Lake Michigan: Spring 2010

Traverse City to Mackinac Island:

With the sun shining and the seas calm, we make our way out Traverse Bay. We are spending the next week cruising with Courtney and Stormy, our niece and nephew. Our first stop is Beaver Island.


After a calm five hour cruise, we arrive into St. James Harbor and quickly set anchor. We get the dinghy down and go to shore exploring the island with the kids. We spend the next two days enjoying the quiet atmosphere of Beaver Island. The kids have fun finding several geocaches, kayaking, playing at the local playground, and visiting the local ice cream store.


Each morning we take the dinghy into shore for breakfast at the local bakery. Stormy has a great time learning to drive our dinghy with Uncle Jeff.


Afterwards, he is presented with an official “Idyll Time Dinghy Boat License”. While here, we have an early celebration of Stormy’s 8th birthday with a homemade chocolate cake.


After two days, we take advantage of a weather window and move on to Mackinac Island which is 60 miles north east of Beaver Island.


While in route to Mackinac Island, we encounter several severe thunderstorms. We monitor our weather radar and see lightning dancing all around us. We push IT as hard as she will go in hopes of outrunning these storms. The storms are moving 55 MPH and as we near the Mackinac Straits Bridge, the storms overtake us.


Within a few seconds the skies turn black and our visibility is reduced to zero. We can no longer see the bridge just ahead as the winds increase to 40 knots. Our computers begin to flicker on and off as the lightning strikes all around. After a few tense minutes, the storms are past and blue skies start to appear.


As we approach Mackinac Harbor, we are thankful that the storms passed before arriving here. It would have been a challenge to try docking in those conditions. We have reservations here for the next four days. Because this is such a popular destination, four days is the maximum allowed reservation length. If the marina is not full, we can extend our stay on a day to day basis. We are hoping that we will be able to stay longer. We stopped here last fall and it is one of our favorite stops along the loop.

Mackinac Island is truly unique in that no cars are allowed on the island. The only modes of transportation are horses or bicycles.


Teams of draft horses are used to move people, freight, luggage, garbage, and everything else on the island. Walking through downtown Main Street, the curbs are lined with hundreds of bicycles and the street is busy with the horse drawn wagons going back and forth on their daily business.


It is like no other place in the United States. Courtney and Stormy are fascinated with this. The town is especially busy this week as this is the beginning of a two week long Lilac Festival held every year on the island.

We have a busy four days here with the kids. Our first outing finds us renting a single horse carriage from Jack’s Livery Stable. After a brief orientation, we are turned loose on the island with our black Percheron “Babe”. We have a great two hour ride around the island. Courtney does a wonderful job of driving. We next rented bicycles for the kids in hopes of riding the 8 mile coastal road around Mackinac Island. Stormy had told us that he could ride a bicycle by himself. We quickly found out this was not the case. Jeff spent the remainder of the morning running alongside Stormy while helping him to stay upright on the bicycle. After two days of practice, he was able to ride a few hundred yards with no help. We were very proud of him. For this he earned an official “Idyll Time Bicycle License”. While he and Uncle Jeff were practicing their bicycle skills, Courtney and I rented horses from Cindy’s Stables and spent the day exploring the many horse trails criss-crossing the island. As part of the Lilac Festival, there was a 10K run on Saturday. Courtney and Uncle Jeff ran together while Stormy and I ran/walked the 6.2 mile course. Courtney and Stormy each finished seconded in their age groups and received a nice plaque. We were very proud of them both. Time with the kids went by quickly, and Jeff was soon driving them back to Traverse City to catch their flight home. Sebastian was especially sad to see Stormy leave. They have become best buddies.


Luckily, The Mackinac Island Marina is not full and we are able to extend our reservations for two more days. The seas out in Lake Huron are 6-10 feet so we are very happy to stay here. A Gold Looper, “Freedoms Turn”, with Linda and Charlie aboard pull in beside us. We have an enjoyable evening aboard IT getting to know them and sharing our experiences on the loop. They are from this area and we pick their brain for information. The forecast is for improving weather tomorrow so we hope to be on our way once again.

