A Day of Contrasts

We enjoyed our evening under the Chicago skyline lights spending time with our son Brian and grandson Oliver. Had a nice dinner on S Michigan Ave and they came back to the boat to chat more and help us take down our stay sail mast so we’d fit under the city bridges. So good to see them! 

Friday morning we had a 3-mile trip north to the lock separating Lake Michigan from the Chicago River. The lock was easy-peasy even for a novice like me. And then…15 minutes that I’ll remember forever! We traveled through the skyscrapers and hustle and bustle of the morning city and Riverwalk all by ourselves on. Not another moving boat in sight! Caught a few pics and then saw family members on the Clark Street bridge who came to wave and capture our experience…pretty awesome!

After the city excitement, there were lots of industrial sights and smells, RR bridges that had to lift for us and a few locks before arriving at a “free” city wall tie up with electric service in Joliet late in the day.  The wall was rougher than I imagined, but we managed a decent landing and tie up before noticing a small boat in front of us struggling to do so.

We both jumped off the boat and onto the wall to see if we could help the 2 older men complete their tie up. That’s when I saw that one of the men had fallen overboard and was clinging to a rope coming off the front of their boat. He had no life jacket on and was not really attempting to climb out. His boat partner was not responding to the man in the water at all.  Ned jumped on the boat and went to offer his hand and assist and I sought help from folks on adjacent boats as the guy in the water was not responsive to Ned other than saying he couldn’t use his right arm.

  A younger couple on another boat tied to the wall came immediately with a large U-float jacket but the guy in the water would not put it on. The younger woman jumped in and helped get it under his left arm. She then pushed him up from below as her husband pulled on the guys shirt and belt to hoist  and roll him into his boat. He seemed to be in shock and was not responsive to any questions. And still, his boat partner did not seem to grasp the gravity of the situation.  We had called 911 and several police and ambulance came to take both of them to the local hospital.  The person who had fallen in looked to be in very serious condition.

So it went from being a spectacular start to our day to nearly witnessing a man drown. If we had not gone to help them tie up their small boat, who knows when the boat partner would have called for help or been alarmed enough to raise our attention? As it is, we have no idea how long he was in the water. If the woman had not jumped into the water when she did to support him with the u-float and found the strength to push him up enough so that he could be lifted into the boat, who knows how much longer he would have been able to hold onto the bow line?

Later we learned that the 2 men did not really know one another. The boat owner has some physical, mental and communication issues caused by strokes and had picked up the man who fell into the water earlier that day near Chicago to help him follow a portion of the Loop Route. The guy who fell in the water fractured his right arm and did not return to the boat. The boat owner is continuing the trip on his own for now.  Between the tugs/tows/barges, very low water conditions, locks and other pleasure boats on the Rivers, communicating is key in several situations daily.  We hope he stays safe…

All in a Day’s Work

I’ll get to the main topic in a minute, but first an update on our location… We crossed the Lake from Frankfort to Algoma on Thurs 9/2 and then made a succession of stops at Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Port Washington and Racine. The marinas were fine, but mostly filled with commercial and sport fishing boats rather than sailboats and leisure craft. We missed the smaller, more picturesque and convenient towns on the north western MI shoreline (Northport, Charlevoix, Leland, Frankfort, etc). Grocery stores thus far in WI have been miles away near I-43 or on the far outskirts of towns.

Maritime Museum in Manitowoc
Downtown Milwaukee
Windpoint Lighthouse near Shoops Park Golf course in Racine

We stayed 4 nights in Racine and rented a car to make visiting family and restocking supplies easier. My 93-yr old mom, my aunt, Megan and family and Madison friends visited us at the boat and it was great fun. Today we headed to Winthrop Harbor IL and our next destination is Belmont Harbor (adjacent to Lincoln Park north of the Chicago loop) where we’ll take down our mast and bimini to get under all 22 bridges going thru downtown Chicago enroute to Joliet IL (via the Illinois River) on Thursday.

