Storm Approaches
Eagle Harbor Web
An unofficial source of Eagle Harbor, Michigan news, views and information.

The (Almost ) Daily Harbor Journal.

Winter Storm Approaches

"...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)

September, 2000

Friday, September 29, 2000. Peregrine and I pounded our way down to the Portage Canal on Monday. Yes, pounded, as the six-foot waves and 20-knot winds were right over the bow for most of the 30 mile, seven hour, sail from Eagle Harbor to the Upper Entry. Such sea conditions are little to my liking as the boat and skipper take quite a beating. Once inside the canal, all was serene as we motored for another two hours through the twisting channel to Houghton.

Monday was not my planned day of sail. The Portage Bridge, seemingly in a repair mode for the past several years, was "closed to navigation" until Tuesday to accommodate some construction equipment parked on the lift section. Nonetheless, after weeks of lake gales, Monday morning offered the temptation of bright sunshine and lighter winds. I thought it best to take advantage of this weather opportunity and get Peregrine on her way to her winter roost in Pequaming, down in Keweenaw Bay, just up the shoreline from L'Anse. With little notice, I released Peregrine from the tight grip of the several mooring lines fastened to her after the anchor dragging escapade of a few weeks ago, and motored through the cribs and out to the entry buoy in search of favorable wind.

This was to be a solo sail, in part because of the suddenness of my departure, but in the main because of the special joy I find in single-handed sailing. Peregrine and I have now shared several thousand miles of Superior sailing, much of it solo. I feel a strong sense of partnership with her, especially when we are alone. We look out for each other. Our shared environment is whatever nature sends our way - storms, calms, kindly and unkindly seas. I hear and understand the meaning of her singing rigging, her creaking hull, her snapping sails, the hiss of her bow wave, and the swish of water moving along her hull. I feel her pulse, indeed her heart, through my feet and hands as I stand at her helm, sensing when she is comfortable and when she is stressed. I've learned her nuances, her limitations, and her favorite and least favorite points of sail.

She, in turn, offers assurance and can be both forgiving and unforgiving. She tolerates and compensates for her skipper partner's minor, sometimes major, lapses in judgement and sailing skill. She's amazingly strong, able to withstand powerful seas and wind, conditions sometimes so fierce that her skipper is overcome with awe as she buries her rail and powers ahead. I have confidence in her. But I also know that my failure to tend to her needs will result in disaster for both of us. She can be most unforgiving when I fail to fulfill my part of our partnership. Rigging needs to be constantly checked for loose or missing fittings. Lines must be kept free running, winches and steering gear oiled, and sails checked for frayed stitches. Sails must be set properly and reefed when necessary. At the helm, I must keep a watchful eye on approaching seas and shifting winds, anticipating their effect on her and making appropriate and timely adjustments in her heading.

I'm sure most would find my relationship with this 12,000 pounds of fiberglass, dacron, iron and teak as a bit too romantic - too overly dramatic. Perhaps it's a relationship that only those who solo sail offshore in waters as challenging as Superior can understand. I often sail with others aboard, a situation I find equally appealing for its offer of comradeship with like minded friends and the comfort and safety of someone to share the sailing tasks. But single-handed sailing creates, and requires, a special bond between a boat and her skipper. A bond that I cherish.

Such was my experience on Monday. As we approached Eagle River, with the wind and waves building but not yet troublesome, I locked the helm onto the autopilot, and crawled forward to sit upon the cabintop to soak up some sun and watch the Keweenaw hills slip by. Peregrine charged ahead, happy with her sail set and angle on the waves. Parted water gurgling along the hull treated my ear, joined by the occasional squawk of a trailing gull and the rush of a breaking wave. The hills, always majestic when viewed from out upon the lake, were especially so on that sunny day as the colors of fall swept across their slopes. A white line of waves breaking along the shore marked the sharp transition from the dark green of near shore evergreens and the deep blue, whitecap speckled, water stretching out to my eye.