Total Miles Traveled Traverse City to Mackinac Island: 123
Total Miles Traveled Year to Date: 414

Beaver Island to Traverse City:

Our destination for today is Traverse City. As we exit the St. James Harbor, we are pleased to see calm water once again out on the Lake. The cold front that came through has left us with cooler temperatures. The low last night was in the upper 50’s. I felt the water yesterday and it is really COLD. The water temperature is only 51 degrees. BURR!! We have a smooth 25 mile run across Lake Michigan to the upper arm of Grand Traverse Bay. Except for three “Lakers”, we see no other boats out in Lake Michigan. DSC_0001

We are soon across Lake Michigan and enter Grand Traverse Bay. Grand Traverse Bay is 28 miles long and 10 miles wide with a narrow peninsula dividing the east and west arm. It is a beautiful wooded bay and we see several sail boats out taking advantage of the brisk breeze blowing.DSC_0006 Traverse City is located at the southern end of the west arm.
Our marina is protected with a long stone break wall. As we enter through the marked opening, we radio the marina on the VHF. No one answers. This seems to be a common occurrence for us. We see several dock guys standing at the fuel dock. After several more attempts to hail them on the VHF, we just head on over to the fuel dock. We were going to fuel up anyway before heading to our slip. The dock guys quickly grab our lines as the wind is making it difficult to maneuver. They seem a little shocked when we tell them that we need 600 gallons of fuel. IT holds 1000 gallons of fuel and this will fill her up. By filling up now, we should be good for the entire summer and them some. Fuel is much more expensive in Canada. At $2.70 a gallon, it was the cheapest we could find in this area.

Our marina is conveniently located just across the street from the downtown area. Traverse City is known as the “Cherry Capital of the World”. In 1852 Peter Dougherty, the first European settler in the Traverse City area, planted a small orchard of cherry trees. Michigan now produces 75 percent of the nation’s cherries. While browsing the numerous downtown shops, we found a great cherry store and purchased a 4 lb. package of dried cherries. Our next stop was the local Post Office where the birds CITES were waiting on us along with a mail drop. Now we are all set to enter Canada.

We are up early the next morning to complete our boat chores. IT is covered with bugs and she really needs a good bath. This is the one downside of cruising on Lake Michigan. These bugs are everywhere and leave small green dots all over the outside. After several hours of scrubbing, IT is again looking good. DSC_0010 We then head into town to the local farmers market which is just across the street. Here we purchase some homemade bread and fresh cut flowers. Jeff then gets the bicycle down and heads to West Marine to get some boat supplies and charts for our voyage into Lake Superior later this summer. We have a great lunch at a local restaurant called “Poppycocks”. It was really really good.DSC_0013

Our main reason for visiting Traverse City was to pick up our niece and nephew, Courtney and Stormy. They will spend the next week cruising with us. A few slips down from IT is a gold looper “Intrigue”. Loren and Marilyn had completed the loop several years ago and now live on their boat here in Traverse City. They graciously offered the use of their car so that we could pick Courtney and Stormy up at the airport. That is one of the pleasures of being a looper. Everyone is so friendly and helpful. The kids arrive on time and we are soon back on the boat. Daisy and Sebastian are really excited to see them.DSC_0030

The next day brings rain, wind, and cold temperatures. We decide to stay in Traverse City one more day until the weather improves. We enjoy spending the day aboard IT playing games and watching movies with the kids.DSC_0034 This evening we head back to “Poppycocks” for another great meal. Tomorrow we will be underway once again.

Total Miles Traveled Beaver Island to Traverse City: 70
Total Miles Traveled Year to Date: 291

Beaver Island:

Today we move IT just a few feet from the anchorage over to the marina. Not knowing how busy Beaver Island would be, seeing that it is Memorial Day weekend, we had made advance reservations at the Beaver Island Marina for two nights.DSC_0004 Surprisingly, the harbor is almost empty. We would really prefer to stay at anchor but feel obligated to go into the marina since we had made reservations with them. Although we had hoped to get into the docks early so we could explore the town, it didn’t work that way. We started calling the marina at 9:00 AM to see if we could move over to the empty docks. No one answered. We continue to call the marina all morning. Finally at 11:00 AM someone answers our calls and we are able to move into our slip. By the time everything is secure and shut down, it is noon.

