A podcast about movie making and the scifi featurette, Daughter of God, with Director Shri Fugi Spilt, (Dan Kelly). Into the wilds.
Welcome to episode 023 of the Daughter of Godcast. Over the next few weeks, we’re on the water. Being an artist in the environs of your studio or within the frame of a flatscreen is wonderful, but to be physically engaged in creation, with your very survival dependent on your next decision, whoa. That is open water sailing.
Episode 023 Wilds
In this episode, the starting days of the Around Lake Michigan on a $400 Hobie Cat! Getting into the groove, working out the bugs and preparing to leave familiar geography far behind. I expand my presence and am infused and blessed with the best energy available on Earth.
I’ll be reading blog entries from way back in September of 2009, playing snippets from the project videos and splicing in a bit of contemporary commentary for clarification.
Better figure out which one is proper, wouldn’t want to give the impression I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s all about the lingo.
So here we are heading north in the zig zaggy pattern sailors call tacking. I can see Point Betsie and another sailboat with a big spinnaker. I’m about to tack and head right towards the lighthouse.
It’s 4:57 UTC-4 (EST) and it couldn’t be more beautiful out here in the water wilderness. Nibbling on celery and squashed blueberries whilst blogging and steering with my feet. This is one happy boat.
The gps on my 2g iPhone is a little confused and the cost of repair is about the price of a new 3gs. Hmm. Anyway the fabulous charting software provided by my fabulous brother shows my position as somewhere near the south shore of Crystal Lake. My actual position is about 4 miles from Point Betsie NNE, (45 degrees). I’m heading almost due north now, and will tack after this sentence.
Bearing east more or less after a jibe and a pee. I mention peeing only because my new toasty wet suit is a bit tricky to slide out of, so it’s kind of a major accomplishment.
I’m in the catbird seat now. Heading is almost due east, I’ll pass on by Point Betsie and claw my way right up to tonight’s camp, Otter Creek, where the dang pagans will be throwing a soirée. 6:04 pm EST (UTC-4.)
This is Dan 2017. In Waterworld (starring Kevin Costner and Dennis Hopper), petroleum powered boats are called “smokers”.
The slight wind continued for what seemed hours. In the dark, I passed chatty smokers anchored by what I guessed to be Platte River. Later and far ahead, a bonfire surged in brightness almost rhythmically. My destination was supposed to be a sort of Benzie ‘Burning Man’ near Otter Creek and I figured that must be it. After a long approach, I was disappointed to find two idiots squirting their campfire with lighter fluid – for fun. I felt as if I was participating in a post apocalyptic moment, and perhaps my passing sobered them – beyond their fire dazzled eyes, a ghost ship near enough to touch and pale with moonlight, passes in utter silence. Urgent whispered voices…
“There’s a sailboat there.”
“There’s a sailboat right there”.
Maybe their little moment of squandering petroleum was trumped, their boredom pierced and shredded finally by the sublime. Hello World and I certainly felt like a manifestation of the Mystery that night.
Day 2. South of Esch Road and Otter Creek 09/07
After putting a good amount of distance between me and the starter fluid people, I blew off the idea of reaching Otter Creek. It was surely not far away, but it was getting late and I was ready to stop. I hauled her up on the beach and pitched my tent on the trampoline to pacify any passing rangers.
Up in the morning around 8:00 am, who happens by but Ranger Jim. I greet him and he asks if I know it was illegal to camp. I told him I was on my way to North Manitou, that I would have anchored had I not arrived very late, that I had a composting toilet and that the North Manitou ranger told me that it was ok to pull up a boat on the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and camp as long as I was 150 ft from the water, but I figured sleeping on my boat would do less damage than trying to wade into the dune grass in the pitch dark. He replied that the 150 foot rule applied only to the islands, not to the mainland. He said he was going to give me a break because I was on a boat, but that the other campers were going to get tickets. I thanked him and immediately ratted out the arsonists to the south, he told me he had found their empty cans of starter fluid. We parted on friendly terms.
Why do I pump? First morning on the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, lazing in the sun and expounding on earning water. I am made of water, sipping from the shores of a fresh water sea, feeling grateful.
I stopped for lunch North of Otter Creek and had a conversation with three new friends – Warren, Tomomi and Kathleen about sustainability and desire. Then launched and headed North towards Empire.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
Here’s the namesake of the entire Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. These images hardly do the dunes justice, they’re huge and… sandy.
