Archive for May, 2009


Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Tiny and Josh Landry meet me in Whitefish Harbor, and  the three shipmates of the LADY WASHINGTON transit trip south in 2006 are together again.  If only Liz P. and Ralph were here our watch would be complete.  Never forget a shipmate, who knows when you will sail with them again.

May 6, 2009.  We go to the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point Light Station.  The care and reverence for those represented here is apparent everywhere.  The lawn is mowed, the buildings painted and tidy, the brass is polished and the staff helpful and knowledgeable.  We can tell they care. 

The centerpiece of the main hall is the bell for the EDMUND FITZGERALD.  We stood by the bell a long time.  Then we moved around the hall.  So many ships, gone.  So many lives, lost.  We read the names of the lost.  No one we know.  Yet somehow we do know them.  They were like us, young and old, sailors, seamen, mariners, enginemen, oilers, wipers, cooks, captains, mates and passengers, men, women and children.  Yes, now we do know them.  We know some of their names and we see pieces of their lives.  A woman’s shoe, a dinner plate, a man’s hat and others things lost to the lake then found again and brought here to remind the living they were just like us.

I walk the grounds and walk the beach.  I remember the storms of my life weathered and survived.  Pick up a stone, look at it and put it down, then look out toward the resting place of the “BIG FITZ”, it still looks like an ocean to me.

Rain wakes me early on May 7.  Looking out, it’s rain and fog.  I remember it was collisions that took most of the ships to the bottom, collisions in fog.  Maybe we should just stay put.

But how a day begins is seldom how it ends and by noon the sun came out and the wind died.  It’s agreed we will go and pay our own personal respects to the ship we never saw and the men we never knew.  So Ben Saint, Josh Landry and Tommy Cook sail together again, this time on the CAP’N LEM to Lat. 46° 59.9’N ~ 085° 06.6W, the final anchorage of the EDMUND FITZGERALD, seventeen nautical miles north of Whitefish Bay.  We arrive in a light breeze and a setting sun.   In quiet respect, I read each name and remind the wind they are not forgotten.  I strike the bell as is the custom in remembering departed shipmates.   At this hallowed spot, we remember others we lost, a friend, our fathers, and of course, Captain Lemuel R. Brigman, and rung again the little bell on the little boat on the big big lake.

Tomorrow I sail alone for the St. Mary’s River and locks and Lake Huron.



Press Coverage

Friday, May 8th, 2009

this link goes to Tommy’s latest interview

Made Whitefish Bay

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

May 4th, 2009:  0930 up the anchor and to the beach.  I run the CAP’N LEM onto the sandy beach below the town of Grand Marais, MI, jump off the port amma to dry ground and walk to town for ice and bread.  It greaves me to buy ice when so short a time ago I just scooped it out of the water.  Getting underway is easy and uneventful, motor in reverse, wiggle back and forth a little and go.

Outside the harbor the wind is from the east so I beat.  Won’t make White Fish today, but there is Little Lake Harbor and it looks agreeable. 

We’re anchored at 2013 in 12’ of water, position Lat 46° 42.784’N ~ 085° 21.691’W.  A good anchorage, very quiet, though a bit sticky to get into because of sand shoaling.  I catch the dagger board on the bottom twice.  It’s very useful in feeling my way over shallows.

Cinco de Mayo, Happy Birthday Mexico.   O913, Up anchor and out bound.  This time, we clear the channel without kissing bottom.  The CAP’N and I are greeted with a good wind abaft the beam and off we go for White Fish Bay.  Abeam Crisp Point, the wind backs to the east and we beat in long and short sawtooth tacks.

The short tacks in toward shore set us back to the west and it appears we are losing ground, but the loss puts us in the wave shadow of shore.  Giving up the easting pays a profit.  Interest gained in calmer water, stronger wind and faster speed.  It’s money in the bank!

White Fish Point Lighthouse comes into view.  My mind hears Gordon Lightfoot’s line “the searchers all say they’d made Whitefish Bay if they’d had 15 more miles behind them.” In spite of the joy of day, the wonders of the lake, that sense of freedom sailing a fine little craft can give, in spite of the warmth in the sun, there is an underlying feeling of melancholy in remembering all those lives cut short on this freshwater sea.  My only antidote to the sadness is a resolve to live this day, my day, on the greatest of the Great Lakes, to its fullest. 

