10/4/11 The Journey of the Laeta

October 4th, 2011
West Lafayette, IN

We’ve been nursing an idea since September 28, only six days ago, and three days ago it became full blown cruise planning. We are going to motor the Laeta about 640 nautical miles (that’s about 737 miles) from Lake Champlain in Vermont to Toledo, Ohio.

Champlain to Toledo

Our Route (Map courtesy of Mr. Hartman, crew member)

I don’t know why we didn’t think of it before, but when Chris’s dad offered to take the boat the rest of the way if we couldn’t do the whole thing, we couldn’t pass up the chance. So we began looking into it and realized it was actually feasible, and not only feasible, but would save us money in the long run. It’s a lot cheaper to drive to Toledo from West Lafayette than it is to drive 16 hours to Vermont.

So here’s how it started out: we were going to drive to Vermont with Chris’s dad, Jerry. He would drop us off and we would motor the boat to the Erie Canal over the weekend, and he would motor it with Chris’s uncle, Jim, the rest of the way while we were at work. We would meet them again on the weekend and help motor once again, continuing on with this pattern until we got it to Lake Erie.

But the Erie Canal has been devastated by Hurricane Irene and will only open briefly again for two weeks in November.

To the St. Lawrence Seaway we go! This project presented a far more daunting undertaking. For one thing, part of the voyage goes through Canada. Jerry’s passport is expired. And by this time, Jim became unavailable because of a family emergency. The trip looked like it wasn’t going to happen.

But because of the hard work of Jerry, the trip is really, actually happening. With some shrewd legal advice and advantageous connections to diplomats in DC, Jerry managed to get a passport in only a few days. Not only that, but we gained another crew member, Chris Hartman. There will be two Christophers aboard the ship, so I will have to get used to calling my husband by one of his nicknames (he will be henceforth known as Wolf).

This undertaking isn’t only daunting because I’ve never planned a cruise trip before, or because I have no idea what to expect from canals or locks, or because the weather might be bad, or the boat might break down, or we might run out of money, or a myriad of other possible pitfalls, but because I don’t think I’ll want to come back. I’m afraid that just a taste of the cruising life, even one that’s fraught with stress and poor planning, will make my inability to desire a normal life even more poignant.

Even as we plan, buy charts, call customs and marinas, fabricate mast cradles, and get our vhf license, Wolf and I are trying not to look at the trip too closely, like it’s some sort of unicorn seen out of the corner of my eye, but if I turn my head to look more closely, I’ll be sad to find it was just the sun flashing off an empty coke can. So I am steadily not looking…I want to believe in the unicorn.

Instead, we are looking at it clinically, in terms of engine speed and the cost of gas and transient marina dockage. I refuse to imagine myself (even though it happens sometimes anyways) sitting with laptop in lap in the warm sun on the bow of the boat. I try not to imagine typing a post that begins with “I am writing this to you while sitting in the sun on the bow of my own boat…” But sometimes it’s no use, and I think about the riot of colorful foliage on either side of a dark river reflected with sunlight, the smell of gasoline and the chug of the engine, dried food and rice and spaghetti, cold nights beneath the stars, my own perfect world in one spot.

I bought charts from Bluewater Charts and requested expedited shipping, but they never contacted me with a confirmation. I called and got an answering service. So I cancelled the order (I hope) and went with West Marine instead and a small seller called Maryland Nautical Sales. Each chart was about twenty dollars and there were twenty-two charts, you do the math. A cheap trip this is not.

After wrestling with the charts, and the thought that they might be the only thing keeping us from going, I finally got it figured out. Really, there is nothing left that is up in the air. I still have to buy food and pre-make anything I can, but I’ll post something about that tomorrow. I am not too worried about food, as we plan on docking each night. The things that worry me are as follows:

  1. We’ll get into Canada and find out we need some document that we don’t have.
  2. The engine on the boat will break down.
  3. It will rain and the boat will leak and it will be cold and miserable.
  4. It will take a LOT longer than we think.
  5. Some terrible accident will happen because I don’t know some rule or procedure, sign or light.

Hopefully everything goes swimmingly. We have three more days.


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