I am feeling somewhat ambivalent about saying farewell to the Great Lakes (until next year). The vistas, shoreline scenery, sunrises and sunsets, and multitude of destination options have been spectacular. But the need to be constantly aware of the wind/weather/waves and make daily decisions regarding “go or no go”, and dealing with Zeke’s anxiety on rough seas has been stressful.

Some have compared our travels to a 4-month “road trip” but it is definitely not comparable with respect to heeding weather warnings, having confidence in (but constantly monitoring and listening to) your boat’s mechanical performance or with respect to “drive time”.

We start the day heating water for our pour-over coffee and listening to NOAA marine forecast, checking several marine weather websites, making a decision whether to move on or stay put and checking fluids, clamps, belts, etc before turning on the engine. While enroute, we lift up floor boards and look at spots where we’ve fixed leaks, repaired or replaced hoses, check various engine parts and the stuffing box with an infrared temperature gun and make sure the bilges aren’t accumulating water every 30 minutes or so. AAA can come to your rescue if you pull over on the roadside, but safe pullover spots out in 400 feet of water in Lake Michigan or Superior may be miles away. We do use “auto-pilot” at times but one of us is always at the steering wheel watching for other boats, fishing buoys and off-shore shoals.

Finally, we usually travel only 4-5 hours per day, which means we’re almost always at our destination by 2pm. This gives us several hours to walk and explore new towns nearly every day. It’s a rare day when my Fitbit registers less than 12-13,000 steps! Whether we have a late afternoon brew on the boat or at a new brew pub, or whether we eat out or dine in, we are enjoying the trip, meeting new people and learning something about the boat, our surroundings or ourselves every day.

The next portion of our journey, “the Rivers” -Chicago, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, TomBigbee, etc) may have fewer weather issues and destination choices, but we suspect the enjoyment and learning experiences will continue!

MI ports on Lake Michigan

St Ignace Marina was a great stop w/ good access to restaurants, swimming for Zeke & friendly staff. Best Whitefish tacos! The long ride under the Mackinac bridge and over to Beaver Island was a little bumpy for us, but Zeke had quite a difficult time. We stayed away from the freighters, but even from a distance their wakes rocked us hard several times as the moved at full speed thru the open water east of Mackinac Island.

Beaver Island is a throwback in time with a few quaint shops, local bars (Beachcombers and Shamrock) and lots of local history, some involving a Mormon settlement on the island. It was pleasant enough, but much of the open shoreline near the marina was cordoned off from riffraff like us. But we did manage to find a hidden spot where Zeke could swim with the ducks!

Some very curious ducks

Northport, near the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula in Grand Traverse Bay was our next destination on Thursday, Aug 26. We thoroughly enjoyed the town and the marina, which was great as we were grounded for 4 nights due to weather. One storm was so intense it tore our flexible solar panels off our bimini. Luckily, the didn’t blow over the seawall and we were able to recover them with minimal damage! While there we met a number of loopers, several couples “practicing” for their 2022 loop, and we saw some interesting boats, including this tug docked behind us on the seawall!

It’s a Lord Nelson 37, made in Seattle WA
Named “Theodore Bayre” with a life-size stuffed bear (note the profile) that sits in the Captain’s chair when the boat is at rest.

Finally, on Monday, Aug 30 we were able to head to Leland and although we again had quite a choppy ride we enjoyed the change in scenery! The nearby beach was beautiful, but the huge crashing waves intimidated Zeke. Had dinner on the boat (chix, wild rice and salad) and enjoyed the sunset as the strong westerly winds died down.

Started out early for Frankfort MI this morning (Aug 31) with north winds pushing us in a southeasterly direction past Sleeping Bear Dunes and North and South Manitou Islands. Would’ve loved to anchor out at S Manitou, but no pets are allowed on the islands. Passed Pt. Betsie lighthouse on the way into Frankfort and saw many monarchs migrating across the open water today. Found good food and beer at Stormcloud Brewing Co…. Nice logo too! We’ll wait here for favorable winds to cross the big lake to Wisconsin, maybe Thursday…

At the Detour

Tonight on Sunday, Aug 22 we find ourselves at the DeTour MI Harbor Marina in the Village of DeTour…not an inapropriate name for a stop at this point in our lives.           

