Home and Away

The Downey Family aboard s/v Clarity, sail from Muskegon to Ludington, August 28, 2014

The Downey Family aboard s/v Clarity, sail from Muskegon to Ludington, August 28, 2014

Four weeks ago today, we were making final preparations for our trip, getting the condo in order for a month away and provisioning the boat accordingly.

Three weeks ago today, we sailed from Ludington to Frankfort. Two weeks ago, we dug around Beaver Island in a GeoTracker before an evening sail to Charlevoix. And a week ago, we made it to Pentwater just before the rain descended again.

Aaron sailed Clarity back to Chicago on a 14-hour solo crossing from Holland this past Wednesday, and I drove the three-and-a-half hours back with Claire. We will be here next week. And the next. And the next. I am already mourning the end of our trip.

I remember when we returned to Chicago last year after our month-long cruise, it was an odd transition back to our “normal” routine. But after some challenging times out on Lake Michigan, it was partially a welcome one, if only to recharge. And we still had the rest of summer in Chicago to look forward to, which is pretty amazing in itself.

We started this year’s journey two months later than last year’s. A polar vortex descended on us halfway through, not to mention that a lot of shops and restaurants in the port towns reduced their hours or shut down completely after Labor Day. It all made this feel like the end of the sailing season, not just the end of our trip, though the Chicago marinas stay open through Halloween.

This year, I truly didn’t want the trip to end. Sure, the weather wasn’t ideal, but we didn’t experience any of the boat issues we had last year, and since this wasn’t our first rodeo, we worked even better as a team.

One of the things I try and explain when people ask, “So how was the trip?” is, when you’re gone for three to four weeks, it almost ceases to be a trip and just becomes your lifestyle. The Downey family settled into life at sea fairly early on in our travels. Aaron worked, I worked, we traveled from one place to the next, Claire was a learning sponge as we explored new places as a family.

And that’s the other part that I miss dearly when these trips come to a close – the time together as a family that isn’t relegated to just weekday evenings and weekends. It’s an absolute luxury – not just because I know Claire benefits greatly from interacting with both of us, but because Aaron and I get to show her even more how we respect each other, depend on each other, work together, and cherish our family.

We still have quite a few more weeks to live part-time on Clarity at 31st Street Harbor, but I know the only thing that will get me through another brutal Chicago winter is planning for next year’s adventures: getting a dinghy so we can anchor out rather than always docking in marinas; getting solar panels to generate our own power; cleaning out our water tanks, which we have yet to use because I’ve been spoiled with on-shore water; putting in a swim platform with an outdoor shower; and many other projects that may come to fruition and may not, depending on budget and priorities.

We’ve talked about starting earlier next year and going longer, exploring the Wisconsin coast instead, sailing up to Door County and digging around the peninsula, crossing over to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula….

When you get a taste of something extraordinary, it’s never enough.

 

**Many thanks to our dear friends, Dawn and Jack Draper, who took this and other amazing photos of Clarity as they sailed alongside us on their boat, 9-to-5, from Muskegon to Ludington.

November Sails in September

Mother Nature and Lake Michigan have not been particularly friendly to us this week, as we’ve been slowly but surely making our way south.

Cold, dreary, rainy, foggy – all those attributes you look for in a lovely September sail! It’s been highs in the 50s during the day and lows in the 40s at night. As I wore the same pair of pants three days in a row because my other pair was already in the laundry, I learned that I didn’t pack appropriately. And investing in foul weather gear might be a good idea before next year’s cruise. Helly Hanson, do you also make sets for toddlers?

After a bear of a day sailing to Frankfort, we had the same conditions all the way to Ludington the next day, and then we got socked in for two days as the wind howled and the waters got angry. The middle of the lake saw 18-footers on Wednesday. Tucked in safe in sound at Harbor View Marina, we enjoyed the library and the cozy fireplace, though we were bummed that the hot tub was closed for the season.

On Thursday, Aaron’s mother, Penny, and her husband, Brian, visited us with the best gifts we could hope for – jars of homemade chili, cornbread muffins and freshly baked chocolate cupcakes. We dug around town with a stop at the library (one of the best around for kids), ate some ice cream at House of Flavors and shared dinner on the boat before they headed home.

Friday, we caught a window before more storms set in and sailed to Pentwater. Our friends Jack and Dawn drove up to join us for dinner at the yacht club, and then we joined them at Muskegon Yacht Club, their home port, the next day after a six-hour sail. Hours of chats, laughs around a bonfire – they’ve become fast friends that I know will be friends for years.

Then today, it was on to Holland. I was looking forward to an easier sail – the last two had been rough, as the lake hadn’t calmed down after the cold front settled in. All of the forecasts called for waves of 1 to 2 feet, and the sun started shining just as we cast lines. Finally, a calm, sunny sail! Well, as can happen, the forecasts were wrong, and as soon as we were halfway through the channel and headed out to the lake, it got lumpy. We sailed 2- to 4-foot waves with 10- to 15-knots of wind the whole way down.

And a miracle occurred. I didn’t feel sick. In fact, I loved it! For the first time, I was able to fully enjoy sailing in those conditions, the jib out, us hauling down the lake, riding the waves at a 15-degree heel. It seems that my exposure to longer sails in waves has helped me curb my symptoms. Maybe if we lived full-time on our boat year round, I’d get to a point where I don’t get seasick at all :).

We sailed, rather than motored, up the channel to Lake Macatawa – something we did on the way in to the last two ports, and something that just felt good to do, seeing as we’re a sailboat. We got the boat settled at Anchorage Marina, Claire took a swim in the heated pool and we all collapsed in our spaghetti. And it dawned on me that today was our last full family sail day. If only we could do this forever…