It rained yesterday morning, which is significant because in the 10 weeks we’ve been traveling we’ve had maybe 5 days of rain, yesterday included. The rain is needed here, so this is a good thing. Perfect blogging weather, too!
Now that we are on Lake Michigan, our cruising pattern has changed. First and foremost, our travel days are now dictated by the weather. We have developed a very healthy respect for this huge body of water after a couple of interesting passages. The first was our bumpy ride to Beaver Island which I described in my last post. The second was our trip from Petoskey to Boyne City. I’ll get to that in a minute.
We are members of an online Loopers forum, and the daily digest has included many opinions, some passionate, about whether the east side of Lake Michigan or the west side is the better route to Chicago. We chose the east side, understanding that the prevailing winds come from the west and south which can lead to rougher “seas” on the east side of the lake.
The morning we left Beaver Island we cruised to Harbor Springs in Little Traverse Bay. Harbor Springs is a resort community with a pristine harbor that is the deepest in the Great Lakes. The water is a beautiful, clear green with a sandy floor, and you can literally see the bottom more than 30 feet down.
We got a great slip at the Harbor Springs Municipal Marina and decided to settle in for a change. We stayed there for 3 nights. The town center was within easy walking distance and consisted of upscale shops (a little too upscale for our budget) and a variety of restaurants, cafes and bakeries. We spent most of our time on the boat doing some chores, reviewing weather predictions, planning out our future slip reservations and relaxing. The docks there are wide and comfortable and there's a lot of activity in the bay, great for people-watching, so we preferred the boat to the town. We ultimately decided that this is a summer community where people dress to go out on their Hinckleys (luxury yachts that cost beaucoup dollars) and be seen. We had front row seats, so we made sure to see them, feeling a little underdressed in our t-shirts and shorts.
We also watched SeaQuest go out for an overnight cruise and then return the next morning. The father/father-in-law of SeaQuest's owners is the founder of Amway.
We met some great people on the docks, including a young family sailing with their 4-year old twins - so cute! They sail extensively in this region and, of course, shared some local knowledge. Based on their recommendation, we updated our plans to include a trip to Boyne City, a place we would have missed otherwise.
From Harbor Springs we took a very short cruise around the bay - less than an hour - and tied up in Petoskey at the Municipal Marina. On the way we passed a beach framed by high sand dunes, not something I expected to see on Lake Michigan.
Petoskey was a wonderful surprise and a place where we got off the boat and spent some time exploring. We wanted to see some sights and had errands to run, so we rented another tiny car. The morning began with a diner breakfast followed by a visit to the Oden State Fish Hatchery. With wide walking trails through the woods, clear trout ponds and conservationists on site, it was a great way to spend a couple of morning hours. And it was really good to smell some earth again.
When we left the fish hatchery, we decided to put off our errands and drive around a little more. Before we knew it, we were on our way back to the Mackinac Bridge. We'd been under it so why not drive over it, too. From there we kept going and ended up in Sault Ste Marie so we could visit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and get a glimpse of Lake Superior while in the area. We arrived at the Soo Locks which is a huge, heavily traveled commercial waterway connecting Lake Huron and Lake Superior. We got there after driving for an hour, looked at each other and said "Yup, another lock" and turned around.
On the way back we exited the highway right after the bridge and found a coastal route that took us right alongside Sturgeon Bay down into Little Traverse Bay. What a great ride. It was a very windy day, and the wind was whipping up the waves. We took our tiny car off the beaten path (as we often do) and entered the Wilderness State Park following roads that required a recreational pass. We didn't have one but kept going anyway.
The road eventually dead-ended in a small parking area, so we gave our tiny car a rest and followed the trail. The trail passed through some conifers, opened up into the low dunes, crossed over them and ended at the cobbled shoreline. We spent a few minutes combing the beach for the elusive Petoskey stone (see link), which eluded us, and instead collected an assortment of beach stones that we took with us as a reminder of this beautiful and wild place. http://www.petoskeychamber.com/find-petoskey-stones
From there we turned onto scenic M-119 which would take us through the Tunnel of Trees and back to Petoskey. The Tunnel of Trees is a narrow, shoulderless road lined by hardwoods and evergreens that have been allowed to grow right up to the edge of the road and form a canopy in some places. It's a favorite local attraction running 20 miles along a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, including through the tiny township of Good Hart. By tiny I mean a small general store, a miniature art gallery and a sweet gift shop staffed by a lovely 20-year old named Mary. We chatted with her for a bit and picked up a couple more mementos. A perfect end to a very nice day.
