs get an A+. They served for many years and might have gone another year or so. The thin plate pure lead Odysseys are supposed to be able to give and take very large currents, so they can be recharged more quickly. We will test these batteries and report back to you.

We replaced the old laptop. The new computer is the heart of our navigation and communications. We will be running GPSNavX and MacENC, charting programs that take a GPS input from a small and very economically priced GPS receiver and plot ship's position on either raster or vector charts. Both programs also plot AIS information, which comes in from a receiver that shares the same antenna with our VHF radio. AIS lets us know where the larger ships are and where they are going. Rich Ray, the creator of GPSNavX and MacENC, gives the best customer service in the universe. We needed it to make all this play.

The very same Mac computer also runs a Windows emulator and, in this Windows section, we will be running WxWorx, which is a weather service program that downloads weather data from a satellite link. Finally, the computer will connect to WiFi where we can find it. We have built a WiFi booster system made of components from Bitstorm. The amazing thing is that this laptop can do all of these things at once. And because computers don't always work, we carry three of them (including the two the new one replaced), as well as three GPS receivers and one old guy who learned to navigate without any of that stuff.

On the provisioning side, we have cruised without refrigeration or ice for years but, since the skipper was diagnosed as a type II diabetic, the mostly pasta diet that worked so well without refrigeration is a thing of the past. We have always canned our own meats and soups, but this year we' have added an Engel portable refrigerator. This is a very small unit that would hold little more than a six pack, but we plan to fill it with fresh meat when we can get it. We will test that unit and let you know how we like it. It will be interesting to see if we can support the added electrical energy needed for the cooler. We carry no wind generator or solar panels, just the engine-driven alternator.

Karen is charge of provisioning and, with each trip to the boat, the water line goes up. For the last several years, I've taken to painting the boot stripe with antifouling paint. I've also made it wider. We will be able to resupply as we cruise along the south side of the lake but when we go north, we will be in a true wilderness, where we will need to be independently provisioned for weeks at a time.

There is a lot of chaos at the moment, but I think we will be ready with a sound and well-provisioned ship when the departure day comes and the weather window opens.

Jerry Powlas

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About time - June 9, 2010

It started maybe five years ago when I began asking myself "the question." There were things I had always wanted to do. I began to ask, "If not now, when?" Even five years ago I was beginning to see the far side of my 60s. When the time came for these things, would I still be able to do them? Nobody knows these answers for sure, but I could see that my odds would not improve with time. One of the things I have always wanted to do was go sailing . . . for a long time . . . the longer the better.  

Jerry Powlas

Enter Plan C. Some time ago we formulated Plans A through E, which described various relationships we could have with the magazine we had founded. As we progressed from A to E, we would bring in talented people who would do as good a job as -- or an even better job than -- we were doing, and we would start backing out of some parts of the work. Without going into the details, Plan A was in effect back when we did everything ourselves and Plan E describes an arrangement whereby we are not involved in the day-to-day activities of the magazine at all. Plan A was a very tough grind and it very much limited what the magazine could become. Plan A is long gone. In plan B we had help. We eventually had lots of help, but we still made the steam in the boiler and steered the ship watch n' watch from one issue to the next. We could be away from the two-month cycle for maybe three weeks max . . . and couldn't do that very often.

For Plan C to work, we needed more staff; the complete range of skills needed to be present while we were gone. It took a long time to enlist the crew that could make Plan C work. We'd get close, there would be setbacks, and we'd try again. Meanwhile time ran on. I could see that in the case of Plan C, it truly was about time.

We believe we have it set now. The crew is aboard and they have the talent and the interest to stand our watches while we go and stand watches somewhere else. We are involved in a mad whirlwind effort to prepare our beloved Mystic and to reorder our lives so we can go cruising for about 12 weeks. At the end of that time we will return and see what has transpired. Did they miss us? Did they need us? Did anybody notice we were gone? Did anybody notice we are back? Did we have a good time? Will we ever do it again?

Ah yes, the drama of Plan C.  Stay tuned.

Jerry Powlas

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