Nine Lives is underway again! After a 20-month sleep on Drummond Island, Michigan, she is at last on the Great Loop again.
Our summer voyage began with loading the car with all the things we took off the boat in 2019, including such essentials as carpets, clothing, and safety equipment, and heading out on June 4th. We enjoyed a lovely evening in Asheville, North Carolina, with our good friends Jan and Kent, in their beautiful new home. After a second overnight stop in Dayton, Ohio, we drove to Mackinaw City, parked the car, and boarded the ferry for Mackinac Island.
Mackinac Island is considered to be one of the highlights of the Great Loop. The famous Grand Hotel requires jacket and tie for men in the dining room, and Loopers will carry said jacket around the entire 6000 miles of the Loop for that one dinner! Dick decided to compromise. Since boat docking was reportedly difficult and expensive, we chose to stop on our way to pick up the boat and stay on the island in a hotel for 3 nights. This way Dick could leave the jacket in the vehicle for the rest of the summer, and not take up precious hanging space on board.
Mackinac Island was an important centre of the fur trade, and a strategic fort was built by the British during the Revolutionary War. Two battles were fought on the island during the War of 1812. In the 19th century the island was discovered by tourists, and has never looked back. The island is listed as a National Historic Landmark, and 80% of the island is preserved as Mackinac Island State Park. There is only one highway, M-185, that circumnavigates the island, and is the only State highway in the United States that is banned for motorized vehicles.
Development is strictly limited, and the town is a wonderful mix of Victorian homes and businesses. Cars are banned on the whole island, except for emergency vehicles and service vehicles, although residents are permitted to use snowmobiles in winter. Since 1898, all transportation has been by horse, bicycle, or on foot. Taxis are shared horse drawn wagons. Visitors arrive by ferry from spring through fall, but in winter the island can be completely cut off unless an ice bridge forms.
The Grand Hotel is one of the “grand old ladies” of the world, situated on a bluff overlooking the harbour. There are many other accommodation options, most at a considerably lower cost, and of course an abundance of dining choices for visitors. No camping is allowed on the island.
Dick and I stayed at a resort hotel just on the edge of town. Rather than taking our own bicycles on the ferry, we rented for a day so that we could follow the 8-mile road around the perimeter of the island. It was a nice ride, theoretically completely flat, but one stretch of the highway was closed for repairs. At first this looked like a problem, as the choice was to turn around and go back, or walk the bikes up a steep hill on a dirt path. We chose the hill (much to my dismay), but it turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the ride. After the short uphill path, we came to a t-junction, and from there a very pleasant track took us through the woodland and parallel to the shoreline below. The woods were full of wildflowers, and there were very few other people so the path was not busy. Eventually we dropped down again to the shore at the end of the construction, and carried on around the island.
Although we enjoyed our visit, it was also somewhat disappointing. The island is being loved to death by tourists, with day trippers in the thousands even before the busiest season starts. The main street has been taken over by t-shirt and souvenir shops, interspersed by fudge shops, one after another. Pedestrians and tourists wobbling on unfamiliar bicycles make it difficult to walk through the town. The horses and carriages, actually wagons converted to carry many passengers, are romantic, but not exactly enjoyable as too many people are crammed onto too-small benches.
We tried 3 of the 4 “fine dining” options, expected to be a highlight of our stay. Only one lived up to the billing, and that was not the Grand Hotel option. After carefully reading reviews and studying menus, Dick decided that the Woods Restaurant, operated by the Grand Hotel in a woodland setting well above the main hotel, was a better option than the main hotel dining room. Duly dressed in our finery, we boarded a (shared) taxi at our hotel. Half an hour later (we could have walked it faster), we arrived at the hotel, planning to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail before taking another taxi to the Woods Restaurant. Fortunately, on arrival, we asked questions, and discovered that there were no taxis to be had. We were able to catch a shuttle, so did not miss our dinner! The meal was acceptable, but not the wonderful experience we had been expecting, and to Dick’s disgust, there was no dress code for the restaurant. So, the jacket and tie were entirely superfluous. On our last evening we did enjoy a meal at the Carriage House waterfront restaurant that measured up to expectations.
