Our final dinner in Harbor Springs was excellent, but it did rather fit the moniker “uppity”. Regardless, we would certainly recommend Willow for its outstanding food and very good service.
It was a long but enjoyable voyage to Traverse City, with calm seas and good visibility. As we made our way down Grand Traverse Bay we had to dodge sailboats and a beautiful tall ship schooner out for a Father’s Day sail. There were 3 Looper boats in Traverse City, one based there, one arrived shortly after us, and the third the next day. This allowed for a very convivial docktails evening on board Nine Lives. The second day was very windy, nobody on the move and few pleasure boats in the bay. Fortunately, our spot had very little motion. We were at the end of the fairway, in a slip supposedly 18 feet wide, but the harbormaster knew it was considerably wider. Dick turned and slid into the tight slip with great skill, impressing the dockhands with his ability to avoid touching any of the docks or posts, or the waiting concrete on the other side!
Traverse City is the largest city in Northern Michigan. The area is also the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States. Gourmet shops abound, many featuring cherry related foods. In addition to the obligatory chocolate covered cherries, we bought some summer sausage with cherries and some cherry chili jam. Other marvellous finds for Nine Lives pantry included sea salt with truffles, lemon infused olive oil, some duck pate, and various interesting crackers for cheese.
The city was initially a Native American settlement called Kitchiwikwedongsing. Not surprisingly, even the denizens tended to shorten it to Wequetong, which means “at the head of the bay”. The native settlement was pushed out by European colonization. From small beginnings as a sawmill, and then an important Post Office location, the city grew, and by 1872 the railway arrived, heralding a period of growth and commercialization. Lumber and cherries remained the major concerns until tourism and wineries added to the mix. The population has declined somewhat, but it is still a thriving town and a popular tourism and shopping destination for Upper Michigan.
On our first day we decided to have lunch at Brasserie Amie, a French bistro style restaurant that is highly rated. We had to wait over an hour to be seated, but the food was (almost) worth it. This is an issue we are continually facing this summer, restaurants and shops cannot hire staff. So although pandemic restrictions have ended, most restaurants still have limited numbers of tables, many are closed two and three days of the week, and even when we call a few days ahead we are being offered reservations at 4pm or 9pm because they are so busy. I am assuming that Americans who would normally take vacations in Canada or overseas are still travelling but staying in the USA, adding considerable pressure to already busy areas of second homes.
The first night was very chilly, so we put on the heating for the first time (happily, it worked). During the day Dick worked on various small electrical repairs and installed our Nebo tracker. This is a device that has its own cell signal, it is installed on the boat and wired in, and each time we move, the tracker follows our voyage by satellite and even sends an emailed report when we stop. We have used the Nebo mobile phone app for several years. It is very useful for seeing where other Loopers are and for important interactions like arranging docktails, but the app is dependent on having a good phone signal, and, more important, remembering to turn it on and off! The first attempt at setting up the tracker had issues, but the app creator, in Australia, was very responsive and replied within hours to Dick’s query with a suggestion that solved the problem.
We enjoyed several good meals in Traverse City. Following the Brasserie, we had a dinner at Amical, brunch at The Omelette Shop, and a really excellent Asian fusion dinner at Red Ginger. As we were shown to our table in Red Ginger, we breathed in the wonderful scents of hot chili oil, garlic, and ginger, but I was suddenly caught by a most unusual and strong smell that was not as pleasant as the others. I thought to myself, whatever that dish is, I don’t want to order it! As the smell got stronger, we realized it was not coming from the kitchen, rather it was our menu, that had been inadvertently placed over the tealight by the host, and was on fire! The initial excitement suggested something a bit stronger than a glass of wine to start, so we ordered manhattans and were delighted to receive a generous pour, worthy of our bartender in Wexford! The following meal lived up to the restaurant’s excellent reputation.
In an interesting art gallery we found some beautiful and whimsical sculptures made from gourds, one was chosen to go home with us. I enjoyed chatting with the owner, almost everything in the shop is the sort of art and sculpture that I would choose if I was running a gallery. A most enjoyable visit. The other shops in Traverse City were also interesting, and quite different from the ones we had been seeing earlier on the trip. It is always nice to see independent retail that is doing well and not being overwhelmed by big box and other chain stores.
