Message Received!

Ready to Throw!Our Message in a Bottle was found!

As some of you may remember, during our sail back from Door County during our cruise this summer, Claire, Aaron and I spent a few days putting together a message in a bottle. (Read the original blog post here.) We drew pictures and wrote a note, Claire made a special bead necklace, we corked it, and Claire tossed it overboard on a chilly and overcast afternoon, somewhere offshore between Kewaunee and Sheboygan, Wisc.

Knowing that it would likely never be found, I viewed it more as a fun exercise with Claire and an offering to the mighty Lake Michigan that had taken such good care of us.

But yesterday morning, just shy of six months later, I booted up my computer to check my email and was greeted with a wonderful note from Pat, from Belgium, Wisc. It seems that he and his wife took advantage of an exceptionally warm late-February weekend to take a stroll along the beach for the first time in months, and lo and behold, his wife spotted our repurposed Door County wine bottle sitting on the beach.

What are the chances?! I tried to do some research on this. A quick Google search for these time capsules found in the Great Lakes yielded quite a few results, and some captivating stories of artifacts preserved for more than 75 years. But 10, even 15 accounts (at least, covered in newspaper articles) in the grand scheme of things is almost nothing. The truth, also, is that fewer people are doing this, for two reasons. First, writing actual letters with pen and paper is a forgotten art. Second, throwing anything into the water is considered littering and a non-starter, both in and out of the boating community. It’s definitely something we take very seriously on Clarity, though I was willing to make this one exception.

In all accounts, though, finding a message in a bottle was a momentous and fascinating occasion.

Our bottle’s journey was determined by a combination of waves, winds, weather and current. We also never ventured more than 10 nautical miles offshore during those sails back south to Chicago, and in Lake Michigan, it’s not as though tides or the gulf stream can further influence the trajectory.

Calculating the distance from where we likely tossed the bottle, to the shoreline just east of Belgium, our little care package traveled 40-50 nautical miles. The true miracle is that the bottle happened to wash ashore and be preserved (albeit a short time) long enough to be found, and in a location that just happened to be visited by a couple on a random afternoon walk.

Pat and I exchanged a lovely email correspondence, and it warms my heart to know that he and his wife treasured receiving our bottle as much as we treasured making it those cloudy, foggy days back in September. All the best to you, Pat! I hope the beaded necklace is just your size :).

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Cute Kewaunee, then Door County

Our batteries recharged in this sleepy community, a welcome reprieve from our last port. We honestly knew nothing about this town, other than that it was a stop on the way north, and were pleasantly surprised by its charm, with a picturesque lighthouse, scenic downtown, rural trails and friendly residents.

While Aaron took advantage of the Wi-Fi in Amy’s Coffee Shop to get some hours on the clock, Claire and I went adventuring. We toured the WWII tugboat permanently docked along the river, just off of Main Street. We made fast friends digging holes at the beach and went on a scenic marshland walk. And we managed to find some delicious local custard – with sprinkles, of course.

We spent two full days in town – a half-day too long, in my opinion, since it is quite small – but Aaron’s work schedule and the five-to-seven-foot waves out on the lake after Tuesday night’s storms and the cold front that followed pushed back our departure.  The extra time allowed me to make a grocery run and knock out some laundry – the less glamorous but necessary elements to these cruises.

Friday morning, with the sun blazing and brisk temps in the 50s, we bundled up, brewed a French press and cast lines for Sturgeon Bay, the southernmost city in Door County. For the past year, as we’ve visualized this cruise, that’s been the goal – but schedules can change, weather may not cooperate, the boat could have issues. Regardless of planning trips like this, where you wind up is never a given. I’m proud that we’ve already made it this far.

Well, They Can’t All Be Winners…

One of the things we’ve learned as cruisers is to trust your gut. If the forecast reads great but you’re unsure of what’s brewing, wait it out. If you’re out sailing, or in the middle of peaceful sleep, and you hear the boat make an unfamiliar noise, you should probably check it out, immediately. And when you feel bad juju in a place, run.

Manitowoc was a mess from the start. The sail up from Sheboygan was peacefully uneventful, but as the city came into focus Monday afternoon, so did the S.S. Badger, pumping ash from the coal in a black cloud that hung over the entire city. I had called ahead to reserve a slip at the marina, and though I had given the staff our length, width and draw, it became clear as we tried to dock that the slip they assigned us was too short and the width allowed us only six inches on either side thanks to a wooden pylon separating our slip from the next.

After some minor scrapes on Clarity’s rub rail, and some minor scrapes on our feet from cleats planted directly in the middle of the dock, we kindly alerted the office to their oversights. The bad vibes had already taken root, but I wonder, if a thunderstorm hadn’t passed through shortly after we docked, if we wouldn’t have turned around.

When the skies cleared a bit, we grabbed our umbrellas and walked to town. Or, I should say, what I’m sure was a bustling town some years ago. We were met with deserted streets, vacant storefronts, credit unions, and the county jail. Ahhhhhh, yes…. Just what I’m looking for in a picturesque seaside getaway.

We tucked in for the night, and if I’m being honest, Aaron and I had a nice chat that quickly evolved into a not-so-nice argument, with us both going to bed in a grumpy funk that persisted the next morning. Those bad vibes were getting stronger.

We had planned to spend a day or two in Manitowoc so that Aaron could put in full work days. After some frustrating searches on spotty Wi-Fi and cellular connections, I decided to take Claire to West of the Lake Gardens, a privately run botanic garden on the lake about a mile-and-a-half north of the marina, and save the maritime museum for the next day, which was supposed to be rainy. Thankfully, the mother of one of the marina staff members offered to give us a ride there, so we only had to do the walk one way.

As we pulled up, it looked promising. The grounds were small but beautiful, with plenty of great spots for hide-and-seek. Claire and I got to it, and within 15 minutes, a male staff member ran up to me (literally), proclaiming that I couldn’t allow my daughter to run ahead of me. Right at that moment, Claire, being a normal 3-year-old, picked up a few rocks on the path. He then said that, unless I held her hand the whole time we were there, we had to leave. I felt so terrible, trying to explain to Claire that we had to head back while she begged me in tears to stay and run around.

So, off we went on the Mariners Trail, back toward the marina, with the lake on one side and a CVS on the other. While Claire dug around at the beach that qualified more as an unsanitary sandbox, Aaron texted me: “Want to head to Kewaunee?”

In speeds formerly unrealized to me with a 3-year-old, I got that kiddo off the beach, showered and back on the boat, and we cast lines within an hour. As soon as Manitowoc was behind us, we instantly felt better, lighter, happier, with a three-hour sail to dust off the last of that black cloud. Suffice to say, unless at some point in the future we desperately need refuge in a storm, we won’t be returning.

Aaron will put in a full work day today, so Claire and I will again be left to our own silly devices. I have no idea what Kewaunee has in store for us, but I already know it’s going to be a better day.