the all-seeingeye The Chronicles of Commedia Around "The Mitten" of Michigan

The Solitude, which you may have read about in The Gales of November spent the winter of 97/98 undergoing a refit/repair to deal with the damage done on that ill-fated voyage. Renamed Commedia, the owner, his girlfriend, and later me, sailed it back from South Haven Michigan to Belle River Ontario. This is the story of that trip, posted with Geoff's permission.

by Geoff Safron

Well, we made it. Around "The Mitten" of Michigan, from South Haven north along the East Coast of Lake Michigan, under the Mackinaw Bridge, South along the West Coast of Huron, down the St. Clair River and across Lake St. Clair to my home port of Belle River, Ontario. My recently (last November) acquired 1978 Cape Dory 30 Cutter, "Commedia", repaired and updated, finally came home. Boat and crews survived unscathed. I've tried not to wax too verbose, but I'll warn ye', it's a bit of a long read, so fix a drink first:


Departed South Haven at 1130 hrs., and immediately upon exiting the mouth of the harbor, the engine stalled (!!). I played with diesel bleed-screws while Rachel tried to sail us out of the enourmous yacht race that we'd managed to find ourselves in the middle of; a few choice epithets hurled in our direction by the racers. After restarting, motorsailed to Saugatuck, stalled again in the channel. A few choice epithets hurled by us; thanks to a godsent tow from a good samaritan O'day 24, we managed to get to our mechanic's service dock.


Cliff, our mechanic, spent three (ahem, expensive) hours in the cockpit locker re-seating fuel fittings. We finally got underway by 1730 hrs; no wind, glassy seas; motored all the way to Grand Haven, arriving just before pitch black but just after the only walkable restaurant closed; arg.


Shoved off at 1200 hrs, cloudy, but a good 15 kt. breeze from stbd. beam; New autopilot (ST4000), tridata and furled gennie worked beautifully! First Mate got her first shot at the helm, attaining our extant record speed of 8.4 kts. Got to White Lake Channel at 1610 hrs, and a new mishap strikes; Sudden vibration from below, then no torque...prop shaft linkage bolts had worked loose, chewing up the third one in the last few seconds; I replaced two of them, and gingerly (2 kts) motored up the 5-mile stretch to Whitehall; started to rain on us in earnest; foulies donned; arrived Whitehall 1900 hrs; Excellent dinner had at a bowling alley, of all places, called "Pinheads".


Patronized the Whitehall Hardware Store and got new linkage bolts; Motored out of Whitehall at 1105 hrs; Cool day, about 65F, flat seas, fog, useless 2 kt. wind from dead-ahead; motored all day; Had a new crew member for four hours: a little yellow-chested bullfinch rode with us, feasting upon dead bugs on the deck; absolutely unafraid of us. 1855 hrs arrived at the mouth of Ludington harbor, and were nearly run down by the huge car ferry, the SS Badger. We might have had right-of-way, but we deferred to him. Ludington's marina is beautiful, and the staff are A-1. Had another fine meal (albeit pricey) at "JD Steamers".


Motored out of Ludington at 1200hrs, another engine stall as we were raising sail; bled the beast again...; decent wind from the East; averaged 7kts+ all the way to Frankfort; weather deteriorated by 1700hrs, looked bad enough to reef down, put on foulies and attatch safety harnesses; by 1800hrs it was raining like hell; arrived 1915hrs in Frankfort, and felt glad to be off the lake. That night we got a big blow, wind shifting 180 and blowing us against the dock; bumpers did their job. Our neighbor in the Beneteau Oceanis 411 (who has an anemometer) reported gusts to 62mph that night-yikes!


Weather questionable all morning, but looked like it was lifting after lunch; ventured out at 1340hrs; seas were pretty rolly (5-6'), but the wind had calmed way down-less than 5 kts from the rear; First Mate took her first 1/2 dramamine of the trip; seas calmed to 3' swells by 1600hrs, and by 1700 things turned beautiful; motorsailed all day averaging about 6 kts; arrived Leland harbor at 2030hrs; Got one of the last slips...evidently some wine festival was set for the weekend...overweight polyester-garbed powerboater heaven (Elitist? Who, me?).


