“Stupid is as Stupid Does” – Forrest Gump
The forecast called for winds out of the NE 15-25 knots, waves 2-4 feet, with the possibility of a small craft advisory being placed into effect from noon until 2:00 P.M. It was supposed to calm down substantially after 2:00 P.M.
The boys (not the grandkids) and I set off in the 15 foot 8 inch 1965 MFG Westfield runabout, to do some fishing in the lee of Long Island in Chequamegon Bay as I knew this would be sheltered from the predicted wind and subsequent waves. I had been itching to get this boat into the water after ten years sitting on the hard.
Previous to our trip I had, with the help of a good friend replaced the impeller and changed the oil in the lower unit of the “tower of power” 1962 Mercury 850. The running test was a success and she sat in a rented slip awaiting her first adventure.
The old engine started up and ran a little rough as we set out at 9:00 a.m. but soon was running like a thoroughbred once she warmed up. It was indeed windy, and the seas were choppy as we entered the main channel that leads to Chequamegon Bay. I had thought to myself, this is not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, as we rolled around in the building swell, but we would be safe behind the lee shore of Long Island and could indeed fish for a bit before heading back prior to the winds really strengthening.
An hour later the winds did indeed begin to pick up and even though we were protected by Long Island I though it best that we secure the fishing poles and head back to the marina on Madeline Island. So we attempted to do just that.
Upon entering the main channel we encountered waves of at least 3 feet with a heavy swell. We were heading directly into the waves and banging around quite a bit. The little boat felt stable but awfully small in the building waves and I thought it best if we sought a protected shore. The winds were not coming out of the predicted North East but were more North North West which funneled the waves straight down the center of Chequamegon Bay. I thought if we can cross over the the worst of it, we could hug the mainland shore until we got to Bayfield and wait out the weather before crossing to Madeline Island.
That wasn’t a good decision.
Upon entering the main channel we observed several other fishing boats quickly moving out of the main channel as they were really got rolled around quite a bit. We were definitely getting pounded, so I decided that we had to abandon the plan of going to the mainland and again seek the protection of Long Island. We began to turn around to head back, and just as we were beam on to the swell, the engine quit!
Pump it! Pump that b#$%! I barked to the boys in the back of our tiny boat as the swell rolled us at a 45 degree angle. She still wouldn’t fire! Expletives flowed freely and I thought that this is really bad… really really bad… and after what seemed like an eternity, the old engine miraculously sputtered to life! We turned the boat so we were stern onto the waves and motored quickly into the protection of Long Island.
Whew! That was close!
We had earlier seen a boat tied off at the lighthouse whom had earlier left while we were fishing and we landed the boat at the same small area. It wasn’t a dock per-say it was just a small area on the shore were you could nose in and tie off to the shore.
A place I had always wanted to visit!
We grabbed a beer out of the cooler for each of us, and took the boardwalk that led to the other side of Long Island where we could see what the waves were doing in the North channel between Long Island and Madeline Island. We promptly parked ourselves on the beach and had a reminiscence of our close call and decided to make the best of our situation. “Damnit” I said, “if we are going to be marroned on this island we might as well act like it”.
So we set about collecting driftwood and making a distress sign on the beach that said HELP and took pictures of us raising beers among our makeshift call for assistance. We then texted these photos to the girls so they wouldn’t worry!
After it had calmed down a bit we left the shelter of Long Island and had a long bumpy ride back into the safe confines of the Madeline Island Yacht Club.
The Lesson though has been learned. Never venture into a small craft advisory in a “small” boat. Back when I was 25, I had learned a similar lesson about driving on thin ice but that’s another story for another time.