Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Trawlers are great fun.  Aboard Abreojos, we go lots of places.  There are limitations, however.  The Roughwater 41 is an excellent coastal cruiser.  In my opinion, it's one of the best.  She has adequate range and is very seaworthy.  Yet, she was never meant to cross oceans.

This August, Brenda and I will be doing just that - crossing an ocean.  Unfortunately, our Abreojos will be awaiting our return at the dock.

Our friends, Phil and Sara, have a Swann 44 over in Hawaii that they want brought home. Her name is Second Chance, for many good reasons.

In 2011, Second Chance raced from Long Beach, California to Hawaii in the Transpac.  Here she is at the start of the race:

Second Chance

She completed the race.  However, not long before crossing the finish line, she earned herself a bit of acclaim by rescuing a rather forlorn paddler who managed to get himself into something of a pinch quite a distance from the beach.  Here is a link to an article that explains essentially what happened:


For the last 4 years since the race, Second Chance has called the island of Oahu home.  Most recently, she has been berthed at the beautiful Ko' Olina Marina which lies on the south-west side of the island of Oahu near the town of Kapolei.


This year, Second Chance is coming home to Channel Islands Harbor in sunny Oxnard, California, and Brenda, my friends Robert and Lou, and I will be bringing her home.

We will be leaving for Hawaii on July 29 and plan to leave the marina on August 1.  Although this is really not a "cruise" so to speak, the same adage as we apply to cruising applies; cruising plans are often written in the sand on a rising tide.  As I write this, the National Whatever Service is keeping an eye on a tropical depression they are calling "Tropical Depression 18e".  Here is what they say:
The National Hurricane Center in Miami Florida is issuing advisories on tropical depression Eight-E, located 1715 miles east-southeast of Hilo Hawaii, under AWIPS header tcpep3 and WMO header wtpz33 KNHC. Eight-e is expected to cross 140°W into the Central Pacific Hurricane Center area of responsibility Thursday morning.

Central Pacific Graphical Tropical Weather Outlook and Infrared Satellite image for 02 UTC

This will probably turn out to be a fizzle and cause no more than a period of excessive heat and humidity.  Moreover, we are heading north and it appears, based on the projected cone of influence, that the unstable weather will pass well to the south of the Hawaiian Islands.  Nevertheless, it adds one more thing to the matrix of matters that form the myriad of considerations taken in planning this trip.

The trip is approximately 2600 nautical miles.  It will take us somewhat north (probably to around the latitude of Oregon) before we start heading easterly and then south-easterly towards Channel Islands Harbor.  This is primarily because of the belt in which the trades blow and the location of the center of the North Pacific High.  The way things look now, we will almost always be sailing well off the wind on a variety of headings that make great points of sail for Second Chance.  In that regard, we hope the trip will not take us more than 14-18 days.  I have asked my crew to bring their passports with them, however.  Granted, one would think navigating from Hawaii to California is easy - just head east.  Well, it's not THAT simple.  I mean, what if we get in close and tune the fm radio and hear Spanish music?  Well, then we turn left.  If we approach shore and are met by folks paddling skin covered canoes and offering us seal blubber to eat, well, then we turn right.  Seriously, August is the best time of year to do this trip because the weather conditions are most apt to remind us of just why the Pacific is so called.

So, we head out tomorrow morning to catch an early flight to Honolulu.  From there, we'll catch a shuttle to a friend's house where we will pick up his truck which he generously offered us for our use prior to shoving off.  Then, we'll head down to Second Chance and begin the process of packing and unpacking and provisioning.  It promises to be a big job.  Although there will only be 4 of us aboard, and thus plenty of space, there will also be provisions for 4, all of which must be stowed appropriately.    I'm glad we have a couple days to get it right before we head to the fuel dock.  Yes, I said it, "fuel dock."  While Second Chance is a first rate sailing vessel, she does have an auxiliary engine and a generator that need to be fed.  We'll carry as much fuel as we can possibly stuff aboard so, if we have to, we will easily make it across the North Pacific High, although the goal will be to sail as much and as fast as possible recognizing, of course that we are only 4 and we are not in a race.  Second Chance had a much larger crew when she sailed TO Hawaii.

