Lake Michigan: August 2010

Sault Ste. Marie to Mackinac Island:

We are up early this morning to begin our long day’s run to Mackinac Island. Just after daybreak, we pull out of Kemp Marina at Sault Saint Marie into the Saint Mary’s River for our trip downstream. We have the current with us and reach speeds up to 11 knots. This is fast for us as we usually cruise at around 9 knots. There is a large Laker just ahead of us but he is heading the same way and we never get within two miles of him. No other Lakers are encountered and we have an easy run through the shipping channel.

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Detour Passage brings us into Lake Huron. We are again fortunate that the weather is good and seas are calm.

We hope to get a slip at the marina on Mackinac Island for tonight. We had called earlier and there were plenty of slips available but they can not hold them. This popular destination fills up fast. We reach the breakwater entrance around 4:30 PM.

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Luckily there are plenty of slips still available and soon we are back on the docks at one of our favorite stops. Sebastian is not so happy. He hates this place. Every hour there is a cannon fired from Fort Mackinac which overlooks our boat. We are in direct ear shot of this and never seem to coordinate our walks with the cannon shots. Just as we step onto the dock for a walk with the dogs, the 5:00 PM salute goes off. Sebastian immediately tries to jump back aboard and hide from this noise. We persuade him to continue but he is not a happy camper.

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Luckily, Daisy with her poor hearing is oblivious to these sounds. A stop at the ice cream store improves Sebastian’s mood. We enjoy a nice walk around the island taking in the familiar sights of horse drawn carriages and tourist eating fudge. There are four other looper’s on the docks and we briefly chat with them before heading back to the boat.

We would like to spend several days on the island but it appears we only have a one day weather window. If we don’t leave tomorrow, we may be here for the next five days. We decide it is best to keep moving south. Sebastian strongly agrees with this decision.

Total Miles Traveled Sault Ste. Marie to Mackinac Island: 82
Total Miles Traveled Year to Date: 1412

Mackinac Island to Northport:

All of the other boaters are still asleep as we untie our dock lines and ease IT out of her slip just before daybreak. The winds are already picking up and we have a long open water passage today on our trip to Grand Traverse Bay so we want to get an early start. We are soon out into The Mackinac Straits and say goodbye to Lake Huron and hello to Lake Michigan. The Mackinac Bridge looms ahead and it is always impressive to go under this huge span. Our passage through Grey’s Reef is bumpy with 3-4 foot seas. The south wind causes the waves to pile up in these shallow 30 foot water areas. 3-4 foot seas here on Lake Michigan are much worse than those in the open ocean because they are so short and choppy. The rocking up and down gets to Daisy’s stomach and she soon becomes sea sick on the back deck. This is the first time that she has every gotten sea sick onboard. As the afternoon progresses, the seas calm down.

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We enter Grand Traverse Bay and change our plans of stopping at Northport Marina deciding instead to anchor in Omena Bay. This bay looks well protected from the winds and there is no sense paying for a night at the marina this late in the day. We plan on moving over to the marina tomorrow morning before the next cold front arrives.

What sounded like a good plan almost turned into disaster. Having never been in Omena Bay before, we consulted our guide books for suitable anchorage. Omena Bay is very deep and shoals quickly from 50 to 5 feet. As part of our standard anchoring procedure, I am on the bow with my headset on while Jeff maneuvers the boat towards shallow water. The next thing I know, our bow is in about three feet of water. I begin screaming “stop, back up” while at the same time our depth alarm suddenly sounds. Jeff quickly reverses direction while kicking up mud and sand. Boy that was the closest we have ever come to beaching our boat. The charts really don’t show how quickly the water depth changes. We head to the entrance of the bay and find a 20 foot shelf with good sand bottom. We are further out in the bay than we would normally anchor but we don’t dare go in further. As predicted, the winds pick up during the night and a thunderstorm passes over us. In hindsight our decision to anchor instead of going into the marina may not have been the wisest. The money we saved compared to the piece of mind and security of a marina seems rather small.

We are up early the next morning and head down the bay to Northport and are quickly tied to the docks. We soon learn that the slip we are using belongs to Tim Allen of Tim the Tool Man. His boat is being repaired at a local boat yard and the marina rents out his space to transient boaters.

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We end up spending four days here as the winds continue to blow 20 plus knots. Northport is a nice little town and we enjoy our stay. Barb’s, the local bakery, is the morning stop for all the locals. This becomes part of our morning routine also and we enjoy her homemade breads and pastries.

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The town is very small but has a well stocked grocery store and several good restaurants. From here we also enjoy several good bicycle rides around Traverse Bay.

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Both Suttons Bay and Leland, two small artistic communities, are within 20 miles of here. The bike rides to these two towns are fantastic taking us through rolling farm land, vineyards, and orchards along with some great views of the Lake Michigan shoreline.

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We are able to get in about 100 miles on the bikes while in Northport. This helps to work off the extra calories from Barb’s cinnamon twist. Each day we check the weather hoping for a weather window that will allow us to continue south only to be disappointed.

Total Miles Traveled Mackinac Island to Northport: 98
Total Miles Traveled Year to Date: 1510

Northport to Frankfort:

We have finally gotten a break in the winds and are able to continue our journey south. As we round the tip of Traverse Bay, the seas are still rolley from the previous four days of wind. As the day progresses, the seas continue to calm down and we end up with a nice trip down the coast of Michigan. The high dunes of Sleeping Bear National Park rise off in the east. Our stop for the evening is Frankfort.

