The Battle of Lake Erie

So! We have two Great Lakes behind us now. We got in to Port Huron, Michigan on Monday August 20th. That was a new experience. As we exited the southern end of Lake Huron we entered the St. Clair river and the current immediately began to pull us along, down the river at 10 knots. For those who aren’t sailors, that’s like 100 mph in car terms. The current was providing about 4 knots of that and we made quick time down the river for a couple of miles. We then had to turn and motor up the Black River and call two bridges to open up for us so we could proceed. Everything went surprisingly well and we made it into the River Street Marina and got tied up to the dock where we met with our friends Dave and Leslie on Gypsy Spirit. Hugs all around quick, but our first order of business was to check back in to the U.S. with Customs and Border Protection. The new system is to do it through the CBP ROAM App on your phone or tablet and we had already done all of the necessary setup to make that happen, but this was the first time using it. So we used the app, made the call and spoke with the Officer, answered all of the questions and showed them our passports and we were done. Super easy. Within about 5 minutes we had reply emails that we were cleared into the U.S. and we were free again to move about the country.

We decided to celebrate our meeting up with Dave and Leslie by going out for dinner. We asked the marina staff where the best Chinese restaurant in town was and they gave us a ride there. All I can say is that it’s a damn good thing we didn’t end up at the 2nd or 3rd best Chinese restaurant in town. Yikes! Awful, awful, awful! The drinks were good, the food was hot. We all had a spike in our sodium intake that night. But it was great to be together and we talked and talked and talked and caught up on our separate adventures up to this point.

The next day we had to take care of our fuel issues. I had the fuel filter clog up on me twice now after 50 hours of running. Each time we were in the middle of the lake where it wasn’t an issue more than an inconvenience to replace the filter and get back on our way, but I really don’t want to be losing the engine in the middle of a crowded channel or at some other crucial time. Something had to be done. So we bought two 5 gallon pails from a local hardware store and pumped the diesel out of our fuel tank. Most of it was okay looking, but some of it came out looking like chocolate milk. We got it all out, added some new fuel, sloshed the boat around, pumped it out and repeated the process a couple of times until the tank looked clean. Then we filled the tank with what we knew to be clean diesel and ran it for an hour. We were able to get rid of the used fuel at a local marina and hopefully this will solve our fuel filter clogging problems.

On Thursday, August 23rd we left at 6am for a long journey down the St. Clair river, across Lake St. Clair, down the Detroit river past Detroit and almost to Lake Erie. We had been motoring down the river system for 11 hours and were literally 2 minutes away from our marina for the night with just one swing bridge in our way. The bridge operator decided that we would need to wait for him to open…. for an hour! We sat there circling for an hour and he finally opened the bridge so we could go the 500 feet to our marina for the night. We got in, tied up and after 12 hours on the water were just happy to be somewhere and off of the washing machine that was the St. Clair/Detroit River system. The restaurant across the street served us dinner and they had a live band playing and we just relaxed.

In the morning I changed the fuel filter one more time, hoping this time was the last for a while. Seeing clean diesel was a good sign and I bled out the air from the lines and ran the engine for 20 minutes before shoving off. No sooner had we gotten underway did the engine start running rough. So while underway, with the engine still running, but with it complaining miserably, I went below and bled the fuel lines again and whatever air was in there worked its way through and it came up to a good RPM and smoothed out. Problem solved. Shit! Literally one minute later we got an over-temp alarm on the engine panel with the buzzer blaring at us. I ran back below and aimed the infrared thermometer at the engine and the water temp was at 210 degrees.  We spun the boat 180 degrees, killed the engine, threw over the fenders and had Dave and Leslie dock up with us mid-river and tied our boats together. Without them, we would have had to throw the anchor over and fix the issue. So while motoring along with them in control, I went below and found the water intake strainer completely filled with weeds! I took it apart, got the weeds out of it, blew out the lines, poked out the plug of weeds stuck in there, put it all back together and checked to see that the water was flowing. Quickly putting it all back together we started the engine and I watched as the temperature dropped from 200 degrees back down to 165 where it should be in less than a minute. Whew! Another crisis averted! We threw off the lines from Gypsy Spirit and continued on our way.

About half an hour later we were just getting out into Lake Erie and the winds were all against us. We were pounding straight into 5 foot waves with 20 knots of wind on our nose and we were making about 2 knots to the good. Then we heard this little noise. Faint, short, mechanical. It only lasted for a second and then it was gone. Marge went below to see what was going on below and with the crashing five foot waves things were being rearranged below just with the boat hopping around. Just as she was coming back up to the cockpit I noticed it. The anchor was missing off of the bow!! That noise? It was the anchor coming loose from the bow and going overboard! Marge quickly grabbed the wheel and I jumped up on the bow in the crashing waves. One minute as the bow of the boat is crashing down into a massive wave I am taking a bath with the water splashing all over me and the next as the boat climbs up and over the next wave I’m flying 10 feet above the water looking straight down. Then in one second the boat comes crashing back down. Repeat! Repeat! Repeat! It took me about 5 minutes to get the anchor back aboard. Because of technical details I won’t get into here, the anchor wasn’t on the bottom but hanging about 20 feet down below the boat. Still it was a wild ride and I got it aboard and tied on deck without injury. It really is amazing what adrenaline can do for you when it’s really flowing and all hell is breaking loose! Third crisis of the day under our belt and we were again on our way. Other than the 11 hours of bashing into big waves, we sailed our tails off into the wind and got into the Battery Park Marina in Sandusky, Ohio just 5 minutes before they closed for the night. No other big problems this wild day.

Sandusky was cool and they had lots of marinas along the waterfront. Leslie’s “Cousin Kathy” drove up from Cleveland to see us and spend a night out with us. So, having access to wheels, we were able to go out for dinner and drinks and we had a hell of a good time that ended up with us at a dive bar called “Sail Inn” somewhere in Sandusky playing pool and darts and laughing our butts off and having a good time. We love Cousin Kathy and hope she can come to visit us in the Bahamas this winter. The next morning we all went out for breakfast and got to visit some more before Cousin Kathy had to leave for home.

Moving on, we left Sandusky at 6am Monday morning August 27th. The winds were behind us and we motor sailed to Fairport Harbor, OH. It wasn’t fair, or even moderate, more like poor, but it was a port and the dock did hold us for the night even though we questioned it’s ability. Leslie thought there might be a monkey living in one of the dilapidated boats on the hard nearby given the strange banging noises coming from within. In the morning we had a go/no-go situation as the winds were increasing throughout the day and we decided to go because none of us wanted to get stuck in “Fairport” for 3 or 4 days. At 6:30am we stuck our noses out the breakwall and decided to go for it. By about 11am Tuesday we found the winds increasing to 25-30 knots from behind us and we were making good time but in 5-7 foot following seas.  We crashed along all day in big water making the 60+ miles to Erie Pennsylvania in about 9 hours. We were glad to get into the harbor and out of the wind for the day. We secured a berth at Wolverine Marina in a super nice area of Erie and stayed for a couple of days just learning to relax, making a grocery run, getting some boat supplies and catching up on web stuff so everyone can know what we’ve been up to.

While docked in Erie, we went and saw the Tall Ship Niagara Maritime Museum and learned all about the Battle of Lake Erie that took place on September 10th, 1813. Oliver Hazard Perry the commander of the ship Lawrence led the American attack on the British Royal Navy fleet near Put-in-bay just north of what is now Sandusky, OH. Flying the flag he had made for the battle, a blue flag with white lettering that said, “DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP”, with his fleet nearly sunk from three hours of intense cannon fire on both sides, he left the Lawrence, took the flag with him in a boat with 4 others and rowed the ship’s dinghy through the battle for a mile to the one remaining unharmed ship, The Niagara. Once aboard The Niagara he took command, flew the DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP flag once more and sailed right back into the battle. Making the extremely risky maneuver of sailing The Niagara directly between the two remaining British Ships and releasing a full cannon fusillade from both sides simultaneously upon both ships, he was able to incapacitate them both enough that they weren’t capable to continue fighting. The British surrendered to Perry ending the fighting on Lake Erie and marking the first time in history that the British Royal Navy had ever surrendered. This wasn’t the technical end of the war of 1812, but it was the decisive battle that turned the tables in favor of the Americans and led eventually the signing of The Treaty of Ghent, ending the war and beginning the peace between Canada and the U.S..

