Aside from a visit to historic Quebec City in 2001, my next most memorable trip to Canada occurred in 2009. Our SweetWater and a crew of six raced the Trans-Superior Race, Trans for short. The Trans is a sailboat race that occurs every odd numbered year. The race is a 400 mile course, give or take a hundred miles, from Sault (pro. "Soo") Ste. Marie, Ontario in Canada to Duluth, Minnesota.
|L to R front: Pat Collins, Tambrey Collins, Amy Brooks. L to R back: Carl Richards, Ardys Richards and Ben Fornear|
The Trans race was preceded by a fabulous two week long, leisurely sailing vacation while delivering the boat to the starting line. We spent a night or two in various Lake Superior towns--- Ontonagon, MI where we ran aground at the marina entrance and were then graciously invited to raft off of a small local sailboat for the night; Houghton, MI which was reached by following a manmade channel that separates the Keweenaw Peninsula from the rest of the Upper Peninsula (the U.P.). During the race, we would be sailing around the Keweenaw but this channel provided us a significant shortcut for the delivery of the boat. We visited Marquette, MI where we took the dinghy out to see a sunken ship close to shore. There have been some 350 shipwrecks on Lake Superior, most on the rocks, but some ships were lost to impressive storms which come with what are known as "the gales of November." Beyond Marquette, we "oohed and ahhed" over the beautiful cliffs of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We spent a lovely two days in Grand Marais, MI which has a historic museum lighthouse and for some unknown reason, also has a small house that resembles a giant pickle barrel. By the time we reached Whitefish Bay we were joined by other boats from Duluth also headed for the Soo for the start of the Trans-Superior. All of the boats gathered up together behind a protective breakwater which was located a short two mile walk from the Whitefish Point Lighthouse and Shipwreck Museum. We all paid a visit to that museum where we saw the rescued bell from the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald which leads one to a somber reflection upon the 29 lives lost to the deep. Surely no one can travel upon the cold and deep Lake Superior without an awareness of her awesome power.
On our return 2 mile walk back to the boats, many of us picked wild blueberries which lined the narrow little road its' entire length.
Early the next morning, one of the women from another race boat prepared breakfast for everyone--crepes filled with wild blueberries. I'd never tasted any better breakfast! From this overnight stop, it was a relatively short sail to Sault Ste. Marie. By this time, there was clearly heightened enthusiasm and gaiety on all the sailboats headed toward the Soo. When a number of our boats had arrived at the entrance to the St. Mary's River, we gathered together and rafted up in order to enter the Canadian lock so that we could move through as one unit. When the great iron doors of the lock closed behind us, we left Lake Superior and rode the falling water level to the St. Mary's River 21 feet below.
We were welcomed at the Robert Bondar Marina in Sault Ste. Marie, along with many other boats planning to race the Trans. Each of the American boats called in to Canadian Customs and then we had a day of rest in Canadian waters before the start of the Trans. The excitement rolling off the race boats was palpable. I admittedly gawked at some of the tanned sailors who looked so at home in their worn sailing garb that I could vividly imagine their collective histories of races they had done and won, throughout the Great Lakes and on the oceans. I admired one of the strong young women sailors who quite handily went up the mast of her boat to perform some required task. While aloft, she enjoyed the sights and reported her observations to us below. All the race boats required provisioning for the return race to Duluth. A few vehicles had driven to the Soo from Duluth in order to deliver supplies as well as additional crew that could not afford the time off from work to sail the boat to the start line. One of the pickup trucks was driven by the patriarch of a well-known sailing family in Duluth and he happily brought my husband and I to a major grocery store so that we could purchase our provisions for SweetWater. There was much visiting between the boats into the evening, frequently involving sharing of libations and good hearted wishes for a good race the next day.
Race day dawned cool and gray. Foul weather gear was in order, obviously. (For non-sailor readers:
|Foul weather gear "modeled" by Pat and Tambrey Collins|
The return trip through the Canadian lock to reach Lake Superior was memorable. Approximately 20 sailboats rafted together to begin the upward trip to the higher level of the Lake between the high concrete walls. The sound of some ~100 sailors exuberantly singing "What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor" while standing on boat decks will remain in my head until I die. The song words echoed and bounced off those concrete walls. Never more than at that moment, did I feel like a real sailboat racer. Enthusiasm was obviously infectious, regardless of the fine mist falling.