Motored out of Leland at 1135hrs; engine stalled again, bled her, restarted, still getting air from somewhere (gawd, this is getting old); lousy winds from no particular direction; motored at about 6 kts. Engine revvs on her own; a sign that she's still sucking air; tried to cut the corner at South Point a bit too closely; suddenly the depth went to 6' and I saw big scary rocks down there; turned tail and went AROUND the green bouy this time; arrived Charlevoix Channel at 1720hrs; lots of traffic; idled and occasionally reversed against current waiting for the drawbridge to open at 1730; given how well we all know reverse works on a CD, it was a bit tense, particularly when the *&%$# engine stalled again! Thankfully, she started right up again, and we got into the harbor unscathed (whew!); Had trouble finding a transient slip-big fishing tournament this weekend; harbor staff clocked out at 1700; we got bounced three times during the night, ending up at the gas dock, who wanted 30 bucks for the privilege at 7am.


First Mate Rachel had had enough for awhile...she'd braved crappy weather and the stench of diesel for 6 days, and deserves a medal; my buddy Dale drove up from Milan (Michigan, not Italy) to relieve her, and she drove his car back to Detroit. Dale and I motored off the gas dock at 1020hrs, guessed it, the engine stalled. I decided I'd had it and we limped into the middle of Lake Charlevoix; Dale dallied about with the gennie up while I got into the cockpit locker and again re-seated the fittings, including the aluminum L fitting at the tank; bled the system, and she roared back to bubbles evident in the filter bowl...could this be the culprit?? All I had was winch grease to seat the fittings, but it seemed to do for now. We made the 1430 drawbridge, and finally escaped Charlevoix; had a few hours of decent (5-10kt) wind from the West, then Lake Michigan went to sleep...a "millpond" was how Dale described it; motored (no revving!) all the way to Mackinaw City. The Bridge was beautiful at night, though the pitch-black shadow was a scary thing to sail into; arrived Mac City harbour at 2335hrs. No fuel problems...but still crossing fingers.


Up at 0800hrs, spent way too much for groceries and fuel, and were underway by 1135hrs; no wind, flat seas again (yawn); besieged by a cloud of gnats, who followed us all the way to Rogers City; got a brief squall of rain, was over by the time we had our yellows on, drenched underneath; motored at 6.2-6.5kts, arrived RC at 1935hrs; We had a hearty meal at the Lighthouse Bar and Grill, and were regaled with shipwreck history by Arlene, our fiesty bartendress.


Barge at the Calcite Mine blew its horn, loudly, at 0600hrs. I went to town to try to find the makings of a shore power cord, as we left the adaptor at Mac City (argh!); Visited all three hardware stores in town, and got everything needed but the 30-amp round male plug...hopefully I'll find that in Alpena. Motored out of Rogers City at 1025hrs; winds very light, from NW, seas 1-2'; spent the day motoring around commercial fishing nets; rounded Presque Isle and got a slightly better wind angle; raised just the gennie and gained .5kt.; as we approached the Alpena Channel buoys, the engine started revving again ( was too good to be true); Theory was I had indeed found the leaky fitting (the aluminum L), but that the winch grease hadn't held up as a thread compound...decided to find the proper stuff in Alpena; arrived harbor at 1939hrs. Dale fell in love badly with an aged wooden Choy Lee ketch with a "For Sale" sign on it; by the sheerest coincidence, we dropped into a bar ("Latitude 45"...well, maybe not such a coincidence after all) where the harbormasters, Mike and Jim were swilling. They bought us beers and told us all about the "Dragon V"...a sad story about Stan, who was suffering from Parkinson's and forced to give up his pride and joy. They expected him to visit the boat the next day; we thought we'd like to meet him.


I took another long walk looking for pipe compound and electrical connectors (I'm going to write a book entitled "A Guide to Hardware Stores in Michigan Harbor Towns"); found both, while Dale went to visit with Stan on the Dragon V. I re-seated the fuel fittings with teflon compound, and joined them by 1300hrs, meeting Capt. Stan. Tragic. A ghost of a man, who didn't want to give up his boat, or his life. Tears welled up in his eyes as he talked about the places he'd been and the work he'd done on her. Broke my heart. Dale passed on buying the Dragon V; lots of rot, unfortunately. But we made a sincere offer to Stan to drive up and be crew for him this summer if he'd like. Just as well we dilly-dallied, as a serious squall line zoomed over us at 1330hrs, spitting rain and electricity; by 1420hrs things looked clear enough, and we set off; we motorsailed on a 160 bearing; yesterday it was gnats, today's plague was biting flies (yaaa!); we arrived at Harrisville harbor at 1900hrs. It was a beautiful evening, spoiled only slightly by a couple of teenage boys fishing off the breakwater, yelling obscenities at each other.