So, for now, I'm going to close this out and hope that you will follow our progress.  How is that possible, you ask?  Easy!  We will have a DeLorme In Reach device on the boat.  This is a two way satellite communication device that relies on the Iridium system.  It does many amazing things.  Perhaps the most amazing is it will function as a tracker linked to a website so our friends and family can not only follow our progress, but send us text-like messages.  The following link is the link to our page.  Check it out.  We will turn the tracker on and start "pinging" the website when we leave the harbor on August 1.....we hope.  I'll also ping the link to my own timeline on Facebook.


I'll try to write more before we leave and let you know how the provisioning goes.  So, for now, this is the crew of M/V Abreojos, on temporary assignment aboard S/V Second Chance, signing off.


Thursday, January 2, 2014


Some of you know that Abreojos is now on the west coast.  She is not home quite yet, however.  Presently, we are working to rebuild the cruising kitty, but we are also doing a bit of cruising out of Abreojos' new home port, Everett, Washington.  The following video documents our recent visit to the San Juan Islands.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


It has been a little while since I have written to this blog.  After getting out of Parry Sound, we ran extremely long days through the rest of Georgian Bay and the North Channel, usually leaving at sunrise and typically ducking into a safe harbor or anchorage at or near sundown.  I was pretty tired and did not feel much like writing.  Moreover, I wanted to complete the crossing of Lake Superior and have some time to reflect on it before putting it down for prosperity.

Our crossing of Lake Superior basically began after we left Drummond Island in upper lower Michigan.  I know that sounds strange, but since Michigan is comprised of upper and lower peninsulas, it actually makes some sense.  Drummond Island is bordered on the north by the North Channel, on the south by Lake Huron, on the east by False Detour Pass, and on the west by the St. Mary’s River and Detour Pass.  It’s only a day’s run from Mackinaw Island and the straights that separate Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.  There, we checked back into the USA as Drummond Island is an official Port of Entry.  There is a US Customs and Border Patrol office there at the Drummond Island Yacht Haven.

Calling it a yacht haven is somewhat a misnomer.  It is pretty rustic.  It sits at the bottom of a rather deep bay riddled with small islands.  The approach was rather spectacular, although there were lots of small boats running all over the place.  We had reservations and called the harbor on the radio as we approached.  I called several times and got no response.  Finally, I dialed them up on the phone and asked whether or not they were monitoring the radio.  They told me it was down, but that it was miraculously working again.  So I called to get instructions to the slip.  The markers on the chart did not in any way, shape or form, correspond with what we saw out the window.  So, out of simple concern over the rapidly shallowing water, we wanted some direction.  We got it……sort of.  Fortunately, another boat was coming in and we watched what he did, schooled off him, and went into the marina and tied up, unscathed and with the new bottom paint intact.
When we arrived, we were greeted by the seemingly ubiquitous young, blond female who was working at the marina while on summer break from school.  She was not so swift.  She tied the bow way too tight and for a moment there, we were at serious risk of colliding with a larger DeFever docked in the same slip.  I got a little testy with her as I told her she had to ease the bow line so we could get the stern of the boat to the dock.  Then, after we were tied up, and while she was standing around probably awaiting a tip that was never forthcoming, I asked her where the customs office was located.  She said, “Oh you need Customs?”  With an air of apparent exasperation, I leaned out the starboard side pilothouse window and pointed upwards thereby directing her seemingly depleted attention to the yellow “Q” flag we were properly and prominently flying from the starboard outrigger.  She said, “Oh.  Just stay on your boat and they will come to you.”  Fine.  So we waited about 10 minutes until the customs officer arrived, conducted his interview, gave us our entry papers and left.  No problem at all.  The customs officer was quite polite and friendly.  I think he was new because he told us of what turned out to be nothing more than some grandiose rumor about having to contact the Canadian Boarder Service when we crossed back into Canadian waters to go into the Sault even though we were not going to be going ashore in Canada again.  He gave me a number to call to verify and I did.  The Canadian Boarder Service told us this was not the case and that, so long as we were not going ashore, we did not have to check back into Canada, or even call.

