Monday, June 30, 2008

Summer Solstice in Frankfort, Michigan

On June 20, we left Ludington and made our way up to Frankfort where we stayed for two nights.

When in Frankfort last September, it was cold and windy, the beaches were deserted (except for surfers flocking here for the big waves) and the town was empty.

It's now summer in Frankfort, and this is a completely different town. We were able to walk out the breakwater to the lighthouse this time - Bernie didn't even know you could do that because last fall the breakwater was always covered by waves and flying spray. The beaches are full of sunbathers and swimmers, and the town is full of summer tourists. It was great to see. Bernie even got to go to the Frankfort Farmers Market!

We took advantage of the nice weather and took a bicycle ride down to Beulah (pronounced "Byoolah"), which is on Crystal Lake about 10 miles from Frankfort. Unfortunately, Bernie has developed a habit of going back in time to the 1980s and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" every time we encounter a place such as "Byoolah", Michigan or "Byoofort" South Carolina. Phil had to listen to her flat, monotone voice as she repeatedly chanted "Byoolah, Byoolah, Byoolah, . . . ".

Along the way to Beulah, we passed the old Elberta Municipal Marina, which has been abandoned due to low water levels. It looks like at least some of the slips are being used now by boaters . . .

Speaking of Elberta, they held their annual Summer Solstice festival while we were there. Elberta is just across Lake Betsie from Frankfort, about a two mile bike ride, so we rode over to participate. We expected to see lots of carousing around (maybe even pagan rituals with naked people dancing around bonfires . . . ) but, apparently we were too late. Looks like the party was pretty much over and the pagans were all "flat out" tired by the time we arrived.

While in Elberta, we also found the solution to our anchoring problems . . . if we could just find a way to get this on the deck of Meridian . . .

There's a really great art gallery/cafe over in Elberta called the Trick Dog. It sits on a steep hill overlooking Lake Betsie. The Trick Dog has a great view with unique and interesting art items scattered about the grounds and for sale inside. It's definitely worth a visit if you are in the area (and want a quick tasty sandwich, or just some ice tea).

Oh . . . we finally met another member of the Great Lakes Cruising Club while in Frankfort. When we first arrived, a very nice man came over and greeted us, complimenting Meridian and making the kind of pleasant conversation that often accompanies an arrival to a marina. We didn't notice until later that he had the "25 year member" Great Lakes Cruising Club burgee on his boat (the Marie Rae). Bernie thinks he was giving us the secret GLCC hand signal and, when we didn't respond, he just went away muttering "newbies, hah!" to himself!

A Quick Update

If you've been wondering why we haven't been posting lately, you can blame Bernie. Apparently, by reporting about how great the AT&T connection has been, she jinxed us. We haven't had a usable signal for quite some time now.

But all is well, and since the last blog post we've been to Frankfort, South Manitou Island, Leland, Suttons Bay (after stopping in Northport for the best gas prices we've seen since last year) and are currently (6/30/08) in Traverse City, Michigan. We plan to spend a bit more time in the Grand Traverse Bay area before heading on.

We'll be posting in more detail about where we've been when we get a usable internet signal. Here in Traverse City, we can use an internet cafe and hope to get a few posts out today and tomorrow.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Revisiting Ludington, Michigan

We're trying to do a more relaxed cruise this year, with shorter trips that slowly move us farther north. Our next stop after Pentwater was Ludington, Michigan. We had visited Ludington last year and really liked the Ludington Municipal Marina and wanted to stop there again. It is a good value for the location, amenities, and daily USS Badger photo opportunities.

Over the winter, someone had found our blog entry on Ludington via a Google search and commented that there was a revitalization effort for the downtown area being undertaken. (We had mentioned in our blog that the downtown area was losing stores.) After this year's visit, we would agree that there has been some positive changes downtown. More of the storefronts are occupied again. We only noticed one empty shop: the former chocolate shop is still vacant. Luckily for us, House of Flavors is still there, though, and seemingly going strong.

We are happy to report that Ludington has dried out after its recent (June 13) torrential rain fall. It had received 12 inches of rain in two hours! It got some additional rain the following weekend and the flooding was so bad that the Ludington State Park and the main highway were closed. Some beaches and boat ramps were also closed due to a sewer spillage into the Pere Marquette River. There were a lot of flooded basements, too. By the time we got there (June 19), the roads and state park had re-opened, businesses and the marina were up and running (they had never closed) and most of the clean-up had taken place.

