September, 2009

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Windsor, Lake Erie, The Welland Canal & On To Toronto!

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

(42⁰52.533′ N by 079⁰15.153 W -  Mile 1160.17 - Toronto, Ontario)

Since we last wrote, Prime Time V has logged 1160 miles since leaving its home port in early August.  We left Grosse Pointe Yacht Club on Thursday, September 10th traveling through the southern portion of Lake St. Clair then into the Detroit River to the Windsor Yacht Club where we would spend three nights. 

While we were in Windsor we had the opportunity to cruise the city’s waterfront with our daughter’s, boyfriend’s family, the Quinnsey’s.  Since this was the first time we had cruised this area, it was great to have them aboard to point out all of the local buildings and facilities both on the Windsor and Detroit section of the river. 

What immediately strikes you is the diversity along the shoreline.  Parks, heavy industry, high-rise condominiums, office buildings, bridges and vacant lands.  Drive or walk the streets and what is evident how hard the recession has hit both sides of the border.  Homes large and small are either for sale or vacant and public lands are deteriorating due to lack of public funding.  If you are not from this area, you do not realize just how hard the recession has hit the car manufacturing capitals of North America until you see it for yourself.

High levels of security are patrolling the river on the USA and Canadian side of the river.  Windsor Marine Police, RCMP, Canadian Coast Guard, Homeland Security, US Coast Guard, Detroit Marine Police and military helicopters and police constantly patrol.  (I am sure I missed some agency in this list.)

North Fighter Exiting Welland Lock 3

North Fighter Exiting Welland Lock 3

On Saturday, September 12 Bob MacConnel and Brian Tattersall arrived to help me run the boat from Windsor to Port Colborne, through the Welland Canal and on to Toronto.  We left Windsor Yacht Club early Sunday morning making our way down the Detroit River to Lake Erie in the company of lake freighters and salties some high in the water on their way to pick up a new load while others were low in the water a sure sign they were traveling their next destination to unload. 

This section of the river has a controlled depth which is published each year indicating the operational depth.  That information is particularly important to the commercial ships since they load to within one foot of bottom clearance.  The greater the channel depth - the greater the load resulting in higher incomes for the freighters.

Before entering Lake Erie we made a conscious decision to stay on the Canadian side of the Detroit River and to travel on the north side of Lake Erie to avoid meeting any US border agency.  After we read the charts and the cruising guide we concluded that there are few harbours that can accomodate a 56′ boat with a 5′ draft on the Canadian shoreline of Lake Erie and those that could were not near a direct path down the center of the lake. 

Preparing to Leave Welland Lock 3

Preparing to Leave Welland Lock 3

We concluded that with the fair weather we had and the sufficient fuel load on board we would continue the length of the Lake to Port Colborne, the town at the entrance of the Welland Canal.  A quick start in the morning had us waiting on the Port Colborne Municipal Dock at 7:00 AM.  After giving the vessel information over the phone to the attendant and a $200 credit card payment for lockage we were told we would be called by 8:45 AM for the 8 to 12 journey through the locks.

The current canal was completed 1933 and is the fourth system of locks since the original was constructed in 1829.  Each system that was constructed increased the overall capacity and the dimensions of the locks.  The set in use today is 27 miles long.  Each lock is 80 feet wide, 860 feet long witha minimum draft depth in the channels of  27 feet.  While commercial ships take priority in the locks, pleasure craft can transit the locks when they are not in use by bigger vessels.

We were called at 8:40 AM and told that we were next in line for transit through Lock 8, at Welland Canal’s southern entrance on Lake Erie.  Although we had large inflatable fenders the currents created by the turbulent water in the bottom of the lock kept us off of the lock walls.  Overall it was a very easy 8-1/2 hour passage.  For more information on the Welland Canal try searching “Welland Canal Locks”.  There are many interesting sites including one where the bridge was lowered too early.  For a video on this incident link to http://bing.search.sympatico.ca/?q=Welland%20Canal&mkt=en-ca&setLang=en-CA  Fortunately, we passed through all of the locks without incident!

Arriving in Toronto

Arriving in Toronto

After a night at Port Dalhousie just outside of the canal’s approach on the Lake Ontario, we cruised north to Toronto to find a berth at Ontario Place near downtown Toronto.  Once again, our lake crossing was blessed with only moderate seas for the 25 mile that we had to go.