As the Five Mile Point lighthouse came abeam, I could feel Peregrine begin to labor in the building seas. The change in her movement was subtle, but discernable to someone who knows her well. I moved back to the helm, released her from the unfeeling autopilot, and changed her heading and sail set just enough to settle her down. She responded with a burst of speed (well, in a sailboat an additional knot is a burst), and clawed ahead. We, Peregrine and I, were now back in sync.

As the seas continued to build and the wind moved forward, waves began to break across her bow, sending spray aft to the cockpit and rivers of water down her deck. I shortened sail, relieving her and myself from the pounding as she rose in cresting seas and dropped into their troughs. As the wind continued to move forward, the seas became confused, with wave sets approaching from different angles. Peregrine shuddered and slowed as an occasional errant wave smashed against her side. I responded with more diligence in steering into these nuisances, and Peregrine once more became the master of the seas. We worked together for a few more hours, finally rounding the Upper Entry Light into the protected waters of the Canal. Peregrine straightened up and coasted along in the flat water and lighter air. I sat back upon the helm seat, sharing her sense of relief.

We shed the sail and motored to the bridge. The pastoral shore scene slipped by quietly. As dusk fell, we pulled alongside the sea wall just upstream from the bridge and tied down for the night. Morning would allow us passage under the once again operating bridge, but for now I felt, and I'm sure Peregrine felt, our bond had served us both well.

Sunday, September 24, 2000. The Harbor is "sleeping in" this morning. My early morning stroll to the marina was accompanied only by the steady roar of the lake, still unsettled by the strong northwesterly winds of the last few days. As I write, morning light is creeping across the Keweenaw spine, but my earlier sortie was encumbered by a coal black darkness. The faint white stripe defining the road edge was my guide until arrival at Marina Road, then only the underfoot crunch of shoulder gravel signaled an errant course. Nary a light in the windows of shadowy roadside cottages, their owners either gone or asleep. I thought of bears, and unable to whistle a happy tune, offered any such night wanderers a few choruses of old drinking songs.

The darkened camps were of little surprise. Harborites are generally early morning risers, but the hectic social schedule of the past few days is taking its toll. We are, after all, mostly a hamlet of folks richly endowed with life experiences, but perhaps (I need to be careful here), waning in energy. We have mastered the art of "pacing", and a few consecutive "nights on the town" generally calls for a respite. Such is the situation on this Sunday morn - and the reason for the "sleeping in."

Our weekend of social splurge began with a wonderful gathering at the Shoreline Friday evening to honor Barb and Don Koop for their 29 years of hospitality as Shoreline owner/operators, and to celebrate with Lissa and Tracy Clevenger as they complete their first, and by all accounts very successful, summer season as the Harbor gathering place's new owners. Lissa, daughter of Marilyn Marshall and former "Harbor kid", and husband Tracy (the hero of my recent beach avoiding escapade with Peregrine) were our hosts, and what a marvelous evening they provided. A mouth watering buffet, (I especially liked the brats and kraut), bountiful spirits, and above all, an evening of fine fellowship and lots of warm fuzzies. Lissa, as effervescent as usual, presented Barb and Don with a neat little "thank you" plaque displaying a color picture of the happy couple (they thoroughly enjoyed a summer out of the kitchen). Supervisor Jim said the appropriate nice things about our community's trememdous indebtedness to the Koops and our delight in having the Clevengers as new neighbors and Shoreline proprietors. All gathered added a hearty hurrah! Truly a special and memorable evening!

Last evening, the social scene moved to Tom and Jean Ellis's for their annual gathering before the summer season's last potluck supper at St. Peter's. I, unfortunately, missed these events, but from past experience I know what gracious and generous hosts my nearest winter-long neighbors can be. The street full of guest cars out front attested to the appeal of an evening at Tom and Jean's.

