http://www.charts.noaa.gov/OnLineViewer/14844.shtml (open in a separate window to follow the journey out)
I’ve been single-handing Lifeline for about a year, now. On Alum Creek Lake, just north of Columbus Ohio, that’s not a real difficult task. The challenging day was last fall during our Old Fox Regatta when the wind blew 15 all day and after five hours it was all I could do to hang on.
(photo credit; The Author; Blackberry Storm II; 8-1-2013. Cedar Point From the Sandusky Harbor Channel)
Thanks to the Dock Master, Tim Kyle at the Sandusky Sailing Club, I left Thursday afternoon from Sandusky Bay in bright sunlight and relative calm I thought I was in for a nice upwind close-reach riding a westerly breeze of around 7 – 10 mph. And that was the case across the Bay. It was warm. I could hear the screams coming from the Cedar Point roller coasters. I was flying a full mainsail and my #1 jib. I had checked the radar before leaving the dock. The storm cell looked to be moving South and East. I expected I would ride the feeder winds, so I was looking forward to a cooling breeze that would rotate from West clockwise to North and back to West. It was going to be a glorious ride. Such are the plans of hopeful sailors.
(photo credit; http://www.vacones.org; downloaded from Google Images)
Except for working on the sail balance, I left the Sandusky Bay behind me with little difficulty. I was actually being pulled up-wind and had to keep correcting. I let the boom out six or so inches more and eased the jib a bit. I can never quite get that lower-inboard tell-tail to fly unless she’s close-hauled. The range marker for the lake freighters has a bit of a shoal around it and I wanted about fifty yards clearance around it. I needed that to stay off the shoal, but no more than that to make room for the freighter making her way up the channel. I know these freighters are small compared to those ocean going ones I’ve seen while serving in the Navy, but from the cockpit of a Catalina 22 they look just as large as their bigger brothers.
(photo credit: parks.ohiodnr.gov, downloaded from Google Images)
I picked a spot on the horizon between the Marblehead lighthouse and Kelly’s Island. That gave me plenty of room off the rocks at Marblehead and no worries about Kelly’s at all. The sky was getting gray over Marblehead, as expected. The storm was a pretty good sized cell and would take the sun away for an hour or so. Since it was mid-afternoon I was looking forward to the cooling down and less reflection of white light in my eyes as I sailed northward. The breeze began picking up and I looked over at the shore to see what kind of shelter there was, just in case.
The main pulled harder and the jib went taunt and my attention went to the sails and the tiller. It was getting to be a fun ride now and the new chart plotter Mindy had bought me last Christmas was telling me I was doing a mile-per-hour faster than the old Horizon speed meter. Five knots is design hull speed on this boat, if I remember correctly, and the chart plotter read 5.7. I close-hauled the sails to point a little higher into the wind. That would bring me closer to the shore in case I misjudged the storm or it changed direction. Lightning was flashing in the distance behind me but I wasn’t hearing any thunder at the moment. I looked forward. Yes, I had put the anchor up. I looked to the cabin. The companion way boards were all the way up forward. Now where is that raincoat?
(photo credit; erietvnews.com; downloaded from Google Images)
The first rumble of thunder came over the trees. I turned to look and the sky was all gray above and getting black just over the tops of the green. The shore was a mile off and directly into the wind. I wouldn’t get upwind in time to the beach if I needed to now. Best to keep sailing and make my way around the edge. I hove to and let Lifeline settle out. No other boats around except the lake freighters. One was anchored waiting to enter Sandusky Bay and she was off of Kelly’s. The other was tied to the pier of the gypsum plant on Marblehead and she wasn’t going anywhere either. OK, I went below to get the companionway covers and my rain jacket. Nothing changed when I came back up several seconds later, except that the thunder was now announcing its presence. Then it came. That cooling of the air just before the storm hits, so refreshing from the day’s heat and so ominous in its presence yet. The cooling meant I wasn’t going to skirt the storm, I was going to ride it out.
