Erie Delivery Sail: The Gale Sail, September 3-6, 2010
The dates above are misleading because the actual sailing from Sandusky, OH to Erie, PA was only 26 hours from Saturday about 5pm to Sunday about 6pm! To add a little perspective to that, the trip is about 140nm, very similar to the two TransErie Races I crewed a few years back. For the TransErie Race I crewed on a very fast racing sailboat that could easily sail at 8 to 10 knots, in the right breeze. It was one of the earliest finishers in both races I crewed on her. The fastest of the two races I crewed took us 30 hours to finish. And you read correctly that Kelly IV, a heavy cruising (NOT racing) design sailboat took only 26 hours for the same trip!
Here are some exciting details (and check out the video here or the slide show here). I was very fortunate to have the experienced crew of Jack VanArsdale, Keith Otto, and Val Schwarzmueller. Jack has been sailing for many years including several years on his own Cape Dory Typhoon with his sons on Lake Arthur, then for 8 years with me on Kellys III and IV. Keith has been sailing on Lake Arthur since the turn of the century and with me since 2003. While Val only recently joined the Kelly Crew last year (a total of 7 trips now on Kelly IV), he has been a sailing instructor with the Moraine Sailing Club for several years and also has about 10+ years sailing all the world's oceans with the German Merchant marine and Navy. In addition, Nino Forlini and his daughter, Nina, served as crew driving the van which delivered Val, Keith, Jack and I to Sandusky, then picked us up in Erie.
I am very fortunate to have such great crew as the conditions we faced this past weekend were anything but mild. The forecast had very little variation as I checked it each day last week leading up to our departure from Pittsburgh for Sandusky, Ohio. The Friday Afternoon Offshore Forecast from NOAA summed things nicely: “SATURDAY WEST GALES TO 35 KNOTS DIMINSHING TO 30 KNOTS IN THE AFTERNOON. A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. WAVES 10 TO 12 FEET. SUNDAY SOUTHWEST WINDS 15 TO 25 KNOTS BECOMING SOUTH 30 KNOTS. WAVES 5 TO 8 FEET.”
We were checking the weather every couple of hours on Saturday as Gale Warnings were issued through 5pm on Saturday. As you probably know, Small Craft Advisories are announced when there are sustained winds of greater than 18 knots. Gale Warnings are issued when sustained winds exceed 34 knots. In addition we checked the Canadian Hydrographic Service as well as a NOAA buoy (online data) that was in position about 17nm north of Vermilion, Ohio. About 3pm the NOAA buoy data showed a drop in wave heights from 6+ feet to about 5.5 feet. Since the forecasts were consistently showing a slow but continuous drop in both winds and waves, we decided we could depart Sandusky sometime after 4pm. Although the wind and waves would be a significant challenge for us, we thought we'd be up to the challenge, as it was certainly a downwind ride.
About 1645 we departed our slip in Sandusky with many good wishes from various dockmates and sailors. For the first time in Sandusky, we did not leave our lines on the pier, but pulled all lines aboard Kelly IV. We do not plan to revisit Sandusky for some years to come. Val was on the first watch. We had prepared a watch schedule that had worked well for Kelly in the past. The watch was for 3 crew to stand 3 hours on, 6 hours off from 6am through midnight, then 2 hours on, 4 hours off from midnight to 6am. Our thinking is that 6 hours off provides an almost decent continuous opportunity for sleep, but also reduces the demand for concentration through the wee hours. Val's watch provided him the chance to steer through Sandusky Bay as we made our way into the open lake. Although the waves were small (2 to 3 feet) in the Bay, the wind was still a very brisk 20 knots (not counting the gusts which went to 25+ knots). We raised our mainsail with a double reef and left the jib furled completely. Once the motor was off we were still making 5 knots through the water, so we felt no need to make any more sail.
As Val took us beyond the Cedar Point breakwater the wave heights gradually climbed until we were beyond the protection of Marblehead and Kelleys Island. By then Keith had taken the helm and the waves were about 5 feet. We were discovering that a larger wave could easily grab Kelly by the stern and push her 20 to 30 degrees off course and put her in a position to risk broaching (turning sideways to the waves so that she might dip her boom into the water). That would be bad as the water on the boom could also pull more of the mainsail under the water until finally the mast could be pulled under. That would mean we would be at risk for flooding water into the main cabin (never a good thing!). Fortunately, none of our experienced crew let even the least amount of water hit the boom, so nothing dire ever came to be.
