Sailing Under the Stars on Lake Huron

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The author, at peace during an overnight passage

The author, at peace during an overnight passage. Photo courtesy of Charles Scott

Bound for Mackinac, I’ve sailed my Westsail 32, Antares, up Lake Huron and approach the straits late on a sunny afternoon. My route will take me up the shipping lanes between the Michigan mainland and Bois Blanc Island. It’s not a particularly dangerous passage, but there are plenty of places to find rocky trouble, and I’ll be busy navigating safely through it all night long.

The blood red sun sets through low haze and although I look (as always) for the green flash, it still eludes me. With the sunset a warm offshore wind builds, and Antares heels to the fresh breeze. Over my shoulder, in the purple-blue of the evening sky, an enormous yellow moon rises.

Comfortably far from land and still in open water, I nap a little, but as I approach the straits and Bois Blanc Island the course narrows. Now I have to stay awake. A Great Lakes freighter passes me slowly, its black shape outlined by navigation lights, its dark hull moving against the even darker shore behind.

Puffy clouds slip by the bright moon and dark shadows drift over the sparkling water. It’s been too long since I spent an entire night under the full moon. Watching it wheel slowly across the starry sky, I’m awestruck by its beauty.

The rising wind carries the scent of pine and the baked smell of warm earth. Carefully following the GPS and constantly checking the charts, I make my way up around Bois Blanc, keeping well off its darkly forested lee shore. The reassuring flashes of channel markers light the way.

Red light from the compass throws a warm glow across the cockpit. The sounds of the hissing wake and the creak of straining rigging fill the night. Antares heels to strong gusts and surges forward into the darkness.

I drink another cup of black coffee—another one of many. All my senses vibrate with the intensity of bringing Antares safely through the night. I’ve rarely felt so alive.

The moon begins its slow descent and the stars shine ever brighter in the black sky. Around 0400 brilliant Jupiter rises, casting its bright reflection on the water. Soon it’s followed by an even more dazzling Venus.

To the west a string of lights, like an outstretched pearl necklace, outline the Mighty Mac, the great five-mile suspension bridge that connects Michigan’s two peninsulas. Ahead I spot the low outline of Mackinac Island and the long line of porch lights that mark the famous Grand Hotel.

Dawn is just breaking. I round the north end of Bois Blanc and then turn toward the safe harbor of Mackinac Island. The chain rattles through the windlass, the anchor sets and Antares swings to the wind, her white wings folded like a bird at rest.

The clip-clop of horse’s hooves and the chime of Sunday church bells drift across the water. The rising sun lights the sky with streaks of vivid reds and orange. It’s good to be in, it’s good to be cruising, and it’s time for a nap.

Cameraman and photographer Charles Scott is a frequent SAIL contributor. He cruises Antares, his Westsail 32, on the Great Lakes

July 2015

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