Lake Michigan is really big and this blog was getting long, so we split our Lake Michigan experience into 2 parts. Also, we are really behind on posting blogs. As we send this out, we are actually already through Chicago and partway through the river systems (IL, MS, and OH Rivers) and on the Cumberland River in KY. We hope to catch up the blogs in the near future and get them posted, so feel free to disregard if they come at you too fast.
Home Alone on Lake Michigan – Part 1 (08/17-25/16)
8/17 – 25/2016 Summary: After leaving Ron and Marie on the dock, bags in hand, we headed across the North Channel to Meldrum Bay, alone for the first time for over 2 weeks. We love our friends, but it was nice have some alone time again. In the morning we crossed into the good ol’ US of A and cleared customs at Drummond Island.
Reflections on our time in Canada: We found the Canadians to be very nice and always helpful. They were always appreciative to have Americans enjoy their country. Surprisingly, in all of Canada, we saw no sizable mammals (i.e. deer, bear, moose, etc.) but only squirrels and a couple of otters. Most of all, the scenery was beautiful! But it was good to be back in the States where we could get more radio stations (although when we were able to get them in the Trent-Severn, we sometimes found Christian ones).
We had planned to go to the Mackinac Island Marina, but after reading the reviews of it being a very rolly marina, we opted instead for Mackinaw City just across the Straights of Mackinac. The plan was to tour Mackinac Island the next day, but we opted to wait a day due to the 95% forecast of over an inch of rain. Instead, we caught up on a few things on the boat and toured Mackinaw City…in the rain!
We spent most of the next day touring and biking Mackinac Island, your typical tourist trap with lots of fudge shops! That evening we got LC (the scooter) down and went to a lumberjack show.
Our hopes for heading south were dashed by yet another weather front, this time with high winds and a prediction of up to 9’ waves. So we found more to do on the boat. While waiting, we rented a car and drove south to Petosky to try to make up some touring time, as we were nearing the “Chicago by Labor Day” target.
It was not until day 7 we finally left Mackinaw City and headed south to Charlevoix. The 42-mile trip to Charlevoix was rough, but we were happy to be out of Mackinaw City and on the move again. While in Charlevoix we checked out the unique mushroom houses and visited Castle Farms (pictured below), a renovated “castle” built as a showplace for Sears farm products.
Details – After leaving Ron and Marie waving goodbye from the dock at Blind River, we headed back to the south side of the North Channel to Meldrum Bay. The channel was choppy with 2’ swells hitting us in about 3-second intervals – a bit uncomfortable. Meldrum Bay was pretty. We decided to stay in the marina for the night to catch up on email and do laundry. Unfortunately, the Internet would not reach our boat and we had to go to the marina office to get service. We didn’t even have phone service – a first, we think, in a marina! We walked to the local hotel/restaurant to get what had been recommended as the best key lime pie, but after being rudely told we were only dressed well enough to sit on the porch (in typical cruiser clothes), we decided they could keep their $6 slice of key lime pie (which we had intended to take back to the boat anyway).
It was clear the next morning and we took a walk around town before leaving to see why Robbie said Meldrum Bay was “not to be missed.” It took us about 30 minutes to walk the whole town of about 20 houses/mobile homes…and whatever it was that was not to be missed (other than the pretty bay), we must have missed it, as there was nothing there – no grocery store, no gift shop, actually, not anything other than the marina and one hotel with restaurant.
As we made our way to Drummond Island, our boat was covered with more flying bugs than any leg of our journey. They were bigger than gnats, but we did not know what they were. Whatever they were, we could not get rid of them all day.
At 1:25 PM, we cleared customs at Drummond Island Yacht Center, an easy 15-minute process with one agent representing customs, agriculture, and border security coming to our boat. With lots of daylight left, we continued to the south side of Drummond Island and anchored in St. John’s Cove with 3 other boats for the night.
We arose early and pulled our anchor at 7:15 to beat the weather to our destination of Mackinaw City, MI. At first it was extremely choppy. The plastic bin in which we carried all our charts and necessary items to the flybridge each day was thrown from the couch to the floor. We altered our course to stay closer to land in case we wanted to bail out and find a safe harbor. But after passing the big lighthouse marking DeTour Reef and motoring another 30 minutes or so, it finally got a bit smoother and we continued on.
We had thought about going to the marina at Mackinac Island but heard the marina was very uncomfortable with constant rocking and rolling from the ferryboats. As we passed the island on our starboard, it did look rough. About 30 minutes from Mackinaw City, a big rainstorm approached but fortunately passed a little south of us and we were able to make it in to the marina without getting hit. We were really glad we didn’t have to deal with weather, as the entrance to the marina was very tricky. It was hard to see exactly where the entrance was and it was very narrow with a 90° turn at the entrance. The fairways were also pretty tight…and then they put us in a slip that was a bit too short for our boat.