As evening turned into night, the wind and waves seemed to grow. Our logbook records sustained winds up to 30 knots and frequent waves up to 8 feet. What that means is that every now and then we may have seen a gust to 35 knots and a wave of 10 feet! Jack, Val and Keith were real troopers as they each took their watch as scheduled. As Skipper, I did not stand a watch, but merely made myself available, if and when needed. I am very grateful as each crew stood his watch and I never had to take a watch for any of the crew. The effort they expended was quite significant as it took a very strong effort for the helmsman to counter the powerful waves as they pushed Kelly off her course. After even two hours of fighting the weather, the watch was very willing to return to their bunk for some well-deserved rest.
You would be right on target to wonder about how the crew handled the threat of mal-de-mer (seasickness). Val, Jack and I each took Dramamine and followed our respective package instructions closely. Val never felt ill, Jack and I only briefly and minimally. Unfortunately, Keith had a tough bout following his first watch, about 2100 on Sunday night. Keith has sailed in a large variety of conditions, but nothing quite as boisterous as the current battering from Mother Nature. As we discussed it later, this was Keith's opportunity to discover his limits! :-) Fortunately Keith recovered, got some sleep and was back on his feet in time to stand his next watch, so he never missed an assigned watch, despite his battle with the sea conditions.
As the night wore on we realized we were very much alone on the lake. We had passed a small freighter, the Maumee, at anchor outside of Sandusky Bay, and another freighter on a reciprocal course heading west, but not a single sailboat until we reached Erie. The lights of Cleveland were very bright as we passed twenty miles north, but the stars were clear enough that the helm could be steered by holding the stars in a fixed pattern above the dodger. In fact there was no haze and the horizon was starkly clear so that it was difficult to tell if the bright lights we saw were a nearby freighter or a distant shoreline. It wasn't until we passed by and could determine that the lights were fixed, that it became certain that the lights were 15 miles away on shore.
The same clarity continued as the morning dawned and we could see the chimney stacks of Ashtabula appear on the southern shore. The waves and wind diminished some until the logbook showed 4 to 6 feet and 15 to 20 knots, respectively, about 0830. The waves and wind continued to subside until Noon when they seemed to be only 2 to 4 feet and 18 knots. From there the typical afternoon conditions of rising winds and corresponding waves kicked back in, so that Kelly's logbook reveals that we saw winds in the low 20s (kts) and waves still at four to six feet. It was late in the afternoon, about 5pm that we spied our first sailboat underway, a sloop flying only her Genoa jib, just east of Presque Isle. They were only in sight for about an hour, then they slipped out of sight, as we suspect they returned to the relatively flat water within Presque Isle Bay.
While it was a beautiful day for sailing, the crew was pretty tired from a vigorous night and little sleep due to the constant and exuberant motion of the boat. This might explain that everyone (captain, included) was eager to enjoy the calm seas as we turned south then west into the lee of Presque Isle's peninsula. As we motored into the wind of the relatively calm bay, we began to see some sailboats enjoying the brisk breeze, but calmer waters of the bay. Keith's watch took us the final few miles ending in the flat millpond of Marina Lake within the Presque Isle State Park where the great crew dropped anchor, cooked up a hot meal and dropped off to a well earned rest soon after dark.
We had called Nino and Nina to let them know we were safely arrived in Erie. The next morning they picked us up for celebratory breakfast at Taki's restaurant, where we learned about the exciting time Nina and Dad enjoyed visiting an animal park, some fishing and a fun trip to Waldameer Park. Then they drove us back to Pittsburgh where we all returned to our work-a-day world.
While the challenge of the 26 hour sail was anything but silly fun, it was truly an experience of the adventurous sort. I am very proud of the crew for their courage standing up to the challenge of a seriously difficult sail across the steep, choppy, and large waves of Lake Erie. Jack, Keith and Val are sailors of distinction and I will be pleased to sail with them anytime, anywhere!
Last Updated ( Saturday, 09 February 2013 17:40 )