Skip to main content

The Long (and short) Way Across.

The summer has been full of wonderful adventures aboard Cygnet.  This past weekend we decided to do what we've talked about for two years and other people have asked us about a lot.  We decided to take Cygnet across the lake to St. Joseph, Michigan.  We aren't the first, this is a pretty common thing for people to do, but we've always stayed close to home and this was our first time being more than a few miles off shore.  Cygnet seems to have made the trip before based on the memories in her GPS unit, but it was a first for us and we are pretty excited about it.

We'd been invited to a wedding that was to take place in St. Joseph on Saturday and thought it was the perfect excuse and time of year (early September) to take a journey across.  There were a lot of unknowns to us, which we'll get into in a bit, but we decided that we'd go for it - weather depending.  First we were confident that Cygnet's engines were up to the task, after some fiddling by our mechanic in the spring they've been running quite well, not perfect all the time, but well.  We also just got our generator working after lots of work by our mechanic and a few thousand bucks of course.  The generator has been out since April, it would run but not well, and we decided we'd get it going for the summer.  Well here we are in September and it's just now fixed.  It's running great and we have tested it with a load of 35 amps so we expect it to last for a long time to come.

One of our biggest questions was fuel, as in how much we'd use.  We have figured we use about a gallon per mile when we take the boat out for a day, but knowing we'd have two gasoline 454 engines plugging away for hours we were a bit afraid of the cost.   We know that our gallon per mile usage also includes a lot of 1100 RPM idling up and down the river, not high powered cruising so we figured if we double the figure we were safe.  Various sources list the distance from Chicago to St. Joseph but our chart said 60 miles so we figured we'd need 120 gallons to safely make it.   Cygnet holds 400 gallons so we figured if we filled her to the top we'd be set for the round trip with plenty to spare.

Friday Morning Sunrise on Lake Michigan.
On Thursday night we took a cruise out to one of the harbors on the lake to act as our starting point.  We knew it would save us at least 45 minutes by starting outside of the lock and we had friends willing to go for a boat ride on a gorgeous night so we moved ourselves to starting position.  On Friday morning we waited for the gas dock to open and with our gauge showing just about 1/4 tank of fuel we started the pumps.  30 minutes and $950 later we were full of gas and headed out of the harbor with the GPS saying 52 miles to St. Joseph.  Throttles up and on plane we were on our way at 3400 RPM and doing about 13 knots (15 miles per hour) almost due east.  The water was calm and the sky was a cottony blanket, with visibility under the clouds very good.  It was about 15 miles out that we lost sight of the city behind a thin layer of haze.

Hazy but comfortable.
Kevin has experimented briefly with our auto steer and GPS but for the type of cruising we've done in the past we almost never use it, plus there are simply too many boats in the waters around Chicago to set the auto steer.  Kevin set the destination in the GPS and turned on the auto steer and monitored the course often as we sat in the front seat of the flybridge and talked.  We even had Pandora over LTE until about 20 miles out of the city.  Once that stopped it was time to listen to albums we have on our phones and watch the water roll by.  We've both been very busy at work and having hours to ourselves without cell reception allowed us to talk almost non stop about life, the present, and the future.  It was wonderful.

Four and a half hours, one beer each.
Four and a half hours after leaving Chicago we arrived at the channel entry to St. Joseph, Michigan and found our rented slip at West Basin Marina.  We tied up, plugged in, and went to say hi to the friendly harbormaster.  Over the course of the weekend we spent some time on Cygnet with friends old and new, and also had a blast at the wedding.  On Saturday however the skies turned dark and the wind began to howl with rain and waves up to 8 feet.  We started to worry about going back on Sunday.  A small craft advisory had been issued and we knew it would not be a good idea to return in rough seas.

Stormy Seas on Saturday
While at the wedding ceremony we watched an Ocean Yachts (about Cygnet's size) head out the channel to the lake only to return a minute later, realizing that it was not advisable to be on the water that day.  We watched the forecast religiously for the next 24 hours.  On Sunday we woke to sunny skies and light winds.  We walked to brunch, then to the lake to see what the conditions were.  Thankfully it had calmed down quite a bit overnight and by 3:30PM Eastern time we were leaving St. Joe and headed back to Chicago.

