Epic sail (epic fail)

It started out calm the way troublesome days sometimes do without a hint or foreboding of danger in the air.

It was a clear, sunny day. It was warm, but not breezy.

We had to motor for the first hour before it was even windy enough to put up our sails.

Our destination: A beautiful resort in Door County.

We had passengers with us. Our pastor surprised his wife with an overnight stay at the resort for their anniversary. Romance. A nice quiet sail there and back, or so we thought.

We were all in for a surprise.

A storm popped up on the bay. We had the foresight to take down our sails before it hit. It wasn’t a strong storm, but it produced 10 minutes of heavy rain. It was our first storm. We huddled below as Paul steered the boat. He barely had enough time to throw on his raincoat. I discovered that I forgot mine.

It wasn’t the storm that created the most difficulties. It was the aftermath. The temperature dropped 20 degrees. The winds picked up to 20 mph. Then we had to fight against 6 foot waves.

At first it was kind of fun like being in a giant wave pool. Every tenth wave was gigantic and would crash against the bow soaking us. We laughed, listened to music, and jokingly talked about dying.

After the first hour, things weren’t fun anymore.

The coast guard came on the emergency radio warning boaters of a 22 ft sinking boat partially submerged in water near but not in our path. We were worried about getting off course. It was starting to get late in the afternoon. We used up a lot of gas motoring against the waves.

If we didn’t make the harbor, we might hit the sinking boat.

Things did get rough when we had to hit the waves sideways. Everything that wasn’t tied down flew everywhere. People bounced around like there wasn’t gravity. Even the carpet didn’t stay. The pastor dry heaved into the garbage while I was knocked to the ground.

Paul was hollering from the deck that his waterproof case on his phone gave out. We no longer had our navigation once his phone died. But Paul knew the rest of the way. We were almost there..

I laid on the floor thinking that I was going to die. It felt hopeless really. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t snap out of the panic. I made it my mission to find all of the life jackets. I had to keep my mind from shutting down.

We never have been in waters like that before although Paul calmly told the pastor’s wife that we do this kind of thing all of the time.

Three hours of rough waters and Paul got us to shore safely. I am so proud of him. It wasn’t easy.

Once we got close to shore and things settled down I noticed that Paul and the pastor’s wife were completely soaked and shivering. Almost everything was wet. I found whatever I could find that was dry to keep them warm. The pastor’s wife huddled in the spider ridden sail cover.

We were all freezing cold in July. We were all feeling sick. We weren’t able to get the bumpers out. I was able to tie a line and had to jump on the dock quickly as the motor died out when we found the nearest empty slip.

The pastor’s wife started throwing up once we got to shore. She was so sick that she wasn’t able to join us for supper.

After 3 hours of intense waves, I felt panicky like I do with turbulence on an airplane. It was an awful feeling. I also felt sad. I thought about death, how things could’ve gone terribly wrong and we could’ve died. I thought a lot about my grandma. It stirred up strange unexpected raw emotions of grief and anxiety within me that I find hard to explain. I felt empty, hollow, alone, and frightened…

For the last two weekends I battled death in the grueling waters of Door County. First under the dangerous swimming conditions for the Half Ironman. Then this weekend, 3 hours of sailing in very rough waters. I want to think that I won’t have to face this again. I didn’t enjoy my brush with death very much. But I already committed to sailing for a whole week next week with Paul and some other sailors to the tip of Door County through Death’s Door.

To be continued…


Shipwrecks, Superior, Sailing, Survival

Last week I had the opportunity to see Gordon Lightfoot live in concert. I am not a huge fan, but have a great appreciation for his music. It was almost magical hearing him perform The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald considering that today is the 40th anniversary of the ship’s sinking. Over a decade ago, Paul and I had the opportunity to go the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior near the location of the wreckage. I remember really enjoying the tour of the lighthouse there. I can’t imagine the solitude of being a keeper of the light over the cold lonely winter months. The summer months alone offer cool temps and solitude.

After touring the museum and lighthouse, we walked along the shore of Lake Superior. Even on the warmest summer days, the water is too cold to swim in. A few minutes of exposure gives you the pins and needles feeling. The average surface temps of the water are between 32 F and 55 F, so if you are thinking of visiting in the summer make sure to bring a winter coat. I have seen very hot days of 90 F on Lake Superior, still not a lot of swimmers.

On the way back, we stopped for a whitefish fry in Paradise. Then winding our way  back down Upper Michigan, we stopped at Tahquamenon Falls State Park to view the waterfalls. We decided spontaneously to take a hike from the upper falls to the lower falls and back. It was a total of 8 miles. This was before I became a runner. Why I thought that hiking an eight mile rustic trail in flip flops was a great idea, I will never know. Upper Michigan is an absolutely beautiful area to travel. If you do get the chance to put your feet in the water of Lake Superior that would be a great bucket list item. Or better yet, sail all of the Great Lakes. That may end up on my bucket list soon.

Last night I dreamt that my husband wanted me to go sailing with him on Lake Superior. I remember feeling trepidation towards those trepid waters. I woke up thankful that the sailboat is tucked away in hibernation for the winter. Absolutely no way we could be tempted to take a quick sail on Lake Superior even if it has been a warm November. I couldn’t fathom sailing or being on a ship on Lake Superior in November with hurricane winds and during a blizzard. Imagine if you can getting sprayed with ice cold water with 20 to 30 foot waves. I remember getting sprayed with cold water in 4 foot waves and that was bone chilling enough for me. That was in the middle of summer.

If you want a true survival show experience I would suggest November on Lake Superior. I bet even the producers of Naked and Afraid know that the survivalists probably wouldn’t even make it one day there. A couple years back, Paul went ice fishing on Lake Superior. It was during that weekend that Lake Superior claimed the life of the Lake Superior ice fishing expert and guide. What a fearful place, the lake that is so cold that it doesn’t give up its dead.

The lake does draw people in like a siren with its immense beauty. I would like to see the ice caves, only made under the right conditions, along Lake Superior. I have toured the Apostle Islands. I also toured the Pictured Rocks, someday I will show you those pictures. They are absolutely breathtaking. Someday I may even be brave enough to sail on Lake Superior. It is beautiful enough to draw me in, but it can’t keep me.