Halfway, Sideways & Back

3 days. 79 miles. 1 meltdown.

by Mary Kinnunen

We were five miles off Wisconsin’s shore and Flash Gordon was shuddering with every punch in the nose.

The 10 p.m.-2 a.m. watch had seen shifting winds and heavy rain. Ahead of us was the system’s core, where lightning bolts dissolved into massive dripping pearls.

Under bare poles, Connie and I took turns at the tiller, motoring onward.

More bonding

We’d crewed on Flash Gordon, a Tripp 33 racer, for its July transport to Racine. Now it was late Aboard Flash Gordon, the tired author watches lightning dripAugust and we were on my boat, Revision, a 1990 Catalina Capri 26. Our plan was to sail from Marinette to Escanaba, a city near the top of the bay of Green Bay where I’ve got family I’ve been meaning visit to, you know, show them my boat.

Connie and I never made it.

But getting halfway there was fun.

To Escanaba!

With a forecast of 10-15 kts. SSW air, we cast off at 7:30 a.m., anticipating one long run north. Once past the Ogden Street bridge and on the sparkling bay, we hoisted sail and began waiting for the breeze.

By noon we were cheering when it gusted to 10. So, with a boat speed of 3, rather than the expected 5 knots, we’d be reaching Escanaba in the moonlight. And we know how strange that is.

Our other options:

    —motor sail to Esky, which was never really considered as we aren’t keen on motor sailing;

    —sail East to Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula, rich in small harbor towns offering good food, tap beer and pretty sunsets;

    —sail West to Michigan’s Cedar River, the lone harbor between Marinette and Escanaba, which has something of a bad rap.

Heading East, Connie at the helm, from Revision 08: The Videowe quickly picked up some speed and before long the features of the peninsula’s limestone cliffs, a bony ridge of the Niagara Escarpment, became defined. Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula is a jewel of natural and man-made amenities that tourists, like us, love. And since it was the dog days of summer, there would be a lot of us loving it—maybe even that guy from early summer, the powerboater at the Egg Harbor sunset, when my husband and I were on Revision and Connie and Ronn were on their Gulf Pilot 32, Waseekaa. He had one fine sound system blasting “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”.

Not that Connie and I have anything against Sir John’s singing, but we decided to take our chances at Cedar River— the marina less traveled.

The boat with the editor's mark and typewriter font

State Harbor of Refuge

Via cellphone the harbormaster told us there were plenty of open slips and to stay in the center of the river. Her “center” directive got our attention as Connie and I had heard stories; we knew the rap and we’d even witnessed a charter limp back from Cedar River with its windlass torn from the foredeck.

Sailing northwest, I tried to not let this image twist my docking anticipation into docking anxiety, but I found myself wishing I knew precisely where Faith Afloat had run aground.

Passing the green can a mile out Connie peered through the glasses and pointed toward white rocks marking the entryway, asking, “What’s up with that?”

She’d found The sun goes down on Revision and Waseekaa, Egg Harborthe buoys alright. They were red, to port of the river, and close to shore.

Confusing! But as we edged closer, the green buoys popped out and the channel became apparent: The “center” of the river flows hard south into the bay so we needed to approach sideways.

Half-an-hour later Revision was tied up at a floating dock, the first celebratory libation had been poured, and the depth alarm had only gone off once. Hallelujah!

Inside the office the harbormaster entered my information into the database. Our rent was $26, which included use of bicycles, a fire ring, and the Women’s Room, which was clean. For dinner, we walked the shoulder of M-35 to the Lighthouse Inn with Connie yelling, “Take me with!” at the hogs roaring toward Milwaukee for Harley’s birthday party.

We ate a good dinner on the back deck then bought dessert at the gas station farther down the road. Returning to the marina, we found a Watkins berthed off Revision’s bow. This was good fortune as it was father and son sailors named Ken who, in addition to being fans of skiing the UP’s hills, also picked up our restaurant/bar tab the next night. Thank you, guys!

Connie finds her shoes

We rose to a forecast of 15-25 kts SSE wind with a 50/50 chance of thunderstorms, most likely in early evening. Casting off at 8 a.m., our hope was to reach Escanaba before the low-pressure system began dumping wet stuff and things got swirly.

Motoring downriver, we passed a dock with a half dozen small fishing boats to starboard. Further on and also to starboard was the pleated rust of the commercial pier, back-dropped by a mix of retired workboats, tall weeds, commercial buildings and heavy equipment. The pier was empty as the two big fishing boats docked there yesterday, were gone.

Reaching a red buoy, I noticed the temperature gauge was running hot and Connie poked her head from the cabin saying, “It’s really hot down here.”

Then a burning Drafting 3.5' the Catalina C-26 finds a good spot at the docksmell showed up.

We did a 180 and headed upriver, making haste slowly.

With the temperature gauge maxed out the harbor suddenly seemed very far away and the rust began looking really appealing. “Get the lines ready for starboard docking!” I yelled, cringing at the thought of throttling up.

As I began the turn Connie disappeared into the cabin.

