Chapter Five – Lake Michigan
The sailing of Lake Michigan went poorly on the first day. The sky was bleak and the rain kept us cold and wet. We drank enormous quantities of soup. Our destination from Mackinac Island, was Beaver Island. We were told it was the opposite of Mackinac – very quiet. It also supposedly had a good grocery store. The last decent food supply had been obtained in Sault Ste. Marie. Our fresh fruit and vegetables were in very poor shape. Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain good produce throughout most of the trip. We’d only been gone for a month and I was already hoarding food. If I saw something decent, I overbought because I was never sure when I’d find it again. Now, Dennis and Nick were never concerned about this since they ate very little fruit and vegetables, but I certainly felt deprived.
Anyway, we motored to Beaver Island for a couple of hours – until the motor died.
“Hmm…”, said Dennis. “I guess we’ll have to sail.”
By this time, we’d learned that sailing took at least twice as long as motoring, if the winds cooperated. Since we wanted to spend more of our time on land, we usually sailed for an hour or so, until Nick and I became restless, then we’d fire up the motor. Our motor was so good on gas, it really didn’t cost us much.
So, with sighs of dismay, we hoisted the sails and tacked back and forth. We took turns in the cockpit because it was quite wet and dreary. We plotted our course on the chart every half hour or so, to see our progress. After two hours, we’d gone almost nowhere. It would be a late night getting into Beaver Island.
After we pondered the problem of the motor, Dennis put some gas in it. The motor suddenly came to life and we lowered the sails. We made a bee-line for Beaver Island!
Just as we were about to dock the boat, the motor died again. Dennis realized that the problem was more than just fuel. He had always calculated correctly the amount of gas we would need. He was never wrong – not once during the whole trip including our passage to Beaver Island. That is still a mystery and we don’t know why the motor came back to life after pouring gas into it. Perhaps it didn’t want to leave Lake Huron!
He adjusted the idle on the motor and it seemed to work fine. We had no more problems with it until Demopolis, Alabama – were the opposite occurred, the motor wouldn’t stop. Considering a 9.9 Yamaha pushed a seven thousand pound boat for 2500 miles, we were very impressed.
The first night at Beaver Island, we anchored quite a ways from the dock and spent a lot of time getting splashed while scurrying to and fro in the dinghy. That night was very cold – almost freezing temperatures in fact, so I did not even go for my usual swim. I sponged bathed instead and listened to Nick and Dennis discuss the warm temperature of the water as compared to the air temperature. I was not fooled.
We went to sleep under many blankets but were woken up in the middle of the night by a tapping sound. We discovered that we had visitors. A family of ducks was pecking at the hull of Hetarae! After twenty minutes of this, they moved on to another boat and we shivered back to sleep.
In the morning, we moved the boat closer to a beach so that we could go ashore more easily. This took several anchoring attempts but finally we managed to catch the anchor on something. Then we went off to the two museums.
Although Beaver Island’s population is less than a thousand, there was quite a bit to do and the museums were excellent. Children could complete an assignment which focused their attention on the exhibits. For parents, the history of the island was remarkable. There was once a man who declared himself king of the island – William Strang. He had several wives but met with disaster when the American authorities stepped in to remove him. There were also some shipwrecks – one especially made me very queasy – that were presented in a professional manner.
Also on the island was a five and dime store which also featured antique toys. Nick loved it there! We were able to stop at the deli (excellent), grocery store (adequate) and visited a boat builder. In all, it was a worthwhile stop.
The crossing from Beaver Island to Charlevoix was very rough. We pounded against eight foot waves for six hours. The only place we could sit was in the cockpit, otherwise we’d be sick. The boat crashed and bashed itself the entire way and by the time we finally got to Charlevoix, Michigan, we were happy to see solid ground.
Charlevoix has a canal which opens up into Round Lake. We anchored there among fifty other boats. The lake was small and surrounded by shops and condominiums but very charming. We loved it immediately and made plans to stay for three days.
We found the “dinghy corral” easily and headed ashore. Our first stop was the visitor center. We were given all sorts of information and made plans to our the city’s most interesting attraction – unconventional but beautiful homes designed to look like houses for gnomes.