We got a nice early start, departing Harrisville at 0915hrs; what's that?? Wind!! From the starboard beam!! Egad, we're a sailboat! At 1035hrs we receive company-six life-vested gentlemen in an inflatable...Coast Guard inspection time! They were very polite, allowed us to continue sailing as two came aboard. We passed with flying colors, and seemed genuinely surprised when I THANKED them for doing these boardings (hmmm...methinks our powerboat brethren are not so grateful? Oops, there I go again.); By 1130hrs our wind was gone, and we were back to playing stinkpot again; 1400hrs, wind was back! Sailed at a healthy 6.5kts. Arrived at Port Austin at 1730hrs. It's a whole other story, but this is as far as we got back in November (Delivery Attempt #1); The spell was broken, we just might make it this time. Perch Dinner at Joe's; beer at the Landing Bar-if you're ever there, tell Theresa that Geoff and Dale sent you.


Waited for another serious storm to pass before heading out; motored out of Port Austin at 1045hrs; Decent wind! But when we turned around the lighthouse to a 114 bearing, it was from dead-ahead (doh!); another day of listening to a 2-cycle diesel...but (knock on wood) a happy diesel; we motored all day; Dale finally got bored enough to open up his Kipling anthology; we arrived at Port Sanilac at 2110hrs, happy to see our friends Nancy, Barb and Sherman of the Buena Vela already there. Tonite's inspection of the engine bilge shows that I've got a slight oil leak from the tranny seal. I topped it up with 4 oz. of 10w30, pumped the bilge into the "yucky bucket", and vowed to keep an eye on it. Had a devil of a time finding a place to eat in Port Sanilac; only place that looked open was in the grips of a crowded Karaoke night, and we couldn't get a barmaid's eye to save our soul; finally we stumbled into the Bellaire Inn, a lovely restored victorian house, and managed to be their last table served...had (what else?) the perch dinner.


Up at 0715hrs, did laundry at the local l'mat, and departed Port Sanilac at 1030hrs; Sunny, clear, 1' seas, and 8-knot winds from the SW; over the course of the day it picked up to around 10 or 12, and we sailed all the way down to the Bluewater Bridge in Port Huron; as we crossed under the bridge, the traffic and chop were too steep, and the winds too variable; we doused canvas and motored down the river; QUITE the current, in our favor fortunately. Knotmeter read 6.0knots, but the GPS reported a speed over ground of 9+; We managed to get all the way down river (about 40 nmi) in about 4 hours!; Not many choices for transient slips in Algonac; the only place we raised by VHF was the Algonac Harbor Club, which turned out to be up a channel a mere 5' deep (my keel is 4'2"...too close!); but it was getting dim and we weren't feeling picky. Algonac Harbor Club also turns out to cater to my buddies the powerboaters (as in, we were the only stick in the harbor) Lots of Bud Light being drunk, tattoos on whole families, and loud Van Halen blaring (there I go again). Skinny little slips with treacherous pilings to motor around...and for all that, a $50 slip fee (ouch). We decided we'd given them enough money, and so rather than patronize the harbor's restaurant we wandered up the street to the Why Knot Inn...a delightfully seedy bar that turned out to be the hangout of the local Longshoreman's Union. Stuffed ourselves with burgers and beer for a total of twenty bucks.

Insert National Geographic Theme Music Here


0930hrs; motored out of Algonac, and South toward Lake St. Clair; we're within a mile of the lake...and the engine starts revving (insert primal scream here); we limped to the lake, raised sail, and Dale once again kept us away from land and other boats as I re-seated the fittings...except, she's still sucking air! The filter bowl looks like a percolator! Then it dawned on me, the last time the tank was lower (just under a half, according to the guage), and we had choppy seas...perhaps the sloshing in the tank is allowing air to get into the pickup tube. Despite the seas and our heel angle, I managed to pour the six gallons I had in a reserve jug into the tank...and we motored, and waited...and after about 20 minutes, she stopped revving. It took 15 days, but perhaps we finally exorcised my fuel demons. We let her run, but the winds were great! We tacked SE and SW all day toward Belle River, doing about 7.5 kts, finally giving up and motoring upwind when we feared we'd be late for our homecoming time of 1800 hrs. There was a bit of a storm moving across Detroit at that point, but it swung to the west of us...but ironically, the biggest seas (5-6') of the entire voyage were during that last hour, on our own little St. Clair. We arrived to a hero's welcome at 1815 hrs, put her into slip B-40, tied her off, shut her down and cleaned her up. Exhausted, sunburned, windburned but overjoyed, we'd done 608 nautical miles in 15 days, my longest trip ever, and lived to tell the tale. Thanks for letting me tell it.