Superior Skies

Pos: 46:47.6’ N x 085:36.9’ W, 7 Nautical Miles North of Muskallonge Lake, Michigan
Wx: WNW F 4, Clear, with a sky full of stars
Sailing under Fores’l, Foretops’l, Stays’l and Jib at 7 knots

Pride of Baltimore II arriving Marquette…Oh Say Can You See!

PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II is spending what seems like her final night in Lake Superior for 2011 sailing along happily with a steady West Northwesterly breeze. Simply writing the words “steady” and “breeze” together may just jinx us, but I have a feeling this time it will hold. This time.

Our weekend in Marquette was a great one. Starting off with Grand Arrival of short tacking up the Lower Harbor in company with our sister Privateer LYNX, crowds of onlookers gave a warm welcome to this excellent Michigan Harbor town. The Maritime Festival was well-attended and we enjoyed the hospitality of our friends from the Michigan Maritime Museum and aboard Marquettes official Flagship COASTER II a charming little family run schooner that we got to know when they were in our Flight for the Duluth Parade of Sail last year. With all three schooners underway together all three nights of the festival, Marquette Harbor took on the feel of another time. Though Baltimore Privateers were never a historic feature of Marquettes Sailing Era, this principal port of Michigans Iron Mining lands once saw scores of schooners sailing in and out.

War of 1812 Privateers Lynx and Pride of Baltimore II arriving Marquette, MI

By Monday morning, however, it was time to go. At muster, the wind was a light Southeast, despite the forecasts for West at 10-15 knots. As we prepared to depart Marquette the breeze shifted to the predicted values and allowed PRIDE II to make a departure under sail. With our sister privateer LYNX following along, we cleared the breakwater and set everything, including the Stuns’l and T’gallant, only to have the breeze fade a few hours later. With miles to go, we grudgingly turned on the engines and motored with a good deal of sail still set in the hopes of finding a breeze again.

With its larger than life scale yet completely landlocked placement, Lake Superior has some wildly unexpected weather. Trying to pin-point what conditions will be in three hours, let alone over several days, must lead forecasters to a great deal of hair pulling and shoulder shrugging. After two weeks of sailing here, we certainly empathize!

Breathlessly, our route took us along the shore and threading through Grand Island Harbor, off Munising, Michigan, where tree crowned rocky cliffs stood bold along both sides of the ship. Though a few miles out of the way, the passage was a worthwhile detour, and tantalized the crew for the spectacle of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which lays just East of Grand Island.

In the shelter of the island, the faint breeze faded to nothing and we hoped there might be something workable once PRIDE II was back on the open Lake. There were distant squalls to the North and South on the radar, though nothing of threat immediately nearby. Clearing Sand Point and into the Northeastern reach of the passage, however, a drysquall gave us gusts in excess of 30 knots and had the crew scrambling as we shortened down to a manageable plan of just the Foresl and Staysl. Eventually, we took in even those, as the wind veered Northeasterly. Nearly as quickly as it had come on, the squall faded to a faint Easterly, leaving behind only a remnant chop.

With the excitement of the squall subsided, the crew and guest crew took in the drama of Pictured Rocks. For miles, the shore is sheer sand stone and limestone, stratified layers of brown, purple and sandy blonde, inset with caves and arches that centuries of Superior winters and storms have smashed in with waves and bored out with ice. In the late afternoon light, with sun focused through fissures in the clouds, the rocks nearly gleamed in places. A line of cumulonimbus far to the south piled on the intensity of the image.

Now, out in the dark of the early morning on the open lake, PRIDE II weaves her way eastward. The next watch change we will wear ship toward Whitefish Bay, leaving the open Lake behind us, likely for a couple of years. We have sailed much of it, often times puzzled and frustrated by the erratic weather. And like everyone who has ever sailed Superior should do, we will leave with sense of wonderment and a healthy respect for this mightiest of the Lakes.

