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