After clearing customs, we went to the marina office, paid for the slip and got the courtesy car to head out to the grocery store for some provisions.  It was a simple matter of making a left, then a right, yet another right, and then a final right, and we arrived at the local IGA.  We loaded up the car and went back to the boat.
After we arrived back at the boat, unloaded the groceries and were kicking back on the back deck, this guy comes up to us asking us what we were doing there?  I told him this was the slip we were assigned.  He seemed rather distressed insofar as, apparently, his buddy had already been assigned the same slip and was coming back from Mackinaw along with a third boat in their posse.  “Sorry”, we said, but we are not moving.  This is the slip we were assigned to and I had already had a couple drinks, and I was not about to move my boat.  This guy turned out to be pretty cool about it, but his buddy was not.  He had left his electrical cord on the pedestal.  I went and unwound it for him and he took it from me with nary a comment.  His wife was giving him shit and he had been drinking.  Then again, so had we.  It was best that we all let the matter drop and left it to them to complain to the marina manager about the situation.  They found a spot two slips over and were right next to their friends only on the other side of their friend’s boat.  All’s well that ends well, I always say.  As it turns out, it was the same ubiquitous blond teen that tried to help us tie up that assigned us the slip that had apparently already been assigned to someone else.  I don’t know what they are teaching kids in college these days, but it would appear that organizational skills is lacking from the curriculum.

First thing in the morning, we wound our way out of Drummond Island Yacht Haven, across Detour Pass, and onto the St. Mary’s River heading roughly north.  We were compelled to play “dodge and weave” with several very large cargo ships heading up river, too.  Even on the narrow river, they move very fast.  I figured it was a good idea to plug in the AIS.  It was helpful in a number of ways.  We could determine the name of the ships and their speeds.  Ultimately, we moved well over and let them pass before falling in line behind them.

The St. Mary’s River was very beautiful.  On one side is Canada, and on the other, the USA.  It was funny seeing the flags on either bank.  It seems that folks are trying to outdo one another in terms of size and number.  The USA side won handily having displayed the largest number of very large flags.
This river also took some remarkable bends and turns and we commented on how interesting it must be for the shore-dwellers on either side to watch these behemoths freighters negotiate hairpin turns literally yards from their own boat docks.  We saw no ships coming down until later in the afternoon as we approached Sault St. Marie (pronounced “soo”).  Then, we were passed by two very large ships, both of which appeared to be fully loaded with whatever, and drawing nearly 30 feet.  We made sure to stay well clear while some other folks in very small fishing boats would sit there in the way of the oncoming ship and fire up its little outboard motor with yards to spare and scoot out of the way narrowly avoiding getting turned into “chum”.

We knew we were approaching the Sault (pronounced “the soo”) as development was becoming more apparent.  We could also see the massive radio antennae sticking up over the rolling hills, and the tops of the mega-bridge that crosses the passage.  Then, as we came around the final bend, it all came into sight.  The Sault is a rather busy area with lots of ships coming and going through the Sault locks into and out of Lake Superior.  This is the only entrance/exit to/from Lake Superior and we calculated that ships of all variety carrying all sorts of goods and material transit these locks 3500 plus times per year.

We stopped for fuel at Sault St. Marie Municipal Marina on the American side.  While there, we met some nice guys on an Olson 40 that were taking the boat down to Chicago for the Chicago-Mackinaw Race.  Later, I learned that one of the guys on that boat was the owner of the Olson 30 Polar Bear and had won the single handed class in the Pacific Cup.  If I am not mistaken, I think Polar Bear may have come to Channel Islands Harbor back in 2008 when our yacht club hosted the Olson 30 Nationals.  I could be wrong on that so I will have to go back to the records.  In any event, it was good to see.  The kid who worked at the fuel dock was a really nice fellow.  He told us of his plan to move to California to pursue a career in film making.  He said he had a buddy who lived there with a girlfriend and that he and his girlfriend were going to hop on a plane and move in.  God bless him and we wish him all the luck in the world.  He’s going to need it.

