It was our 37th wedding anniversary – I took two steaks (purchased at the Port Colborne butcher) out of the freezer so we could celebrate later. We left Cleveland in an early morning thunderstorm…some kind of sign, perhaps? We enjoyed watching our new radar as we rode up the middle of two storms, getting only rain while lightning struck in the distance to port and starboard.
By 9 am the storms were behind us and blue skies in front. With good wind on the beam, we had the best sail yet on Lake Erie almost all the way to the Pelee Island group, which we reached as the afternoon shadows grew longer. The wind picked up considerably and we had to reef both main and genoa as we rounded shoals off Kelly’s Island and headed for Put in Bay.
The weather forecast was calling for gale force winds overnight reaching 25 knots – a strong nor’ easter. Most anchorages and harbours on the islands are totally exposed to the North East, including those on Pelee Island – the only Canadian island. I had decided that the mooring field in Put-In-Bay, South Bass Island, looked the most protected. However, Steve read a couple of poor reviews about its NE exposure, so I agreed that we could try the anchorage by the State Park on the SW side of the island, which should have been in the lee of the building winds.
Strangely, as we rounded South Bass, the seas got rougher – and the wind swung to the SW. Puzzled, we continued and anchored in the small bay near the park beach, thinking that the wind would still swing around and seas calm down. Steve turned on the bbq and cooked the steaks as we bounced on the anchor and waves crashed on the nearby cliff and beach! We took one mouthful of steak – it was horrid – tough as nails and tasteless! With all the bouncing, I did not even feel like tasting the wine. We made a hasty unanimous decision then and there, pulled up the anchor, and hammered through the now-bigger waves back to Put-in-Bay.
Light was fading as we rounded the spit. The harbour was in sight when our engine quit suddenly. So we came into Put-in-Bay under sail, and picked up a relatively sheltered mooring ball (luckily only two other boats and much calmer conditions in the huge mooring field). We made it look simple, but my heart was still hammering an hour later!
The next morning, Steve cleaned and changed the Racor filter (AGAIN) and the primary filter and got the engine going to charge the batteries. It had blown like stink (from the NE) all night but we felt secure and bounced much less in the mooring field than the supposedly lee anchorage. The sun was shining, the wind expected to drop throughout the day so we decided to make use of the mooring field water taxi to go into town and be tourists for a day to recover from our bad anniversary experience.
Despite its reputation as a party place, at first take Put-in-Bay appeared charming and tame. There is a beautiful park downtown with gardens and a fountain, nice Boardwalk Café, and some quaint hotels and bank buildings. Gazillion golf carts for rent everywhere (seemed far too many for the size of the place). Here is the charming side of Put-in-Bay:
Once again the War of 1812 caught up with us. In fact the tall ship Niagara (Oliver Hazard Perry’s flagship) came into port just after we did the previous evening. Canons started firing mid-morning – and continued every 30 minutes all day long, making us jump out of our skins every time. I wondered if it was our Canadian flag….but found out that it was the start of Pirate Fest in Put-in-Bay. Still liking the looks of this quaint island town we walked all around and went up the Perry Monument (taller than the Statue of Liberty and visible from 25 nm away). The view was fabulous – all the way to Pelee Island and Point Pelee in Canada, and over mainland Michigan and Ohio on the US side. Of course all the commentary focused on how the US hammered the British in the Battle of Put-in-Bay in 1812! I hate war but have to admit it is a relatively Good Thing when each side believes they won. Canada claims victory because we stopped the Americans from taking over Upper Canada and burnt the White House to the ground in retaliation. US claims victory too. And of course the Brits pompously claim to have settled all rifts. Very amicable. The war memorial side of Put-in-Bay:
From there we walked to the Heineman winery, which is built on top of the largest geode in the world. We took the tour. Forty two winding stone steps led us into the smallish cave of crystals. Cool. A winery tour followed….but having sampled the wine with our “included” ticket first, we were not tempted to buy more.
It was early Friday afternoon when we walked back though the town, this time getting an introduction into its real “R-rated” claim to fame. We passed several motels with pools that were a gyrating mass of swimsuit bodies, DJ’s and swim up bars….loungers in shallow water and dancing in the pool! A tiki hut with a swing up bar, a “crash zone” party pool, loud music emanating from every corner. We enjoyed an excellent meal (despite the ear-splitting canon-shots), on the Boardwalk – the lobster bisque was truly delicious. And we enjoyed people watching as the downtown bars came alive with party-goers and live music, and motor boats poured into the harbour, rafting up 5-deep in the marina! By evening our empty mooring field was full. The party face of Put-in-Bay:
The moorings taxi dropped us back at the boat around 6 pm and Steve decided to fill up our 3 jerry cans with diesel, which is much cheaper in the US. Good thing he did. We went to start the engine to recharge our batteries and it refused to start. No matter what we tried, nothing could persuade it to keep going. By 9 pm we were more than a little anxious. Even if we called Tow Boat (we had renewed our membership) – just to save our new batteries – there was no longer anywhere they could tow us to in Put-in-Bay. All marina’s were packed like sardines with recreational boats of all shapes and sizes (mostly power boats). We decided to try running it straight off a jerry can – (thankful for all our previous bad engine “experience”), and this worked well. I was not the one siphoning diesel with my mouth to start the process though. As Steve did that, I distracted myself by using my pressure cooker to turn the tough steak into a delicious hearty beef soup! We were at least able to charge the batteries….and collapsed exhausted into bed at 11 pm.
We were up again at 5 am and left Put-in-Bay as the sun rose, running all the way into Windsor off the jerry can – some 60 nm and 14 hours – against the current! Steve topped it up from time to time from the other 2 jugs.
One final word on Put-in-Bay – at sunset, a special sundowner song blares out across the harbour, and all the boats respond with horns and beeps. The Niagara fired another shot at us. Not quite as charming as the conch shell call in the Bahamas. The party-goers clearly had not waited for that signal to whoop it up!
Post Script: Two days later in Toronto we were telling a friend about this party-central, calling it Ohio’s Vegas, and she related how her Dad, uncle and a few male friends used to head there on an all-male excursion from time to time – a nice “quiet weekend of fishing and card playing“. I guess she knows now why they never brought home any fish!