All best,
Captain Jamie Trost and crew of PRIDE of BALTIMORE II

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

Working Hard, Playing Hard ~ Part 2

19 July 2011
Wx: NxE F 3, Overcast.

PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II engaging in some unusual behaviors today. First off, she is headed East across a Great Lake, for the first time since our 25 nautical mile foray from the Welland Canal to Buffalo earlier this month. We have left the hospitality and excitement of Duluth, the inland most port we will ever or can ever sail to, behind. Now PRIDE II is headed back to sea. And for the second odd thing, she is motoring. We have the fores’l set for a boost in speed, but since our last pass under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge this morning at 1030, we have had the engines running to make 7.5 knots.

With a forecast for light Easterlies and a mind to make the Apostle Islands town of Bayfield, Wisconsin for one more stop west of 90º Longitude tonight, the officers and I decided to give the ship some much needed work and finish some open projects. As it happened however, once we got the crew embroiled in projects, a sailable breeze came up. But the projects are open, the trip is short and there are more sailable breezes forecast for tomorrow through Friday. We’re sticking to the maintenance. The ship needs it.

Maintenance aboard PRIDE II is constant, but while we are underway and sailing the boat, the crew scarcely have time to eat and sleep, so most of the work we do to maintain PRIDE II happens in port. With our schedule in Duluth featuring 12 daysails over our four day stay, things were chock-a-block – nautical speak for fully booked – and left little time for anything but sailing and furling. So while it would be great to go sailing along in 10 knots of North by East breeze, the covering board at the outer edge of the deck needs finished up with a fresh coat of paint, the rigging needs an inspection, souvenirs need inventoried and stowed, and various other odds and ends have to be dealt with. It is a hard decision to give up sailing and use the engines, but grudgingly, we’ll burn some fuel.

I say grudgingly because PRIDE II is such a splendid sailing vessel, and thanks to the hard work of the crew has been largely sailing for most of her Great Lakes tour so far. This motoring thing is not common for us these days. In fact, since she last took on fuel in Rochester, New York, she has only been through 325 gallons of diesel while covering 1000 nautical miles to Duluth. Since we average about one gallon per mile, we’ve made nearly 700 nautical miles sailing. One hundred fifty of the rest have been through the Welland Canal, Detroit and St. Clair Rivers and the St. Marys River where sailing wouldn’t be an option anyway. We’re keeping a low carbon footprint these days.

As I write this, however, both our plan for painting and any hopes of sailing seem to be on the verge of collapse. A line of thunderstorms is approaching from the hot, open plains to the West of Lake Superior and it looks like we’re gonna get soaked before we get to the Apostles.

All best,
Captain Jamie Trost and the finally eastbound crew of PRIDE of BALTIMORE II

Working Hard, Playing Hard

18 July 2011
Pos: Alongside Duluth Harbor
Wx: East F 1, Overcast

Arrival in Duluth with the Brig Niagara. Deckhand Alex Peacock on the bowsprit.

PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II arrived to Duluth on Thursday afternoon in grand style. Under a heft press of canvas we screamed through the entrance channel just astern of the Brig NIAGARA and making 7.5 knots on a Force 4 Easterly. Since that arrival then only thing that has slackened in the pace has been the wind speed. As I write, we have finished 11 of the 12 Daysails scheduled here, and are gearing up for our final sail, a kind of mock battle with the schooner LYNX.

These daysails have been full up, but not all with much wind. And sometimes too much. The weather has been mostly Easterly, and so that means motoring out of the narrow entrance, or committing to sailing inside the harbor and down Superior Bay. Heading out the channel requires coordination with the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge, which has a new set of rules for opening and closing. In past visits, PRIDE II has been able to request a lift any time she needed one due to her status as a commercial vessel. But the new rules state any vessel under 300 tons must wait for openings at the bottom and top of the hour – every thirty minutes. Since our sailing times being and end on the half hour (the bottom of the hour) this has required some speedy boarding and getting underway!
Pride II in Duluth Harbor

On a few occasions, PRIDE II stayed inside and sailed down Superior Bay. The first of these was Friday afternoon, when the Easterly was up to 30 knots offshore, and generating a 6’ sea that had passengers aboard LYNX getting physically ill. Staying in the flat water and using the more moderate breeze seemed a good idea, so I asked former PRIDE II crew and Head Liaison for the festival Jeff Crosby for some local knowledge. Jeff has been a great asset to PRIDE II during our visit to his hometown, just as he was during his nearly three years as crew. He has been waiting on the Pier to catch our lines after nearly every sail, which is old hat for him, as he was often landed off of PRIDE II for that purpose while he worked here.