Beaver Island is the largest Island on Lake Michigan and has an interesting history. In the mid 1800’s James Jesse Strange founded a Mormon Settlement here. He broke from the Mormon Church and declared himself king. He ruled over the island until some of his Mormon parishioners got fed up with him and he was assassinated. Beaver Island was then left to the Irish who settled and remained. These Irish had previously been evicted from their island home in Ireland and had come to the US seeking a new place to live. Today there are about 550 full time residents during the winter and over 1500 plus during the peak season. During the summer the Beaver Island Ferry makes daily crossing from Charlevoix bringing tourist back and forth.DSC_0003 The town is very small with one main street. Here we found most everything we needed including a grocery store, bakery, two restaurants, ice cream shop, and a post office. While walking the dogs around the island, we also found a great little fish market that sold both fresh and smoked White Fish.DSC_0009

Seeing us at anchor, another cruising couple, Jack and Kathie aboard “Turiya” had stopped by our boat to say hello. In the process of talking with them, Jeff learned that they were having problems with their toilet system and had to move into the marina instead of staying at anchor. We decide to take a walk over to the municipal marina to see if we could help them. Jeff and Jack spent the next hour troubleshooting the system. They finally found a stuck valve and were able to fix the problem. Jack and Kathie were very appreciative of Jeff’s help. That evening we had dinner reservations at the Beaver Island Lodge. By chance, they were having dinner at the lodge also. The restaurant was able to seat us together and we had a nice meal with them. We all had different variations of baked White Fish. It was one of the best meals we have had in a long tine. The scenery looking out over Lake Michigan was just as good. It was enjoyable getting to know Kathie and Jack and we hope to run into them again later this summer.

We spent the next day exploring more of Beaver Island. We were able to find two geocaches here. For those who do not know about Geocaching, it is a treasure hunt using a GPS. There are hundreds of thousands of geocaches all over the world. The cache usually consists of a small plastic container with a log book and various small nick knacks. If you take something out you must also put something back in.DSC02561 Kids really like this part of Geocaching. We bicycled over 20 miles throughout the island. Just outside of town the pavement of the Kings Highway ends and all of the roads are gravel. It was tough biking on these rocky and rough gravel roads. It really jarred our bones and was not enjoyable. While biking back through town, we noticed a sign outside the Shamrock Pub advertising “all you can eat pizza and salad tonight for $5.95”. That was an easy decision for us and we enjoyed another great dinner on Beaver Island.

The next morning we moved back out to the anchorage. We spent the remainder of the day aboard the boat. The winds are howling and it is too windy to even put down the dinghy. Most of the day was spent in the pilot house on anchor watch making sure that our anchor does not drag. We had winds of 30 plus knots here in the harbor. We heard reports that Lake Michigan had 6-8 foot seas. The winds finally calmed down around 10 PM and we were able to get a good night’s sleep. The next morning we were able to get the dinghy down and go ashore. We enjoyed a really good breakfast at the local bakery before taking the dogs on a long walk. We made a second trip into town in the afternoon for ice cream at Daddy Franks. Beaver Island has become one of our favorite stops along the Great Loop. It is almost like stepping back in time. Because the island is so small, everyone knows everyone. All of the town folks seem to care about the island and are very involved in preserving this little piece of heaven.
We have been surprised at how friendly everyone is. Jeff went to the local grocery store to see about filling our propane tank. He learned that they did not fill tanks but only swapped out tanks. This would not work for us. The owner, Jim, quickly said he would take our tank across town and get it filled for us. Within an hour, he was personally delivering the tank out to our boat. This is but one example of the hospitality we experienced during our stay on the island. We will be sure to return to Beaver Island again.

