Just a Lake.
A little while ago I posted a short note about crossing Lake Michigan in a smaller vessel. I’ve read comments by far too many people who think crossing a 100-mile wide body of water is a walk in the park because it is labeled as a lake. I’ve lived on a salt water shoreline my entire life, until I moved to Michigan. Of course, I had the same opinion at first – it’s just a lake. What people do not understand is that it’s a big, cold, deep, short tempered lake and if you aren’t prepared for what it can throw at you, there is a very good chance you will end up dead.
Crossing Lake Michigan in a small boat with a single engine is a suicide mission. There are far too many things that can go wrong out there, and with the “it’s just a lake” attitude people do not make adequate plans and preparations for the trip. At any time during the year the weather can change in a heartbeat, especially in the spring and fall.
Any boat trip should include some planning and preparation. Are you going to have enough drinking water onboard? Will you have more than enough gas to get where you are going and back? Even a quick sunset cruise should include some thought about the needs of your passengers and your ability to keep them safe in an emergency.
Crossing Lake Michigan in a power or sail boat should never be taken lightly. Not even on a clear, calm day with a stellar weather forecast. Once you travel past 15 or so miles you are on your own. There will be little or no (probably no) boat traffic out there, which means no one to signal to for help. Your cell phone will not reach the shore to allow you to call the Coast Guard, and your VHF radio will only work if there is another boat within range of the signal. A flare can be seen for miles – but only for a few minutes. If someone isn’t looking in that direction when it goes up it will fall back to fizzle out in the water without anyone ever noticing it.
If you break down in the middle of the lake you could be 40 miles from another human being in any direction. Or from food and water. In a single engine boat, losing something as simple as an alternator belt could kill you. In a twin engine boat running out of gas could kill you. Or a dead battery. Or a sudden turn in the weather.
It’s not just a lake. It’s a huge body of water waiting to claim it’s next victim. Don’t be that next victim.
Captain Chuck Warren