Lake Michigan – Part II: Charlevoix, MI to Chicago, IL
8/26 – 9/3/2016 Summary: From Charlevoix we headed offshore to Manitou Island where we anchored for the night. While there, we dinghied to the island and hiked to the lighthouse and the sand dunes (about 8 miles). We returned to the MI shoreline and visited Manistee, Ludington, Grand Haven, Saugatuck, and Benton Harbor/St. Joseph, stopping to explore along the way. One of our highlights was the water fountain and light show each night in Grand Haven, which rivaled the fountains in Las Vegas.
In St. Joseph, we got in the midst of a sailboat regatta and at 4:00 AM had a boat tie up just behind us. When we awoke again, they were 18” off our stern (with a power cord just 12” shy of the power pedestal) and had 2 other boats rafted to them, partying away on the outside boat.
In Ludington, we watched a 410’ steam-operated ferry pull into port and dock. They used a very unique method to stern to the dock (see details below). From Benton Harbor, we made the 50-mile run to Hammond Marina just east of Chicago where we stayed for a while and toured Chicago.
Read on if you wish. There are lots of details and a few pictures.
Details – With 2 days experience on Lake Michigan, we decided Lake Michigan was not likely to be a favorite section of our Great Loop trip. It was not only the weather, but on Lake Michigan, the route was really just port to port without much to see in between, as the route was normally a ways offshore. We preferred seeing things along the way.
On Friday we left Charlevoix behind as we exited Round Lake with the opening of the 7:30 AM bridge only to find another uncomfortable ride on Lake Michigan. It was rough! Tom had to secure items on the flybridge to keep them from sliding around, and though we had secured everything we thought needed secured inside the cabin, the captain’s chair (for the first time ever) toppled over. One more thing to secure in the future! Nevertheless, we completed our 41-mile passage out to S. Manitou Island to one of our only crescent sandy beach anchorages since leaving the east coast. And it was well-protected and calm.
We dinghied to the island, which was part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Even without our “old geezer” pass, the park was free that weekend during the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. We hiked to the lighthouse a half-mile away. Then one thing led to another; we hiked to the old growth cedars another 3 miles into the forest with some of the biggest cedars in the US (not very impressive), then on to the 300’ sand dunes beyond (very impressive). From there, we could see the outline across Lake Michigan of the Wisconsin shoreline! All in all, we totaled 8.5 miles of hiking, which was good because we’d had such little exercise lately!
Saturday morning, we awoke to a bouncing boat and light rain. Rain was forecast again for the day with possible afternoon thunderstorms. Not a great day to move, but the easterly winds were not going to make our anchorage a good place to stay either. We decided to begin toward Manistee, about 50 miles south with a bailout at Frankfort, if necessary.
It turned out to be a better ride than expected as the winds were light and the MI shoreline gave us protection from the easterly winds. The shoreline was mainly sand cliffs interspersed with flatter forested sections and an occasional lighthouse. We were the only one on the water for miles, but as we approached Manistee, the fishing must have been great as we saw up to 100 fishing boats with multiple lines out.
The Manistee River had 2.5-3 knots of current flowing toward Lake Michigan. Tom wanted Paula to stern in to the slip (which she hadn’t done in a long time) to ease the rocking overnight from nearby passing boats. First try, the current took her past the slip. Second try, same thing (but it probably looked a little different). Third try… Well, after the fourth try, Tom said, “Never mind, just bow in.” But by that point, Paula was too stubborn to quit and thought maybe she had it figured out. On attempt #5, she finally hit the space. Maybe it was just to keep her from becoming too prideful about how well her docking had been going the past few months. She decided she probably should practice stern-in docking a bit more!
There was a river walk just behind our boat, and downtown Manistee was only one block away. The town was quite old, with many structures dating back to the 1800s and was pretty and well-kept. The Great Fire of 1871 had destroyed many buildings downtown, and one business burned 4 more times in the following 12 years. A tourist brochure outlined 3 historic walking routes through the downtown and included 2 home areas. We enjoyed looking at the old houses, though it sprinkled rain on us just a bit. Downtown, there was a nice kitchen store (The Ideal Kitchen) and we bought a few things for the boat and had a nice conversation with its Christian owner. There was an amazingly well-stocked fabric and craft store which Paula enjoyed browsing and then we had a delicious dinner at T. J.’s Pub where she had an unusual (and delicious) reuben pizza on Naan crust and we shared a piece of mango pie (consistency similar to Key Lime pie.)