Charlevoix had it all for the boater! A place to dock the dinghy, a good grocery store, showers for a minimal fee at the municipal marina, a movie theatre, an excellent library with internet access (remember – this was in 1997) and interesting shopping. There were children for Nick to play with but the pinnacle of the town was the outdoor concert on Saturday night. A man impersonating Buddy Holly played for two hours and drew a huge crowd! The most remarkable sight though, was the biggest yacht we’d even seen. It was so big, it even had its own car – an amphibian – that was craned off into the water. We didn’t talk to the owners though but instead hung out with the other poor folk who anchored.
One man we met, admired our boat and thought it was big! When we saw he was staying in, we agreed that it was. This man loved sailing and trailered his 17 foot boat to Lake Charlevoix and Round Lake every year. While he was there though, it rained a lot and he said it was like being in a coffin, so he was off to see a twenty-two foot boat for sale and was bringing his dinghy so he didn’t have to swim. Apparently, the boat’s owner, swam out to his boat while dragging a ladder, keys and a life jacket. He didn’t need a dinghy. Well, to each his own…
Charlevoix became our favourite American port but even after three days, it was wearing thin. We’d talked to enough people, had a good time but had no ties there, so we made plans to move on to Leland.
Leland was a really pretty touristy town. All their old fishing shacks had been turned into shops that sold the usual – candy, deli, trinkets, leather goods and ice cream. It was a very quaint place though and all amenities were close by. We anchored in the harbour the one night we were there but were anxious to see South Manitou Island. Richardson’s Cruising Guide showed a very appealing aerial view of it.
The weather forecast was not as favorable as we would have liked, but we decided to try crossing anyway. It was on the way to South Manitou that I had my first bout of homesickness. This was not a good sign.
South Manitou was a well protected harbour from three sides but open to the east. It had a long, long beach shaped in an art. We anchored, rowed ashore and discovered millions of smooth, rounded stones, all about the size of an egg. They stretched from one end of the beach to the other.
The island was part of a National Park. it was untamed yet spectacular. We went to the information center and found out that there was a whole network of walking trails to sand dunes, abandoned farms and giant cedar trees that were over 500 years old.
Nick managed to make three friends there. A family from Chicago was camping on the island for a week and had three boys. The four of them played and played in between our treks to the different sites. The walking trip to the sand dunes and giant cedars was well worth the eight mile hike but I would recommend taking at least one big bottle of water person. We, of course, only had one small bottle of water for the three of us. Live and learn!
After two nights on South Manitou, we moved to Frankfort. It was very rainy during our stay, so the town looked grim and depressing. We anchored in the harbour but were anxious to get off the boat, so we wandered around town. Nick got his haircut in a combination gun and barber shop. He hair cut was good but the atmosphere of the shop was very odd. There were a few men milling about who immediately became silent when we walked in. We noticed that there was a lot of dead wildlife decorating the walls but the one that stood out was the rabbit head with deer antlers attached. Hmm…
The grocery store in Frankfort was excellent. We filled up on fruit and vegetables and even bough fairly decent bread. We had been very unlucky buying good, crusty bread since we had been in the states. We at the usual white Wonder bread unless I baked bread in the outback oven.
There was a library very close to the anchorage which we took shameless advantage of since the weather was so cold, damp and dreary. I was able to collect my email until the librarian reprimanded me (for some reason email was not allowed – remember – this was in 1997).
We called a few friends that night while standing in the rain. All three of us were feeling rather homesick. We were cheered up considerably though when Dennis somehow managed to get use of the showers. We felt much better after getting warm and clean.
After Frankfort, was Arcadia. We had our first really uncongenial experience there. We were not welcome at all. Because we anchored in the harbour, the man in charge of the marina could only be described as frostily uncivil when we asked if we could dock the dinghy for a couple of hours.
We did our usual sight seeing but found Arcadia to be very inhospitable and unaccommodating. When we got back to the boat, it started to rain – thunder, lightning and strong winds. It was quite uncomfortable. Luckily though, the storm only lasted for forty-five minutes, so Nick and I bailed out the dinghy and explored the beach which turned out to be absolutely amazing. Huge, breaking waves smashed onto the sand dunes, the wind whipped our clothing around and the sounds were deafening. We were the only beachcombers that evening and had a wonderful time jumping waves and carrying on.