Since we got into the marina early, we took a bicycle ride over to the Ludington State Park. We've mentioned this before, but it is worth mentioning again that the Ludington State Park is one of our favorites. The road that leads to the entrance is a long stretch that winds through large dunes on both sides of the road. The park itself is beautiful and has a history trail that provides information about the area's lumber history.

The recent rainfall had created a number of small "Lake Ludingtons" between the dunes.

Hamlin Dam is in the park and, on our last visit, was ringed with salmon fisherman. On this visit, though, there were no fishermen because the side walkways were closed. All the rain had caused Hamlin Lake to rise by over two feet and the dam was in full pumping mode to lower the level. One of the DNR guys mentioned that he had seen the lake level reach 9.4 feet. As you can see from the picture, it was down to under 8, but its normal level looks to be about 7.4 feet. And it was still pushing a lot of water through. Wow!

September, 2007
June, 2008

We left Ludington on June 20, heading for Frankfort (a longer trip), but thinking about stopovers in Manistee or Portage Lake if the waves and wind were not cooperative.

Last Year's Ludington Posts: Ludington, Michigan

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Stopping By to See Our Old Friend Pentwater, Michigan

Although we like exploring new towns, it's fun to re-visit some of the ones we went to last year. It's like seeing an old friend you haven't seen in a long time (like after a waaaayyyy too long winter). And it's nice when things haven't changed too much. We were pleased when we cruised into Pentwater Lake and saw that familiar blue water tower.

When we arrived at the Snug Harbor Marina and prepared to dock, it was clear that they remembered us from last year: They sent out four dockhands to help us. (Either they remembered us or they have friends who live near Port Sheldon who warned them about the crew of a maroon and beige Chris Craft. "The boat seems to know what to do but the two crew members are clueless.") The first thing we did when we checked in at the Snug Harbor Marina was talk to the Harbor Master, Jack Witt, about having Jason the Mechanic give Meridian a tune-up. Last year Jason fixed the transmission leak that we had in the engines and did such a great job that we wanted to make sure he did this year's tune-up. When you find a good mechanic, you travel across seas for his service (or at least across one of the Great Lakes).

When we were last in Pentwater, it was their Homecoming Weekend and things were crazy. This year, as it is still early in the season, things were a little more sedate. The guys at the marina said that things really pick up in July but they don't now how this year will be with gas prices what they are. We did notice A LOT more boats still on blocks in the yard. People were working on them -- getting them ready for launch -- but it seems that everyone is getting a little later start this year.

So, Pentwater hasn't changed much since last year. It is still a friendly little town with quaint shops, an exceptional marina (Snug Harbor), good restaurants (including a House of Flavors Ice Cream Shop) and fun events on the Village Green. Our first evening there, a Tuesday, we went over to see Pickin' in Pentwater - an ad hoc collection of musicians who take turns playing songs (generally bluegrass). We also went to the Gull Landing restaurant. Gull Landing is a casual restaurant with good food and a nice outdoor deck. On Wednesdays, they have a live band out on the deck, usually jazz-influenced.

This year we were able to visit the Pentwater Farmer's Market. It's not huge but it has vendors who sell breads and pastries, vegetables, fruits, flowers, and jams and jellies. Usually Liberty Family Farms is there (they are participants at the Chicago Green City Market), but we missed them this time.

Having re-stocked the strawberries, got Meridian tuned-up, and got a little more boat organization accomplished, we headed off for Ludington.

We have to mention that the AT&T and Cingular merger seems to have improved their service. Last year our air card was spotty in South Haven and didn't work at all in Pentwater. This year, we're getting good connections so far - KNOCK WOOD.

Last Year's Posts on Pentwater: More about Pentwater, Pentwater Homecoming Weekend, Our First Evening in Pentwater, Silver Lake Dunes Area, Trip from Muskegon to Pentwater

Friday, June 20, 2008

Two Nights in Grand Haven, Michigan

After our little "experience" in Port Sheldon, we were happy to see the lighthouse leading into Grand Haven, where we took a slip for two nights (6/15 and 6/16) at the Grand Haven Municipal Marina. The marina is located in a great spot, convenient to downtown and right across from the Dancing Water Fountain, which provides a show every evening in the summer.

The only drawback to the marina is that it's not very well protected. Between boat wakes, river current and surge from Lake Michigan, you do a lot of bouncing around in the slip. So if ever visiting there, be prepared to use lots of lines and fenders to keep you off the dock. But after Port Sheldon, it felt as secure as anywhere!

