Thursday, September 27, 2007

South Haven, Michigan to ...

As we've already visited South Haven, we'll stick to the new stuff. Well, some new stuff, some old. First of all, when visiting a port we've been to before, we find it easier to kick back and relax. But not too much. We did squeeze in a 51.5 mile bike ride on the Kal-Haven Trail. Phil's getting very worried as Bernie kept saying, "Wow, can you believe this was 50 miles? Didn't it feel like 30?" Phil didn't think it felt like 30. He thought it felt like 75. But the trees have started to change now and the trail is beautiful this time of year, too, so he didn't mind. (Phil suspects Bernie is going to talk him into a round trip Lakefront Path ride when we get back to Chicago. Phil is correct.)

We had planned to leave South Haven on Wednesday, September 26 and head over to St. Joseph, Michigan. The weather, however, didn't entirely cooperate. While, land-side weather was beautiful and there was very little wind, a Tuesday night storm had kicked up some interesting waves. The way South Haven's break wall is constructed enables the waves to zig-zag back and forth through the channel creating a cool visual effect.

In the meantime, we enjoyed the sunsets and moon rises, finally ate at Clementines (a 25 year old family owned - really good - restaurant in South Haven), and marveled at how many people put their boats away so early.

Oh, we also made jokes about how sometimes there are mis-spelled words on "official" signs. But other people seem to do that, too.

On Thursday, September 27, the waves had calmed down and the weather looked good for a trip to St. Joseph. However, a more thorough review of the weather and forecast, convinced us that a cross lake trip back to Chicago would be do-able.

We filled the tank up and headed out. On the way out we passed the Friends Good Will, which is an excursion tall ship out of South Haven's Michigan Maritime Museum.

The crossing was generally uneventful. There were a few sections where the waves were larger than expected. About 30 nautical miles out, we started seeing the strange looking sand dunes that told us we were coming back to Chicago. We saw our last freighter of the trip. Then an old familiar lighthouse.

So now we're in our home port. Seems to be some controversy brewing on this side of the lake, too.

Looks like we'll be weathered in here for about 236 days.

See you next year!

(and Phil and Bernie, too)

P.S. Look for a Trip Roundup Epilogue in a few days.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ludington to White Lake to Saugatuck, Michigan

Taking advantage of weather windows when we get them has moved us all the way down to Saugatuck, Michigan. (The weather has been wonderful lately - the best traveling days we've had since August.) We left Ludington on Saturday, September 22 and headed to White Lake (White Hall, Michigan). The lake wasn't as calm as we had expected it to be -- deepening Phil's skepticism of any forecasts we get on line anymore. However, it was not like "The Frankfort Trip".

We arrived in White Lake late on Saturday and just stayed the night. So there is not much to report other than there is a lot of activity on White Lake itself during the late afternoon (sailboats and pontoon boats); the White Lake area is having some water level and algae issues, and Sunday morning is apparently a good time to fish given the number of boats out as we were leaving on a foggy morning. Phil likes this picture of the fog rolling in over White Lake.

We left early Sunday morning heading for Grand Haven or Muskegon or Saugatuck. On the way down, we had our closest encounter with a freighter. The Wolverine left Muskegon after we passed that port but it quickly caught up with us (despite Captain Phil's efforts to out-run it) as it headed for Holland.

Grand Haven got ruled out as all the slips were taken up with a boat show (on the way up, Saugatuck's Singapore Yacht Club was having a "boat-in" and took up the Grand Haven slips) -- we'll have to do Grand Haven next year! As we'd stopped in Muskegon on the way up, we aimed for Saugatuck. We had a sentimental reason for stopping in Saugatuck, too. That was really the first place that we started walking around marinas saying - Let's get a boat so we can read and relax on the aft deck with a vase of flowers on a table.

We haven't been to Saugatuck in a few years. While many things are the same, there are a few differences that we noticed. First, there are more wine shops than previously. Bernie only recalled a Tabor Hill tasting room previously. Now there is the Tabor Hill Tasting Room, a Fenn Valley Tasting Room, and a general Wine Merchants. Second, there are more "foodie" shops than previously. In addition to Butler Pantry, there is now an olive oil tasting shop (similar to Old Town Oils on Wells Street in Chicago) and a spice merchant shop (similar to The Spice House on Wells Street in Chicago). Third, there are more upscale clothing stores than previously -- including Versace. Lastly, it is much more hustle-bustle than we remember it and definitely more so than any port we've been in since ... can't remember. But the favorites are still there: The Butler Restaurant for dinner, Charlie's Round the Corner (for ice cream), and Pumpernickels for baked goods, Uncharted Courses for nautical knick-knacks, Tuck's for Christmas items. We actually got very lucky with our slip. Most Saugatuck slips are $2/foot (!!!) and most of the marinas were booked up even this late in the season. We were lucky to get a slip at Coral Gables for $45. We were just down the dock from a 60+ foot Chris Craft called Good Grief that we'd seen in Leland and Traverse City.

