Island retreat, part IV

May 13, 2011.

Lucky for me, I do not suffer from triskaidekaphobia, because I took the opportunity to visit Pelee Island this Friday the 13th. Lucky me!

I rode up in a jumbo pickup truck pulling a U-Haul trailer with enough crap to furnish a house, which, well, is what we were doing.

Because it’s early in the season, we had to take the MV Jiimaan out of Leamington, Ont., instead of the usual Pelee Islander out of Sandusky, Ohio. The Jiimaan is much newer and much, much bigger. It’s practically a luxury vessel.

In Leamington, waiting to board the MV Jiimaan to Pelee Island.

Hardly any wind was on the lake, and though we drove through some rain on the 3 1/2-hour ride, the skies brightened up on the ferry ride to Pelee. We missed one turn in Detroit en route to the Canadian bridge, but otherwise it was uneventful until we got to customs. About a dozen day lilies that Eric and Yvonne had spent hours digging up (and splitting) to plant at the cottage, heretofore known as the Pelee Shrimp Shack, ended up in a Dumpster at customs. They joined a small nursery of other banned plantings, along with a sack of potatoes. Any plants with soil on their roots are banned from being imported to prevent spreading invasive species – especially the worst invasive species, Americans!

The Jiimaan is big enough to swallow large SUVs whole. Here the nose lifts to reveal the ramp about to be lowered.

Eric, my brother-in-law and proud owner of the Pelee Shrimp Shack, and I chatted about life and how to live it during the drive. Hadn’t had a good chat with him in a while.

At the lake the water was flat, the calmest I’ve seen in years. Hardly a ripple, hardly a breeze.

As usual, folks were friendly and chatty, and at least every other passenger had a dog on board. It’s not a ferry trip to Pelee without a few dogs on board. I guess people feel comfortable chatting with strangers on the Pelee ferries because Pelee is not the kind of place that attracts hustlers and sheisters. That’s my theory, anyway.

If I recall correctly, this is Richard and his dog at the stern of the MV Jiimaan.

Our truck-and-trailer combo earned us a spot in the front of the line to exit the ferry. The nose of the Jiimaan raises up on hinges sort of like the giant ship in the James Bond flick The Spy Who Loved Me,*1 then the ramp goes down, allowing cars, trucks, dogs, sheep, etc. to escape. Pretty slick. It’s much cooler than the sturdy but plain Pelee Islander, though apparently the Jiimaan is notoriously unreliable and top-heavy – not good in bad weather.

Once on island, we scooted over to the Shrimp Shack to drop off a few things before heading to the tiny airport to meet Yvonne, my mom and Natalie – Eric and Yvonne’s 5-year-old daughter. She’s such a hoot.

Mom, Natalie and I rode hillbilly-style in the bed of the truck as gravel and dust flew around us, bouncing off the trailer and threatening to put an eye out. Gimme a General Robert E. Lee Yeehaw! YEEEE-Haw!

Howdy, howdy, howdy.

Up to this point Eric made every effort to avoid having to back the trailer into anything. Well, at the cottage, which is pretty palacial by “cottage” standards, he ran out of ways to avoid the backup maneuver. It was either a) back it in, with all the accompanying hazards therein b) unhitch the trailer and huff it manually or c) haul the stuff in from road. Or Plan D. That’s D as in Dave backs it in.

If you’ve ever watched truckers back trailers to a dock or, even better, watched a weekend warrior flounder while trying to back a boat trailer into a boat ramp (or if you’ve actually done it), you know there’s a trick to backing a trailer in from a 90-degree angle.

Making matters even trickier was a narrow dirt road, a narrow dirt-and-weeds driveway and ditches on three sides.

The "company car."

You have to pull the trailer wheels ahead of the driveway, and as you start to back up, cut the steering wheel in the opposite direction of the way you’d normally steer without a trailer. Then as the trailer begins to turn toward the driveway, you start turning back until eventually both trailer and truck are (in theory) straight. It takes practice.

Luckily Cooper Road gets almost no traffic, even by Pelee standards, so I had plenty of time to practice. After five or six abortive attempts and several back-and-forth path corrections and (at least) two close calls with those ditches, I got it in. No lost cargo, no ditched trailer or truck, all is well. Now I’m ready for the big rigs! Or the “company car,” as Eric refers to the ancient Cavalier he keeps on the island.

Pelee graffiti.

There is a fair amount of swampland on Pelee.

This gem is from last year. Eric felt compelled to up the ante with his entry below.

Eric thinks this is a legitimate map of the United States. We report. You decide. Must be some really cold water in Florida, if you get my drift.

My grandfather used these decoys while hunting for ducks on Lake Erie.

Eric and Natalie on the beach on a comfortable, sunny Friday the 13th.

Mom and Yvonne hangin'.

A robin's nest in the steel beam at the corner of the house. We thought the mama and papa robin had abandoned the nest, but I saw one of them take off when I came outside. Why they chose such an open nesting site, I canna tell you.

The lake was still pretty calm Friday evening, but clouds were starting to move in. They say "Pink sky at night, sailors delight." They lie. Saturday started out overcast and calm, but that changed.

This is a “working” vacation, and I am happy to oblige. My room and board are covered, I get to visit a place I really enjoy and I earn my keep helping haul furniture and open up the Pelee Shrimp Shack for the season.

Of course a walk along the beach is de rigueur, (oui, je parle Francais!) especially for Natalie. She was ready to go swimming even though the water temp is probably below 60 degrees (actually, it’s more like 50 right now).

She collected beach glass instead.

Natalie does her happy dance at her favorite place: the beach on Pelee Island.

Grammy (my mom) said after a post-dinner walk that Natalie sang the whole time they walked on the beach and declared this was her favorite place.

We ended the day with a half-hearted (and half-brained) game of euchre, then everyone else turned in. Party animal that I am, I stayed up to write a little. Something about this place, this state of mind, makes me want to put pen to paper, with Dave Matthews providing background music. Damn, I am tired. Good night. *2

To see Saturday and Sunday, click here.

*1  – One of the great advantages of blogging is you have access to Google to look up the name of the James Bond flick you’re thinking of (I wrote on paper, “Octopussy? The Spy Who Loved Me? No, I don’t think so” – it turns out I was wrong, then right, then wrong). Can’t do that on paper with pen and no Internet access. If I were to stay on Pelee long term, I’d have to get Internet access somehow. I’d die! I would!

*2  – Well, it turns out I didn’t get much sleep that night. The frogs and then a hooting owl kept me and my insomnia company. I read an entire chapter of The Iliad, which means I really had trouble getting to sleep. I finally got a couple of hours’ sleep, then took a nap Saturday afternoon.


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