Unfortunately, once again, the internet to the docks was down and all our computer use had to be done from the marina office. But there, we met Fred and Lisa Shroeder, MI residents, on sailboat Cloud Nine who gave us some tips on anchorages and marinas as we made our way south.
Mackinac. How do you say it? The word comes from the original people of the area and accounts for the names Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island, the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge. They called it Michinni-Makinong. The French arrived in 1715, respelling the name and when the British arrived, they respelled it according to the French pronunciation. Regardless of how it is spelled, it is always pronounced with the “aw” sound at the end.
Mackinaw City, a whopping 3.36 square miles, has 850 year-round residents and 1 to 2 million visitors each year. By those numbers, you can guess it’s a tourist town. The main tourist area was about 10 blocks, and we don’t think there can be anywhere in the world with more fudge/popcorn/ice cream shops per block.
Mackinaw City – Day 1 (Friday, 8/19/16): After arriving, we walked town. Of course, we taste-tested and then bought some fudge, vowing to make it last as long as possible. (Note: as of late September, we still have half of it in the refrigerator.) We also found a nice reasonably-priced pizza buffet at BC Pizza for supper.
Mackinaw City – Day 2: We had planned to ferry over to Mackinac Island for the day, but with 1” of rain forecast decided to go the following day and extended our 2-night stay in Mackinaw City to 3 nights. We toured the amazing Coast Guard Icebreaker Mackinaw and ate lunch at Nonna Lisa Italian restaurant (cute name, huh?) and had plenty left over for another meal. In the rain, we found the small Mackinac Bridge Museum upstairs in a pizza restaurant and enjoyed the very old film footage from when the bridge was built.
The Mackinac Bridge (“Mighty Mac”) connects the upper and lower peninsulas and was completed in 1957 with 3500 workers at a cost of $98 million. It is the 3rd largest suspension bridge in the world at 8,614’ and is 5 miles long. 3.7 million people cross it a year. Prior to its construction, a state-run ferry system transported people from northern MI to the Upper Peninsula; the first day of hunting season, waits to get on a ferry could last an entire day.
Back out in the rain, we walked the Historic Trail past the Mackinac Bridge and lighthouse. After returning to the boat, it seemed the only thing left to do was take a nap. We finished the day in the marina lounge using the Internet. Tom worked on blog pictures while Paula did route planning.
Mackinaw City – Day 3: We awoke to scattered clouds and howling winds with gusts to 40 knots rocking the boat. Nonetheless, we rode our bikes to the Arnold Mackinac Island Ferry for the ride across to Mackinac Island in 3-4’ swells.
Just across the Straits of Mackinac lies Mackinac Island, 3 miles long by 2 miles wide with 500 year-round residents. Again, it was a very touristy town (with more fudge). No vehicles are allowed on the island and everyone gets around by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. During the summer tourist season, there are 600 horses on the island (100 more than the number of year-round residents!) but only 20 horses remain after the season is over. Ferries run continuously during the day (3 companies and about every 15 minutes) until the water freezes, usually around January. Then the only way residents can get to the mainland is by airplane or wait until an ice bridge freezes between the 2 landmasses on which they can cross by snowmobile.
Having never done a carriage ride anywhere, we decided we couldn’t think of a better place to indulge. We decided on a group ride with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours and had some good guides who shared the history of the island. Afterwards we biked up to the highest point on the middle of the island and then took the circumference road back to town (a total of about 8 miles), followed by the return ferry back to Mackinaw City.
Running out of time, we returned to BC pizza for their quick buffet before riding LC (the scooter) to the 6:00 service at Mackinaw City Bible Church. It was a small friendly church and the pastor gave a good message on why it is better to be absent from the body and present with the Lord (II Cor 5:8).
Immediately after church, we scootered to the 7:30 PM Jack Pine Lumberjack Show. Two professional lumberjacks competed against each other, with half the spectators assigned to cheer on each competitor. Events included the log chop, ax throw, log roll, 3-log event, and pole climb. One of the competitors (and part-owner of the show), Derek, was a world pole climbing champion, climbing up and down a 60’ pole in 12 seconds. He was amazing to watch – so fast and smooth (see a YouTube video of Derek here). He made it look so easy! The show was very enjoyable. Paula thought she would have liked to try the log rolling.
Mackinaw City – Day 4: There was still a bit of wind when we awoke, but we decided to ride across the Mackinac Bridge before departing, followed by breakfast at the Pancake Restaurant. As we prepared to leave, though the weather forecast we got seemed good, we found out from another boater that swells later in the day for Lake Michigan were forecast for possibly up to 8-9’ with wind to 30 knots. That was not something we wanted to do! Not only that, but the forecast for winds and waves looked bad for 3 more days!
