Saturday, October 16, 2010

Seasons end....

So the 2010 sailing season has come to an end, my first full season. The season here in Minnesota is at the most 6 months long and I sailed 5 of them which, is pretty good all things considered. Ice out came early this year so the boats were in the water early, I first sailed on April 15th this year. I would be sailing through October but the timing of my boat club membership and financial availability made that a non-possibility. That will not happen next season as I will re-up my membership in the first quarter of next year and that will cover me for the entire season.
The season had its good times, its aww this sucks with no wind times, it’s oh shit times, and it’s it doesn’t get any better than this times. Considering I was on a sailboat when each of these occurred, it is all good. For me there are few things that compare with being on a sailboat. Whether I am skipper or crew, I have found that being on the boat is when everything is in order for me. No rat race, the life stress is gone. Just me, the boat, and those that mean the most to me out on the water. There is no other place I would rather be. Hard to explain, but if you get it, you get it.
I have sailed in good conditions and less than optimal conditions this year. Even with the wind up, the boat heeling over, having to put reefs in out on the water, rain, and waves, I still would rather be in those conditions on a sailboat than anywhere else. Obviously I do prefer nice winds with the sun and not freezing in the wind and rain, and waking up to frost but, I am sailing and that is what it is about.
My two trips up to Lake Superior were by far the best trips of the year but also, there were some awesome times that Sam, Stu, and I had putting around Lake Minnetonka as well. Hopefully we can all get up to Pike’s Bay next season and I can show them how awesome it is to sail on the big lake and actually explore some of the islands. On ‘tonka and Superior.
So that’s the 2010 season, sad to see it go but I have some great memories and I learned so much this year. I am looking forward to next year already and can’t wait for the ice to be out and the boats back in the water. Check back every once in a while over the fall and winter months as I am sure I will be posting some thoughts as I muddle through the non-sailing months.
Fair winds……

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fall Flotilla on Lake Superior

