Tag Archives: sailing

“Aisling”: Adventures in Sailing through the Manitou Passage, 2017

by Stewart A. McFerran, reporting from the deck of the Aisling

I found the old boat at a boatyard in Northport. The cradle had broken and the boat had fallen on its side. The hole in the hull had been patched but the rudder was still bent. I bought the C&C 29’ named Aisling for a song.

Headed toward points unknown. Image of the view of Lake Michigan from the deck of the “Aisling.” Image courtesy of the author, June 2017.

Aisling is a Scottish word meaning dream or vision. Ace Welding was able to straighten the bent rudder shaft and we launched the Aisling in Northport. Andy Rockwood and Mark Graham were onboard for the inaugural trip from Northport to the South end of the West Grand Traverse Bay.

The pirate mooring I had near the Grand Traverse Yacht Club (GTYC) was ready. The anchors I place on the Bay bottom were attached to a float that could be picked up and tied to Aisling’s bow. All the boats in the mooring field would swing about to face the wind with Aisling. Only a few of those boats were tied to moorings that were surveyed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

With the Aisling at mooring we were ready to do battle with the fleet each Wednesday night. The GTYC has Wednesday night sailboat races. Boats are handicapped with a Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) rating. Large boats can race against small boats. GTYC sets up the buoys at the corners of the Bay and sets a starting line.  The start and first leg of the race is always upwind. I had a small sailboat as a youth but had never raced, it was a dream come true. (Ed. Note: For more on sailing in Northwest Michigan, read McFerran’s article on the Pabst Cup.)

Ned Lockwood helped me tune the Aisling’s sail rig and told me lots of stories. He had sailed in Connecticut as a youth. One day he was sailing with his brother and they came upon a guy in the water with his dog. His sailboat had tipped over due to the large sail he had. They righted his boat and taught him how to reef his sail. That was Albert Einstein with his dog. (True, as confirmed by Ned’s ex-wife).

With the help of Mike McDuffy, Ned and many others we sailed around the triangle course on West Bay and won some plaques in those races sponsored by the GTYC. I still have them.

I made the decision not to launch the Aisling and the boat sat under a tree for ten years, until this Spring. The tiller was delaminated and there was lichen growing in the cockpit. I used epoxy on the tiller, ammonia in the cabin and bleach on the deck.

The “Aisling” being lowered in the water, ready to set sail. Image courtesy of the author, June 2017.

At the Irish Boat Shop in Charlevoix the Atomic 4 engine turned over and Peter Johnson, an Englishman with vast mechanical experience, agreed to crew. A crane lifted the mast in place and we loaded our gear on board and were off at 4:00 p.m, on a late weekend in June 2017. The Atomic overheated and we stopped before leaving Charlevoix.

I started the engine at 5:30 a.m. the next day and Pete popped his head out of the cabin and indicated his concerns about the engine. I explained that the Aisling was a sailboat and we only needed the Atomic to get under the draw bridge. He agreed to indulge my vision.

We winched up the mainsail and motored out the channel and turned off the engine. A fine breeze took us all the way to Leelanau. We passed the Cathead point and the Whaleback. There was a lull in the wind near Pyramid Point as the Crib Lighthouse appeared. We made a tack straight West toward South Manitou Island.

It was nice to be back in the Manitou Passage. I had spent a year there in the company of Ross Lang on the Joy fishing for whitefish as well as chubs. As I turned my head toward Port Oneida I had a vision of Lanie Burfeind passing with her skiff full of Coregonus nigrapinus.

South Manitou Island Lighthouse, from the deck of the “Aisling.” Image courtesy of the author, June 2017.

We passed the South Manitou Lighthouse as the Aisling headed West straight for Point Betsie. With Platte Bay on our left the wind died at sunset. Pete tinkered with the Atomic. It was dark when we passed the Point Betsie Lighthouse and 1:00 a.m. when we were near the Frankfort harbor.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, from the deck of the “Aisling.” Image courtesy of the author, June 2017.

Like Albert Einstein I had too much sail up when the squall hit, but I had no dog. The Aisling was knocked down and skidded across the water with Pete and I hanging on. Aisling spun about a few times after righting herself.  We got the sails down and the Atomic would not start. With the sails back up the wind  shifted 180 degrees and was now coming from the East. Aisling tacked through the channel and we lowered the sails and drifted into the dock at 2:30 a.m.

I plan to live on the Aisling this Summer. No telling when the dream will be complete.

