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.
We’d crewed on Flash Gordon, a Tripp 33 racer, for its July transport to Racine.
Now it was late
August 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.
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.
we 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.
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?”
the 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
smell 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.
mechanic 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.
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?
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
Quiet 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.
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.
“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.