My trip from Sturgeon Bay to Sheboygan was supposed to be uneventful and even enjoyable, but it was far from either as I ended up in a situation that was quite eventful and borderline terrifying. Certainly it was more than I had anticipated prior to my departure. Obviously, Sophia and I survived, but not without a few more grey hairs (in my case) and a full blown nightmare on Sunday morning….
I had been keeping close tabs on the marine forecast for several days preceding the trip, but at the last minute weather changed with an issuance of a Dense Fog Advisory for all of Lake Michigan by the National Weather Service. I kept monitoring the weather and in Sturgeon Bay it was clear with at least a mile visibility and that was the forecast for the lake to the south as well. One mile visibility isn’t great, but it’s doable especially with the luxury of GPS and radar, both of which were available to me. The originating marina was anxious for me to vacate my spot on the fuel dock in order to allow them to launch more boats into open space once I left so after checking the ship’s systems and deeming everything ready, I set off for the normally five hour trip.
Unfortunately, things went “south” as we continued to make our way south….. The fog rolled in around us about 10 miles south of Sturgeon Bay and it got progressively worse as time went on. At least the waves were only two feet or less the entire trip. Ship’s foghorn activated and I committed to getting through this despite a slower than usual pace of about 7 knots.
As the day progressed and I approached Two Rivers after viewing nothing but white all around the boat I started to think about the SS Badger Car Ferry and wondering if it was scheduled to leave from Manitowoc any time soon. I just saw a TV news story about the ferry the day before and how it was now more environmentally friendly after an EPA-mandated major upgrade in the coal filtering process. I really didn’t want to a part of the second lead story on the TV evening news in as many days involving the SS Badger car ferry and the idiot boater that got in her way and was sunk 7 miles off the coast of Manitowoc…. Did I mention that I was listening to the Audible book Dead Wake by Eric Larson giving a realtime accounting of the sinking of the Lusitania in the Irish Gulf by U-20 the German U-Boat? But I digress…..
I was able to pull up the schedule and sure enough it was set to leave in about 30 minutes right as I was scheduled to pass Manitowoc for my final destination in Sheboygan. Right about that time, I start hearing security calls on channel 16 from the Badger stating they are departing Manitowoc and essentially telling us that everyone in their path better just keep outta there way, or else… GULP… Switching Dead Wake story over to calm ambient music in my headphones now….
I slowed down to about 5 knots and waited until I could see the Badger on my radar and confirm my location relative. As it turns out, I wasn’t in as much peril as I had thought with the Badger eventually passing about 2 miles in front of me.
We had to slow for a couple “idiot boaters” that thought it would be a good idea to navigate Lake Michigan in the dense fog. What were they thinking!? However, we were able to stay clear and luckily everyone was taking it slow and easy out there. Six and a half hours later, we finally arrived right outside Sheboygan and right about this time, my GPS fails and my only means of navigation was radar. Lucky for me that I know the Sheboygan harbor well enough that I was able to figure out where I was, but it was very disheartening knowing how close one was to the break wall and not being able to see it until it was 10 feet away.
The most horrifying part of the trip was coming into Sheboygan with no visibility and meeting three charter fishermen that decided they would fish inside the break-wall instead of out in the lake. Sophia and I were able to weave in and out of boat traffic and finally make it to port in once piece.