Saying goodbye to Mackinac Island, we returned to the car and crossed the Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and on to our destination at Drummond Island. Nearly 5 miles long, the suspension bridge was opened in 1957. Restoration work seems to be ongoing, and looking at the supports one feels no surprise.
Another ferry took us from DeTour village across the St Mary’s River to Drummond Island. The river is the main channel connecting Lake Huron to Lake Michigan, and thus sees a lot of commercial traffic as well as pleasure boats. A relatively narrow passage between large bodies of water means it is often a rough passage, as we experienced on our several ferry rides to and fro.
Drummond Island is a large island at the north end of Lake Huron. It has a full-time population that swells to many more during the summer months. We had enjoyed our stay there in 2019, and again we were not disappointed. We arrived in early afternoon on June 8th, and Nine Lives was waiting for us in the water, with two ladies just finishing cleaning and polishing. Dick schlepped bags and boxes from the vehicle to the boat, while I attempted to sort everything out as it was delivered and made up the beds.
The first order of business on arrival after any winter is to “shock” the water system and tanks. This means adding a bleach solution to the nearly full water tank, run the various taps a bit to move the solution through the whole system, and then leave it to sit overnight. The next day the tanks are emptied, and then refilled and emptied again before the final filling. Dick also changed our Seagull filter, a special filter for the drinking water tap (and the ice maker) that filters bacteria as well as the more usual chemicals and sediments. We were delighted to find that most of the winter projects we had requested had been completed. The forward air conditioner had been replaced, and the new one works well. The aft air conditioner, that was originally installed backwards in a very tight space, had been removed and replaced the right way around, allowing access to the coils, and, we hope, eliminating the icing problem we had been experiencing. The failed side by side fridge freezer had been replaced. The broken igniter for the gas cooktop had also been installed. Dick had found the replacement button, but been unable to install it. What a treat now to be able to push a button instead of using a gas lighter on the stove!
Another job to be done was to refresh the paint on our anchor chain. We have 200 feet of all-chain rode, and when we anchor, it is important to know how much rode has been paid out. The calculation is 7 to 1, that is for every foot of depth, you need 7 times that amount of rode. This means that as the anchor chain goes out, we need a way to know how much is going. Two-foot sections painted in alternating red, white, blue, green, every 20 feet, is how we can work out how much is out. Then if we see the yellow section, we know that is all we have!
Unfortunately, the requested replacement water pump had been forgotten. Our three-day stay allowed time for one to be ordered and installed. One of the shower heads needed replacing, but Dick found one that fit at the local hardware store. The dinghy motor was tested, and now runs well after an initial issue with water in the gasoline sight glass was sorted. Dick spent a few hours changing the oil on both engines. One of them is relatively easy to access, albeit in a small space, but the other engine, rather than being reversed as one might expect, is in the same orientation in its space, meaning that all the places Dick needs to get to are tight and out of sight. There was much groaning that evening and the next morning as muscles unaccustomed to the contortions required to fit a large man in a small space complained about their treatment! As on our previous visit, we enjoyed excellent meals in both of the local restaurants, and found the supermarket was well stocked for our initial provisioning.
It rained hard on Wednesday night, and Thursday we woke up to find the entire outside deck coated with dead and dying stuck mayflies. These creatures live only a few hours, but they are so light that any rain brings them down onto any surface and they stick fast. Impossible to walk without grinding them into the deck. Once it warmed up and dried a bit, I took a broom and swept as much as possible, but Dick still had to go after it with water and a brush to make Nine Lives look as nice as she did when we first arrived! On subsequent days the mayflies finished, but clouds of small flies hitched rides when we were out on the water. The things that you don’t even think about when you plan the Great Loop!
On Saturday, June 12, Nine Lives finally left Drummond Island after her 20 month stay, and we headed through the DeTour passage and across the top of Lake Huron to Cheboygan. I had been concerned about the passage, as every ferry crossing had been quite rough, but that morning the water was perfectly smooth and it was a very comfortable ride. Less so as we came into open water in Lake Huron, there were swells that had Nine Lives moving with a slight corkscrew, making me feel quite unhappy. Fortunately, it was a fairly short journey to Cheboygan, Michigan.
