This was our summer to explore Lake Michigan and to be honest, I wasn’t all that excited about it. My uninformed mind expected serial marina hopping with no charming anchorages. If you’re wondering why we would venture onto a lake that we were ho-hum about, our original goal was to sail all of the Great Lakes. We were actually supposed to sail Michigan last summer but Dan wanted to take another spin around Lake Superior!
After completing final preparations for our summer cruise at the Duncan Bay Boat Club near Cheboygan, Michigan, we set our sights on the Mackinac Bridge and beyond. The Mackinac Bridge crosses the Straits of Mackinac and marks the convergence of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. It is an amazing suspension bridge that for land travelers connects Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the “mitten” of Michigan. Yoopers — residents of the Upper Peninsula (Yooper Peninsula in the local parlance, aka Yooperland) — refer to other Michiganders as the “Trolls” because they live “below the Bridge.”
No wind, No engine
Our initial destination was Petoskey, Michigan. A Torqeedo electric outboard motor for our dinghy was waiting for us at the local West Marine. The 60 nautical mile cruise was not without issue: Our diesel engine stopped abruptly just west of the bridge. Suddenly we were adrift in the middle of the commercial shipping lanes through the Mackinac Straits to Chicago! Not exactly where you want to be with no engine — and no wind!
As it turned out, the only boat traffic we encountered during our unexpected delay was SV Imagine, another Gozzard 41 we had left behind in Goderich just a few days before. Ed and Christie sidled up to Gaviidae to offer assistance and support. Fortunately, Dan quickly identified the likely cause – two wires behind the instrument panel on the helm accidently touched and shorted, causing the master breaker switch on the engine to trip.
We had planned to stay just one night in Petoskey but resolving the wiring issue and an earlier – and related — problem with the temperature sending unit on the engine kept us in the marina for a few nights. All was good, though. Petoskey is a charming town, a vital artists’ community with lots of places to explore.
It is also an area where Dan’s literary hero, Ernest Hemingway, visited frequently as a youth. We had dinner at the City Park Grill, a haunt of Hemingway’s that still has his favorite spot at the bar! We also learned about the “Backlot” from an art gallery owner and went there for dinner one evening. The Backlot is a collection of food trucks along with a brewery and plenty of outdoor seating. Simple concept – grab a beer, pick what flavor you want for food and sit back and relax.
From Petoskey we ventured south to Charlevoix. Having spent time there previously on a boat delivery, we opted to anchor out in the bay. This was one of the surprises that we learned about in our cruise of Lake Michigan. My expectation of marina hopping was misinformed. There are many harbors and anchorages just beyond the east shore of Lake Michigan providing an abundance of safe and even picturesque refuges.
From Charlevoix we headed south to Fishtown aka Leland, Michigan. Leland is a huge tourist destination and despite the hordes of people, it is still worth the visit. Along either side of the river that feeds from Lake Leelanau into Lake Michigan are old-time fishing shanties that have been preserved and repurposed.
Summer 2019 brought high waters throughout the lakes
Sunset in Fishtown
These shanties now house a variety of shops ranging from shoes to fresh fish. The high-water levels that have recently bedeviled marinas and shorelines throughout the Great Lakes were threatening the boardwalk and businesses along the river, but the tourists were undeterred. Kids and adults were successfully fishing from the boardwalk juggling fish and ice cream cones.
From Fishtown we continued south to another protected anchorage at Arcadia. With foul weather predicted for the lake, we hunkered down for a couple of nights waiting for the wind and waves to calm down. Lake Michigan, like all the Great Lakes, can be treacherous if Mother Nature is feeling feisty!
Vintage Portage Lake
Our next stop was Portage Lake and the Portage Point Resort. I had recently learned about the resort and its marina from a post on the Great Lakes Cruising Club website. The post hinted at a pool, free laundry, and vintage charm. While we could’ve anchored out, this was a stop that demanded a marina stay!
The classic Portage Point Inn
The heated salt water infinity pool!
Visiting the Portage Point Resort is like stepping into the middle of the Dirty Dancing film set – complete with big ballroom and all the trappings of a 1940s vacation retreat. The buildings were designed by the architect who designed the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. And while the renovations are still underway, the place still has a charm that can’t be topped.
And it felt quite self-indulgent to be doing laundry while enjoying a pristine salt-water infinity-edge pool and spa. Decadent!
Crossing the Lake
After a relaxing evening hanging out at the bar and chatting with some local patrons, we headed out the next morning for Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin – 51 nm northwest across Lake Michigan. The southerly winds were favorable and for most of six hours we maintained over seven knots with three sails up and no engine. Perfect sail!