Stopped for the night south of Sleeping Bear Dunes Point. Here’s the approach as the sun was setting. The peak at the left of the shot (north) is about 400 ft high. I beached Hello World even farther to the north where the dune sloped down to about 50 ft. That boat in the shot was still anchored there the next morning.
To North! (Manitou that is)
Day 3 South of Sleeping Bear Point 09/08
My own little spot of heaven, just south of Sleeping Bear Point. All sorts of interesting things to see just over these low dunes, but no time. Gotta move on, North Manitou Island awaits.
In the video the next morning south of Sleeping Bear Point, I pan the camera 180 degrees from left to right, from the distant horizon south and my origin at Elberta Beach all the way to the distant horizon of my destination, North Manitou Island.
Here’s a quick bit of background. When Kai was crossing from California to Hawaii on Desire, he was almost run over by a big cruise ship. Desire was too small to register on the cruise ship’s radar, or the big boat was on autopilot and there wasn’t anyone on the bridge. He frantically tried to radio them and made evasive maneuvers, narrowly avoiding being squashed. Finally after he was in the clear, the startled crew radioed him. Way too late.
Jupiter from the Planets as I approach my sacred island, North Manitou powered by the wind for the very first time. Ecstatic.
On the wire
Moving out towards the Manitou Islands from the mainland felt wonderful. These islands have much resonance for me and approaching them while in synchromesh with the wind and a sailboat made me giddy. Long tacks to the NE and NW were needed, but nothing to dramatic. On one of the final NW vectors, I spotted the defunct lighthouse, a familiar site for campers on Manitou Island Transit ferry. It’s sticks up out of nowhere, surrounded by water. If it weren’t so late in the day I would have landed and claimed her for Ladonia.
As we approached, the wind picked up and I had to get on the wire, for the first time loaded with gear! This is Hobie speak for putting on the harness so I can hook into the trapeze wire connected to the mast. This allows me to stand on the very edge of the trampoline and project my body out away from the boat, in order to counter balance wind force and keep Hello World from flipping over. How exquisite to be hanging over the water, skipping into paradise on a sunny day.
Day 4 Crescent City, North Manitou Island 09/09
The next morning, having breakfast on North Manitou, I reflect on the big trip I’ve begun. I picked wild cherries to go in my oatmeal, but they had big pits. That’s the sound of me spitting the pits out of wild cherries.
I had planned to spend 3-5 days soaking up the North Manitou vibe, but a few problems had popped up.
Day 5 from North Manitou to Northport 09/10
Bliss and shadow
Decided to check out of the Crescent City condo and point the bows at Traverse City. A great start at 10:00, enjoying a steady push north from a south breeze.
Rounded the north end of the island too close to shore and got caught in dead air, likely a wind shadow from the island. Stuck there for hours, by 2:00 I’d decided it was fate, I had to stay another day.
I anchored and took a swim. Popping out the weather radio, I heard all about the steady 6 knot wind running either north or southwest on northern Lake Michigan. NOAA reports are a little confusing. Maybe it was southwest turning to north in the afternoon. I raised anchor and pushed Hello World to the east coast of the island to grab the wind. It was in fact from the northeast.
So aloha my lover, sister, mother North Manitou. 23 miles to landfall in Cathead point or Grand Traverse Bay. My ideal course heading is approximately 84 degrees or just slightly north of due east, (90 degrees). I am able to hold 110 – 130, so I’ll be hitting land to the south of my goal – Northport with luck but likely Leland. I trust whoever that beach belongs to will be down with me camping there.
I want to remind you of the story of Kai and the cruise ship now. Big ship crews aren’t often paying attention. I’ve used Saturn the Bringer of Old Age from Holst the Planets.
Digital zoom saved my life
After all of Kai’s stories about crossing the Pacific in Desire and almost being run over by robot controlled cruise ships, I finally got a taste. Having caught a lovely wind after leaving North Manitou Island, I was making deligtful progress east-ish towards Northport. The sun was shining and all was right with the world… except for that low throbbing. Must be a freighter around somewhere. Far to the north I could see a motorboat or maybe a sailboat cruising, but then something clicked. Low throbbing of big engines, only one boat in sight – what is that boat?
I wondered how I might get a magnified view and then I remembered the Vixia’s digital zoom. I had stumbled upon it while playfully spying on my neighbors at Crescent City, thinking they might get naked and go swimming. I grabbed the Vixia, activated the digital zoom and pointed it at my new neighbor. There, glowing in the afternoon sun was the giant bow of a freighter. I couldn’t see the port or starboard side of the ship, just this massive gleaming bow that appeared to be several stories high.
