Lake Erie Completion Tour – Part 1
July 25 – August 6, 2018
This past winter, I was doing some “desktop sailing” and overlaid most of my GPS tracks onto a satellite image of Lake Erie. It made me realize that I’ve been to quite a few of the Lake Erie ports that I can get my boat into. There are several ports that are too shallow. There are a few ports that won’t allow me because they’re run by private clubs that don’t cotton to my kind. (a non-member) And, there are a few that are totally industrial and don’t really have a place for a boat like mine to comfortably dock or anchor. I made a count – 32 Lake Erie ports for my boat. At the end of the 2017 season, I had visited 21.
want to get a decent sailing trip done during the summer. But it seems that work and other travel generally prevent a sailing trip until September. This year, I managed to squeeze a trip in beginning in July. It was time to visit some new ports.
Here are the cumulative GPS tracks from 2014-17 that visualized how much of Lake Erie I’d covered. See that empty space in the far west corner. I need to head towards Toledo.
July 25, 2018 – I left a little before sunset on a Wednesday night to head to Sandusky. Here’s Whiskey Island Marina and a nearly full moon.
Right next to Whiskey Island is the Cleveland Bulk Terminal. Here is a pretty good mountain of taconite pellets (partially processed iron ore) that will be used making steel at the mills up the Cuyahoga River.
I’ve got a long night ahead of me.
Leaving Cleveland with a full moon. This picture – nor any I could take through the night – would show what an amazing night it was. Around 10pm, I could see Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, the full Moon, and Mars all in a row across the sky. Because of the full Moon, I couldn’t see the Milky Way until the Moon sat around 4 am but it was a spectacular night.
July 26 – Sunrise back over my shoulder.
An empty bulk carrier anchored and waiting to enter Sandusky Harbor.
By morning, my nice night sail became a pain as the 15-18 knot wind came right out of Sandusky Bay and slowed me down. Here’s Cedar Point near the Bay entrance.
This is the Edison Bridge in the distance. I’ve driven over this bridge hundreds of times on the way to Lakeside. Crossing it, generally means I’m on vacation. It was fun seeing it from this perspective.
I got to Sandusky Yacht Club about 9:30 am.
I was tired but I was hungrier. I walked into Sandusky to find some late morning breakfast. This was the first place I came across on the waterfront. The New Sandusky Fish Company. They only have picnic tables outside and pretty much all they do is fry fish.
But I ate a great perch sandwich. It was a good first meal for a boat trip.
I went back to the boat for a much-needed nap. I was up and was getting some work done when the wind picked up a little and it started raining. I closed all the hatches just before a severe storm tore through. My wind instruments registered 67 knot winds! It lasted about 15 minutes and it was exciting. After it died down, I poked my head up and was happy to find no damage on my boat. Others weren’t so lucky. You can see a damaged foresail in this picture. I spotted four others.
July 27 – The next morning, I walked into downtown Sandusky and had breakfast. I sat near the fountain in Washington Park and had coffee and read the paper. The fountain has The Boy with the Leaking Boot.
The Sandusky Register had coverage of the storm from the day before.
The Merry-Go-Round Museum opened at 10 am.
Yes, I rode the Merry-Go-Round. There were 6 adults and 2 children on it when I rode. Not weird at all...
I spent about an hour and a half here. Fun and interesting.
I also visited the Maritime Museum of Sandusky.
For such a small museum, they had several very nice multi-media displays. One of my favorites was about the ferry company that ran to Cedar Point.
A model of the U.S. Brig Niagara – the decisive ship in the Battle of Lake Erie in the war of 1812. I toured the reconstructed boat a few years prior in Erie, PA.
July 28 – I had a relatively short day. I left Sandusky in the morning and sailed to Middle Bass Island. It was a wonderful sailing day.
One of the highlights of the day for me was sailing past the Marblehead Lighthouse. It is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the United States side of the Great Lakes – since 1822. I’ve visited via land dozens of times.
Just west of the lighthouse is the dock for the Marblehead Limestone Quarry. It is one of the highest volume quarries on the Great Lakes. You can see one of the Kelleys Island ferries on the right.
Great sailing towards Kelleys Island.
I’ve been to Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island many times. But I’d never been to Middle Bass Island – not even when Lonz Winery was open. The Middle Bass Island Marina has a nice protected entrance.
Middle Bass State Park Marina and Middle Bass Yacht Club
In July, 2000 Lonz Winery had a patio collapse killing 1 person and injuring 75 others. It was bought by the state and included in the Middle Bass Island State Park. The upper part of the winery is gone. All that remains is the tower, the rebuilt façade, and the basement wine cellars.
There aren’t many restaurant choices on Middle Bass. This is J F Walleyes. Its unassuming entrance belies what’s inside and behind.
