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Superior’s Welcome, or The Storm

Posted by Tall Ships America on August 15, 2016

By Intern Ben

Under Mackinac Bridge Photo by Ben

Under Mackinac Bridge
Photo by Ben

You like lakes? They got great lakes in the midwest… one of them is superior!

-Jim Gaffigan

The crew aboard When And If was stranded in Green Bay Monday and Tuesday, waiting for a critical engine component to arrive by overnight shipping from Seattle. Despite the drudgery of waiting for a delivery and a mechanic, the short layover afforded us plenty of time to complete important tasks, like cleaning the heads, cleaning the refrigerator and cleaning the coolers. Monday night saw the confirmation that the part had shipped, among other surprises. Our wonderful ship liaison invited us for a barbecue and had secured us tickets to Jim Gaffigan’s comedy performance the same night. It was clear at that point that being stranded in Wisconsin had its advantages.

Luckily the next morning saw the prompt delivery of the transmission component we’d been waiting for, as well as the arrival of the mechanic to aid in the installation. By the evening, we were off, and steaming up the bay towards the open waters of Lake Michigan.

The night and morning showed little wind as we made our way towards the Straits of Mackinac, and this time I made sure to be awake as we made our way under the bridge.

We headed north around the Island and stopped for a swim call, eager for one last dip before reaching the frigid waters of Lake Superior.

Approach to Superior Photo by Ben

Photo by Ben

Wednesday evening saw us through the passage at De Tour village, and we anchored for the night on Lake Munuscong. Thursday bloomed bright and cool on St. Mary’s River, and we slowly worked our way north, enjoying the cool overcast day. The afternoon saw us through the Soo locks at Sault Ste. Marie, and finally on to the Superior water level. We were surprised to find that despite our late start, we were only the second vessel of the fleet to make it through the locks. The AIS showed Pride of Baltimore II already deep in the lake and waiting at the Apostle Islands. Through the evening we enjoyed the beautiful views of the upper river before finally heading out to open water.

Unfortunately, Superior had other plans for us…

Although the bigger-than-needed crew gave us easy three-hour watches aboard the schooner, her small size and racing-like build made for one of the longest nights in my memory. As I came on to watch at 10 o’clock, the waves had just started to build, and the forecast was bleak.

Lake Superior Photo by Ben

Lake Superior Photo by Ben

The combination of the waves hitting us just between our quarter and our beam and and the wind on our quarter made for a nerve-wracking first watch of the night. First the wind climbed to about 20 knots for a while, then died again after 15 minutes. Over the next 40 minutes the waves rose to 5 feet, and the wind climbed back towards 20 knots again. Although the small yacht pitched in good rhythm with the growing waves, it was not the sort of roll to rock a man to sleep.

By 11:30, only halfway through our watch, every wave sprayed us where we sat in the cockpit. Still we motored straight west, making for the small town of Marquette, where we hoped to find safe harbors until the weather cleared. Every time I went below to check the bilge, the captain’s word echoed in my head:

“The word of the watch is stay in the boat.”

“Isn’t not going in the water the general idea of sailing?”

“Well yeah, but with the water temperature in Superior you only have 5 minutes ‘til you’re a goner, and in this low visibility and waves, there isn’t a good chance of finding you if you do go over.”

Inspiring words by any account.

After an eternity, the watch finally ended, and with one more trip from the cockpit to the cabin, our knuckles white gripping the lifelines, we were below decks, home if not quite dry. From there the night grew more… unpleasant. From below decks you could truly appreciate the rain battering the the cabin-tops. Every wave came with the rush of water flowing through scuppers and hawse-holes. Every roll sent the glasses and cutlery to rattling in their places, and multiple times I awoke with fruit or spice containers in my bunk, having been thrown across the cabin from the galley opposite me. None of the crew got much sleep.

Even as the rain started clearing in the early morning hours, the waves and wind persisted. The pitch and roll of the boat didn’t stop until we were finally through the breakwater in Marquette’s lovely harbor. I came on deck at 7 in the morning to find us surrounded by the quaint town, just approaching the quay as we came in to dock. Having secured the boat, the bleary-eyed crew made our way to a local diner. We ate quickly and silently, and left in the same sullen fatigue as we had arrived. Then it was a few hours glorious sleep in calm waters, as we nursed the bangs and bruises from the night before.

It is pleasant to find that the lake lives up to its name. Superior. So far however, only superior in its ability to make our crew lose their dinners.

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2 Responses to “Superior’s Welcome, or The Storm”

  1. Arthur Coleman said

    Are ant short term berths or crw opportunities available on any of the ships?

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