Tag Archives: Mackinaw City

My First Yarn: A Learning Experience – Part III

Day 5: 15-20 knot winds

Day 5: 15-20 knot winds

Day 3:   So, as I mentioned, we were hoping to get a good nights rest at Mackinac Island, head out in the morning for the bridge, and then return to Cheboygan later in the day.  It seemed like a good sail plan.  Unfortunately, the weather turned on us.  Mackinac Island’s marina is pretty wide open on the south side of the island, and when the wind picked up it also brought the swells with it.  The boat rocked like a bronco all night long.  I must’ve went up on the deck at least once an hour to double check the dock lines and make sure the bumpers were secure.  I also had to let us out further from the dock as we were banging hard against it.  Needless to say, part one of the plan (a good night’s rest) failed.

 The next morning wasn’t much better.  Winds had died down some.  I turned on the radio and looked online at the NOAA forecast for that afternoon.  Forecast was winds from the west at 10-15 mph with a 30% chance of thunderstorms later in the day, and the radar showed increasing clouds throughout the day.    I figured it would be best if we got going as soon as possible to have a better chance of beating the storms.

I do find it amazing that meteorologists have the only job where you can be wrong so often but yet still keep your job.  We headed out of the marina and turned west toward the bridge.  After only about an hour into our sail, the weather turned for the worst.  The winds picked up speed and were showing about 30 knots on my wind meter with gusts up to 40!   The waves went from the 3 feet predicted to swells over twice that.    We were getting banged around like no other.  Remember, on this journey, it was only my Dad and myself.  I was also the only one who had any sailing experience (and only a few weeks at that).

The first order of business was to put our life vests on and then put a reef in the sail.  In hind site, I should have been prepared and instructed my Dad on how to reef the sail prior to leaving the dock.  Luckily, the boat had a lazy jack system in place.  While it took some creativity on my part to walk my Dad through this as I manned the helm, we finally had the main sail reefed appropriately.   Even with that, the boat seemed to have a mind of its own.  Each wave seemed more determined than the previous at taking us off course.  With the wind and the waves beating us around, I decided it wouldn’t be safe to continue on to the bridge.  A change of plan was warranted. 

At one point, we considered going back to the marina and wait until the next day.  Instead though, I thought, what if we went around the north side of Mackinac Island and then headed south on the east side of the island?  We could then use Mackinac Island and Bois Blanc Island to the south as protection from the wind.  The water would be less turbulent and the effects of the wind easier to deal with.  I knew the trip would be longer to get back to Cheboygan along that route, but with not going to the bridge, we had time to spare.   I ran the plan past my Dad and he agreed that the bridge would have to wait.

As I suspected, the wind was much slower on the other side of the island.  What was a rough, hair raising, experience turned into something much easier for us newbie sailors to handle.  Instead of 30-40 knot winds, we had 15-20 knot winds and only 3 foot waves.  Aside from the coolness of the day, it was actually a pretty nice sail.  We were making great time as the wind was coming across the beam almost perfectly.  We even took time for a nice lunch of ham and turkey wraps and a couple of beers.   Then, we came to the end of our “protection” from the winds.

Once again, the waves started knocking us about.  To make matters worse, the wind picked up even faster, and with coming around Bois Blanc and having to head westward we were now having to go upwind and close hauled.  With the winds at that speed, the boat speed came to a crawl.  At times it felt as if we were standing still or even going backwards.  I could see our channel marker though and new the Cheboygan marina was close.  So, we kept on.

As we got closer to the channel marker though, the shorelines just didn’t look right.  None of my land marks were around.  Then it hit me.  I was looking at the wrong channel marker!  Son of a …..  We were off course.  I thought there was only one of these historical 14 foot unmanned channel markers in the Lower Straits.  Apparently, after looking at the chart again, there were 2.  “What else could go wrong,” I thought.  Unfortunately, that was the wrong thing to think as then it started pouring down rain.  With the wind, it felt like sand pebbles beating my face.  At that point, I declared, “That’s it!”.  I told my Dad to bring down the sails and powered up the engine.  I figured it would be safer and faster to simply motor in as quickly as possible rather than having to tack back and forth to get to Cheboygan.

With the high swells, the strong headwind, the rain, and everything else mother nature was throwing at us, it still took us another 3 hours to get to our marina.  I was exhausted, soaked, hungry, and exhilarated all at the same time.   When we finished tying the boat to the dock, our neighbor summed up the adventure for us by exclaiming, “Are you guys crazy?!  Why would you be sailing in this weather?”

I must admit, it was definately a learning experience.  I had another day during that week where the winds and rain wreaked havoc, but not near as bad ason this trip.  The second time around though, I was much better prepared and much more confident in myself and the boat as well.  I also learned the importance of making sure everyone on the boat understands emergency procedures including reefing the main, where the life jackets are, how to read charts to adjust course as needed, radio procedures, etc…  I’m sure much worse will be thrown at me, but experiences like this will help me be more prepared and help me gain more confidence as a sailor.

My First Yarn: A Learning Experience – Part II

…(continued from)….

Charting our course

Charting our course

Day 2:  After a fairly uneventful 1st day of sailing, we got up the next day and started laying out our next sail plan.  The forecast was the same as the day before – sunny skies and light winds.  My hope was that the “light winds” would be at least enough to get us sailing. 

We decided the best option would be to plan a fairly short trip and try sailing under the Mackinac Bridge.  After all, I’ve only driven over it once or twice, so why not look at it from a different perspective?  After doing that, the plan would be to find a nice anchorage and spend the night on the hook.    With that, we stocked the boat with some fresh water, food, and of course beer and Canadian Club.   You know.  Just the essentials. 