We kept the car for an extra day so we could actually complete our errands. We also kept our eyes on the weather. Winds were predicted to be 10-15 knots on our planned day of departure, so we decided to add another day to our Petoskey stay and continued to explore on foot once we'd returned the car. It's a walkable city with beautiful Victorian architecture and great shops and restaurants in what is known as the historic Gaslight Village. I wish I had taken more pictures, particularly of some of the small Victorian homes we passed, but I chose not to carry my camera when we walked. Most of the pictures I took focused on the marina and adjoining park. Here are a few.
The night before we left Petoskey (and again the next morning), we checked our weather sites - 3 of them - and agreed that the conditions looked good for an early morning cruise to our next destination in Lake Charlevoix. Winds of 10-12 knots and 2 foot waves were forecast. Good to go. We watched the sunset and got a good night's sleep.
The Petoskey Municipal Marina sits behind a breakwater that runs south to north providing protection from Lake Michigan to the west. The day before we left, our original departure date, we watched waves pound against and over the breakwater, stirred up by the strong west wind. By the next morning, things had calmed considerably. We cast off our lines and headed out past the breakwater and past several fishing boats. A good sign. After a little while we commented that there was still a significant swell that must have been the residual impact of the prior day's high winds. Still okay. Before long we were starting to see waves consistently at five feet and occasionally higher, and our instruments were measuring 20 knot winds. As we did on the way to Beaver Island, we secured the interior, closed all of our hatches and braced ourselves for another uncomfortable ride. Our weather sources were quite wrong. Thank goodness Stout is a seaworthy vessel in the hands of a good captain.
After 3 very windy hours on Lake Michigan, we reached the entry to Lake Charlevoix. Our next port, Boyne City, was at the eastern end of Lake Charlevoix, a protected lake. I thought we had farther to go so was quite relieved to see that we had reached the light marking the entry into the Pine River Channel. The Channel leads from Lake Michigan to Round Lake (a very small lake) and then into Lake Charlevoix. It is spanned by a drawbridge that opens every half hour, so we circled in Lake Michigan for a while and then started our approach with a couple minutes to spare. The Channel is relatively short, wider at the mouth and narrower near the bridge so we knew there would be a need to do some maneuvering while waiting for the bridge to open. What we hadn't anticipated was the impact of the wind and swells on the Channel currents. Maneuverability became increasingly difficult with another boat behind us. I think it's safe to say that this was the most stressful moment of our trip so far, and the bridge was raised just in time for us to get our anxious selves and white knuckles to the relative calm of the lake. We've spoken with several people since then who've had the same experience there and listened in on a few concerned VHF calls from boaters in the channel to the bridge. This experience made an impression on the Captain in particular.
It took us an hour to get to Boyne City and about that long to settle back down following the morning's events. We stayed at the F. Grant Moore Municipal Marina and loved it. This is one of the smaller marinas we've visited, and it's very well kept. The grounds are well cared for and include beautiful gardens maintained by the local garden club. We watched the Assistant Harbormaster sweep every slip clean of spiders and their webs which is a huge(!) help to boaters. We've not seen this done anywhere else. During our stay we had the good fortune of talking with Dean on Jubilee. He's very knowledgeable about Great Lakes cruising and his resume includes delivery captain in the Philippines and Singapore. We exchanged stories, and he took some time to introduce us to the best weather site we've come across yet and told us it's the most accurate he's used. https://www.glerl.noaa.gov/res/glcfs/. What a gift. It's already become our go to weather resource.
After Boyne City we spent one night in Charlevoix, another cool little Michigan town with a busy marina full of Loopers. We weren't there long enough to have much to share. Except that the next day offered a good weather window so there was much talk about folks getting up and out in time to hit the 0700 drawbridge opening. We made it a point to get there at 0630. The way out through the Channel was much quieter than the way in. And from there it was smooth sailing to Traverse City in Grand Traverse Bay, our current port.
The Canadian portion of our trip was all about the cruising. The Lake Michigan piece will be all about the weather and the ports, at least until we enter the river system south of Chicago,