Teachable Moments

Teachable Moments

The final installment of our story about boats, kids and dads…

Upward we trekked. At one point, Maren dislodged a rock, which smacked Olivia on the ankle on it’s way down. One down, but Olivia is a Jones, and she bounced right back. As it was so steep, we quickly drifted apart. I noted the presence of what I’m guessing to be bear poop. I say this because it didn’t look like any other animal poop I’d ever seen, and, when I got home, I Googled ‘bear poop’ under Google images, and the photos that resulted looked just like the poop I saw, so, I am comfortable with saying the poop I saw was, in fact, bear poop.

Continuing on to the highest point of land in our proximity, I was treated to a birds-eye view of the pool, but no Lake Topaz. I decided to descend to where Todd and the girls were, and inform them Topaz Lake was not this way. I also said I saw bear poop, so the move downhill back to the trail was quick. Wham! A small tree crashed down right next to me! Olivia had grabbed a tree to slow her descent; it was dead and rotten and broke off and almost hit me on the head! Being careful not to knock over any more trees or dislodge any more rocks, we made it back to the original dry creek bed-like trail. Turning right, we continued upward, along the original direction we’d taken before the right hand turn call. Several minutes later, we saw a small yellow pointing to the left, with small lettering “Topaz Lake”. Good news, we were going the right direction, bad news, it was more uphill.  Leaving the dry creek-like trail, we continued uphill, thru pine trees, and a bed of pine needles. Continuing upward onto an almost stair like arrangement of rocks, I burst into a flat space, and had my first glimpse of Topaz Lake. If this had been a movie, the angels would’ve started singing. It was the most incredibly beautiful piece of water I’ve ever seen. Todd and the girls soon caught up to me, and oohs, ahhs and other superlative exclamations were heard from all.

We scampered down the rocky surface to close to the waters edge; the lake was ringed with rock, and we had to make sure we were headed in a direction that would allow us to enter the lake. We were. Someone had told Todd that the lake was unique, in that nothing grew or lived in it.

Stripping off our outer clothing to our swimsuits, we made our way down the rock edge. Todd was the first one in, and pronounced the water as ‘prefect’. I noted that there was no algae, slime, or moss growing on the rock below the water, providing initial confirmation that nothing grew in the lake. The girls were next in, and they didn’t howl, so I know the temperature wasn’t too cold. I was in next, and it was very refreshing, especially after thrashing about in the woods for over an hour, trying to find the lake. I had planned on bringing soap for bathing, and of course, had forgotten it. But, the acidity of the water made the need for soap a moot point. Hair was squeaky clean upon exiting the water, and no, it didn’t fall out later.   Maren and Olivia did not want to leave. It was so incredibly gorgeous there, and so refreshing. I didn’t really want to leave either, but, we did sort of have a goal of leaving the ‘Pool’ by noon, so, reluctantly,  we got out of Topaz Lake, dried off, got dressed, and headed (downhill thankfully) back to the dinghy.

Once aboard Fast Tango at 12:15, we started the engine, (after once again re-finding and re-taping the key way), and headed back out. On the way out to the entrance to the ‘Pool’, we were approached by 3 people in an Avon, asking about Topaz lake. New experts that we were, we sent them on their way with precise instructions as to how to get there.

Next on the to-do list was to stow the anchors properly, deflate and bag the dinghy, and get set to go home. Our last stop before heading down Lake Huron was Tobermory. It was 46 miles from the ‘Pool’ to Tobermory, so we figured we’d get there around 7:00 PM, fuel up, and head south into Lake Huron. We wanted to travel Lake Huron at night, so the girls could see the night sky over the lake, and experience being out on the ‘big lake’ at night.

On the way out, Todd made a fine meal of breakfast burritos, which were consumed by all; all that hiking and swimming had given us all a big appetite.

Once past the entrance to the ‘Pool’ we still had to pay attention to our navigating, and so did not think about putting a sail up, as we were in a narrow channel, and didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver. Once out of Baie Finn, we had to sail ESE for a while before entering the western part of Georgian Bay. Naturally, the wind was on the nose, so we couldn’t motor-sail. Rounding Badgeley Point and entering the extreme northwestern corner of Georgian Bay, we turned right, and headed toward Cape Smith. Naturally, the breeze increased in velocity and shifted with us. Girls, another teachable moment: When you’re headed home from vacation (i.e., delivering a boat), the wind will always come from where you’re going.

The breeze quickly built from the 12-15 it had been all morning to a gusty 25, and reaching gusts to as high as 35. Although we were just east of Manitoulin Island, the waves had the entire south to north portion of western Georgian Bay to build, and build they did. After several hours of this, Todd was of the opinion he hadn’t seen anything this bad since the 1985 Port Huron to Mackinac race. If it wasn’t that bad, it was damn close. Passing Club Island, and knowing there was an anchorage there, it was tempting to stop. But, we’d said we were going to Tobermory, and it wasn’t that bad…we’d been through worse. Onward we pounded. The girls were down below, each in their respective pilot berth; Olivia playing electronic games on her phone, and Maren reading. I suggested to Maren that reading wasn’t a good idea with all the boat movement, but she is an avid reader, and wanted to finish her book. Also, she has never gotten seasick, so perhaps it would be ok.

