It's All Good on Lake Erie
The snakes, which take to the water in search of gobies, aren't poisonous. "They can't hurt pets," she says. "They're totally harmless. But they're fairly aggressive if you mess with them. They're definitely not shy. If you leave them alone, they'll leave you alone."
Mind the Mean Streak
Mystery solved, our crew was free to continue its exploration of Les Iles aux Serpentes. All credit for our masterful itinerary goes to Mike. Relying on past good times and local sailing knowledge, he'd put together a leisurely plan that gave us the Saturday overnight at Kelleys, then a leisurely close reach in steady winds of about 12 knots the next afternoon to South Bass, where we took a mooring for two nights.
At this island, which is celebrated for the parties held in the main town, Put-in-Bay, getting a mooring was a more easily attained goal after the weekend crowds departed. From a mooring in a field populated by Island Packets and such classic plastics as the Pearson Vanguard, we had easy access to town, where we played tourists via rented bikes and saw a few of South Bass' many attractions, including an ascent up through the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial, the third-tallest monument in the United States.
Our last sailing day, Tuesday, still gave us plenty of time to fit in some exploration of South Bass, an island that, to my mind, with its Lighthouse milkshakes and Lakeside soda, called up memories of Martha's Vineyard, the island seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts where I'd lived and worked decades ago. By afternoon, we bid farewell to Put-in-Bay and set out on a vigorous reach to Cedar Point.
"We pretty much need to head for the Mean Streak," Captain Lovett called out to me, at the helm. That a roller coaster can double as a waypoint struck me as part of the charm of the place.
With that as my beacon, we sailed on, past the south shore of Kelleys, over the top of the Marblehead Peninsula and its lighthouse, and south to Cedar Point, which isn't far from the Fair Wind base at Sandusky.
Upon arrival amid the din and hiss of the high-speed rides and the smells of fried dough and popcorn, we first tended to the boat chores of filling up on diesel and emptying out the holding tank. After a quick dinner aboard, we headed to the park entrance.
Having finally-though barely-attained the height requirement for the scariest rides, I proceeded to the wimpiest ones and, no matter what thrill chasers say, came completely in touch again with my inner 8-year-old.
What a night!
By 0630 on Wednesday, we'd returned the boat to the base and cleaned up. While we tidied up Panacea, I reflected on how the charter had been a resounding success: We'd met other sailors, rode bikes, seen the sights, found peace and seclusion, learned some history and something about efforts to restore the lake's water quality, and hit the bright nighttime lights of one of the most popular amusement parks in the world. And we did it without busting anyone's budget.
Yet doubts and misconceptions about the cruising ground's history lingered in this Pittsburgh kid's mind, so I put the job of final demystification in the hands of Reutter, the scientist who'd been inspired, after growing up alongside the unsightly spectacle of "orange, lumpy water," to dedicate his life to the lake.
"People don't realize how beautiful Lake Erie is," he said. "People have a negative impression that goes back to the 1960s that's inaccurate. There's no doubt that in 1969, Lake Erie was the poster child for pollution problems in this country. Today, it's the best example in the world of how to bring about ecosystem recovery."
Efforts and studies of the lake are ongoing at Stone Lab, where Reutter serves as director of the Sea Grant Program for OSU and director of the lab itself. "The concern of scientists is that we're falling back," Reutter said. "Instead of the lake continuing to improve, it's going the other way. Are we satisfied? No. Are we concerned about trends? Absolutely."
And as for the rebound of our reptilian friends, Reutter conceded: "People aren't going to like the water snakes. Realistically, the snakes are a good thing. They eat round gobies, a nuisance to anglers, and they avoid people. They're afraid."
Well, given the documented polluting, persecuting, and persistent ways of humans, they had-no, have-reason to be, I thought. Then I realized that, despite the struggles, despite what I'd heard as a kid, despite what did happen at Lake Erie, it will now always feel like a new and wonderful cruising ground to me.
Elaine Lembo is CW's deputy editor.