Frankfort to Beaver Island:

The sun is just beginning to rise above the horizon as we pull up the anchor this morning. The forecast is good with light winds and seas less than two feet. We decide to take advantage of the good weather and make a long run of 95 miles to Beaver Island today. Our reservations for the marina on Beaver Island don’t start until tomorrow but there is an anchorage there which we can use. We had hoped to stop in Leland today, but we decide to take advantage of this weather window to make the crossing to Beaver Island. There is a nice fish house in Leland that has really good smoked fish. Jeff was looking forward to stocking up our freezer there but it will have to wait until fall.

As we round Point Betsie, the shoreline is now high sand dunes. This is part of the Sleeping Bear National Park. Climbing up and down these 400 foot dunes is a popular activity here.DSC_0010 We are soon traveling through the Manitou Passage with South Manitou Island and North Manitou Island on our port side. Both of these islands are part of the Sleeping Bear National Park. There is a nice anchorage and hiking trails on South Manitou. Unfortunately they do not allow dogs so we decided to bypass this island. As we neared Beaver Island, we saw our first “Laker” of the season heading south.DSC_0012 We diverted course to stay well out of his way. At over 875 feet, he is much less maneuverable than we are. We reach the outer harbor of Beaver Island at 5:30 PM. We enter the inner harbor known as St. James Harbor and see only two other sailboats at anchor. We find a nice spot between them for the evening. Tomorrow we will go into the docks and explore Beaver Island.

Total Miles Frankfort to Beaver Island: 95
Total Miles Year to Date: 221

Manistee to Frankfort:

We check the weather first thing this morning. The winds are calm now but it is forecast to be gusty this afternoon. We decide to give it a try anyway. We hope to make it to Leland today but Frankfort is only 29 miles if the weather turns bad. As we exit the inner breakwater we can’t help but think about the accident that occurred here two days ago. A charter fisherman was going out of the harbor at 5:00 AM in heavy fog. Once past the inner breakwater, he increased his speed and crashed into the outer harbor break wall. His friend was killed in the accident. He had probably been in and out of this harbor hundreds of times and thought he knew where he was. We can see how just a small error in position would cause you to run into the outer wall. However with fog you should never be going that fast. What a tragic error on his part.DSC_0004

About an hour after leaving Manistee the winds start to pick up just as forecast. The seas continue to build. Although IT handles the seas with no problem we decide to divert into Frankfort. There is no sense getting beat up. The forecast is much better for tomorrow and we are in no rush. We had stopped at the City Marina in Frankfort last fall and had remembered that there was a nice area to anchor just off the city docks. After being at a dock for the last three days, we are again looking forward to some quiet time on the hook. No other boats are in the anchorage. We decide to stay aboard and not get the dinghy down. Frankfort is a nice town but we saw most everything last year. Daisy and Sebastian are not too happy with this choice. They always look forward to their walks each evening. Tomorrow will be a long run to Beaver Island so we turn in early.DSC_0003

Total Miles Manistee to Frankfort: 29
Total Miles Year to Date: 126

White Lake to Manistee:

Daisy finally gives in this morning and uses her mat just before we pull up the anchor. It is another beautiful warm day in Michigan. We are underway at 7:30 AM. IT is running well and we have no other issues with our stabilizers. Lake Michigan is again calm. Several times during the day we have to divert course to avoid fishing traps. These traps are marked with a series of orange floating buoys strung in a line for several miles. We don’t know the depths of these traps so we steer well clear of these areas so as not to entangle our prop and stabilizers. The Manistee Harbor entrance is marked with lighthouses at the end of each breakwater. The city marina is about a half mile down the Manistee River.DSC_0001 There is no answer from the docks when we radio them on the VHF. We circle around the docks several times. It doesn’t look like anyone is around. All of the slips are empty so we chose one that looks big enough for IT. The wind is blowing and there is a current running down the river. With no dockhand help available, the wind and current make docking a little challenging. We manage to get her in safely and are soon tied to the dock.