And then on to St. Peter's for the last of the monthly summer potlucks, a now long-time and very popular Harbor tradition. The genial organizer/host for these well attended gastronomical feasts, is, of course, the Harbor's attire trendsetter, Fred Kellow, a man of many good deeds, and a notable exception to my earlier observation about "waning energy". The routine, as most Harborites well know, is to stuff ourselves with our neighbor's gourmet offerings, listen and add to the town gossip, and then have some fun passing off as "white gifts", stuff we have been trying to get rid of for years.

So, it was of little wonder that the town slumbered as I, having a full day to recoup from Friday evening's Shoreline bash, crept through the darkness of this early morn, serenading any wandering bears perhaps attracted by the prospect of joining yet another happy gathering of folks who know how to have a good time.

Thursday, September 21, 2000. Another northwest gale is moving in. We seem to be in a wind slot this early fall. Almost every day since Labor Day the harbor waters have been laced with whitecaps, generated and spurred along by strong southerly and westerly winds. It takes a pretty good wind to rile Harbor waters, given the short fetch.

Peregrine has been laced to the marina wall since her anchor-dragging escapade. Given the rapid weather change, I need to quickly move her to her Pequaming roost, but the angry lake and some "mending" distractions with her skipper have delayed the trip. Now the Portage Lift Bridge is closed to boat traffic until next Tuesday. Time's running out.

It's definitely fall. Last evening, as the sun snuck around the ridge and cast its fading evening light on the north slope, the eye and mind catching soft mosaic of tarnished yellows and reds emerged. We are still a few weeks from peak, but the lush greens of summer are rapidly fading. The dry summer has shriveled the leaves, so most expect less than a Copper Country standard for fall color, but it's always beautiful. A trip to Copper Harbor earlier this week found streets deserted, and anxious shop owners waiting for the color rush, usually the first full week in October.(The clickable photo is from last October.)

It's not been a good year for those of our neighbors who eke out a living serving tourists. Coming off the heels of probably the worst snowmobile season in decades, the low summer tourist traffic has been especially disappointing. The visitor count at our Eagle Harbor Lighthouse is down about 25% from last year. (We only count the visitors who pay admission.) Fort Wilkens staff reports campsite use down 10% to 15%. The Mackinaw Bridge counts, perhaps the best indication of overall UP tourism traffic, are down about 5.6% for May through August. I suspect count drops at the Portage Bridge are double that.

Lots of ideas about why this is, but lousy weather in early summer and the horrendous gas prices are most mentioned. Others add the uneasiness and caution associated with the stock market decline since January (now of much greater general interest given the proliferation of 401K portfolios). A less robust economy heightens job security concerns and tempers discretionary spending. Such factors tend to be magnified by our remoteness.

It might also be that as our forests disappear or get gated, shoreline vistas and access give way to homesites, tourist traps multiply along our once scenic roadways, our unique copper mining historic buildings and sites yield to development pressure, and the place starts to take on a Wisconsin Dells look and feel, the Keweenaw is losing the unique environmental and cultural assets that have for years prompted people to drive past the all look alike "tourist developments" closer to home and spend the few extra hours to get here. I digress!

Anyway, it's certainly fall. The Lake Breeze is closed, the Store closes this weekend and most camps and cottages are dark. An early morning drive to Marquette earlier this week was absent any approaching traffic until I approached the Quincy Hill --a sure indication that we have moved into the "winter" mode (the eight months between mid-September and mid-May.) Deer and bear roam about with abandon, although the hunters are in the process of encouraging their retreat to the deep bush. (Bear season is now open.)

It's time to tend to the fireplace wood stack. The approaching gale is already causing the camp to creak. Temperatures in the 80s in early week are rapidly giving way to the bracing 40s and 50s of fall. There is even a mention of "snow showers" in Saturday's forecast. Terrific!

