I consider myself blessed.
The water is a source of energy, of inspiration, of centeredness for me. In one fell swoop it makes me feel as if I can do anything and also makes me fully aware of how small I am. It’s powerful. It’s serene. It’s…water.
I live on the shores of Lake Erie. Lake Erie is the smallest of the Great Lakes and the fourth largest lake in the United States. It’s the thirteenth largest lake globally. Its sheer surface size and what it all connects (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Canada, Michigan and New York) you can easily travel between states, hop to the islands or bring your passport to visit another country.
It’s also the shallowest of the lakes. Its average depth is 62 feet. For comparison; Lake Superior has an average depth of 483 feet deep. That makes our lake the warmest, which is great for water sports, and also the most violent.
I used to own a sailboat. I loved it. At times I wish I still had it. It was one of those things I gave up when I got divorced. Every time I look out over the lake and see the sails, I feel a pang of envy. All those people still with boats...damn them. When there is a stiff breeze, my first thought is, “time to set sail”. But I've no boat to set sail on. So I damn them all again. Many times as the wind picked up, my ex and I would head down to the marina. It was if we were drawn to the boat by the wind. Chores were set aside, work left unfinished. There was a good wind and we must take advantage of it...now. We had it down to a science how fast we could set sail. As we were heading out putting on our foul weather gear, we'd pass the power boaters heading in. They'd shake their heads wondering 'why?' and try to give us warning of the rising waves on the lake. Too choppy for them; perfect for us. Our sailboat was perfect for Lake Erie. At 30 feet it was large enough to have several people on board but small enough that I could sail it on my own.
As a sailor, I never pre-plotted a course. I’d hit the mouth of the river and see where the wind was coming from. If our preconceived notion of where we wanted to go was changed by wind direction…well, we’d just change the destination. If there had to be one. Most times there was no destination...just the joy of being on the water was all that was needed. Once when wanting to go to Chez Francois for dinner, the wind was coming directly from the direction that we needed to go. Go figure. So instead of heading to Vermilion we ended up in Leamington, Ontario. It’s due north of Cleveland. Many times when sailing Lake Erie you’d tack back and forth between the US and Canada.
“Hey, could you grab me another glass of wine?”
“Eh? We’re in Canada now. How a’boot a Molson instead? We'er in Canada now don't ya know...” (insert Canadian accent)
But we didn’t always go out when the wind was at its height. There are many times where we would just go and lull about in the summer haze when the lake is like a sheet of glass. Just get out on the water to take the edge off the day's heat and take a dip in the cool of the water. Once while swimming right outside the break wall to the left of the harbor lighthouse we tied rafts to the boat and just bobbed around. When you leave the break wall of the Cuyahoga River, five miles out lies the water crib which is the water source for Cleveland. When the big ships leave the Cleveland Port Authority they head out to the water crib before turning and heading west towards the St. Lawrence Seaway or Highway H2O as it’s called.
HWY H2O Serves Nearly One-Quarter of North America’s Population
HWY H2O is a 2,340-mile marine highway that flows directly into the United States and Canada’s commercial, industrial and agricultural heartland. The waterway carried more than 300 million metric tons of cargo in 2004, valued in excess of $300 billion. HWY H2O ports are often closer to European markets than East Coast or Gulf ports. For example, the distance between Cleveland and Hamburg, Germany, is shorter than the distance between Baltimore and Hamburg.
On this particular day visibility was low. The haze hung low and thick over the still water. My friend Jennie and I lazily resting on rafts. Michael was taking the opportunity to wipe down the sides of the boat. I saw the ship coming down the river. The railway lift bridge had signaled to rise and let the huge tanker through. When it reached the lighthouse it immediately started to turn, instead of heading straight out.
“Ummm…Michael? Look at that ship. Where is it headed? It’s not going out to the crib!” I was slightly alarmed. We’re just this little boat out on a silver piece of glass. The sky and the water were all the same color and the chances of the pilot even seeing us in this glare was remote.
“Get on the boat. Get ON THE BOAT! Now!!!” he screamed to Jenny and I. The ship was looming in the haze. It was starting to pick up speed as it passed by the lighthouse marking the mouth of the river.
We frantically pulled at our lines to get our rafts to the railing. I wasn’t making good enough progress and left the raft and swim as fast as I could towards our craft. Jenny wasn’t a strong swimmer, so I pulled on her line once on board while Michael tried to start the engine.
When docking our boat, people would assume we were die-hard sailors. We would sail up the river and dock, never turning on the engine or dropping sail until we were close to our slip. Fact is, we just didn’t like using the engine. It was a 1 cylinder diesel that knocked crazily in the hold. I hated the sound of it. So we hardly ever used it. It wasn’t the silent engines that are on the new boats allowing them to glide along in peace. On some days when the wind left more to be desired we’d see other sailboats cruising along at 6 knots. In this wind? How did they manage it? It turns out they were technically under sail, but had their engine running as well. It was silent, so if you didn’t see the slight wake coming from behind their boat, you wouldn’t have known.