(photo credit; plsntcov.8m.com, downloaded from Google Images)
Thunder grew along with the rain. I was still on the edge of it. Lightning was overhead now, and I have an aluminum antenna pointing up from the water twenty-four feet into the air. Nothing to do about that now. No single reefing line on my sails, I have to turn upwind and do the entire evolution at three points on the boom as well as lower then raise the halyard. Nope. That ‘reef early, reef often’ advice I give all the students I teach was hidden under a pile of confusing and misleading confidence now lying on the deck in front of me. I put on the rain jacket just in time.
It pelted the sails and was soon pouring off of them, and overboard. I eased out the Dacron/canvass to spill the wind and hold my course. The shore and my view of Kelly’s was becoming shrouded in the rain. Lightning was all around me, overhead, behind and now in front. “Well, I’m in it now,” I thought. This I prayed as I passed the freighter on the pier and came out of the shadowing of Marblehead.
And then everything just went gray. I couldn’t see anything except twenty yards of water around me and that, thankfully. “I wonder how this is going to turn out. God and St. Brendan be with me and put a steady hand on the helm.” Lifeline was riding well. The compass heading on the chart plotter had read 298 degrees. Now I was reading 305. As I rode through the wind I continued to try to spill wind and the wind kept filling the sails back in. Soon the heading was 315. Then it was 328. I was running with the storm and had turned toward the anchored freighter and Kelly’s Island. Would I hit one of them before I could see them? Then the chart plotter heading was…well, so covered with water I couldn’t read it anyway. One less thing to ‘distract’ me from looking ahead and trimming sails.
I must have run for about thirty minutes this way before the storm went past or I sailed out of it. Either way I was in the middle between Marblehead, Kelly’s Island, and the Catawba peninsula. The lighting and thunder continued to warrant attention, in case the storm turned about, but the sun was now out and beating down hard. It was hot again. That anchored lake freighter was miles off my starboard quarter and I wasn’t even close. There wasn’t another boat on the water. Go figure…
I should have expected it, but how often do I sail after a storm passes? Never, of course, because on Alum Creek I don’t take the boat out in a storm, and by the time they pass I’m off drinking and eating merrily, or something else. But it was calm. Completely calm, which is to say I was dead-in-the-water, sails hanging out to dry in the revived heat of the afternoon. I hate motoring my sailboat, but with a deadline and the Dock Master waiting for me at Put-In-Bay what choice did I have. Besides, making the boat move through the water meant creating a breeze and I needed to cool down. My thirty-plus year old engine jumped right to the task and I motored toward the South end of South Bass Island. The sails luffed and dripped. The raincoat had neither absorbed water nor held my own in, so it was nearly dry. The lines were dripping puddles beneath where they hung. I went for an hour like this.
I decided to take a minute and feel the breeze. If it was building again I wanted to use it and save my fuel for entering harbor or anchoring. A nice westerly was coming up. I was just getting to the longitude off the East side of South Bass Island, and still far enough South to make the passage between Catawba and South Bass. With a westerly breeze I changed my sail plan and reached North for Ballast Island. It felt good to heel over with the wind again and turn the noisemaker off. As much as I respect the need for the ‘auxiliary’ engine, I don’t like running it.
The run up to Ballast Island was as the run out of Sandusky Bay. The sun shone, the breeze was steady, and the sails sang Jimmy Buffet tunes all the way up. Approaching Ballast Island I could tell the wind was south-of-west just enough that I could close reach the narrow channel to the south of the island. Clearing the western red buoy marker I tacking over and drew straight on to Put-In-Bay harbor. One of our Dock Master’s for the weekend, Gordon Fowler, was sitting in the stern of his boat, already enjoying libations after a full day of jockeying boats to fit the space the I-LYA was afforded for the weekend. He called me by cell phone and directed me into the piers where Lifeline would be sheltered for the weekend’s activities.
(photo credit; Peggy Turbett; http://blog.cleveland.com/travel/2008/06/great_lake_erie_getaways_kelle.html)
An adventure several years in the planning was now under way. I had sailed Lifeline to Put-In-Bay to be part of the Bay Week Regatta. She’s small and insignificant, more like a dinghy alongside the yachts actually racing, but she’s my sailboat and I was just excited to be there!