August 25 to 31 — Fogged in

It’s been nearly a week since we last had WiFi access. Mystic is on her way home to Superior, Wisconsin. We’re waiting out some very dense fog and glad for a chance to slow down for a day. We’ve been pushing southwest at a fast clip.

Mystic in Old Man's Pocket near Rossport, Ontario

CPR Slip, later on Thursday, August 25
There’s a mental checklist we go through when leaving a dock. It goes something like this:

Heading to sea
• Convert electric stove to alcohol stove
• Remove the trash
• Set up computer and boot nav and weather software
• Stow all loose gear
• Turn on instruments (depth, speed, compass)
• Secure all lockers
• Put on sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats
• Pull shorepower
• Put life jackets on
• Single up lines
• Start and check the engine
• Don’t leave Karen on the dock (Jerry worries unnecessarily about this one. He hasn’t left me stranded yet.)
• Stow lines and fenders
• Choice: raise sails or tea time

Today we raised sails first. An eagle flew by as sailed away from Rossport. It seemed to be a good omen.

Nothing predicted by the weathermen on either side of the border came to pass today. We were to have north and northwesterly winds that gradually diminished over the day. We were to have 1- to 1 1/2-meter seas that would gradually subside. Instead we saw some west followed by a gradually building southwest wind that was quite blustery (20 knots or more) by the time we’d gone the 39 nautical miles from Rossport to CPR Slip. It was mostly upwind with seas forward of the beam that started out small enough (a foot or so) but had soon organized into a stately procession of 3-footers with a few 4-footers for variety. It wasn’t as unpleasant as the rolling seas that caused us to divert to the Slate Islands a week ago, but it was cold out there. We were glad we’d changed to the smaller headsail in port and had it partially furled along with two reefs in the main before the trip was over.

Peregrine had left Rossport before us and was at CPR Slip when we arrived. Fortunately, there was one last dock for us. A number of Red Rock and Nipigon boaters are here. This is their special spot.

Root Bay, Friday, August 26
We awoke to gentle rain this morning. But it soon cleared and — in spite of our earlier plan to stay put all day Friday due to anticipated unsettled weather — we decided to get a few more miles toward home under our keel. As soon as we got out from the lovely all-round protection of CPR Slip, we realized that we had probably overplayed that hand. It was somewhat foggy, had begun to rain gently again, and we could see whitecaps out on the main lake. Committed already, we sallied forth under power.

The light fog stayed with us for the first hour or so until we ran into a patch of open water with large leftover seas and light wind. Then the fog cleared and the beam seas (from the southwest of course) bounced us around for an hour or two sometimes adding insult to injury by raining in addition to the spray we were taking over the bow.

That was followed by a brief period of very strong winds, dark clouds, heavier rain, lightning, and thunder. Eventually we reached the protection of the Loon Harbor area and tossed a coin: should we go to Otter Cove to the north or Root Bay to the west? Root Bay won because, although it was a bit farther, the darker clouds (and more lightning) seemed to be over Otter Cove. Besides, getting to Root Bay added a few more miles in the right direction.

Although we were feeling a bit abused, we had made our choices (not too wisely, as it had turned out) and had to live with them. Just before we reached the protected area, we were soothed a bit by the soaring of an eagle overhead while being bounced about, blown at, and frightened by the lightening . . .

This has been a good cruise for eagles, loons, and caribou. I haven’t mentioned every eagle we’ve spotted and loons are common enough to acknowledge without a mention. We haven’t seen any beaver, otters, great blue herons, sandhill cranes, white pelicans (or even very many cormorants that hang out with the pelicans), moose, porcupines, or other possible furry and feathered critters. The six caribou, of course, got more than just a polite mention.

By the time we reached Root Bay, the dark patch of threatening sky over Otter Cove to the north of us and another patch to the south of us had both moved on leaving us in sunshine. Lovely! Windy, but lovely.

We showered. I baked an experimental dessert with some of my many blueberries. Then we ate it at teatime hot from the oven. We did some reading. At dinnertime we fried the moose sausage from Dave and Debbie. It was excellent with fried veggies and more than we could eat at one go. We’re already looking forward to the leftovers.