Our last afternoon we saw a loon, unconcernedly making its way up and down the marina fairways feeding. Our first loon of the year, and something we don’t usually see in populated locations. Our swim step was a favoured weather protected spot for a mother duck and her one remaining duckling. I love seeing ducks with their babies at this time of year, but it is always sad to see that the older the ducklings get, the fewer of them there are. Probably just as well, or we would be overrun by ducks as we are with geese!
Our trip to Leland on June 25th was thick fog all the way. It was both boring and worrying, not being able to see except on radar. Dick’s ongoing boating courses stand him in good stead, and he is now better able to understand what the screen is showing. He also found a way to overlay the radar on the regular chart, so the former hard-to-read split screen is no longer required.
Leland is an interesting village, once known as Fishtown, and still an important centre for fishermen. There is an attractive restored timber village beside the harbour, and the main street has interesting small shops. The location close to Manitou Islands and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore ensures a steady influx of tourists, although most are day trippers. A dam and a sawmill were built on the river in 1854. The dam is still in place, preventing access for boats from Lake Michigan to a large and quite attractive chain of three lakes called Lake Leelanau. Iron smelting and lumber were important industries in the small settlement during the 19th centuries, but fishing was always the main business. Today it is still a working fishery and fishing charter centre.
On our first evening we tried the only fine dining restaurant in town, located in a pretty inn overlooking the lake. On arrival we were told the menu is offered as a QR code. Use of QR codes require a cellphone, and I suspect (and after some research I believe I am correct), that not only do they give you access to the information the business is offering, it can also allow access to your details by the business. Given how many supposedly reputable organizations generate revenue by selling your information, I avoid such “conveniences” as much as possible! After being offered QR code menus and seeing our frowns, the staff immediately supplied paper menus. The meal was good, but not particularly memorable.
The next day was incredibly wet, but we took the umbrella and enjoyed visiting the little shops. Dick found some really good deck shoes, and I was delighted with a new sunhat, as the one I normally keep on the boat had been left at home in Hilton Head. My unusual “raining cats and dogs” umbrella generated interest and compliments from several other visitors to the village!
We extended our stay in Leland by a day, as the weather conditions were wind against waves, always an uncomfortable scenario. This gave us time for a late lunch at the Cove Restaurant, a bustling venue overlooking Fishtown. We enjoyed some of the best fries I have ever had, served piping hot, with an interesting spice combination of garlic and herbs on the fries, and offered with a delicious chipotle mayonnaise. Various local fish options completed the meal. We walked through Fishtown and through the village towards the lake.
We have noticed in almost every place we have stayed so far that many visitors love to walk the docks and look at the boats in the harbour. Nine Lives gets her share of interest, as there are very few catamarans cruising these waters. Small children are particularly attracted to Minnie, our dinghy hanging at the back, and I often hear, “And look! A little boat!” Minnie is slated to be replaced later this summer by a new RIB, and I wonder whether the new dinghy will generate the same interest from passers-by.
Our passage to Frankfort was easy and pleasant. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is an area that encompasses 35 miles of the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan plus the two Manitou Islands between Leland and Frankfort. The area includes unique forests, incredible sand dunes that tower above the lake, and glacial features as well as historic Coast Guard stations and a lighthouse. Creation of the National Park was controversial, as the owners of what was private property at the time did not want the area overrun with tourists. The name comes from an Ojibwe legend, the mother bear sleeps under the dunes at the edge of the lake, while her two cubs are represented by North and South Manitou Islands. The spectacular dunes were an amazing sight as we travelled along the shore.
Just north of Frankfort, we passed the pretty Point Betsie Lighthouse. The lighthouse began service in 1858, and 25 years later one of the first Life Saving Stations was added to the site. It was the last Michigan lighthouse to lose its keeper, and was only automated in 1983. Today it is a museum and tourist attraction, some say the most photographed lighthouse in the United States.
Frankfort owed its early beginnings to the protected harbour that opens into what was Aux Becs Scies Lake. The name translates from French “with saw jaws”, likely a reference to the early lumbering industry. Today, it has been shortened to Betsie Lake. Various investors built the town and dredged the approach to the harbour in the mid-19th century. Prosperity arrived as the town was further developed as a port and safe harbour, with the usual timber industries in the area. Frankfort was an important Post Office, and was the county seat for part of its history. Today it is a sleepy town, mostly involved with tourism. Main Street is the site of some beautiful old buildings, and there are some interesting junk, I mean antique shops and a few other touristy shops.