These are the American locks at Sault St. Marie

At the Sault, all recreational boats are directed to transit the Sault via the Canadian lock as opposed to the huge American locks.  It’s not that we were actually prohibited from using the locks on the American side, it’s just that you are functionally prohibited from doing so.  These locks are primarily for the freighters.  One can wait a long time to transit if commercial traffic is coming insofar as they clearly have priority.  It’s just faster and easier with little or no waiting.  So, off we went.  We pulled up to the old blue line and noticed that the lock began draining.  I was surprised that it was such a little thing compared to the American locks.  This became readily apparent when the doors opened.  The locks on the Erie Canal were larger than this lock.  So it was a pretty quick effort.  Pretty red doors, though.

The Canadian side of the Sault is characterized by large, modern glass and steel buildings and Indian casinos.  The American side is much older with interesting historic structures such as the hydro - power plant and the tall spires emanating from a variety of religious structures.  I suspect it is completely normal this time of year, but the weather was calm but overcast.  It seems like we rarely ever saw the sun.
Once we got out of the lock, the shores on both sides were dominated by huge industrial plants of a wide variety, but mostly relating to the production of metals such as steel and aluminum.  There were huge piles (literally mountains) of ore waiting to be processed into ore pellets to be loaded on the huge iron boats bound for steel mills in places like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  But we were now on Lake Superior and it was a tremendous thrill, one neither Robert nor I had experienced before.

So we wound our way down the St. Mary’s canal on Lake Superior until we cleared the outer buoys and entered the infamous Whitefish Bay.  Our plan was to cross Whitefish Bay and make landfall at Whitefish Point, a little harbor of refuge managed and maintained by the State of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources.  As an aside, you may recall when Brenda and I were on the Great Lakes previously that, we learned how the State of Michigan maintains a harbor every 20 miles on Lakes Huron and Michigan.  So, when the weather gets stinky (I say when and not if) one is never more than 10 miles from safe harbor.  This same logistic held true on Lake Superior as well, at least so long as we were in Michigan.  It’s a good thing, too, as I will explain, the conditions on Lake Superior are quite different from the other Great Lakes.

Once we cleared onto Whitefish Bay, the lake was flat like a mirror and there was absolutely no wind.  The air was slightly chilly, and patchy fog did a number on our visibility from time to time.  But there we were, on Lake Superior with over 360 miles to go.  It was really something.  We were passed by a huge Iron Boat on the way out onto the bay and were very pleased when they waved at us as we passed port to port.  After this, we hardly saw another boat on the lake throughout our entire journey westward.

On Lake Superior, there are very few longer range cruising boats.  Rather, there are a large number of smaller boats that leave from a myriad of launch ramps all around the lake.  Abreojos was, in most cases, definitely the big dog on the block.  Compared to the rest of the beaten path known as the Loop, few of those boats ever venture up here.  Some say it’s the lack of services.  Others say it’s the distances between safe harbors.  Some even say there is no place to go.  Well, I think Lake Superior was spectacular and was a highlight of my cruising career.
After leaving the St. Mary’s River we crossed Whitefish Bay to Whitefish Point Harbor.  If you are looking for a fancy marina with all the services available, this is definitely not the place.  If, on the other hand, you are enthusiastic about colors and textures of wide sorts, then this is definitely a great place to see.  Although it is technically managed by the State of Michigan DNR, there is nothing there but a boarded up old fish processing plant surrounded by trees and high grass.  There were a variety of birds on the roofs all “wind-veining.”   It is apparent that it has been there a very long time and that nothing has been going on there for quite a while.  The processing plant was boarded up and posted with “No Trespassing” signs.  There is a launch ramp there catering to small fishing boats operated by rather serious fishermen who spared no expense on gear for trolling for anything from Lake Trout to Whitefish, Muskee and Bluegill.  These boats were not pretty, but they were all equipped with “kicker motors” so that when the main engine quits, they have a way to get back to the ramp.  There is NO Towboat US up here.  You are on your own and you definitely have to be able to fend for yourself.

