This Friday, my wife Gail, Andy (our houseguest), and I had the great opportunity to go on a sailing adventure in Lake Michigan. Andy had located a special boat trip called the Queen's Cup Sailabration, onboard old style wooden tall ship called the S/V Denis Sullivan and invited us along while he visited Milwaukee. Normally the Sullivan offers sailing tours of the Milwaukee harbor and lakefront but this package was a bit different. Details were sketchy on their website, so I rang the office.
During my call, I learned that the Sailabration package was a spot on the race committee boat for the Queen's Cup sailing race, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Muskegon, Michigan. The Queeen's Cup is actually one of the oldest sailing races in the world (since 1855), making this the 148th running. Funnily enough, not one of the committee members we asked knew which queen the race was in honor of.
So, we headed for the lakefront at 2 p.m. in the afternoon, with only a slight idea what we were in for on this excursion. There was a little confusion at Pier Wisconsin's office locating someone with our tickets. However, our persistance paid off, and we clarified all of the needed details for the trip and for parking. A little while later we were underway on the Sullivan, motoring for the starting point of the Queen's Cup.
Regarding the S/V Denis Sullivan, it's a recently built wooden tall ship, made in the old style of shipbuilding. I remember reading about this craft while it was being constructed; it took several years but I must say, the builders did a wonderful job. The vessel is made mostly of wood, with metal here and there. Very analog.
Of course, there were modern items on board, such as GPS, radios, a diesel engine and other items, though the majority of the ship is quite traditional. Masts were all solid wood (crafted from some seriously massive trees) as were the block and tackle and the deck. Even the anchor hoist was of old-style design, with hand crank ffor raising and lowering the anchors and chains. All in all this is a beautiful craft.
We anchored in the chosen spot and the committe of the race began their praprations. We watched as they test-hoisted race flags and prepared the shotguns for race starts. Soon, the time approached for the first race to start -- which was accompanied by a huge squall that approached rapidly from the western shore of Milwaukee and hit the Sullivan just at starting time. We remained on deck and donned our foul weather jackets as the rain blasted the ship.
I was assigned photgraphy duties by one of the committee members, and through the rain I managed to shoot a few pictures of the start. Once I had a decent amount of shots taken, Gail, Andy and I all went below deck for a break from the rain, along with our packs. There we chatted while the race committee got drenched while officiating the race.
10 minutes later we returned to the deck, when we learned that the sun was out and the rain had ended. Upon exiting the lower decks, a huge rainbow had emerged, creating a gorgeous backdrop on the lake. We all worked feverishly to get shots of racing sailboats and rainbows while the moment lasted.
As the day's races continued, starts improved. It seems the less-experienced sailors started first while more experienced sailors started last in the sequence. In the first few race starts there were many illegal start line crossings (requiring the offending boat to circle back for a short time as a penalty) while in later starts, more experienced sailors managed to hug the start line, jumping over only seconds after the starting shot had sounded.
Once the last race had begun, another squall was fast approaching the ship, so Gail, Andy and I got back below decks to try and maintain some dry spots on our clothes. In the galley, chatted with the crew and the race committee, and heard several war stories from past Queen's Cup races.
One of the crew came below and mentioned that the storm had passed, so a large group returned to the deck to enjoy the return trip to the dock. However, the anchors had to be raised, which was quite an experience, since there was no electric winch. The raising was done by four crew members on a manual winch! It looked like very hard work, taking 200 feet of anchor chain up 3 inches at a time. Gail and I even had an opportunity to help haul in some anchor line with the crew, which was a workout in itself.
Once the anchors were up, it didn't take long to re-enter the Milwaukee Harbor, motoring toward our docking point at Pier Wisconsin. Looking back at Lake Michigan provided an eerie sight, with the dark storm clouds heading East, right behind the sailors, and the sun setting in the West.
All in all it was a wonderful experience. If you ever have a chance to go sailing on a tall ship like the S/V Denis Sullivan, go for it. There's nothing else like it.