Since we didn’t use it that often, sometimes the damn thing would be a little temperamental…to put it mildly. “Damn thing won’t start!” Michael was cursing at the switch like a trucker. Flick on, pump, pump, flick off, push. On the third try the engine sprang to life. The sound of its banging sounded beautiful to me on this occasion. He engaged it to its full capacity and we swung the wheel hard left towards the break wall. The lake was perfectly flat, the only ripples caused by our trailing rafts. The Edenborg, which is 450 feet long, passed right over where our boat had been just minutes prior. We were hyped up with the adrenaline of almost being crushed by this huge ship looming above us a mere thirty feet from our stern. The power of it’s engines rocking our boat as it passed.
Lake Erie can catch people unawares. It's not an uncommon thing to read about casualties and boating tragedies in the paper. Even the most careful of boater has gotten themselves into trouble one time or another by not paying attention to all the signs Mother Nature is delving out.
On a gorgeous day one September some friends asked if they could take the boat out for a quick sail. We’d been out earlier and were content remaining in the pool at the marina. They were seasoned sailors, presently without craft and thought it not a problem to let them take the boat without one of us on board. A sudden storm blew up and pitch poled the boat. Susan had been below when it happened and was white as the sail itself when they came backs. “I’ll never go aboard a boat again…” she said as she hopped off onto the dock, “Ever.” The wind has gusted just twice up to 75 mph, they got caught broadside and Wham! Mast to the water and then back up again.
I’m happy to never have had that happen directly to me. I might have the same view as Susan.
I like power boats, but I've never owned one. There are some good times to be had on a power boat. Have you ever tried tubing behind a sailboat? Fun, but not quite the same. I’m glad that my next door neighbors have one. And last evening I got a call. “What are you up to tonight?” Kevin asked.
“Nothing really, why? What’s up?”
“It's a beautiful night. Melissa and I were thinking on taking the boat out to Lorain and eat at Jackalope’s. Do you want to come with us?”
Without a moment's thought, “Fab! I’m in!"
Ten minutes later, camera in hand, bathing suit on...I was all aboard the USS BoatYetToBeNamed with drink in hand, ready to embark on an evening of adventure.
When we got out on the lake it wasn’t as flat as it had been earlier in the day when their plan had hatched. But with two foot rollers and the wind at our back, the fifteen mile journey shouldn’t be bad. It was the return trip that had Melissa’s bathing suit in a bind. “Do you think it’ll lay down?” she asked speaking of the waves that seemed to be building rather than flattening themselves down.
“Yeah…I think so.” I replied. Usually after sundown the lake usually calms down. I’m an optimist, I always hope for the best. Although the last two times I had a boat outing with Kevin and Melissa, the weather wasn’t accommodating. I didn't want to return to the dock because now I was looking forward to being out on the lake. I kept my fingers crossed, prayed to the wind Gods, gave a knuckle bump to Kevin and he hit the gas.
Jackolopes was great. We watched the sun come down over the Lorain Lighthouse that has been standing watch over the harbour since 1898. No longer actually used as a lighthouse, it is still lit at night, has tours (both by land and water) and is a historical landmark for the lake. My steak was perfect, my drink strong, the company fabulous and the conversation even better. After a couple of cups of coffee, we decided that we should start back home. Melissa had already received over a dozen calls and texts from their daughter wondering when her “errant parents would be home.” Katie’s the watchdog of the family.
We were pleased to see that indeed the lake had calmed itself. The moon sat low and bright in the sky, illuminating a path of sparkling diamonds on the black water for our return. Sitting at the bow in the lounge chair I enjoyed the trip back immensely. The constant purr of the engine, the sound of the spray off the hull with a little David Gray giving a soundtrack for the journey home.
With Cleveland illuminated in the distance, the dazzling lit path on the water...it was like we were skipping along on our way to Oz. It was beautiful.
Although just slightly eerie this late at night as well. The water was so, so dark. Black, really. No one else visible on the lake. You could pick up the smell of fire pits from the shore. And a burst of laughter every now and again. But we were at least a mile or two off shore. That's a really long swim. At night. After a few cocktails. Let's just pray that there are no floating logs out here in our path. That takes out several boats a year coming back late from the islands.
As our boat sped across the water we startled a few gulls which gave flight. The idea was bounced around to take an evening dip. I declined as every horror movie involving water started playing in the recess of my mind. There ain’t no way/ no how I was going to jump into the lake last night.
My mind KNOWS jaws doesn’t live in fresh water Lake Erie.
Nor does the Loch Ness monster.
There have been some fishermen pulling some large ass Bass out of our lake, but I hardly thought they would be big enough to eat me. Nonetheless…I wasn’t even going to dangle my toes in with it this dark. Perhaps with a few more cocktails in me I could’ve been persuaded when my guard was down, but once those movies thoughts start running...that camera won't turn off.
Maybe another time. Once I get my brain to dump all the nonsense horror crap.
After such a great day spent on the water I feel energized. I feel refreshed. I feel inspired.…
Man, did I sleep good last night.
Just keep Nessie on the other side of the pond...