The dancing water show is pretty interesting. It's somewhat disconcerting though, as there's a sound component (mostly music) where at the beginning of the show the fountain talks to you, referring to itself as "I". Being addressed by a talking fountain took a little getting used to! We tried to take some photos, but they admittedly look more like a forest fire than a dancing water fountain.

The marina is situated right along the river walk, which is lined with quaint little shops on Chinook Pier and eateries, including multiple ice cream stands. The river walk leads all the way down to Grand Haven State Park that is right at the beach. Also along the river walk is a collection of all the Grand Haven fishing charters. The Tri-Cities Historical Museum is also along the river walk and right by the Municipal Marina. We didn't explore the inside of the museum but they have a number of old rail cars, cabooses, and a locomotive on the grounds around the museum (which is on the site of the former train depot.)

We seem to be developing a theme with our stopover locations. Just like at Port Sheldon, we found ourselves spending the night right across from a power plant. Maybe being from Chicago we're just used to the urban marinas, but the power plants don't seem to be noisy and don't detract whatsoever.

In fact, this one gave us quite an interesting experience. A coal carrying lake freighter came down the river and unloaded its coal at the power plant. Here's a couple of photos of it. The conveyor belt on the freighter swings right around and unloads from the ship. The boat arrived in the early afternoon, immediately began unloading, and was still doing so when we went to bed. We don't know when it finished, because it was gone in the morning.

Grand Haven was quite the lake freighter town. After spending all of our trip last summer hoping to get a decent view of one of the "big ships", on Monday we got a close-up view of three of them (counting the coal ship) coming up the river past Meridian. One of them came as the coal ship was unloading and had to work her way past.

The other one (the Wilfred Sykes) actually backed up the river. Here you see her as she is about to pass by Meridian.

Grand Haven is a different type of town. It doesn't feel touristy, but does have a nice shopping stretch right by the marina. Fortino's is a nice little food store. While not a full-service grocery store, it has dairy, coffee, wines and liquors, candy, and breads. and has the basics but is not a full service grocery. It also has two coffee shops, some souvenir stores, clothing shops, home furnishings and accessories shops, and a marine tech store. We're not sure if it is because it is early in the season and, like us, everyone was hibernating all winter, but the store people are very friendly and talkative. Sometimes it's hard to leave the store! ;)

And no post about Grand Haven would be complete without a mention of the US Coast Guard. Grand Haven is "Coast Guard City, USA", holding a big festival every August. It's hard to leave Grand Haven without a "thank you" to those in the Coast Guard who are "Always Ready". I know we feel safer knowing they are a quick radio call away.

Thank you men and women of the USCG!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Advice for Bill

If you were a sharp reader of some of the earlier posts from before we left, you may have noticed us mention in passing how one of the things keeping us busy was the cleaning of our condo. Now, if you know Bernie and Phil, you know that cleaning the condo is NOT one of the things they're particularly meticulous about. (They've been known to invite people over for the sole purpose of motivating themselves to clean the place.)

Some people might think the reason has to do with wanting a nice clean orderly home awaiting us when we return. They'd be mistaken. No, the real reason is that, while we are gone, we'll have a friend staying there. We'll call that friend "Bill", not for any reasons of personal privacy but because that's his name.

Because we hurriedly left without a lot of contact with Bill, we never got a chance to leave him some information, advice, etc. about the place. So here, for Bill's benefit, is a list of things that he may find useful about the nuances of our little condo:

About the Cleaning Supplies
Sorry about the lack of cleaning supplies. We used many of them up, took some with us, and left just the bare essentials. And if you don't see those bare essentials, it's because ... when we're away the neighbors* sneak in and steal our cleaning supplies. (Yea! That's the reason. Really.)

About the Aquarium
Knowing that, finally, a responsible person would be around, we fully stocked the aquarium with dozens of vibrantly beautiful and healthy tropical fish. And we gave it a thorough cleaning. So if you arrive and find only two poorly fed fish peering out from behind aquarium walls covered with black algae, well, we don't know how to explain that ... except maybe our neighbors* snuck in and took them.

Our Plants
We religiously water and fertilize our plants according to the "Bible of Modern Houseplant Care, King James Version". If you encounter tall spindly plants with yellowed (or, worse, dropped) leaves well, just like the aquarium, we don't know how to explain that one either ... but we wouldn't put it past our neighbors* to have snuck in and switched the plants.