We enjoyed dinner at a new restaurant called Birch and Maple. Excellent, interesting food. We could hear from the bartender’s conversation that he was the owner. He and his partner are committed to “bringing the city to the country”, a slightly arrogant perspective, but if the result is such great food, we wish them well in their endeavours!
In Frankfort we had the same experience as elsewhere, shops and restaurants closed several days a week, and often no opening hours posted on the doors of the shops. Walking around, especially Monday through Wednesday, it is quite reminiscent of a French village, everything shuttered and no sense that it is ever going to be open, but locals always seem to know when things open up and suddenly there are customers!
There were several Loopers at the next marina over, but their schedules precluded any interaction apart from a friendly chat on the dock and exchange of boat cards.
Our next leg to Manistee was through heavy fog. After we were past the point of no return, we began to hear coastguard warnings over the radio for heavy fog across the whole of the northern end of Lake Michigan. Our weather apps suggested that there was 3km of visibility, but the reality was more like 100 yards. By the time we arrived at the mouth of the river in Manistee, we could barely see 100 feet. What was amusing, was how many people there were on the beach! Why anyone would sit on a beach in thick fog is a complete mystery to me, but there were at least 100 people out there on the sand with chairs, umbrellas, and coolers.
Manistee, like many towns, began as a Jesuit Mission in the mid-18th century. Nearly a hundred years later, a sawmill and settlement were built. In 1871 the town was almost completely destroyed by fire, which explains the number of buildings of roughly the same age in the downtown. Logging, shingle manufacturing, and a salt industry all contributed to a thriving, wealthy town, reflected in the beautiful historic buildings on Main Street. The entire Downtown District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
One of the reasons for making the voyage in spite of foggy conditions was to meet fellow Loopers that we had enjoyed spending time with in past years. We met them twice in Georgian Bay in 2019, and then spent time together when they visited Hilton Head in early 2020. We enjoyed a great evening with Kathleen and Michael at Blue Fish, the nicest restaurant in the village, and hope for future encounters later in the season. The next day we explored the town and Dick walked along the river to the end of the pier while I finished the laundry.
We made a long, fast run to Whitehall. The conditions were only right because the waves were coming from behind us. We could feel Nine Lives climb up one side and surf down each wave, and our speed varied from 12 to 19 knots depending on whether we were going up or down! A strong current in the channel into White Lake made for some exciting moments, as Dick wrestled the wheel this way and that to avoid running into the breakwater.
Once we were into the smaller lake, it was still quite windy and choppy. We were arriving a day early, and had planned to anchor near the Yacht Club, but between the wind and chop, and uncertain depths, we decided instead to proceed to the marina at the top end of the lake, where we were booked for the July long weekend. I phoned the marina, to ask whether they could accommodate us for the extra night, and had a very confusing conversation with the receptionist. It is quite difficult to hear on the phone when underway, so I had to keep asking her to repeat, but the upshot was, not only could they apparently not accommodate us for that night, we had no booking for the weekend either! We decided to carry on and have another conversation over the radio once we were closer. On arrival, we were again told there was no reservation, but they could let us stay one night. After we tied up, they asked the name again, and at last the lady came running out and apologising, because even though Dick gave her his first and last name plus the boat name, all she had written down was “Dick”. So, we then had to untie again and move to our assigned slip. The wind was unhelpful, as was a very green dockhand, who found my request to put the line around the post and hand it back to me impossibly confusing. Eventually we did get secured, and the boat beside us was undamaged thanks to my putting out fenders, “just in case”.
This was not the nicest slip we have had. It was full of duckweed and water lilies, as well as a scum of algae and other unidentifiable mess. Duckweed is an interesting plant. Sometimes you will see a stream or the end of a lake or pond covered in a bright green coating of tiny floating leaves. Each little leaf is a separate plant, with no stem, just a short root. They hitch rides on waterfowl and even on boats, and are light enough to be blown about by wind, so they spread easily in water that is not flowing quickly. Duckweed is an important food source for a variety of aquatic creatures (not just ducks), and it also acts as a water purifier. In many locations it is a very good thing for the health of the water and the waterfowl and insects that live there. In other locations it can be a big problem, starving the water of oxygen and therefore killing the fish that live below. It is an ecological Jekyll and Hyde. From our point of view, the green scum of algae was a concern, and even the duckweed could potentially be sucked into the air conditioner strainers. Dick will need to check them and the engine strainers to make sure they are not clogged.
