Single-Handed Society is Biggest Class in Trans Superior
The Adventures of Odyssey

By Wally McMinn

The short version of the story is that Odyssey traveled to Duluth, MN and back from North Cape Yacht Club on Lake Erie. Here is a bit of the tale. Like all of the ambitious campaigns in the sailing world, I had a committed and tenacious support team. Her name is Ann, and she probably has her own impressions of the Odyssey’s adventures.

In 2005, the Great Lakes Singlehanded Society (GLSS) offered three “Challenges”; the 27th Port Huron and 9th Chicago to Mackinac Island Challenges, the Supermac Challenge (held every three years), and for the first time, a singlehanded challenge in conjunction with the Trans Superior International Yacht Race. Participation in these events was the reason Odyssey headed north from North Cape Yacht Club on Lake Erie in late June. The trip up the Detroit and St. Clair rivers is always charming, long and slow. It does provide an opportunity for the crew (GLSS=count one) to see what is working or not working, and to calibrate the mind and body to life on the water.
The GLSS Challenges and the Deliveries and Returns

The 2005 GLSS Port Huron to Mackinac Island Solo Challenge
The Port Huron to Mackinac Island Challenge is rated at 230nm with a rounding off Goderich, Ontario then on up to Mackinac Island. The first leg was an exhilarating close reach in 20+ kn of breeze. The Odyssey, a Catalina 400, likes these conditions and arrived near the turning mark near the front of the twenty-three boats that started. This was good since it seems I had jumped the gun by ten minutes at the start and rather than return and restart, I opted to take the thirty minute penalty the race committee offered as an alternative. I still don’t understand all those flags and guns.
Heading Past Sarnia, Ont. for the start of the Port Huron to Mackinac Solo Challenge.

Most of the racers hand steer a good part of this leg as everyone is full of energy and glad to get under way. After a wonderful first leg, and on approaching Goderich, it became apparent something was wrong with Odyssey’s autopilot. My intention had been to finish the Challenge to Mackinac Island, and continue on with the second part of the event (the Supermac to Chicago). With confidence the problem could be sorted out and solved, I rounded and headed out into the lake for the long leg to the next turn at Presque Isle.

The wind and seas could not have been more cooperative. As sunset approached the seas settled to a comfortable 3-4' roll with a steady wind of 13-15 kn. I was able to balance the sail plan so the boat held course with the wheel locked. Remembering the experience of fellow solo sailor Phil Rubright who got locked in his lazaret when the top closed on him, I secured the cover and headed into the basement to check on the linear drive unit and wiring connections of the Autohelm 6000. Over the next hours of napping, tweaking the sails and wheel, and tracing all of the wiring connections, it became apparent I was not going to be able to find and fix the problem.

Solo sailors during long passages are good at playing mind games with themselves, mine went something like this. I have to cross the lake anyway, so why not keep going a bit. Once across, there are lots of harbors of refuge. Perhaps the unit will start to work later. I have done this before, let’s see how things go. Eventually the mind game was, I am more than half way there, might as well hang in, and so on, and so on. The conditions remained perfect with the usual beautiful sunset, starry night, Milky Way, shooting stars, sunrise, and Ann’s tasty pasta salad for dinner, and again for breakfast.

In spite of the distractions, Odyssey was still hanging in competitively and remained in the front half of the fleet sailing pretty much on her own, and on course. However, the wind always changes, and it did the next day. It backed to the southwest and dropped below 10kn. Spinnaker time, and that was a problem. Most of the fleet went through two to four spinnaker changes and jibes during the last half of the event. I had to stick to the cruising spinnaker, occasionally being able to pole it out a bit. Way underpowered for the Odyssey. GLSS requirements stipulate we are to be tethered to the jack lines from the time we leave the dock prior to the start until reaching the dock at the finish. There were only so many dashes to the foredeck for sail and pole adjustments possible with tether dragging along. It was frustrating as I slipped back into the middle of the fleet, but I was still making progress heading north, and eventually northwest.

Finally, after an elapsed time of about 54hr (up from 44+hr in 2004), the Odyssey passed the green # 3 buoy opposite the Mackinac Island Yacht Club and was greeted by the Race Committees’ official acknowledgement of “Congratulations Odyssey, welcome to Mackinac Island”. With mixed emotions, and limp arms, I had to inform the Committee that the Odyssey would have to stop at the Island due to gear failure and not continue on to Chicago as part of the Supermac event. It simply would not have been prudent seamanship to attempt another 280nm of hand steering after the roughly 36hrs and almost 180nm just completed without a functioning autopilot. I was not going to complete the longest freshwater race in the world this year.

