Yesterday we got our first good look at Chicago across the lake, yet another milestone. Lake Michigan is a seductive and fickle host, and while we’ve enjoyed our time visiting many of its eastern ports, we are now more than ready to reenter the river system.
It’s been a couple of weeks since things have been settled enough for blogging, so I’ll back up to where we left off, Traverse City.
We arrived in Traverse City on the 26th of August and stayed for 4 nights as planned. This was a longer stay than usual, as we had the rare and welcome opportunity to catch up with family. Cousins Bill and Kelly were returning to their home in Tucson, AZ, after a summer vacation in Vermont and planned a route that took them right through Traverse City. We had a great time catching up, enjoying the downtown and having a few cocktails on the boat. I have to admit to periodic homesickness, so we really appreciated their visit.
The extra days in Traverse City allowed us to do more exploring. We took our first serious bike ride which actually highlighted one aspect of the Captain’s and my relationship very well.
“Let’s take advantage of these great bike trails and go for a ride.”
“OK. I see there’s a bike and ride program here. So let’s ride 17 miles so we can take the bus back.”
17 miles wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but that’s what we did. We rode from Traverse City to Sutton Bay on a fantastic, well-maintained trail that took us safely through the city and then through woods, farmland, fields, a small vineyard and more. It was a fantastic way to spend an overcast day.
Traverse City is also where the weather pattern changed. We were glad to be secured in a protected port because some pretty severe thunderstorms ushered in the change. Our first night there we were awakened by thunder and lightning and rain coming in through the hatch. When the Captain got up to close hatches and doors, he saw that the heavy rain was blowing sideways and for a few minutes the wind sounded like an oncoming train. We later learned that a few tornadoes had touched down in other towns not too far away. We also rode past debris and some toppled trees on the bike trail the next day. We felt very fortunate to have missed the worst of it.
After a few stormy days in Traverse City, we enjoyed a beautiful cruise to our next stop – Leland. Now, I need to talk about butterflies for a minute. I know, what?! Well, I’ve always loved butterflies, and when we started cruising south on Lake Michigan, I began to notice monarchs here and there. Not on land, but a couple of miles offshore. There were enough of them to make me realize that we must be in a migratory path. I know a bit about butterfly migration and have always been intrigued by the fact that a small and delicate creature like a butterfly is able to make such a journey. But it’s something else entirely to be several miles offshore on a huge body of water and see them flying by. And yes, at our pokey speed of 7 knots they were passing us, much to the Captain’s chagrin. I became a bit obsessed (Captain’s word) with getting a couple of good photos to share. Here are a few, on the water and on land resting and refueling.
We spent only one night in Leland, as more weather was on the way and we wanted to get farther south before tucking in again. But it definitely was a stop not to be missed. To get there we cruised by Sleeping Bear Dunes which is a protected natural area bordered by huge sand dunes overlooking the lake. I took lots of photos when we passed but later realized I had forgotten to reinsert my camera’s memory card after uploading photos the night before. Bummer. I’ve included a link to the National Park Service description if you are interested in seeing pictures and learning more about this unique natural area. I would have loved to have spent some serious time there, but that’s another trip for another time.
Leland Harbor turned out to be one of the most beautiful harbors we’ve seen in Michigan. Long sandy beaches and gorgeous blue-green water made us feel like we were in the Caribbean. The marina is right next to Historic Fishtown, a collection of 19th-century fishing shanties at the mouth of the Leland River that have been repurposed as cool little shops and eateries. It has an historic yet hip vibe, and we spent a lazy summer afternoon looking around and treating ourselves to a meal of fresh whitefish probably caught that morning. Again, we stayed only one night so our touring was limited to the harbor and Fishtown.