As we approached Toronto, we were able to watch a Search & Rescue helicopter hovering over a Metro Marine Unit vessel as it cruised at high speed outside of the harbour near the Toronto Islands.  They were practicing extractions (lifting two people) off of the boat into the helicopter while it was in motion. 

Prime Time V was greeted by a series of Porter Airlines Dash 7’s flying low on final approach to the Island Airport as we round the break wall into the protection of the marina.

Ontario Place will be our home for the next nine days until we continue our journey eastward on Lake Ontario to Belleville then on to the Oswego Canal by October 1st.  For the time being we will enjoy all that Toronto has to offer during our stay.

Current Location - Grosse Pointe Yacht Club in Lake St. Clair

Monday, September 7th, 2009

(42⁰26.050′ N by 082⁰52.200 W -  Mile 824.34 - Grosse Pointe Yacht Club, Michigan)

Since we wrote to you on September 3rd, we have traveled from Harrisville, to Harbor Beach, to Port Huron and today on to Grosse Pointe Yacht Club in Lake St. Clair.  Our stays in Harrisville and Harbor Beach were normal stops along the lake arriving early to mid-afternoon each day with Nancy coercing me into a walk or a bicycle ride for some exercise.  Both of these little villages were laid back with little local activity.  Just sleepy little eastern Michigan villages.

Presque Ilse Northern Lighthouse

Presque Ilse Northern Lighthouse

Sometimes these afternoon trips do lead to seeing some of the local sights however, such as when we arrived in Presque Ilse, Michigan on September 2nd.  The dockmaster, a local lady who has retired with her husband but, works at the local marina “just to keep her busy” suggested we cross the street to convenience store which was the only local business in the village other than the marina and a restaurant.

She told us that there were bicycles which were free to use to ride around the local paths and trails.  We also learned that there were two light houses with museums just a mile apart which could be accessed by road and trail.  Off we went not know what to expect.  The original light house was built in the early 1800’s to lead the ships into Presque Ilse for fuel cargo.  At that time the village boasted 400 inhabitants.  A quick tour through the light house keepers home and then a walk to the top of the tower revealed a excellent view of this protected harbor.

Later, we continued down the road to the “new” northern light house which was built in the mid 1800’s.  It’s purpose what to guide local shipping past Preque Ilse westward.  At 183 feet high, it is the highest public accessible light house on the Great Lakes and of course we had to climb to the top to see the panoramic views of Lake Huron and the surrounding coast line.

img_0668After leaving Presque Isle we traveled to Harrisville, Harbor Beach and on to Port Huron arriving on Saturday of the Labour Day weekend.  While the boating activity on Lake Huron had been very limited, the weekend traffic was out in full force just north of the Bluewater Bridge which crosses the St. Clair River from Port Huron, Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario.  Passing under the bridge closed out our Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Georgian Bay travels which we will most likely not see again in Prime Time V for several years.  The good news is that we had seven consecutive days of dead-flat cruising conditions on lakes that normally do not let you off that lightly.

We decided to stay at Port Huron for a couple of days to take time out from our travel schedule and to try to miss some of the Labor Day weekend boating traffic.  Port Huron is the home of the Great Lakes Cruising Club and while we cruised right passed the GLCC offices on the river, we unfortunately could not meet the office staff since the office was closed.  We cruised up-river past the first bridge on the river to the River Street Municipal Marina.  Once we parked bow into shore we watched the local and visiting boaters watch us watch them at close range.  The river here is quite narrow and the

Unity - Elana Ford's Personal Yacht

Unity - Elana Ford's Personal Yacht

traffic is constant with some larger vessels such as Elena Ford’s (yes, that Ford family) 130 foot Palmer Johnson inching through the traffic.  As you can see, it is quite a craft which we would see again later.

All the way down the coast of Lake Huron we kept running into a sail boat name “Kinji”.  For a couple of days we noticed they would leave an hour before us and then they would arrive at the next destination two hours after we had arrived.  It became a bit of a running joke and finally we introduced ourselves to Bill and Debra Laule, charming people, recently retired who were bringing their boat back from Lake Michigan after a summer of cruising to their home port, Grosse Pointe Yacht Club.  We asked them which marina we should stay at once we arrived in Lake St. Clair?

Bill quickly suggested he could sponsor us into the yacht club since we were Great Lakes Cruising Club members and assured us we would be pleased with the accomodations.  We arrived this morning to see Unity parked on the outside wall with plenty of other large pleasure craft parked in their slips.  Let me put the calibre of this yacht club into perspective.  In 1997, the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club was accorded the honour of being named the “Number One Yacht Club in America” in a national survey of professionsal club managers.   It has maintained the title since then!

