The less said about the trip from Port Colborne to Erie the better. Best forgotten entirely as it is the sort of experience that makes me question this cruising life! Suffice to say that we learned first hand why Lake Erie is the least favoured of the Great Lakes by sailors. As the shallowest and windiest of the lakes, the chop and frequency of the waves is unpleasant at best, and dangerous at worst. I have a good-sized bruise to sport – a champion boat bite – and maybe even a cracked rib :(. Our engine reminded us again how it disliked grungy fuel slugs that bounce up in our mid-fuel tank, which has had little use for a few years. But at least we are good at these issues now. Anchored outside Erie once we were bouncing less in the lee of Presque Isle, changed the filters and got her going again enough to enter the harbour and anchor in the protected bay in the dark. And credit goes to Scouter Steve’s knots – the jerry cans tied on the bow and dinghy on davits on the stern took a huge beating in the waves and stayed well secured. Lesson learned – don’t stow the fuel filters in the bottom of the large aft lazarette!
The city of Erie, on the other hand, has been surprisingly delightful. A bit like Toronto in that it has a huge, wide and deep protected inner harbour, due to the presence of Presque Isle, a 3200 acre, 13 mile long sandy peninsula that arches into Lake Erie.
We anchored in a lovely protected bay surrounded by park land. A short dinghy ride to the State Park marina, which had a videophone for us to call into customs (another short, easy call thanks to Nexus and our BR numbers), fuel, pump-out, laundry and large, clean showers.
The park itself is a well-balanced combo of year-round recreational facilities and a protected diverse ecosystem with sand plain, pond, march, dune thicket and forest habitats. The day-use recreational facilities include miles of well-groomed multi-use trails (bike, hike, skate, run), hiking trails, stocked ponds for fishing (and skating in the winter), picnic shelters with fireplaces, beach volley-ball, great playground, lagoons for kayaks and canoes, and mile upon mile of life-guarded sandy beaches with breakwaters, even one with ADA access to the water for wheelchairs, Tim! Apparently the beaches were recently rated as one of the top beaches in the US (according to our friendly customs guy). There is bike, trike and surrey rental –reminding us of Toronto Island.
Presque Isle means “almost an island” in French. It has actually become an island 4 times in the last two centuries due to storms. According to our very friendly customs field officer (who was randomly checking us out to make sure we had checked in) Lake Erie wind and waves wash the sand away from the fine beaches of Preque Isle continuously. Canadian dredgers haul it out and sell it back to the US each year. I did not realize we were so enterprising!
It is also one of the top birdwatching spots in the USA – over 330 species identified on the peninsula. Shore birds stop over as they migrate annually from the Arctic circle to South America and back again. As we walked along the shady forest trails to check out the beaches and facilities we were surrounded by bird-song and saw Orioles and gold finches. Because of the unique habitat there is also a state-of-the-art environmental centre in Erie, and the old pump house in Waterworks Park on the island is now used as a zebra mussel control facility.
Gale force winds kept us on the anchor in Erie for a few days, but we did not mind at all. After an exhausting few weeks, we were ready for the peace and quiet of this place. We caught up on laundry, read our books, plotted and planned our way through the rest of Erie and ate great meals in our cockpit in pleasant surroundings. It was fantastic to finally feel able to relax and smell the roses – or in our case – watch a seagull eat its fresh fish dinner.
On Saturday we decided to venture into the city. However, after hiking to the Waterworks ferry terminal and waiting at the appointed time for no ferry to arrive, we approached two pleasant-looking women to borrow their phone to call the water-taxi, only to find that they could not even venture across the inner harbour due to the high winds. This is how strangers become instant friends when you are cruising. Diane and Jeannie (of the borrowed phone) offered to forsake their daily walk to drive us into town. Not only did they do that, but along the way they provided terrific insight and commentary on Erie from an insider’s perspective.
While we drove through pretty and then stately neighbourhoods, passing lovely museum, university campus buildings and a cathedral, they explained how this manufacturing city has suffered as plants closed and jobs moved away. The lower east-side apparently is not a good neighbourhood. Sarah’s diner – where the peninsula meets the mainland – is THE place to go in Erie if you can handle the line-ups to get your turtle sundae! Thanks again, Jeannie and Diane – hope our paths cross again!
Downtown we watched a demonstration of acrobatic jet-skis which was amazing. (see photos below). The brand new (a modern eyesore) harbour and convention centre on the waterfront was hosting a poker run of cigarette boats, many of which had not gone out, or come back again swiftly due to the bad conditions on the lake. We ate lunch and used free wifi at the Tap Room downtown.
Erie has history too. In the War of 1812, fleet Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (love the middle name) defeated the British using the brig Niagara as his flagship. After the battle, they returned to Preque Isle Bay to repair the fleet. Many sailors were wounded or became sick and died, suffering from poor conditions over two winters. Many died, their bodies buried in the adjacent pond, now known as Graveyard Pond, and the bay was renamed Misery Bay by surviving sailors. The Niagara is now moored at the Martime Museum on the waterfront, and participates in tall ship events.
It blew like stink for two days, our wind generator and solar panels even managing eventually to keep up with the draw of our fridge and freezer. We are still waiting for our new batteries to arrive – the old ones as sick as the sailors in Misery Bay. Meanwhile we enjoyed good holding in the peaceful anchorage. Kevin says the batteries will arrive this week. We move on tomorrow (Monday June 13) if weather permits, hope to arrive in Cleveland on Tuesday and meet our new batteries there!
Meanwhile we decided to spend our last evening watching the famous Erie sunset from the beach. We took the dinghy up the “Duck Pond” disturbing a beaver who let his displeasure be known (and then checked out the dinghy while we were on the beach, leaving tell-tale paw prints. It was worth it – the sunset was fabulous. See for yourself!
P.S. No wifi so blogs will be posted late, likely from Cleveland!
Jet Ski demo: