Aug 28, 2014

Buffalo and Crossing Lake Erie

Apparently NY State just wasn’t ready to let us go. When we made it to Buffalo at the end of the Erie Canal, we were hit with a thunderstorm, followed by several days of strong winds out of the West.

The good news is that Buffalo is a sweet town to get stuck in. We stayed at “Canal Side” which is a city operated park with a floating dock along the wall. The park was amazing. It’s full of Adirondack chairs, games, and every day there are several free events such as yoga, dance lessons, kid activities, music, etc. We even saw Moby perform one night which was also free! The day we were leaving there was a huge antique car show.

We also met a lot of great people in Buffalo. Rich, co-owner of the Schooner “Spirit of Buffalo”, Jordan who let us do laundry at her house, Mike who drove LeeAnn around for errands, and Ann who brought me to the grocery store!

The afternoon before we planned to leave Buffalo, I posted a joke on Facebook about “if you want to help us sail across Lake Erie, just fly to Buffalo in the next 12 hours, we leave in the morning!”

A lot of people responded with jokes, but one of LeeAnn’s friends, Tayett, actually bought a plane ticket and showed up with her 9 month old baby! Tayett arrived around 1:30pm and by 3:00 we were on our way out of the harbor for a 44 hour sail to Sandusky, OH.

It was a good sail. We started out motor sailing with light winds, but the wind picked up after we put some distance between us and the shore. We shut off the engines before dark and sailed the rest of the way. 

It was a pretty uneventful passage, just how I like em. The waves were less than five feet, but very steep. Tayett did great on her watches and it was really helpful to have her on board. She was also great at corralling two kids. 

During my watch on the second night I had to make a decision. Stop in Sandusky or continue on to Monroe, Michigan.

I was tried. dropping the anchor and going to sleep sounded like a great plan. However, making it all the way to Michigan sounded pretty good as well. The waves were still steep, but they were calming down along with the wind. 

Had the waves been a little calmer I would have pushed on. But to make it to Monroe would have meant going through an area between the Ohio mainland and an island where the deepest point would have been 16 feet with numerous shoals all around. 

I was concerned that the already steep waves would start breaking in the shallow areas, and because it was night, I wouldn’t be able to see if we were heading into a troublesome area. Maybe I was being prudent, maybe I was just making up excuses because I wanted to go to bed. We headed for Sandusky.

It was amazing to pull into the Sandusky anchorage at night. It’s an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget. The Cedar Point amusement park is actually on the point, and you have to go right past it when entering the channel. The night-time illumination is nice, but when you combine it with drowsiness and seeing nothing but water for a few days, it becomes surreal.

The draw back to all the lights of the amusement park is that they make picking out the navigation lights of the channel a little difficult, but at least the markers had lights. 

Seeing all the lights of the amusement park made me excited, so the next morning I tried to convince the crew to go to the park, but with two kids, they weren't having it. So we pulled up the anchor and made a 3 hour hop to Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island.

We didn’t make it onto the island until around 4:00. We started by going to the park so the kids could run around and play while Tayett arranged for travel home.

The island was very charming and nice. The only thing I didn’t like about it was what I believe to be artificially inflated prices. $20 for a 12” cheese pizza? Come on! I’m sure they would try to justify the prices by saying “well, we have to ship everything here” but having been to islands that actually ARE remote (like Bermuda) I feel like I have the experience to say that the prices on South Bass Island are tourist robbery.

It started raining, so I went back out to the boat to close up hatches. I also turned on the engines to back down on the anchor in preparation for the coming thunderstorms. I could feel the anchor bumping along the rocky bottom, so I decided to pick up a mooring ball. It was $30, the same price as a mooring ball at the 79th street basin in New York City. Seriously. 

For some reason, I thought it was a good idea to leave a few hatches open. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, but I would really come to regret that decision in a few hours. 

I went back to shore and caught up with everyone. We rode a Carousel with real carved wood horses. Then the girls went into some boring girly shops and Hobie and I walked around. I rained intermittently. I figured it was only a matter of time before it started to rain and didn’t stop. The girls were taking FOREVER but I didn’t want to rush them.

When they finally arrived, I suggested we pick up food and bring it back to the boat. I thought it was going to start raining. We considered a few places, but ended up at a boardwalk food court area close to the boat. Since it was tray service, I figured it would be ok to get food and eat it there. 

Unfortunately, it started raining. Not just raining, storming. I’d been watching the radar because I knew a storm was on it’s way, but this storm materialized right over the top of the island in advance of the storm I'd been watching. I thought it would blow itself out, calm down, and we would head out to the boat. But after watching the radar for a while, it appeared that the storm was continuing to bloom as the system hit the water, so it didn’t look like it was going to end. I figured we should just go.

The dinghy was located at a dock about 200 feet away from the boardwalk food court. I stepped out into the cold downpour and began the long walk to the dinghy. I brought the dink over to the dock where the girls and kids were waiting. Tayett threw herself comically into the dinghy, and we set off for the boat. Full speed ahead, straight into the wind and the rain. Lighting crashing and waves splashing over the bow drenching us. It was freezing. I could barely see with the rain blowing into my eyes. 

Sitting in a 9 foot dinghy, with three adults, two children, to-go boxes of half eaten dinners, water up past our ankles, in a raging thunderstorm. There really isn’t much you can do besides laugh in situations like this. 

We made it to the boat, expecting it to be warm and dry inside. We all tumbled in… and found that I’d left hatches open and the strong winds were blowing the downpour into the boat. This is the second time I’ve left hatches open in a rainstorm. You’d think I would learn. 

We set to work drying out the boat, and in about 20 minutes the rain passed, wind calmed, clouds broke up, and it turned into a beautiful evening. 

At the time I couldn’t help but feel a little bitter that Mother Nature has so cruelly mocked me. But now I’m actually happy we left when we did. Had we waited a little longer, we would have had an unmemorable, uneventfully pleasant ride out to the boat. Instead we traded a little discomfort for a memory that I’m sure we will be laughing at many years from now.


  1. The cat is safe and sound! We left her on land with a friend for our most recent trip.