Every year since 2009, we have taken the week after Labor Day for our annual sailing vacation. The winds are predictably fair and the summer heat has waned enough to not be too jungle-like. This year found us starting the week in the 90’s and ending in the low 60’s. We had mild weather and we had stormy weather, but most of all we enjoyed a much anticipated week of sailing in the beautiful setting of the Upper Mississippi known as Lake Pepin.
We started of our vacation by introducing some family members whom have never been sailing, but had always wanted to see what it was like. We had a perfect day for just such an adventure. Winds 5 to 10 knots from the southwest, warm temperatures and sunny skies. Both of the new sailors had a great time! There was even mention of looking for there own sailboat! We just love sharing our love of this great pastime with others and look upon it as our mission in life to get as many people as we can out on a sailboat.
We spent the night at the slip as we had a late night after meeting up with some of our sailing friends which we had not spent nearly enough time with this summer. We had a late dinner and spent several wonderful hours retelling our stories from our summers sailing adventures. One of the things that I absolutely love about the sailing community is the camaraderie that we share with all the people we meet. This is definitely missing in most of our hectic work-a-day lives and this connection with other sailors enriches all of our days on the water.
The following day we sailed to the very end of Lake Pepin where after 21 miles, once again the lake becomes river. We had good wind from the southwest and only had to tack but a few times to reach our destination. We circled the red channel buoy, where the channel side is 60 feet deep and the other 8 feet deep, just for kicks. Unfortunately, by this time the wind had all but completely forsaken us and we almost didn’t make the turn as we started to get caught up in the current. Backing up just a bit, the reason we decided to sail in that direction was that there were storms brewing for most of the day to the northwest of the lake. So we just sailed away from them. We had avoided the storms all day, but our luck ran out as we made our way back to our home grounds. The good news though is that the wind also came back so we were able to sail through the rain and stormy weather rather than relying on the iron sail. We had a few exciting gusts of wind to contend with, but nothing to be overly concerned about. It is comforting to know that summer thunder storms don’t usually last very long and that mild weather will return shortly.
After the storms passed and we consulted our weather apps, we decided to anchor out for the evening. We enjoyed a fine dinner on the grill and watched the sun set beyond the bluffs. After a long day of sailing, we turned in early as we were both exhausted. I slept like a stone until about 4:00 AM when I was awoken by a clap of thunder! I opened my trusty weather app and bore witness to a storm front which covered the majority of southern Minnesota! Reports of damaging hail never ceases to get my attention as it is usually accompanied by strong winds too. I could also see that the wind would be switching from the southwest to the north leaving us on a lee shore during the approaching storm.
After about two seconds of considering the situation, I woke up my wife and said “it’s time to pull the anchor and go!” While she crawled from her bunk and got dressed, I readied the boat to leave post haste! With Miriam at the helm and the engine running, we pulled up our anchor and were headed back to our slip at the marina. Luckily, we were anchored just around the large point of land opposite from our marina, so we arrived just before the storm struck. From the time I was awoken by the thunder, to being securely tied up at the dock, only 34 minutes had passed! Fifteen minutes later the wind switched to the north and we were treated to spectacular lightning and wind enough to heal the boat tied to the dock! We slept in.
After spending a rainy morning and afternoon of lounging about at the dock, we were ready for more sailing adventures. The weatherman said we could expect fine weather for the next several days with each day being a carbon copy of the last. We decided to head north this time. We sailed past Point No Point as our destination and took in the superb view which is afforded from this end of the lake. One of the sailing couples we know, anchor in the back bays of the Wisconsin side of the lake near here. It is their favorite anchorage, and we can certainly see why! Our boat has a 5 foot draft however, so it is not an anchorage we can reach except during high water periods. The wind was from the north, so we decided to drop the hook on the south side of Long Point and had a wonderful night.
One of the things we always look forward to on our Labor Day vacation, is that the white pelicans start to reappear on the lake. Long Point is always a favorite loafing place for them and the several other varieties of water birds stopping by on their way south. There was little wind and we were in need of some decompression time, so we decided to stay at anchor and enjoy our surroundings. They say that spending time in nature has all kinds of mental health benefits. Being on the water has always been my zen and never fails to brings me back to balance no matter what other chaos is going on in my life. We were treated to some very interesting displays as a young eagle flew by and scared the loafing birds to flight. Once the over-zealous youngster was gone, the pelicans returned with their friends for more napping in the sun. Interestingly, when turkey vultures fly over, they pay them no attention what-so-ever. Similar shape, size and flight, but obviously not a threat and they know it.
Over the course of the day, the wind switched back to the south, so we pulled the anchor and moved to the opposite side of Long Point for another night of beautiful sunsets and peaceful slumber. NOT! We were awoken about 1AM by more thunder and lightning. This time we were about 6 miles from port and the storm was much smaller with no reports of damaging hail or wind. We decided to ride it out even though we would be left on a lee shore once again. I’m happy to say that our anchor held fast and other than getting up every half hour or so to check on things, we were quite fine. A couple of years ago, we doubled the length on chain between our anchor and the rope rode, from 10 feet to 20 feet. That has made a world of difference in the holding capabilities of our ground tackle!
We spent a lazy morning sipping coffee and walking on the beach with our schnauzer Bella, communing with nature once again. This is always about the point in our vacation where I can really start to visualize myself doing this for the rest of my life! I really need to win the lottery! If only I actually bought tickets! I can fully see in my minds eye what a wonderful life living aboard a sailboat and planning your life by the whims of the sea must be. Obviously not for those who must plan every last detail of their days for sure, but if you are flexible enough to have a plan A, B and C, who knows what fun you may have? After our lunch, we pulled the anchor and set sail for Stockholm, WI, land of the blue bikes.
There is a wing-dam in front of a small point of land which has a park on it at Stockholm. We set our anchor down-stream of this as the wind was coming once again from the north. Typically the wind dies down to almost nothing after the sun goes down, but tonight it would stay around 10 knots all night. This is also why we chose to anchor below the wing-dam. The wing-dams were constructed by the Corp of Engineers to deflect the water current enough to keep the current speed sufficiently fast to prevent the sediment load from settling in areas they do not wish it to settle. They also make handy fishing piers and one of the few obstacles to navigation on Lake Pepin, especially when the river is up and the wing-dams are below the water line. We were once again treated to a truly spectacular sunset after another rewarding day afloat!
You are probably wondering about the blue bikes. There is a park on the point of land by the wing-dam. There you will find old, blue bikes which are left for you to use at no cost to ride into town. Town is only about 4 blocks away from the park and on this morning there was but one bike, so we walked into town, Bogus Bay Cafe being our destination. This is one of our most favorite places to have breakfast on the lake and we look forward to going there every time. There is a little dinning patio nestled into the landscape in between the cafe and bakery. A babbling water feature completes the mood for a delicious meal sourced from local farmers by the owner who will greet you with a big smile and the kind of warmth you only get from a place like this. With our bellies full it was time to return to our sailboat. We hopped back in our Zodiac Zoom and took a little sight seeing ride before returning the mother-ship. More loafing about like the pelicans we saw the day before ensued and after lunch we headed back to the marina to close another soul-quenching sailing vacation!