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Having been here now several times, we know harbor and where to anchor so as to get a good hook and away from local boat traffic.

Several other loopers join us at the anchorage this evening. One is a catamaran who chooses to anchor very near to us. With the winds forecast to increase, we hope this won’t be a problem. We still can’t figure out why other boaters always choose to anchor so close to us when there is plenty of space in the harbor. Jeff is up at 3:00 AM as he hears a boat maneuvering. The catamaran has drug anchor and is attempting to reset father out into the harbor. After several attempts in the high winds, their anchor finally catches and appears to hold. We are all soon back asleep.

We anxiously check the weather each day hoping for a break in the winds so that we can continue our trip south. We continue to be disappointed with high wind forecasts. Just as in Northport, we end up being trapped here for four days. We can see the heavy seas breaking over the outer harbor sea wall from our anchorage. We are definitely not going anywhere anytime soon. To occupy our time, we make several trips into shore each day for long walks and ice cream. Daisy and Sebastian greatly enjoy both, especially the ice cream.

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Total Miles Traveled Northport to Frankfort: 70
Total Miles Traveled Year to Date: 1580

Frankfort to Grand Haven:

As we monitor the weather forecast, there finally appears to be a brief travel window as the front passes through. The front is predicted to arrive early this afternoon with a wind shift to the north. We patiently bide our time until 2:30 PM. Just as forecast, the winds suddenly shift from south west to North. The seas are no longer breaking over the sea wall. This is the opportunity we have been waiting for and quickly pull up anchor. One good thing about Lake Michigan is that the seas calm quickly once the wind drops off.

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It is already much later in the day than we would normally leave. The next harbor is about five hours away so we need to leave now in order to reach there before dark. As we exit the harbor, we are a little nervous about the sea conditions. Have we given them enough time to settle? The first few hours are lumpy but we can tell the trend is for calmer conditions. We feel good about our decision to leave.

As we continue to monitor the weather, the newest forecast calls for gale force winds within 24 hours. Will this weather ever give us a break? We had planned on stopping this evening in Ludington. From here we would have only one more long travel day to reach Grand Haven. The forecast for tomorrow is marginal with thunderstorms and winds increasing during the day. If we don’t make it to Grand Haven by tomorrow, we won’t for the next five days. This brings us to discussing the option of continuing on overnight to Grand Haven. The conditions are very favorable right now and we would have an easy trip. The only downside is that there are fish traps set along our route and we would not be able to see them in the dark. We would also be arriving to Grand Haven at 3:00 AM which means we would be entering the harbor and docking in the dark and also with no docking assistance. After pondering this option for several minutes, we both feel the risks are acceptable and we make the decision to continue straight through to Grand Haven. Having stayed at the marina last year, we know the dock layout and feel comfortable entering in the dark. This will be a first time for us docking at night unassisted.

This is our first overnight run on Lake Michigan. As darkness settles in, we are a little nervous about being able to stay away from the unseen fish traps. These traps are marked with an orange float which is very visible in daylight but is impossible to see at night. At times, our radar has picked up these floats, but only in calm seas. Adding to this nervousness, are the numerous small fishing boats out trying to hook a Salmon. After several hours, we settle into our routine of monitoring the radar, charts, engine room checks, and listening to the VHF. As the evening turns into early morning, we remember why we like these overnight passages. We enjoy the serenity of having the lake to ourselves. The gentle lapping of the waves on our hull, the steady drum of the engine, and the dim glow of the electronics make the pilot house seem as if we are in a cocoon.

As we begin our turn into Grand Haven, a fish float suddenly appears 20 feet off our starboard side. Our nervousness immediately returns. We actively begin scanning the horizon with our night vision scope. Luckily, no further floats are spotted. The bright lights of the breakwater entrance to Grand Haven are now clearly visible on our bow. The long and slender entrance is so well lit that we are almost blinded by the white lights as we work our way into the harbor. We breathe easier once we make our turn into North Shore Marina’s inner basin. Instead of trying to maneuver into a tight slip, we opt to tie up at the fuel dock until morning. Being just one long face dock, it is much easier to come along side. After a quick walk of the dogs, we are to bed at 4:00 AM felling very good to be here.

We manage to get a couple hours sleep before the marina opens at 8:00 AM. They assign us a slip which we are soon maneuvering into. As we approach the slip, I tell Jeff “we are not going to fit”. The marina attendant had assured Jeff that we would fit. We ease IT between the pilings and are quickly brought to a halt as our bow is wedged between them. We can’t fit. This exact thing happened to us last year as they assigned us to a slip that was too small also. Finally we are moved to a long pier where we will stay for the next few days while we prepare IT for her long winter storage. It is sad to think that our time on her is over so soon.

As it turns out, we are very happy that we made the overnight run to Grand Haven. Early the next morning the area is hit with showers and high winds. We probably would have been able to make it into Grand Haven today but it would not have been fun. Just as forecast, Gale force winds of over 40 knots arrived 12 hours later and the seas increased to 8 feet out on the lake. We are extremely grateful to be securely tied to our dock. We spend the next several days packing, cleaning, and performing maintenance chores as we ready IT for her haul out. It is a busy three days with lots to do.

Total Miles Traveled Frankfort to Grand Haven: 117
Total Miles Traveled Year to Date: 1697

Although we have put IT up for the winter, we are not through cruising. Our plans are to finish the Great Loop this year but not with Idyll Time. We will post more shortly on our plans for this new adventure.

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