All Plans to Be Considered Soft Until the Weather Cooperates

21 July 2011 2135 EDT
Pos: 47 34.8’N x 088 05.2’W
7.5 Nautical Miles NNE of Eagle Harbor, Michigan

The past 48 hours aboard PRIDE of BALTIMORE II have been busy ones. Between sailing, maintenance and public relations, it is rare that the ship is not filled with activity of some sort, but due to the infinitely changeable and hard to track weather conditions of Lake Superior, the past two days have seen quite a variety of activity.

It is often quipped that the two easiest places to be a weather forcaster are San Diego, California, and the Great Lakes. In the first location, according to the joke, you can never be wrong – it is 75 and sunny most days, calm in the morning with wind in the afternoon. At the other end of the spectrum, in the Lakes you can say what ever you want, because you’ll never be right. Having sailed in San Diego for a winter in command of PRIDE II’s sister Privateer, LYNX, I can attest to the surprising regularity of weather there. And having grown up on the Lakes, I appreciated the ever changing weather of these “Inland Seas,” but never more than on Lake Superior.

It makes sense that a huge deep and nearly constantly cold body of water so far in the interior of a continent would have enough variables to make predicting the next thing a bit like blind darts, but for a sample of what’s been happening aboard PRIDE II, here are a set of our recent scenarios:

Tuesday THE FORECAST: East 5-15 going Northeast, slight chance of showers and thunderstorms. THE PLAN: Use a bit of fuel, get to Bayfield, Wisconsin by sunset doing projects along the way. Hope that the rain holds off on our paint job. THE REALITY: Thunderstorms rapidly developed along the lake, accompanied by the leading moisture edge of the cold front commonly called an Outflow Boundary. Got soaked, saw winds to 40 knots SW along with some very dynamic cloud movements. No painting. But made it to Bayfield just after things calmed down. Snugged in for the night with calm weather and benign forecast

Wednesday (Part I) THE FORECAST: Southwest winds less than 5 knots becoming North in the afternoon. Sunny
THE PLAN: Finally paint in the morning, let the crew go ashore in this picturesque little town for a few hours, then sail away through the Apostles to be in the open Lake by dark, bound for Marquette THE REALITY: During breakfast, an unexpected East Southeasterly sprung up at 20 knots, kicking up a fierce chop and knocking PRIDE II against the dock. Breakfast abandoned to get off the dock, popping two fenders and cracking a fender board just before we did. Sayonara to quaint little town, but thanks to Mayor Larry MacDonald, his wife Julie, Officer Defoe and all the onlookers who wished us such a warm welcome.

Wednesday (Part II)
THE FORECAST: Same as before, not that we believed it any more THE PLAN: Get to an anchorage someplace to finish the open painting project, give the crew a chance to check off Lake Superior as a swim call and explore another Apostle Island, then in the evening with the paint dried, get underway for Marquette. Stockton Island was the only place offering an anchorage that would work for the East Southeasterly we were experiencing, and still be good for the forecast Northerly shift (we still had a little faith). The area we anchored in is one of dozens in the Lakes called Presque Isle – just like the one I learned to sail in on Lake Erie. THE REALITY: The East Southeasterly faded and then shifted South and Southwest. The Southwesterly built in the late afternoon. Not a huge surprise due to the heat, but was more than expected and left PRIDE II anchored on a lee shore. Cut short the shore exploring time and sailed off the anchor, ready to be underway for Marquette.

That last part bears some explanation. Sailing off the anchor is a game of physics that plays out as an intensely coordinated set of furious hauling in various locations around the ship. In any circumstance, it represents the single greatest flurry of activity the crew are generally involved in. Sailing off the anchor with an island directly to leeward to you (a lee shore) and in 20 knots of wind intensifies the whole experience by exponentially increasing the amount of effort each step takes while at the same time picking up the pace to double or triple time.

To sail off the anchor and go to windward, as we needed to, it is necessary to first set the mains’l, which is, of course, the largest and heaviest sail PRIDE II has. After that is completed, the ship and all her windage must be hauled forward to the anchor – remember, against a 20 knot breeze. This is done by hand with PRIDE II’s pump-action windlass, and is no easy task on calm day. Once the ship is at “short stay” with the anchor chain nearly straight up and down, the jib is made ready to set so that the ship will “cast” her head in the right direction. In out case off Stockton Island, this meant setting the jib “aback” or back winded to get PRIDE II pointed away from the Presque Isle Peninsula. To help this the yards for the foretops’l are braced around to face the wind as well.

