Crossing Lake Michigan for the first time on Reverie

Jackie and I along with our sailing slip mates Rich and Kim talked about jointly doing a Lake Michigan crossing to Wisconsin the summer of 2022.  It is 70-80 nautical miles across and would require about 13-15 hours of continuous sailing time, possibly through the night.  Night sailing can be fabulous and very special when the moon or stars are illuminating your way.  We chatted and prepared to sail across Lake Michigan from our marina in Muskegon to Sheboygan the weekend of July 15-17. Our preparation included provisioning the sailboat with food, beverage, fuel, and water for a possible duration of five days. We also reviewed the marinas and yacht clubs in Sheboygan that had transient slips available.   We reserved slips at Sheboygan Yacht Club with an ETA arrival of 5pm Friday, assuming a 4am departure from Muskegon and a 13 hour trip. We prefer to arrive at a new location in daylight so I was a bit anxious that we needed to arrive before 10pm. Thereby requiring an early departure of 4am.  We would arrive at the Muskegon marina the night before and prepare the boat for an early departure the next day.  

Ahhh, but on our way to the Marina on Thursday evening near 6pm, 7/14/2022, our slip mates called us on the phone and said “What do you think about leaving tonight?”  And after a long pause, I was thinking to myself “Rich is far more experienced at weather routing than I am, what does he see in the weather that I did not?”  and so I asked Rich for more details.  He confirmed my hunch that the weather was going to sour on our trip for the latter portion.  I said to Rich “Sure, we need about an hour to finalize our departure steps for fuel and tanks, and stuffing our gear on board.”  We all agreed to leave that evening!!!  We parked in the marina and rushed to say hello to our many other marina mates and proceeded to stuff and pack our belongings on our sailboat “Reverie”, depart for the fuel dock, and then head out on our voyage.

We were off by 8pm and both of our sailboats exited the Muskegon channel about 830pm.  The wind was mild 12 knots, southerly breeze and perfect for a broad reach to Wisconsin.  It was warm, near 80 degrees and waves were enjoyable.  We were still packing food and supplies since we dumped everything from the vehicle into the sailboat galley.  We had mixed signals as we tried to reach Rich on channel 68 & 16.  No luck.  Then our marina friends Matt and Lisa called to say “bon voyage” and also wondered why Rich and Kim did not answer our marine radio calls!  We also tried calling on the phone but by then we were a few miles off shore and out of range of cellular.  As we discussed this issue with Matt and Lisa, we saw the Coast Guard helicopter fly over and do two loops around us and then off to the South.  Hmmm, did they investigate us as they heard us unable to contact our friends over the marine raios?  Maybe so.

We could see Rich and Kim a few hundred yards away in parallel to us and all appeared to be OK.  We sailed closer and I yelled over to them that we were on channel 68. They reminded me last year when we sailed together, we used channel 72.  Ahhh! 

This would be Jackie’s first time night sailing on Reverie, our 37’ Jeanneau sailboat.  And what a night it was!  We saw the sunset of Lake Michigan.

We saw the blood moon rise near 11:30pm upon clear skies!  She illuminated our way for many hours, possibly until 3am. 

Jackie tried to nap, but a bit of adrenaline and the surreal feeling of night sailing across Lake Michigan was too overwhelming.  I did sleep a couple of hours on the cockpit bench, in a sleeping bag, I think from 1-3am.  The moon eventually was lost in some haze, and we saw the sunrise from the East over Lake Michigan as we approached the Wisconsin shoreline.  

To have those three events, sunset, blood moon rise, and sunrise, all in a single passage was glorious.  

As the shoreline drifted away after 20-25 miles from shore, the Michigan shoreline was no longer visible but the blinking red lights on cellular towers, power plants, and other antenna structures helped keep our sanity. We often had to confirm our location by viewing our chart plotter (Navionics) which gave us peace of mind.  For a while, there was no shore, no lights, and only the moon.  That was incredibly peaceful.  The wind eventually gave way and after five hours of sailing, we turned on the motor and motor-sailed.  Eventually we saw two separate red blinking lights from Wisconsin.  I could not tell if it was two ships headed at us or what they were.  Oh, ships lights do not blink!  We verified it was the desired Sheboygan power plant lights and we were headed in the right direction.  We used auto-pilot for 80% of the trip and it is incredible how setting a direction of 314 degrees for 13 hours can be so amazingly accurate.  

We were a bit early to dock at the yacht club , about 9 hours earlier than I had arranged with the yacht club dock master.  Hmmm.  Regardless, I had the marina and slips printed out and we knew where to try to dock as we hoped the slips were empty.  We did dock at 8am and as we proceeded to help Rich and Kim dock, it began to rain.  How perfect to leave early and avoid 99% of the rain.  We tried to sleep but still had a bit of adrenaline from our first Lake Michigan crossing.  The rain subsided by noon and we all proceeded to the marina club house to check in.  We walked into town for a quick sightseeing and a lunch.  Then I needed to get a nap in, so back on the boat and we fell into one of those deep sleeps that you forget where you are and how long you have been sleeping.  A great power nap.  Up at 7pm for dinner at the yacht club on the water, taking in the beauty of the area, a few cocktails and great stories with Rich and Kim.

Saturday blessed us with more greatness, as Sheboygan had an art fair and outdoor concerts, where we enjoyed a band for a couple of hours, more food, more shopping, more walking, and happy to have been able to share this event with our sailing buddies. 

Sunday at 5am, we were up, and getting ready to depart at 6am, and beat the fishermen.  No luck, they are early birds and many were gathered offshore actively fishing, creating a mess for us to avoid their trolling lines.  The wind was favorable from the N/NE and allowed us to have a strait heading of 113 degrees towards Muskegon.  After 10 hours of sailing, near 3pm, Jackie saw a freighter (***) and what appeared to be headed towards us and about 5 miles away.  I used the AIS on my handheld marine radio and confirmed the distance, direction, and speed-over-ground (SOG).  I powered up the C80 chartplotter down below at the navigation station, which I rarely use.  I got the name of the scary large vessel and confirmed a collision looked imminent.  I called the ship named “Lee Anderson” and they responded.  They offered to change course.  I set a C80 AIS collision alarm for the first time ever, for 2 mile distance.  At the 2 mile mark, the alarm went off!!!  I double checked and we still appeared to be on a collision course.  I did not write their speed down the first time and I think they increased from 13.1 knots to 13.4 knots.  I called them again and noted that we will turn to port and pass to their stern. While I remember the nemesis being closer, you can see in the photos they would have passed us by 400-600 yards, maybe without any fuss. 

After our nemesis passed, he took the wind within him, thereby we had to resort to motor-sailing.  After only one hour of engine time, the wind returned and continued to give us quite a thrill as we sailed into Muskegon channel near 6pm. 

In Summary, sailing to and from Wisconsin went too easy and this sets a high bar for the next voyage.  Each crossing required only one tack there (314 degrees) and one tack back (113 degrees).  We had 8 hours of good sail time to Wisconsin and 12 hours sail time back home. Sheboygan had arts, music, and food. We hope to return again soon.

Captain John and First Mate Jackie

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