Our neighbour on the next boat was something else again. He was a friendly, youngish man, who was clearly living aboard his slightly dilapidated vessel. Dick initially noticed the huge speakers on the enclosed flybridge, but he didn’t see the professional drum kit beside them. Various of the man’s personal items migrated onto the dock. At first it was just a chair and a full-size grill, but they were soon joined by another chair, 4 jerry cans of fuel, and various other bits and pieces including a baseball bat (what was he planning to do with that I ask?) plus water bowls for the two adorable 8-week-old shepherd/rottweiler puppies that entertained all and sundry with their antics. Partway through the afternoon, the peace was shattered by heavy metal rock blaring from the speakers, soon accompanied by live drum practice. In fact, he seemed to me to be a pretty good drummer, but to say the music was not to our taste would be an understatement! The fellow only practiced for about a half hour, and he then turned the music down somewhat, and even further after he asked Dick if we minded it. Dick gave a politely non-committal hand-signal, that worked quite well to discourage further sharing.
We made plans to go out to breakfast on July 4th, but had to change our ideas on the fly as the whole town turned out for the 4th of July parade. There must have been thousands of people lining the main street of Whitehall, and for an hour we all watched fire engines, police vehicles, church floats, as well as both floats and vehicles from the various businesses in the area. The Sherriff’s department arrived on horseback. Both political parties were represented, fortunately placed in different places in the parade. The Democrats received applause from some of the spectators, but when the Republicans came past, many leaped to their feet and shouted and clapped. Most of the audience had brought chairs, just as well because the parade lasted an hour. There were lots of dogs of all sizes, including a huge and rather gorgeous woolly poodle-sheepdog (?) wearing sunglasses. The whole event was absolutely charming and an example of the very best of small-town America.
Dick was delighted to see an old friend in the parade, a McCormick Farmall Cub tractor. He told me that when he was a child growing up in Brighton, where his father managed a chicken farm, this was the tractor that his father used on the 60 acres of additional land around the chicken barns. Their tractor was red, rather than the cheery bright yellow of the one in the parade, but Dick recognized it immediately. Of course, small boys are often interested in tractors and wheeled vehicles of all kinds, but Dick also remembers feeling rather embarrassed among his friends that their tractor was so small compared to what the other boys at school had! Eventually, the family moved to their own, much larger farm in Norwood, with a suitably large Massey Ferguson tractor.
The main reason for our extended stay in Whitehall was to spend time with some good friends who we first met in 1998 when we all lived in Prague. Jane and Jon retired to Whitehall at the end of their Prague assignment, and they also visited Hilton Head regularly, so it has been easy to keep in touch. In the afternoon they took us to the White Lake Yacht Club for their Independence Day celebration. Traditional 4th of July fare, including hot dogs, hamburgers, brats, salads, and ice cream to finish was enjoyed on the sunny terrace. We shared a table with some other members, and it was altogether a very enjoyable evening.
The next day we started with the deferred breakfast and then went for a long bike ride on the extensive path network in the area. Whitehall and Montague form twin towns at the head of White Lake, linked by a causeway. As with many towns in the area, Whitehall began in the mid-19th century as a lumber town. The city is located about 5 miles from Lake Michigan, but White Lake is connected by a dredged canal. As we discovered, the canal can experience a current of up to 3 mph. Montague, on the other side of the White River, remains a separate town, with the usual rivalry between high school sports teams. The two towns have a total population of around 5000, mainly full-time residents. Howmet Corporation, manufacturing parts for the aerospace industry, is a large local employer, with about 3600 employees. The Playhouse at White Lake opened in 1916, and offers live theatre as well as other cultural and arts events through the year. The tidy houses, extensive cycle paths, and several parks, as well as the boating opportunities on White Lake and the White River ensure the area is a pleasant place to live.