The next 5 days and 4 ports were all about taking advantage of weather windows (or so we thought) to move south without getting bounced around too much by the wind and waves. What we’ve learned about Lake Michigan weather forecasts is that 2 foot waves and 8-10 knot winds often translates to 5-6 foot waves and winds in excess of 18 knots. So we had to make judgment calls based upon the best available information and then commit. On several occasions this meant 5 or 6 hours of constant up and down motion. The boat did what she’s supposed to do. We held on and found the conditions rather tiring after several hours. Nevertheless, we got where we needed to go and have become increasingly secure in our choice of vessel. The force of the wind and waves is very hard to capture on video, but here’s an attempt to share the experience.
After Leland we tied up in Frankfort, Manistee, Pentwater and Grand Haven, in that order. We didn’t love Frankfort and stayed at a marina that charged way more than it was worth, so we were happy to move on to Manistee. We tied to the city wall in Manistee, another nice, historic town with potential for exploration. We were lucky to get a slip there because more than half of the city docks were destroyed last April when a storm created a seiche event (a massive fluctuation in water levels similar to a tsunami). Apparently, it’s going to take them another year to fully restore the facilities.
We hoped to stay longer but predictions of strong winds in the coming days continued to drive us south in search of a secure port. We monitored the weather closely and decided to make a long run to Grand Haven. We understood this to be a good place to tuck in. About halfway into the cruise a thunderstorm we’d been tracking to our south appeared to change direction and head straight for us. So we made a call and reset our course for the town marina in Pentwater. The storm never materialized, but it was still the right call.
People we’ve met along the way seem to like Pentwater a lot, but again we were only there long enough to grab a bite to eat and make arrangements to travel to Grand Haven the next day. More winds, more waves, more holding on, and then Grand Haven. However, we didn’t find it so grand. It’s probably a lovely town, but we never saw any of it. Our slip was close to the mouth of the inlet, and there was a strong west wind and surge that caused us to rock in our slip … constantly. We adjusted fenders and put out more lines, but still rocked … a lot … for almost 36 hours. We didn’t feel comfortable leaving the boat under those conditions. But we did have a front row seat when a massive ship inched her way by us on her way into the harbor and then back out again after another thunderstorm.
Our reprieve came in the form of a change in wind direction. A north wind meant we could travel to our next port, South Haven, on following seas. What a difference. Having the wind behind us meant that while the boat worked harder, we were much more comfortable and even picked up another 1/2 knot in speed.
South Haven turned out to be a nice place to … once again … wait out the weather. We are finding that we start to get restless if we are in port for more than a couple of days, so we had to find some things to do. We took another long bike ride, this time on the beautiful Kal-Haven Trail.
We also went to the farmer’s market and came home with fruit, veggies and a new boat cat. It’s a long story, too long for this already lengthy post, but we now have a new crew member, Charlie.
Charlie is a young shelter cat who’s very affectionate and is doing well on the boat so far. It’s going to take him some time to fully adapt, of course, but it appears that he’s going to be quite comfortable in his new home.
By our last night in South Haven, there were at least a dozen other Looper boats waiting there with us. Enough for a rousing evening of docktails where much of the conversation centered around leaving lovely Lake Michigan behind. But despite the longed-for forecast, the lake wasn’t done with us yet. We woke to a flat calm morning … and thick fog.
The Captain and I had lowered our mast again the day before in preparation for the low Chicago bridge, so we had no radar to guide us through the fog. We made the decision to wait things out and watched the other boats leave one after another into the soup. By 1030, which is a rather late start, we decided to head out, the last to leave. Even though the fog was lifting on land, that was not the case out on the lake. The Captain instituted our first formal watch, with one of us on the bow and another at the helm, ready to signal if necessary. We did this for a couple of hours, at which time the fog lifted, and we experienced an unusual flat-calm cruise to Michigan City in Indiana.
One night in Michigan City and another in Hammond, Indiana, and we are ready to head to Chicago. We will be there for the next four days. From there, we will reenter the river system and continue our journey south, with a whole new host of challenges awaiting us.