We left Grand Bend on a misty morning and covered the 25 nautical miles to Sarnia by early afternoon. The Blue Water Bridge slowly emerged from the haze, creating a physical marker for the start of the next chapter in our journey to the Atlantic. Lake Huron was all about exploring quiet anchorages in the wilderness; from now on we will be travelling ever eastward, every day bringing us just a little closer to the Atlantic Ocean.
The shipping lanes between Lake Erie and Lake Huron have more traffic on them than in the Panama and Suez Canals combined. After a month of almost no one appearing on our AIS and chart plotter, we could now see all of the freighters making their way through the river system, heading both upriver and down. This isn’t a new thing for us – we have passed plenty of freighters and cruise ships while sailing out west – but the unfamiliar sailing grounds and decidedly more shallow waters meant we wanted to be extra careful about staying clear of any passing ships. We encountered the first ship even before even entering the St. Clair River – good reminder of why we had stopped over in Grand Bend rather than trying to reach Sarnia in the dark!
The sun finally burned through the clouds as we made our way down the river. The water flows south here, and at times we had almost four knots of current pushing us along – the extra speed helped us travel almost 40 miles in only a few hours (we travelled almost 70 miles that day!). Houses line each side of the St Clair River – American ones to the West, and Canadian to the East – but the development on the American side is much greater, with larger houses, more density, and very few undeveloped areas. By late afternoon, we were nearing Lake St. Clair, so we turned off into a little side channel known as Chenail Ecarté, or the Snye River. We anchored about a mile downstream, with a wetland on one side and houses on the other.
We started our second day at a more reasonable hour (9am instead of 6am!) and travelled the final few miles into Lake St. Clair. The north end of the lake is a large delta, as the river spreads out into several wide, shallow channels. The houses here have been built around on a man-made canal system, similar to ones I’ve seen (in pictures) in Florida and other southern states. While I hadn’t put much thought into what this area was going to look like, I was still surprised at how out of place it seemed – it felt like we should be somewhere in the bayou, not in central Canada! (the houses are all on the US side; the Canadian side of the delta is mostly undeveloped wetlands).
The Detroit River starts at the south end of Lake St. Clair. Grosse Pointe is right at the mouth of the river – so of course we had watched Grosse Pointe Blank the night before in preparation for this trip! The downtown core of Detroit quickly gives way to industrial lands, especially after sailing under the Ambassador Bridge. Several miles later – at least on the Canadian side – the industry gives way to smaller towns, and the view is much more scenic.
We anchored that night near Amhurstburg, just a few miles north of Lake Erie. In the morning we hopped back into the shipping lane and followed the marks out into the lake. Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, and you can really see that at the Western end – the shipping channel markers take you 8 miles straight into the Lake before turning east. We were able to turn off after about 4 miles – as soon as the charts showed depths more than 5 metres, we made the turn and motored towards Pelee Island. It was a sunny, warm day, which made for an easy journey – except for the midge flies that started blowing into the cockpit, covering everything – including us! – with little black spots. Eventually the winds picked up enough to drive them away, and we were able to make the rest of the journey in peace.