We left Arcadia early the next morning because the weather forecast called for substantial winds our of the north. We had to make a short run to Manistee. By nine o’clock, the wind had picked up and we sailed downwind at ten knots an hour in a twelve foot following sea. It was the most fun sail we’d ever had because we weren’t being smashed about, so we kept alert and enjoyed the ride!
We kept our eyes peeled for the entrance to the Manistee Harbour and by half past ten, we spotted it. We lowered the sails and began motoring in, going across the waves. This was not so pleasant. In and around the entrance were many small boats bobbing about. Apparently, Manistee was hosting a fishing tournament that weekend.
As we reached the entrance, we met with disaster. Without any warning at all, the dinghy flipped over, then plowed through the water unside down and then the line snapped. Iwas at the helm and yelled to Dennis as I watched our $1200 lifeboat float away. He quickly ran down below, changed into his bathing suit and prepared to jump overboard.
Nick and I pleaded with him not to go. What if he couldn’t get the dinghy, or get back on the boat? What if I drove over him? The two of us cried and carried on. Dennis was the only one competent to sail the boat. So he reconsidered and told me to circle the dinghy and get close enough to it so that he could reach out and grab it. I made six passes (I counted) around and around. We pounded up, down and sideways. Dennis climbed down the ladder, held on with one hand and resolutely reached for the dinghy over and over. Nick was sobbing, I was shaking but grimly steered the boat as best I could. Finally, with all his strength, he dragged the dinghy alongside, hooked its line onto the winch and we hauled it up. He brought it up forward, tied it down and then told me to go after the two life jackets that had been in the dinghy.
“Are you crazy?” I screamed. “We just about lost you and you’re worried about saving a life jacket?”
“Oh, I know I can get them. Make a few passes around them,” he confidently said.
“OK. I’ll make three passes and that’s it!” I threatened.
He got the first life jack on the first pass, and made it look so easy that I ended up making five more passes for the second life jacket. The seat cushion was nowhere to be seen and the bailer (our milk jug) is probably at the bottom of Lake Michigan.
We limped into Manistee, shaken by this ordeal and hailed the Municipal Marina. We got a slip for the night. We were shocked to discover that it was only eleven o’clock in the morning! It seemed like a week had passed since we had left Arcadia instead of just a few short hours.
We really enjoyed Manistee. The town was very close to the marina although the grocery store was quite a hike. But Manistee had a boardwalk along the harbour entrance and river that was very attractive and well used by tourists and the local people.
We found a bike store and purchased two bicycles. One for Nick and the other for Dennis and I to share. What freedom! We took turns touring the town and discovered the most wonderful playground we had ever seen. It was gigantic, made mostly of wood and resembled a medieval castle. Nick found some boys to play tag with and they played for a solid hour non-stop.
In Manistee, we also made friends with a couple travelling the same route that we were. Fran and Ed were cruising with their two cats. That made us instant friends since I missed my own cats so much. We talked for a long time and hoped to meet up again with them.
At four a.m. the next morning, the fishing tournament began in earnest. Although we were planning on leaving for Luddington early, that was a bit much. The fishermen were mostly considerate though and kept shushing each other. After a while, things quieted down.
When we left to go to Luddington, we looked like a boatful of gypsies. No clean, smooth lines for us. Our beautiful boat resembled an old working scow complete with the dinghy firmly strapped to the boat, the two bikes tied onto either side of the bow pulpit and four jerry cans lashed on for good measure. What a sight!
Luddington’s Municipal’s Marina was excellent! It was new, bright and clean. The town itself was also nice although the grocery store was not very good. Apparently, there was a better grocery store out near the highway. We did, however, manage to stock up on the basics.
After one night in Luddington, we wanted to push on and sailed south (still) to Pentwater. We anchored in the designated anchorage. The town had a dinghy dock, so we felt welcome.
Pentwater was very small but nice. The local people went out of their way to the tourists. In the “Surfing Store” we talked to the clerk and he told us that Pentwater exploded with people all summer long, then by the last week in August, the population decreased to 200. I could certainly see why people visited though. The town was clean and friendly—a good combination for success.
We were beginning to feel restless though and kept trying to move south a little more quickly. So, when we woke up early the next morning to get to Muskegon, we were dismayed to find ourselves shrouded in fog.