I sail hard.  I hold fast.  I clear Whitefish Point.  The wind freshens, the waves build and the boat moves on a long port tack far enough out into the bay for traffic to become a concern.  To the north a freighter out bound, to the south a tug with tows inbound and me in between.  I call the tug on channel 16.  It’s the Tug DANIEL. We switch to channel 8 and I let him know I’ll need to tack soon but won’t do anything foolish like try to head in front of him.  I tell him, like I tell anyone who will listen, “I love your lake!”

I come about so not to cross the freighters bow, head toward to the tug on a collision course, then about a mile away, I do an alibi tack to gain time, tack again and pass astern.  In chess, an alibi move loses the turn but wins the game.  Today, we all win.

I remember once long ago, I was towing the Barge KITTIWAKE with the SHEARWATER coming into Port Angeles to our berth.  I had just come off the wire and caught the barge on the hip, lined up for the approach to the mooring when a lovely lady of a ketch came from around the City Pier and headed across my bow, port to starboard…close.  I could see this coming so I slowed.  First he gunned it, but that still made him nervous so he killed the engine and had the crew raise the sails. By then I was stopped.  My heart broke at such a beautiful vessel being handled in such an unseamanlike manner, and then I remembered the only requirement to have a boat is money.

On the door of the First Lieutenant’s office aboard the Icebreaker:

“A man must know

What he is about,

Or the sea will surely

Find him out”

 So there we were, two short tacks and clear of the DANIEL’s tows heading straight for White Fish Harbor.  Douse the jib, take a jibe and in we go with a running swell.  It’s a fisherman’s harbor, this one!  No place to tie a 21’ wide trimaran, so down the sail and up the dagger board and beach dead ahead.  Beached in 3 inches of water (at the bow) position 46° 45.650’N ~ 084° 57.902’W having traveled 38 nm today and 697 nm to date.


On the beach

On the beach

Marquette to Grand Marais, MI

Monday, May 4th, 2009

The sail to Marquette was slow and uneventful.  West Huron Island sank astern to join the long file of my life’s most charming memories.

Marquette greeted us with a downpour of rain but no lightening.  I slowed to a crawl coming in to the lower harbor to allow the rain to pass.  It did. Tiny was on the dock waiting.  Ever faithful, ever helpful, a shipmate, good and true, “Tiny” Ben Saint.  He helps me moor at Lat. 46® 32.532’ N ~ Long. 087® 23.394’ W at the Marquette Fish Market dock.

CAP’N LEM and I depart on May 3, 2009 at 1010 for Whitefish Point and a visit to the EDMUND FITZGERALD.  I am not taking this trip!  This trip is taking me.  I point the bow, hoist the sail, set the autopilot, then watch in amazement as the things behind me grow small and slip below the horizon and the things ahead come to focus, grow larger and tug me forward.  The wind of the day is south east and never over 10 kts.

I see strange things on the Big Lake.  I see land where there is no land.  I see no land where there is.  The wind and water bend light and trick my eyes.   It’s a good joke.  But this one is not a joke.

As the sun sought the horizon, the wind dropped down, the sea (to me it’s a sea) glassed over with not a ripple.  It’s only motion coming from a dying swell born somewhere near Thunderbay far to the northwest.   On the Beaufort Scale, the wind was 0.  Yet, The CAP’N LEM just kept right on sailing and I mean sailing, not coasting or wallowing in a swell, but truly sailing! In a wind that did not even ripple the water, CAP’N LEM traveled over the ground at 5.6 kts.  The ammas waked, the rudder gurgled, the flag waved and the sails remained full of a wind that came from I do not know where.  (I’ll not spoil the moment with theories of relative wind.)  All I know is the sea was glassy smooth and the vessel sailed on.  Sometime the speed would drop to 4.5 only to build again to 5.2 or better and we sailed on.  At 2015 Au Sable Point Lighthouse was abeam, and we sailed on.  The sun set and we sailed on until I was a mile or so from Grand Marais Harbor breakwater.  Still amking 3 kts under sail alone, I lowered jib and started the motor.  At 2225 May 3, 2009, CAP’N LEM was anchored at 46® 40.401’N ~ 080® 58.863’W in 32’ of water having covered 64 nm in the day and 628 nm in the 27 days out of Two Harbors MN. 

