Beautiful Beaver Island

This is our third morning on Beaver Island, and I have mixed feelings about this remote place. We’ve experienced some of our most memorable moments of the trip here – and it seems, the island doesn’t want us to leave!

We planned to stay just one full day, setting sail again on Wednesday morning. But Beaver has enveloped us in a bear hug of intermittent torrential downpours, winds of up to 50 knots, waves up to 11 feet out on the lake, and waves big enough in the harbor to splash up over our stern. All of the boats in the municipal marina here, including Clarity, become like bucking broncos during the storm peaks, trying to break free of their lines. Aaron’s diligently been checking and adjusting them to make sure we safely stay put.

While the extra days here have thrown a small wrench in our cruising plans, they have allowed us to truly experience this place – and it’s more than worth the time. After a bustling Labor Day weekend in touristy beach towns, we arrived in Beaver Island on Tuesday early evening – a day after the season closes here. And it’s a ghost town. Shops are closed. Restaurants are closed. Museums are closed. And there are only a handful of souls around.

But, what the Island lacks in population it makes up for in community. And though the islanders may seem quiet and reserved, if you strike up a conversation, they’re more than happy to chat with you. Claire, Aaron and I stopped in the St. James Boat Shop (which happened to be open), where they spend hundreds of hours crafting cherry stand-up paddleboards, canoes, dingys and more, and struck up a wonderful conversation with one of the owners. A year-round resident, her children are a few of the 68 students that attend the Beaver Creek Community School. High school graduating classes are often just three or four students.

I mentioned hoping to visit the Marine Museum across the street. “If it’s closed, let me know,” she said. “I’ll call the owner for you.” The owner of the Toy Museum a bit further down was a personal friend, too, and just a phone call away.

Based on a recommendation from a good friend, we popped in the Beaver Island Fish Market, where they catch, smoke and sell local catch. Unfortunately, the owner who had operated the place for decades passed away a month prior. But the current operator, a humble and tall drink of water still in his fishing gear from the morning, offered us samples of his cajun lake trout, genuinely asking our opinion. Our taste buds told us he’s doing just fine so far.

Those stops were all in St. James Harbor, the tiny town on the northern tip of the island where, we had to pause while a wild turkey and her three babies crossed the road. After checking the radar and realizing that we would be here awhile, Aaron and I followed the local bartender’s advice and rented a Geo Tracker from the marina down the road. In a few lucky weather windows between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, we drove all over the island, deer watching along gravel roads, climbing dunes, hiking through dense forests and relishing in an unforgettable sunset barbecue and campfire on the northern coast, with unparalleled views of Whisky, Squaw and Garden Islands to the north, and the Upper Peninsula on the horizon. (Did you know Beaver Island is one in a cluster of seven islands?!) I highly recommend that you do this if you’re ever in town. And buy the $5 map – it’s worth it.

Aaron and I also both had work deadlines while in town. He spent hours in the Shamrock Bar and Restaurant up the road, scarfing their WiFi to write proposals, while I spent a few evenings hunkered down on the boat, finishing up edits to a report for a client.

All signs point to the weather clearing out by midday today, and the waves should follow by this evening. I’m still trying to convince Aaron that a moonlit sail is in order, but either way, we should be casting lines by tomorrow late morning. Time to go, though I’m going to miss this place.

Advertisements

See Ya Later, Chicago!

ClaireSunglassesFinally this boating season, stars and schedules have aligned! Tomorrow, we cast lines and head to Michigan for three or four weeks.

The plan? Live on our boat full-time, make our way north and see as much as possible before throwing the trip in reverse. We are so excited and blessed to be able to do this. Also, the decision to pull the trigger and go was not one we took lightly.

Interested parties can find any number of sailing blogs out there, though I don’t know of any others focused on sailing the Great Lakes with a toddler. But many families are cruising the Caribbean, or even circumnavigating the globe, and documenting their experiences. I’ve actually gotten frustrated reading some of those blogs lately. The pictures are beautiful, and the stories are alluring! But I don’t find them altogether honest. I’ll always be honest here.

Aaron and I had countless conversations about whether or not we should take this trip – not because it wouldn’t be an amazing experience, but in order to make sure we really wanted to take on all of the extra weight that comes with it. Last year, we did a similar trip, and for a similar length of time, so we have a pretty good idea of what we’re in for. With any sailing trip, though, there’re bound to be surprises.

What if weather and waves kick up while we’re sailing? I will likely get seasick, though I’m finding better ways to manage this. Also, if I’m sick, it’s almost a guarantee that Claire is, too. And then the bulk of the responsibility for sailing the boat and getting us safely to shore falls on Aaron. And that’s a heavy burden for him if I’m not at my best as co-skipper.

What if Claire gets a cold while we’re gone? What if she enters another lovely phase of being 2 years old, testing even more boundaries? What if, an hour into a six-hour sail to our destination, she decides she wants off the boat? And then refuses her nap?

What if we’re out and the autopilot quits? Or the steering fails? Or our engine or batteries shut down? Do we have a back-up plan for as many situations as possible? Are we prepared for emergencies?

What if Aaron and I get into a fight while we’re out there? Clarity’s 36 feet can seem pretty cramped in situations like that, and it’s not as if one person can just go for a drive to burn off steam.

(I bring all of these scenarios up because they’ve all happened at one point or another.)

And can we get things organized enough at home to be comfortable leaving for that long? What about work, for both Aaron and me? Oh, and somebody has to stop in on Tink regularly, too!

Then, of course, there’s the financial consideration. Sure, we will be taking our “home” with us wherever we go, but unless we anchor out, we will be paying for slips in every harbor we stop at. These can run anywhere from $35 to $75 per night, sometimes even more, depending on if we stay in a relatively basic municipal marina or a fancy private one with a swimming pool and a hot tub (yes please!).