Prime Time V at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club

Prime Time V at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club

The club was founded in 1914 by a group of ice boaters who recognized the year round potential of their club’s lakefront location.  They built an 18th century Italian Renaissance building combining sun-washed stucco walls and terra cotta tile, topped by a towering 187 foot steeple.

After walking the grounds we both agreed that this is truly a spectacular location with just about every brand  and size of cruising and sail boat at its docks.  Inside, the architecture is spectacular with a rotunda in the mian hallway with a bronze statue.  The massive hall has a huge fireplace at one end of the room.

Our plan is to be at Grosse Pointe Yacht Club until at least Thursday or possibly Friday morning to allow us to explore the area and to take our spare props to a Wolverine Propellor to have them computer balanced before we go south.  I hope we don’t need to install them but, they will be ready if needed.

Main Ballroom - Grosse Pointe Yacht Club

Main Ballroom - Grosse Pointe Yacht Club

Next weekend we’ll be off to Windsor to meet some local friends for dinner as well as to switch crews on Sunday.  My friends, Bob MacConnell and Brian Tattersall will come to Windsor to help me move the boat from Windsor to Toronto through Lake Erie and the Welland Canal while Nancy returns to China on business.

Heading to Port Huron, Detroit & Windsor

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

(44⁰39.556′ N by 083⁰17.091 W -  Mile 644.01 - Harrisville, Michigan)

Since our last entry on August 27th in Charlevoix, we have waited for the weather to clear and the winds to settle.  Originally, we were to leave Charlevoix on Friday, August 28th after having the injectors and the injector pump on the main generator replaced.  A call on Friday morning confirmed that the parts would be delayed until after the weekend, a blessing in disguise since the waves on Lake Michigan reached 6 to 8 feet on the weekend.

After the generator repairs were finished, we were ready to depart on Tuesday, September 1st and fortunately, winds and waves were beginning to diminish.  Once we cleared the Mackinac suspension bridge the seas were all but flat.  That day we ran leisurely at 10 knots to Cheboygan, the next day to Presque Ilse and today on to Harrisville, Michigan.  Each of these runs were smooth and relaxing cruises of 50 to 60 miles.

Along the way, we were in the company of large ocean-going and Great Lakes freighters on their way north bound.  With visibility of over 25 miles it was great to be on the water.  You can tell the recreational boating season is coming to a close however.  Only boats which we meet along the way each day (most likely heading south as we are) are out on the water with a number of smaller, local fishing boats.

As nice as the cruising has been we must still keep a sharp look out on the bridge for floating fishing nets.  These obsructions are marked with a red and green floating flag (3 feet high) on either end with 6″ floating daylight red balls holding the net under water.  These net strings can be up to a 1/2 mile long and are difficult to identify in smooth water.  Rough water makes it that much more difficult to spot them.  Usually, they are positioned in water depths of 80 to 100 feet.  Catch these lines on your underwater running gear and you have serious problems.

Michigan had the foresight to designate the funds generated from fuel taxes and dockage to boating infrastructure.  This money is administered by the Department of Natural Resources and is ear-marked for new docks, launch ramps and fisheries.  This program was initiated in the 50’s and the initial objective was for harbours of refuge not more than 15 miles away along all of the shoreline of Lakes Huron and Michigan.  We have been staying at these harbours since arriving in Michigan on Mackinac Island.  Each of the harbours, usually managed by the municipality or the county offer top-notch facilities and docks.  Ontario and other provinces would do well to study this program to give our ailing municipalities the financial stimulus needed to upgrade their marinas and showcase their cities.

The east coast of Michigan (Lake Huron) is quite different from the western shore (Lake Michigan).  While the western shore has beautiful homes, resorts and commercial developments the eastern shore is less prosperous.  Part of this lies in the fact that the Lake Michigan’s shoreline has natural harbours and high sand dunes that have attracted summer residents for over 100 years.  The eastern coast has fewer natural harbours and appears to be more suited to agriculture.  Simply - the western side of Michigan is more prosperous than the east.

Our plan is to be in Port Huron, Michigan for the Labour Day weekend.  We will stay there from Saturday until Tuesday morning when we will travel down the St. Clair River to the Detroit area.  Two or three days in Detroit near Marina Mile (the main marina area where most of the dealers and services are) then we will cross the river to Windsor to clear Canadian Customs and Immigration.