Jane and Jon took us to nearby Muskegon for dinner, but declined our invitation to watch the firework display from our boat later in the evening. Hundreds of people had already set up chairs in the parks beside the lake, and as the 9pm start approached some of them also lined the docks of the marina. The lake was full of anchored small boats, ready to watch the show. As it happened, the display did not start until about 10:15 pm, by which time some of the children were getting quite restless! Our boat neighbour decided to put on his music, cranked up loud enough to rival the fireworks. The display was a good one, with an excellent finale, and we enjoyed a perfect front row seat from the deck of Nine Lives, accompanied by a suitable adult beverage, just to keep warm in the chilly wind you understand.
On our last evening Jane and Jon joined us on board Nine Lives for drinks, cheese and charcuterie, followed by a shrimp and salad supper. Dick helped with the preparation by slicing and pitting cherries. By the end of the assignment he looked like a slightly demented serial killer, but fortunately he managed to keep the mess mostly on the table and his hands, so aggressive laundry techniques will not be required. We so enjoyed spending time with Jane and Jon, and look forward to our next get-together. We have been friends for 23 years.
Our next stop was just a short run to Muskegon. About half way down White Lake, I went below for a few minutes to tidy up, and suddenly the engines slowed to a near stop. I went up to see what was going on, and Dick was cursing a b…. sailboat that had suddenly tacked and was now inconsiderately crossing towards us. Boats under sail have the right of way, so Dick had to be the one to take avoidance measures. I pointed out that the sailboat had to tack to avoid running into the shore, but Dick’s grumbled response was, “He could have lowered his sail”. Of course it was said with a twinkle! The weather forecast was not one that we would normally find acceptable, but Dick thought that the high winds of the previous day would have laid down enough, and the waves would be on the bow. As it happened, there were still two-foot swells, and they were on the quarter, so a somewhat uncomfortable ride. Fortunately, we ran fast, so it was only about half an hour of being tossed about.
As we made our way through the channel into Muskegon Lake, we were surprised to see a submarine tied up on the wall, with the engines obviously running. At first, we wondered who could possibly be the enemy, requiring a submarine presence in the Great Lakes. Could it be there is a real and present danger from those dastardly Canadians? Then we saw the tourists standing on the deck, and realized that this is the star exhibit of the Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum. USS Silversides is a Gato-class submarine, one of the most successful submarines in the Pacific during World War II. She is credited with 23 confirmed sinkings. After her retirement from active service, dedicated volunteers maintained and restored Silversides, including the engines. These engines are run about 6 times each year to keep them in good condition.
The marina we are staying at in Muskegon is the first in the Safe Harbor conglomerate, that has bought up many of the independent marinas all over the US. The docks are in reasonable condition, and the facilities are acceptable, but for the first time this trip we are quite a long walk from the showers. There is a pool, an attraction for boaters with children on board. However, marina staff did not initially impress us, as they simply directed us to our slip with no offer of assistance. Often, I feel that we do better docking without help, but it is unusual for there to be no dockhands at all. We have a front row seat for watching a large crane on a barge repairing the breakwater along the pier. The rock and roll we are experiencing as the ferry arrives and departs, and from chop from the lake, makes it clear that the new breakwater is a much needed improvement.
Muskegon is the largest city on the western shore of Michigan. The first Europeans in the area were French explorers and fur traders, but by the mid-19th century, lumber brought settlers from Germany, Ireland, and even Canada. Today it is a large port city with heavy and light industry and food processing.
A morning bike ride along the extensive waterfront path was a great pleasure. A lot of money has been spent cleaning up what was a heavily industrial area and creating both parks and wildlife areas. Often bike paths follow disused railroads, and while easy riding (flat, wide, smooth), they can get quite boring. Not so this path. There are enough curves and bridges over the water to make it interesting, and the scenery is lovely. Birds don’t lend themselves to photography by phone, but I saw a kingfisher, swans, ducks and geese, kildeer, red-winged blackbirds, swallows, a heron, and in several areas we could hear the sounds of bullfrogs croaking. The wildflowers were lovely.
Unfortunately, the city is large and very spread out, so wandering around shops is not really feasible, and the restaurant we might have tried is a 3.5-mile bike ride. We did find The Cheese Lady, and happily stocked up on more charcuterie choices, as well as crackers, some Belgian butter, and of course, some cheese. We will likely try a nearby pizza restaurant for tonight’s supper. Tomorrow looks fair for our short passage to Grand Haven.