The Straits, Part I and II
by The Pirate
The Straits, Part I and II
By request, a re-print from the now-defunct pirate blog where I used to babble daily. Parts I and II of what was originally a 4-part story of what was probably my first of many pirate adventures. I believe the only background one needs if not one of my regular loonies, is that PW is short for Pirate Wife. Everyone say hello to Pirate Wife when she appears in part II.
I was reminded last night of an adventure I had as a young pirate, just beginning to test his mettle against the sea, or in this case, a couple of Great Lakes and I would like to tell the story. The story lasts 16 years; much longer than the adventure, or is it all an adventure? Only the reader can truly decide, but I prefer to think of it ALL as an adventure...
Way back in 1984, three buddies and I got drunk (a lot of my stories begin this way…) and decided that we had had enough of sailing on tiny, inland lakes in our catamarans. One of us had some experience sailing his in the Florida Keys and suggested we try our hand somewhere on the Great Lakes. Sounded good. We spent a grand total of an hour packing and an hour planning and left for the Straits of Mackinac. We made the 300-mile trip up from Detroit, overnight, in two vans, pulling two catamarans; a 16 and an 18 footer. We got pretty stoned the way and the thing I remember most from that drive was sitting in the open window of one van looking backward, or SOUTH at the most spectacular aurora I have ever witnessed.
We arrived in Cheboygan, on the southern shore of Lake Huron, before dawn and had a welcome breakfast prepared by one of the guys’ parents, who happened to live up there. After breakfast, we drove down to the dock where the Coast Guard ice breaker, USCGC Mackinaw was stationed and illegally launched our cats from its quay. Things went downhill from there. You see, we didn’t really plan well and though we managed to hit on a few key points necessary for survival, the main focus was on getting stoned, exploring and having fun. Pot and roman candles were securely stowed, but we neglected to include a first-aid kit-things of that nature. Beer AND alcohol were present, but we didn’t think of water, or a purifier. We were worried about lightning, but only duct-taped aluminum tent poles to the masts, trailing in the water. A regular recipe for disaster, or adventure, depending on how stoned you were at the time.
The general plan was to sail North, into the straits until we found a place to crash on one of the four islands that can be found just to the East of the Mackinac Bridge. Two were uninhabited and we figured that Round Island, directly to the South of the resort island, Mackinac, would be best since it was closest to the bridge and Mackinac Island, two of our day 2 destinations. Unfortunately, it was also the furthest sail and a nasty storm hit us within the first hour.
Because turning around would have been unmanly and boring, we said a prayer to the tent pole gods, quickly put on a good buzz on and kept sailing for Round Island. The lightning all around us put a damper on the buzz, but eventually we reached Round Island, only to sail around it and find most of it blocked by LARGE boulders-not good in a storm. Finally, after sailing around it twice, we spotted a small stretch of beach cleared of big rocks and quickly put in for the night. It was right then that we realized the backpack that contained EVERYTHING sacred and important was missing. We had allowed the single bag that contained our wallets, money, pot, most of our smokes, ID's and map to get washed overboard in the storm. Another sign from the gods to turn back which we promptly ignored by getting drunk and having a roman candle fight along the beach when the rain let up. We used flaming branches to light the fireworks and I will forever remember running around drunk, watching the flaming branches and fireworks shooting up and down the beach. To the untrained eye, we must have looked like complete idiots.
The morning brought sand in our mouths and the realization that we had neglected to bring water. We each had a couple of beers while the lake water coffee brewed in a chipped, blue enamel coffee pot on the fire. It was a cold, foggy morning when we set sail for the resort island, Mackinac. Things continued their downhill slide as we tried to sail through the wind-less ship channel between Round and Mackinac islands, in the fog. We had rigged one cat with a car battery and a small, trolling motor for just such an emergency (we did hit a few good points in our planning), but neglected to stay together and lost each other in the fog. One cat pulled ahead. My cat wallowed in the middle of a foggy ship channel. It was here we made our first SERIOUS mistake by donning headphones and turning up some mood music to go with the fog...
The 1000 footer that ran us down was hauling ass for the steel mills in Gary, Indiana, I imagine. I know she was empty from her draft and I suspect, hurried by her lack of cargo and daily money loss. I have no idea how many knots a 1000 footer can make, but she was making it and that fact saved our two, measly lives. She had a bulbous bow, which heaved up a giant bow wake, probably 15-20 ft. high.. We only saw the ship roughly 15 feet away, about to hit us dead amidships. Her bow wake hit us almost instantly and sent us flying. My partner pretty much catapulted over the top of me; grabbing for him saved me because he landed on the boat, jamming his legs between the tramp and one hull. I flipped over him into the water, still hanging on to him with one hand so it was easy for him to pull me back onboard. As we spun in circles, we watched the monster slide by. It was a surreal moment, punctuated by the fact that neither of us had lost our headphones and we sat listening to our foggy, mood music until the ship passed. I have always been a believer in having a soundtrack for your life and this is but one example; of both why and an argument for why not, but I will stand firm on this. A soundtrack is better; just choose your music wisely. Nobody wants to die with Brittany Spears playing...