Our New Carpets
Right before we left, we had brand new carpeting installed throughout the entire place. The good stuff! It had a very unique pattern that we liked. It's kinda grey in the middle areas where people walk but very light along the edges. The carpeting in the study has a little section of impressionistic art -- it looks remarkably like burn holes from battery acid where some careless person may have stored a boat battery over the winter. We call it Artistic Creativity.

That Soap Scum in the Shower
We really did clean the bathrooms. Really. But about that soap scum on the shower walls, well, that's just our way of helping to save the environment. We found that if on every third shower you forgo the soap and just rub up against the walls, you can cut your soap expenses by over 30%. (This one is disgusting, we admit.)

Home Improvement Projects
The condo to the east of us (the 02 unit) is vacant and for sale. And it has been that way for a while now. We think that if we knocked an opening through the wall that separates us from their third bedroom, then sealed their third bedroom door, maybe no one would notice. After sufficient time passes, squatters' rights would apply and we would finally have more space. If attempting this project in your spare time be sure you're breaking through the wall to the 02 unit. We'd hate for you to surprisingly pop into Susan's living room while she's watching television or something in the 09 unit. ("Hey, who are you and what are you doing in my living room? " "Um, sorry, I just got a little carried away while trying to pound a nail into the wall to hang this painting.") ... Susan is our nice neighbor and she wouldn't sneak in and steal anything from us.

The Television Reception
(this one is actually true!) If you have a problem with the reception, simply pull the cable box out a little and shift it around until the picture sharpens. You'll find you have to do that frequently. We'd have it replaced, but that DVR simply has too many recordings that Bernie never has time to watch but, some day in the future, she will. Yeah, right.

If you have any questions, our phone number, which is still one of those operator assisted lines, is BR 549. You can also try our cell phone at 867-5309 (ask for Jenny).

* In reality, all of our neighbors are nice and wouldn't steal anything.

Bernie's Hide-y-Hole

Just a quick little post about life aboard Meridian . . .

Most other 1982 410 Commanders have two staterooms, one aft and another forward. During our cruises, Meridian has only one. The forward one, which every now and then has been used as a stateroom for guests, has now been officially replaced by what we like to call "Bernie's Hide-y-Hole". It's a place where, on cool drizzly "blah" kind of weather days, like today, when it's too unpleasant for outdoor activities, Bernie likes to snuggle up with a blanket and book, a magazine, a relatively recent local newspaper, or just take a nap.

Here's a photo of her in her Hide-y-Hole. Notice our backup chart of Lake Michigan nestled around her lap . . . you can never have too many navigational tools!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Port Sheldon . . . Safe, Lucky and a Boater's Rite of Passage

They say you aren't really a boater until you've run aground. Well, Bernie and Phil have officially become "boaters"! Looking back on it, we can joke about it now but while it was happening it was truly a scary experience.

Here's the story . . .

We left South Haven Saturday morning a little before noon. Our plan was to make our way up to Port Sheldon, a distance of about 35 miles.

Port Sheldon isn't much of a "destination" harbor . There are no public docks or marinas. It's really just a small lake connected to Lake Michigan by a channel that was built when they constructed a power plant nearby. It is now a Michigan "harbor of refuge" used mostly by local boaters for day outings and by the occasional overnighter looking for a (free) out of the way place to spend the night or escape bad weather. But it's a quiet little lake, perfect for kayaking or dinghying around and, supposedly, well protected from the wind in all directions. And Phil, being the cheapskate that he is, liked the "free" part.

So we planned to arrive there at about 4pm, relax a bit in the afternoon and evening, and maybe do a little kayaking or dinghying. Then more of the kayak the next morning before making our way up to Grand Haven which is only about eleven miles to the north.

Everything was calm and peaceful when we arrived. The anchorage was a bit crowded, so we couldn't anchor exactly where we wanted, and we had to keep the scope a little shorter than we'd have liked. But everything went reasonably well. (We only scared away two boaters with our anchoring technique. That's a new low score for us!) Here's a photo of Meridian peacefully at anchor, with Bernie relaxing on the forward deck snuggled in between our bicycles and the kayak.

Here's another photo of Meridian at anchor. The distances look a bit deceptive. We were about 300 feet from the launch ramps and docks in the left of the picture and about 500 feet from the grassy shore to the right.

