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About Our First Boat
A Morgan 24 – Points Unknown
Goodyear Blimp Overhead
~ Goodyear Blimp Overhead ~
The South Bass Island Light
~ The South Bass Island Light ~
Points Unknown Icon
A Festive Furlough
Only 20NM away lay another great Lake Erie sailing destination on the island of South Bass. Its lone harbor, Put-In-Bay is known as the Key West of the North because unlike the quiet, reserved atmosphere of Kelleys Island a few miles to the East, the party at Put-In-Bay was always in full swing. We could think of no other place on which we'd rather splurge some vacation days, especially for their Christmas in July celebration!

But first, we wanted to kick off our festive furlough properly. The night before each of our Points Unknown adventures, Don and I had gotten into the habit of going just past the marina to Catawba Island. No matter whether the next day's plans included sailing away or staying put, most every respite was launched from Mon Ami, an enchanting restaurant and winery. After sharing a romantic dinner for two, and a lovely bottle of wine (or two), we'd dance the night away knowing our little boat was waiting nearby to rock us gently to sleep.

Beating the Christmas Rush
For this mini holiday, we were savvy enough to set sail early Thursday morning. It meant an empty lake in which to enjoy the breezes, and no worries about racing to the first-come, first-serve mooring field in the harbor. Though we were still without a dinghy, Put-In-Bay township offered water taxi service that would pick us up right from our deck and drop us off in the heart of the action – no extra charge!

The approximately 3.7 miles long island is comprised of a larger, southwestern expanse of land connected by an isthmus to a smaller, northeastern area. Our course would take us out of Sandusky Bay, past Cedar Point, between Marblehead and Kelleys Island, around South Bass's southern tip and up its wide western coast to where Put-In-Bay lay just at the base of that long, narrow strip of land.

The Island's Shadowy Side
The wind carried us along at a nice clip, and within a few hours we sighted the South Bass Island Light. Then suddenly, a mere 5 miles away from the mooring field, the breeze put on the breaks and left us completely becalmed.
The Benson Ford
~ The Benson Ford ~
Put-In-Bay Mooring Field
~ Perry's Monument ~

We were in the grips of a phenomenon known as 'Wind Shadow.' The easterlies that had swept us along on a wonderful, beam reachA point of sail when the wind is coming from a right angle to the boat. were suddenly blocked by Kelleys Island. We were dead in the water with sails luffing uselessly. After an hour of inching along with nary a puff reappearing, and watching boat after boat zoom by threatening to seize all the vacancies, Don reluctantly started the motor. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Land-Ho Landmarks
When the Benson Ford came into view, we knew our journey was near its end. At first glance, it looks like a ship wrecked high up on the island. But it's actually a very unusual vacation home.

Built in 1924 by the Ford Motor Company, the boat's original 162 foot long hull was designed to transport iron ore through the Great Lakes. However, Henry intended to use it for the Ford family's traveling pleasure as well. So the ship was christened after his grandson, and its forward quarters were fitted with gorgeous, black walnut paneling, gleaming brass appointments, and luxurious built-in furnishings.

The corporation decommissioned the ship from duty in 1981, and after several years of sitting idle, she was deemed too costly to continue service. But rather than scrap her, the beautifully furbished superstructure along with the forecastle deck was conserved and consigned to South Bass's west coast where it overhangs the cliff's edge and provides a fabulous, unobstructed view from both land and lake.

Of course the island's more notable, nautical history goes back a bit further, to the war of 1812. After suffering a series of humiliating defeats to the British, some key campaigns eventually turned the tide for the Americans. One of those events, known as the Battle of Put-In-Bay occurred in one single day when Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry captured an entire armada of adversaries.

The 27 year old Naval officer from Rhode Island was ordered to take command of the Lake Erie fleet. But when he arrived to his new post, he discovered only a few partially built skeletons at a makeshift shipyard; no rope for rigging, no canvas for sails, no shipwrights, and no soldiers. After months of scrounging, pleading, and plaguing, he finagled a flotilla of 9 ships armed with 54 cannons, and a motely crew thereafter came under his command.

The Serene Mooring Field
~ The Serene Mooring Field ~
Riding the Water Taxi
~ Riding the Water Taxi ~

Based out of the South Bass harbor, Perry was able to sever the British supply routes for their Canadian fort, finally forcing them to forebear or to fight. Compared to the Royal Navy, Perry's ships were undersized and out gunned. But his seafaring know-how (and a bit of luck with the wind) ultimately prevailed and on September 10th, 1813 he secured American control of Lake Erie. The victory was declared with his now famous words: "We have met the enemy and they are ours!" The imposing 352 foot high Perry's Monument was the second landmark to indicated our arrival.

All is Calm
With a great sigh of relief, we secured a mooring ball from the rapidly depleting supply. This was one of the island's most popular festivals with more than 20,000 visitors expected. Vessel after vessel would flood the marinas over the next few days, and whoever couldn't float in, would come by ferry or by flight.

All the hotels were booked months before; their rooms would be packed beyond capacity. The same would occur at every dock lining the shore. Boats would be rafted together, one tied to another until the berths looked ready to burst. Basically, when a population is stuck in latitudes with prolonged, frigid, gray winters, in summer they flock to these local islands to surround themselves in a contrived tropical atmosphere and defrost their blood in alcohol.

There was a wonderful sense of peace knowing that whenever we were overwhelmed by the crowds, we'd be able to return to our own little floating sanctuary out in the middle of the mooring field. But now was the time to jump into the foray.

