I grew up around boats, as I’ve mentioned before. They were fishing boats–small boats with outboard motors, suitable for small, inland lakes, and they were parked all over our back yard. My father took us out on Lake Erie in those boats, and once or twice we were caught in storms that are memorable to me because of their fierce intensity. I don’t want to be caught on Lake Erie in a storm in a boat smaller than twenty-six feet.
I took up sailing this summer after dabbling with the sport a few times before. I’m rather fascinated by the techniques involved, and it’s a blast when things go right and the boat courses along. Before committing to something like a boat of my own, I decided to take a class and learn how to handle a large boat on one the Great Lakes. The class was a good thing, and I recommend Fair Wind Sailing to anyone interested. That was not one of my mistakes.
We learned how to handle a twenty-six foot boat with a main sail and a jib. There’s a lot going on, which is why people “crew” on sail boats. An extra set of hands is always welcome. After passing the test, my friend and I decided to charter a boat.
Because of scheduling difficulties, we couldn’t get back to the lake until October. Here in the midwest, October can have very pleasant weather, so we hoped for the best. That was the first mistake. August and September are notoriously beautiful, and Lake Erie in particular, because it’s so shallow, warms up in August and holds that heat into September. The sailing can be spectacular–or so I’m told.
The first day we went, it was overcast and breezy, but there was a good chance of a couple of hours for decent sailing. We motored out of Battery Park marina in Sandusky, where there’s an interesting view of Cedar Point Amusement Park, and immediately noticed that the wind had picked up a bit. The temperature dropped, and it began to rain, and visibility dropped to around one hundred feet. We couldn’t see Cedar Point, home of some of the largest roller coasters in the world, and we could just barely make out the marina. Still, we were determined to sail.
I climbed up on the deck to raise the sail. The boat pitched in the swells, and the wind began to lash the rain against us. Everything that seems easy when an experienced captain shows you on a warm summer day is not easy at all in the cold and the wet while you cling to the mast in high seas. We abandoned our plan, gunned the motor, and returned to the marina.
We tried again two weeks later. The good news is that it did not rain. The bad news was that the winds were far stronger, and the waves much higher. Determined again, we took the boat out into Sandusky Bay. When the wind gusts hit forty miles per hour, the boat was twisted around, exposing it to higher waves on its side, and again it took all my concentration to hold onto the mast while I attached the halyard to the main sail. Given the challenges, I don’t think I could have tied a bowline to save my life–and some time I may just have to do exactly that. Once more, we abandoned our plan, gunned the motor, and returned to the marina.
We may try again next year, but the real problem is that we had no flexibility in our schedule. There have been spectacularly pleasant days this October, but not on the days we chartered the boat.