Behind is a wading pool with grotto, a view of the lake, a bar and live music.
I opted to stay inside with the air conditioning and some fairly decent ribs.
I worked in the afternoon and decided to eat onboard. Cheese, crackers, apple, canned oysters and Bourbon. Tasty.
July 29 – This was another great sailing day heading from Middle Bass to the West Harbor of Catawba Island.
I didn’t hear any distress calls on VHF but the Coast Guard had a chopper and two zodiacs focused on one spot.
I had been told for years that Catawba Island’s West Harbor would be way too shallow for my boat to enter. After going to a Great Lakes Cruising Club picnic there and meeting several sailors, I was assured that I probably wouldn’t run aground. The entrance was chaotic.
This guy. From the entrance to the marinas is about a mile. The guy on the jet ski stayed nice and slow. But, in this picture, he had just forced an oncoming boat out of the channel where they ran aground. It was like a slow-motion game of chicken. The oncoming power boat blew their horn, slowly swerved from side to side to get out of his way. All the while, he made no turn, no gesture, no acknowledgement in any way that there were any boats around him. I stopped in the far right side of the channel and radioed the power boat to make room for them to pass him starboard to starboard but they decided to pass on the other side where they hit mud. Lots of yelling and commotion. It was bizarre.
Not only was the channel plenty deep enough for my boat. They were actively dredging. I never spotted less than 12 feet depth. It was a great channel.
Herl’s Harbor. This is a terrific marina albeit with minimal services. But they’re right next to another marina where you could get work done if necessary.
There weren’t many restaurants near Herl’s. The only place to grab some lunch within walking distance was JT’s Catawba Café.
Naturally, I ordered a perch sandwich. It’s what I do. They were out of perch. No worries, I’ll pick something else. The owner pushed her JT’s Lobster Roll. I wasn’t interested. If I were in Maine, or pretty much anywhere near salt water, I’d have considered it. She insisted it was from Maine. She pushed and I agreed, instantly regretting it. She assured me it would look just like her table tent ad.
This is does not look like the picture. If this had a molecule of actual lobster in it, I’d be amazed. It was okay but way too expensive for crabstix. The fries were good.
Apparently, what they’re known for is their donuts.
Herl’s was a nice marina and probably the closest marina I can use when I’m staying at Lakeside. Kathleen, and her friend Grace, came up and I spent a couple days with them in Lakeside before heading back to Cleveland for a couple days to work. Technically, I’m not on vacation and I had a client in Cleveland that I needed to see.
August 2 – After a couple days working, my buddy Lawrence drove me from Cleveland back up to Catawba Island.
August 3 – Today was one of the shortest sailing days of the trip. It was fairly light winds and I motorsailed from the east side of Catawba Island to Port Clinton. Farm runoff into Lake Erie causes a green algae that is not good for the lake. I ran across a huge swath of it.
Port Clinton is a very nice port town – one of my favorites in Ohio.
Ohio has been upgrading the Port Clinton bridge over the winter. They were supposed to be done and the bridge reopened in April. They’re still not done. So, it’s in the permanently up position. No need to call for an opening. Unfortunately, that isolates the marinas on the north side of the bridge from most of the town on the south side. (The bridge finally opened four days later.)
After docking, I walked to one of the two restaurants on the north side of the bridge. Dock’s Beach House Restaurant is right on the water.
Brands Marina was fantastic. They have a brand-new pool and showers and were one of the least expensive marinas I’ve ever stayed in.
August 4 – I left Port Clinton right at sunrise to head to Toledo. Port Clinton is a great fishing charter town. Here are several of the charter boats getting ready to go.
Pretty good sunrise on a hot calm day.
I motorsailed most of the way to Toledo. I had to stay north of the Camp Perry firing range that was firing that day. They hail on VHF to keep boats out of the range and there are National Guard boats patrolling the water near the range to keep boats out. But I could still hear the weapons firing. There’s a lot going on in this picture. As I motored along, I passed one of the largest fishing fleets I’ve ever seen – easily over 200 boats. Then, I heard the sound of “go-fast” boats. I looked over to see a fleet of almost 100 power boats roaring through the fishing fleet. A couple had AIS and I was able to spot one that was going over 80 miles per hour. A helicopter was following the power boat fleet. I was well outside the path of the power boats but I bet some of the fishing boats had some close calls.
The Toledo Harbor Light marks the long straight channel into Toledo and Maumee River. It’s about 8.4 miles in a straight line to get to the mouth of the Maumee.
