Trailer Sailing Lake Huron and Mackinac Island

Back in 1997 I was out shopping for a bigger sailboat. I had been sailing for years in an old Kells 22. I had bought it from my dad and trailered it from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. It was a good old tub that served me well over the years.

She was too heavy, too small, too slow, too old and I loved her to no end. I had renamed her the “Rogue Warrior” and she lived up to the name. I fearlessly took that little tub of fiberglass out into weather and waves that I now wisely avoid in my bigger boat.

She had a small couch/settee, a single burner alcohol stove, small sink and a port’a potty squirreled into the nose between the convertible main bunk/table combo and the mini V-berth that served as a dump all for gear. With sitting only head room you had to get used to bending over when moving about inside.

She was designed with a swing keel that tucked up flush with the bottom of the hull that had the sleekness of a giant cast iron popsicle stick. Her best "OMG brag to the friends" speed was the same speed that I fire up the motor on my current sailboat because I’m moving too slow. She would crab sideways at the mere mention of tacking up wind. More than once after sailing my ass off tacking up wind, an hour later I would find myself right where I started on the return tack.

She would be the only boat on the lake in waves half as tall as she was long and 50+ mph winds. With the addition of an autopilot on the tiller I spent countless long slow days single-handing her up and down the coast of Southern Lake Huron.

Knowing I was moving up to a larger non-trailerable boat I wanted to take the Warrior on one last big run. Something taking advantage of the mobility and epic for that point in my sailing life.

I managed to tie three weeks of vacation time together and bump them onto the tail end of a long Labor day weekend. I talked my friend Chris into hauling me upstate and then bringing my trailer back with him.

I put her on the trailer and overloaded her with supplies. My plan was to haul her up to the top of Lake Huron and launch her from under the Mackinac Bridge then sail her up into the Les Cheneaux Islands. From there head South well over two hundred miles home to Port Huron at the bottom of Lake Huron.

Armed with a handheld Garmin 45XL GPS and a buttload of charts I felt like Magellan.

With Chris ready to party, the plan was to spend the holiday weekend on Mackinaw Island getting drunk before splitting up and I sail south.

Chris and his wife are Mac Island regulars and he was fired up to show me around the island for the long guy weekend.

We arrived on a beautiful afternoon in Mackinaw City Michigan. Mac City is a cool little tourist spot at the foot of the big ass Mackinac Bridge crossing the straits to the upper peninsula of Michigan.

I stepped the mast and rigged the boat as Chris played with my new video camera documenting the whole drunken event unfolding. After I spent an hour tying on a van load of coolers, swim ladders, bicycles and more crap than that boat was designed to haul we launch her and headed out under the bridge to the island about 6 or 8 miles across the straits.

The water was several hundred feet deep real fast and we kept an eye out for the marker buoys for the nasty reef in the middle. We were like giggly little kids bubbling with excitement.

This was my first time going to the famous little island. It’s a quaint little thing in sight of the mainland with lots of bars and no cars. Horse drawn buggies and bicycles are the only transportation once you arrive. It is a popular get away. You can’t turn around without stepping on a tourist or a pile of horse shit.

We worked our way around the maze of adjacent reefs, break walls and islands and entered the harbor looking like a band of gypsies in a Chinese junk as we dodged the high speed jet powered tourist ferries in search of a dock. It is a small marina surrounded by the big tourist machine of a harbor. I believe they have expanded the dockage since then but at the time you needed reservations for a slip weeks in advance. The overflow is handled by privately owned mooring balls that rented out for $20 a night. That’s where we ended up.

We chugged over to the mailboat dock and unloaded the bikes before taking the mooring ball of our choice. Not being a native of Michigan I was an oddity having never been there before. It is a Michigan tradition to visit the island.

It reminded me of a Disney version of the Isle of Capri off the coast of Naples Italy that I had visited years earlier.

We got the boat moored, changed clothes and climbed into the raft to row to shore. This thing was a raft too. Not a dingy. It was an old borrowed Sears “Ted Williams” brand beast. My friend's dad had bought it years earlier and never took it out of the box. It was an old classic and brand new at the same time. I’m not sure why Sears named it after a famous Red Sox baseball player but this thing wasn’t much smaller than the infield in Boston where he played.

It had a soft vinyl floor that was like standing in quicksand. You would sink into it almost up to your knees as it wrapped tightly around your legs and all the water that was always in it filled the new low spots created by your feet.

We rowed our carnie looking asses to shore sucking down our high octane cheap boat drinks as fast as we could before having to start paying island prices at the bar.

We hit Chris’ favorite restaurant (read cheap) before biking up the hill one bar at a time. One cool thing about the island is that after the last tourist ferry leaves in the evening most of the "fudgies" are gone. Just those in the hotels and on their own boats are left. The atmosphere changes at that point and the real party begins.

We settled in at the bar at the top of the hill. I think it was called "top of the hill" or something original like that. There we tore into a nasty plate of cold fries and cheap draft beer. Sitting at the top of the island that night we learned from the TV that Princess Diana had been killed that day.

We closed up the bar and coasted the bikes crookedly back down to the water and found a place to lock them up before rowing back out to the moorings. By the time our drunken souls made it to the boat I was soaked. The large plastic plank of a seat was unstable as the raft needed more air and it flipped me into the bow of the raft on my back. The floor engulfed me like a giant amoeba and the water came rushing to me. Chris yelled "hang on!" and started rowing through the laughter. With nothing solid to grab onto I rode it out treading water on the floor with my feet still up on the seat.

Once we were back to the boat I put a couple of big cans of beefaroni on the burner to soak up the booze and take the chill out of the boat while I changed into dry clothes.

With full bellies we enjoyed the end of a wild Saturday. Chris lounged in the cockpit checking out the island with the binoculars while I was eagerly going over the charts for my first leg of the journey starting after dropping Chris off Monday. I was looking forward to heading up to the Les Cheneaux Islands.

This being in the days before affordable charting GPS I had out the rulers and spreaders figuring out coordinates from the charts and transferring them into my basic GPS to guide me later. I was excited and was enjoying studying the charts and figuring the best way around the rocks and reefs.

Chris cracked open a final beer and commented he wished he could do a sail like that some day, I raised my head from scribbling notes on the charts and said “hell, we'll leave in the morning!!”.

I was only hanging out on Mackinaw cause that’s what Chris wanted to do for the weekend because he liked it there so much. He lit up like a little kid asking “we can do that?”. So the new plan was hatched, Sunday morning we would break camp and sail North to Hessel and return Monday so he can drive home with the trailer in time to get to work.

Next Page: Hessel Michigan and the Les Cheneaux Islands