Thinking to myself, “If all I can see it the front of the ship and I can’t see either side at all, that means… it’s heading right at me.”
Now this ship is still pretty far away… but it’s got these throbbing monster motors, and I am maintaining a course close to the wind, not moving very fast. I dropped off my course and put on some speed in an attempt to get past this behemoth. She came on pretty quick, growing in size at a surprising rate. Eventually, I began to see a sliver of her port side which meant I was out of her path. These big boats are supposed to generate an impressive wake so I kept my speed up. *When she finally passed, she wasn’t quite so huge – about 300 feet – but big enough.*
I identified her later as the Manitowoc, over 600 feet!
Pictures from my camera are a little misleading – the first shot illustrates how close she was when she passed and the second shows our wake crossing her course.
Now, this wasn’t exactly a near miss, right? IMHO, anything closer would have been a near disaster. I had no indication that human beings were running the show – as she passed I honked my horn at her and waved – without response. Maybe they were just unfriendly or were too busy to acknowledge me. Worst case scenario – the crew was playing cards down in the galley and had the whole thing on autopilot, I might have been too small to set off a proximity alarm. What are the odds of two boats coming even this close in the middle of the big lake? I think Kai would have called it near miss… fun!
Day 6 Northport to TC 09/11
It was late in the day when we approached Northport’s clay cliffs, reminiscent of crumbling citadels. Several spots looked agreeable and unpopulated from the water, but I decided to chase down a couple walking north along the beach and get the skinny. We had to tack repeatedly to catch up to them.
“Ok to camp around here?”, I shouted, after a brief introduction.
“Sure, there’s nice sand that way,” the fellow replied, pointing south.
Hello World and I spun around and found a lovely little roost, just before sunset.
Some images are beyond documentation. A tent glowing with a single candle under a star scattered sky. Goodnight from Northport, Michigan.
Grand Traverse Bay
Stuck, stuck, stuck this morning from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm. When will I learn to turn on the radio?
Poised to enter Grand Traverse Bay after an excellent night under the clay cliffs of Northport’s big lake shores, I packed and launched. Nevermind that there was hardly a puff of wind – I had a schedule to keep. Kicking back on the trampoline, I lollygagged, loafed and waited for the wind to stir. After a couple of hours creeping north and getting some annoying texts from Jeff Gibbs in Traverse City such as…
“Are u really going to make it today?”
“From the tip of the leelanau to tc is equal to two thirds or more of the distance you’ve already sailed in six days?”
I tuned into the NOAA report and heard that there were east winds of 6 knots at Traverse light, just a couple miles north of my dead calm position. So where was MY wind? I began to paddle out of the land shadow…
Riding a northeast wind past Cat head Point, I passed Traverse light and turned south. The rest of the afternoon and the better part of the evening was spent running with the wind, surfing.
I fired an update to Jeff predicting a landing at 8:00 pm, then at 7:00 pm moved my ETA to 9:00 pm. My actual arrival turned out to be 10:00 pm. Approaching Traverse City took forever. At sunset I still couldn’t see any landmarks, buildings even lights – just low hills funneling into haze. All the while surfing like crazy, bob sledding down trenches and half pipes of water. Finally lights appeared, but to my old flatscreen eyes they were just sodium colored star bursts in patterns that may or may not have suggested familiar features. The starbursts resolved slowly with much tacking to and fro, standing rigging clanging in the now fitful wind. To anyone watching us from shore, Hello World and I must have seemed dark specter slightly out of control in the blustery twilight.
Using the giant candy cane / fake lighthouse / massive power tower near where I believed to be second street, I landed tentatively just west of West End Beach and walked Hello World to where I saw some other boats anchored. I perched her on the beach and ran in to check the proximity of the volleyball courts. I had hit it pretty nearly. I called Jeff and asked him to come for me in 30 minutes, while I offloaded and set an anchor. Took me more like 45 minutes but Jeff was a sport about it all, eventhough I had my wires crossed as to where I would meet him. We finally found each other and went back to his place for an epic bowl of pasta and sauce.
From 10:00 am – 10:00 pm, a trip and personal record of 33.95 miles.
This morning I borrowed his bike to check out the boat and scarf a breakfast burrito from the local organic food joint, just across the street from West End Beach!
You’ve been listening to the Daughter of Godcast, Episode 023, Wilds. This is a zoom in on the beginning of the Around Lake Michigan 2009 expedition, my meditation on desire. Next week we’ll depart familiar waters and sail into clarity. Thanks for listening or watching or both, whatever is floating your boat.