The Great Loopers Chapter 16. The Little Things

“You could have drama, or it could be boring. Anything can happen.”

From the log book on Friday September 1, 2017. Written by the XO.

9:40 AM Left Harsens Island
4:40 PM Arrived Port Huron, Michigan, River St. Marina.
1,123 to 1,158=35 miles.

It only took two days to wrench ourselves away from Harsens Island. Any longer and I would have become a permanent resident. Because that’s what the place does to people.
We cruised north up the St. Clair River, half of which is Canada, that is, the international border runs along the middle of the river. It’s okay to cross the border in your boat because you’re not considered an illegal alien until you physically touch Canadian soil. As you can see from the log book, it took us 7 hours to go only 35 miles.
“Why so long?” you ask. It’s because we were fighting against a 3 knot current the whole way. Through some of the skinnier sections, the current increased to 4, sometimes 5 knots. It’s what the St. Claire River does.
On perfectly flat calm water, Ginger Lee does 7 to 8 knots at her engines “sweet spot” of 1600 RPM. Do the math; we were crawling. No, wait, crawling is faster. People strolling along the shoreline were passing us. I don’t wanna even think about the skull numbing boredom.
Yes, I know, the scenery is gorgeous, we’re outside and not toiling away at our job, and we are boating. All true, but after several hours of swimming upstream, what we found endearing and charming got old and stale pretty darn fast.

We would occasionally drift into Canadian waters. After getting wicked waked by a Canadian police boat, I decided we should fly a “courtesy flag” which I fashioned from materials at hand.

When we docked in Port Huron, Michigan, we knew full well what we were getting ourselves into.

Our irrepressible friends Michele and Dale. Proud residents of Port Huron.
Dinner party at their home.

Have you noticed how the pictures are fuzzy and out of focus? It’s like my brain after two crazy days in Port Huron. Really, we barely escaped with our lives!
Some of the bullet points:
*The laundry monster was growling and it was the XO’s turn. Our friend Michele has a washer and dryer and she graciously offered the use of them, and even came by in her car for transport, a big deal for the XO and I, who envy loopers with boats large enough to have a washing machine on them. That was early afternoon. I didn’t see my wife until the next morning! Apparently, doing laundry involved a trip to the packey.
*After a dinner party at Dale and Michele’s place, the XO and I were riding back to the boat, when suddenly, I fell off my bike! I tried to say it was loose dirt but the XO wasn’t buying it. I was schnockered. Jeez, I hate when that happens. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t get drunk. Not since I retired from being a kick-ass, hell-raising, rock and roll mega star.
Sure, I like a cold beer on a hot day, I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, and an occasional cocktail. I’m like Joe Sixpack. Just your average overachiever. Anyway, I was okay. Falling off a folding bike with little 20″ wheels is a breeze. You’re so low to the ground it’s more like rolling off the seat. We walked the rest of the way back to the boat with no further incidents.

Bascule bridge in Port Huron.

From the log book on Sunday September 3rd 2017. Written by the XO.
8:40 AM Left for the 9:00 bridges out of Port Huron.
12:09 @ the fuel dock, Lexington.

We fought our way north up the St. Claire River. I doubt if we were making 3 knots against the terrific current, especially under the Blue Water fixed bridge where the river is at its narrowest. But in less than a mile we were out of its grip and into Lake Huron. Our speed increased and the engines thrummed happily. I drew a straight line course to Lexington Harbor, Michigan.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen another Looper. The last time was way back in New York nearer to Connecticut. I remember this because it was the first time anyone had ever called me on the radio to request a slow pass. The name of the boat escapes me, but the hailing port was from North Carolina, home of America’s most courteous boaters.

In the background you can see the huge breakwater.
The Lexinton Harbor of Refuge has a pub! You must try the Rueben.
Lexington sunrise.
The State of Michigan puts out a very useful book of all the harbors along its coastline. Cruising is so easy around “The Mitten”.

From the log book on Tuesday September 5th 2017.

8:25 AM Left Lexington.
10:15 Into Port Sanilac on the starboard engine alone after the portside overheated.

1,180 to 1,195= 15 miles est.

We were cruising to Harbor Beach on a chilly gray morning, just minding our own business, following another straight line course along the Michigan coast. The XO was at the helm and I was trying to find something to do to pass the time. I had already washed the dishes and made the bed, fixed the water pressure switch, painted the trim and watched it dry. Suddenly, engine alarms! It’s a horrible noise specifically designed to make your heart race and knock you off your chair. Think angry pterodactyl. I picked myself off the floor and scanned the gauges. The port engine temperature spiked to nearly 220 degrees before I shut it down.
“That’s not good,” I said. But luckily, the great state of Michigan has provided boaters with a harbor every 20 or so miles, and we happened to be within a few miles of one. I called Port Sanilac, and right away, a real person answered the phone! That is exactly what I needed to happen at that moment. I explained the situation and requested a slip that we could pull into easily since our maneuverability was compromised.
“I got slip for you. It’s a straight shot in from the breakwater,” was my answer. Sometimes all you need is a little cooperation.
We pulled straight in. There was someone waiting to help us but it was a perfect 3 point landing. Better than I do with both engines running! It didn’t take long to discover the engine had a broken vee belt. It would be our second on this trip, which is not even a third of the way over.
“Should I stock up on vee belts?” I pondered.
“No problem,” the Dockmaster said. She pointed to the huge marine repair and parts facility right next door.
“I love Michigan!” I gushed.

From the log book on Tuesday September 6 2017.
9:35 AM Left the dock at Port Sanilac.
Futile attempt to anchor in weeds.
3:00 PM At Harbor Beach Marina in a slip.

We tried to anchor in heavy weeds. I didn’t work. After several attempts, all we got was a four foot ball of salad attached to the anchor. We finally gave up and grabbed a slip at the Harbor Beach Marina. A good decision because bad weather kept us there for three days. The marina had fuel, pump-out, clean showers, and was close to a quaint downtown with lots of shops. There were also well-cared-for walking and biking paths with lots of historic markers. It was very nice, but…

The noise from a nearby waterfront processing plant was a constant, unrelenting din. Not to mention the slight chemical smell. During the day you almost get used to it, sometimes even forget about it, but at night it’s difficult to ignore. Especially at the marina where there is nothing but a short expanse of water separating it from the plant.
The XO went online to find out what they make. The answer was somewhat cryptic: they make palatants for the food industry. What? Palatants? My spellcheck doesn’t think that’s a real word.
Aha! Artificial flavoring. Hey, somebody’s got to make the stuff. Why use the real thing when you can use all kinds of chemicals with unpronounceable names? And who the hell am I to complain about a factory that employs thousands of hard-working Americans, and keeps this historic city thriving? Shame on me.
“Oh dear. A visiting yachtsman from the Colonies doth turn up his nose. What ever shall we do?”
“We must close down the factory this instant!”

From the log book on Saturday September 9th.
8:20 AM Left well in Harbor Beach.
12:37 PM Port Austin fuel dock, slip at about 1:00

We arrived at Port Austin, Michigan to the aroma of something delicious cooking on somebody’s grill. After we secured the boat, a total stranger approached us. In his hands were two big beautiful bratwurst sandwiches slathered with mustard.
“Enjoy,” he said as he handed them over to me. I was so starving it was like the guy gave me a Porterhouse steak. I couldn’t thank him enough.
“You’re welcome,” he said. “It’s no big deal.”
He’s right, it’s just a couple of brats, but that is what I will remember whenever I think of Port Austin. Sometimes it’s the little things.

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