Saugatuck is a very artsy community with many galleries and established artists living in the region. This summer they had an "Art 'round the Town" event that featured art sculpture displays sponsored by different businesses and individuals. It was not without controversy. And we love a good local controversy. Apparently, there was some vote and the favorite sculpture was to be placed by the City Hall.

This was the favorite sculpture (Click it to see the detail of what the child is writing). The Saugatuck City Council was not amused. They refused to allow this sculpture to be placed beside City Hall (I guess they didn't appreciate the humor). While they could censor the placement of the sculpture, they couldn't censor the sculpture tour brochure which labeled this sculpture CENSORED and asterisked the reason on the brochure.

Our trip down the Kalamazoo River back to Lake Michigan on Monday afternoon was much different than our trip up on Sunday afternoon. Where did all the other boats go??

We're off to South Haven, now. But we did enjoy our mini-visit in Saugatuck. Bernie will probably try to talk Phil into coming back for the 2007 Goose Fest. That's if she hasn't talked him into going back to try to visit Grand Haven on this trip -- hey the weather really doesn't get bad until November. ;)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ludington, Michigan

What Ludington lacks in a downtown area, it makes up for tenfold with its municipal marina and its state park. Sadly, Ludington's downtown area has a lot of empty storefronts (and with two more stores having "going out of business" events, there seem to be more in the near future). We suspect a superstore on the fringe of town may be to blame but we didn't venture out that far to see.

At $41/night for our boat, Ludington Municipal is a huge bargain. It is a very well protected marina. The main boaters' building has a cozy reading room, a great deck that overlooks the marina, probably the nicest showers (overhead shower heads), irons, big washers and dryers (30 minute cycles for $1/load), beautiful grounds and two opportunities a day to see the Badger. (We didn't know they shipped semis over! You can see into the Badger's cargo area as it turns around before docking.) We can't say enough nice things about the marina.

It does seem like Ludington is going through a transition. As mentioned, the downtown is losing businesses. However, they are constructing some nice condo buildings by the waterfront. They are highlighting their waterfront area with an art walk and have quite a number of historical murals on buildings scattered throughout the town (Ludington is apparently known as the "town of murals"). There is a good grocery store - Best Choice Market - that is "walking distance" from the marina. We had a nice dinner at PM Steamers, named for the Pere Marquette River and the steamers that used to travel it, right across the street from the marina. Ludington also has its own microbrewery - Jamesport Brewing Company - which lets you order a flight of beers to do a tasting (5 5ounce portions for $6) - kinda neat! (We recommend the Nitro Stout - which is as smooth as cream - and the Hefeweizen - a great summer beer.) Chef John's Bakery has great cookies, cinnamon rolls, and cherry struedels. We also were lucky enough to be able to visit the original House of Flavors Ice Cream Shop -- right by its production facility.

We also took a historic house walk and found this prime architectural example of the McCaulian era in Ludington.

The Ludington State Park is about 6 miles from the marina along M-116. It is a very easy bike ride and the shoulder of M-116 is very wide (it's almost like a designated bike lane). On Friday, September 21, we biked over and visited Big Sable Point Lighthouse, (we'd passed it the day before on Meridian). The cool thing about the park is that its trails and roads run between some huge sand dunes. We've never had the opportunity to bike between open dunes before. And these are some pretty large, old, and fairly stabilized dunes. They also have an under-sand shipwreck. In 2004, the changing water level of Lake Michigan enabled some researchers to identify the dimensions of a 93 foot possible schooner wreck. It's under sand now but some of the wood is exposed.

The sand is an interesting consistency and, when washed by waves, forms shelves almost like wafer cookies. The park also includes Hamlin Lake. The Hamlin Lake area is an old lumber town area with an interesting history including dam breaks and moving (straightening) the river. The bike path around Hamlin Lake is a combination bike path and historical walk with signs that give the history of the region. An interesting piece of information that we got from the harbor master was that each year they release about 200,000 baby salmon by the present Hamlin Dam. Guess that explains why the dam is a popular fishing spot. But, its probably a little disappointing for the salmon -- they'll never get up that dam!

During our ride we came across this old guy. Guess he's tired of having to share the lake with all those salmon. They get all the attention.

We've taken advantage of a weather window (although the lake wasn't as calm as we expected). We're currently in Whitehall (on White Lake) and planning to move to Grand Haven or Holland or Saugatuck tomorrow -- depending on the weather of course.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Frankfort to Ludington, Michigan

Just a quick update on our location. We are currently in Ludington, Michigan.

