Lake Champlain has an inland body of water, cut off from the broad lake by a sandbar to the south, and mainland Canada to the north, with the Grand Isle drawbridge as the only way in and the only way out.
My shakedown cruise as a singlehanded sailor took place on the Inland Sea, lovingly referred to by my French Canadian friends as “Second Lake.” A place home to my dockside Shangri La. A place home to an assortment of sailing fairy godfather’s I met who helped me in several pinches. A place with beautiful yet minimally protected anchorages. A place I’m happy I escaped, as it was starting to feel like a wormhole.
My birthday was the other day. As I present to myself I bought a new battery for the boat, as one of my batteries was completely toast, and the other only half toast. As a present from the universe I was offered a free slip to suss out some woes, and free labor/advice to repair them.
My engine wasn’t starting with the electric starter, and was also dying at idle. I thought it was a battery issue. One one particular day I pull started a 9 horse power engine four times. Four. Times.
Once to leave the mooring, once to drop anchor, once when I anchored too close to another boat, and once again when I realized I was in the wrong spot for optimal wind protection. I’d like to become a better sailor and rely on the engine less, but for now…
With the maneuvers to tack into 15 kts up St. Albans Bay, plus starting the engine, I was sure my arm would be sore for the rest of my life.
Miraculously the next day the iron genny purred right to life as I headed towards the free slip my friend offered me. “Run the engine a while to charge your batteries,” another friend recommended, but as soon as I was out of the lee of the island, up went the sails and I tacked silently out of the bay.
When I arrived at the marina and prepared to dock, the engine died as I made my turn into the slip and throttled down. I pulled out the gib to try and sail in, but no such luck. The timing and my skills weren’t quite up to par. I flagged down a boater on an old but beautifully restored Chris Craft, and he arrived just in time as my anchor was two feet from another boat, and I was straddling the bow to fend off.
A quick cleaning of the spark plugs, a new battery, and everything was good to go. I sailed away from the dock, waving to my mate and hoping I wouldn’t be back anytime soon. I dropped the hook off of Savage Island, for what would be a miserable lunch hook.
Power boaters, jet skis, shoals. I’m pretty sure I scraped the bottom and I’m not sure my anchor ever even dug into the rocky bottom. After a rest inside the boat from the punishing sun I needed to get out of there.
But the wind wasn’t in my favor. In fact, there was no wind at all. In the distance I saw a boat sailing. The lake was taunting me. I’d see a little ripple, or another indicator of wind, pull out the sail and it would flap in the dead calm. I felt like a true hobo, motoring my little house around trying to get to a safe spot for the southerlies predicted to pick up after midnight. I didn’t dare ask for wind, though.
The southerlies did indeed come, and I had a hell of a time pulling up the anchor. I sailed dead downwind to the Grand Isle Drawbridge. Missed the opening by five minutes, and tooled around in the harbor until the next one. After the bridge is a place called ‘The Gut.” A weedy, shallow, miserable body of water that I hope to never cross again. I made two knots through the muck, until I reached my Oasis. Nichols Point.
Back on the broad lake, protected by the southerlies, other boats all around me–I could see the Adirondacks to the west. Wind mills dotted the horizon as the full moon rose. I planned to head south in the morning and make for Valcour Island.
The 20 knot southerlies had other plans. After getting my ass kicked beating into the wind and four foot waves, I turned around and headed North, downwind to Pelot’s bay, an anchorage I’m familiar with.
My boat knew what to do when I didn’t. My eyes nearly stinging with tears as she surfed down the waves, her heavy keel breaking up the motion. I cooed to her as we jibed to clear the reef of Isle La Motte, and sailed through the rock wall entrance to the harbor.
“When you can’t change the direction of the wind — adjust your sails”