Downtown Manistee is just up the hill from our marina. Although the town is small, we do find several restaurants and nice shops. There is a wonderful walking boardwalk which follows the river bank for 1.5 miles out to Lake Michigan. Many locals are out walking along the path each evening. Unfortunately they don’t allow dogs so all of our walks are on the streets. A marina worker shows up the second day we are here. Jeff goes up to see about paying. The dock master explains that they are remodeling the bathhouse and it is not available. He decides not to charge us for our stay. Wow! What a great deal. We didn’t even need the bath facilities.DSC_0022

While in Manistee, we make a call to the Detroit Fish and Wildlife officer to set up an appointment for our birds to be inspected before going into Canada. We tell inspector Fuller that we will be in Mackinaw City and ask if it would be possible for her to meet us there instead of Sault St. Marie, the designated port. Mackinaw City is on her way from Detroit anyway and this would save both of us from going the extra 70 miles to Sault St. Marie. She has to talk with her supervisor about this and will let us know. Several hours later we get a call back from her with really good news. Not only do we not have to drive to Sault St. Marie, she says that we can just mail our CITIES permits to her and she will stamp them. I guess she doesn’t want to make the six hour drive from Detroit. She inspected the birds last October and knows we are legitimate. We do however still have to pay the permit fee of $250. It seems crazy to us that we have to pay money to the US Government just so our birds can leave the country.DSC_0025 We overnight the birds forms to her. She will stamp them and overnight them back to us in Traverse City.

We end up spending three nights in Manistee. It is a little rough out on the lake and since the docks are free we decide to just wait on better weather. This gives us a chance to get the bikes and kayaks down and do some exploring. We enjoyed a 28 mile bike ride along the Michigan coast to one of the State Parks and Audubon Center. Downtown, we found a charming local coffee house where we enjoyed a great breakfast one morning. We paddled our kayaks up river into Lake Manistee. Last year the worlds largest Brown Trout was caught in this lake. We enjoyed dinner one evening at a local restaurant. Jeff tried their locally caught Perch and it was really good. The forecast for tomorrow is not ideal with winds gusting 15-20 mph. We know the lake can get very rough so we will wait until tomorrow to make our decision about leaving. Even though the docks are free here, we are itching to be moving on.

Total Miles White Lake to Manistee: 69
Total Miles Year to Date: 97

Grand Haven to White Lake:

Today is the first day of our 2010 cruising season. It is a beautiful sunny day. As we exit the Grand Haven breakwater, we see that Lake Michigan is flat calm with less than one foot waves.DSC_0003 We could not have picked a better day to start our season. We are really glad to finally be back on the water. The weather has been unusually warm for this time of year. Today Michigan has a record high temperature of 87 degrees. We have an easy uneventful three hour cruise to White Lake. After being tied to a dock for the last 10 days, we are happy to be on the hook tonight. Like many of the harbors in Michigan, White Lake has a long breakwater entrance which leads into a deep lake with a sandy bottom.DSC_0007 Just before entering the breakwater, an alarm starts going off in the pilot house. It takes us several minutes to track the source. This is an alarm we have never heard before. It turns out to be our stabilizers. The message says “sensor out of limit”. What does that mean? Jeff turns the stabilizers on and off several times but the alarm continues. We turn them off and will trouble shoot this more once we get to anchor.

We find a nice spot to drop the anchor just past the White Lake Yacht Club. Our stabilizers now seem to be working fine. Jeff thinks that something must have been caught on one of them and when we backed down to anchor it came off. We are the only boat around and enjoy a quite evening. We remove some of our window panels on the stern enclosure and replace them with the insect screen panels. The breeze feels good with no bugs. We are really pleased with how this enclosure turned out. We decide to not take the dogs ashore and roll out their dog mat on the front deck. We wonder if after being on land for the last six months they remember how to use it. It takes Sebastian only 30 seconds to walk over and pee on the grass. He looks very pleased.DSC_0015 He seems to actually enjoy this over going outside at home. It takes a lot less effort on his part. Here he has only a short walk and can quickly get back to his nice warm bed in only a few seconds. Daisy is another story. She holds out on us and continues to go up on the bow gazing across to the shore. This is very typical of her. We will wait her out.

Total Miles Grand Haven to White Lake: 28
Total Miles Year to Date: 28

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