It's All Good on Lake Erie
When I told colleague Mike that Dave's offer was legit and we could have a boat for a few days, his ears went up. After all, he'd raced Thistles, the one-design that owes its creation to Gordon "Sandy" Douglass of nearby Vermillion, Ohio. And he'd cruised here with his parents aboard Senese, a 42-foot Matthews motoryacht lovingly restored and maintained by his father.
But bareboat chartering? Like the stuff sailors do in the Caribbean? "Never heard of it on the lake," Mike said. "It's just not done. This area is definitely not known as a charter wonderland."
Well, things change, right? The next thing I knew, there we were, on the Ohio coast, sitting in Panacea's cockpit at a slip at Battery Park Marina in Sandusky. We'd soon be at it full on, vigorously reaching in 10 to15 knots against a backdrop of clean, bustling harbors, numerous pubs and restaurants, secluded anchorages, and solitary walking trails in island woods. Last, but certainly not least, we'd check out the world-renowned Cedar Point amusement park, which boasts no fewer than 17 heart-pumping roller coasters. I couldn't have picked better cohorts in this adventure.
Before we got to all that, though, we needed Dave's primer on our boat, with its four and a half feet of shoal draft, and on Lake Erie's western basin, a recreational playground that's a bit removed from the deeper central and eastern basins, where most commercial shipping traffic moves.
In a nutshell, Dave told of easy, line-of-sight navigation augmented by well-maintained aids to navigation; we'd be in 20 to 40 feet of water and could expect a generous mix of anchoring, mooring, and raft-up opportunities, depending on the destination. The islands are a mix of public and private, natural and manmade, and U.S. and Canadian; the lake's largest island, Pelee, is part of Canada, and the largest U.S. island is Kelleys.
In the spring and early summer, prevailing winds are westerlies in the range of 5 to 15 knots, Dave said. From August through winter, they steadily pick up. The water stays warm through November, reaching a midsummer high in the 80s F. If the wind is up or conditions turn foul, the wave pattern is short, steep, and choppy, making waves as formidable as any of the 25-foot seas that Dave's experienced on his numerous deliveries offshore and up and down the U.S. East Coast, taking boats to Fair Wind's other teaching and chartering locations in the Chesapeake and the British Virgin Islands.
He teased me about the years-old misperceptions I carried around about a place that on this day was new to me, and he joked about the water snakes and the mighty rides of Cedar Point: "The newest roller coaster goes from zero to 90 mph in three and a half seconds!" He was jubilant; I just looked past him warily toward Cedar Point, whose tall rides I could see in the distance from the marina. As for the snakes, having not yet left the dock, I half listened to him and assumed he was making it up to scare me.