The morning fog quickly burned off and the wind picked up, allowing us to make Mackinac Island in a matter of an hour after getting run down. We pulled up on a hotel beach and made our way into town. We had a few bucks in loose change between us and grabbed an overpriced burger at a restaurant on Main Street. We quickly made our way back to the cats and headed West for open water and the bridge, where we had a little fun running the pylons, flying one hull and hanging in the diaper. Following the bridge North to the Upper Peninsula, we then sailed along the shore to the small town of St. Ignace, MI. Here, we visited the Coast Guard to have a look at their charts since the Michigan road map we brought was in the bag that was swept overboard the first night. The Coast Guard thought we were insane and took down our names and home phone numbers when they heard our plans. Giving them this information turned out to also be a mistake...
We jumped on our little cats and made our way East, staying equidistant from the South shore of the UP and two islands; Mackinac and Harriet, I believe. Our destination was Marquette Island, the largest in the Cheneaux Islands. We experienced a few, very hot, wind-less hours where we utilized the trolling motor and took turns, swimming and towing the two cats, but eventually got enough wind to make for a small, sheltered bay on the southern tip of a large peninsula, just West of the Islands.
It was here, we found a very large and lively beach party in full swing. The first thing we saw as we rounded the point into the bay were 20 or so, bikini-clad women playing volleyball with a net set up in the water. The night was definitely a night to remember. The party was some sort of annual thing brought in on wilderness roads by pick-ups and trailers and they were stocked well enough to provide us with everything four, thirsty, hungry, lonely pirates desired. The hangover in the morning nearly killed us, literally...
One by-product of a hangover is hurting so bad as to not pay close attention to your surroundings. We didn't notice that we were in a VERY sheltered bay and the wind was howling out in the open water until it was too late. Once we realized, there was no turning back without risk of capsizing the cats, with the waves cresting as high as our 32 ft. masts. This was not a pleasant sight while sitting on an open boat with your ass nearly dragging in the water. We managed open water, tied ourselves to the cats, said our goodbyes, literally and tried to learn how to ride the waves like a surfboard. This proved to work, except we then realized that the wind and waves were taking us down the long axis of the lake; a 300-mile trip we were not prepared to make. Little by little, we worked the cats to port and in reach of land. Our next problem was that this beach was also surrounded by boulders the size of school buses and the waves were breaking into the pine trees, past the beach in most places.
The other cat went first and was launched into the trees, just like you would throw one of those little, balsa-wood gliders. When our two buddies did not reappear from the trees, we figured they were injured and decided to make a different approach. Thirty yards from the beach, we dropped sail and slid down the backside of a wave, hopping off the cat at the same time. The problem with that was the sucking action forward of each wave. Our little cat bottomed out in the rocks and I managed to wedge an ankle between two boulders. The next wave smashed up our cat, sprained my ankle and nearly drowned us. Our buddies emerged from the trees just then, unhurt (bastards) and pulled the cat and us up into the trees. Taking stock, I was the only one seriously injured (we thought the ankle was broken). The cats were both damaged, but possibly still watertight and hopefully, repairable-although we had no tools. We had lost every single scrap of gear tied onto the both cats. Our sum total possessions included a wet pack of smokes, a lighter, one pair of headphones and the clothes on our backs…
The Pirate is looking for volunteers to swab his poop deck.
Pirate, me said it be4 me will say it again.. Yer absolutely certifably insane. Yes you is.. But a fun insane. How you managed to live is beyond me. Note: me can drive small outboard motor boats and even me NOW knows better than to get caught in them kinds of winds. The story of me getting caught in the winds me will has to blog about sometime. ME NERVES!!!!
You must have the Pirate Gods looking out for you thats for sure. Cuz me don't know how you stayed alive through that. lol ;) ;)
Can't wait for part II. Mistake tellin the coast guard huh? Oh this outta be priceless!!!!!
Posted by: newfieswoman | February 27, 2007 8:59 AM
...pleasepleaseplease tell me that I don't have to wait til NEXT Tuesday? OMG! what to do, what to do? Fine, but I'm pouting while I wait. ~sighs~
P.S. volunteers, swab and poop = What are 3 words that shound NEVER appear in the same sentence. lol
Posted by: ~crazy peanut~ | February 27, 2007 1:06 PM
P.P.S. Hi PW. :)
Posted by: ~crazy peanut~ | February 27, 2007 1:08 PM
Ah Pirate the Homeric tale, I love it.I told my Father in law this story of yours about a month or so befor he died and He laughed end really enjoyed it
Posted by: fyremandoug | February 27, 2007 4:01 PM
ahhh. the good ol days. before wisdom and brain growth sets in.
Posted by: mr bud | February 27, 2007 9:20 PM
Doug, I am so glad I was able to give him a laugh. I often wonder why it is that I write (as well as do stupid shit like the sailing trip). I guess this is why. Thanks man.
Posted by: Pirate | February 28, 2007 9:20 AM
Hmmmmmmmmm...........me is seriously now considering being a volunteer if ya really needs one.. ;)
Posted by: newfieswoman | February 28, 2007 10:50 AM
This was even funnier the second time around. Yee haw!
Posted by: QofD | February 28, 2007 3:13 PM