12-Sep-2004 -- The confluence was attained by four sailors on windsurfers, sailing from Breakwater beach at Geneva State Park on the Ohio shore of Lake Erie.
The confluence at 42N 81W was of particular interest to many of us, a group of windsurfers in Northeast and Central Ohio. Its position, 9 miles off shore in Lake Erie, represented a difficult but attainable challenge. We began planning to sail to this confluence by windsurfer in the summer of 2003. The logistics were difficult. Of primary importance was the weather. We needed moderate but steady winds from a direction essentially perpendicular to our course, ideally in the range of 5-15 mph. We also wanted to avoid inclement weather, such as thunderstorms, or exceptionally cold weather. Also, since we all have jobs, we needed to get these conditions on a weekend.
29-Sep-2003 Word went out that on Sunday September 29, 2003 the forecasted weather conditions were in our favor, and an attempt would be made. Four sailors (Carl R., Brad S., Steve B. (from Columbus), and Sean B.) gathered at Breakwater beach in Geneva State Park. We also had two ground crew drivers (Allison B. and Kathy T.), with a van, in case it proved impossible to sail back to the launch site. We chose Breakwater Beach in Geneva State Park from among several alternates, based on the wind direction that morning, which was WSW at 8-12 mph. Breakwater was also ideal, being the closest of our alternative launches to the confluence. We rigged our long boards with sails ranging from 8.0 M2 to 9.4 M2. The sky was partly cloudy, with a few dark clouds on the northwestern horizon. As we sailed out toward the confluence, it quickly became apparent that we had underestimated the wind strength. Off shore it was more like 12-15 mph. Waves on the lake were 3-6 feet, and the threatening clouds on the horizon appeared darker. These were not good conditions for our long boards and the sails we had rigged, and it would be exceedingly difficult to hold position at the confluence to obtain pictures. The decision was made to return to shore and abandon the confluence attempt that day.
12-Sep-2004 The goal was not forgotten. It was not until September 12 of 2004 that weather conditions and schedules aligned to make another attempt possible. Four sailors gathered again at Breakwater beach with the goal of sailing to 42N 81W. This time, Eddy P. substituted for Steve B. Steve, living in Columbus, had a more difficult time getting to the lake, and he couldn’t make it that day. We no longer had our ground crew either, but we couldn’t pass a good opportunity so late in the season. The weather this time seemed ideal. It was warm and sunny with steady southwesterly wind and no storms forecast all day. We set out at 11:30 AM in SW wind at 5-10 mph. The wind direction meant that we would need to sail slightly down wind of our most comfortable point of sail. This proved to be somewhat difficult. In an effort to keep the group together, we encountered some delay waiting for the up wind sailors to come within hailing distance. Even so, we reached the confluence position by 1:45 PM. My GPS recorded a maximum speed of 12 mph on the way out.
Having reached the confluence proximity, we began the difficult task of navigating as closely as possible to the site and holding position while pictures were taken. Our GPS receivers were showing accuracies of about 45 feet. After ten minutes of sailing in circles, it became obvious that we needed more precise control over our position. Brad removed his sail from his board and entrusted it to Eddy. Brad was able to paddle his board easily to the exact confluence position, and hold it fairly well while extracting his camera and taking a few pictures. We all wanted good pictures proving we were as close as possible to the confluence position. At this point, it was all Brad's show. There wasn't much any of us could do to help Brad, except Eddy of course, who had responsibility for Brad's sail. This made it impossible for Eddy to maneuver, and he drifted down wind. Carl and I offered helpful suggestions and stuck close to Brad. We just hoped that he didn't lose his camera or GPS in the water.
It is difficult to describe the feeling of anxiety that we had while at the confluence site. This was much further off-shore than any of us had ever been on a windsurfer. Land was barely visible. There were no other boats in sight. Furthermore, it felt like the wind was dropping, and the prospect of being becalmed out there crossed everyone’s mind. This made the wait for Brad to get done seem almost interminable. Carl and I watched as Eddy gradually drifted down wind, and Brad struggled with camera, GPS and paddle board. Fortunately, the swell was gentle and the wind light. Brad got the important shots, but not too many extras. The hardest was getting one of the GPS on position. There was a lot of glare, and the waterproof bag tended to fog up. Finally, Brad announced he had the goods, and we were ready to catch up with Eddy and head back, after spending about 45 minutes near the confluence site.
The trip back was slow. Winds had dropped to around 5 mph and shifted a bit to the south. Rather than heading off the wind, we needed to sail up wind as much as possible. This is a familiar point of sail for a windsurfer, but it is a bit slower than a beam reach. I didn't record a top speed greater than 6 mph on the way back. But it was a beautiful day, and we had reached the confluence. There was a lot to think about. I could only hope that our photos would turn out and we would have sufficient documentation. We reached Breakwater beach at around 5:15 PM. I only wished that the next day was not a work day. What a great feeling of accomplishment. We all wanted to celebrate, but had to settle for a quick beer on the way home. The last primary confluence in Lake Erie had been attained by local windsurfers.