I'm Dreaming of a Wined Chicken
As soon as we disembarked from the taxi, we were drawn to yet another iconic landmark that dominated the downtown in sight, sound, and smell. The Roundhouse, a big red rotunda capped by a tall silver dome could not be ignored. The place, including its porch was always packed. Live bands boomed from a raised stage behind the bar; their music pouring out over the sidewalks, across the street, and through DeRivera Park beyond.
The Roundhouse
~ The Roundhouse ~
The Fish Bowl
~ The Fish Bowl ~

We were further enticed in that direction by the wonderful aroma wafting from the Chicken Patio next door, where hundreds of wine basted birds crackled on a 21 foot long charcoal grill. The irresistible smell took our taste buds for ransom. We had no choice. We'd have to concede. We'd been blackmailed by excruciatingly delicious barbeque!

In the Spirit
All the bars, B&Bs, and businesses were bedecked in bright red bows, green garlands, all kinds of merry trimmings, and the warm weather and sunny skies only added to the mirth. The island, and its 630 full time residents are cut off from the mainland in the winter months, so now was their time to celebrate with the masses.

In fact, The Roundhouse signals the start of the tourist season by lighting the neon 'Whiskey' sign over their entrance. And it's where the village's Christmas in July tradition started, so it was fitting that we began the holiday cheer from there.

It took a bit to squeeze inside and cleave some space in the crush. But before we could burrow our way to the bar, a cup full of maraschino cherries was thrust into my sober grasp. A quick whiff of the spirit soaked contents nearly singed our nostrils. These little high-proof fireballs were the establishment's special holiday treat. If we could choke a couple cherries down, we'd quickly be lit like a Christmas tree.

We checked our cherry initiation a bit because there were so many other fun places we wanted to drink in; The Fish Bowl where potent rum punches were served in…you guessed it…a fish bowl; the Beer Barrel Saloon touted as the world's longest bar measuring 400 feet end to end; the beautiful Boathouse, the dive called Frosty's Bar, the Crescent Tavern, and the collection of pubs at the Boardwalk to name just a few.

Taking a Sleigh Ride
Friday was the July Yule's eve, and since our occupation of the island was established, we felt free to explore its further reaches. Of course the merriest and brightest way to tour this tiny enclave is by golf cart, a mode of transportation designed for island life.

We began our excursion from the base of the great big column commanding the skyline, a.k.a. 'Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial National Monument' (and inhale). It is among the tallest monuments in the U.S. and I believe it boasts the longest name as well. From there we visited the lighthouse, the shiphouse, Heineman Winery, and the old cemetery.

It was so pleasant puttering hither and yon in our open air rental. The sleepy little outskirts full of cottages, vineyards, and woodlands was quite the contrast to the party going on in the harbor. It only took us half a day to revitalize in these meditative surroundings, leaving plenty of time for another bar crawl down Delaware Ave.

The Marina Madhouse
~ The Marina Madhouse ~
Giant Santa
~ Giant Santa ~
I Saw Three (Hundred) Ships Come Sailing In
On Saturday, Don and I tucked ourselves in at the Lion Hill Winery, an open-air hut right next to the ferry docks. Watching the steady throng of passengers disembarking into the swarm of debauchery, complete with bachelors in bright red beer bucket hats, coeds underdressed as elves, and old Saint Nicks staggering by was enough entertainment for hours.

We attended a few holiday themed events, such as 'The Reindeer Pull' where teams of bar bouncers raced down the road while harnessed to golf carts loaded with bikini-clad beauties. And we could not miss the Annual Christmas Parade of tinsel covered carts, antique cars, abbreviated marching bands, and whoever else felt like donning a costume and prancing around town. Our livers were grateful this holiday would soon come to an end.

The mania wasn't just localized on land either. The marinas were a riotous affair, overflowing with roving blowouts that floated from boat to boat. Many hulls were decked out in holiday cheer; wreathed in shiny strings of icicles, flying Santa wind socks, and festooned with inflatable snowmen on the bow. At night, the entire bay would sparkle in a spectacular display of lights, glittering off the water like colorful comets.

Dashing Through the Blow
And the parade of ships sailing in to celebrate never seemed to end. The wind began to whip past Gibraltar Island's protection, and spread chaos around our asylum as well. We watched one scared skipper careen through the crowded anchorage, desperate to drop his hook. Coming much too close to a moored sailboat, his tow tangled with the collection of kayaks tied to the other's stern, threatening to drag the whole bulk along before all snapped free. And later that night in the height of the bluster, a couple balls broke loose as well, sending their yachts adrift – a foul Noel indeed.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
We were simply spectators to all these aberrant moments of hysteria, so our Put-In-Bay holiday was awesome. We partied like the best of them, and departed with our dignity. More importantly, it was the first time we truly 'lived' out of our cozy, little ship. We proved to ourselves that we could pack everything we needed into a 24 foot by 8 foot hull, and be blissfully happy. For 4 days we were far away from our bricks and mortar life, and we were loving it.

Vacations can be stressful, but being able to go back and forth between hamlet and home – to get away from our get away as it were really alleviated all that tension. We felt we'd found the perfect recipe for travel-ease and only three ingredients were needed; a boat, some place to float, and an island – either rowdy or relaxed, made for a perfectly satisfying time – any time of the year.

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“Ideals are like stars: you will not succeed in touching them with your hands, but like the seafaring man on the ocean desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them, you reach your destiny.” ~ Carl Schurz