Once in the Maumee River there are five bridges between me and downtown. I only have to go through four. This is the first one: The CSX Railroad bridge. Luckily, a train had crossed while I was still out in the channel so the bridge tender opened for me with no delay. The second bridge – the Norfolk Southern Railroad Bridge – is open most of the time so I didn’t have to even radio them.
The third and fourth bridges. The tall one is the Veteran’s Memorial Glass City Skyway and it carries I-280 over the river. It’s high enough that there’s no opening. The second bridge, The Robert Craig Memorial Bridge, used to carry I-280 traffic. It was one of the only bascule drawbridges in the Interstate system. Now it handles local traffic.
This is the obligatory shot of the mast clearing the bridge by what seems like too few feet.
As soon as I cleared the bridges I turned left to dock at the Toledo Skyway Marina. This marina is at the National Museum of the Great Lakes.
This museum used to be in Vermilion, Ohio. It moved into this new building in Toledo in 2014. I’ve been wanting to visit for years. Coming by boat seemed like the best option. The showers for the marina are actually the restrooms for the museum. But they were very nice.
Outside the museum, they have the SS Col. James M. Schoonmaker, a lake freighter launched in 1911. At that time, it was the largest ship on the Great Lakes.
The view from the Schoonmaker. Mine is the only sailboat in the marina.
One of the many bulk cargo holds.
The view of downtown Toledo from the bridge deck
This is inside the museum. It is a frame from the original U.S. Brig Niagara.
In addition to the museum, my second reason to come to Toledo was to go to a Mudhens game. The guy working in the marina called the water taxi for me and it picked me up at the dock.
It cost $5 round trip. An Uber would have been $7 each way.
Before the game, I stopped at Tony Packo’s for one of their Hungarian Dogs and an order of Chili Mac. Even better than a perch sandwich.
I bought my ticket the night before. Even though the game was nearly sold out, I was by myself and it was easy to get a great seat. I was in the second row right behind home plate. Unfortunately, the Mudhens lost to the Indianapolis Indians (the AAA team of the Pittsburgh Pirates).
Fifth Third Field is the home of the Toledo Mudhens.
August 5 – In the morning, I left to head back out into the lake.
The Craig bridgetender was very nice. She was waving from her office.
This day was just a long hot day. Even though I was only on the water for 3.5 hours, it took almost 2 hours to get from the marina to the Toledo Harbor Light where it was deep enough for me to head to Toledo Beach Marina in LaSalle, Michigan. There was very little wind and I motored the whole way.
Toledo Beach Marina is very nice. But there’s nothing at all close to it.
Luckily, they have a nice restaurant called the Sand Bar.
The perch tacos were delicious. But I was pretty done with fried food. I had a big salad too.
This is my last night of the trip onboard and it was hot. I was planning on departing at 4am but it was so hot and I had a fly bothering me that I didn’t get to a solid sleep until about 2am.
August 6 - I managed to depart by 6am on a beautiful morning. This was the longest day on the water of the trip. I needed to get back to work in Cleveland so I was going to go the whole way. I thought it would take as much as 18 hours. The forecast was calling 10-15 knots of Southwest wind with waves 1-3 feet. I literally could not have asked for a better forecast. That would lead to a perfect sailing day.
There’s not much that makes me happier than having my sails up and the engine off before sunrise.
The most direct course home was through a small pass just north of North Bass Island in the U.S. and between Pelee Island and Middle Island in Canada. I had perfect sailing and made it through that pass about 2pm. However, at 1pm, NOAA hailed “all vessels” on VHF to announce a squall alert for Western Lake Erie. Over the next few hours, that alert changed to cover all of Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, and Lake Huron. This picture is of a squall that was over Kelleys Island – about 8 miles away. It looked like I was staying ahead of it. But, it caught me. I was ready. I had all the hatches closed and had my foul weather gear on. At the first gust, I turned into the wind and dropped my mainsail. I was sailing under headsail alone when the rain and heavy winds hit. I only got gusts into the high 20’s and it only lasted about 20 minutes. It was fun.
Cleveland popping up in the distance - about 20 miles. The weather service changed their forecast several times. Several severe thunderstorms were in the area, including one on the east side of Cleveland that had sustained winds of 45 knots. My luck was fantastic and I only got caught by the edge of that one squall.
By the time I was almost home, the wind had dropped to less than 5 knots and I was straight up motoring.
The non-sailing highlight of my day was I knew I’d be able to listen to the Indians game on the radio. I looked forward to it all day. Here, I’m still about 2 miles out and I can see the lights of Progressive Field. The Tribe won 10-0 and I made the trip from Michigan in about 15 and a half hours - several hours less than I was expecting.
This is my post-trip cumulative GPS track of Lake Erie. See how the western end of the lake is filled up? Much better. I have five more ports that I’ll hopefully hit in a trip next month.