We finally left at 8:00 a.m. and had a slow, creeping run to Muskegon. When the fog burned off, we had to be on the look out for the fishermen’s nets, so our path was a zigzag all the way.
Muskegon was a big, industrial town. There were several marinas, so we scouted around, looking for the best location. We couldn’t figure out what was what, so we hailed the municipal marina. Unfortunately, we received no answer. By this time, it was close to 5:00 and we were very anxious to get off the boat—especially Dennis, although this was very unusual for him to be so antsy.
We docked the boat at the municipal marina and soon found out that the employees had left for the day. A very nice couple from Canada offered their key in case we wanted to get out of the marina. We found this puzzling but discovered that we were locked in for the night. What a bizarre feeling. Here we were, locked in a marina surrounded by abandoned factories. Imprisoned in Muskegon.
Nick and I were quite happy though since we felt safe and there was plenty of hot water in the showers but Dennis’ behaviour became more and more strange.
“I’m getting out of this marina even if I have to row out!” he announced rather agitatedly.
“What is your problem?” I asked unsympathetically.
He turned and looked for Nick who was out of hearing distance and said, “I ran out of cigarettes at 11 o’clock this morning.”
“Ha! That’s why you’ve been so frantic all day!”
“I’m getting out of here! I’ll take the dinghy and hide it in the bushes. I’ve got to get some smokes. I’ll be back in an hour!”
I folded my arms and studied him. He looked like he was ready to lose control at any minute. So I sighed and told him that I had a pack of Canadian cigarettes hidden away that were supposed to go in his Christmas stocking and would he like them?
I’ll never forget the look of astonishment and gratefulness on Dennis’ face. Within a few seconds the nicotine was pumping through his system and he began to look like his usual self. I never thought I’d be promoting his smoking, but he was a crazed man!
We made supper, got cleaned up and Dennis borrowed the key to the gate from our Canadian neighbours. He went in search of junk food on the bike. Nick rode his bike up and down the compound while I roller bladed. Nick quickly learned how to open the gate by riding around in circles in front of it. We figured that if he could do that on the outside, then it would also open from the outside (duh…). He wheeled out of the gate. It promptly shut and locked him out. He drove around in circles but the gate would not open. Finally, I borrowed a key from another nice person and let him in. I guess we weren’t used to all this security.
The next day, we decided to anchor in front of the state park across the harbour. We got settled and set off exploring. We found that there was a small ferry that would take us back to the city side of the harbour. We went across and had a very interesting tour of the USS Silversides –a World War II submarine. The life of a submariner must have been atrocious. The enlisted men slept in the torpedo room. The man who had the least seniority on the ship, had the worst bunk—and it was unbelievably bad.
The officers’ quarters were cramped but bearable. They were allowed to shower every day. The enlisted men though, could only shower once every fifteen days. With a constant temperature of more than 100 degrees and the humidity equal to that, it was no wonder that the men burned their clothes when they went ashore. The stench would be unimaginable.
Beside the USS Silversides, there was also another ship. It was an exact replica of the Nina. The Nina was taking the same route as we were and w met up with them several other times during the trip. It also turned out that the man in charge of organizing things used to be in the Canadian Navy and knew a whole bunch of people that Dennis knew when he was in the Navy. They immediately became good friends.
Muskegon was a lot of fun. We took the trolley car downtown and went shopping in the mall. We were able to bike and roller blade easily, so we enjoyed our stay. We were also glad that we had finally reached a more southern latitude then Toronto—43.13 degrees. And the most important thing for Dennis was that he went to his first ever West Marine store. For me, it was that I made reservations for a marina to stay at in Chicago. That was a major milestone (nautical milestone?). We were getting closer to the rivers and a new adventure!
After Muskegon, we worked our way to Grand Haven, one of the most pleasant towns we visited. It had everything a boater could want! The municipal marina was clean and well run, the showers were great. There were little shops along the waterfront, a really good grocery store eight blocks away, a Laundromat and a public library within walking distance and it even had free entertainment at night. But the best part of Grand Haven was its’ fruit and vegetable market right beside the marina! After living on wilted produce for an eternity (so it seemed), I went a little wild. I bought everything I could carry back to the boat—three grocery bags filled with delicious corn, cantaloupe, tomatoes, lettuce as well as an assortment of apples, oranges and strawberries.