Once again, I repeated some of the lessons from the day before, and went over the various lines, boat parts, and the plan for leaving the dock.   Again, I gave the order to undo the spring line, put the engine in reverse, and backed out of the slip.  This time though, it was flawless.  Dad had learned from the day before, and loosely secured the bumper to a hand rail on the deck to keep it from rolling off into the water. 

We then motored out of the marina once again and headed into the Lower Straits of Mackinac.  When the boat was right, I gave the order to “raise the halyard”.  Again, unlike the day before, the main sail went up.  After that, he also prepped to unroll the jib! (He was becoming a pro.)  So, I told him to go ahead.  I turned the boat to let the main sail fill up and assist in unrolling the jib and cut the engine.

We were sailing!  This time though, the sailing was great.  The wind was still pretty light, but it was enough to get us some momentum and keep us going at a nice gingerly speed of about 3 knots or so.   We weren’t going to break any speed records, but at least we had wind.  Besides, it was enough for me to continue on with his lessons and teach him a bit about tacking.

We completed a couple of tacks along the way to the bridge.  Again, our speed was slow, but we were making progress.  My major concern was that we wouldn’t make it to our anchorage in time with the slow pace we were keeping.  Then, a couple of hours into our journey, the winds completely died down again.   This sort of put the nail in the coffin (so to speak) in regards to making it to our anchorage before dark.  Mackinac Island was just to our north, and the bridge to the west.  With no wind, there would be no way to make it to the bridge without motoring the entire way.  After a quick calculation, even under motor power we wouldn’t make it to the anchorage before dark.  

I then brought up the possibility of going up to Mackinac Island and just staying there for the night in the marina.  We could make it there on engine power in about an hour and be safely docked by nightfall.    Having never stayed there in the marina, I thought it would be fun.  Dad agreed, so we turned on the engine, brought down the sails, and headed for the island.   I hailed the marina and secured a slip for the evening.   Seeing the bridge from underneath would have to wait.

My hope was to get a good nights sleep, leave early the next morning, sail under the bridge, and then return to the marina in Cheboygan.  Sounds like a good plan, hey?  Well, unfortunately, things once again didn’t go as planned…. (The Learning Experience Continues)…

My First Yarn: A Learning Experience – Part 1

Day 1 - No wind

Day 1 - No wind

I wanted to take a moment and write about one of my sailing adventures this past summer.  Just before Labor Day, I decided to rent a 33′ sailboat up in Cheboygan for a week of sailing.  Knowing my Dad had never sailed before, I thought it would be a lot of fun to invite him along and teach him the ropes.  Since he was working on a project up in Cheboygan for work, it actually worked out quite well.  He was able to swing a few days off and join in on an adventure.  Little did we know that what was coming though would be a hard knock lesson.

Day 1:  The weather was beautiful.  Unfortunately, not for sailing.  It was about 80 degrees, and not a cloud in the sky.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much wind either.  The forecast called for increasing winds into the latter part of the afternoon of 7-10 mph.   No problem.  It would be perfect “learning weather”.  Dad arrived at the boat with my step Mom.  After a brief tour of the 33′ Gib’Sea, I began to explain some various terms that would be important to us.  I figured if I was going to have to ask him to pull on lines and whatnot, it would be helpful if he knew what I was talking about.  So, after about a 1/2 hour of explaining the differences between the halyard, reef lines, bow, stern, pulpit, stantions, starboard, port, rigging, etc. his eyes began to cross.  I figured at the time, the best way to learn would be on the water.  That was my step Mom’s cue to leave the boat.  Don’t worry, we didn’t kick her off, she is nervous when it comes to water, so she didn’t think sailing would be for her.

I begin to start prepping the sails, untying the loose dock lines, and continued to give instruction to my Dad.  The first thing was understanding the plan for leaving the slip.  His job would be to remove the last spring line and just keep an eye out and make sure I didn’t bump into anything.  So, I gave him a bumper (just in case) and handed him the spring line.  I gave the order to undo the spring line, put the gear in reverse, and began backing out of the slip.  Unfortunately, we were at the end of the dock so I didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver to get the boat pointed in the right direction.  Then I heard a light splash.  So, there was my Dad looking down into the water.  The bumper I gave him had rolled off the deck and fallen in the water.  I kept trying to maneuver the boat in a tiny little area as we drifted around.  I tossed him the boat hook at this point to grab hold of the bumper and pull it back into the boat.  It wasn’t until I informed him that the boat hook was telescoping that he managed to get the bumper up out of the water.  We had a good laugh at that, and my thought was, “If this is the worst that happens, then it would be a great trip”.

After that little mishap, we slowly motored our way out of the marina into the Lower Straits of Mackinac.   I put the bow into the wind, backed off the throttle a bit, and gave the order to “raise the halyard”.   “The what?” was the response I heard back.  “The white line with the red stripe.  Just start pulling on it,” was my response.  The main sail went up slowly.   With that, I could see the sail filling up with the wind.  After the main was raised, I cut the engine.  The hum of the engine disappeared and all you could hear was the breeze and the sound of the boat riding across the water.   I then instructed him how to pull the roller furling line to unroll the jib. 

Water was so smooth

Water was so smooth

We were sailing!  Well… we were for awhile.  The sails then went limp as the wind just completely died down.    There wasn’t even enough wind to get any kind of momentum to teach Dad how to do a tack.  So, we waited.  And waited.   For nearly 2 hours we waited for some wind.  Granted, I could’ve started the engine and “power sailed”, but even though we weren’t going anywhere, it was still relaxing.  My hope was that the forecast would be true, and that later in the day the wind would pick up.  It never did.  Instead, after a few hours of just floating around and talking, we rolled up the sails, turned on the motor, and called it a day.  There were drinks and food waiting to be had back at shore.

Day 2:  The real adventure starts…   (To be continued…)