For many, Sturgeon Bay is the beginning of Door County and all that celebrated vacation destination has to offer for exploration. Having cruised Door County previously, we stayed in Sturgeon Bay one night and had a blast. We connected with the crew of SV Dove who I had been exchanging messages with on the Women Who Sail the Great Lakes Facebook page. They were heading to a nearby park to listen to some Blues and we met them there – fun evening with good music and good people!
After a close-encounter with a docked Carver while trying to escape from the Centerpoint Marina – due to a trifecta of crosswind, recurring bow thruster issues and the absence of any dockhands –we headed to Egg Harbor for a night and then across Green Bay to Menominee, Michigan. This crossing was not as pleasant as the winds disappeared. We motored the short distance. We were greeted at the Menominee Marina dock by two very businesslike young men dressed in nautical white. They promptly took our dock lines and quickly got us tied up. Our boat is a bit on the heavy side and it never fails to amaze me when someone tries to muscle our boat – it’s a good way to land in the drink! These guys knew how to use the docklines and cleats to leverage us cleanly to the dock. Probably the best dock crew we’ve encountered thus far!
We landed a slip across the dock from our friends Dan and Kristin and got to see their new-to-them Catalina sailboat, No Regrets, then enjoyed a lovely dinner at The Landings. The next morning, we buddy-boated with them back across Green Bay to Peninsula Park on Door County. Good winds allowed us to pass No Regrets and take the lead under sail. Being peak season and a lovely day, the big bay at the park was filled with boats. Finding a spot to anchor was a challenge as several boats all arrived at the same time and were circling for the “perfect” spot. A mix of dinghy sailors, kayakers and inattentive jet skiers complicated the equation.
Northbound to the Upper Peninsula
On Sunday No Regrets headed back across Green Bay and we headed north to Fayette, Michigan on the Big Bay de Noc. It was just over 40 nautical miles and we took advantage of the wind when it cooperated and used the iron genny (engine) when it backed off. We maintained 6.7 knots of speed in 8.6 knots of wind! When the winds dropped below 7 knots, the engine came on to ensure that we would arrive at Fayette before dark.
We had heard from friends that Fayette was a cool place. It is an abandoned town situated on the west side of Garden Peninsula, which separates Big Bay de Noc from Lake Michigan. It flourished briefly because of the production of charcoal pig iron for the steel mills elsewhere. The furnaces in Fayette operated for just 24 years – 1867 to 1891 — until the demand for pig iron declined along with depletion of the hardwood forests that were used in the process. The town is now part of a state park and many of the buildings have been restored, including some homes that are furnished with period furniture, décor and tools. The once bustling deep-water harbor is now visited by recreational boaters and the occasional fishermen who are able to tie up to modern slips.
In the evening, the majority of the buildings are left open allowing those on their boats an opportunity to explore the “ghost town” at night. As we wandered around, we shared the area with a herd of deer that moved in as the majority of people departed.
In Fayette we saw our first Monarch butterflies of the season and to our amazement watched butterflies go on the attack with some small birds! Had to watch for a while to make sure our eyes were not deceiving us!
From Fayette we sailed around the peninsula to Manistique, Michigan and anchored for the night behind the harbor breakwall. The next morning, we left early and sailed into heavy fog as we headed towards Beaver Island. We weren’t quite positive about where we would end up and wanted to make sure we had time for options.
Along the way, Dan spotted something unusual in the water and we deviated from our track to investigate. It turned out to be a helium party balloon whose attached weight was just enough to keep it from flying away. As it skittered across the water, we prepared for a man-overboard drill. Our perfectly executed maneuver snagged us a lovely balloon decorated with famous Disney princesses.
We resumed our coarse and I left Dan at the helm with “the princesses” to keep him entertained. Sidenote – this is why balloons should be universally banned!
We opted to head into the main anchorage area of Beaver Island and the town of St. James. As we entered the harbor, we started to regret our decision. The large bay was filled with party boats, waterskiers, jets skis, and music coming from every angle. After the peace and quiet of Fayette, this was a bit of a shock. But then it was July 3rd and holiday festivities were in full swing.
We went ashore in the dinghy and walked through the main part of St. James. It seemed every other building or business was up for sale, making the entire town seem a bit depressing and seedy. I’ve heard other parts of Beaver Island are lovely but we certainly did not see that side during our shore leave.
Back to Duncan Bay
One night at Beaver Island was enough, and we headed back towards Cheboygan. With our eastward passage under the Mackinac Bridge, our Lake Michigan tour was complete. We made a stop in Mackinaw City for fuel and to visit our friends from Batchewana Bay who were there on their boat, SV Steelen Time. After a stop in Cheboygan for an oil change, we headed back to the Duncan Bay Boat Club.
June 17 – July 4, 2019 Lake Michigan 45°39.03’N 84°26.45’W