This is a lighthouse at the St. Mary's Rivermouth where it meets Whitefish Bay.
Notwithstanding the potentials, the water is crystal clear and very cold.  We never saw water much above 50 degrees F.  It is also quite deep in places exceeding 400 feet from time to time.  The volume of Lake Superior is such that it can contain all the water from all of the other Great Lakes combined within its shores.  This is a big lake.  I really hate it when folks compare the Great Lakes with the ocean.  “It’s just like the ocean”, is the cry of the uninitiated.  It is not like the ocean.  It is like the Great Lakes.  First, in many cases, it is very shallow (i.e., Lake Erie averages around 40 feet, Lake Huron is a little deeper on average, and Lakes Michigan and Ontario are yet even deeper.)  It is also fresh water.  The buoyancy of your boat is affected thereby.  The water is seemingly lifeless.  On the ocean, one becomes accustomed to seeing lots of wildlife, such as birds, dolphin, whales, jumping fish, etc.  On the Great Lakes, one sees little or nothing.  Except for the flies!  I have no idea where they come from, but we were 15 miles off shore passing the Huron Islands, barren rocks, and were jumped by thousands of black flies, apparently, the Michigan State Bird.  For a while we put Shteutle the Fly-Swatter to the test and killed hundreds.  Hanging fly strips inside the cabin looked hairy being covered with stuck flies.  Finally, we put up the screens on the pilothouse windows and just left them there.  It helped.  However, the little bastards still found their way in.  By the time we landed in Superior, Wisconsin, Shteutle was held together with duct tape.  So, the Great Lakes are not like the ocean.
The weather on Lake Superior is rather fickle to say the least.  One minute it might be sunny and ten minutes later, you might find yourself shrouded in very thick fog.  The wind and the waves do not necessarily line up either.  There are a number of prominences sticking out from the shoreline that bend the wind and the waves in a frustrating way.  After 300 milles, I was absolutely convinced that the indian name for Lake Superior, “Gitcheegumee”, means “on the beam.”  It didn’t matter what direction we were travelling or what direction the wind was blowing, or forecast to blow, the waves were seemingly always on the beam, making for an occasionally uncomfortable ride.  We were pretty careful with the weather forecasts, however, and never had a bad day.  There were several hours that might be considered unduly uncomfortable, but never really dangerous.

We spent a few hours wandering around the grounds at Whitefish Harbor and met a friendly couple from Iowa who were part of a tour group staying in a retired barracks out on the end of Whitefish Point.  They wandered up and talked with us and we ended up giving them a tour of the boat.  They were impressed with the fact that we had seemingly travelled quite a long way to get where we were.  In fact, we told them we were in the process of bringing the boat back to the West Coast, and her comment to Robert was, “Doesn’t he have a map?”  Oh well, we all got a good chuckle out of that one.

The following morning, we awoke to some rather obnoxious wind which delayed our departure a couple hours.  It wasn’t blowing that hard, but it was blowing hard enough to make the water inside the point all cappy and nasty.  We waited for a couple hours until it stabilized before leaving and making a run for Whitefish Point.  Once we got around the point, however, the wind eased to a following breeze and off we went…….of course with the waves on the beam.

We ran all day, passing a series of rock piles out in the middle of nowhere, sporting some rather unique and beautiful lighthouses and millions of flies, and made landfall in the town of Munising.  Munising is a mill town with a large paper mill and other aspects of lumber harvesting.  There, we met Mike the dockmaster.  He was perhaps not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he was friendly enough and rather enthusiastic about having a boat from a California homeport in his marina; definitely not something he sees every day.  He came over to the boat after work and had a couple beers and told us a little about life in Northern Michigan, and on the banks of Lake Superior.  He pointed out that the marinas all close up tight by the end of October as the ice begins to form.  We were rather shocked to learn that the water in the harbor will freeze to as much as 4 feet thick and that this thick ice would go out for several miles off shore.  The offshore islands in the vicinity of Munising go from cruising grounds to snowmobile grounds in the course of a few months.  Ice fishing is big as well, with avid fishermen moving small buildings out onto the lake ice, all suited with propane heaters and lots of whiskey.  There might be as many as 100 houses out on the ice within a couple miles of shore. From where I sit, although I admire their tenacity, I still think they’re nuts.