A while back I received an e-mail from Northern Breezes Sailing School about an upcoming fall flotilla on Lake Superior they were offering. It was $295 to sail from Pike’s Bay in Wisconsin to Spirit Lake Marina in Minnesota. I jumped at it and called the next day. The sail would be from October 1st through October 3rd with everyone meeting up at Pike’s Bay on the evening of September 30th. We would be delivering the boats that the school uses for the ASA 103/104 classes and that are also available for charter through Northern Breezes. Seeing as I was going to take my ASA 103/104 on Aerie, a 36 foot Islander, I requested that I be on one of the other boats, a choice of two 34 foot Hunters. See the posts below in regards to my trip for my ASA 103/104 certifications.
About a week before departure I received an e-mail stating I would be on Taboo, the newest of the two Hunters and a very nice boat. The Hunter 34 has been around for quite some time and the designers did a pretty good job with the interior. The sailing performance is not bad, no speed records but sails pretty good. They are a bit tender initially and stabilize after heeling over at first. Putting in a reef is recommended over 15kts as they become a bit overpowered at that point.
I also found out that the captain that was going to be on my boat was Tony. Tony was my ASA 101 Basic Keelboat instructor. He also was my ASA 105 Coastal Navigation instructor and was my instructor for the refresher course I took in the spring. So I guess you could say he has taught me pretty much all I know about sailing. Tony is a great guy, excellent instructor and has been sailing for over 25 years. He got his start in the Navy on fast attack nuclear submarines during the later years of the Cold War.
We all were to drive up to Spirit Lake Marina Thursday and then van pool over to Pike’s Bay just south of Bayfield Wisconsin were we would board the boats. We would be leaving our respective vehicles at Spirit Lake so they would be waiting for us at the end of our trip. The plan was to go out for breakfast on Friday morning at Northern Edge, then sail out in to the Apostle Islands and have a raft up and spend the night at anchor. We then would sail to Cornucopia Wisconsin and spend Saturday night at the dock in the marina there and have dinner at Fish Lipps. We would then leave early Sunday and make the long run to Spirit Lake just south of Duluth on the St. Louis River.
The boats that are part of our flotilla are;
                Aerie – A 36 foot Islander, fast boat but older so not as “nice” inside.
                Jolly Swagman – A 34 foot Hunter, nice boat a bit older I think than the other Hunter in the fleet.
                Taboo – A 34 foot Hunter, pretty much the same as Jolly but a few years newer.
                Faith – A 39 foot Fairweather Mariner, very nice boat that will be doing an Atlantic crossing in a year or two.
There is about 5 of us on each boat one had 6 so there were 21 of us on this little adventure. The weather forecast had been looking pretty decent as well for the entire time, winds could be a bit light but the temps would be in the 50’s but, Saturday night did come with a frost warning.
The drive up to Duluth was nice, weather was great and of course no traffic traumas as I left at 3pm. I could smell autumn in the air as I got more north. I arrived at Spirit Lake Marina about 5:20pm, not bad on time. I had just missed the first van and had to wait for the next one driven by Tony to arrive. He got to the marina around 7ish so it was a bit of a wait but no big deal. A few others had arrived before then and we waited on another before we headed out for the hour and a half drive to Pike’s bay Marina.
After getting to the marina, I met my other three crewmates; Jocelyn & Brian from Stillwater Minnesota and Dennis from Prior Lake. I got the dinette settee as my bunk. Basically the dining table lowers down and you move the bench cushions over it and sleep on that. I liked it as it was about as wide as a full size bed so I had some nice room. Tony took the “couch”.
We arose the next morning and it was agreed that we would meet at the marina club house around 8am. The facilities at Pike’s Bay are great, very new and clean. So we all took showers and prepared for the day. We met in the conference room and discussed the upcoming trip. It was decided that we would sail up the West Channel, then between Oak and Stockton Islands, then north between Oak and Manitou Islands, then back northwest between Manitou and Otter Islands, then back north again to anchor in a bay on the eastern shore of Rocky Island.  A nice little sail for the first day, Apostle Islands PDF map link for reference.
The weather was over cast as we left the club house and got in the vans to drive over to Northern Edge for breakfast. Forecast had changed to a 30% chance of rain. After we were seated and ordered our food, I looked out the window and noticed we apparently fell within the 30% zone as it was raining. The temp was in the low 50’s as well. After breakfast we checked the weather radar at the marina and saw that the rain was going to last a little while but then clear out. Also, there really was no wind but that was supposed to change later in the day too. So we all boarded our respective boats, fired up the motors, did our prep work to leave the dock, and then we headed out in to the lake.
Before heading out I was very glad I decided to bring my complete foul weather gear instead of just the jacket. Pants, boots, & gloves all came in handy this day as we were on the lake in a light rain. We left the dock a little after noon and began our run up to Rocky Island. An hour or two later the wind started to pick up a bit, those NOAA guys kind of know their job, and we raised the main sail and rolled out the jib. I was at the helm when we were motoring when it was decided to raise the sail so I got lucky and was the first one to truly sail on our boat. The winds were between 6 and 10 kts and yes, she was a bit tender initially but settled down quickly too. We did get a few gusts that were higher but nothing really unsettling. We had a heel angle between 15 and 20 degrees which was not bad at all. 
I was at the helm for about an hour I guess when we switched again. I think Dennis was at the helm now, the winds were picking up to about 15-20kts apparent, which is the wind speed the sails “feel”, so we decided to put a reef in the main, we had heeled over a couple of times to 30+. So I got up to the mast and attached the reef grommet to the hook as someone else held the main halyard so the sail wouldn’t come all the way down, and then they pulled the reefing line in to secure the clew of the sail. I wasn’t sure who was doing what as I was at the mast in 15-20kt winds heeled over at about 25 degrees and making sure I didn’t miss a hand hold and roll off in to the lake.

