Great Loop – Week 6 Lake Erie

Did you know: The ocean holds 97 percent of the Earth’s water; the remaining three percent is freshwater found in glaciers and ice, below the ground, or in rivers and lakes. Of that three percent, about 69 percent is locked up in glaciers and icecaps. Ninety percent of that frozen water is in Antarctica and about nine percent covers Greenland. Of the remaining freshwater, 30 percent of it is groundwater, captured below our feet. About 0.3 percent is found in rivers and lakes. This means that the water source we are most familiar with in our everyday lives, rivers and lakes, accounts for less than one percent of all freshwater that exists on Earth.
[Source: NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]

Great Lakes routeThe Great Lakes holds over 20% – one-fifth – of the world’s fresh surface water! These are massive lakes and each one deserves the same level of safety and planning as any ocean. To put it into perspective, the distance from east to the west of Lake Erie is the same distance as crossing Bass Straight from Victoria to Tasmania – just over 200nm.This week we travelled west along the south coast of Lake Erie, up the Detroit River, crossing Lake St Clair, up the St Clair River to the southern entrance to Lake Huron.

Blue Heeler all set to sail at Rich Marine, Buffalo, NY

Blue Heeler all set to sail at Rich Marine, Buffalo, NY

Last Friday morning, we left Rich Marine in Buffalo, New York, with our mast and rigging in place for weeks of anticipated sailing. Immediately outside the marina is the entrance to the Black Rock Lock. This lock opens to southbound traffic on the hour, and northbound on the half hour. Luckily for us we arrived 10 minutes before 10am and the lockmaster opened the gates for us and two other boats. The lift is only six feet, and the thin ropes to hang onto are like twine. This lock is also the entrance to the three mile long Black Rock Channel which runs along the southern bank of Lake Erie, helping vessels bypass the strong current of the Niagara River, which flows east up to 8knots – there’s no way we could motor against such a strong flow. Immediately after the lock is a swing bridge and bascule bridge – both were already open for us to pass through and under.

Lift bridges along the Black Rock Channel

Lift bridges along the Black Rock Channel

There are few all-weather anchorages in Lake Erie and storms can whip up with little notice, so we’ve been told. Our first day on Lake Erie was perfect sailing weather; 10-15knots of north-easterly breeze with flat water. I didn’t realise how much I missed sailing! So peaceful, so relaxing, and we don’t have to worry (so much) about kayakers, lift bridges or huge logs! We arrived at Dunkirk by 5pm and anchored just off the entrance to the marina behind the breakwater.

Understandably, there is a lot of radio traffic in this region, as there are a lot of boaters. Both the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards are busy all day long. Our first day in Lake Erie we heard three ‘Pan-Pans’, plus two ‘Maydays’. One mayday was of five children who were overboard in the Niagara River (potentially disastrous) while other pan-pans were generally boats that had lost their engine power or had run out of fuel.

Scallywag Pirate Ship with water cannons - Presque Isle, Pennsylvania

Scallywag Pirate Ship with water cannons – Presque Isle, Pennsylvania

The next day from Dunkirk we travelled to the Presque Isle State Park, Pennsylvania, about 40nm away, arriving late afternoon after a relaxing day sailing. The Erie Channel into the bay is busy with small and large boats, yachts, even a tall ship. This is a great anchorage, well sheltered from all weather. The ‘Scallywag’ Pirate ship filled with kids comes by the boats in the anchorage and squirts them with water cannons to make the kids laugh! By dark most of the power boats return home leaving those on anchor to enjoy the peace and quiet.

Lake Erie sunset2

Jet-stream clouds making a marble-like sunset

No wind on Sunday. Our destination was Fairport Harbour, Ohio, 60nm farther on from Presque Isle. Since we were generating enough power with the motor running, I decided to stay below and do some computer work. While I was working down below, Wayne kept swearing and carrying on above. He said there was a lot of bugs up there, and I thought “yeah right”. But when I went up there were millions of midgies, mozzies and other small annoying insects everywhere. We put the flyscreen on the door so I could keep working and we setup a smoke coil in the cockpit.

Pan-Pan: Three alerts today: a missing plane 20m north of Ashtabula, which was on our way; the discovery of a floating PFD; while another was a 24′ vessel dead in the water requiring assistance.

On Monday our destination was Lorain, about 40nm west of Fairport, bypassing Cleveland. Just after lunch a 10-15kn north-easterly blew so we changed course to Kelley’s Island to enjoy a good sail. Here we anchored on the west coast, south of a breakwater. The water was filled with green algae, so it wasn’t a good place to swim. It was also a little rolly, but once darkness came we both slept soundly in the cool evening. We haven’t gone ashore at any of the places we’ve anchored as we are keen to keep moving up to Georgian Bay in Canada.

Pan-Pan: A pregnant woman having contractions on a boat with no working engine!

One of the many beautiful homes between Lake Erie and Lake Huron

One of the many beautiful homes between Lake Erie and Lake Huron

The trip from Kelley’s Island to the Detroit River was uneventful and we had to motor again due to no wind. But the anchorage we found that night was delightful! We decided on a place up the Detroit River about 16nm south of Detroit and Lake St Clair with Michigan in the U.S. on the west bank and Ontario, Canada, on the east bank. The anchorage next to Stony Island is a narrow stretch of water behind a breakwater with just enough depth for us (about 4m). The anchorage is literally 100m from passing ships, but the breakwater smooths their wake. The anchorage was filled with local daytrippers now that it’s summertime and school holidays, but by late evening they’d all gone home and left us and one other yacht to enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

Liquid Gold!!