We also barely found the local IGA to pick up some provisions.  It was crazy.  Even with directions we ended up walking all over town.  Everyone we asked told us it was just up the street to the right.  Well, we did that like 3 times.  We were convinced nobody actually wanted us to find the place. 
In the morning we left Munising in the rain and in the fog.  The fog was pretty thick but we left a good track of crumbs on the plotter that helped us clear the big islands in front of this town.  In fact, the fog cleared nicely once we got out of the bay.  We ran all day, putting yet another 100 miles under the keel and made it to the Keweenaw Peninsula and the southern entrance to the Portage Canal, a manmade river that shortens the transit across the lake by over 100 miles.  We were headed for the twin cities of Houghton and Hancock, about 12 miles up the 22 mile long Portage River.  Of course, having dodged the fog, several rather thick thunderstorms, and forthcoming breezy conditions, we thought we were golden, so to speak.  Well, less than 100 yards from the dock at the Houghton County Marina at the foot of a spectacular lift bridge, I lost propulsion.  It was weird.  We were motoring along slowly looking for our slip on the river bank when I felt a pulse in the stick and, even though the engine continued to hum perfectly, we were going nowhere.  I got on the radio and called the Marina to let them know of our predicament.  Unfortunately, the guy on the radio was one of those kids working part time while on summer break from school and he was not helpful at all.  I then called Towboat US on the phone.  Within 5 minutes, the lady from Towboat US called back and said there were no towing operations in the area and that she had called Coast Guard Station Portage.  As it turned out, before she even called them, they were already responding and were within sight.  I guess they overheard me telling the marina that we were stuck in the middle of the river and that we were dropping our anchor in 50 feet of water directly in front of the lift bridge.  I guess when you have to do it, do it big, right?

Well, the CG came on over, side tied, turned us around, and functionally sling-shot us at the dock where we were caught by some good Samaritans who happened to be lazing around on the dock in the pouring rain.  Suffice it to say I was a little less than pleased.  Robert kept reminding me, however, that this is cruising and breaking down is part of it.  While this is absolutely true, it doesn’t sound like much fun when all you want to do is get to Superior and start heading home.
The kid in the marina office, however, had the brains to call his boss and get some information for us regarding a mechanic.   As an aside, it turns out his boss is Scott Perkins whom, if you have travelled in the Florida Keys, you have probably heard performing with his guitar in any number of small bars and restaurants, especially in Key West.  I certainly remembered hearing him play at Schooner’s.  Scott genuinely has the system wired.  He works at a beautiful place all summer and then gets laid off for the winter.  He collects unemployment and heads south to live on his sailboat with his wife in the Keys all winter.  He sold his business and retired a few years ago and has no mortgage.  With money in the bank, Scott wanders north and south without a care in the world.  Sounds pretty good.

On the advice of his boss, Scott, the kid at the marina gave us a card for a guy named Craig Bekalla.  I called Craig and he seemed less than positive that he could do anything for us.  Yes, he is a diesel mechanic, but no, he did not have a lot of experience with boats.  He gave us the name of the guy who owns and operates Merkels Marine a couple miles down the river.  So I called him and he agreed to come down in the morning and take a look.  I have had this happen before and was pretty convinced it was a broken damper plate inside the transmission.  So while all of this was going on, I was calling Lee Spry Marine in Iuka, Mississippi to try to get a part number since he was the last guy to repair a blown damper plate.
In hindsight, it would appear that locking is very hard on a boat’s transmission.  Moreover, leaving the engine running for an hour while sitting in a lock is also hard on the tranny.  Furthermore, all the idle and slow speed running while waiting for locks is no good either.  This can be the only explanation.  My crewman, Robert, an engineer by training and trade, puts it in terms of cycles.  He explained that engineers for all products test products until they fail and have a reasonably good idea how many times something can be used before it fails.  When put in these terms, it would appear that a transmission is slammed in and out of gear many times more often when locking than in normal operation.  Normally, a boat is turned on, put in reverse and put into forward, put into neutral and then put into reverse and docked.  This would be approximately four to six cycles per week or per month, or even per year for some boaters.  Under these conditions, a transmission will last forever.  However, consider the number of cycles a transmission goes through after 70 locking episodes in a matter of weeks.  It is hundreds if not thousands.  This will certainly shorten the life of a damper plate.  When I considered the number of locks transited before the last damper plate episode and the number of locks that preceded this episode, it basically adds up.  I don’t know.  I may never know for sure, but I can tell you this:  Abreojos is done with locks…..for good!

