Getting from The Eye of the Needle back to St. Clair Shores by Richard Jagers
As some of you know, ASI has 2 keel boats up in the North Channel, and someone needs to bring them back in late summer. I was one of the volunteers who offered to help bring one back. I may require a visit to the psycho ward… please make it a dry padded cell… but I survived. So here is the story of our adventure from The Eye of the Needle, in Iroquois Bay, Ontario Canada (near 46°06'22" North 81°38'26"  West) to St Clair Shores, Michigan.
We decided to explore McGregor bay, and on our way we found out that the Coast Guard had issued bad weather warnings, along with tornado watches and warnings for the area we were currently in. So we picked a cove on the map, looked up the details and figured out how to get there. Voyager III will be returning Monday 8-29 as they are still fighting the weather and last known to be watching waves crashing over the break wall in Port Sanilac, MI. In McGregor Bay we went thru several narrow passages, not for the faint of heart or the inexperienced, including the “Blasted Cut” but we found the Eye of the Needle. A small cove tucked about 10 miles inland, surrounded by 50 to 70 ft high walls. It was a great hiding place with cliffs to jump off and woods to explore. All the details of the McGregor trip would be a complete story, so maybe you will hear it later. The important thing was that the boat and crew were both safe, even though we could hear the wind howling on all sides and at times it sounded like a tornado.
We left the Eye at 0701 on Thursday heading for Tobermory via Killarney. A long day ahead. As we crossed the bay towards Killarney, I hailed Voyager III  on the radio, and to my surprise they answered. We hadn’t heard from them for several days and wondered where and how they spent the bad weather days. With all the bad weather they had stayed in Killarney for 2 days. Ask them about their experience and how the marina was so concerned about all the boats and possible winds down the channel. Five minutes of watching a mink swim and walk on shore has to beat 2 days stuck in Killarney! We went into Killarney to fuel up at noon.  For all you travelers avoid the fuel dock in Killarney, we got ripped off. It appears as if they charged us for fuel, but never put any in. We were busy trying to get the boat ready, and really didn’t pay attention. We noticed once we were underway that the fuel gage was exactly where it was when we pulled in! So we had to pay for fuel again when we arrived in Tobermory. Voyager III was on it’s way and had left earlier that morning. They expected to arrive at Tobermory at 1600. We left Killarney at 1400 on our way, dinghy on the deck, provisions, water, etc. The big trip ahead!

On our way Tony asked if we wanted to turn to starboard and go right to Port Huron, we decided against it. We hailed Voyager and heard that they were checking out a few more coves and Flower Pot, which we decided to skip. We arrived in Tobermory around 1930, and as usual our jib wouldn’t furl in… so I went on the deck to take care of it. More challenging and a lot less space to squeeze in with the dingy on the deck, everyone should be thankful I didn’t cut it down and leave it behind! I also know why it is jamming, and some ideas how to fix it! So hopefully the jamming/fraying line mystery is solved. Voyager was behind us and saw us driving in circles while trying to furl in the jib, I told them they should have come over and taken pictures. We fueled up, and I noticed that Manitou was still heeled over. Well I admit we were heeled over a lot that day, but at the dock, the boat should be standing upright. I pumped out the bilge and there was a lot of water that was pumped out. Where did it all come from? Well who knows, but we discovered that the stuffing bearing was dripping like mad, and later we ran out of water, so maybe the water tank which I filled in Killarney is leaking? Either way these are only a few of the items that will be part of the upcoming maintenance marathon on these boats, a good chance to get your volunteer hours if you are still short. We tightened the stuffing bearing, so it is much more reasonable, and set a schedule to run/check the bilge once we headed out.

We got the last two dock spots in Tobermory for the night. Wow what a tight spot, and Bliss a beautiful 70 ft sailboat was on one side we had to squeeze thru. I know the owner, so I wouldn’t want to have to explain if we scratched his boat! We tried backing in, but decided it was too risky. After we squeezed in forward we had to turn the boat around. Manitou carefully turned around… I couldn’t believe it. The space was really limited and I didn’t even think you could turn in that small area; boats on two sides, and shore on the third. Skip the yard stick it wouldn’t fit in the space that was left. Now it was Voyager’s turn… Captain Kathy did a fantastic job of bringing it in and starting the swing. Dock lines and a little muscle made the rest look easy, still scary, but a great docking job! Voyager decided it was time to put their dinghy on the deck. This always draws a crowd of spectators. Maybe someday I’ll put the video on the web. Dinner at the local restaurant with both crews was great with many stories to tell, including one about what to do while holding the anchor line and a big blow comes thru! I think the answer is cleat quick, pull in as necessary!

