This online document is a means of sharing the adventure of traveling on America's waterways with friends and family. Last Dance is continuing to take her crew to historical, natural, beautiful, and interesting places. Enjoy the ride.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Lake Superior - the Greatest Great Lake

Lake Superior is the largest lake in the world by surface area and the largest in North America by volume.  It is a big, big body of water.  One measure of its size is that it takes 191 years for the water to exchange - the water to drain and be replaced by new water from rain, snow, and springs.

"Those who have never seen Superior get an inadequate, even inaccurate, idea, by hearing it spoken of as a 'lake,' and to those who have sailed over its vast extent the word sound ludicrous.  Though its  waters are fresh and crystal, Superior is a sea."

   George Monro Grant, Ocean to Ocean: Sandford Fleming's Expedition Through Canada in 1872

Last Dance and crew explored the Canadian (eastern) side of Lake Superior in July 2017, traveling close to the most northern point of the lake, where the water temperature was 48 degrees.  Similar paths were taken up and back south, with different harbors visited on each leg.  On the map above, the northern route and harbors are detailed in red, and the return, southerly route in blue.  All overnight stops were at anchor as there is only one marina along this route, and it is up a river that is only 3 feet deep, an impossible trip for Last Dance's 4.5 foot draft.

You are mostly alone on this journey, needing to be able to answer any issue yourself.  There are no resources, no cell phone signals, no communications.  In a two-week period, only two other cruising boats were seen.  But, the solitude and natural wilderness are part of the allure of this region.

Lake Superior drains into the St. Marys River and then into Lake Huron across some rapids in Sault Ste. Marie.  Well, originally, it ran into the river over rapids.  Now, only part of the water flow runs across the rapids, the remaining water runs through multiple, large hydroelectric power plants and 5 sets of locks.  This area, known as the Soo, is a good place to start the written journey.  It is highlighted on the bottom right corner of the map as SSM.

The Soo - Great Race

The Last Dance crew also enjoys vintage cars, an activity that is usually missed while cruising.  The Soo also provided a chance for a bit of an old car fix.  The Great Race made a stop in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

The race began in Jacksonville, Florida, a block away from our oldest daughter Amanda's home.  She saw the beginning of the race, we thought it would be interesting to see the northernmost point.  There was one more day in the race, where the participants would head back south to Traverse City, Michigan, ending in the home of one of the major sponsors, Hagerty Insurance.

Even though this event was a day after the Engineers' Day activities, and the beginning of summer celebration, you will note that a lot of people are wearing warm clothes, except for the announcer Corky Coker, in shorts.  This is an event that is filmed for TV and Corky announces the finish of each day dressed the same way - shorts and a red Great Race shirt.  Fine for Florida, a bit inappropriate for Upper Peninsula Michigan

The first car across the line was appropriately car #1, a 1916 Hudson.

Some teams make a huge event out of the Great Race.  This group, driving a 1918 American LaFrance Speedster, had a Norwegian theme, with a large traveling crew, each adopting a Norwegian name.  A parade of flags accompanied the car across the finish line.

Small town Sault Ste. Marie closed down the main street of the town for the event.

Over 100 cars were in the race, representing a wide variety of manufacturers, model years, and types of cars.  This is a 1937 Ford coupe race car.  There were also an Edsel and a couple of Studebakers.

There was a team from Japan running a 1964 Subaru 360, named so because it is powered by a 360 cc engine.  Most motorcycles are powered by larger engines.  This team made the race a huge event, being followed by a car with mechanics and parts and another car with Japanese media.

British cars were represented by a couple of MGAs, an MGB, and a Jaguar XKE.  A Volkswagon Beatle can be seen in the background.

How can such a wide variety of cars compete in a single race?  Since it is a race over public roads, the race scoring is not based on the car which covers a distance in the shortest time, as most traditional races.  Each day is comprised of a route of many segments.  The route is unknown to competitors until the morning they leave.  Different roads are to be traveled at a specified speed.  When the competitor gets to the unknown checkpoint along the route, they are scored by the time they arrive, given a penalty point for each second they arrive early (if too fast) or late (if too slow).  There is also a mathematical factor applied that gives older cars an advantage.  Each car is equipped with a large clock to keep track of time and a highly accurate speedometer.  They are not allowed to use an odometer in their calculations and you can see in this image the car's gauges, including the odometer, are covered.  The navigator is more important to success in the Great Race than the driver.