A little later, I was videoing a few minutes of our ride, starting with the interior of the boat, and Maren climbed out of her bunk and headed toward the companionway. She was wearing only her pajamas while Todd and I had full foul weather gear on. I asked her if she was going to puke, and she said no, she was just going for some fresh air.  I guess there wasn’t enough fresh air, or it was too little too late, and soon Maren, standing down below in the companionway (for safety sake), was puking up her breakfast burrito into the cockpit. Amazingly, it looked just the same as   it did on the plate.  Anyway, she put some gear on after that, and sat in the cockpit until she recovered enough to return to her bunk and sleep the rest of the way to Tobermory.

I was concerned we were using fuel at a higher than usual rate, and wanted to refuel before reaching Tobermory. I figured we had enough fuel to get to Tobermory, but just barely. We decided, once we were in the lee of Flowerpot Island to slow down, turn away from the wind, and load one of our two 5 gallon fuel cans into the tank. This went smoothly, and soon we were throttle down, back into the wind and the waves, next stop Tobermory.

Finally, at 10:30 PM, we entered the harbor at Tobermory. The gas dock was closed, and had boats tied up to it. The harbor was jammed, every boat that was close must’ve come to Tobermory to escape the weather. Finally, we spotted 30 feet of dock at the commercial dock, behind a commercial dive boat. We tied up, and after our experience at the Benjamins, did not want to get in trouble for not checking in, so I set off, in the rain, to find the harbormaster. 10 minutes later, on the other side of the harbor, I found the harbormaster office, closed, with an after hours number to call. Naturally, I’d left my cell phone on the boat, so I memorized the number, and walked back to the boat, and called. Of course, I got voice mail, so I left my name, boat name, boat location, call back number, and also mentioned we had two sick scared girls with us, then after hitting the end button, said to Olivia and Maren, who were standing right there, not sick and not scared, “I’m going for the sympathy vote here, we’re illegally docked, and I’ll take any help we can get”. Then I looked at the phone. I had not hit the end button, and the voice mail was still recording. (Teachable moment: “Girls, make sure you’ve hung up the phone before continuing to talk”).

We decided some hot food was in order, so we went to the only place nearby that was open, a waterfront bar that seemed to exist more for tourists than locals. By the time we got there, it was after 11 PM, and food service was not available. So, we had chips and water/soda/beer for Todd. Looking around the bar’s decor, we noticed a BYC burgee. Cool, a bit of home, right here in Tobermory. It must’ve been hung by John Rummel, as it was upside down. (A recent newspaper article about John had a photo of John holding the BYC burgee, upside down).

Todd and I decided to fix the upside down burgee, and as soon as the table of people sitting in front of it had cleared, got on the table, and re-hung the BYC burgee so it was right side up. Good deed for the day, done.   We inquired about the possibility of pizza delivery, and were told none was available. We decided a trip to the only other bar in town that may have food, the local ‘Legion’ hall was probably not a good idea, so we headed back to the boat for some sleep.

I was up at 7:00 the next morning, hoping the gas dock would open promptly on time at 8:00, and we could fuel up and be on our way. The weather was much nicer, with a westerly breeze of about 12-15.

Going up on deck, I noticed two men on the dock, who appeared to be locals, talking, and pointing at Fast Tango. Uh-oh. I hopped onto the dock and approached them; they were both eyeing me suspiciously as I neared. I asked which of them owned the boat I was behind, and the owner identified himself. I introduced myself, explained we got into port late last night, and asked what time he needed us out of his way.  He said it didn’t matter, as he just put it in reverse and back out…said steel won over Tupperware every time. Okay….biting my tongue, I asked him what time he needed to leave. He said 8:00, and I told him we’d be gone long before that. He lightened up a bit and said he’d had experiences where people had tied up behind him, gone and gotten a hotel room, and were nowhere to be found the next morning. I assured him we had no intentions of doing that, and had stayed on the boat all night to insure we would not be blocking anyone in. Anyway, at 7:45, we cast off, put it into reverse, the wind blew us away from the dock and into the harbor, and, of course, the key way had left the prop shaft again. Todd dove into the transmission compartment while I steered the boat backward, avoiding the fleet of big powerboats that were tied up all around us. Finally, the wind caught the bow, and started turning us around, while the momentum carried us toward a big steel commercial glass bottom boat. With 20 feet to go before impact, Todd said ‘Go’. Slipping into gear, we avoided contact, and headed to the gas dock.