So ends this day.


Huron Island Anchorage

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

On the 29th day of April, I’m awake at 0230.  The wind is gone.  The water is still.  The CAP’N LEM quiet. But I must get up.  By 0330 the anchor is up and we motor into the darkness to recover the ground lost coming south to anchor on the Keweenaw Bay. 

To the south east Scorpio is rising.   Jupiter is up.  Venus is next.  Then the first glow of dawn.  My old enemy, darkness, defeated once again.  The sun comes up and with it the wind.  Up the sails and a beat to the north on the east wind brings the good CAP’N LEM around Point Abbaye.  The wind stiffens and veers to the southeast.  I won’t make the next headland so I tack. 

The course brings me close to the Huron Islands.  I look them up in the Bonnie Dalh’s.  One anchorage, marginal at best, good only in an east wind.  And now I’ve an ample supply of east wind.  But it’s too early in the day to give up, so around for another run at clearing the headland.  By the time I come out from the wind shadow of the islands, I have a surplus of east wind.  It doesn’t take me long to get a belly full of beating when I have so far to go.  Around again!

But for this headwind to punch my nose, I would have had no reason to go to Huron Island on my way to Marquette.  But for this headwind, I would have missed one of the most picturesque anchorages I’ve ever been in.  Ok, rocks to the left of me, rocks to the right, rocks dead ahead, and a rocky bottom added for free.  Not the best of holding ground, but how can I give it up.  The small bearer islands stop the swell but the wind still wraps around and sets the CAP’N LEM doing jig time on a short string.  I watch the GPS carefully.  We hold. 

And I’m in love.  I’m in love with this place!  And why wouldn’t I be? Wasn’t this the place I saw so clearly in my dreams at 6 or 7 years old when I swung in the tree swing ship of my imagination?  It must be. I know it was an island.  Was it this island?  Yes, I think it was.  How else could something I’ve never seen be so familiar, feel so much like home.  And don’t I remember it calling me with a simply “I’m here, come find me”.   Wasn’t it then that I started running away, in my mind?  Isn’t this why I poured over the maps in the geography books I never read, searching the details.  And my teachers told my mother, “He wanders”.  Wasn’t I looking for this very spot with this very boat at this very time?  Didn’t I always know I would drop the hook at Lat. 46® 57.589’N ~ Long. 087® 59.957’W on this day in this year even before I knew what a latitude or longitude was?  I love this place!  Love does strange things to this sailor.

On the hill over my harbor home is a lighthouse built in 1868.  And a stone toss away from the CAP’N LEM, the boat house of the lifeboat station the keepers manned when the need was there.  Things have changed.  The light is automatic.  The boathouse is empty and defaced with spray paint. (Mel proved his undying love for Liz by coloring their names on this historical place for all the world to see, along with Hosa and You Suck.  Way to go, Liz.  Ya got yourself a real winner in that Mel guy. ) 

A pair of loons land and hunt for lunch in the clear icy water.  He is elegant in black and white; she is beautiful in red head dress and softer white.  They are a close together.  She follows him.  I name them Mel and Liz.  What else.

I’m enthralled with one lone storm tree in the rocks near the water’s edge of the barrier island to my anchorage.  I ponder the seed that fell among the rocks so far away from any visible soil and refused to die in spite of the wind, snow and ice and even the comings and goings of man.  There is a ragged scare where a limb, a large limb, was torn from the truck, yet it lives.  The green of life is in its top.  Hardship has not killed it.  Perhaps it knows what I’ve come to know; that hardship is not my enemy in the same way the easy life is not my friend.  Like I learned from Captain Lem, an easy life leads to a pudgy body.

