A Message From Louise

When the wonderful Wisconsin couple found our message in a bottle last weekend, it was Pat, the husband, who originally reached out to me. We exchanged a few emails, and it was so surprising and exciting to learn that our bottle had been found!

A few days later, his wife, Louise, also reached out to me. I fancy myself a writer, but Louise shares her experience like a true storyteller.

Here’s what she wrote:

Last Sunday it was delightfully warm on the beach in Wisconsin. I was “beach combing” after the winter, as we walked looking for stray toys and such that we typically need to clean up or find when I spotted your bottle in some grass way up from the edge of the water. Truly one of the most delightful fun surprises of my life!  Who would have ever imagined actually finding a bottle with a message in it?!  Stuff of literature and movies, but actually?

I considered saving it to open with my grandsons but couldn’t wait. Don’t worry, as you can see by the picture, I carefully replaced everything and will let them explore and enjoy it for themselves this summer. I know my two year old granddaughter will love the necklace. I placed the refilled bottle on a mantle in our house with other treasured natural mementos from walks on the beach like driftwood, turkey feathers, sea glass, a monarch butterfly, zebra mussel shells, coal, rocks, pine cones and a vase that was my great grandmother’s.

My husband and I have 8 kids and so far 10 grandkids. We love and respect the lake in all seasons and weather. It constantly changes and surprises. It reminds us of our place in this awesome universe and our responsibility to live well and respectfully in it. I will think of your family and wish the best for you whenever I look at my unexpected gift from the deep.

Bless you and safe travels.

Our message in a bottle, displayed with other treasures on Pat and Louise's mantle.

Our message in a bottle, displayed with other treasures on Pat and Louise’s mantle.

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 :).

Message In A Bottle

While enjoying a peppery Door County port a week ago, I noticed that the bottle would be a perfect vessel for a message sent out to sea. And with a week of longer sails ahead and plenty of time to keep the kiddo entertained, I thought it might be a perfect project to do with Claire while underway.

The first day, we drew pictures in the cockpit. Hers was a big purple heart with a snowman on the other side (of course), mine was a silly caricature of our boat and family, and Aaron drew an s/v Clarity compass. The next day, Claire spent the better part of an afternoon in her cabin, sorting her beads and making a beautiful necklace on a shoelace. And I penned a letter to whoever finds our bottle, or the powers that be.

On the third day, Claire helped as we rolled up our letters, dropped in the necklace, corked the bottle and headed up top. Then, with Aaron and I right next to her, she stepped over to the lifelines, gave the bottle a tight hug, and her eyes tripled in size as we told her to throw it overboard.

I tried to explain to Claire what our little project was all about, though I’m not quite sure how much she got it. A few minutes after she tossed it in the lake, she asked if she could throw it in again :). But we had a lot of fun in the process!

Likely, nobody will find it. But even so, it felt good to donate an offering to the mighty Lake Michigan, who’s treated us so well on this cruise, and kept us safe.

Our Own Adventure Island

Running along trails in dense forest, building inuksuks on rocky beaches, watching the sun set on Clarity from what once was a party palace for a wealthy Chicago inventor, and cuddling up for campfires a stone’s throw from our bow.

Rock Island was a dream of a place that wasn’t even on our radar. Tied off in Sister Bay, we were planning to try for Washington Island, the island just north of the tip of mainland Door County. But Aaron happened to strike up a conversation with our friendly dock neighbors, who encouraged us to head for Rock instead. There was a tiny dock there, they said – big enough to hold three or four sailboats, and just enough depth for us. As we set course, we weren’t even sure we would be able to get in there.

As we approached the island in late afternoon and the boathouse started to come into view, I think Aaron and I already had a feeling that this was going to be an unforgettable adventure. We landed the boat without a problem, greeted by the hospitable ranger who got us settled. From that point on, we pinched ourselves regularly, reminding ourselves how lucky we were to have found this place.

The entirety of the island is a 912-acre state park. No cars are allowed. No bikes are allowed. The only way to access the island is by boat, either private or ferry, and the only thing they sell, other than a few trinkets, is a bundle of firewood for $8 (“must be artisinal wood,” as a fellow sailor joked one night around the campfire). Rustic campsites line the southern border of the island, and there’s no cell service.

The majestic Viking boathouse that greets all visitors is the only remaining building of wealthy Chicago investor Chester Thordarson’s party compound, built in the late 1920s. Claire and Aaron enjoyed a riveting game of chess in the grand ballroom.

And what more? I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves. We spent two days here, and it wasn’t nearly enough.

Landlubbers in Sturgeon Bay

Fall has descended on Sturgeon Bay! A week ago, we were gladly dipping our toes in the chilly Lake Michigan water, cooling off from the 90-degree days in blissfully oppressive sunshine. Today, for a trip to town, pants and fleece jackets were in order, and I found myself wishing I had a pair of gloves.

I was prepared for colder weather up north, but frankly, this is just ridiculous. Fifty-degree days and winds steady at 15-20 mph, for at least two days now. And with the wind from the west, the waves build as they head east to Door County and max out at five- to seven-footers. That’s pretty much a sailing death sentence for Claire, as she gets seasick in fours, and likely for me, too. So, we’ve had plenty of time getting to know the ins and outs of this port.

Luckily, Sturgeon Bay is a gem, with plenty to keep us busy: Toy stores and book stores that keep Claire entertained for hours, friendly neighborhood coffee shops and bakeries to satisfy my caffeine addiction (I’ll admit it – coffee shops are my security blanket). And Sturgeon Bay is a bustling maritime community: Aaron and I have both enjoyed window shopping at Palmer Johnson Yachts and ogling the barges and freighters lined up for fixes at Bay Shipbuilding.

We’ve also been fortunate to be spending the extra days at a marina that has a gorgeous clubhouse, where I can fix our dinners in a full kitchen and we can cuddle up on the couches and catch some cable before heading back to Clarity.

The weather is supposed to break a bit tomorrow, with the waves dissipating and the temperatures slowly creeping their way back up throughout the week. The plan is to finally cast lines tomorrow morning, after four (GASP!) nights here, and head to Egg Harbor. Fingers crossed that a fish boil is in our future!

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.

Adventures in Port Washington

As soon as we cast lines in Milwaukee and pointed north, Clarity was on new cruising grounds!

Our first stop was the cozy harbor town of Port Washington, with shops in pretty Victorians that line the Main Street like stairs, leading up the hill to the majestic St. Mary’s Catholic Church. As always, we managed to get into plenty of trouble, touring downtown and out to the lakefront until our Jell-O legs begged for reprieve.

We’ve been cruising the Michigan ports for years (back to when Aaron and I were sans kiddo), so I find myself making comparisons, and so far I’ve noticed a few differences. On the west side of the lake, cafes and wineries are replaced with smoke shops (both fish and meat) and German brauhauses – definitely not a bad thing, though I’m grateful that we’re inherently walking off our purchases :).

The beaches, however, are another story. I was planning on colder water as we headed north, and rocky shores, rather than sandy. But I did not anticipate waves of E.-coli-friendly weeds, black sand and the smell of rotting vegetation that’s impossible to ignore. Even so, Claire and I managed to find a fairly decent patch pretty far down, and while I held my nose, she made drip castles and dug for rocks, happy as a clam.

After a full day in port, it was time to pack up the wagon, pull in the laundry drying on the lifelines, and make wake once again. Next stop: Sheboygan!