No to be confused with Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Cheboygan is a small, tidy town on the south shore of the Straits of Mackinac, across from Bois Blanc Island. We arrived to discover 4 other Looper boats in the harbour. All are travelling as we are, on a multi-year Loop. Two of them are hoping that the Canadian border opens soon so they can enjoy Georgian Bay and the North Channel. We had not expected to meet other Loopers until late summer, so we were pleasantly surprised.
Cheboygan was originally an Ojibwe settlement. In 1846 a group of settlers from Fort Mackinac established the town of Duncan on the site of the native camp. By 1889 the settlement was large enough to be incorporated as a city. It was the port for ferries to Bois Blanc Island, and is still the home port of the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw. The town is very tidy, with small but well-kept homes, and several attractive parks on the Cheboygan River. We launched the dinghy and took a ride up the river past the industrial areas near the river mouth and through the town with homes and parks on the banks.
The marina is about a mile from town, so we rode our bikes to dinner. The Nauti Inn describes itself as a “barstro”, a wonderfully descriptive noun, perfectly suited to a gourmet experience in very convivial, if somewhat noisy surroundings. The food was delicious and innovative, with interesting flavours but not strange!
Sunday morning, we headed out for the very short trip along the Straits to Mackinaw City. We stayed one night in a beautiful new marina, and rode our bikes through the town. This is the jumping off point for the ferries to Mackinac Island, so the town caters mainly to tourists. Yet more t-shirt and souvenir shops, as if there hadn’t been enough on Mackinac Island! Just outside the town and below the Bridge, lies the restored Colonial Michilimackinac and the Old Mackinac Point Light Station. The beautiful lighthouse was in operation from 1890 to 1957. The light was visible for 16 miles, critical for safety in the frequently fog-bound Strait and at night for the ferries and Great Lakes shipping. In addition to carrying people, and later cars, the ferries also carried railway cars to the Upper Peninsula from the 1890’s until 1984. Construction of the Mackinac Bridge ended the usefulness of the light station, as the well-lit bridge is more useful for navigation.
Next morning, we passed under the bridge (not without a certain amount of calculation as to the best location to avoid the possibility of construction debris falling on us), heading for Beaver Island. With a permanent population of about 800, the island is the largest in Lake Michigan. It was settled in the mid-1800’s by a strange religious group, related to the Mormons, headed by the self-styled King Strang. Although the island was already inhabited by Irish immigrants, the Strangites founded the town of St James, and became an important political power in the area. Initially a progressive fleeing religious persecution, Strang became increasingly autocratic and erratic, and his sect clashed often with other settlers. In June of 1856, Strang was assassinated by two former adherents, who Strang had sentenced to flogging because he did not approve of the way their wives were dressed. The men escaped on a conveniently docked US Naval gunboat, and were never detained or charged. The Strangites, by then numbering about 2600, were subsequently driven from the island by angry mobs, and fled. A branch of the church founded by Strang still exists today, with about 300 adherents living in Wisconsin. One hopes that flogging is no longer one of their customs.
Irish fishermen from the area and a group of former tenant farmers evicted from their homes in Ireland made up the next settlers on the island, and the Irish heritage proudly continues to this day. In addition to a small airport, the island is served from spring through fall by ferries from Charlevoix. Tourism is important, but the economy also depends on fishing, logging, farming, and government services. We met several other boaters in the marina, and enjoyed chatting on the docks. It may be my imagination, but it seems as if people are even more friendly than usual this year. Perhaps a year of social distancing and fear of covid means everyone is just so happy to be able to get out and meet people again.
We ate dinner on board, and had ideas about staying up late to see the night sky. However, Looper midnight is 9pm, and by 10 it was still not dark enough for stars, so we gave up and went to bed. Looking out at the harbour, we were amazed at the number of ducks in the water all around the marina. There must have been hundreds. Surprisingly quiet, but other boaters had mentioned that they do like to peck at your hull, and sure enough, there was a certain amount of tap tap tapping as we drifted off to sleep!