Once at the gas dock, the powerboat and 73’ sailboat, ‘Volare’ were still tied up, blocking access to the fuel dock. The dock attendant asked if we needed fuel, we said yes, and he went and told the powerboat to move. The powerboat crew was busy, squeegeeing the condensation off the plastic windows of their canvas, and taking their time about it. We commenced circling in the vicinity of the gas dock, getting more and more annoyed with these clowns. Now they were squeegeeing the bow! For Pete’s sake man, it’s a boat, it’s gonna get wet.  In the meantime, the Volare, which was getting fuel, had one of her crew visible on deck. ‘Hey Todd, that looks like Sideshow Bob’ (my nickname for this kid out of Chicago who used to be the boat captain for China Cloud). Todd yelled over to Volare: ‘Hey Shane’…’Sideshow Bob’ turned, it was Shane, and we chatted a bit while circling. If only we’d known Shane was running Volare, we might’ve been able to raft off them last night.   Finally, after another 20 minutes of squeegeeing, the power boat left, without even fueling up. (Teachable moment: “Girls, this is another reason sailors don’t like some power boaters”).

We got tied up to the dock, fueled up, loaded up our water jugs with potable water, and were off by 9:15. While we were at the dock Shane said they had the weather up, and it was going to be nice all day Sunday, then turn crappy again on Monday.  He offered to show us the weather, but we said hell with it, nice all day Sunday gets us to Port Huron.

Navigating the narrow channel between Tobermory and Cove Island, we made our way into the northeast corner of Lake Huron. With a fresh westerly breeze, we were able to set the main and motor sail toward Port Huron. With the auto helm on, there was nothing to do but enjoy the day.  We must’ve been tired, as prolific napping was our chief activity. There was no sign of the previous day’s queasiness, and the girls spent time both on deck, and, in their bunks, reading, drawing, talking, etc.

As dusk approached, the girls got their sleeping bags into the cockpit, and were treated to the moonrise, the sunset, numerous shooting stars, satellites, and a glorious starry night sky over Lake Huron, with an encore of the moonset, and sunrise. This was the Lake Huron crossing we’d envisioned, and we were glad we took the time to stop in Tobermory, instead of continuing to pound our way thru the waves of the previous day. This was a perfect way to bring our trip to a close, a 20 hour north to south crossing of Lake Huron, with a perfect night sky. As a bonus, when we reached Port Huron, the Blue Water Bridge was all lit up, providing an exclamation point to the end of Lake Huron.

Todd had arranged with a member of PHYC to use their vacant well, so we tied up at 5:00 AM with the intention of Todd and Olivia being picked up at 8-9 AM, and Maren and I continuing with the boat down to BYC. We all fell asleep, and for some reason, neither Todd’s plan A or B came through, so plan C was that they would be picked up at 11:00 AM. We decided to treat ourselves to a hot breakfast; before doing so, we checked the key way, which was out, again. A trip to the hardware store for some hose clamps and a nylon washer, and Todd was ready to ‘MacGyver’ it.

After a stellar hot greasy breakfast at Cavis’ Todd got to work and soon enough Fast Tango was ready to go, and Todd’s 11:00 AM ride had arrived.

Maren and I left PHYC and headed toward the St. Clair River. Making the right hand turn from the Black River, I was immediately reminded of Shane’s comment from Sunday morning that the weather was going to turn ugly again on Monday. It was nuking up the St. Clair River, and with that much wind against the current, we ended up with huge brick-like waves, very close together. Needless to say, it was an ugly ride. The top of Lake St. Clair wasn’t any better. Finally, once past the St. Clair light, the waves diminished to a tolerable level, and soon enough, we arrived home to our well at Bayview. As previously arranged, Todd was there to give us a ride home, so as soon as we were tied up and the dehumidifier hooked up (the boat was soaked, and desperately needed drying, off to home we went.

Needless to say, a call to US customs to check in was not the foremost thing on my mind. A couple nights later, I looked up the number for US Customs, Detroit, called it, and got an answering machine. Looking at the clock, I saw it was after 5. Decided I’d call back tomorrow. Tomorrow came and went, forgot to call, and by the time I called again on Thursday, and got the answering machine again, decided I’d call Friday. I didn’t call Friday, and then it was the weekend. Long story short, I finally got tired of getting the answering machine, so I Googled “Detroit customs call in number”. This search yielded a different number than the one I’d been calling, so I called it. I got a somewhat incredulous Customs officer “Why’d you wait 10 days to check in” I explained I’d been trying with the other number, which I provided him. “So, where were you, how long were you there, what’s your Nexus number?” Uh, I don’t have one. “What’s your I-68 card number?” Don’t have one. “I have bad news for you, after June 1, you can’t re-enter the US without an I-68 card”. I have a passport, here is the number. I didn’t want to argue with the guy, but it seems to me a passport carries more authority than an Nexus or I-68 card. And what were they going to do, deport me? He did thank me for calling in, but said his supervisor would have to review, and make a determination, and would be calling me. I haven’t heard from her yet, and can only conclude that, for the moment, I am safe from deportation, and still, in fact, an American citizen.

We had such a good time on this trip we may have several more daddy-daughter participants next year. If so, we’ll be looking for another boat or two to deliver back from Mackinac via the North Channel.

-Tim "oneguyfromdetroit" Prophit