Sunday was overcast but we walked to friendly Faith Covenant Church a little less than a mile away for their early service. Just before pulling out of the marina, 3 Loop boats pulled in. Jerry and Janet Guyer on At Last were Gold Loopers and their friends Henry and Debbie on Seven Tenths (so named because seven-tenths of the world is water) were first timers like us. We talked with them just a bit, and Paula liked that Janet was at the driving station. It was a short 23 miles to Ludington. Lake Michigan was probably as calm as it ever got, though we heard from the Loopers it had been a rough morning.
At the Ludington Municipal Marina, we found 3 other Loop boats, including Jim and Cindy Kosmos on The Journey, Dan and Cathy Pudleiner (Canadians) on Odyssey along with their guests Ted and Cathy, and Michael and Deby Sage on Moondance. Cindy invited everyone to join them on the grass in the park for docktails. We walked the town and after buying a few groceries at the local store, enjoyed the company until it cooled off enough we had to retreat for another layer of clothing.
In the late afternoon we got to watch the SS Badger, a 410’ coal-operated ferry cruiser that took guests and their vehicles to/from WI. They pulled into the harbor, dropped their anchor, backed down on the anchor and used it to spin the boat 180 degrees, and then backed into the dock. Once the boat was secured to the dock, somehow they pulled the anchor back to the boat. Amazing!
Fog had been forecast for the early morning, but we awoke to a clear day and after checking weather, hurriedly got ready to leave. We pulled out at 8:20, just 10 minutes before the Badger. We were glad we were out of his way! Southwest winds of less than 10 knots and waves of about 1’ gave us a great ride. We passed lots of wind turbines along the coast and more houses than we had seen on the northern shore of Lake Michigan. By the time we got to the marina in Grand Haven, The Journey and Odyssey were already docked.
Grand Haven had been on Paula’s “must see” list before ever starting the Loop and we made plans to stay 2 nights. Why? The Grand Haven Musical Water Fountain. And our slip put us in the perfect location for aft deck viewing! The Grand Haven fountain had been in operation for more than 50 years, built by volunteers at an estimated cost of $250,000, the largest musical fountain in the world when it was built. Each minute of the show required approximately 2 hours of computer programming. Homemade ice cream only made the show better.
In the morning, Paula ran while Tom started the engine oil-changing process. We scootered to Walmart to buy oil (38 quarts) and did grocery shopping. Tom took the 75-cent (senior special) Harbor Transit back to the boat with his loot while Paula rode LC to Great Clips (first town big enough for a discount hair salon) for a trim. Then the afternoon was consumed with changing oil and working on the bilge pump for Tom while Paula did laundry, napped (she’d awoken at 3:30 AM) and knitted. Docktails occurred once more on The Journey and then Jim and Cindy, along with Bill and Carole Lowther on Tiger watched the fountain show from our aft deck.
The forecast was not too good for the next day, so we decided to stay another day in Grand Haven. But we awoke to rocking and rolling (it had been quite calm the first 2 nights) and decided leaving might be better than staying. The forecast was for east winds less than 15 knots and waves 1-2’ in the morning building to 3 to 4’ later in the day, so we decided to give it a try. We hit the farmer’s market before departing and hoisted LC to the flybridge. Starboard quartering waves with long intervals provided a decent ride. We tucked in at Holland for fuel and a head pumpout and motored back out to the lake, heading for South Haven. But, as we were abeam the Kalamazoo River into Saugatuck, whitecaps abounded, the ride had worsened and it was more than we wanted to endure for 2 more hours. We motored into the river and found a calm anchorage (ahhh…that was better!) amidst many marinas and large houses. Just in front of us was a beautiful huge house with 3 boats to accompany it. Dinner on the aft deck while being serenaded by live music from the park was nice. We relaxed with a DVD and called it a day.
We knew the next day had 5’ waves forecast, so were happy to stay in Saugatuck. Paula slept in while Tom built a bracket for a lamp we had been laying down on the floor during rough seas so it could be clamped to the computer desk. Tom was always making something on the boat more serviceable! He also replaced the aft bilge pump float switch and 2.5’ of original rotted discharge hose. With a 30-year-old boat, something was always in need of repair! (That left only 2 (of 6) bilge pumps not working.)
After lunch, we dinghied the quarter-mile to town and walked the shopping area. Saugatuck was an artsy town with about 10 blocks of more than 30 art galleries, upscale specialty shops, and restaurants. We had a delicious dinner at Mario’s Italian Restaurant, a white tablecloth restaurant serving since 1971 with reasonable prices and leftovers to take home. Tom got his hair cut on the bow before pumping 15 gals of water out of the forward bilge and tucking in for the night.