After feasting on corn on the cob that night, we checked out the local attractions. To Nick’s delight, we found another (and unfortunately our last) wonderfully constructed wood playground for children. He played like a wild man there! There were all sorts of children playing, so he easily made friends.
When it got dark, we settled in to see the Musical Fountain. It was comprised of music with coordinating lights and water fountains, spraying in an intricate dance-like spectacle. It was well worth seeing and during our three nights there, each show was different.
The next day, Nick and I biked over to the library. We played on the computers and read a few books sitting in very comfortable chairs (after sitting on the boat for six weeks, most chairs became comfortable!). We headed back to the boat for lunch but on our way to the boat, I turned left and Nick kept going straight. I figured I’d keep going and meet him at the next street. When I got to where I thought he’d be, he wasn’t anywhere in sight. I double-checked the area, triple checked and couldn’t find any trace of him. I searched frantically for him. I raced down to the boat but he wasn’t there, so I told Dennis and he grabbed the bike and started looking. I searched all around on foot. My worst nightmare had come true. Nick was lost in a totally strange place.
Finally, after almost an hour, I saw Dennis biking home with a very badly shaken Nick. It turned out that he did the smart thing. After he realized we had gone in two different directions, he retraced his steps and went back to the library because he didn’t want to get lost. He told the librarian that he had lost his mom (he was crying), so she very kindly calmed him down and called the police. When the officer arrived, he talked to Nick and was going to bring him back to the boat just as Dennis got to the library. So, things turned out in the end, but that misadventure was probably the worst hour of the entire trip. I realized then, how vulnerable we really were. It was very disturbing and probably had a greater effect on the final outcome of the trip than I was aware.
We stayed in Grand Haven for another night. We noticed that the Nina had arrived, so we spoke with the crew a bit. They were very friendly to us and wished us the best of luck on our trip.
We discovered that there was a bike path from Grand Haven to Holland—our next destination. Nick and I decided that we would ride to Holland and Dennis would meet us there. We were ready for a bit of time apart. So, we packed our lunches, water, spare tube, bike pump and map, and set out. We stuck together like glue!
We had a great ride! The bike path was excellent and very safe for children. We stopped several times in different parks along the way to rest but by 2:00p.m., we arrived in Holland. Dennis had beaten us by a couple of hours, so he had Hetarae
anchored, cleaned and shipshape. He dinghied over and picked up Nick and his bike. I thought I’d drive my bike around the harbour and see if the other side had more to offer in the way of facilities for boaters.
I rode my bike for at least another hour before getting to the other side of the harbour. Along the way, I passed the Heinz Pickle factory. A very potent smell was coming from the huge wooden vats out in the open.
Finally, I arrived on the other side of the harbour, only to discover that I was not allowed access to the area where I was supposed to meet the guys. A security guard blocked my way and wouldn’t let me onto the complex until I explained my story. Then he softened and let me pass through. I thought (not for the first time) how Americans seemed to want a lot of privacy. I was glad that I lived in Canada
Dennis and Nick picked me up and we motored back to the boat. I had a good swim, a cup of tea and rested for the afternoon. I was very content.
Dennis decided that he was going to have a hot shower in the state park. He rowed ashore, pulled up the dinghy and walked into the park—bold as brass and had a very nice shower. Nick and I were too afraid of getting caught, so we cold water bathed. The next night though, we became a lot braver. It was amazing how I could justify my need to get clean.
While we were in Holland, we went to a great city park. There was a big sand hill that children ran down as fast as they could. There was also a wonderful beach and we played in the waves. I had never swam in such big waves before, so it was really fun to body surf.
We met a couple who had spent some time camping in Georgian Bay. They said that it was rainy and cold the entire time although they loved the landscape and wildness. The one story that remains in my mind that the woman told was when she was in her early twenties, she went on a two week boat trip for a wilderness experience designed to toughen up city kids. The boat had to be rowed and was completely open. The crew slept out in tents each night along the shore and had to cook their own meals and learn to become independent. She said that the worst part of the trip was that there were no washrooms on board. Everyone leaned back over the side and bared all—just like in the old days. She said they got used to it though except during rough weather.