Early that evening, the wind started picking up on the lake and there were only two boats left in the anchorage (counting us). We had exceptionally good internet service here, so we checked the weather forecast and the radar and learned that severe thunderstorms were passing to the north and south of us. But not here. It looked like we were safe here.

We were mistaken.

At about 9:30, just as it was getting dark, the worst storm we've ever been in - even at a marina - passed through. Looking out ahead of us, you could see a wall of spray blowing down the main channel from the lake. Lots of spray moving really really fast. But that was 300 yards ahead of us, passing from left to right. It was kind of interesting to watch. We smugly thought, from our nice safe protected anchorage, "Boy, are we glad we aren't out there." But then the unexpected happened. That wall of spray made a hard left turn and came barreling across the lake directly towards us. Apparently, it was following the "cut" of the lake towards the little stream that flowed out behind us. "Kind of interesting to watch" quickly turned into "Oh &$@#!!!" We watched for the few seconds as it approached, bracing for the worst. And feeling like idiots that we hadn't moved the boat, lengthened scope, and dropped a second anchor when we had the chance (A LESSON LEARNED).

And it was pretty bad. When it hit Meridian, the bicycles and kayak on the front deck actually started lifting up into the air as though they wanted to fly away from our unsafe location. The bicycles were tied down pretty securely, but Phil was concerned about the kayak, so he grabbed a life jacket and some lines and went forward to better secure it. Those winds were so strong, he had to hold on to Meridian and brace himself while tying the kayak down better. It was hard to move around out there.

And then as he returned to the "safety" of the enclosed aft deck, everything sort of fell apart. The anchor drag alarm started beeping like crazy. The anchor had let go, and we saw we were being pushed back towards the docks and boat launch area. Apparently, Meridian, being in one of her more finicky moods (she gets that way sometimes), decided she didn't like where we had anchored her. So she went off to pick a better spot.

Not trusting Meridian's judgment, we quickly fired up the engines and stabilized Meridian less than 50 feet from shore. That was tough to do because the winds must have been blowing at 40 to 50 mph. It was hard to keep Meridian pointed into those winds. With just the slightest turn either way, the wind would push her sideways. And this was a very shallow area so we were concerned about running aground. We tried to move Meridian further forward.

As fate would have it, the anchor had grabbed hold again. When we reached a certain point, thinking we were starting to get some breathing room, suddenly we reached the end of the anchor line (the anchor was now behind us I think - hard to tell though because everything was happening so fast) and the bow of Meridian swung right around, placing us broadside to the wind and waves.

At this point, we didn't have any choice but to surrender to Meridian's preferences. The anchor gave way again, and we were pushed back towards the grassy shore in the right of the picture. We quickly found ourselves up against the shore, with the aft starboard corner of Meridian (rear passenger side) wedged against the bottom, and the bow pointing downwind towards the power plant. Oh, and the anchor had set again at an angle that would not allow Meridian to turn to the left - as though we could turn into that wind anyway.

On the plus side, it was a very soft bottom and Meridian was snuggled up safely against the shore, with the anchor set to stop forward drift and not all that much pull on the anchor due to us being "grounded". Apparently, Meridian liked THIS spot. There was nothing to do but wait until morning when we could try to extract ourselves (very early to avoid that embarrassing attention from other boaters!) or call TowBoatUS for help.

So we settled down for a night of (not much) fitful sleep. Phil had to get up every couple of hours because Bernie made him repeatedly check to see that the soft sandy bottom hadn't breached Meridian's bullet proof hull! But the bilges stayed bone dry all night long.

Oh yeah, that whole ordeal probably lasted for about 10 minutes. And the storm ended about 10 minutes later. The night turned calm and peaceful - weather wise, that is. Just a beautiful night in Port Sheldon for all boaters, at anchor or aground!

When we awoke at 5:30 the next morning, here was our situation . . .

We must give Meridian credit: if you ignored the whole anchor drag and wild careening around out of control in 50 mph winds and getting grounded thing, she actually picked a really nice spot to anchor when she decided to move that night! We were about five feet from shore and if we felt like it, we could wade ashore and take a nice morning stroll! We made a pot of coffee and relaxed on the aft deck, enjoying the scenery, prior to our morning "special project".

Project manager check list:

1) Drink coffee
2) Use dinghy to set a second anchor
2.5) Take photos of Meridian aground while out on the dinghy
3) Pull front of Meridian around with second anchor line
4) Lift up first anchor
5) Use second anchor to pull Meridian further out
6) Fire up engines and try to motor to second anchor
6.5) Verify running gear is ok prior to lifting second anchor
7) Raise second anchor
8) Move back to the "official" anchorage
9) Drop anchor and - this is the most important part -> act real nonchalant as though nothing happened.