So, Craig called me in the morning before Ron from Merkels showed up and asked if I wanted him to come take a look.  I told him to hold off since Ron was coming.  Well, Ron was no help at all.  In fact, all he could do was tell us that he was two weeks behind on the work he had in his yard already (Oh Geeeez, I don’t knoooooow) and express his concern over the lynching he might suffer if the locals saw him at the marina working on some transient boat. While he was standing in my engine room whining about his problems,  I was fixing to shove a screwdriver into his neck, I was so pissed off.  What in hell did he expect us to do?!!!  Well, I have to take all the bad words and feelings back because, ultimately, almost as soon as he got off the boat, Ron started making phone calls and truly organized a great effort to get us back in motion in less than 3 days.  Unbeknownst to me, Ron called Bekalla.  Bekalla was already on his way down to the boat.  Ron also called his local parts guy to find out about damper plates.  In fact, I got the part number from Iuka and the name of the distributor where they got it from, called them, and spoke to a guy named Al who told me he had already spoken to Ron and was waiting for the part number, that he would most likely have it in stock and would ship it overnight to Ron.  Well, I was impressed.  So very quickly, we went from dead in the water to enjoying a fast moving momentum towards mechanical salvation.  Bekalla started the next morning, and in less than 10 hours pulled the bell housing, replaced the damper plate, and put it all back together again.

This guy Craig Bekalla restored my faith in youth.  Here is a guy in his early 30’s, running his own business, with a wife and 3 kids, willing to work around the clock if necessary to get the job done, and yet he had never even tasted beer!  We called him “The Boy Wonder.” He was like Spiderman in the engine room and came out all covered with grease; literally, from head to toe.  He even had smudges on his face.  This kid worked very hard.   Even though he had not worked on a Borg-Warner Velvet Drive before, he spent hours on line researching the matter, came up with the service manual for the same, and came prepared with all the tools, knowhow and skill to do a terrific job and very quickly.  Although he probably thinks he got the better of us by charging what he called “emergency rates”, he was still less expensive than any other mechanic of similar skill, and actually got the job done for $300 less than the veterans in Iuka and in Port San Luis.  So, we were very pleased to be under way by Friday morning.  We only lost a day since we had planned to stop at Houghton/Hancock to wait for weather for two days. 
We left Houghton/Hancock under a sketchy weather forecast.  Our original plan was to leave the Portage River and make a B-line for the Apostle Islands.  However, we decided to divert to the very small harbor known as Ontonagon, the last of the Michigan harbors of refuge.  It’s a good thing too, because within half an hour of our docking in Ontonagon, the wind dropped down like the hammers of hell.  This harbor was festooned with whitecaps across a water area hardly larger than an Olympic size swimming pool.  All the boats in the harbor were heeled over due to the force of the wind.  Well, that left us with only one thing to do – go in search of more beer.  So off we went.  The harbor master in Ontonagon was a strange bird to begin with and so his directions were something short of useful.  Let me regress.

This dude ran across the railing where we were sitting having lunch.
 When we arrived in Ontonagon, we called in and the harbor master said he was not going to be there when we arrived, and that he would be back around 7:00 that evening, so if we missed him, he would catch up with us.  Well, after we tied up, we made no rush to get to the office.  Within about 10 minutes of docking, he shows up.  So, we took our beers with us and walked with him to the office to sign in.  Most places we have gone at least have a pre-printed form to complete.  Not this guy.  What he did was take a legal pad and write out all the information he wanted me to provide.  Like, hasn’t this guy heard of a copy machine????? 