Liquid Gold!!

Earlier on as we motored upriver, a speedboat filled with a couple of men and boys sped up behind us, slowed down and followed us. I wasn’t sure what to make of their actions, but they were just curious to see a yacht from Australia in the Detroit River! Thrilled at seeing a yacht from Down Under, they pulled alongside, welcomed us to Canada and asked if we needed any supplies. The skipper also offered his waterfront property berth for the night! Unfortunately his waterfront home, a mere 100m to the east, is in Canada and we hadn’t checked in with Canadian Customs. Once we’d anchored in the U.S. anchorage, the guys returned to us and gave us one litre of pure Canadian Maple Syrup – liquid gold! I LOVE maple syrup and this gesture was most unexpected, but very appreciated. Welcome to Canada!

The water at this anchorage was cool and fresh – almost drinkable. To wash away the bites and heat from our bodies, we jumped in for an cleansing swim. The water was a perfect temperature! Strange though; it’s the first time I’ve jumped from the boat into fresh water and although I knew this, my mouth was surprised to not taste salty water. Wayne inspected the hull and after travelling all the way from Bermuda back in late May, spending time in the dirty Hudson River and the Erie Canal, our hull and propellers were reasonably clean. The hull above the waterline is a little grubby though, and we’ll give this a good scrub further along the trip.

Pan-Pan: Five children floating, without PFDs, on an inner-tube.

As mentioned earlier, the radio chatter is incessant, but with all the Pan-Pans it’s obviously much needed. It’s not merely idle chatter between local fishermen; rather it’s ships, coast guards  and weather alerts. Severe weather warnings are announced by a deafening squeal as the VHF switches from channel 16 to the WX channel 01 for the alert. To add to the chatter, at one point Blue Heeler was called up by the US Coast Guard. Apparently our DSC had gone off and they wanted to make sure we were okay! This was puzzling – both Wayne and I were no-where near the radio when it went off. Wayne advised the Coast Guard that all was well aboard, except perhaps for a dodgy VHF and billions of insects. (Job added to list…).

Apart from the bitey insects, the anchorages offer peace and cool in the evening

Apart from the bitey insects, the anchorages offer peace and cool in the evening

This week we’ve motored quite a bit, but also managed some lovely sailing. When it’s flat and the motor is generating power I kept myself busy – either whipping up a batch of blueberry and cream cheese knishes; working on a crocheted rug (inspired by U.S. banner flags along the Erie Canal); working on this year’s tax returns; or updating my iTunes playlist. I even stitched up a Canadian courtesy flag! During the construction of the flag, we were attacked by a swarm of bitey blood-sucking flies. They were normal fly size but they sure hurt when they bite! While I appliquéd a red maple leaf to white satin, Wayne manically swatted flies off his and my legs and arms, filling the cockpit with the bloody carcasses of insects. Unfortunately one extra-large blood-filled fly with a death wish flew into Wayne’s radar. As swatter met fly, there was an explosion of blood and gore, some of which splattered on the white satin off my courtesy flag! Fun, fun, fun!

Detroit 'Motown' - the massive GM complex is on the right hand side

Detroit ‘Motown’ – the massive GM complex is on the right hand side

By Wednesday we continued along the Detroit River passing Detroit (‘Motown’) then across Lake St Clair to anchor on the northern side. The weather was hot and sticky – a precursor to a thunderstorm. We decided not to stop at Detroit as there didn’t appear to be much here of interest to us, although I’m sure there’s plenty of things to do if you look hard enough. The skyline of Detroit is much like any large city, having grown exponentially through the industrial era. Old style brown buildings still stand prominent and contribute to the cityscape. At the northern end of the city stands the impressive head office towers of the multinational corporation General Motors. Further upriver my nostrils picked up the yeasty scent of a distillery before I spotted the Canadian Club distillery farther up on the eastern bank.

Hot weather brings out the togs - a small stretch of beach at Port Huron

Hot weather brings out the togs – a small stretch of beach at Port Huron

Over the course of the hot steamy day the forecast was a thunderstorm due by mid afternoon. By 2pm we could see heavy clouds and feel cooler air. By 5pm we dropped anchor just as the rain poured down and winds whipped up to over 20knots. The anchor didn’t grab at first and we dragged backwards in the 2kn current. When lifted the anchor was draped in a ton of weeds and the shackle had twisted. Second go and it grabbed. The rain died off about an hour later and the evening calmed.

Pan-Pan: 10.30pm – a jet skier had not returned. He was not wearing a PFD.

Our home at Port Huron

Our home at Port Huron

Thursday’s trip up the St Clair River was clear and cool, typical after thunderstorms. To start the day off I whipped up a batch of pancakes to have with our yummy maple syrup. Desmond Marine at the north end of St Clair River at Port Huron was our destination and we reached there by mid afternoon battling a 1.5kn current all the way. First job was to fill up our thirsty tanks with diesel and fill the jerry cans which we keep on deck. Port Huron is bustling with holiday-makers and the warm weather has everyone out in T-shirts and shorts to enjoy the hot summer days. We are the only yacht on the transient dock and will stay for one night only. Tomorrow we motor across the river and check in to Canada. Afterwards we plan to sail overnight across Lake Huron making good use of the forecast 15-20knot westerlies and our favourite overnight companion, a full moon. All being well we should enter Georgian Bay over the weekend.

Until then…

GL Port Huron


About blueheelerhr39

Sailing the world aboard Blue Heeler
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