The truth is, while we’re gone, we will be paying for our condo in Oak Park, paying for our slip at 31st Street Harbor, and paying for our transient slip. G. U. L. P.

I mention all of this to explain that, in order to do this, you really have to want to do it. And you have to accept the inevitable challenges of a trip like this – and embrace them!

Luckily, Aaron and I are both realists, and at the same time, adventurists. With as clear a view as we can have, we are so excited that everything came together and we are able to “take to the sea” once again.

So, here’s the plan:

Aaron will be sailing Clarity over to either South Haven or Holland tomorrow (something he felt was important to do on his own), and I will be driving with Claire to Grand Rapids to visit with his family for a day or two. Then, while Claire and Grandma have some bonding time, I will do my big shopping trip to provision the boat for the next three weeks.

Aaron will likely take the boat one more stop up to Grand Haven and we will rendezvous there as a family on Tuesday, spending a day getting settled before pointing the bow north and seeing where the wind takes us. We will both be working remotely while we’re gone (how fortunate is that?!).

There will be lots of adventures and lots of pictures – I’ll be sure to share them with you! And I’ll be taking notes on each port to create a guide for anyone who hopes to follow in our footsteps, either wet or dry, with their kiddos.

Inevitably, there will be some trying times, and I’m sure we’ll get into some pickles. We always do. I promise to share those moments, too.

See you on the flip side!

OctopusWindex

A Sailor Prone to Seasickness

It was five hours into our crossing from Chicago to South Haven, Mich., last summer when I knew things were going to go downhill.

The sail started out great. Minimal waves, good breeze and a nice but non-threatening overcast that prevented the sun from beating down on us. Then two or three hours in came the swarm of biting flies, so thick that you couldn’t see white on the deck and so hungry for a place to land that all three of us had to put on pants and long-sleeve shirts just to maintain sanity (and even then, I don’t mind saying that I lost it a few times).

But finally, all of a sudden, as quickly as the flies had come in, they were gone. We could breathe again, though the wind disappeared and made actual sailing impossible. It was getting to be lunchtime, so I put Claire down below for her nap and Aaron and I grabbed a bite on the bow while our pal Auto drove us through glassy water for awhile.

And then we realized why the flies had left. Slowly but surely, the wind established itself in a new direction and began to build as the storm approached. We had checked the marine forecast fastidiously before we departed in the morning and though there were some storms forecasted, they were supposed to be closer to shore, near New Buffalo and St. Joe – a fair distance southeast of our course. But, as can happen, this one tracked further north than was predicted.

Image

Calm before the storm… I wasn’t really up much for taking photos once the waves kicked up…

The pouring rain wasn’t that bad, really. Aaron and I have sailed in it before and, though a little unpleasant, it’s perfectly manageable if you’re wearing the right gear. The height of the storm only lasted 15 or 20 minutes, and Claire slept through the whole thing – a miracle!

But what the storm lacked in length, it made up for in shifting winds, kicking up the waves and making Lake Michigan a washing machine. And it stayed that way, after the storm passed, after the sun came out. Also, by that point in the day, we just wanted to get to South Haven as quickly as possible. This required sailing in the ditch – the absolute worst approach to the waves.

When I felt that first pang of seasickness, I knew it was just a matter of time, and I perched over the side of the boat, fingers and toes clenched, and waited. And it came. Again, and again, and again.

I’ve had bad motion sickness for most of my childhood and all of my adult life. Those twirly rides at carnivals, simulation games, tiny planes, and yes, big waves – these are my nemeses, to be avoided at all costs. But as soon as Aaron and I started dating, I was out on sailboats more and more and became determined to overcome it (especially after some embarrassing dates early on).

I’ve tried it all – Dramamine, Bonine, motion sickness wrist bands, prescription patches behind my ear, ginger pills, ginger ale, ginger beer. Most have had little or no effect on me – Bonine being the most successful, but even the non-drowsy version made me so loopy that it wasn’t really an option. (Taking care of Claire while we’re sailing is my No. 1 job.)

BUT, contrary to what my doctor told me, it has gotten more and more manageable the more time I spend on the boat. In all of the sailing we did last year, I only got physically ill twice – first, during that South Haven crossing, and then during a sail from Racine, Wis., to Milwaukee – a story for another day.

I even do relatively well in bigger swells now, and I can go down below in most conditions. Heck, I’ll even fix us lunch in the galley while the boat is tossing anything that isn’t secured like popcorn in the microwave. It’s predominantly when the winds and waters are confused and kick the boat around in every direction at the same time that I can’t overcome it. And in most cases, the best medicine for me is just to have a job and stay focused on it, keep my mind off of it as much as possible.

Incidentally, Claire also became seasick on those two occasions, and on that crossing to South Haven, when she came up from her nap, it took her about 15 minutes or so of sitting on my lap in the cockpit before she got sick on me as I was sick over the side. I have never appreciated solid ground and a hot shower more than when we finally docked at South Haven that night. Unlike for me, though, who stays sick for the rest of the day once it’s set in, she was smiling and singing songs again as soon as it had passed.

You can’t foresee everything, but the marine forecasts are pretty reliable. And that’s why, on some perfectly sunny, warm days – such as this past Sunday – we’re docked at the harbor. These same days sometimes bring winds of 15-20 knots and 6-to-8-foot waves. Not my prescription for a pleasure cruise.

I don’t think I’ll ever fully shake the seasickness, but life on the water is worth it to me. And if it means we’re a little more conservative with when we go out than other boats, so be it. I must keep remembering – we’re cruisers! Having fun sailing isn’t just desirable – it’s required.