As most of you know “we made Whitefish Bay” last Thursday. We came across the open water from Grand Marais MI under fair skies and nearly calm seas, unlike the sailors on the Edmund Fitzgerald. The Whitefish Pt State docks are a very primitive harbor of refuge, but the beaches, water clarity and swimming were stunning.         

Whitefish Point upon approach

We crossed the Bay Friday morning and started flirting with the big boats on our way to the Soo locks.  Sad to be leaving such a beautiful lake behind, but relieved that the large expanses of 300+ foot deep water with no refuge or other boats in sight for hours is done.  We locked thru the Canadian side and docked at the George Kemp marina in downtown Sault Ste Marie for 2 nights.  Rode bikes to a great walley fish fry the first night while Zeke escaped his crate and entertained other boaters and marina staff in our absence. Spent part of Saturday ridding the boat of Lake Superior sand (inside) and spiders and spider poop (outside).  Yes, it’s visible and it stains!

The G Kemp Marina is within the historical district of SSM MI.

Left the Soo and traveled “downbound” on St. Mary’s River to its confluence with Lake Huron and the Village of DeTour.  Nice marina with good access to the beautiful Cheneaux Islands on Monday, where we spent our anniversary anchored out in Government Bay.  Then on to St. Ignace early Monday on the north side of the Mackinac Bridge to take advantage of another beautiful day with friendly seas and plan our journey south on Lake Michigan.

One Week Out

Well we’ve been on the water for a week now. Tonight we find ourselves in Munising at the west end of Pictured Rocks Nat’l Seashore. There’s a live band concert here in the park at the marina, playing oldies but goodies in quality fashion with a strong audience of local families, couples and tourists. I haven’t seen this many kids running wild and having fun (outside of a school yard) in ages! When the band revved up “Do You Believe on Magic”, I thought to myself.. “I most certainly do. I’m in Munising on a boat (a long way from Ashland) and that in itself is pretty magical”. But in reality, I think what I really believe in is people. At our 1st stop in Black River Harbor, the swimming and sunsets were great, but the dockmates were friendly and helpful as we all faced some minor issues in getting on and off the dock due to wind.

The new transient dock at Blk River Harbor

Ontonagon was our next stop. The town was ok, but the people who helped us with our mechanical problems at the marina (Matt, Mike, Mike and Steve) were the best of the best. They were knowledgeable, willing to help, and friendly – and they all loved and welcomed Zeke on their boats and in their offices. We spent 3 nights there because of weather and needed repairs with no regrets. We will definitely see some of the people again in coming months and years.

Our slip in Ontonagon.

Coming into Houghton Saturday, under the lift bridge, on the Ship Canal, on the tail of the Ranger III ferry was fun and the pizza at the Ambassador was tasty. We started down the canal again early Sunday but had to turn back due to an unexpected hose failure. We tied up at the free downtown dock and Ned rode his bike to an auto parts store, found a good hose replacement, re-connected the fitting at both ends and we were off again shortly after noon. To me, having a partner who has the confidence and ability to remedy problems on the fly is also a bit of magic! Because our travel day was cut short we looked for and found an anchorage near the south entrance of the Ship Canal, of which was definitely magical. It was a small nook on the back side of an island on the original Portage River. Peaceful setting, great swimming and totally secure from wind in 10 feet of water. We enjoyed the solitude after the frequent noise and wakes of boats speeding up and down the canal near the lift bridge. Spent the next night in Marquette with it’s beautiful lakeshore and marina and many sailboats. Then onto Munising today. Looking forward to cruising the Pictured Rocks tomorrow and meeting more friendly folk in the coming days.

Marquette Cinder Pond Marina/Yacht Club

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