Entering onto the big Lake was a different sort of excitement. She had become riled up during the night. The waves were pushing east toward the Soo, and the boat happily galloped through the waves toward the start. The mist turned to a drizzle and the wind which had been imperceptible in the lock was now a good blow. The sails were raised and SweetWater launched off at the start along with the other racers. Now, I have to come clean on this next point. We had adopted a system of assigning our 6 crew members to be either "on" or "off watch" and we had an "in-between" category in which you might be called up to help if there was some real need. We had mapped out this plan which we intended to follow throughout the course of the race which was to ensure that no one person was required to stay awake for extended periods during the night. At the start of the race, my designation was "Off watch". Given that the weather was frankly, unpleasant, and given that I had not been alone, truly alone, since we left Duluth two weeks before, I rather relished the notion of going below and acting out my "Off watch" status. After the race start, I decided to lie down in our V-berth bunk and pretend to sleep, AKA enjoy time alone. (I would not have wanted to race with anyone but these crew members but I was in dire need of alone time). Well, anyone who has slept in a V-berth under vigorous sail can probably tell you what happened next. Let me throw out some words that may paint an apt image for the reader. Let's try pinball? A dryer? Racquetball? Tilt-a-Whirl? You get the picture. Well, I held out for a few minutes--I REALLY wanted some alone time, as I said. I finally gave some thought to how the rest of the crew was up on deck weathering the blowing rain and also came to the realization that if they were so inclined to think about it, they would know that I was being tossed around like pizza dough and would eventually have to question my sanity--boat owner or not. So........ I sighed and finally went up on deck.
Fog had settled on Lake Superior. Depending upon how quickly a boat elected to tack after the start, a boat's trajectory may diverge from another's fairly quickly. As long as we were within 40 miles of another sailboat in this race, we could hear radio transmissions and communicate with other boats. Eventually, we were out of range and not able to radio other boats. As described in a previous post, "The Best Brie," SweetWater is not known for being fast, especially when compared to the many true race boats in the Trans. It was not long before SweetWater was essentially alone on the lake in the fog. The race course was entirely within the shipping lanes used by the great thousand foot freighters and ocean going vessels that traverse Lake Superior from the Soo to Duluth. One of our safety procedures on the lake was to have a crew member check the radar every 15 minutes and document what, if anything, was observed within the 12 mile radius we had selected. No vessels were ever seen on radar which was of great comfort to us for the first 72 hours of this race, all of which was sailed, more or less, within a little capsule of fog. The steady wind did not last long for SweetWater and we plodded along in the fog.
We fell into a comfortable rhythymn between the six of us....taking turns on watch as planned. I was the cook (since I was the only one who knew where the food was hidden) and I really enjoyed preparing meals for the crew. We ate fairly well, actually. Other than one evening with increased winds during which seasickness struck a couple of the crew, the first 72 hours were fairly uneventful.
We continued our practice of checking the radar every 15 minutes. On the third day, with just a sliver of sun struggling to pierce through the blanket of fog above us, I thought I heard an engine. Now, I cannot emphasize how quiet it is to be on the water, under sail, with little or no wind. The occasional gull that we came across having a rest on the relatively flat water did not "talk." No other squawking birds came out that far onto the Lake. It was a rather beautiful cocoon of silence. I commented, "I hear an engine over there," pointing over the forward port side. A crew hopped down below to check the radar. "Nope, nothing on radar." Well, that's good, but then what is that sound? Within another minute everyone on board was hearing the deep drone of an engine approaching.
|Hearing but NOT seeing a ship|
|Amy, Ardys, Tambrey, Pat and Carl, at the helm|
|Amy calling home to say we're close to the finish line.|
SweetWater crossed the finish at 6.5 knots with smiles and self-congratulatory shouts. As usual, we yelled, "We won!" to the tourists on the canal leading to the Aerial Lift Bridge. We firmly held the belief that winning is a state of mind, of course. In reality, we learned that we actually HAD won our class, as the other two J&M boats in our class had been obligated to drop out during the race. Hey, we're never too proud to take a win by default.