Oh well, so he gave us directions to a convenience store he said was closer than town.  Just go out of the marina and follow the road.  Well, we followed the road out of the marina and came to a “Y”.  Our friend the harbormaster neglected to tell us which way to go then.  We made a guess and headed to the right.  Now, there is nothing……NOTHING……out there but grass and some trees.  But, we did find the convenience store/auto parts shop/mechanic/bait shop and gas station, and they had what we were looking for.  Moreover, there was this really nasty woman working there as the clerk.  She was quite the smart-ass.  We laughed at her funky hair and decided the word “Ontonagon” was actually a Chippewa Indian word describing the nasty things that should happen to her; things I will not repeat here.  We got a good laugh of it though, as you would expect two guys travelling together on a boat for the last two and a half weeks to do.
Interestingly, the water changed as we approached Ontonagon.  We could see what looked like a long sandbar extending out from the river mouth.  As we got a little closer, however, we could see that it was just very muddy water.  The water went from crystal clear and blue to absolutely brown.  It was like this all the way up the river to the town dock.  We asked the harbor master about this and he informed us that it was from rain runoff and also due to the fact that they are trying to lower the water behind the dam by some 60 feet to repair a broken valve, or something like that.  This was quite a bit different from the water quality we experienced the next day when we ran another 80 miles from Ontonagon to the Apostle Islands.

The Apostle Islands are a group of around 15 islands that form an archipelago extending from the northern tip of the Bayfield Peninsula in Wisconsin.  They are largely uninhabited, except for the occasional NPS Ranger station, and are also largely inaccessible except by small boat.  There are a few docks scattered throughout the archipelago  which are almost free to spend the night.  There is no electricity and no water.  There may be a primitive bathroom, but that’s about it.  The rest of the islands are thick forest on top of granite carved millions of years ago by receding glaciers.  They are covered with small wild life of a vast variety.  We saw snakes, lots of birds, frogs, insects of all kinds, and other amphibians.  There was a sign that suggested that bears not be fed, although I think that was for the tourists as these islands are generally too small to support the foraging needs of your average black bear.  The water was crystal clear and teaming with small fish darting in and out of the pier pilings.  It was beautiful, but the water was very cold.  I can honestly say that our Channel Islands on the west coast have nothing on these islands in Lake Superior.  While they are very different, they are at least equally superb.   

Robert just had to go swimming; so he could cross it off his bucket list; that’s right, take a quick dip in Lake Superior.  I stood by at the ready to gaff him if he lost his breath, not to mention his ability to swim, due to the cold water.  In spite of it all, however, Robert made good on his word and cheated death like a real cowboy, screaming expletives starting with “F” all the way in.  I guess he can now say he went swimming in Lake Superior.  Me?  Hell, I don’t give a shit.  I hate cold water whether it’s fresh or salt, Lake Superior or Larry’s Lilly Pond.  I wasn’t going to dip my ass in 50 degree water just for the hell of it.


We had a great dinner specially prepared by Robert as taught to him by his mother, had plenty of drinks to celebrate our last night of the cruise, and laughed like monkeys until the wee hours before hitting the sack, for the morrow would be our last day on Lake Superior…….forever.

We did not bother to set an alarm as it was only 63 miles down to Superior, Wisconsin.   The forecast was stable and we had no need to get in early.  So we woke up, luxuriated over a couple pots of coffee before casting off from Rocky Island in the Apostles for the cruise to Superior.  This would be a very long day for me as I was only concerned with one thing – finishing this passage and starting to work my way home.  Every sound caught my attention.  Every bump or knock caused my bowels to tighten.  Ultimately, it was all nothing, but I was prepared, and after a long day (another long day) we pulled into the service dock at Barkers Island Marina and marked the end of this cruise.

For me it was, once again, bitter-sweet.  I love being out cruising and exploring a lot more than I enjoy terrestrial life.  We called this trip a delivery and thus forwent a lot of the tourist opportunities along the way.  We did, however, enjoy the essence of the passage; the beautiful scenery all around us, and the sense of knowing that we travelled over 1600 nautical miles from Camden, NC to Superior, WI having navigated on the Dismal Swamp Canal, Chesapeake Bay, the C&D Canal, the Delaware River, Delaware Bay, Cape May, the Atlantic Coast of New Jersey, the Hudson River, the eastern half of the Erie Canal, the Oswego Canal, Lake Ontario, the Trent Severn Waterway, Georgian Bay, the North Channel, the St. Mary’s River, Sault St. Marie, and Lake Superior.

Finally, Abreojos was prepared for departure, loaded onto the back of a great truck, and is now making her way in the fine care of Absolute Yacht Transportation to her new temporary home in Everett, Washington.  Abreojos will ride again soon, and I’m certain we’ll have more to say about her travels as we draw to a close our version of America’s Greatest Loop.

Cheers for now.