We faithfully followed the project manager checklist and all ended well. And we actually got some good anchoring and unbeaching practice. Phil took a spare anchor out in the dinghy and set it at a better angle, then he and Bernie grabbed hold of the line and slowly pulled Meridian's bow around so that she pointed straight out. That allowed us to pull up the first anchor, and we then were able to pull Meridian around and out even further so that she began noticeably floating. We fired up the engines and she pulled right out.

We then lifted the anchor, motored out to the middle of the "official' anchorage and set the anchor again. By 6:30 am, to the casual onlooker who missed the show the prior evening, it was as if nothing happened! And if anyone was watching us unground ourselves, it actually looked like we knew what we were doing. In fact, when the folks from the other boat in the anchorage motored over to see that we were ok, we just responded "Hey, doesn't everyone anchor over there during a storm? It looked like a nice safe spot to us." ("Aground? Us? Nah, that must have been some other boaters. Probably some amateurs from the city.")

But we weren't taking any chances. The weather forecast was for a slight chance of thunderstorms. After our ordeal, "slight" was much too risky. Only wild and crazy thrill seekers dare to be out during "slight" risks. We left Port Sheldon as soon as possible, skipping the morning kayak ride, and headed directly to a nice safe slip in Grand Haven, getting there well before noon. Meridian rode the same as before the grounding, so there appears to be no damage to propellers, rudders, shaft, etc.

It was truly an experience - and we learned some valuable lessons on anchoring during potential bad weather that we will definitely put into practice in the future.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Traditional Stop in South Haven

After over eight months, we're finally cruising again! Yeehah! And what better way to start it off by crossing over to South Haven again?

So on Thursday morning (6/12) we bid goodbye to Chicago bright and early, leaving our slip at 6:30 am. As we passed the Chicago Lighthouse, it was looking to be a sunny day with one to three foot waves from the south.

After paying over $5 per gallon for gasoline, we decided to do what we could to save gas on this trip. That means convincing Meridian that, this summer, she's a trawler. We plan to run her at a speed that gets us a 50% improvement in fuel economy over last year. That means running at between 7.5 and 8.5 knots depending on waves and current. So it took us almost nine hours to cross the lake.

It was an uneventful crossing, very pleasant. But boy was it cold out there. Bernie wore warm clothes, a jacket, her big warm life preserver and, for the crowning touch, her "granny blanket" while at the helm. Pretty nautical, huh? (Hey, that "granny blanket" has the map of Lake Michigan on it -- I was using it to navigate.)

As we approached South Haven we began feeling a little warmth in the breeze, and as we cleared the pierhead light, it was suddenly hot and humid.

This was Harbor Festival weekend at South Haven, so we couldn't get a slip in the South Municipal marina. Instead, we were across the river in the North Marina. And after staying there, we've decided that's the marina we'll request in the future. The water is much calmer on the north side, with the surge from the lake that frequently affects the south marina nonexistent over here.

Harbor Festival is a big weekend in South Haven, with music, an arts and crafts fair, dragon boat racing, and more.

We were delighted to see an old friend of ours, Steve French, at the arts and crafts fair. Steve is an artist from South Haven. We've collected a good number of his watercolors over the years and really like them. We took a photo of his booth from Meridian as we were leaving. Steve was busy helping a customer. Phil thinks that's half of him in the red shirt and jeans. (Bernie thinks he was wearing a plaid shirt.) Hi Steve!

If you're like Phil, you've never heard of dragon boat racing. Or dragon boats, for that matter. In fact, we met a couple at the marina who talked about the various events at Harbor Festival, including dragon boats, and it was one of those times where Phil had to pretend he knew what they were talking about when he really didn't have a clue. (They talked about dragon boats as if everyone knew, and Bernie seemed to know as well, and why look like an idiot by showing your lack of knowledge - again . . . ) So here, as a public service to all those of you like Phil . . . . here's a photo of dragon boats racing.

And, of course, how could we visit South Haven without Bernie stopping at the Farmers Market? Yes! It's great to hit the local farmers markets. The farmers like to talk about their products. And I like to talk to them. I bought strawberries, asparagus, zucchini, granola, honey, and Eucalyptus Spray (to keep the bugs away).