Thursday, September 14, 2000. I'm up early, about 2 am. A restless night - still mending from the medical uncertainty that sent me to the Twin Cities last week. I've turned my computer around for the winter, freeing the big farm table from the clutter of hardware and files that has been the home of our Harbor Web. A fireplace fire reflects from the window now behind the computer, and above it a beautiful and amazingly sharp edged, surface clear, full moon shines brightly in the night sky - a sky purged of all earthly distractions by the pure air flowing across the Keweenaw spine from the big lake. The "man-in-the-moon" smiles benevolently and reassuringly down on this restless soul.

The town's a bit restless as well. You probably sensed that as you read the Harbor Web report on last Monday's Township Board meeting. The short interlude between the departure of our summer neighbors and the arrival of the army of color aficionados is normally a time to stroll leisurely along deserted streets and trails, stopping occasionally in a sunny patch to chat with a neighbor about such weighty matters as the expected winter snowfall, the fortune or ill-fortune of the Packers, and how many bears have been in-town of late. I generally putter with my boat, getting it ready for its winter roost. It's always been a good time to replenish the woodpile, and at least get a start on the many chores set-aside in the flurry of summer frivolity and fellowship. I usually spend a good deal of time alongside the lake or trail just contemplating my good fortune and marveling at the wonders of this place.

So what are we doing this season of peaceful recovery and quiet personal introspection? We are at meetings, engaging in passionate debate about land development, alleged political skullduggery, public finance - all the stuff that is the mainstream of public life and discourse in places more populace and more pandemonium prone. A neighbor commented, "I spent a lifetime engaged in such turmoil - never thought that would be my plate up here." As did I. A life of happy, high energy encounters as I engaged in the civic life of my community, and pursued the public policy agenda of my private sector patron. When the Harbor became my home, I set that aside - or so I thought.

Like my neighbor, I find myself drawn to the local public discourse. The old public debate tinged blood begins to course through rusty but apparently still serviceable, certainly susceptible, brain cells. I suppose in some unfathomable way, getting riled up about such temporal matters is good for us. It's sort of a lethargic mind blocker, much as physical exercise is good for staving off the infirmities of the body.

So much for rationalizing. It might also be why I now find myself "mending".

Tuesday, September 5. Boat, yard and woodpile all beckon for "season end" attention, but my "hang on" and just plain lazy inclinations call for postponement. Why rush it? Let's just relish the lingering afterglow of a marvelous summer, enjoy the slower pace of early fall, and bath in the sweet solitude of Eagle Harbor post Labor Day.

The few weeks between warm beaches and color, like the short interval between the departure of the snow pack and the arrival of bugs, are my favorite Keweenaw interludes. It's quiet, days are crisp, early morns and evenings are fireplace cozy, and the cleansed night skies are aurora and constellation laden. It's the time of equinox, the time when the waning or waxing of the sun's benevolence stirs its disciples. Critters scurry about, foliage regarbs, birds migrate, weather systems energize and the lake, so dominate in our consciousness, stirs our souls as it roils in the grip of thermal change and wind swept surface.

The events of "season", whether they be parades, touring about, or happy gatherings on trail or beach, all fondly remembered or eagerly anticipated, are at a distance. In their absence we are absorbed by the works and wonders of nature. For me, and many who share these quiet times in this rocky outpost in the shadow of the silent hills and in the lee of the big lake, the early fall and early spring interludes are times of assurance and renewal.

All too soon I will need to return to the happy chores of season change, but for a moment I'll enjoy the solitude of these few precious days. I'll find a sun warmed rock or sandy perch and just sit and listen and watch - absorbing the wonder of it all - and enjoy, as author Nancy Lord so perceptively observed, "the opportunity to think hard about ourselves, to discover from nature important facts about human nature."

Friday, September 1. I begin this day, and another season of Harbor Journal entries, physically exhausted, mindful of my good fortune, and once again grateful for the seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of good deeds by my Harbor neighbors.