PFD’s were required at all times when we were in the cockpit or on the deck; they only came off when we were down in the cabin. Wasn’t really a big deal for me to be up there, you just have to be aware of your surroundings always when on the deck of a sailboat.
The single reef did quite nicely as we sailed along for a good stretch of our first run of the trip. Of course as we got about an hour from our destination the wind died down a bit too much and we motored the rest of the way. The forecasted winds changed as well, so our first anchorage was no longer viable as the winds were to build overnight from the northeast so we decided to anchor on the southwest side of South Twin Island.
We rafted up; all four boats tied together a beam of each other. Each person/couple brought a desert to share with the chicken & veggies we grilled. We got all tied up just before sunset and ate dinner under the stars. I forgot how many stars you can see without the light pollution of the city. Saw a few shooting starts as well, course an hour of stargazing was interrupted by another batch of rain coming in. So we didn’t get to socialize as much with the other crews. We headed in to the cabin when the rain came and then called it a relatively early night. We were all pretty tired from the day’s sail. I had forgotten how much you work when sailing in higher winds, the boat has a tendency to head in to the wind or “round up” when it gusts or gets stronger so you have to steer her back away from it. With waves, that can be a bit of a workout. As I lay in bed I began to realize that the congestion and what not I had been feeling all afternoon was not due to the weather but due to the pesky cold virus. Oh joy, just what I needed on a sailing trip.
We awoke the next morning to cloudy skies and brisk winds. We decided to put in a double reef before we set off as the winds were around 20, just to be comfortable. We would be sailing to Cornucopia Wisconsin on Siskiwit Bay. Corny, as the locals call it, is about the size of the palm of your hand. Really, it is a small town. A couple of cool shops, a small fish market, a general store, and a bar/restaurant known as Fish Lipps.
Sailing was pretty good with the double reefed main, we also “reefed” the jib but as it is a rolling furler jib we rolled it in a bit and were done with it. The waves were a bit higher today, about 2-4 feet, as the lake had had all night to get churned up. On Superior you have “Square Rollers” for waves at times, basically nice waves with decent sized flat top to them, kind of exciting when you sail along with those. It was more work keeping your course too as you are fighting the wind gusts and the waves but, you work through it. I was at the helm and things were fine, but interesting weather and wave-wise. I was turning the wheel back to get the boat back on course and Tony said “Get her back where we need to be Dan.” I replied “I am trying to…” Tony then said the obvious, “Don’t try, just do it.” And so I did. I cranked harder on the wheel and she came back. Now, there was no “yelling” at each other here, it was just that I needed to get the wheel over and Tony was just reminding me of it. No big deal, sometimes conversations get intense on a boat, especially in rougher seas.
Our course took us south between Rocky Island and Otter Island, then west under Bear Island, north of Raspberry Island and York Island, north of Sand Island and the beautiful light house that is there. It is manned by a volunteer during the season. Then we headed southwest after the light house and headed straight for Corny.
By the time we were near York Island the sun had come out and the winds had become much nicer. We shook out the reef and we sailed quite nicely. As we passed to the north of the mainland, basically between Sand Island and Eagle Island, Tony pointed to port and said “Look at that!” We all turned and say a large, white headed bird about 15-20 feet about the surface of the lake. A bald eagle was heading right for us. He turned and headed around our bow and then headed back on his original track, lowered himself more, dropped his legs down and snatched a 10”-12” fish out of the water and flew off. I never thought I would ever see anything like that “live”. It was an amazing thing to see. Of course all the cameras were down below but, all 5 of us saw it and as I said, damn that was cool!

We docked at Cornucopia around 3pm or so. We had plenty of time to walk around, socialize with the other crews and take in the town. It was small yes, but it had great character. We enjoyed a great night at Fish Lipps having dinner and a few drinks. Everyone seemed to have a great time and we all head back to our boats around 11pm. It was going to be cold Saturday night too so we fired up the heater and it got to be about 70 in the cabin. Sunday was going to be either motoring or motor sailing as we all wanted to get home at a decent time and it was about 45 miles from Corny to Spirit Lake Marina. We decided to get up at 6am and head out by 7am, having breakfast underway. This should get us in to Spirit Lake around 5pm.
We awoke the next morning to a nice layer of frost on the boat and the dock and everything else.
It was chilly, I would think in the lower 30’s easily. We prepped the boat for departure and headed out around 7:10am. As the sun came out, it was a beautiful day, the frost melted and the boat dried out.
We did get some wind for a bit so we motor sailed for about an hour. But mainly Sunday was a day to motor along, relax for the most part, and let the auto-helm handle the steering. We saw a lake freighter off in the distance and a commercial fishing boat too. The “motor” to the river entrance was pretty mellow, which for me, was great as the cold I picked up was starting to really dig in.
We passed through Duluth, up the St. Louis River, to the marina. Jocelyn and I were on the bow with binoculars identifying buoys as we went, her husband Brian was looking out for other boats, Dennis tracked the buoys we identified on the chart and Tony was at the helm.
We got in to Spirit Lake about 5:15pm. Not bad time, but still a very long day. We packed our gear, cleaned up the boat and said our good bye’s. I so wanted to just get home at this point. I got in my vehicle and headed on south. Got home at 8:13pm, easy to do when you go nearly 80. Cold was kicking my butt so I basically had Stu unload my vehicle, talked to him and Sam for a bit and went to bed.
This was a great trip and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Hopefully I can get on the trip that brings the boats from Spirit Lake to Pike’s Bay in early June, more daylight and different weather. I gained some great sailing experience and met some great people too. Hopefully we can sail together again sometime, I would really like that.