Sailing Portage Lake: 108 Years of Pabst Cup History

By Stewart A. McFerran, Benzie resident and regular contributor to Grand Traverse Journal

City of Manistee resident Frederic Ramsdell (son of Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell of Ramsdell Theatre fame) and others founded the Onekama Sailing Club in 1896. It had a club house, served meals and had sleepovers. The Club’s small sailboats became known as the Mosquito Fleet.

Onekama Sailing Club in August 2014, right. High school juniors Sarah and Katie race to the finish last year, but lost to Bob Beal by one-half of a second.
Portage Lake Yacht Club in August 2014, right. In this photograph from last year’s race, teens Annie of the United Kingdom and Maggie of Onekama made a valiant run, but lost to Bob Beall by one-half of a second. Image courtesy of the author.

The Onekama Sailing Club, now the Portage Lake Yacht Club,  was one of the first sailing clubs in Michigan. The members hand built wooden sailboats that were rigged for racing. “Sundays and holidays were racing days. Races were started in the forenoon. The course was marked by flagged buoys and competition was keen.”*

When the Mayor of Chicago, William Hale Thompson (who served in that capacity in 1915 to 1923 and again in 1927 to 1931), arrived at Portage Lake, the Onekama Sailing Club was uniquely positioned to receive him. “Mayor Thompson of Chicago always received a three-shot cannon salute. His yacht carried a large assortment of grog, and he was a most liberal dispenser.”* Considering he was running Chicago at the height of Prohibition (1920-1933), perhaps we should not be surprised.

Yep, that Pabst. The beer voted the best at the Columbia World's Exposition in 1893. Frederic Pabst celebrated by tying a blue silk ribbon on each bottle, and ramped up production.
Yep, that Pabst. The beer voted the best at the Columbia World’s Exposition in 1893. Frederich Pabst celebrated by tying a blue silk ribbon on each bottle, and ramped up production.

Traditionally, sailing cups are named after the person who commissioned the cup’s creation, or at least donated the funds to have one made. Gustav Pabst (son of Friedrich Pabst, the man who made Pabst Blue Ribbon beer famous) crossed Lake Michigan from Milwaukee to attend races of the Portage Lake  “Mosquito Fleet”. As a supporter of small boat races, he had a large silver cup made. The Pabst Cup was first awarded to the fastest Onekama sailor in 1907. The Pabst Cup Race is still held on Portage Lake each summer, making it one of Michigan’s oldest sailing competitions.

High school senior Bob Beall won the Pabst cup in July 2014 by one-half second! Bob’s grandmother, Char Jesson, has a sunfish he uses for the races. Sailing just behind him  were juniors Sarah and Katie.  Bob also has stiff completion from former winners of the Cup who enter the race every year. All previous winners are listed on the Cup, back to the first winner in 1907.

Veteran sailors Bill Vaughan, Dick Forwood and Biff Wiper have competed in the Pabst Cup for decades. Bill Vaughans’ first Pabst Cup win came in 1964. Most recently he won the Cup in 2012.  Past winner Vaughan has enjoyed an advantage: his wife, Babs, knows how to operate the Club Cannon. She once blew a hole in the sail of a competitor. She claims it was a mistake.

Sailing for recreation remains a popular activity in Michigan. Competitions are often celebrated with trophies. There are very few sailing trophies in Michigan that are older than the Pabst Cup. A contemporary to the Pabst Cup is held by the Bayview Yacht Club, Detroit, Michigan. John C. Burke, Commodore of the Bayview Yacht Club, traces their cup’s history back only to 1936, although the cup is likely older than that: “The J.L. Hudson Trophy is a perpetual trophy that was deeded to Bayview Yacht Club in 1936 by James B. Webber, who was at the time, the Vice President of the J.L. Hudson Company”. *

Bob Beall (right) receives the Pabst Cup from PLYC Commodore Richard Verplank in August 2014.
Bob Beall (right) receives the Pabst Cup from Portage Lake Yacht Club Commodore Richard Verplank in August 2014. Image courtesy of the author.

The competition during the Pabst Cup Race on Portage Lake is still keen after more than 100 years. Bob Beall will need to practice his sailing skills and tune his rig if he hopes to take the Pabst Cup home once again this summer. The race will be held August 1st and 2nd.   There will be three races on Saturday and two on Sunday; the winner will be the sailor that has the best cumulative score. Good luck, sailors!

*Quoted from Wellspring, a collection of short histories on social customs and life in Manistee County, written by students of Onekama Schools, published in 1982. Copies are available for purchase from Manistee County Historical Society.

S.A. McFerran serves on the Portage Lake Yacht Club committee boat and sometimes rescues sailors in need of help.