For the first time of the whole Great Loop, we were not able to go to a town due to lack of available space. We had hoped to visit South Haven, but there was no marina space over the busy Labor Day weekend and South Haven had no anchorage. So on Friday, we motored with a slightly uncomfortable ride to St. Joseph/Benton Harbor. There we were able to secure to the free city wall for the night, complete with power (the first time since the Erie Canal). Only 1 other boat was there.
While we were docking, we saw the Coast Guard stop another boat in the river for an inspection. As soon as we had tied up, they hit us too. All 3 agents were nice and the gal in charge said we were her first “big boat.” Though Tom had still not gotten our aft navigation light fixed, we passed. (The nav lights are only required for night movement.)
After taking care of that inconvenience, we walked the town of St. Joseph. The current town art was Beach Bugs – bumble bees, caterpillars, snails, ladybugs, etc. We shared a piece of Raspberry Eruption pie at South Bend Chocolate Company. (Amazing!) Seven Tenths and At Last joined us on the wall before we walked about 1.5 miles to Wolf’s Marine, the largest marine store in the mid-west with 50,000 square feet of shopping area. While Tom was shopping, Paula ran into Thad and Cindy Harvey from Glorious Dei (who we hadn’t seen since Atlantic City) and Tom and Julie Hoffman from Next Adventure (who we hadn’t seen since the Dismal Swamp in NC) and had a great chat. Tom bought some things and got a paint sample card which we took back to the boat.
The main head shower had been the worst area on the boat since we bought it. The fiberglass was badly stained and had gouges in it. One estimate to fix it came in at a whopping $6,000. We had been trying to figure out how to do it ourselves. We decided on a color (white) and Tom rode the scooter back to buy the paint.
While we were parked on the wall, the 630’ Saginaw came past us on the river. What a giant it was…it made us look like a gnat! We walked back to town to RyeBelles and had dinner on the rooftop as we watched the sun set over Lake Michigan. It was a good dinner, but we didn’t linger as the wind and evening temperatures were cool.
At 3:50 AM, we awoke to voices outside our boat. A sailboat was tying up about 1.5’ off our stern. We knew there was to be a sailboat regatta over the weekend at St. Joseph, but we had hoped to depart before they arrived. It turned out the race had started the evening before at 7:00 PM in Chicago. By the time we got up at 7:00, there were 2 more sailboats rafted to the one behind us. Seven Tenths and At Last (parked just in front of us) had left, so we hurriedly prepared for departure and pulled out at 7:25 before the space filled up with more sailboats, our record for “up and out.” As we pulled back out onto the lake, we passed at least 50 more sailboats headed into St. Joseph.
We motored a straight 52-mile course behind Seven Tenths and At Last toward Chicago, cutting off the lower SE shore of Lake Michigan and skipping all the other small towns along the way. It was a bit choppy, and Tom napped a bit to mentally block the ride. Hammond Marine, a very large marina with 1,000 slips was our destination for Chicago touring and they had plenty of room. We had requested a bow-in port tie, and were assigned a slip. As Paula approached our slip (take #1), lo and behold, it was 2 slips down from India Jayne, owned by our friends Kit & Pam who we hadn’t seen since NY. We realized our assigned slip was a starboard tie, so we backed out. But the slip right next to India Jayne was empty and would allow a port tie, so we requested that. The dockhand said he guessed that would be OK, but as Paula got lined up for it (take #2), the dockhand said, “No…I just found out it is reserved.” We backed out again. Now it was back to our original slip assignment, but the only way to secure a port tie was to do a stern entry. So…Paula spun Life’s TraVails around and backed into the slip (take #3). But, praise the Lord, at least this time she did it successfully on the first attempt (unlike in Manistee). But for anyone watching, they must have wondered why it was taking so long to get tied up!
Indeed, we found out later in the day, there were plenty of people watching. Tom overheard our slip neighbor say, “Wow she drives that boat better than most of us guys” and his wife say, “Maybe when I grow up you’ll let me drive.” And then later in the day when we went up to the concert on the lawn, a guy said, “Hey captain, you did a great job docking that boat today.” (Tom informed him he was the captain, Paula was the admiral.) Over the next few days, there were several other compliments from people we didn’t even know. Although it made Paula feel great, she also knew it was really just the rarity of it. She knew no one would have said anything had it been a male captain.
After getting settled, Tom went down for another nap while Paula put on her bathing suit and lay on the bow. It was a beautiful day. After relaxing, Tom suggested dinner at the Horseshoe Casino buffet next to the marina. Checking into their Rewards Card, we discovered we could each get a free $23 buffet just for signing up, and it also would get us free rides from Chicago to the casino! Done deal. It was a good buffet (especially the desserts). We danced away the calories to live Motown music back on the marina lawn before turning in.
Chicago touring is next. Stay tuned.