Heading East – Stockton Island to Houghton/Hancock

Leaving the Apostles

We left Stockton Island at 6:00am heading east 80 nm across Lake Superior to the Upper Entry of the Keweenaw Peninsula Waterway. There was no wind or waves but plenty of fog. We played motorboat for 13 hours going in and out of fog throughout the day. Like a good trail horse, Gaviidae followed behind Freelance whose mast would disappear periodically in the fog. We kept a close eye on the radar screen and were in regular radio communication with Freelance.

Engine Trouble

The entire day was pretty much uneventful until we were approaching the entrance of the Upper Entry. Niels hailed us to say he was having engine trouble. When we caught up to Freelance, Niels said he had shut his diesel engine off when alarms sounded. A quick look in the engine room revealed that a lot of oil had been sprayed out. He made it very clear that any attempt to restart the engine would be foolish. He had already deployed fenders along his starboard rail and asked us to pull alongside to tie up, much like the night before. However, Gaviidae was to become a towboat; we made the lashings more secure and carefully lined up to avoid entangling the riggings of the two boats.

Gaviidae – The Tow Boat

We hip-towed Freelance (a first for us with Gaviidae) a mile up the waterway to a seawall called the Lily Pond (it is a designated safe harbor). Dan executed a graceful U-turn mid-channel to put Gaviidae on the side of the seawall. Fortunately, there is little current in the waterway. He maneuvered both boats to a spot along seawall with a tiny bit of help from Gaviidae’s bow thruster. Every available fender from both boats was hung to buffer Gaviidae from the corrugated metal-and-wood wall. Using docklines tied together, Niels and I tied the two-hulled boat to massive bollards that are designed for large ships and 30 feet from the waterway.

When we were secure to the wall, Vicki did a little exploring and went over to a nearby boat launch/picnic area. She encountered a couple of fishermen.and inquired about local diesel repair services. She returned to the boat with the name of a mechanic the fishermen highly recommended—Bekkala’s Diesel. At the same time, I posted to the Women Who Sail Facebook group asking if there was anyone in the area who could provide assistance as needed. At that point we all called it a day.

Diesel Guy

As luck would have it, the ‘diesel guy’ was able to come out to the Lily Pond to do some preliminary diagnostics. Unfortunately for Niels, Vicki, and Freelance the assessment was not good – their engine needed to be pulled and Freelance was going to be out of commission for 2-3 weeks.

Two Masted Catamaran

The next morning, Gaviidae hip-towed Freelance 10 nm into Houghton/Hancock where we tied to the seawall. The mechanic told us we could tie up to the Houghton city seawall. He would be able to get a truck with a hoist up to the wall to lift the heavy engine out of Freedom.

Along the way, we had one anxious moment as we approached a bend in the waterway and met Ranger III, the 165-foot, 648-ton ferry operated by the U.S. Forest Service to transport people, supplies and equipment to Isle Royale and back. Fortunately, Ranger III’s captain spotted us, quickly assessed our distressed situation and slowed down. Our vessels passed in the narrow channel with hardly any wake.

On arrival at the Houghton city seawall, just west of the lift bridge that connects Houghton with its sister-city, Hancock, Dan managed to land our makeshift catamaran between two massive truck tires (black rubber tires + white hull = no no). We tied Freelance to the seawall, separated Gaviidae, and then tied up forward of the disabled boat.

Charging Issues

Meanwhile, Gaviidae was not without her own issues. Our house battery bank was not accepting a charge. Despite running the engine for close to 2 hours from Lily Pond, our batteries were registering 11.5 to 11.75 volts on the volt meter–not what you’d expect if everything was in happy land.

Hip-tow with Freelance
Hip-tow with Freelance



Click below to see a video of Gaviidae towing Freelance as the Isle Royale passenger freighter coming towards us. The Captain was very gracious and slowed down to a crawl to reduce his wake. Nice!

Hip tow with Ranger

June 30, 2015     47° 07.508’N  88° 34.298’W

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