Our pizza evening on our last night in Muskegon was a mixed success. We walked over to the highly recommended pizza place just outside the marina, to discover that it was take-out only. There were a couple of rickety metal tables outside on the sloping pavement. After quite a long wait, as they were very busy, we opened the box on the tiny table and enjoyed some of the best pizza ever. This reminded us just why we stayed home last summer, sitting outside on wobbly furniture, on a busy street in a chilly breeze, trying to eat pizza with plastic cutlery (impossible).
Our voyage from Muskegon to Grand Haven was most unpleasant. The waves were 3 ft instead of the 1 ft that was forecast, and they were on the quarter instead of the stern, making Nine Lives yaw (corkscrew motion), I will stop before making my readers feel as queasy as I did…
Grand Isle Marina was another Safe Harbor Marina. A huge marina with great facilities, aimed squarely at seasonal slip holders, with no dockhands to help, nor is the radio monitored. It is quite difficult to hold a phone conversation when on a boat underway, the engine noise means it has to be me calling, and I have to stand at the front of the boat. Since Dick makes the reservations, I never quite know what has been said or agreed to, and the offices are seldom manned by anyone who has a clue about slip arrangements for transient boaters.
Grand Haven is a relatively small city on the outskirts of the Grand Rapids Metropolitan Area. A fur trade settlement by French colonial settlers began European occupation. The area began to grow after the War of 1812, with a large tannery, several churches, and banks. The usual mix of lumber, shipping, and ship building contributed to growth during the 19th century. A piano factory was an important employer in the town for much of the 20th century. Today, Grand Haven is a tourist destination for boating and fishing, as well as stunning local beaches, and there is also a Great Lakes Port importing limestone, slag, cement and coal, and exporting sand.
On our first evening we walked to a nearby highly rated restaurant. On the outskirts of Grand Haven, we could have been anywhere from Seattle to Alabama. It was all chain restaurants and auto parts stores along a noisy highway. Very useful for cities to put this away from downtown, with easy access from the main highways, but there is an awful sameness about it all. I can well understand why our friends who are making long road trips don’t bother to take the slower routes or stop at anything other than chain hotels off the interstate. When they do venture off the highway, they see nothing to suggest that a place is worth exploring and a longer stay. The meal we had was acceptable, but by no means memorable.
The next morning, we rode our bikes to a breakfast place (very noisy, and the weirdest tasting pancakes I have ever eaten) and explored the town. This was certainly much nicer than the outskirts, but very spread out with several different neighbourhoods of small shops and restaurants. Downtown proper was bustling, with lots of people sitting outside on sidewalks. The river waterfront area has a musical fountain that plays after dark. Sadly, 10pm just seemed too late to ride the bikes quite a long distance on an unlit path. Instead, we sat watching the boats and dinghies in the marina until sunset.
We made an early start for the trip to Holland, as we planned to anchor and wanted to have enough time to get the dinghy off and go into town for the afternoon. It was a calm and very easy journey, and we anchored with no problem in Pine Creek Bay, off Lake Macatawa. Our dinghy trip to Holland was rather more exciting than one might wish, with a lot of wakes from big boats and wake boarders. We are looking forward to the new RIB dinghy later this summer, which should be more stable in chop.
Holland was founded in the mid-19th century by Dutch Calvinist separatists, who emigrated from bad economic conditions in the Netherlands. The story is that the newly arrived Dutch did not get on with the natives, apparently stealing sugar and venison from them, and eventually forcing them to leave the area. Dr. Albertus Van Raalte, the founder of the city, was a spiritual leader, as well as overseeing political, educational and financial matters. I was interested to read that as a group seeking religious freedom, the settlers were not at all tolerant of other points of view. The Reformed Church of America was founded by Van Raalte, and the city became a centre for several reformed church congregations as well as Hope College and Western Theological Seminary. Holland is called “The City of Churches”, with 170 in the general area, many of them associated with the Reformed Church.
