“Their ships were tossed to the heavens and plunged again to the depths; the sailors cringed in terror. They reeled and staggered like drunkards and were at their wits’ end. “LORD, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves.”(Ps 107, v 26-29)
I just arrived back from crossing Lake Michigan from Chicago to Michigan City on my sailboat. This time, my friend Kevin went along for the ride, and it was an adventure. I usually think I’m too old for adventure sailing and I didn’t plan for it to be an adventure at all. Still, we make our plans and God laughs! We headed out from Chicago on Monday morning at 8:30, and I believed my phone app that had a storm arriving in Michigan City by 4 in the afternoon. I thought we’d be safely in the harbor by then, and that was that.
The ride over was uneventful for the first 5 hours. It’s usually a 7-hour trip, but we made tremendous speed… well, tremendous speed for a sailboat. We were at about 7 knots the whole time (about 7 miles an hour–you can ride your bike faster!), and the trip is 34 miles all together. After 5 hours we were about an hour outside the port of Michigan City, and Kevin suggested that I turn around and look at the sky behind us. I’d heard a Coast Guard warning about a squall on the lake, and my brother Pat had called me about something he’d seen on the radar… so I turned around and saw what the fuss was all about.
The sky was black, and there were rolling clouds, and you could see some lightning. Holy Cow, I thought, we better get the sail down quick. I turned the boat into the wind, and we dropped the sail right away. Just then, the squall hit. The wind went from around 15 knots to somewhere over 40 knots… I was too scared to look at the wind speed meter and too busy keeping the boat from capsizing, so I’m not sure what the wind speed was. We managed to get the boat turned back toward Michigan City, and the rain hadn’t started yet. But the wind was really strong, the sky black, and the water black, too. The waves were building fast, and the spray from the top of the waves was getting us wet. Kevin threw all the cushions from the cockpit into the cabin, and went below to close all the hatches. He came out and in a little bit the rain started. He went below and got a jacket and some foul weather gear for me, and we kept going into Michigan City. Now the wind was really cooking, and the boat was rolling around and a little hard to keep on its heading. In a little bit we couldn’t see the cooling tower at Michigan City, or the smokestack from the Nipsco plant. We kept on our heading and the visibility dropped to around a couple of blocks. Boy, I thought, it would be a bad thing to run the boat up on the rocks.
We kept going and finally saw the entrance to the harbor. Once we got inside the break wall, the waves were smaller, but the wind was still somewhere north of 20 knots, and there was driving rain making visibility a little tough. We turned into the harbor, and started looking for slip number 301 (we’d reserved a transient slip for the night). I made a wrong turn and we were now on the wrong side of the 300 dock. Turned the boat around in the channel… and by God’s grace didn’t hit anything. Now, we were heading toward the right slip. Got the mooring lines out, and tied the boat off. Now the squall had passed, and the rain slowed down. Hooked up the shore power and buttoned down the boat for the night. My goodness, what an adventure. It was 2:30 when we tied the boat up. We made the 7-hour trip in 6 hours!
Got picked up by my stepmother and went to my house. We had a little rest and then invited Joan over for dinner. It was good to be on land!
The next day, the plan was to return to Chicago. It wasn’t going to happen. The forecast had called for waves 1 to 2 feet, but at Michigan City they looked more like 4 to 6 footers. We got out on the water and the boat was moving quite a bit… the boat would have made the trip fine, but the crew wasn’t up to it! We turned around and thought it would be better to wait a day.
Wednesday morning things looked better and we headed back to Chicago. The water was rolling around in a pretty ugly way. There were left over waves heading from North to South, and there were new waves heading from the West. The end result was that the boat was pitching from side to side, and also rolling up and down. It was like riding one of those bucking broncos. That kind of motion is the kind that gets people seasick for sure. Even sailors! When the boat’s moving like that, the last place you want to be is in the cabin. You can’t see the horizon, and the motion of the boat tosses you around inside the cabin… even if you’re holding on to something, you bounce around a lot.
In any case, we decided to motor in since the wind was coming from directly where we wanted to go. A sailor in Michigan City joked that he thought that was one of the rules for sailing. Any place you wanted to go, the wind had to be blowing against you! You can always get to your destination, but you have to “tack,” it’s a kind of zig-zag sailing that takes 3 times as long. That’s why we motored in. The good news is that we only used 4 gallons of fuel in 7 hours! The bad news is that we were bouncing around like bb’s in a boxcar the whole time.
Why do I do this? Because it scares me a little bit. A couple of years ago I took the trip alone. It was a little scary. I thought, if I don’t go this year, will I be more or less afraid next year? I was 62 years old. I thought, “Mike, you better go now.” So I did. And this year, I thought, I better go again. It scares me. And I do it on purpose.
After all, where do you go if you let your fears start having the upper hand? In the end maybe you can’t leave your neighborhood. Or your house. So, if you have some little fears that are getting a hold of you… do something scary! It’s learning to trust God’s grace to carry us home. And it’s a lesson we need refreshers on once in a while!
By the way, my friend Kevin is 78, and he didn’t panic in the middle of the trip. If you’re lucky, you have a good friend go on your wacky trips with you!