After two lovely months in Canada, we reentered the US on August 10. And we did so via FaceTime on an iPad in the middle of Lake Huron. Times really have changed.
We followed the procedures for NEXUS pre-screened travelers and called a Customs agent to report our intent to cross the border within the next few hours. He directed us to the ROAM app, which we downloaded, completed our profiles and hit “Submit.” The system generated an immediate electronic processing confirmation, and within a few minutes a videochat request came through on our iPad. A very courteous Customs officer chatted with the Captain for less than a minute, asked to see me (I just waved to the camera and said hello) and then promptly approved our entry. It was so efficient that there was no need for us to fly our yellow quarantine flag or report to anyone when we landed at Drummond Island, our port of entry. We simply cruised to our slip, tied up and toasted the fact that we were back in our home country.
We’ve spent the last few days in the northern end of Lake Michigan. More on that in a minute. First, I need to spend a few more minutes reflecting on our Canada visit.
I don’t know what we expected when we entered the Richelieu River on June 18 and crossed into Canada, but I’m quite sure neither of us expected to experience such beauty and warmth. The scenery changed constantly with each mile, as we traveled through farmland replaced by marshland, three canal systems loaded with history, small quiet villages, large bustling towns, a couple of cities, one with a canal passing right through it, beautiful lakes with large cottage populations, small meandering channels, isolated anchorages, gunkholes with enough nooks and crannies to get lost in, granite islands, bays large enough to feel like oceans, lots of lighthouses and marinas large and small. And that’s just two months’ worth.
The one constant, however, has been the warmth – and I’m not only talking about the high temperatures and almost constant sunshine. Yes, it’s been hot... and humid. And we’ve only had a handful of rainy days. But the warmth has really come from the people. All the people we met in Canada were hospitable, helpful, interested in our journey and always eager to share information about their favorite spots which has led us in new directions. They’ve brought us chowder and coffee, loaned us their vehicles, grabbed our lines when docking, invited us for breakfast and cocktails, and spent minutes and hours talking with us about our journey and theirs simply because we happened to be in the same place at the same time. They have enriched our days, and we hope we have added something to theirs. We feel like we've finally met our Canadian neighbors.
Having said all that, it's good to be back in the US. Our first stop was Drummond Island Yacht Haven. We spent some time getting situated and had lots of laundry to do. Getting situated included going someplace for our welcome to the US toast. The marina rented out vehicles for a reasonable price, so we rented the only one available, a 1988 GMC Sierra Classic Suburban.
This car was an old beast with an immaculate interior including a faux wood dash and console. It reminded me of cars we had as kids. So we journeyed back in time and did a little joyriding on the way to dinner. From what we could tell, Drummond Island is pretty rural with lots of campers and "jeepers." We later learned that the Island boasts the largest “closed loop” trail system in Michigan, offering more than 100 miles of off-road vehicle trail riding opportunities. Indeed, we passed more four-wheelers than cars, many completely covered with mud, and almost all of the little eateries and drinkeries we passed, and there weren’t that many, had huge signs out saying Welcome Jeepers. That explains why I found the Laundromat to be so busy. We were lucky to get there early enough to do what we needed to do.
While at Drummond, we also accepted an invitation from fellow loopers on Hoolegan (remember them from the Big Chute?!) and enjoyed getting to know them better over drinks and hors d’oevres on their back deck. We were also formally introduced to their boat cat Shipmate, better known as Kitty. We’ve been toying with the idea of our own boat cat for a while…
From the tranquility of Drummond we cruised to the craziness of Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island.
Despite warnings about a very bouncy harbor, including from the marina itself in the form of a disclaimer, we elected to stay at the City Marina for a couple of nights. The constant ferry traffic did keep things bouncing, but we returned our dinghy to the top deck – we’d been towing it for a while - and secured our lines and fenders and had no problems.
Mackinac had been described to us as the land of horse***t and fudge. I kid you not. The horse reference comes from the fact that motor vehicles are banned on the island, except for some emergency vehicles. Taxis are horse-drawn, and of course there are many horse-drawn tours available for a price. Because our marina slip offered a view of the ferry terminals, I was also able to watch as provisions from the mainland were loaded onto horse-drawn carts for delivery to island businesses. These are real working draft horses, and they are impressive. They look very well taken care of and I have to hope that they are, though I didn’t engage anyone in that particular conversation. The locals tending the horses and leading the tours all had the same sort of mid-summer, let’s make some money and get this over with look about them, so a question about horse-care probably wouldn’t be that well received. There were tourists everywhere, hence the fudge. And yes, we bought some. It was really good.
The island itself is beautiful ... the waterfront, the land, the structures, the flowers...
We decided to get off the boat and biked the 8-mile trail around the island. Yes, I said biked, as in bicycle. It’s been a while since either of us has ridden, but it was immensely enjoyable. The island is surrounded by crystal clear water and pebble beaches, and we stopped at the halfway point to dip our feet in the water. I’m finding that it’s very hard to capture images of the pristine water. A more experienced photographer could do it for sure. Even so I’m including a couple of pictures I took from that stop. The cairn is like the structures you see all along the trail. The stones you see are under water.
I also have to mention the Pink Pony. We spent an evening there listening to live music while enjoying a few cocktails. I now have a Pink Pony hat, a Pink Pony t-shirt and a Pink Pony wine glass. Enough said.
A couple of days on Mackinac and we were ready for more solitude. We decided to cruise to Beaver Island next based on recommendations we’d received from folks we'd met along the way. Instead of getting up in the morning and throwing off the lines, our preferred cruising method, we decided to have brunch at the Grand Hotel first. We knew we probably wouldn’t pass this way again for a while, if ever, and apparently it is a "must-do." So we hailed some horses and went out for brunch. The horses were grounding, like they always are. The setting was beautiful and historic. The brunch was mediocre as we’d expected.
This is the way things are done here - slow, steady and horse-pungent
Afterwards, we traded our “fancy” clothes for our now favored shorts and t-shirts and cast off our lines. What we neglected to do was double-check the weather before leaving. Another novice mistake we won’t make again.
Soon after leaving Mackinac Island, we passed under the impressive Mackinac Bridge and officially entered Lake Michigan, the second largest of the Great Lakes.
From there things started to get bumpy. While initially expecting 10-12 knot winds based on the reports we’d read the night before, we actually encountered 15+ knot winds, from the south. Remember, most of Lake Michigan was due south of us, giving the wind lots of time to build the waves before they ever reached our position. Due to our course and speed, turning around wasn’t really an option. Stout was in her element. This is what she is designed for. We were managing, the Captain better than me. I don’t get seasick. I get concerned, primarily because I’m not experienced at this kind of passaging. Knowing that the boat is sound helps. The fact that I am rebuilding some leg muscles after years of sitting also helps. The rest is using handholds and making sure that every movement is deliberate. Oh yes, and a little faith goes a long way. We eventually arrived at Beaver Island, tied off and were done for the day.
Beaver Island has an interesting history and lots of recreational opportunities. We’ve found, however, that sometimes we simply need to veg. So that’s what we did. Part of this lifestyle is balancing the desire to explore new places with the understanding that this boat is currently our home and not every opportunity that presents itself needs to be explored. So after a quiet day aboard, we got up very early the next morning and started the 30-mile passage back across the Lake to Harbor Springs in Little Traverse Bay. Given our last crossing, we thought it best to take advantage of the early morning weather window.
What followed was one of our favorite “big water” cruises so far. It was relatively calm, and we were completely alone, except for the sun which favored us with a performance prepared just for us, at least we thought so.