Last evening produced a crises - Peregrine, my sailboat, tossed about by a sudden 30 knot northeaster and the resulting angry lake swells rolling unmolested into the Harbor's west bay, dragged her big anchor and 100 feet of heavy chain rode and headed for the Shoreline Beach. I rushed to the beach, launched the rubber dinghy and bounced through the breaking beach waves to her aid. Scrambling up her tossing transom ladder, I could feel and hear the terrifying trump of her five-foot keel on the bottom. She was beginning to list, losing her stability. The roar of wind and waves breaking on the all too near beach was deafening. I started the engine, advanced the throttle, set her autopilot on an offshore course, and crawled forward along the deck to get her anchor up. The only hope was to power through the sand bottom and breaking waves into deeper water.

Kneeling on the tossing bow, I cranked away on the anchor winch. No good, her forward thrust stretched the chain tight, preventing its retrieval. After several mad crawls up and down the deck, alternately backing her down and cranking in the slackened chain, the situation seemed hopeless, and I was beginning to feel an all too familiar tightness in my chest. Peregrine was badly pounding on the bottom and once again heading for shore. I damn near wept.

Suddenly a voice, "Can I help?" It's new neighbor, and new Shoreline co-owner, Tracy Clevenger, clad in a wet suit and swimming out from shore. He quickly climbs up the transom ladder, and heads for the bow to retrieve the anchor as I maneuver the boat to put slack on the chain. Up it comes. I crank up the engine rpms to twice the recommended maximum, and head Peregrine into the onshore wind and waves. The boat shudders from the overworked prop and keel banging. On wave crests we make a little headway, but in the troughs, she's hard on the bottom and digging into the sand and rock. We stop moving. Tracy calls back; "Help is on the way!"

Sure enough, like the cavalry of old, coming to our aid from the east bay is Dick Lantz's powerful little cruiser, renowned of late for its rescue capabilities. Jim Boggio, who called Dick when he learned I was in trouble, is on-board, as is Dick's daughter Cathy and son-in-law Joe Foster. I watch them bounce through the heavy swells as the come down the harbor, wondering if the rescue craft had sufficient power to pull us to safety.

After a good deal of bouncing about at close quarters, a line from Peregrine is finally secured aboard Dick's boat, and the tugging begins. The wind and waves push the rescue craft off to the side, causing Peregrine to dig in deeper. I advance the throttle some more, keeping a wary eye on the engine heat gauge, and watching the knotmeter for signs of forward progress. Dick somehow manages to get up wind, and suddenly we are free. I slump back on the wheel seat, overcome with exhaustion and relief.

We motor down to the marina. A large crowd of concerned and helpful neighbors, along with my rescue team, is at the dock. I push the bow up against the marina wall, and Tracy tosses mooring lines to eager hands. Peregrine is secured tightly to the wall for the night. Rescue skipper Dick gives me a ride home. Abby briefly lifts her head from a deep slumber as I stumble in the door, soaked and still shaking from the evening's adventure. She moans protest for being left at home. I ignore her and crash.

I return to the marina at 4 this morning to check on the boat. All seems in order, but I add a few more mooring lines and fenders just to be safe. The surge at the dock is substantial as the storm continues to roll waves into the harbor.

I was indeed fortunate. The event happened in daylight and the leeward shore was sand, not rock. Peregrine once again proved her sturdiness, taking the terrible pounding on the keel without snapping the mast, or damaging the rudder. The engine performed flawlessly, despite the heavy demand I placed on it.

My greatest blessing, however, was the aid of good neighbors. Tracy's swim from shore saved the day, and Dick, Jim , Cathy, and Joe's boat and line handling skills allowed Peregrine to return safely to mooring. They, along with the marina reception gathering, reminded me once again why Eagle Harbor is so special.

So begins another season of journal accounts of life at Eagle Harbor. What an exciting way to begin our journey!

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Go To Daily Journal Archives:
May, 2000
April, 2000
March, 2000
February2, 2000
February1, 2000