After a bike ride to breakfast and a grocery shop, we left Beaver Island, destination Harbor Springs, on the Lake Michigan eastern shore. This was our first really nice passage, with smooth water and no rolling as we crossed the lake. On our arrival at the marina, suddenly Dick made a loud and incomprehensible exclamation. You may remember that for docking and maneuvering we wear headsets (so we can give each other information and instructions I mean suggestions quietly without shouting). I was concentrating on getting lines ready to throw to the waiting dockhands, and watching to see whether the slip really was 20 feet wide, so I had no idea what Dick was shouting about. Once safely docked, I was able to look up and see the Wexford burgee flying proudly from the prow of a large yacht two slips over. The last thing we expected this summer was to meet other Wexford boaters! We chatted on the dock, and were invited later for docktails and to meet the rest of the group of friends from Charlevoix, where they spend summers. A most enjoyable encounter!
Harbor Springs was described by one reviewer as having become “too uppity” for his taste. We thought that sounded promising, and we were not disappointed! The town and the shoreline are occupied by beautiful turn of the century homes and businesses. Along the lakeshore out of town are lovely mid-20th century large summer homes with well-kept gardens leading down to the water. The town offers many nice shops, and we enjoyed a very expensive exploration our first day there. In addition to several special foody items, Dick bought two very nice shirts, and after watching the glass artist in his studio it was necessary to buy an art glass vase to join our small glass collection in Hilton Head. Dinners in two of the restaurants were less satisfactory, but breakfast at a small bistro was delicious and we have hopes for another restaurant on our last night.
Little Traverse Bay is one of the many inlets on the eastern side of Lake Michigan. Harbor Springs is on the north side of the inlet, and Petoskey is on the south, while the area between is mainly occupied by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. Initially the site of a Jesuit mission, the area was subsequently occupied first by French traders, and then by settlers from the Eastern seaboard of America. By the mid-19th century, the area became famous for summer resorts for wealthy American businessmen and their families. Certainly, Harbor Springs still has a very wealthy presence, given the high-end shopping opportunities and the beautiful waterfront homes.
On Friday we rode our bikes the 9.5 miles around the bay to Petoskey. Most of the ride was along the road and through forests, but once arriving in Petsokey there were special bike trails through the town and along the shoreline. We enjoyed another shopping day. In addition to more gourmet foody treasures, I found a sunhat, after quite a search so far on this trip. While I paid for the hat, Dick’s eye was caught by an interesting necklace, featuring an anchor, some beads, and red enamel. Very nautical, ideal for a Looper! Unbeknownst to Dick, it came with matching earrings, and of course one must have those as well to complete the look.
In Chandlers, another “barstro” style restaurant we enjoyed a wonderful lunch, truly great food although noisy surroundings. So far this trip it does seem as though the more romantic “fine dining” restaurants do not have the outstanding food that these modern bar-restaurants offer. Somewhat similar in concept to some of the gastro-pubs we often enjoy in UK.
Back on our bikes to return to Harbor Springs, I decided on a comfort stop on the way out of town. For the second time, my bike decided to knock me over as I attempted to get my leg high enough to clear the bar between the wheels. I am very grateful for 1st, my helmet (I felt it bang on the concrete), 2nd, my usual outdoor sun garb, that features long sleeves and limited the scrapes, 3rd, the extremely hard-wearing Duluth clothing that resisted tearing, and 4th the excellent Corning Gorilla Glass on my new smartphone (I felt the bike land on that as it collapsed on top of me). Passers-by made exclamations and offers of assistance, but Dick is made of sterner stuff, and after helpfully lifting the bike off me, he allowed me time to catch my breath and decide I was not injured before offering a hand so I could get up. A couple of paracetamol on our return to the boat and apart from a bruise here and there I am fine.
Today is the first laundry day, so Nine Lives is festooned with hangers drying various t-shirts. It is a very pleasant day to be on the water, and later we will give another fine dining restaurant a try. Tomorrow we head for Traverse City. It will be our longest passage so far, 8 hours. We are being very conscious of the notoriously unreliable weather patterns of Lake Michigan. Dick has built longer stays in most locations into our plan, so we can easily adjust for conditions without changing the overall length of the trip. Already we have shortened our stay at Beaver Island, and decided to skip Charlevoix entirely, as there were no good days for wind and waves that would work for us. We expect to stay in Traverse City for 4 nights.