205 years later, we had sailed right through this exact same area on our way to get to Erie, PA just a couple of days before. Very interesting, and puts an amazing piece of American history in perspective.

Leaving Erie, we sailed (Really!) up to Dunkirk, NY. The marina had sustained heavy damage in recent years and the new owner was in the process of rebuilding (read: not quite there yet). Still, it was okay and we were secure in a marina for another night. In Dunkirk I changed out the engine and transmission oil for the next leg of our journey having had about 200 hours on the engine since I changed it last fall. This went without incident and it is good to know that we have new oil in our baby for all of the motoring we’ll do on the Erie Canal soon. The next day I rode the bike to an oil change place a couple of miles away to dump the oil and was able to see some of the town. It was a lot like Superior, WI in that there is an older, more run-down area of town and all the newer businesses are on the edge of town by the highway. Still, nice to see places and was good to find some things open on this Labor Day weekend.

Shuffle off to Buffalo!

Here we go!

Our goal in Buffalo was to see Sam Tillmans, the son of Dave and MaryBeth at our home marina of Cornucopia, WI. He’s a doctor out here and it was good to see a familiar face and spend some time with Sam. We went to see Niagara Falls. We got to walk around and see it from lots of vantage points and we had lunch in town and were able to get out of the blazing sun for a while. Just as we were leaving, the weather turned and we drove back in some rain and wind, but we were able to see the falls in all it’s glory on a wonderfully beautiful day. Sam then took us around to some places in Buffalo to run some errands before heading back to the boat. It was great to see Sam and where he’s been for the last couple of years as he finishes his training to become an Anesthesiologist. He’s a great person and we’ve been fortunate to have gotten to know him just a little bit better. Thank You Sam!!

So Lake Erie is behind us now, and it was a bit of a battle for us. Our next adventure will be the Erie Canal and Hudson Rivers to New York City and Wandering Toes will stick her keel into saltwater for the first time!

If you haven’t already, take a look at the updated tabs on the blog and website. We’ve been updating and adding things to show where we are with the Track Us link and Marge has been making our daily Travel Logs and adding pictures from every day we’ve been out.  The Track Us link has our current location and is updated in real-time as we move along. We will try our best to keep adding the Travel Logs every day and sharing that info. You won’t get a notification every day on those because that would be annoying, so you’ll just have to keep checking back and looking at them if you’re interested.

We hope you all find yourselves happy and well and following your own dreams. Thanks for sharing ours with us!

David and Marge Back
s/v Wandering Toes and Verne!

7 thoughts on “The Battle of Lake Erie”

  1. You’re living the dream! Good for you!
    You are in my childhood home! Looks like you are north of Kingston. I lived in Fishkill NY until I was 10 years old. Very close to Beacon. I remember those hills and going to West Point, Poughkepsie, Newburg…. It is a beautiful area. Enjoy. I love keeping tabs on your adventure. Thank you!


  2. Amazing trip, and what experiences you are having. We just got thru reading about your Lake Erie experience. It was terrible and so scary. Sounds like a battle all the way through. Thank God you got thru safe. We knew you were having a time of it. Again, what an experience. Wonderful blog. I will keep up better on reading them. We had read all the others. Thanks for the info on the travel logs. We will read them this afternoon. We love you both, be safe. Mom and Dad ps—So glad you are generally having a wonderful time seeing so much.


  3. WOW! is all I’ve got to say. What an adventure! And I thought our cruise was awsome. Sounds like you have it under control. Great pics — great blogging. LOVE to you all. Mary & Steven


  4. Ella and I docked at Fairport on our way to the Trent-Severen in 2001. On a brutally hot day the washing machine at a nearby laundromat ate the butt out of my only sound pair of shorts. The place is surely cursed.


  5. Hope you don’t have many more “Lake Erie Battles” with the boat. The anchor incident sounded pretty scary. Thanks for the info about the Travel Logs, wasn’t aware of them before. Safe Sailing!


  6. Wow is all I can say! Having a great time following you. I’m living dreams through you. Will share with Lois when I head out in the next week or two. Tonight I’m just missing sitting on the dock wrapped in fleece enjoying the company with friends on the dock. Be safe my friends. Sending hugs n snorts – JR


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