So, even an underpowered, poorly handling 1964 Fiat Multipla van has a chance in such a race.  Although, by the signage on the car, such as "Driver: This Guy," rather than a name as traditional, shows they were here for the fun and camaraderie rather than the competition.  The surfboard displayed in front of the car is carried on top when they are competing, adding greatly to the aerodynamic drag.  The engineers of Engineers Day would disapprove.


Much to see at the Great Race.  Great way to spend an afternoon and evening enjoying a spectacular collection of vintage cars.

The Soo - Engineers' Day

The last Friday in June is Engineers' Day in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  Engineers have been important to the town as many of the industries depended on engineers for design and operation.  Places that are off limits to the general public are open on this one day - the American Soo Locks, the US Coast Guard Station, and the Edison Cloverland Hydroelectric Plant.  It also seems that this is the official beginning of summer in this northern latitude - late in the view of native Floridians.

The above US Coast Guard ship is an icebreaker, tasked with keeping the shipping lanes open in the Great Lakes during the winter.

This ship is named Biscayne Bay.  Seems odd that an icebreaker would be named after a bay in warm Miami.  When asked about this obvious conflict, the Coast Guardsman responded that all icebreakers were named after a bay.

The engineer's room on the Biscayne Bay is filled with gauges.  There are many functions in the engine room to monitor.

In addition to all the gauges, the engine room can be monitored through a video.  Rather than being in a hot, noisy engine room, the engineers can sit in air conditioning to accomplish their job.  They have a few manuals for reference.

The smaller Coast Guard boats were also available to visit.  This quick pursuit boat is a new design, replacing the earlier boat with orange inflatable sides.

The new boats are Metal Sharks, designed and built by the son of some friends and fellow DeFever Cruisers members.  It was interesting to be able to see his design and construction and explore the boat.

A Canadian boat was also on display at the Coast Guard station.  Clearly marked "Police" in large letters it looked like a Coast Guard cutter.  It is, in fact, a Canadian Coast Guard boat, but in Canada the Coast Guard is not armed, they do not carry guns.  So, on the rare occasions when armed forces are needed, they deploy the police boat.

The cutter is staffed with Royal Canadian Mounted Police, only here their mount is a ship rather than a horse.  The RCMP were decked out in their dress uniforms.

The Edison Cloverland Hydroelectric plant is an amazing building and a historic site.  The building is over a quarter mile long.  It was built between 1898 and 1902, a grand engineering project.

A canal was dug around the city from the upper St. Marys River, above the rapids, to the lower river downstream.  The 23 foot drop produces a lot of power that the plant turns into electricity.  The canal is about 200 feet wide and runs rapidly - 7 mph or more - flowing 30,000 cubic feet of water a second.  You would not want to fall into this canal.

The entire length of this long building is lined, shoulder to shoulder, with electric generators.  Each generator has its own water turbine below, spinning the generator at 180 rpm, governed at that speed so that the electricity is a constant 60 cycles per second.

These massive generators were built in 1900 and all are still operational.  The electrification of homes and business was just at the beginning stages when these were designed and constructed.  It is amazing that these huge pieces of machinery are still running and, more so, that they have not been surpassed by newer designs and technology and, even more so, that they lasted over 100 years of use at 24 hours a day.  Nothing today is built to last so long.

Engineers Day.  An experience in technology and machinery.

The Soo - Tale of Two Cities

To understand The Soo, it is necessary to understand the geography and history of the area.

Named by the French as Sault Ste. Marie, with Sault meaning "jump" as the waters rushing over the rapids were described as jumping.  Sault is pronounced "soo," so the shortened version of the name has become common in use.  The large American locks are officially known as The Soo Locks.

The above Google Map shows the relationship of three of the Great Lakes.  Lake Michigan is west and South of the Mackinac Straits and Mackinaw City (different spellings, same pronunciation in a naming battle between the French and British).

Lake Huron is east and south of the Mackinac Straits.  The bay to the north, between Meldrum Bay, Gore Bay, and Blind River is known as the North Channel.

Lake Superior is west and north of Sault Ste. Marie.

Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and the North Channel are all interconnected and are at the same elevation.  Lake Superior is 23 feet higher in elevation, held to the higher level by a ridge of rock creating the rapids at Sault Ste. Marie.

Because of its geography, The Soo has been an important part of life of its people for many thousands of years, with Native Americans and First Nations People trading, traveling, and fishing at this point.

