Three Tows to Shore: Misadventures on Lake Huron

by Brianna Krueger /
Brianna Krueger's picture
Sep 14, 2015 / 0 comments

Everyone on the boat – Check. Enough life jackets – After a minor delay, Check. Gas – Check. Already completed half the trip – Check.

Three Tows to Shore: Misadventures on Lake Huron

The pontoon boat we were on gently bopped on the waves as we waited to depart the Port Austin lighthouse. Thirteen of us had ventured with the Port Austin Reef Lighthouse Association (PARLA) the nearly 2 miles over Lake Huron out for a tour of the lighthouse and a major photography session – we had 10 cell phones, a digital camera, 2 professional cameras and a drone: we meant business in the most fun way possible. (Though on the real business side much of the photography, including videos, is being used for the PARLA website and social media sites.)

Port Austin Lighthouse. From Three Tows to Shore: Misadventures on Lake Huron

It was a gorgeous day, nearly mid-80s, and lunch and the beach was calling everyone’s name as 1PM rolled around. If that wasn’t calling us, then beer was, but either way, we’d all enjoyed ourselves at the lighthouse and wanted to head back to our respective day’s plans. After all, it was Labor Day weekend and there was much more fun to be had.

And, boy, did we learn what more fun was to be had as we departed.

All was well till all was not well. We smoothly backed up from the cement-dock and suddenly the pontoon didn’t work. Our captain tried reviving the engine but the engine would not work. He checked the gas, still full, but to our dismay, the little pontoon that could was now the little pontoon that decided to take a break.

By the time we realized the pontoon wasn’t going to return from break, we had drifted about 75 feet from the lighthouse. The lighthouse sits on a reef, so we could have had a few members hop in the shallow water and attempt to drag us back to the lighthouse so we didn’t float aimlessly, or we could keep drifting to get off the reef so a boat could rescue us.

Reef around the Port Austing Lighthouse. From Three Tows to Shore: Misadventures on Lake Huron

We chose rescue. 

Immediately, as though a scene from a musical where everyone knows the choreography, everyone whipped out their phones. It was an SOS outreach to anyone with a boat or anyone who knew someone with a boat to come rescue – provided you could get service, which wasn’t all too unlikely as some may think. (The lighthouse does have an internet connection to transmit a live stream camera video back to shore in case of trespassers.)

The calls were generally unresponsive with the person on the other end having to track down someone. With no firm confirmation of rescue, we had to figure out our next plan of attack… Flag the next boat we see down.

Except when half the boat is waving our hands in the air, some people begin to think it’s ‘cause we don’t care and are drunk. (They were wrong – we had no alcohol and no food.)

Finally we started adding ‘SOS’ and they got the idea we weren’t just boozing around the lake. Thus began our first tow of the afternoon. 

No more than 5 minutes into the tow did one of the people we phoned show up. Rather than ruin tow #1’s day and their cruise they surely had planned before our boat drifted up, we switched the ropes over to someone we did know to ruin their day. Thus began our second tow of the day. 

 Three Tows to Shore: Misadventures on Lake Huron

Or so we thought.

The ropes broke. 

No less than two more times, and it didn’t helper that tow #2’s motor sounded like it would fry any minute. We told him to go slower, but in his own words ‘I have no patience,’ and mine was wearing thin if his motor was to go and force us to both need tows. I was hungry, it was hot and I wanted to be a landlubber – all I wanted, and needed, was progress.

And our pontoon showed it. About half a mile from the harbor, the motor magically began working and we offered tow #2 the chance to not tow, but still follow. They didn’t make it to follow because as soon as unroped, the motor kerplunked. 

But it brought new hope, because another rescue boat, who had heard our distress call, arrived  in almost too convenient of timing, not that I was complaining, and offered to take over. After all, their motor was better and they were actually heading to the docks for refueling. We let tow #2 off, again, and thus began our third tow of the day.

 Three Tows to Shore: Misadventures on Lake Huron

But our misadventure didn’t end there. Another boat shortly arrived, a friend of the captain but not one called for rescue, came by to document the towing all while laughing. Word had spread at the Hardware Store, where the live stream video of the lighthouse streams to, that we were in distress and many chose to enjoy our adventure from the safety of land – once they realized that we were safe with a tow. Or two. Or three.

And almost four. Just as we entered the harbor, another boat full of people we called to help showed up. They helped escort us back like we were a high-operation rescue mission, rather than a ‘we’re about to be hangry lost at seas’ mission.

The pontoon barely docked before half of us hopped off and shouted a thank you and headed straight for our kitchens.

Lesson learned: Never travel without food.

Lesson two learned: Beer sounds really good when you’re lost at sea on a Great Lake.

Lesson three learned: You can always count on your friends and the kindness of strangers.

Lesson four learned: Sometimes it’s those moments that while you’re in them seem terrible that end up making a really good story, because it really wasn’t so terrible… It was actually rather enjoyable.




Brianna Krueger is the Chief Editor of Wandering Educators


All photos courtesy and copyright Brianna Krueger, except the first and fourth, courtesy of the Port Austin Reef Lighthouse Association