Last night I noticed the profusion of stars beyond the hatch and decided it was time to get out and appreciate the heavens once more. When we started out nearly four weeks ago, there was a full moon (too bright) and city lights in several marinas along the way followed by many cloudy nights. Last night the stars were ALL up there (too many for a beginner like me!) I enjoyed the Milky Way and decided to try again in the early dark or impending dawn when just the best and brightest will show up. I figured I’d get up around 0300 or 0400 and look for my buddy Orion.

That led to a decision to — weather permitting — get underway at first light tomorrow. The weather should improve then. We should have waited today. We knew we should have waited today. But we didn’t wait today. Tomorrow is the day we should have waited for. I’ll check the weather next. If nothing has changed, we’ll be sure to make the most of tomorrow’s weather.

Leaving Susie Island, near Grand Portage, Minnesota

Susie Island, Saturday, August 27
I was up at 0415 to have a look at the stars. It couldn’t have worked out better. It was clear and not too cold so I could be somewhat comfortable in the cockpit for 30 minutes or so. The dawn was just beginning, making it easier to find the best and brightest stars. It was so calm that each star was reflected in the water around Mystic. I found Orion immediately, along with Taurus and the Pleiades, then Cassiopeia, Draco, and more.

The dawn that followed silhouetted the surrounding trees with gorgeous pink and gold pastels accented with a tiny sliver of a moon. Jerry was busy below turning the sleeping accommodations into a boat with a galley and navigation suite. As it wasn’t yet bright enough to navigate out of the bay, we had breakfast before getting underway at 0600. We’re a bit sensitive about navigation around Root Bay after having gone aground there a few years ago when the Lake Superior was abnormally low. We now call that spot Mystic Shoal, although the honor really should go to Callisto. Unbeknownst to us, Michael and Patty Facius discovered the same shoal a week before we did.

The first low-angle rays of the sun brushed the rocks and trees with a golden glow and for the first hour or two there were loons everywhere: singles, pairs, and in groups. There is a definite nip in the air now. The loons know it. We won’t be complaining about heat anymore on this trip. Fall is coming.

The calm morning caused us to motor for the first several hours before the sun heated the atmosphere up enough to create some wind. Then what wind there was came from dead ahead: southwest. This was in spite of the fact that the weather guys promised us north and west northwest winds. They say gentlemen never sail to weather and we motored along for several hours without shame in our tall-masted powerboat before finding enough wind to sail. To keep ourselves entertained during the long hours under power, we began reading the Nathaniel Drinkwater series by Richard Woodman. It is absolutely excellent so far.

The last several hours offered glorious sailing weather, however, with fairly flat seas and just the right wind (and it was fairly steady wind at that!) to move Mystic along smartly, although tacking upwind all the way. Without knocking ourselves out, we moved our little floating family about 60 miles toward home in 12 hours. We are now officially back in the USA.

If you can appreciate good rocks, Lake Superior offers GREAT scenery!

Grand Marais, Monday morning, August 29
Jerry had a great birthday yesterday. We woke up at Susie Island and motored in a flat calm all the way to Grand Marais. The sky and sea were beautiful and ever-changing, so we enjoyed the ride. It’s getting cold here in the north country. It’s hard to believe that we complained about the excessive heat when we were here and heading north not quite a month ago.

We arrived in Grand Marais early enough in the day to call customs. An agent came to the boat right away and cleared us quickly. The other thing Jerry had wanted to accomplish for his birthday was to visit the city liquor store since we were about out of wine and absolutely out of scotch. (What kind of a birthday is that without any scotch? This was an essential mission!)

We headed off toward town with backpacks. Halfway there, Jerry pulled up short with the realization that it was Sunday and Minnesota liquor stores aren’t open on Sundays. He was ready to go back to the boat immediately. I talked him into taking a walk with me at least. So we walked past the liquor store (just in case!), which was indeed really and truly closed. That led to a discussion about whether you can buy booze on Sundays in restaurants and bars. I voted yes. Jerry was pretty sure you couldn’t. (Goes to show how often we eat out near home. How long have we lived in Minnesota? Shouldn’t we know this stuff by now?)

We went into the well-known pizza place and bar, Sven and Ole’s, and were served in the bar. The birthday boy got his scotch and life was good.