Aboard the TONI AND DONNA   A play in one act:

Characters:  Tommy, young mate, age 40s; Captain Lem, the captain, age between 70 and 86

Setting: aboard the schooner TONI AND DONNA at the bow

 Tommy:  Captain Lem, why don’t you use that anchor windless to get that anchor on board.

Captain Lem:  Well, Tommy, if I don’t pull the anchor up by hand now, when the time comes that I need to pull it up by hand, I won’t be able to.

Captain Lem points to anchor windless, adds in after thought:   Those things break.

The End

The wind lies down in the evening.   I worry about a westerly, but stay anyway.  I go to the hatchway often to look up at the light flashing from the top of the hill. Ya, this was it.


Boathouse West Huron Island

Boathouse West Huron Island


Lighthouse through the trees West Huron Island

Portage Lake to Pequaming MI

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

There is a cost for forward motion and to me it is the heart tug of separation from friends.  I fear I’m going to know that price a lot before I can ever make full circle to those who fill my life with such encouragement.   I borrow their courage, you know. .   I have no courage of my own.  I never have.  There it is, my secret.  It’s all gleaned from that encouragement  give me just before I leave. 

That  mile, the one just ahead of me, takes me into Portage Lake and the sun is warm and the wind right for sailing for a while.   The water birds scatter from my path.  I cross the lake to the cut that will take me back into the Great Getchee Gummee.  I’m thinking of dropping anchor here in the marsh lands, soak in the sun and watch the birds but I know it is only my desire not to leave just yet, not leave where the kindness warmed the chill from this sailorsoul.  Besides, tomorrow will not make it any easier.  Going is seldom easy.  Sometimes,  I just have to go anyway.

As I leave the waterway, I see something I haven’t seen in a while.  Someone is launching a boat.   Now that’s a sure sign of spring!  Passing the lighthouse on the jetty, I’m hit with a stiff North wind and start a beat in hopes of making Point Abbaye.

The day is getting away from me and I’m not going to make the point in less than four tacks.  Decision time and the south side of the tombolo at Pequaming is just too inviting.  It looks like a warm blanket waiting to wrap CAP’N LEM in safety and peace and rest.  Some decisions are easy.  Just fall of the wind into a jib and run.   No one to make me go on and on, not even myself.  Freedom.

I can see the ruins of the old Ford Factory.  Pequaming MI had its day.  But still, something goes on there.  It’s my kind of place, forlorn, a long way from everywhere else and lots of boats upon the hard waiting for spring.  There is a harbor, but I won’t be going in.  I’ve picked a spot to anchor clear of the cribs and obstruction, safe from the running waves.  Time to let the CAP’N dance. 

Anchor down at 1600 28 April 2009 in 14.5 feet of water at Latitude 46 degrees 50.89 minutes N ~ Longitude 088 degrees 23.40 minutes W.   I haven’t gone very far.

Portage Canal east enterance light

Portage Canal east enterance light

Thoughts on leaving Houghton/Hancock

Friday, May 1st, 2009

My sail/motor through the Keweenaw waterway is a picture of things to come.  My first attempt, the ice stopped me and sent me scurrying back to Grand Marais, but with persistence new knowledge and time, the ice gave way and THE CAP’N LEM pranced from west to east.  I dealt with bridge closures, high wind from the wrong direction, high winds from the right direction, and no winds.  I waited.  I waited and things changed as things always do.  The bridge tender found me.  The wind turned civil.   I got my propane and a Pastie.   I met dear people and visited the lovely library, then moved on.  I do believe the Northwest Passage will test me in many similar, though larger, ways and my only weapon will be patience and persistence and the new knowledge that each day will bring.  THE CAP’N LEM is a finer boat than I am sailor and has already forgiven me my over sights while teaching me valuable lessons I hope not to forget.  (Lock down the rudder, tommy, lock down the rudder, look up before you haul that halyard, look up, never be not be tied to the ship, when on deck, never be not be tied to the ship! Plan ahead, tommy, easer to stay warm than get warm, easer dry than get dry, plan ahead.)

Thank you Jason for the picture of the bridge and CAP'N LEM

Thank you Jason for the picture of the bridge and CAP'N LEM