We left Frankfort early on Thursday, September 20. Generally Lake Michigan was cooperative. We had some fairly high wave action around Big Sable Point but by the time we got to Ludington, the lake was almost glassy.

Here are three versions of the lake during our trip. The first picture is as we left Frankfort. Certainly wavy but not bad. The second is further south where the waves were picking up. The last is as we entered Ludington.

We'll write more about our "weathered in" spell in Ludington soon. It's an interesting "town in transition", we think. Meridian met a new friend.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Frankfort, Michigan - Another Windy Port

We're starting to think that we're causing all this wind. It seems like almost everywhere we go, there's an unusual stretch of windy weather. HMMM!?!

Anyway, we're in Frankfort with a few others who are heading south -- most further south than Chicago and with specific deadlines. A "looper" couple, who have been doing the Great Loop for six or eight months needs to get to Florida by November for a wedding; three sailboats are heading down the Mississippi to Florida but have a 9/26 date with Crowley's on the Calumet to have their masts removed and trucked down to Mobile, AL (as a side note -- we never had thought too much about what the sailboaters do with the masts on the river trip. Naively thought they just removed them and carried them down. But a 50 foot mast on a 35 foot boat makes dockage and gas dock visits rather difficult. Trucking those masts down is a great idea!)

It's still windy.

But that means "surfs up, dudes". It's funny how, even here in northern Michigan, the surfers have blond hair, are deeply tanned, and talk like they are from southern California.

So during these windy days we're exploring the bike trails in the area. Bernie bought a map while in Petoskey that outlined all the paths in the northern Michigan area. Phil's glad she didn't buy this earlier as there was a 60 mile route from Mackinaw City that Bernie thought looked fun. That'll be next year!

The Crystal Lake loop is a 21 mile route that takes you to Point Betsie Light House (this picture is much straighter than the ones from Sunday) and through the resort area of Crystal Lake and Beulah, Michigan. Crystal Lake and Beulah have an interesting history. Back in the 1800s, someone tried to build a channel that would connect Crystal Lake and Lake Michigan, allowing large boats to come in. Unfortunately (or fortunately for future home owners), the channel ended up draining Crystal Lake waters, lowering its level by about 20 feet. This did allow a little summer resort area to spring up around the lake as well as the town of Beulah.

The Betsie Valley Trail is a 23 mile route that connects Frankfort to Thompsonville. It starts right at the marina. It is an old railroad bed, so it is generally flat with some long but steep grades. Part of the route goes through the Marquette State Forest. When we crossed Betsie River, quite small and narrow at this point, we noticed several salmon swimming up it. Never really realized that it takes the salmon awhile to actually find the right direction. They do a bit of swimming in circles as they locate the right path upstream.

A little town called Elberta is right across the lake from Frankfort. The Ports of Call Guide mentioned that Elberta has been having water level problems. That is an understatement. The Elberta marina is closed. The picture of the gas docks tells a story about what's been happening with water levels of Lake Michigan in the last several years! It is sad to see a lost marina.

A couple of notable businesses in Frankport. The Crescent Bakery has fresh baked breads, cherry fritters, jams and jellies, and dried fruit. Dinghy's is a little restaurant bar with some cool stained glass windows. We were able to enjoy a couple nights of ice cream at the Cool Spot before it closed for the season (then we got to enjoy a 1/2 price fudge and ice cream sale). Bayview Party Store employees are nice enough to sell you a roll of quarters when you need it to finish the laundry (unlike the EZ Mart BP gas station people). Frankfort also has a couple very nice art galleries (like Les Sirena Galerie D'Art), a book store and several non T-shirt shops. Our internet works here, but the Library, right by the marina, has wi-fi as a back-up. There's also a grocery store (Glen's) which is in walking distance.

We took the dinghy out for a little cruise since the weather today was very nice (Weather was so summery on Tuesday, September 18 that Bernie slept up on the bridge last night - actually, she spent the whole night looking at the star constellations and did see a shooting star!) Typical for our dinghy rides, Bernie rowed Phil all over Betsie Lake. Several fishermen in boats came over to ask Phil where'd he get one that rowed and what horsepower does she get. The waterside view of this boat revealed that these cruisers are prepared for any kind of travel. Not really sure how they get it off the boat, though.

The weather forecast for Thursday, September 20 looks good. Most of us in Frankfort (the sailboat guys, the loopers, and us) are planning on heading out tomorrow. We're hoping to make it to Ludington.

We'll leave you with a few more pictures of Frankfort sights.

Check back to see our progress ;)