Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Butt off the water on Lake Superior

Saturday found four of us launching from Red Cliff, crossing to Basswood, then up to Frog Bay to check out the beach on the brand new Frog Bay Tribal National Park.  We then crossed back to Oak, looped around Raspberry, and then headed back to Red Cliff.  Pretty decent paddle except we weren't paddling.  We were on a very nice 30' Hunter sailboat.

My business colleague, good friend, and unindicted co conspirator in a number of memorable incidents over the years, SkipperCharlie, had suggested that we rent a sailboat in the Apostle Islands one of these weekends.  We picked the weekend and I immediately got in touch with another crony and bitter business competitor, BarnacleBill, who owns a lovely boat up at Port Superior.  BB is on a secret government rehab mission, but kindly went out of his way to direct us to a couple of the rare bareboat charter outfits that would rent for just a day.  Crow's Nest and sail lake offered a one day rental at a reasonable cost and we got in touch with Reeve.  After SkipperCharlie sent in his extensive resume, including three Trans Superior races and some British Virgin Islands trips, we were approved to rent the boat.  In the interest of full disclosure, SkipperCharlie did admit that he and his crew may be the only guys to not finish three Trans Superior races.  Serious racers stripped every piece of extra weight from their boats for the race and his crew was spotted trundling cases of beer down to their boat in a two wheeled dock cart. 

The forecast was for a decent wind day.  10-15 knots out of the southwest would be fun for we  rookies and yet keep us moving at a decent pace.  SkipperCharlie and his wife, BlueberryBets, along with the VoiceOfReason and I boarded the 29.5' Hunter and got underway around 9am.  BBets was an experienced deck hand but the VOR and I were pretty much clueless.  My only other Great Lakes sailing expedition was with EyeCutterPete out of the Port of Milwaukee.  He took my friend Woody and I out on Lake Michigan, knowing full well that Woody was a farm boy who swam like a large rock.  The swells were big and as we were turning back toward the harbor he hollered some sort of sailing gibberish at us like "secure the jib line and reef the mainsail...arrrr!".  When we just stared at him dumbly he translated: "One of you a-holes grab that flocking rope, yank it tight, and tie it on that flocking cleat in the deck".  Now that we both understood!

It was a very nice day on the water.  I was struck by just how much information is absorbed kayaking that translates well to sailing.  Wind behavior is the key one of course.  Knowing how the wind behaves as it bends around headlands and funnels up channels, knowledge gained on countless paddle trips in the area, really helped chart a course.  Kayakers of course, go out of their way to avoid the wind and get in a lee while we were looking to fill those sails  and keep moving at a decent pace.  Knowing where the shoals were was a nice tidbit of info as well.  The wheel had a device that measured speed and depth next to it but given my mistrust of electronic devices, a mistrust that has actually resulted in a shooting a couple years back, I had the chart of the islands right next to me when I was allowed to take the helm.  Three inches of draft in the kayak vs. four and a half feet  in the sailboat has to be in the forefront of the brain at all times.  I also thought about my attitude toward sailboats when I was kayaking juxtaposed against my attitude toward kayaks when I was sailing.  In the kayak I pretty much stay out of the way, thinking that I am more maneuverable and not really knowing how, when, or if said sailboat would tack, change course, or perform some other maneuver that might put me in their path.  While on the sailboat, it became apparent that it was pretty easy to switch direction a few degrees to steer clear of any kayakers.  When both of us are moving at 3 to 4 knots on a bright sunny day, the very idea of a collision would seem to be ridiculous. 

My one constant head scratcher regarding sailing is the fact that a majority of sailors don't sail.  They fire up the 'iron spinnaker' as SkipperCharlie refers to it, and just motor along, sometimes with the sail up, sometimes down.  If you don't want to put the damn sail up, why have a sailboat?  We saw a number of sailboats motoring along, sails furled, as we clipped along at 3-4 knots in a nice breeze.  After commenting on this a 'couple' times I was instructed by the VOR to STFU (figure it out people).  I still don't get it.  Any comment by sailors in their defense to clarify this puzzling trait would be welcome.  I will admit that we had to fire up the diesel on the backside of Raspberry Island but only because we had a time limit on our charter and a half knot of speed would not get us back to Red Cliff in a timely fashion.

It was a wonderful day on the water, as most of em' are.  The benefits were a much wider range of vision due to ones derriere being several feet off the water instead of sitting in it, the ability to move around, and the nice feature of being able to enjoy an adult beverage while underway. It was also nice not to have a wet ass when I got off the water or that sweaty wet band around my torso where the neoprene spray skirt had been stuck to my shirt for most of the day. I don't think we will be looking to rent a slip any time in the near future however, but sailing, especially sailing in the breathtakingly scenic Apostle Islands National Lakeshore,  is a pretty nice way to spend a day on the water.

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