This trip is our fourth watery confluence visit: three in Lake Michigan and one in Maine. This confluence is the last unvisited confluence in Lake Michigan. We previously visited two others that lie south on the 87th longitude.
This time we have a smaller crew. Steve Culver and myself, Sally Heuer, comprise the experienced sailing team.
Our home port is the South Shore Yacht Club at Latitude N 43º 0’ Longitude W 87º 53’. To cast off from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to sail to our confluence of N 44º W 87º means heading northeast. Our Sea Sprite 28 sailing sloop Alliance has a full keel and comfortable quarters below. She is well suited for offshore sailing.
We planned to make our passage at night in order to arrive at the confluence in daylight. The weather forecast predicted favorable winds for the passage to the confluence and then to our destination port of Ludington, Michigan. The forecast also indicated the winds would turn in time to provide favorable winds for our return passage. With a front moving through, we could expect some rain and the possibility of thunderstorms. We cast off at 6:30 p.m. on August 21, 2008 to sail 71.4 nautical miles to the confluence.
With light winds out of the west, we cleared Milwaukee harbor. In open water the waves were rolling 2-3 feet high. Both of us wore PFDs with harnesses attached to the boat and our foul weather gear to keep us dry when the waves washed over the boat. By 8:00 p.m. the sun was aglow behind the silhouette of the Milwaukee skyline.
Light winds with moderate waves dictated that we motor-sail with the main up to maintain passage-making speed and more comfortable stability. An hour later the wind freshened, so we unfurled the jib and attached it to the whisker pole for a broad reach. With the diesel engine silenced, the night was quiet and warm, but cloudy. A clear night with bright stars on the horizon would have made steering easier. Instead, we steered through the darkness by the red glow of the onboard compass, a difficult and tiring task. The two of us took turns with two-hour shifts at the tiller while the other one rested below.
By 11:00 p.m. there was some light rain. We briefly glimpsed the moon through a transient clearing in the clouds.
August 22, 2008: we saw a ship off our stern. With no land or other boats visible, we were happy to have some company. As the darkness slowly gave way to a hazy, cloudy light, Steve could hear the low rumbling of distant thunderstorms during most of his early morning watch. At 7:15 a.m. Steve woke me. He was seeing a storm suddenly appear out of the haze and rapidly approach from the southwest. Could I help take down the main sail? I jumped into my foul-weather pants, clipped on my harness and went to the mast. Sitting down for stability, I dropped the main, tied it to the boom in 3 places and got back to the cockpit just as the rain started. Meanwhile, Steve had roller-reefed the jib from his position at the helm. It rained hard for about an hour with fierce winds off our stern. We were glad the main was down early and the jib reefed to a 50% storm jib size. The boat sailed nicely on a run taking us directly to our confluence destination. Lightning and thunder flashed and roared all around us. We stayed warm and dry tucked under the dodger and zipped up in our foul weather gear.
When the storm had passed, the winds shifted more to the north. We sailed a close reach towards our destination. I drove while Steve watched the GPS. At 9:47 a.m. Central Daylight Saving Time, we arrived at the the confluence under sail. Calling out course corrections, Steve guided me along the 44th parallel until we crossed the 87th longitude. Steve took a series of photos of the GPS as we approached and then crossed the longitude. The closest we came to the confluence was .002 off the mark.
Viewing the surroundings, only the fresh water sea was visible on the horizons. It’s possible that land is visible from this confluence. This day, however, with the humid, hazy atmosphere any sign of land was surely obscured. After area photos were taken and we had a brief celebration, we entered a waypoint to Ludington Michigan and set course to the harbor. Tired, but in great spirits, we arrived at the State of Michigan operated Ludington Municipal Marina at 3:00 PM Eastern time.
Later we used the latitude/longitude distance calculator at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~cvm/latlongdist.html to see how close we were to the confluence. According to the calculator, the distance between our closest GPS fix on a photo and the confluence is 4.6 meters.