"...when we don't live with birds or weather or waves we lose the opportunity to think hard about ourselves, to discover from nature important facts about human nature."
(excerpted from Nancy Lord's, Fishcamp)
Peregrine encountered the beginnings of this storm on Sunday afternoon - on the last leg of the two-day journey from the harbor to the boat's winter roost in Pequaming. Twenty-five to thirty knot easterly winds pushed six-to-eight foot high sunlit white-crested blue water rollers across Keweenaw Bay as we surged, sometimes surfed, southerly from the Lower Entry. A wild and exciting ride. A wonderful way to end another season of Lake Superior sailing.
Leg one of the annual season-end jaunt to Pequaming began at dawn on Saturday. I'd waited a week for a strong northwesterly system to veer to the northeast for the run along the Keweenaw north shore to the North Entry and then down the Portage Canal to the marina next to the Portage Bridge. On short notice, Bruce Olson and John Wakeman signed on as crew, thankfully providing the margin of safety I seek for sailing on Superior in the always-volatile fall weather. Peregrine quickly gathered hull speed as the wind filled her big wing. The bow wave was huge and wonderfully noisy as a steady beam wind drove us westerly through a rolling and following sea. The few breaks in a generally overcast sky allowed sun beams to play across the dark Keweenaw hills, creating moving patches of bright fall color. Our fall sailing gear was not up to the task of warding off the penetrating cold of the gray, windy day, but after a belly full of some warm tasty chili bean soup sent along by Jeane Olson, we were content and comfortable. A trolling line was tossed off the stern in hope of snagging a distracted coho beginning its fall spawning run, but in keeping with the fortunes of this and most of my (and Bruce's) fishing seasons, the line and its "works for everyone else" colorful watermelon lure did little more than catch the eye of a few curious seagulls. (This year, I blame the unusually warm water temperatures.)
The North Entry light was abeam in just five hours, a fast run for Peregrine. We speed through the entry opening and after swinging the bow into the brisk wind blowing down the canal, dropped the 540 sq. ft. of dracon into the cradle lines and cranked up the iron genny for the seven mile motorcruise to the bridge. Bruce, who grew up along the canal, was our tour guide - spotting at one point the decaying remains of his dad's commercial fishing boat. The fall color near the entry was like that at the harbor, spotty and definitely pre-peak, but as we cruised south-easterly the hilltops came alive, aided by a now mostly sunny sky.
As we rounded the last channel buoy and headed for the bridge, the clouds returned and the wind picked up. The bridge tender seemed delighted to have something to do, and when asked to raise the iron gate to 58 feet for Peregrine's tall stick, said as a special treat he'd give us 70 feet. (I suspect the backed up bridge traffic was not pleased with the extra time needed to lift and lower at that clearance.) I revved up the rpms to get through as quickly as possible, and looked up at the bridge decking as the Keweenaw link to the world was still rising. The bridge chief tooted his horn, either in year-end salute or in irritation with my brashness. A quick port turn brought us alongside the marina dock. Ivan Fisher drove down to meet us and we were back at the harbor in time for Mike & Maryann Hohner's annual chili party.
Bruce and Clayton, Bruce's lifelong canal friend, joined me Sunday for the normally five hours run to Pequaming. This time we were prepared for cool weather - armed with hot pasties and longjohns. We departed, however, in the warmth of a beautiful, sunny day. The tree covered hills along the south leg of the canal were at or quickly nearing their fall color peak. I was momentarily distracted by the splendor of it all, and thought, "What a shame to be ending the sailing season so early". Reality soon returned. As we passed the new Coast Guard station and rounded the buoy at the north end of Portage Lake, the east wind stiffened and waves began to crest. We ran up the sail for a beam reach to the south end of the lake and the entry into the lower canal. The knotmeter cruised in the eight to ten knot range and the boat settled into a 15-degree heel. Clayton, on his initial trip under sail, crawled to the relative saneness of the windward side. Bruce and I woofed down our pasties. Clayton had suddenly lost his appetite.
Peregrine was still moving at good speed as we entered the lower canal. The engine was turned on for maneuvering safety, but the sail stayed up as we proceeded along the narrow channel. Wind gusts blasted through alongside forest openings, rolling Peregrine on her beam and instantly sending the knotmeter from 4 to 10 knots. Pretty exciting! As we rounded the last channel marker and looked out past the South Entry Light into a frenzied Keweenaw Bay, it was clear we were in for a wild ride.
And wild it was. A reef or two to shorten sail would have been prudent but I had removed the reefing lines the day before as part of the winter storage preparation. So out we went, the big easterly rollers and 25 to 30 knot winds testing our mettle. I swung the sail far out over the leeward beam to lessen the strain on the rigging and ease the steering, but we were "pegging" the knotmeter (10 knots plus). Clayton hung on for dear life, marveling at the boat's ability to handle the rough seas. Bruce took a turn at the wheel, his initial look of trepidation (fear?) quickly becoming a big smile as the boat responded smartly to his steep learning curve of steering in rough conditions. Hats, cups, anything loose in the cockpit, all headed for a winter in Keweenaw Bay. Peregrine surged ahead, seemingly happily showing her stuff in this last sail of the season. I was content.
We rounded up in the lee of the Pequaming jut of land, and dropped the big sail for the final time this season. The normally five hours trip had taken less than four. Within another hour Peregrine was out of the water and resting comfortably on her cradle. Wow! What a day and what a way to end a sailing year that started late and under heart surgery duress. Jeane Olson drove down to pick us up and we all stopped at the Pilgrim River Steakhouse on the way home for a little celebration.
As I watch today's storm, I am so thankful Peregrine is safely tucked away and for the good friends who aided in that task.
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