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Splendid sailing in the Greatest of Lakes

25 July 2010
Pride of Baltimore II
Pos: 47 36.7’N x 087 50.0’W
Appx 8nm Due North of Copper Harbor, Michigan
Wind: W Force 4
Sailing NW at 6 knots under Four Lowers, Foretops’l and Jibtops’l

Pride of Baltimore II is having a splendid sail in the Greatest of Lakes. For nearly 48 hours now we have scarcely heard machinery aside from our daily generator cycles and a few brief periods of motoring in lulls. But mostly we have had Westerlies between 8 and 20 knots. Not the right direction, but so far Pride II has covered nearly half the distance along the rhumb line, despite the fact she’s been beating to weather the entire time.

This is one of the pleasures of sailing aboard Pride II – if she were not as weatherly, we would either be forced to start thinking about motoring now, or would have been motoring quite a bit already. But with careful attention to sail trim and helmsman-ship, plus a routine of tacking around the watch changes, we are able to make tracks in these moderate conditions without increasing our carbon footprint. It is no small task to get a sailing vessel upwind, particularly a 19th century style schooner. But that makes it all the more rewarding when we put in the effort to do so.

We have just tacked away from Michigan’s northern most town, Copper Harbor, nestled in back in the molar section of the jaw, if you follow the image of Lake Superior as a giant wolf’s head. This marks the northern most point of land for us to round, and the furthest North Pride II has been since entering the St. Lawrence River over a month ago. The days are quite long and the nights have been near crystal clear with a gleaming moon that reaches full tonight.

On this heading, there is the temptation to carry on and find an anchorage off Isle Royale, the National Park Island near the Canadian shore that forms the eye of the wolf’s head. We can only stop there on the way into Duluth, or after a diver has certified Pride II‘s bottom as free of the invader-species Zebra Mussels before leaving Duluth. The National Park Service is intent on keeping the Zebra Mussel – a Black-Sea shellfish that came to the Lakes in the ballast water of ocean-going freighters some 20 years ago – from tainting the waters of Isle Royale. And fair enough, the Zebra Mussel has been a menace on the Great Lakes. From water intakes to public beaches to the boat bottoms, the creatures have made a negative name for themselves across the region.

But the forecast is calling for brisk Southwesterlies on Tuesday and Tuesday night, which would mean a 150 nm slog toward our arrival in Duluth on Wednesday. So that distant anchorage will have to remain a notion. Lucky for us, Lake Superior offers more than one spectacular vista, and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is right on the way.

This string of islands – strangely, despite the name, more than 12 – dots the northern extremity of Wisconsin and has hosted Pride II on both of her previous voyages in Lake Superior. Once in 1989 and the other two years ago. Both times, the Pride II anchored in the cove between Rocky Island and South Twin Island. We learned this aboard in 2008 when we discovered an anchor marked on an old chart of the Apostles that was in with our Great Lakes packet. At that time, we were anchored within 200 yards of the spot. With the current forecast, however, that location won’t serve as well. But there are plenty of others to choose from in the island chain and anchoring in an area of spectacular natural beauty is never a let down.

Not that this has been a taxing trip. The breeze has been fairly steady and we are keeping ahead of schedule on it. This is a welcome contrast to the hot and humid light air racing out of Cleveland and Bay City, where the boat speed was consistently low enough to cause concern about even finishing, and the fluky breezes necessitated constant tinkering. Additionally, as Pride II was communications vessel, we were charged with roll-calling the fleet and recording positions every four hours.

Instead, on this passage, we are working our way into a crisp and comfortable Great Lakes breeze, and the only race is to get to the Apostles with enough time to enjoy them.

All best,
Jamie Trost and the crew of Pride II
(PS: Deckhand and resident comedian Jeremy Tagliaferre wishes everyone Merry Christmas, in July)