The revelry and party on the Island are always an incentive to sail fast and finish the Solo Challenges. Even when participants withdraw from a Challenge they usually find a way to get to the Island for the festivities. This year most of the time was spent, with the help of GLSS resident engineer Bob VanEck, Harold Beaton, and several other sailors who happened to be around the docks, sorting out what was wrong with the autopilot. As so often happens, other North Capers were out and about on the lakes and on the Island. Past Commodore (PC) Shelly Rosen, PC Mike D’Arcangelo, Terry Brown, Larry Jocob, and Keith Sponer were cruising the Straits area aboard the yacht Kestrel.
The Tired Old Autopilot Drive Unit.

After testing every connection while spending several hours on the cell phone with the Raytheon techs, the conclusion was that the drive unit (ten years old) had worn out and would need to be overhauled in their shop. Instead of opting for the uncertain prospects of a fix, I ordered a new (and upgraded) drive unit through Defender. The unit was delivered the next day to Duncan Bay Boat Club in Cheboygan where the boat was to be laid over until time to head for Sault St. Marie and the Trans Superior. Again, with the help of Bob, the unit was installed the day it arrived and passed initial sea trials around Bois Blanc Island. During these trials, we were joined by Tom and Barb Munson who were at Duncan Bay following Tom’s blue flag winning performance in the Doublehanded Society’s Huron Challenge.

With the prospects of the Trans Superior now looking good, the Odyssey was laid over at Duncan Bay while I headed back to work and the real world for a few weeks. For those who have not been there, Duncan Bay, at Cheboygan is one of the nicest, best run marinas in the area. The management and staff are accommodating and attentive and they seem willing to help with both short and longer stays of transient boaters. The Odyssey claimed victory on Lake Huron, with the “Lakes” and gremlins winning Lake Michigan. Lake Superior would be the tie breaker.

The 2005 GLSS Sault St. Marie to Duluth Trans Superior Solo Challenge
The Trans Superior International Yacht Race is rated at 338nm beginning at Gross Cap at the bottom of Whitefish Bay, leaving Copper Harbor to port, and finishing at the lift bridge entrance to Duluth Harbor. It is held every two years, and for the first time allowed singlehanded participants.
A fellow traveler on the St. Marys River.

The Lake Superior Yachting Association was the overall sanctioning entity, but allowed GLSS to select the solo participants and define the boat and equipment requirements. The Algoma Sailing Club of Sault St. Marie, Ontario and the Duluth Y. C. were the joint host clubs doing a great job of coordination, communication, and hosting the pre race skippers and post race parties.

The Odyssey’s trip from Cheboygan past Detour, MI and up the Saint Marys River was pleasant and uneventful until the alternator belts disintegrated with a loud bang. From the helm it was easy to figure out what had happened as the engine immediately started to overheat. Suddenly the 600-1000 foot lakers, which were also making the passage in both directions, ceased to be the delightful diversion and entertainment, and looked mighty menacing.
Still a mess even after cleaning up and new belts.

I always make it a policy to have the chart at the ready when on the rivers, which is especially important on the St. Marys as the depths often vary from the dredged 28-30' in the channel, to 2-3' just a few yards outside. A quick look at the chart indicated a nice bar in 8-10' of water just downstream from my position. Using what steerage momentum the boat still had after shutting the engine down, I was able to do an “S” turn to starboard, then back to port and get out of the channel. A quick dash to the foredeck, anchor locker open, retaining pin out, and down went the plough. I had previously taken the time to tidy up the anchor lines, so there were no kinks as it played out. Pure luck, and time to pause and reflect on the options. Fortunately, the weather was clear and I had a nice cup of cold coffee left.

The scene in the engine compartment was ugly. Both belts were shattered into bits and pieces, with none longer than a few inches. There was dust everywhere along with spatters of what later turned out to be oil. Belt cord fragments had also wrapped around the shaft between the block and the pulley. After cleaning up the mess and unwinding as many of the belt fragments as I could get to, I decided to install the extra alternator belts I had on board and try to limp on up the rest of the way to the Kemp Marina at the Sault. It was a relief to see the temperature gauge return to, and stay, in the normal range for the rest of the trip.

The Kemp Marina is located in the American Sault just down stream from the locks, and is an excellent place to stay. The only other option for most of our boats is the Bondar Marina just across the river in the Canadian Sault. It is also very good. The Odyssey’s wine cellar is empty for these events, so it was particularly nice to see Ann arrive and head into town for a victory (of sorts) libation and dinner.
After further clean up and belt adjustment everything seemed to be ok with only a small bit of oil leaking. I have no idea what caused the belt failure, perhaps the belts themselves were flawed. The Trans Superior was a week away and I had to return to work again so the Odyssey sat comfortably in the Sault. Once through the Lock there was only the trip to Gross Cap and the start of the race.
The Kemp Marina at Sault Ste. Marie, MI.

On Saturday morning, August 6th eighteen crewed and twelve singlehanded boats emerged from the Kemp and Bondar marinas and headed into the MacArthur Lock at the Sault. The gathering is somewhat of a festival as many of the boats send a crew member up the mast while those on deck celebrate with various good luck rituals. This year’s event drew a nice group of observers as the Locks celebrated their 150th anniversary. The fleet was as diverse as could be imagined ranging in size from the seventy foot mega crewed Santa Cruz 70s (Colt 45 and Stripes) down to the diminutive Ranger 23 (Jacelyn) crewed by one. The rafted fleet was gingerly raised the twenty feet to the Lake Superior level.
The rafted fleet in the lock with crews in the rafters.