“I need you up here!” I shouted, to which I heard, “I need my shoes!”

But with just a scrape on the pulpit, we got the boat against the tires and the engine turned off. Then I called BoatUS.


The insurance company took down the particulars and five minutes later a man from the contracted yacht yard called, wondering where I wanted to be towed.

Looking at Connie I thought about this. “Escanaba?”

He asked questions about the engine—serial number and the like— and when talking symptoms, he mentioned the impeller.

Ah yes. The impeller. That word had come up a few weeks earlier when to our marina mechanic about the water vapor drifting out the exhaust. But on subsequent sails there was no more vapor, so the impeller issue was forgotten.

A First sail: Skipper Mary gets a feel for the boat, Summer 2006mechanic was dispatched across the bay and within a couple hours was aboard to replace what was left of the impeller—the core and a thousand bits of rubber. The new one he’d brought, based on information I’d relayed off the housing, was too big, but the previous boat owner made our day: He’d left four spare impellers (three used and one new) in a box of spare parts.

With the new impeller installed I started the engine. The mechanic held his hand to the housing for a few minutes, then said, “It’s still hot. I’m going to need my air gun.”

After blasting the plugged water hose he left with our thanks and my credit card number. (I can report BoatUS did right by us.) And now, just five hours after meltdown, the engine, a Universal M2-12, was again sounding like it was looking for a fight—music to my ears.

We sailed in good air, keeping an eye on the gray and white weather systems, one to the north and one to the south, which were merging. I’ll admit Connie and I were a bit jumpy and when the only remaining spot of sun was over Cedar River we took it as a sign. Escanaba wasn’t going to happen this trip—we got that—but that was okay: We were sailing the boat with the typewriter font and editor’s mark on her side.

What the…

I went to the office and informed the harbormaster we’d be spending another night.

He typed REVISION on the keypad and waited for the data to load, then said a surname that wasn’t mine.

“Huh?” I asked.

Revision,” he said. “A powerboat?”

I craned for a peek at the glowing screen. Someone’s got a powerboat named Revision?

Happy Hooker, Bite Me, Feelin’ Nauti, I get, but Revision? What strange breed of powerboaters are these people?

Mellowing out

Connie, being the sociable half of the crew, went over to the Watkins to chat and came back with word The Kens wanted to buy us a beer.

So, once again we walked the shoulder to the Lighthouse Inn where we were greeted like long lost friends by last night’s waitress who, on this night, was on a bar stool. I was then stopped by a guy who wanted to talk tattoos, a Vietnam vet who held out his arm inked blue with military meaning. He was wondering where I’d gotten the hummingbird on my shoulder. I told him New Orleans. He marveled at the colors of modern ink. I thanked him for his service.

Then I joined Connie and The Kens to swap stories starting with, of course, the engine. The Kens then regaled us with a tale of sailing the bay with water flowing into the engine compartment while Ken the Younger bailed and Ken the Elder pumped the bilge and steered. Yeehaw!

Back at the marina, Connie grabbed the bag of kindling the harbormaster had provided—they aim to please at Cedar River—and we headed to the fire ring, stepping carefully along the sidewalk loaded with frogs soaking up the ambient heat. They gave us what appeared to be dirty looks when my flashlight shone in their eyes, but hey, that was better than the alternative.

In the big The Skipper's To-Do listQuiet we watched the bonfire burn. Sparks rose into the dark sky where, far above, stars and planets floated. Closer to home were the flickering shadows of our amphibian neighbors.

It was a mellow way to end the day and Cedar River, it turned out, is one fine harbor of refuge. And FYI: the depth alarm had sounded as we took a right from the river into the marina. I think silt had built up around the outer bend-or maybe it was a false reading from weeds.

The next morning we were in the office, enjoying coffee and conversation with Ken the Younger and the harbormaster when the silt issue was brought up. Ken thought maybe that spot would be good for a warning buoy.

The harbormaster replied, “Yeah. But guys like to fish there.”


Then Ken offered us his congratulations.

Connie asked him why we should be congratulated.

“You’re women—sailing alone,” he replied.

“Well,” said Connie, smiling, “You guys are sailing alone.”

Cue the frog.

Home port

Connie and I sailed Revision SSE, finding a breeze around Chamber’s Island. There we headed windward and beat toward the Menominee Lighthouse.

The boat’s since been tidied up and scrubbed clean of coffee stains, chocolate smudges and potato chip crumbs. The tire smear on the port rubrail remains, not as a keepsake, per se, but rather, a to-do list.

To Escanaba!

“Revision 08: The Video” is posted on youtube.com

Mary Kinnunen has worked at jobs ranging from cab driver to magazine publisher to potato harvester. Before moving from her hometown of Marquette, Michigan, to Rhinelander, Wisconsin, in 1994, she and her family lived for a year in Chengdu, Sichuan, PRC, where her husband, Jeff Eaton, was a visiting English scholar at a university. From 1998-2000 she served on Rhinelander City Council, and from 2000-02, as mayor of Rhinelander. In the summer months she and Jeff enjoy sailing their 26-ft. Catalina, Revision.