Showers and dinner followed with rib eye steaks the butcher in Schreiber had cut for us. They had been highly recommended (and rightly so) by the guys on Peregrine.

Today and tomorrow there is much to be done: groceries, liquor store (of course), laundry, fill the water tanks, spray the mud off the deck, clean the anchor rode, and so forth. Dave Tersteeg (parks manager and a Good Old Boat subscriber) and family will come for dinner tonight. As usual, they found us the moment we arrived in town and gave us the usual royal welcome.

Silver Bay, Tuesday, August 30
We had a marvelous time with Dave, Marcela, and 3-year-old Rio last night. They showed up for dinner with a bottle of wine, blueberry crisp, and a bouquet of flowers from their garden. Flowers? I’m the one who has mocked the boat show boats for having placemats and floral arrangements in the cabins. Who’re they kidding? The wives who, seeing the lovely accommodations, will agree to buy a sailboat, that’s who! The sailors among us know that our boats are not good platforms for placemats and vases of flowers.

Mystic's first-ever bouquet

Mystic has never had flowers onboard before. Not in 20 years. Where are you going to put them? How are you going to keep them safe? And yet . . . when Marcela (a competent sailor herself) showed up with a vase of flowers, I was utterly charmed. Jerry found a way to keep them safe for one very bouncy ride to Silver Bay today. We put them in a cooking pot (well padded with dish towels) and put it on the gimbaled stove.

Traveling with flowers . . .

This morning we were up and ready at the fuel dock at 0800 and on our way toward Silver Bay within a half hour. We agreed not too many hours later that there was no part of today that met our expectations. What we expected was the forecast east wind of 0 to 10 or possibly 5 to 15 knots. East wind when you have to go southwest? Nice! It sounded like a nice, gentle spinnaker run to us. One thing we overlooked was that three boats anchored near the marina at Grand Marais had rocked and rolled all day and all night long. We pitied the folks aboard each time we noticed their masts scribing wide circles in the sky. All three left early this morning. We figured they’d had enough and were glad to go.

The leftover swell outside Grand Marais and on down the sock toward Duluth/Superior is the item we’d overlooked. We did not have a lovely calm sea with 5 or 10 knots of wind. Instead we had light wind and rocking seas. We raised the main and smaller jib to loud protestations from both as they slatted and snapped while bellying and emptying in the swells. There wasn’t enough wind to drive the boat faster than the waves that were racing up astern and pushing past. Sometimes we surfed along with them. Slatting sails is hard on a couple of aurally impaired sailors who hate the static and interruptions of the VHF. After considering the use of a spinnaker instead and getting it ready for launch, we took the other two sails down and motored. Then we could do a better job of keeping up with the following seas and the motion aboard (and the morale) improved.

As the wind picked up, the quality of life in the cockpit decreased. It was cool when we started out but downright cold for most of the trip today. At one point I bundled my freezing feet up in fleece blankets as I read to Jerry to help the miles pass by. He said I looked like I was bundled up in my deck chair on a cruise ship. Not long after that, the steward served hot tea. So perhaps he had it right.

We couldn’t figure out what the weather was going to do today because WxWorx let us down. It appeared to be connecting but it couldn’t get any weather data. The weather looked unsettled and not nearly as lovely as the predicted 0 to 15 knots. As the wind increased and the seas built, as clouds developed and whitecaps broke out, as fog drew in around us . . . we were essentially traveling blind minus our best source of weather information pushed ever onward by a cold and relentless sea.

Then, for the last hour or two of what was a 9-hour trip (45+ nautical miles), we were truly traveling blind. Fog rolled in giving us about a 5-mile visibility, then a couple of boat lengths, and finally (just when we needed it most) about a boat length of visibility. The trouble is that Silver Bay Marina is somewhat new and not yet on our charts. We know approximately how it’s laid out, but this is not a thing for GPS navigation. We had to make the approach with the help of radar, our memories, and our helmsman’s very well-placed caution. We crept around the corner of Pellet Island trying to remember how the breakwater goes, finally spying a bit of land — Yipes! Right there in front of us!— and discovering the red and green entrance buoys at the same time (both on radar and visually).

The wind continues to howl outside the marina now as I type this after dinner, but the fog seems to have abated.

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One Response

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