Around 0000 Friday, the winds had shifted and now were from the north/west, which would be great for sailing, but we had already decided on a later departure time. Most of the bad weather had blown thru and at 1230 Voyager headed towards Lake Huron. At 1300 Manitou headed out.  Sometime later Manitou passed Voyager, and we put out our sails and turned off the engine. I thought the “race” was on. After all Voyager is faster under sail, they have 4 L4’s on board, they have racers on board, so they should beat us to JBM by at least an hour! Tony asked us what course would get us 5 miles west of Point Clark? We charted it out and told him, and set out in that direction. It was a straight shot with the current winds, tight to the wind, but not any tacking. The predicted wind shift should allow us to sail most of the way home. Voyager decided to hug the coast line, a decision that later I’m certain they would regret. All was good, nice sailing weather. Suddenly I looked over and saw Voyager tacking back out to deep water where we were at. I looked at the charts, and realized that they had seen the shallow areas on the chart and needed to change course. So much for taking the short cut!  I thought they would just come out to our course and follow us since our heading was working great. They kept going west, and we lost visual but stayed in radio contact. They reported their current course and speed, which showed they were heading towards the MI coast right away, instead of sailing down the Canadian coast. Around 2030 the wind died, and I suggested we motor west out 5 miles and then no matter where the wind came from, we could sail a tack without worrying about the shallows. We kept the course we were on, instead of sailing out towards open water, using the motor. My shift was from 2100 to 0000 so I just took the helm and headed on the same course, with some bouncing as we were heading into the wind. The others slept. At 0020 I was on my way to some much needed sleep. At 0220 I was awakened by the sound of the engine changing to idle. Tony ran into the V berth and started throwing stuff out, then he started for the stairs, I asked what was wrong? He replied “the anchor”. I thought maybe it had broken free and was dragging behind. I knew it was securely tied, but the line was light and maybe it had broken. I grabbed my rain jacket, my PFD, my tether, and my shoes and headed forward. The seas were like a roller coaster ride, and I could clearly see Point Clark. The anchor had come off of the roller and was banging on the side of the boat. So Tony started trying to secure it, and I was running back to get tools to see if we could bend the holder back in place. Our boat in Barbados had a guard over the anchor, so it could not bounce out of the roller, these boats do not. Actually I was rapidly crawling on the deck as there was no way to move easily on that wet bouncy deck. The deck was wet from all the spray, and with the dinghy on the deck there wasn’t much room to stand or maneuver. Any tight rope walkers in the club? We decided to just lash the anchor down, with some line from the dinghy, but then I discovered the one time I needed my knife it was clipped on my pants and I was still in my sleeping clothes which were now wet, so no knife that was good enough to cut the line. Tony had one, so we used his. Another trip back and forth on the deck was not what I wanted to do.  We got it all lashed down and secure, and started heading west so we could get by Point Clark safely. I thought the adventure was over, so I went back to sleep. I’d had enough excitement for the day! Apparently I missed the roller coaster ride, as I later heard there were huge waves that would push the boat back, and looked like monsters as they rolled by. Tony said he must have spent 2 or 3 hours just making a few miles headway. He said he would get some forward motion, and a big wave would literally carry the boat back to where he started. This beating and bouncing went on for hours. I awoke several hours later when the sun started coming up, and pulled myself out of bed. I thought, it must be about time for my shift. Not knowing all we had just gone thru, I asked Tony how he was doing? He said I need a break! So at 0720 I took over and held the helm until 1300, and then handed it off. Later I heard how wild the ride had been, I’m glad I slept thru it!
There were a few more challenging events on this leg of the journey, but pale compared to the anchor, and wild ride we had just been thru! Which side do you allow a 700 ft freighter to pass you on??? Any side they want too! Just get out of the way! The final journey across Lake St Clair was rough, wet, and wild too, but by then we could see Miller tower so we were just heading for the dock! Manitou arrived at approximately 2300 on Saturday, completing the crossing in 33 hours. By the time we got her secure, and I dropped off the crew I was ready for sleep as it was now 0230… which I finally got a few hours of! The drive home was worse then the ride across the lake, but I made it.
In a few days, I’ll be posting pictures and maybe some video to
It was a great trip, and a great learning experience. I’m certain you will hear stories as time goes on, and as I write them on the web site. So many stories, it may take years to write them out. How about doing 6.5 to 7 knots under sail! That was an exciting ride! I think I could have walked on the side of the boat!