Crossing Lake Erie – The Big Bash

Lake Erie is famous for being a rough lake and she showed us all sides of her devious self. Our very first day on the lake out of Erie Basin near Buffalo, NY she proceeded to bash us with her square waves (tall waves with very little distance between each wave). Our route took us 33-nautical miles to Dunkirk NY. We felt every one of those 33 miles with 4-foot waves and 24 knot winds on our nose.

Threatening skies ahead on our first day on Lake Erie

The bashing shook our grill off the rail – the propane line saved it from going into the drink but it left a few scratches on the aft paint where it lodged between the dinghy on its davits and the back of the boat. At the end of day, we were treated to a happy hour aboard First Forty, a trawler that had been ahead of us at the Smith Boys dock in North Tonawanda.

The next morning, Erie showed another of her multiple personalities by being completely calm. We took advantage of her capriciousness nature and changed our destination from Erie PA to Geneva OH traveling just over eleven hours and covering 85 nautical miles.

If you’re wondering why we were pushing so hard, we finally decided that our new boat desperately needed some Gozzard Therapy – the tender loving care that can only be obtained by taking her home to the Gozzard family in Goderich Ontario on Lake Huron.

The Final Grill Bash

On the third day, July 12, the forecast called for 1-2-foot seas. We optimistically set our course for Put-in-Bay in the Bass Islands and another 85-nautical mile day. Lake Erie had other plans for us. The seas were 3-4 feet with an occasional six-footer thrown in for good measure. Just to make sure we were on our toes. Two hours into the bash the grill broke off its support completely.

Lake Erie

The Boat Bar at the Mentor Harbor Yacht Club

We changed our destination and landed at the Mentor Harbor Yacht Club after just four hours of Erie’s not-so-tender mercies. As for the grill – Dan really wanted an excuse to buy a different grill. Lake Erie gave him the excuse he needed.

Lake Erie

Jack had ordered the kids to KICK HARD!

I do have to say if you have to get stuck somewhere, Mentor Harbor (NE of Cleveland) is a good place to get stuck. If you stay two-nights, the second night is free. And they have a restaurant, a pool, and laundry. I sat poolside drinking a rum concoction while waiting for the laundry to get done and watching a bunch of kids do laps under the strict supervision of a demanding young swim instructor named Jack. I really have no idea whether his name was Jack. His t-shirt said “You don’t know Jack” on the back so I figured he must be Jack. He showed no mercy making them repeat laps and other assorted drills that made me reach for my drink just to get relief.

Leaving the grill in their dumpster, we departed Mentor Harbor at 7AM on July 14 heading for Put-in-Bay. By 10AM we had large breaking waves on our side (some drenching us and the cockpit) and 19 knot winds

Lake Erie

The view from the mast in Scudder Bay – Pelee Island

on our nose. Lake Erie at her finest. We had not planned on crossing into Canada just yet, but by changing our direction we were able to take advantage of the winds and raise a couple of sails to help smooth the ride.

We arrived at Pelee Island at 4:30PM just as the winds gave out. Once we cleared customs I got to scale the mast and attach our flag halyards so we could be gracious guests and fly our Canadian courtesy flag.

One More Pump

On the maintenance side – the water pump supplying fresh water in the boat decided we really didn’t need fresh water. Fortunately, we had purchased a spare last fall and Dan installed it before we departed the next morning. Thus far, that makes four water pumps replaced since taking ownership ☹.

Even with our late start, we managed to make it from Pelee Island to Windsor Ontario on the Detroit River by 8:30pm. At about 6PM, the engine faltered and we shut it off instantly. It had sounded like it wasn’t getting fuel but we had filled the main tank back in Geneva. As our fuel gauge was not working we had been estimating usage but had been confident that we had plenty to get to Windsor. Dan switched to the reserve tank and with a couple of hiccups, the engine fired up. Apparently, our bashing into the wind and waves on Lake Erie had doubled our fuel consumption!

Approaching Detroit

We cruised past Detroit and tied up to a dock at the Lakeview Park Marina on the north edge of Windsor, ON with less than an hour of daylight to spare. The next morning, we refueled, got a pumpout and set out across Lake St. Clair staying along the edge of the shipping channel.

Big Ships
Lake Erie

My favorite ship along the way!

We had a number of encounters with Lakers and Salties including one where two were meeting in the narrow St. Clair River at the same time as passing us – we moved over as far as we dared but it happened where the water depth next to the channel was about 2 feet.

Lake Erie

Tight squeeze along the Lake St Clair shipping channel

We arrived in Sarnia at the start of the St. Clair River after enduring some heavy rains. We enjoyed a couple of Manhattans with dinner at the dockside restaurant. A sense of relief spreading over us with each sip as we realized the Lake Erie Bash was behind us, Lake Huron was less than a mile away and we would be in Goderich within a day. We shared a toast to celebrate how far we had traveled and to pending resolution of key boat issues  – properly!

July 16, 2017 Sarnia Ontario     42°58.873’N   82°24.586’W   997.6 Nautical Miles

3 Comments

  1. Wow! What a time! Can’t believe how tough Lake Eire was. Glad it is over for now. Hope attention to boat results in good things. Brought Maija Lisa ti Barkers. Great sail Friday. Sailed with Minna and Rick on Sonadora yesterday. Superb sail. On way up lost ignition on one piston. Still had seven. $300 fixed on a rainy day. Seems we will have rain every other day. Maybe here for two weeks. Lots of hugs. Ilons

  2. We met in 8/17 in Little Current (Breathin’ Easy-OA), and just had time to look you up. I just wanted to comment that we had similar issues in Lake Erie when we were docked in Lake St. Clair and visited the islands one summer…can be a mean little lake .

    • Perhaps the next time we are on Lake Erie, she will be a bit more forgiving – or we will be smart enough to sit and wait until she’s calm!

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