Lesson learned? Or, a fitting way to end this summer’s cruise?

Why, oh why do we believe the weather forecast? They have been wrong all summer…

We woke last Tuesday morning pressed against the dock at Detour. It was still blowing stink out of the NW. Forecast had been for the wind to lighten at midnight, then shift to the N by morning… U.S. forecast said N 15 knots with 2 foot waves; Environment Canada was giving us a strong wind warning for northern Lake Huron, N 20 knots. Our sailing direction for our return to Duncan Bay (Cheboygan) was SW. A north wind is quite favorable. We wouldn’t need much sail with so much wind, but wind would be off the beam and we’d have a nice sail. Right? Two foot waves are almost nothing, especially when they’re off the stern. It was certainly a chilly morning (highs for the day were only upper 50’s), but we’re used to the cold.

Our plan had been to leave first thing that morning. Make coffee and go. But the wind was still NW. It had been blowing stink all night. Detour Passage just outside the marina was a flurry of whitecaps and flags were flapping straight out. We decided to walk up to the one place open for breakfast before 9:00 AM and then decide whether we would leave. To go or not to go, that was the question.

Returning from breakfast, the wind was showing no sign of abating. It was still NW in the Passage, but the wind often funnels down Detour Passage and is stronger than the winds you find once you head out into the Lake at the Detour Passage Light. At least, that had been our experience in years past. After more vacillating, more discussion with fellow boaters, Ron said, “Let’s just go.” So we did.

It was a cold day (what’s new?) so we donned our long underwear, woolies (our final day for wool socks this summer?), and watch caps… again. Frankly, it seemed a fitting end for this summer’s cruise. With plenty of help, we got off our dock with no trouble and headed out of the protected waters of Detour Harbor Marina. (By the way, the improvements to this marina are great.) Though the Passage was littered with whitecaps, it wasn’t at all uncomfortable and with a handkerchief of a sail, we were sailing quite nicely. That north wind they were forecasting would make for a nice quick trip back home to Duncan Bay.

Long story short, we never saw the north wind. In fact, our NW wind (which wouldn’t have been so bad) began coming ahead and in the wind gusts, became more westerly than north. By the time it was “too late to turn back,” winds were gusting to 30 knots and waves had built to 4 feet with some 5-6 footers. It was not a good passage. We had to roll in our little bit of sail as the gusts from ahead were just too much, and we motored the last 3 hours into wind and waves going about 3.5 knots. Yuck.

I have to laugh at myself now. We kept checking Environment Canada and the U.S. weather to see if they had updated their forecasts. If the forecast had changed. Both forecasts said that winds were supposed to be north. But they weren’t. Why do we keep believing them?

Friends who were sailing to Mackinac Island that day, and whose course was close to the north shore (and should have been had an even rougher time heading west) actually HAD the north wind. One would think that the caveat, “winds and waves may vary considerably due to shoreline effect” would have more to do with their passage than ours, since our passage was crossing the top of the Lake. Apparently not!

We arrived safely to our dock at Duncan Bay. In just a few yards, we entered flat calm waters. Never has the perfect calm of our marina felt like such a surprise. It feels so good to be “home!”