Once the ship is “cast” the anchor is broken loose. In these conditions, PRIDE II went backwards for a few hundred feet, until the jib was passed to the proper position for port tack, and the stays’l set to help balance the ship. With way on and the ship safely headed off from the shore, the anchor was brought up from the water to the protruding “cathead” so we weren’t dragging it along at the waterline. Then the fores’l was set and the foretops’l loosed. Slightly embayed, we tacked off the West shore of Presque Isle Bay, and set the foretops’l. With our sister LYNX approaching from Bayfield, where her dock face had been more protected (she actually sailed off from it), we bore away for the reach out of the Apostles.

We’ve been sailing since. Drifting occasionally, but not motoring. We set the jib tops’l, gaff tops’l and t’gallant in the lull, but for a stretch the breeze was North East at 20, so we took in the gaff top and t’gallant. At this stage the wind is relatively steady westerly at 20-25, and PRIDE II is making over 10 knots. I suppose both the Lake and the ship are behaving as we’d expect. With the forecast to remain steady though tonight, we hope to be down near Marquette around sunset. Maybe we’ll find another anchorage, or maybe we’ll follow in the footsteps of Chasseur and blockade Marquette harbor. Whatever we do, we won’t be surprised if things change at a moments notice.

All best,
Jamie Trost and the ready for anything crew of PRIDE II

Superior Sleigh-ride and a Secluded Sunset

13 July 2011 2135 EDT
Pos: 46 58.6’N x 090 48.1’W
At Anchor off Raspberry Island, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Twenty four hours ago off the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula PRIDE of BALTIMORE II came through stays for the fifth and final time in her efforts to round the northern end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Once sail was passed she was on a course to lay Duluth close-hauled, still carrying all plain sail and the T’gallant. Then the West-Northwest wind became a true Northwest and gave us the opportunity to ease the sails out from strapped in tight and let her rip. She was hovering in the mid nine knot range on a close reach when the wind veered further and increased to just over 20 knots. With a beam reach and relatively flat water, she quickly surged up to 10.7 knots and stayed over 10 for nearly six hours.

It is hard to describe the power and exhilaration of a sailing vessel charging along in conditions like that. If you’ve ever ridden a track horse you might empathize. Better yet if you’ve ever had the experience of riding such a horse with just a halter and not a bridle. The sensation of having control, but working hard to exercise the fact of that control, is similar. The ship at that point is, both literally and figuratively, a beast. Every evolution takes increased brute strength and additional mechanical advantage. Tackles are clapped on to existing multi-fold purchase gear. Then as many bodies as can get hands on the tackle sweat, grunt and chant for everything they’re worth. Success are recorded and called out in inches with coordinated repetitions of explosive group energy.

Once all the trimming and tinkering is done — the pace set, so to speak –the humming energy of sailing is felt through the ship. No place more than at the helm where the excitement of control and the weight of responsibility balance out to a feeling that the phrase “King of the World” falls a bit shy of capturing. But standing at the weather rail, propped up high by the angle of heel, or carefully walking the steep and surging slope of deck, there is a sense of real joy in being aboard. Even below, or in your bunk, hearing the million pieces of wood in her hull creak and groan to the rhythm of water rushing past outside, you might wake up, startled for an instant, and then smile to yourself with the sheer rush of it all.

Sad thing is ideal conditions rarely last forever. By the eight am watch change however, things began to lighten up and though we had made it to within 100nm of Duluth on our overnight run, not even the stuns’l and the rarely used ringtail could keep us moving. At eleven, the wind literally wound itself down, clocking through at least 720 degrees at three knots as it did and sending PRIDE II on a dizzying hunt for a heading. After a ninety minute period where PRIDE II once went faster backwards than she ever did forward, we were completely becalmed and had to use engines for the first time in over 165 nautical miles.

With little to get excited about in the forecast for the day or night, we made for an anchorage off Raspberry Island one of the smallest in a gorgeous chain of uninhabited national treasures off the Wisconsin shoreline. Last year we had to pass by these Apostle Islands due to impending weather, but as I write the crew are ashore exploring in the seemingly endless daylight of these Superior evenings – all the more so since we have not changed the clocks to Central Daylight Savings Time, even though we are technically in the next time zone. We’ll save that detail as one more among all the others to be handled when we reach Duluth. For now, the ship is snug at anchor, the breeze is light and the scenery is spectacular here at the West end of navigable waters.

All best,
Jamie Trost and the Island hopping crew of PRIDE II