7/13/17 – 7/19/17: Port Colborne! Lake Erie is now complete! Getting here marks the end of Great Lake #3 on our journey. And we can both honestly say we are very happy to be here.
Lake Erie, from everyone we talked to, is one of the most unpredictable and probably the roughest of all the Great Lakes. Conditions can change from calm, flat water to 6 foot seas in less than an hour. And while our boat can easily handle those conditions, and her crew would almost certainly make it through unscathed, the “comfort level” in those conditions decreases (while the “fear factor” also increases). Needless to say, we kept an extremely close eye on the weather as we moved across the lake.
When we first arrived at Port Dover, the weather for the next couple days didn’t look promising. Besides the first night there, we paid for two additional nights to ride it out. Our second day there was supposed to have storms and high winds, but neither of those materialized. We made the decision that if, on the following day, we had a chance to leave, we would, and just accept the loss of slip fee for the third night. We awoke early to rain and thunderstorms, and figured we would be there for the third night. But by 11:00AM, the system passed, and there was nothing on the radar behind it. We decided to make the run to Port Colborne.
On our way there, we had almost no wind, so it was going to be another day of motoring. It was misty, rainy, foggy, and overcast the whole way. For some reason, we had 2-3 foot swells on our stern the entire way, which was odd since there hadn’t been any strong winds the days prior. About half way to Port Colborne, the Canadian Coast Guard started broadcasting squall watches for Lake Huron and Lake Erie. We brought up the weather radar, and sure enough, about a dozen small storms started popping up all around the area. One started developing about 15 miles directly behind us and was heading our way! We watched it for about 15 minutes and saw that it was growing and coming closer. At that point, we were about 45 minutes from a fishing marina (Port Maitland), so we called them to ask if they had a slip or dock we could tie to to let this thing pass. They said sure, come on in, so we headed in to their port. After another couple miles, we checked again, and it looked to be diminishing, maybe even heading slightly south, and would probably miss us. So we made the decision to just continue on, and called the marina again to say we wouldn’t be coming in. The storm completely fell apart. Whew!
We pulled into Sugarloaf Marina, filled up with diesel and pumped out. We had made reservations for four nights, but decided to pay for an entire week. We wanted to spend a day at the Canadian Niagara Falls, and many people told us to also visit Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Plus, we had ordered a new 3-way fuel valve from a local marina, and wanted to install that, too. And we were also told that transiting the Welland Canal can sometimes take more than a day, depending on commercial traffic, so we figured we would need several days to do everything on our list and to also get a spot to go through the canal to Lake Ontario.
Sugarloaf Marina is the largest marina we’ve been to so far. It has 700 boat slips (mostly filled with smaller fishing boats). Our slip was at the far end of the outermost finger pier. The walk to shore was about 1/4 mile (no exaggerating). It took about 10 minutes just to walk to the showers, laundry, marina office, or parking lot. We certainly got our exercise here! It wasn’t very picturesque as it was right next to a giant grain elevator as well as the Welland Canal, and it had more weeds in the basin than anywhere we’ve ever seen. But the staff was friendly and went out of their way to make sure we had everything we needed and that our stay was enjoyable.
Port Colborne is also a nice little town. Even though it’s right on the Welland Canal, they have really done wonders to make it “non-industrial” looking. There are parks and playgrounds right at the canal’s edge, as well as bike and walking paths. Some of the town’s streets are parallel to the canal, and feature shipping as the central motif. There are a good variety of stores and restaurants to choose from, and it had one of the best grocery stores we’ve come across to date. We also found a delightful little family restaurant (Melina’s) with excellent food for about 1/2 the price of anywhere else. We both ordered full dinners (with drinks) and the total bill was $23 CAD ($20 American).
We are coming to find that sailing from place to place is wonderful, but the downtime at the various marinas and anchorages are what we enjoy best. Crossing Lake Erie felt like we rushed it along (intentionally), and it’s nice to have a longer break to relax, explore, and catch up on sleep. We hope to get to Niagara Falls Sunday or Monday and will write a separate post about them then.