We ended up spending two nights in Holland but were getting tired of small town Michigan. We decided to sail to Saugatauk for Labour Day weekend and then cross Lake Michigan and head over to Chicago.
The weather was starting to become hotter each day. After freezing cold during the North Channel and upper Lake Michigan, the heat was a welcome change (for a short while until we saw the condition of the water and wouldn’t go in for a dip to cool off).
The Saugatauk Harbour was gigantic and very busy with boats anchored everywhere. The water was only seven or eight feet deep, very brownish and smelly. It was the dirtiest we’d seen yet but we weren’t easily discouraged and dinghied ashore. The town was crawling with people so we had the enjoyment of watching a bizarre assortment parading up and down the streets. Saugatauk was known as an artistic town and featured many, many boutiques and trendy restaurants. It didn’t even have a grocery store! After wandering around for quite some time, we went back to Hetarae and watched the spectacle.
We also watched these two guys in a small sailboat get ready for a night on the town. They cleaned themselves and washed their hair while hanging off their ladder. Although this was not unusual, the water was so filthy, that I wondered if they were actually getting dirtier. They even shaved, then put on clean clothes and paddled off in their dinghy. Several hours later, they went back to their boat with two ladies. I shuddered at the thought of the swampy smell the guys must have given off.
In the meantime, Dennis, Nick and I had ventured over to the other town, picked up groceries and met our friend Gerry (whom we met in Grand Haven) who let us park our dinghy at the marina he stayed at. He was a great guy who went out of his way to help us.
We returned to the boat, solar showered (no dirty water for us!) and went back to Saugatauk and cruised the boutiques. In one particular store, Nick picked up a handful of tiny rubber penises and asked m what they were. I said that I didn’t know, and steered him out of the store. The more we looked, the more we realized that Saugatauk was not a place for children. It was full of drinkers and very strange people who led very different lifestyles.
We enjoyed watching the steady parade of people and boats but things got too hectic when some idiot in a boat set off his cannon several times. By that time, we were back on the boat and decided that Saugatauk was not for us.
We left on Monday in the afternoon and planned to sail all night in order to reach Chicago. The first thing we did though once we were out of the Saugatauk’s harbour, and in the beautiful clean, blue Lake Michigan, was go swimming. The water was the perfect temperature, so we paddled around the boat and took turns getting squeaky clean! It was as though we were trying to rid ourselves of Saugatauk!
I was apprehensive about an overnight sail because I had only done that once before but we could not have picked a calmer day. We couldn’t have set sail, it was so quiet. My kind of sailing—the iron jib!
We set our course and moved further and further into the middle of the lake. After several hours, we could not see the shore anymore and this was somewhat disconcerting. But, I kept this feeling to myself and we had our supper while watching the sunset. Not a cloud or a breath of wind was in sight. Soon enough it became dark and the stars came out.
We took turns at the wheel and during my watch, I thought of all my fellow teachers who were probably worried about tomorrow—the first day of school. It was quite nice, not having to prepare for school.
At about three a.m., we could see faint lights in the western horizon. According to the GPS, we were about thirty miles north-east of Chicago. What we probably saw, we later learned, was the Sears Tower.
The lake continued to be still as we waited for the sun to rise. At 5:30, we could discern the city’s outline. After all the little towns we’d stopped at, Chicago was very intimidating. By 7:30, we were close enough to see people moving about the waterfront and we scouted for a marina. Although, we had made reservations at Burnham Park Yacht Club, we had been told to go to Jackson Park Yacht Club to unstep our mast. We finally spotted Jackson Park and cautiously edged in at 9:00 a.m. I, of course, was expecting murderers and thieves to jump out at us at any minute, but that was not to be the case. Two ladies and a little girl docked their sailboat and headed off for the first day of school. The only other person we saw resembled Ernest Borgnine. He was sitting around the yacht club and was quite helpful.
We tied up, looked around and watched the wind pick up. Within an hour, the waves were very choppy and we were so thankful that we arrived when we did. It would have made a very difficult entrance. The wind actually blew hard from the north for three days and we watched the breakers smash into the shore. We wouldn’t have made the crossing in that weather and would have been stranded in Saugatauk had we left a day later. Somebody from above definitely liked us!