Zooming in a bit the St. Marys River, which runs 74 miles from the bottom of Whitefish Bay, in Lake Superior, to De Tour Village - Dummond Island area on Lake Huron, can be seen.  In more recent history, the river has been designated as the border between the United States and Canada.

The discussions of drawing this border must have been interesting as the St. Marys River has two branches and different ones were used for the dividing on the lands.   Just downstream of Sault Ste. Marie, the line follows the western branch placing Sugar Island in the US.  The farther downstream the line moves to the eastern branch placing St. Joseph Island in Canada and tiny Lime Island in the US.  Logically, the line should follow the river through De Tour Passage and into Lake Huron.  Instead, it turns north cutting out Drummond Island as part of the US.

Two cities have developed at The Soo - Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.  The above image was taken from the Canadian side of the river looking at the Michigan city.  The two cities are only 1/2 mile apart, the width of the river.

This Canada Steamship is tied to the lock wall at the American Locks.  It is awaiting another ship to be locked down, which will pass closely by between the Canada ship and the town.  The four American locks, only operating two at a time now, raise and lower the ships the 23 feet needed to transition to and from Lake Superior.

Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, is the smaller of the two cities and retains some of its history in its architecture - the Chipawa County Courthouse being one.

The Methodist Church is another example of the architecture of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, in its founding and growing stages.  It was built in 1893 of stone removed in the building of the American Locks.  This stone was known at the time as "canal rubble."

Also built with the canal rubble is the Edison Cloverland Hydroelectric Plant, which is over 1/4 mile long.  It was necessary to stand in Canada to get a full shot of this huge building.  Much of a story here, to be covered in another post.

While visiting Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Last Dance stayed at the George Kemp Marina.  A permanent resident there is the black-hulled ship, the Valley Camp, which is now a museum of the shipping industry.  On the outer dock, the cruise ship Pearl Mist is moored, which had just made the 1/2 mile trip from Sault Ste. Marie, Canada.  SSM, Canada can be seen on the other side of the river.  The customs agents stay busy here.

The other Great Lakes cruise ship, Victory 1, steamed by the George Kemp Marina after leaving the American Locks.  Its itinerary included a stop in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, then a short trip up the American Locks to stick its bow into Lake Superior, then turn around and lock back down.

To clear Canadian Customs, so the Canadian side of Lake Superior could be cruised, the half-mile trip was made to Roberta Bondar Marina, directly across the St. Marys River in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada.  This marina is built for smaller boats, with none of the boat slips large enough to accommodate a 40' boat, so the only spot that fit Last Dance was the face dock behind a commercial fishing vessel and next to the Canadian museum ship, Nargoma, an old passenger and cargo ship.  It is odd to think of Last Dance as a large boat, since it is one of Arthur DeFever's smallest designs, but at a number of marinas on this summer's journey, Last Dance was the largest vessel in the marina.  Different boats in different places.  In Maine, Last Dance was on a dock with 130' yachts, looking tiny in comparison.

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, is quite proud of their native daughter, Dr. Roberta Bondar.  A large waterfront park, with an amphitheater, and the marina have been named in her honor.  She was the first female Canadian astronaut and flew on the United States Shuttle Discovery.  Learning history in a park.

The first lock built to move ships around the rapids was completed in 1798 in Canada.  It was destroyed by American Military forces in the War of 1812.  The first American lock was completed in 1855, carrying all the shipping traffic at the time.  Politics demanded a new lock be built by the British on the Canadian side.  In 1870, the US refused to allow a Canadian ship to pass through the American Locks, so to maintain shipping a new lock was built on the Canadian side, the largest, electrically operated lock in the world at that time.  In 1987, one of the walls collapsed and a smaller lock was built inside the old lock.  The Canadian Lock is used by pleasure craft to be lifted to Lake Superior.

Leaving the lock, continuing up the St. Marys River, boats pass under the International Bridge, the connector of the two counties by land vehicles.  There are two railroad bridges on the right, in the opened swing position.  The nicely red painted bridge is abandoned, serving as part of the history in the Canal Park.  The farther, rusty one is still in use - interesting priorities.

The Soo.  Two cities with the same name, in two countries, speaking the same language, divided by politics, only a half mile apart across a river.  Endless comparisons could be made, but these few observations will suffice for this post.

Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, St. Marys River, to Sault Ste. Marie

From Charlevoix, Last Dance traveled north on Lake Michigan, through Grays Reef, which is a narrow passage through shallow waters in the northern end of the lake.  The lake is very wide at this point, but the passage available in deep water is small.  Lighthouses were constructed to help mariners navigate through this cut.  The main lighthouse is still operational, although automated and unmanned, the secondary lighthouse at White Shoal (above) has been abandoned and is now listed on the charts as Abandoned Lighthouse.

After passing through the Straits of Mackinac, under the huge Mackinac Bridge and entering Lake Huron, the first land encountered is Mackinac Island.  Ferries bring tourists to the island from the mainland many times a day.  The most famous feature, and the location for the movie "Somewhere in Time," is the Grand Hotel.

Another narrow passage is created by Mackinac Island and the larger Bois Blanc Island, immediately to the east.  Large ships traveling to and from Lake Superior pass through this spot, reason why it is marked with two lighthouses - this lighthouse on the Mackinac Island side, and . . .

. . . the older design Bois Blanc Island lighthouse, directly opposite.  Lighthouses were most important to the shipping industry in the Great Lakes as many thousands of ships were lost before the initiative to build lighthouses began.

The north shore of Lake Huron has a group of islands which create numerous, protected anchorages.  One, known as Government Bay, served as an overnight stop for Last Dance.

The west end of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has a long shoal extending to the south.  This is the point where ships turn to the north and enter the St. Marys River, heading to Lake Superior.  This is the Detour Reef Lighthouse, marking that mass of rocks and shoals.

A closer look at this image reveals a couple walking on the deck.  Michigan is selling some of the Great Lake lighthouses to private parties.  A lighthouse would make an interesting summer cottage.

Once into the DeTour Passage and the St. Marys River, the large volume of shipping still plying the Great Lakes becomes more obvious.

In the narrow St. Marys River (narrow in comparison to the ships size) many aids to navigation are needed to keep the ships in deep water so they do not go aground.  Here, the green/red/green marker designates the spot where the channel divides around Neebish Island, with upbound ships taking the eastern channel and the downbound ships taking the western.  The channels are not wide enough to handle two ships traveling in opposite directions.  An important marker.  For upbound traffic, the green/red/green is a green marker, noting that the correct passage is between the red and the g/r/g.    For those who have noticed this shot was made while the boat is outboard of the red marker, placing Last Dance outside of the channel, you are correct.  But, since Last Dance does not draw 30+ feet of water like freighters, sufficient depth was available outside of the channel.

Another aid is range markers, two markers on shore of differing heights, which when lined up, indicate that the ship is in the center of the channel.  This image was made too close to shore to see the taller range marker farther inland.  Interesting though, that the marker is placed in front of a small church on St. Joseph Island on the Canadian side of the channel.  Also interesting that the church was built facing the water rather than inland.

When first sighted, this house appeared to be a cottage with a feature that made it resemble a lighthouse.  In fact, it is a lighthouse, one of a very different design, located in the St. Marys River, on Round Island, on the US side of the river.  Lighthouse architecture is always different and always interesting.

Round Island is located just west of another island, Lime Island, which is a story in itself.

Lime Island

Once a fueling station for the big freighters, Lime Island is now a Michigan State Park.  The long wharf was built for freighters to dock on both sides and be loaded with coal to power their steam engines.  It was later updated with fuel tanks for diesel-powered boats.  Someone finally decided that it did not make much sense for fuel to be shipped to an island then pumped onto the freighters and the fueling station was closed.

A whole village was built on the island to house the workers and their families.  The houses still remain and are now rented by the park as cottages.

It was a large enough village that it required a school for the children of the workers who lived on the island.  Businesses addressed the needs of workers more completely in those days.

Ships still pass by Lime Island on their way to and from Lake Superior, they just don't stop here anymore.

Even cruise ships pass by on the St. Marys River.  This is the Pearl Mist, one of two good-sized cruise ships that sail the great lakes in the summer.  Pearl Mist and Last Dance crossed paths a number of times.

The island is now filled with hiking trails and notes of its varied history.  It once had lime mines and a lime kiln, thus its name.  Then, it had summer cottages for the wealthy.  How it transitioned from a summer place to a fueling station was never explained.  The island had been abandoned for years before the state obtained the property for a park.  It is good that such an island has been preserved for all to enjoy.

There was a day of rain during Last Dance's stay at the island.  The imposition of the rain was rewarded by a huge rainbow in the afternoon.