St. Joseph.
Bye Michigan.
We had some large swells from the starboard side but overall it wasn't bad, we had the auto steer set and we headed into the warm sun.  The last 10 miles were the worst with medium chop coming from our port side making steering straight a difficult proposition.  At about 40 miles out of Chicago we started to see the tip of the Willis Tower and each mile brought a better view of the rest of the city.  About 15 miles out of St. Joe the auto steer decided it wanted to do tight circles to the starboard and we had to shut it off.  No explanation of it, one minute we were headed perfectly straight and suddenly it turned us very hard to the right.  We were both sitting in the front seat on the flybridge so Kevin sprung up to shut it off and took control.  After trying a few more times to reset the system it was still malfunctioning so we had to steer for the rest of the voyage.  First World Problems.  We shared turns behind the wheel and at just before 7PM Central time we pulled up to the Chicago Lock.

Sunset over Chicago.
On the Friday cruise we started with full tanks and ended at about 3/4 full.  On the way back we pulled the revs down to about 3200 RPM (about 12 knots) to save some fuel but ended up just under 1/4 tank, right where we were Friday morning before we filled up.  The trip used about 250 gallons of fuel including us running the generator for about an hour on Friday, but it only uses a few gallons.  We spent $950 on fuel, $55 per night for the slip, $150 on food and $60 on local taxis.  Figure if we had driven we'd have used about $70 in fuel (it's about 100 miles each way), $400 on hotel, $200 on food, and $40 for taxis.  So it cost us about double to take the boat.  But we had our entire house with us, and had an amazing time.  Nobody had a better time getting there or back than we did.

Captain Coco.
So Water we Thinking about our first trip?  This was the first time we crossed the lake or took the boat outside of Chicago, but it won't be the last.

Here are a couple time-lapse videos we made of the return, one leaving St. Joe, the other returning Chicago.  They're a bit jittery due to the waves.


Popular posts from this blog

Converting to Video, Let's Jump On the Bandwagon

  For six and a half years we've been living aboard Cygnet, a 42 foot Carver 4207 Aft Cabin Motor-yacht in Chicago.  We've also been writing this blog on and off and have been featured on local news and other programs.  We've had fun but it's time we transition to another format.  Originally we wanted to write about our experience and felt that a written blog was the best way to do it.  But times are changing and we've seen many boating channels on YouTube become massive.  We have no desire to become full time YouTube Vloggers but we know people like video.  They say a picture says a thousand words, what do thousands of pictures have to say?   See you on the Small Screen, Cygnet. We've seen the writing on the wall because many of you haven't seen the writing.  Due to us only occasionally posting, and other factors, our once thriving blog has dwindled into triple digit readership.  It's time to get people excited again!  By transitioning to YouTube we ho

You Live On a Boat? You Must Be RICH! Nope. Here is how to live aboard for cheap.

We've written before about how many people ask us private things just because we live on a boat. Since our lifestyle is a bit different than most  people there seems to be an idea that we want everyone knowing about our financial lives and personal habits.  Here are some questions we get: How much does it cost? What do you do in the winter? How do you heat/cool the boat? Do you ever leave the marina? Why are you doing this? Do you miss your house? How do you shower? How do you poop? Those last two come up a lot more often than you'd think.  Let's face it, most of us are a bit crude. Kevin has spent a lot of time with "proper" people, businesspersons, met many CEOs of large global companies or other folks you might think are high class.  Most of them turn into 14 year olds after a few cocktails.  That's when the real questions come out.  A lot of people are just curious, and their curiosity can overwhelm their sense of society, privacy, and politen

Powerless for Three Weeks and Counting.

On May 17, 2020 we had a flood.  River City, which sits on the South Branch of the Chicago River rose more than seven feet and the marina and building attached to it were flooded.  The building was evacuated but we on our boats were fine.  It took a few days for the water to return to normal but because the building was flooded we lost power and water. We've managed to get a temporary water solution by using the city pressure water from the spigot at the building on the weekends when they aren't using it for cleanup.  We also have a 250 gallon tank sitting nearby with water just in case we need it.  In fact as we write this we've been told we won't have availability to water for a few days at least.  Thankfully we have 150 gallons on board plus about 20 gallons in the hot water tank.  We can last a couple weeks if need be.  We've definitely upped our Solo cup and Dixie paper plate budget this month. Power is a bigger issue for us at the moment.  We have no inte