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“Remember, she has a delayed response so you have to anticipate where you want her to go, not react to what she does. If you do that you’ll always be playing catch-up.” Wise words from our Captain, but who is the “she” he refers to? Why, Manitou of course! I’m getting my first lesson in steering a 100 ton schooner, and it’s quite a thrill! We’re charging along under full sail in a fresh breeze, and I am awed by the power of this vessel vibrating under my feet as if she were a living thing.
About a mile to my left lies the densely wooded shoreline of Beaver Island, broken here and there by a summer cottage nestled in the trees. We’ve been underway for about six hours and the Captain says we should be “dropping the hook” (anchoring) in St. James Harbor by 5:00; just in time for h’ors d’oeuvres and wine tasting. I guess I forgot to mention, but this is Manitou’s annual Wine Tasting Cruise. Our host and industry professional, Tim Tibeau, guides us through a sampling of varietals from all over the world (including right here in northern Michigan) each evening at 5:00 pm. Once that blessed dinner bell is rung we take those same wines down to the main salon and enjoy them paired with supper. Good food, fine wine, fabulous sailing, and new friends; this can’t be beat!
The day has flown by in a wink. It seems we were just cranking the anchor up and setting sail. That was a bit of a workout, with everything being done by hand, but I could see our gaggle of greenhorns, from all different walks of life, coalescing into a cohesive group before my eyes! Working together as a team has quickly formed friendships and a casual ease among these folks who, 48 hours ago, were strangers.
My shipmates are scattered about the vessel; reading, chatting in small groups, napping in the sun, and lounging out in the netted head rig, suspended above Lake Michigan as Manitou churns the azure blue water to a boiling white froth. There are even one or two snapping green beans with the mess mate, in preparation for dinner.
As I ruminate on what culinary delight may be set before us tonight I can’t believe I could possibly be hungry. It seems like we just ate lunch, and there was certainly no lack; chicken stew with rosemary dumplings, fresh baked baguettes, Greek salad, and lemon bars! It must be the fresh air, that’s it. Then again, I always wake up hungry from a nap, and that hour long snooze before steering duty sure hit the spot.
As we prepare to enter the harbor the Captain relieves me at the helm and sends me forward to help douse the sails. I have to say, it’s kind of nice having gravity on our side at the end of the day as we lower each in turn.
Under engine power we glide through the narrow entrance to our anchorage, turn up into the wind and, with a clatter that reverberates off of the shore the anchor slips its bonds and we drift to a halt. The lines are coiled, the headsails furled, and the awning goes up. It must be time for wine and appetizers!
Dinner follows, of course, and once again I am not disappointed. Poached salmon with lemon butter, rice pilaf and those “team effort” green beans, not to mention fine wine, leave us with a contented glow up on deck as we find room for maple pudding cake and whipped cream.
The deck crew lowers our inflatable dinghy into the water, and those who feel the need to walk off dinner head to shore for a bit of exploration. Eager to get a closer look at that little lighthouse we passed when entering the harbor, I join the expedition.
It’s a peaceful stroll down a leafy waterfront street, lined with unassuming cottages, to reach the lighthouse. The very occasional car, generally from another era, passes by with a wave. One thing I learn quickly is islanders always wave. I like that. When did folks forget to wave back in civilization?
I reach the lighthouse and notice a stone monument with a bronze plaque mounted to it. I’m reminded of the Irish fishing heritage of this island as I read the long (too long) list of names belonging to those who cast off their lines, never to return. It’s a testament to a hard and dangerous life, even today. I’m also struck by the fact that many of the family names are obviously the forefathers of today’s island community. Those same names are scattered about on mailboxes and storefronts. There’s a certain comfort in the thought of that common lineage shared by the members of this sleepy island community.
We return to Manitou under a broad blanket of stars. I can’t remember the last time I actually saw the Milky Way! As I step aboard I’m greeted by the warm glow of oil lamps scattered about the deck, and the low murmur of conversation. Fiddle music drifts up from the main salon; First Mate Cory must have been coaxed into playing some tunes. I have to remind myself that it’s 2014, not 1880.
For a moment I hesitate between joining the gathering in the salon and heading to bed. Bed wins, but it’s just too beautiful out here to go below. So I drag my sleeping bag and pillow up on deck, settle in to a nice cozy dark corner in the bow, and drift to sleep while searching for constellations. Somehow, I know I’ll be up before dawn.