After another nice stay in South Haven, we pulled out of the slip on Saturday at 11:45 for a relatively short trip (35 miles) up to Port Sheldon where we planned to practice anchoring, spend the night "on the hook" and spend the next morning testing the kayak and dinghy before hopping up to Grand Haven, a distance of only 11 miles.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Provisioning and Packing

A nice relaxing river cruise was exactly the way to spend time before our last day of trip preparation. Funny how all those little things that keep getting pushed off on the to-do list pile up. And, as the day goes on, how many things on the list get crossed off when you ask yourself "Do I really need this?"

One critical task, though, was a final trip to the Chicago Green City Market. This is a great market in Lincoln Park on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The farmers and producers that participate get a thorough screening before getting in to ensure that their farming practices are sustainable and that the ingredients used for any of the prepared food items are local and seasonal. Bernie started going to this market (and the other great markets around Chicago in the summer) because the items had much better flavor and there were more varieties of produce to learn about and experiment with (heirloom tomatoes, dozens of different strawberry varieties, a wide range of greens). Over time, though the safety aspect of the food has been playing a major role. She stocked the freezer with meat from the market last winter (lamb, pork, beef, chicken) and didn't have to run to the freezer to check everytime there was a meat recall announced on the news. She also froze several bags of different berries so we could have muffins, pies, and tarts all winter.

Knowing where your food is coming is in the news again because of the current "Tomato Issue". That was certainly a hot topic at the market on Wednesday -- almost everyone was talking about it. Bernie stocked up on Iron Creek Farm tomatoes, which not only are safe to eat but are also great tasting. She picked up some strawberries, bread, cheese, mushrooms, and various vegetables to get us started on the trip. We've got the schedule for the farmers markets in Michigan and plan to provision fruits and vegetables along the way.

Over the last few weeks, Bernie has been stocking up on chicken, lamb, pork, and beef from the Green City Market and tilapia from AquaRanch. She's made some tomato sauce, vegetable, chicken, and mushroom stock and froze it in plastic bags all in preparation for the trip.

Then it came time to pack our freezer on the boat. Everything was going well until she tried to put in that last package of Liberty Family Farms frozen chicken. Then a package of Heartland ground beef fell out. She got the ground beef back in when a package of Mint Creek Farms lamb chops fell out. Then a package of tilapia fell out followed by a container of her basil pesto. Phil thought this all to be amusing and took a picture.

He didn't think it was so amusing when the frozen chicken flew through the air and hit him in the stomach. "Maybe if you stopped taking pictures and went back to packing and loading the boat we'd be able to leave on Thursday!"

There's only one picture of the Provisioning and Packing process.

Marine Gas Price Report

We'll try to add information about the prices we see for marine gasoline as we move along through the cruise

Marina: Petoskey Marina
City: Petoskey, MI
Price: $4.27 / gallon
Date: 09/04/08

Marina: Mackinaw City Marina
City: Mackinaw City, MI
Price: $4.60 / gallon
Date: 08/30/08

Marina: Cheboygan County Marina
City: Cheybogan, MI
Price: $4.59 / gallon
Date: 08/28/08

Spanish Municipal Marina
City: Spanish, Ontario
Price: C$1.509 / litre
Date: 08/13/08

Marina: Town Docks (Port of Little Current)
City: Little Current, Ontario
Price: C$1.45 / litre
Date: 07/27/08

Marina: Kagawong Municipal Marina
City: Kagawong, Ontario
Price: C$1.44 / litre
Date: 07/22/08

Marina: Gore Bay Marina
City: Gore Bay, Ontario
Price: C$1.44 / litre
Date: 07/20/08

Marina: Meldrum Bay Marina
City: Meldrum Bay, Ontario
Price: C$1.40 / litre
Date: 07/14/08,
Unchanged as of 08/20/08

Marina: Detour Harbor
City: Detour Village, MI
Price: $4.719/gallon
Date: 07/11/08
(the price dropped on our return through Detour . . . )
Price: $4.58/gallon
Date: 08/25/2008

Marina: Cedarville Marina
City: Cedarville, MI
Price: $5.34/gallon
Date: 07/10/08

Marina: St. Ignace Municipal
City: St. Ignace, MI
Price: $4.659/gallon
Date: 07/10/08

Marina: Mackinaw City Marina
City: Mackinaw City, MI
Price: $4.60/gallon
Date: 07/08/08