Sailing down Superior Bay was a splendid ride on Friday, with plenty of breeze and no heaped up sea to deal with. The navigation was pretty straight forward, but off the St. Louis River, the buoys change. This signals that you are no longer inbound from the Duluth entrance, but now outbound for the Superior, Wisconsin entrance. This can happen whenever there is a junction of rivers, but noting it while taking an inside route in the world’s inland most port, the change took on profoundness among the crew. As Second Mate Carolyn Seavey and I discussed the change on the quarterdeck, Bosun Rebecca Pskowski noted it aloud, “We come to the place where the buoys change.” It sounded almost mythical. Another extreme, another superlative in our voyage on this mind-boggling lake.

On the shore side, the crew have been sampling the treats and favors of the town in high style, thanks to discount package arranged through Visit Duluth for reduced prices at numerous local restaurants and shops for anyone with a crew credential. Most popular of all so far has been the Laser Tag at Adventure Zone. With one epic battle down on Friday night, the crew have plans to shoot it out again this last night in port.

But first, our shootout with our sister privateer, LYNX.

All best,
Captain Jamie Trost and the crew of PRIDE of BALTIMORE II – with phasers on stun.

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

Mystique of the Greatest Lake

12 July 2011 1735 EDT
Pos: 47 39.7’N x 087 14.5’W
Sailing under all plain sail, plus T’gallant, making 7.5 knots, Wind WNW F4, Mostly Sunny

PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II has finished her vertical climbing for the summer. Yesterday at 1315 she cleared the MacArthur Lock in Sault Ste. Marie Michigan and in doing so made the final 21 foot “step” into Lake Superior. But this doesn’t mean everything else is downhill. We are currently beating our way to the West end of the world’s largest body of fresh water, working against the prevailing winds and trying to round the tip of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. If you remember last year’s blogs about Superior, or have heard locals talk about the Lake, the Keweenaw forms the “mouth” of the giant wolf’s head the Lake resembles.

We’d thought the sailing was about to start last night at 1900, when we started seeing 20 knots from the West as we left Whitefish Bay, but once we had sail on the wind dropped to a mere 5 knots and we motorsailed through the night toward Michipicoten Island. Since tacking off of the island’s interestingly named Quebec Harbor (it is roughly 600 nautical miles West by North of Quebec City), we have been in powered up going to weather mode for PRIDE II. The angle of heel is something new for many of PRIDE II’s crew, as the vessel hasn’t been going to weather in winds over 15 knots very often this season. But they all find it exciting. The ship charges happily along, the decks dry except for an occasional rolling spurt through the lee scuppers.

The scale of the Lakes has been a constant topic of conversation for those in the crew who had never seen them before. As you might imagine, the fascination has only grown with PRIDE II now on the largest of them all. There is a different quality of light, some have remarked; the scale doesn’t seem to match, say others, noting that Michipicoten Island, so large on the chart, seemed to go by so quickly when we actually saw it. Even for someone who grew up on the Great Lakes, there is a mystique about this one. It’s bigger, deeper, higher, as if truly “superior” and seated on a throne above the “lower” Lakes. Its size and its location – a massive sea over 300 nautical miles from East to West, yet nearly at the heart of North America – give mind-boggling juxtaposition.

Our current longitude is west of the Florida Panhandle. By tomorrow we will near 90 degrees West, half way between Greenwich England and the International Date Line. All while six hundred feet above sea level. It almost requires a diorama to capture the extremes of this inland sailing we are doing.

And what sailing it is. Seven knots, sometimes 8 – start with the lowers and the tops’l as the onset of fresh winds spurs PRIDE II to life, then crack on and crack on as things moderate until we are all out of sail to set. At least sail that will carry to weather. The stuns’l is still in its bag, as is the fabled and rarely used ringtail. These “kites” only work when PRIDE II is not closehauled. But the forecast is calling for a shift, so we’ll see.

All best,
Jamie Trost and the Superior sailing crew aboard PRIDE of BALTIMORE II