After deciding not to leave, we were pretty depressed about another day in Mackinaw City. Not only had we done everything we wanted to do and already been there a day longer than planned, we knew we needed to make progress southward to make our goal of getting through Chicago by Labor Day. That is sort of a “golden rule” for Loopers, as weather gets progressively worse on Lake Michigan as fall approaches. Paula had read boaters should allow 1 weather day for every 2 boating days on Lake Michigan and we needed to average 25 miles a day. That said, we should tell you the best thing a boater can have is a plan…the worst thing a boater can have is a schedule. Obviously, “our” schedule was being altered.
The delay sent Paula into a funk (besides the fact that her knee was also not doing well for some reason which also prevented us from doing other bike trails later abounding in the towns along Lake Michigan) so she started a new knitting project to try to find her “happy place.” Tom worked on pictures for the blog before completing 3 boat projects – mounting a flybridge radio control, fixing a broken aft deck chair, and fixing the water pump on our 12k generator.
Mackinaw City – Day 5: More wind, more blogging, more knitting, more wishing we were moving. At 3:30, we got a rental car delivered and went on a drive southeast along Lake Huron. It was a boring road without many sights. We drove through the small town of Cheboygan before having dinner at The Inn Between on the Indian River.
Mackinaw City…still – Day 6: We awoke to more wind and an overcast sky with rain coming down again. We drove in the rental car again, this time traveling south along Lake Michigan. We thought perhaps we could tour some towns along the coast so we could skip them when we finally got to start moving. In very hard rain, we drove through the Tunnel of Trees, northern hardwoods bending over the winding road north of Harbor Springs on M-119 Heritage Route. It was very nice and likely would be spectacular during fall leaf season. Occasionally, we caught overlooks of Lake Michigan. We walked the cute small town of Harbor Springs in the rain, purchasing a few fruits and vegetables at the downtown farmer’s market.
Further south in Petosky, we had lunch and grocery shopped at D & W, the only grocery store bigger than a convenience store for many, many miles in the past days of our journey.
Once back at the marina, we moved the boat to a slip beside the fuel dock for a holding tank pumpout in anticipation of getting out of Mackinaw City the next day at the crack of dawn. We filled water and cleaned the boat in preparation of finally leaving!
Day 7 finally leaving Mackinaw City: It was a mass exodus from the marina. We knew of at least 7 boats (out of the 10 transients there) who had been waiting out the weather and were anxious to leave. As soon as it was light, we pulled out under mostly cloudy skies behind 2 other boats. It was pretty going under the Mackinac Bridge, but became rougher as we turned south and we had a pretty uncomfortable ride most of the day.
41 miles later, we arrived at Charlevoix at 2:15 PM, narrowly missing the bridge opening into Round Lake so had to wait 25 minutes until the next one. Once secured at the Charlevoix City Marina, we hopped on LC and drove to Castle Farms. Castle Farms, a 1600-acre dairy farm, was built in 1918 by Albert Loeb, acting president of Sears & Roebuck Co. His dream was to build a model farm on which prize-winning livestock could be raised using the newest techniques and technologies available through equipment sold in the Sears catalog.
The “farm” flourished for 10 years, at one time the largest employer in Charlevoix County. Unfortunately, during the great depression, the farm was no longer profitable and fell into disrepair. Over the years, it was owned by 3 other owners and was once used as a concert site for many well-known bands including, Tina Turner, the Temptations, Doobie Brothers, Rod Stewart and Willie Nelson. The castle was restored by Linda Mueller using original blueprints and is listed on the State of MI and National Historic Registries. AARP voted Castle Farms one of the “Top 10 Must-See Castles in North America.” The stone buildings were beautiful as were the many gardens on the property and we really enjoyed touring it. Paula said if she had known about it before marrying Tom, she would have liked to have had the wedding there!
On the way back into town, we stopped and picked up a smoked fish dip at John Cross Fisheries recommended by Hal at the marina. When we ate it later, we decided we’d return to Charlevoix just for the dip! We scootered around, ferreting out the roads with 26 “fairy houses” and “mushroom houses,” built between 1918 and the 1950s by Earl Young to resemble storybook fantasies of whimsical irregular stone houses with wave-like rooflines. They were quite cute.
We found the local Pigs Eatin’ Ribs roadside take-out and shared a delicious BBQ dinner at one of their 3 picnic tables before returning to walk the 3 blocks of the small downtown (population 2,529). And there was a concert at the marina park. It sure was good to be on the move again!
If you got this far, you may be interested in Lake Michigan – Part 2 which will be coming soon.