JUST A QUICK HOP

I LEARNED ABOUT BOATING FROM …
JUST A QUICK HOP by Paul Risk

[as published in BOATING Magazine]
Changing wind and sea conditions dramatically changed this boater’s chances for a safe arrival.

In 2015, we took our Regal 35 SC on a six-day, 800-mile trip from Chicago to Mackinac Island, Michigan. To prepare, I plotted each stopover and secondary/emergency stops in a spreadsheet, and each harbor into my chart plotter.

Each leg was designed to keep at least 20 percent fuel in the tanks by arrival. The boat featured the latest in electronics: a sophisticated chart plotter, three VesselView screens, an EPIRB and two backup handheld VHF radios, in addition to the fixedmount radio, plenty of life vests and signaling equipment.

We filed a float plan with friends. We departed in flat seas and sunny weather, and it stayed that way for the next six days. It was a wonderful trip.

Our last hop would take us 90 miles from Holland, Michigan, to Chicago. I had planned to depart at noon, with an expected
arrival around 3 p.m. But we lingered to shop, despite the forecast for increasing waves.

We finally departed at 3 p.m. in rough waves of 4 to 6 feet, with a few
8-footers thrown in. The boat could barely make 10 mph. Any faster and it
would get mercilessly slammed. The kids already had their life jackets on. My wife and I donned ours, and despite the rough water I remained confident.

Then I checked the gauges. The boat normally gets 1 mile per gallon, and
at 90 miles to go with 162 gallons in the tanks, we had fuel to spare. Except
doing 10 mph in rough waves dropped the economy to 0.6 mpg—we’d run out of gas 20 miles from port in 6-foot waves, and it would be game over.

The alternative was to go back and try to hug the shoreline, but that was a much greater distance, plus the waves weren’t any calmer closer to shore. It was now 4:30 p.m. I realized that not only might we run out of fuel, but
we’d also run out of daylight.

If the marine forecast was accurate, the waves would slowly subside
the further west we went. If we drowned in the middle of Lake
Michigan, it would be because of the decision I was going to make
here and now, not in two or three hours.

I looked at the forecasts and fuel data again and again, and
decided to go for it. Then the sunroof belt broke, and it started slamming
back and forth with each rock of the boat. About an hour later, the waves had subsided a little, and I was able to increase speed to 5 mph. Then another hour passed, and we were doing 20 mph.

By the time we could see the Chicago skyline, we were on plane at 25 mph
and pulled into Montrose Harbor at 8 p.m. with fuel to spare. A trip
that should have taken three hours took five.

I learned a few things:
• Keep a close eye on the marine weather forecast. I’m now more conservative about departures.
• Know your boat, especially its fuel consumption in varying
conditions.
• I carry seasickness wristbands aboard now. They really work!
Paul Risk
Chicago
ILLUSTRATION: TIM BOWER