Marina: Walston Marine
City: Harbor Springs, MI
Price: $4.99/gallon
Date: 07/08/08

Marina: Petoskey Marina
City: Petoskey, MI
Price: $4.62/gallon
Date: 07/08/08

Marina: Duncan Clinch Marina
City: Traverse City, MI
Price: $4.899/gallon
Date: 06/27/08

Marina: Northport Municipal Marina
City: Northport, MI
Price: $3.90/gallon (no, that is not a typo!)
Date: 06/26/08
We returned to find a more typical price . . .
Price: $4.30/gallon
Date: 09/08/08
Which dropped a couple of days later
Price $4.23/gallon
Date: 09/10/08

Marina: Leland Township Harbor
City: Leland, MI
Price: $4.50/gallon
Date: 06/24/08

Marina: Frankfort Municipal Marina
City: Frankfort, MI
Price: $4.610/gallon
Date: 06/20/08

Ludington Municipal Marina
City: Ludington, MI
Price: $4.33/gallon (We weren't planning on getting fuel, but at this price, we just had to top off)
Date: 06/19/08

Marina: Snug Harbor Marina
City: Pentwater, MI
Price: $4.799/gallon
Date: 06/17/08

Marina: North Shore Marina
City: Grand Haven, MI
Price: $4.52/gallon
Date: 06/17/08

Marina: All Seasons Marine
City: South Haven, MI
Price: $4.879/gallon
Date: 06/14/08

Burnham Harbor
City: Chicago, IL
Price: $5.10/gallon
Date: 06/10/08

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Beautiful Start

On Tuesday (June 10) we started our 2008 cruise by moving Meridian up the Chicago River from the Canal Street Marina to a slip in Chicago's DuSable Harbor.

Apparently our strategy of storing Meridian within sight of the dreaded Amtrak Bridge paid off. We didn't even have to call for a lift, as soon as we boarded Meridian, the bridge went up. Either Meridian made friends with the bridge over the winter or the bridge operator read our blog from last year. (For anybody else cruising the Chicago River, when you get to the Amtrak Bridge, just call the "South Branch Amtrak Bridge" on Channel 16 and request a lift.) We just left the dock, made a u-turn up the river, and cruised under the still-raised bridge. Phil thinks it must have become stuck in the up position, as he never saw it raised for that long a period of time before.

It was an ideal day for a river cruise, and we were joined by our friends Alicia, Joe and Luke. We made our way up the river passing underneath the bridges and skyscrapers of downtown Chicago, transited the Chicago River locks, took a quick cruise around Navy Pier, headed down to Burnham Harbor for fuel (a painful $5.10 per gallon of gasoline. Ouch!) then tucked Meridian into a slip at DuSable Harbor.

Once in DuSable, we relaxed for a while, with Bernie and Alicia enjoying the aft deck while Phil, Joe and Luke did a test run in the dinghy. As you can see, Joe and Luke didn't fully trust Phil's steering ability -who warned them?!? - and wanted to keep a measure of control for themselves. Or maybe they just wanted to go faster?

All in all, it was a great start to our 2008 summer cruise.

Our plans were to leave Meridian in the slip for another day while finishing our packing and cleaning, then to cross Lake Michigan on Thursday for South Haven.

. . . to be continued . . .

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Cruise Plans

This is just a quick post to let everyone know where we plan to go this year. Don't take the map too literally . . . it's just meant to show the general direction we're heading and the areas that we'll be hanging out in.

We plan to spend at least a month - hopefully more - in the North Channel and northwestern part of Georgian Bay. The rest of the time we'll be "getting there" and "returning". About three and a half months (or so) in total.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Meridian's Afloat!

Although we were initially scheduled for a Monday launch, when Mark the yard manager stopped by and asked if we could go in on Saturday, I could hear Meridian excitedly whispering in my ear "say yes! say yes! say yes!" I said "yes".

So today Meridian is happily floating on the Chicago River by the Canal Street Marina. When I stepped aboard, she felt like a real boat for the first time since last October. It's amazing how different she feels when she's floating, as opposed to being up on blocks. That gentle little swaying and rocking that she does when you board her just feels so natural now.

Our only worry is how she'll like staying on the Chicago River until Wednesday. If you recall, last year she was on the river for almost two weeks and didn't like it one bit. Many of her water intakes clogged up with mud and other icky stuff. And, as you can see, the water around her is not the most pristine.

But for now she's happily afloat and won't need to be there for more than three or four days so all is well!