Sailing takes Jim Away to Erieau
Back in the mid-90’s, I met a woman who had just landed on her first trip to Cleveland. Her flight circled out over Lake Erie – like they often do – before landing at Hopkins. After getting a good look at Lake Erie and later exclaimed to me, “You can’t see all the way across!” I tried to explain that the Great Lakes contained over half the world’s surface fresh water and that overall, they were bigger than the Persian Gulf. Her only reply was “Why do they call them ‘lakes’ then?” She had me there. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to see across Lake Erie. Like most people who work or live in Cleveland, I see the lake often. And since the people who planned our city didn’t realize that we might like to get down to the water once in a while, that lake has always seemed a little inaccessible.
About a decade ago, I had the opportunity to go out on a sailboat that was participating in one of the several sailing clubs around Cleveland. I quickly realized that for these people, Lake Erie wasn’t inaccessible at all. They went out in it two or three times a week all summer long. I was instantly hooked and was lucky enough to be asked back. I’ve been going back for ten years now. But, while I loved being on the water and learning my specific job as a crew member of a racing team, I found out that I didn’t really want to race. I wanted to see what was on the other side of the “lake.”
Last year, I bought a 28-year-old boat. She was in good condition; her previous owner had aged to the point where he no longer felt comfortable on the water. Sadly for him, he was done with sailing and he sold her to me for a fair price. It was my chance to see farther than the three or four miles a race might take us from shore. I quickly realized that aside from my very specific duties on the front of a racing sailboat, my knowledge of sailing was mostly academic. Last year, I went about correcting that. It took several months to get to the point where docking didn’t cause palpitations. (I only hit one other boat all year and the owner was very nice about it.) Still, by the end of the season I hadn’t gotten farther away from shore than the water crib we can see three-and-a-half miles north of downtown.
This summer was the summer to cruise. I had big plans. Unfortunately – or very fortunately – work got in the way of those plans. It was a great summer of work so taking weeks to circumnavigate Lake Erie was just not going to happen this year. I managed a cruise up to the Chagrin River with my girlfriend and a cruise to Vermilion and then to Sandusky with a couple of budies. And of course, I did the Cleveland to Cleveland cruise dozens of times. But it was not the sailing season I hoped for – until last week. My clients were all in decent shape. I could go now.
I originally chose to leave on a Monday which turned out to be a beautiful day with fair winds coming from the southwest – a perfect day to sail across. An electrical problem delayed me for a day and Tuesday morning had forecasts of north winds – right where I wanted to go. The wind and wave forecast was still acceptable so I decided to go even if I had to use my motor to help me cross. Before sunrise on the Tuesday I untied my boat and pushed off my dock at Whiskey Island excited to head north. I missed one of the docklines and the boat jerked back to the dock when it pulled taught. It was an inauspicious beginning. Luckily, at that time of day, I had the marina to myself. My next stop would be Erieau, Ontario.
Crossing Lake Erie was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. Seeing Cleveland in the dark as I sailed away was thrilling but even better was when the Key Tower joined all the other buildings that had already dropped below the horizon. The earth felt round. At that point I was alone. The only other boat I had seen all day – a tanker going from the Detroit River to the Welland Canal near the Niagara River – had already moved off the eastern horizon several hours earlier.
I got into Canada 9 hours and 40 minutes after leaving Cleveland. I tied up at the Erieau Marina, called Canadian Customs to make sure they’d let me stay for a few days and got to exploring. Erieau, Ontario is on a sandbar that juts out from shore creating a shallow bay called Rondeau Bay. On the south side of the one main street, the houses overlook Lake Erie. On the north side, they overlook Rondeau Bay. Besides the marina and adjoining Beer Store, I saw four restaurants, an antique store, a library, fire stations and a couple churches. I talked to almost everyone I saw and they were friendly – and happy to be in Erieau. I loved it.
I stayed a couple days and I tried every restaurant in Erieau. I then continued by sailing west to a couple other ports before heading home to Cleveland but my main goal of finding out what’s across Lake Erie was the highlight of the trip.
Here are a few photos from the journey:
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