The starting line is 10-12 miles from the Locks at Gross Cap at the base of Whitefish Bay. The fleet had a leisurely 2-3hr trip up the river and gathered around the starting line for what turned out to be a drifter start at 1:00pm. As a final check, I took a peek at the engine compartment and was dismayed to find a mess of oil spattered everywhere on the front of the engine and compartment. I later found out the alternator belt fragments had forced the shaft seal into the engine and broken the seal. It only leaked when the engine was running, and since the Trans Superior was to be a sailing event, there was no way I was going to turn back. I had eight quarts of oil aboard so figured that would be enough to get me off the lake if needed. The Odyssey has about 750 amp hours of battery capacity as well as backup navigation lights. Fortunately, the engine has a separate pan under it which collected the entire spill, most of which was soaked up into the absorbent matting. None of it ended up in the ships bilge, or was lost overboard. The major battery draws were the autopilot (which worked perfectly), navigation lights, and the occasional use of the radar. The instruments used very little.
Tom Agerter aboard Jacelyn.

A couple of hours after the light air start, the breeze began to fill in and build. It turned out to be a beautiful beam reach with spinnakers to Whitefish Point, then a close reach toward the Keweenaw. The 70’s and 50’s were gone, but the rest of the fleet stayed pretty much strung out along the rhumb line. The freighter traffic was light and never a factor as they separated into the up bound and down bound lanes. As breezes built to between 15kn and 20kn we all enjoyed an exhilarating ride into a spectacular sunset, through the night, and the next day. The seas never were a factor in spite of the fresh breezes for over a day and the 40-60 mile fetch from the UP’s north shore. What a ride, it was worth the trip.
A drifter start to the Trans Superior.

Flying Across Lake Superior
As we approached the Keweenaw the winds began to go away and we were stuck in those inevitable dead zones, with bits of puffs between. On rounding, we finally had to get to work and do some sailing into light variable breezes. Fortunately, there were also several hours of nice wind between the lulls as the fleet began to either tack along the rhumb line, or head toward the west. I chose to skip the tacks and stay on a port tack as far as I could go. That turned out to be a lucky decision as a spectacular storm front passed in front of us the night before finishing. The storm included a 6-8hr lightning display from Duluth to the Apostle Islands. It turned out I was not the only one who slowed the boat down to avoid sailing into it.

The finish of the race turned out to be much like the start for most of the fleet. Most had to sit in calm, windless waters within sight of the lift bridge entrance to Duluth’s harbor. After several hours of drifting, several of us were checked out by homeland security patrol boats who wanted to be sure we were race participants, and not some bad guys checking out this critical port. On finally drifting across the finish line, the Odyssey got a rousing cheer from the tourists and finish line committee posted at the end of the pier. I think it is safe to say, every boat finishing was warmed by the reception.
Tom Munson and Hans Anderson in Duluth.

The Committee met each boat at the dock at the Duluth Aquarium with a hug and a bottle of rum. Without asking, they seemed to sense our first priorities after securing the boats were to find a beer, a shower, and check in with home. The elapsed times for the fleet ranged from 46hr27min. (Colt 45) to 101hr37min (a singlehander). The Odyssey finished in 76hr20min. Ten of the twelve singlehanders who started, finished. The two who withdrew did so on the first day when they had rig failures as the winds freshened.

I was not at all surprised to find another North Caper wandering the dock at the Duluth Aquarium. Seems Lauren Watkins (Bright Eyes) had also participated as crew aboard the yacht Shanti.

Odyssey needed repairs prior to returning to Lake Erie. As luck would have it, GLSS member Eric Thomas is the service manager at the Barker’s Island Marina within the Duluth / Superior harbor. This marina is an excellent, full service facility, and they were able to expedite the engine repairs. In addition to replacing the shaft seal, a new alternator was installed as it had been damaged by dust, belt fragments, and oil. Even though it continued to work, a number of the contacts inside were melted and distorted by overheating.

Duluth is a vibrant community with many fine activities and restaurants in the downtown area bordering the harbor. There was no problem finding things to do between overseeing the boat repairs, joining the members of the Duluth Yacht Club for their activities, and waiting for Ann to arrive. She and her sister Joyce had come up to join in the fun and deliver GLSS members Tom Munson and Hans Anderson who were joining me for the return trip to Lake Erie.

With the successful completion of the 2005 Trans Superior, Odyssey won the season’s GLSS Challenges, two out of three.

Wally McMinn is a member of the Great Lakes Singlehanded Society in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan.

Info on Trans Superior Yacht race,

Info on Great Lakes Singlehanded Society,

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