Nearly 30% of the residents of Holland associate themselves with Dutch descent, and Dick noticed many businesses and even street names that were clearly of Dutch origin. Today it is a considerably kinder and more welcoming city, with tourism being an important part of the economy. The attractive downtown is listed in The National Register of Historic Places. A Tulip Festival brings visitors from all over, with 6 million tulips planted throughout the city. Heinz opened the largest pickle factory in the world in 1897, and it processes over 1 million pounds of pickles a day during the season.
After tying the dinghy up at a conveniently provided dock at Boatwerks, a waterfront restaurant, we walked into town. The farmer’s market was just finishing, so there was very little on offer, but Dick bought a pint of blueberries. Holland is very attractive, with a real European feel and lots of interesting shops and restaurants. After exploring the town, we returned to Boatwerks for an excellent meal. Sadly, all the tables for 2 outside were set at the edge of the canopy (no tables available inside), so we were sitting in the hot sun. Even Dick found it just too hot to linger.
We returned to Nine Lives, and I set an anchor alarm on my phone. This is a useful app that I have used for all our previous voyages, because the alarm setting on our chart plotter doesn’t work in any practical way. In the middle of a short nap (it had been an eventful day with an early start), I was woken by a very loud siren from my phone. Google is always my friend, and I discovered that recent versions of Android have a new “feature” intended to conserve battery power. This feature automatically stops GPS tracking on all apps that are not active on the screen. In other words, unless you put the app up on the screen, disable the screen lock, and of course plug in the phone, any app that uses GPS will not work. Or, as in the case of my anchor alarm, will alert you with a loud siren to warn you that the GPS is off. This feature is not optional and cannot be stopped or adjusted for any or all apps. So far, I am told that Apple has not included this so-called feature in its operating systems, so I was able to use a different anchor alarm on the iPad instead.
We enjoyed a very quiet Sunday at anchor. Dick made breakfast (bacon and eggs, hash browns, mushrooms, toast, and coffee) on board, and in the evening he grilled some of our wonderful steaks that are waiting in the freezer for anchor evenings. There was a small craft warning, and threatening skies, so the pontoon boats with party groups and swimmers, and most of the wake boarders, must have decided to stay home, even though the bay we were in was very calm. We watched a few fishermen, as well as swans and of course rafts of ducks and geese, and generally enjoyed a peaceful day.
Pulling up the anchor the next morning went smoothly. Altogether, our first anchoring since September 2019 went very well!
We had calm seas for the trip to Saugatuck. There was a little mizzle at first, but it cleared up. On arrival at the marina there was much confusion. No response to radio (as is unfortunately common these days), and a lady at the end of the phone who kept asking me what was our slip assignment. Since I was calling to ask what was our slip assignment, this made for a frustrating conversation on both sides. Eventually the person who Dick has been dealing with was tracked down, and we were told our slip, and set off down the fairway, only to see that our space was already occupied. More phone conversations, and we were finally sent to the far end of the marina on a temporary basis for one night. This end of the marina was a strange but potentially charming little enclave. There was a large B&B boat (apparently unoccupied), and several brand-new houseboats, incomplete and unfurnished. Apparently, they are being staged in that location while wrangling over their final location on the river in Saugatuck goes on. At the end of the dock is a real dive bar, that advertises the loudest live music in the area. I gather it is very popular, but operated in an eccentric manner, open only when the management feels like it and with no predictable hours or days (except always closing at sunset), we were very thankful that this was one of the closed days!
We were expecting Saugatuck to be one of the highlights of this trip, and it did not disappoint. Initially a centre for lumber and a port, Saugatuck became an art colony and cultural centre in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Lovely old homes line the streets, many sympathetically converted into art galleries and restaurants. Beautiful beaches in the area add to the attraction. There is an interesting hand cranked historic chain ferry that crosses the river to connect visitors to the town with the beaches and parks. The Kalamazoo River leads from Lake Michigan to Saugatuck and its sister city of Douglas. The river opens out into a smallish lake that is lined with marinas and waterfront condos. Douglas was initially called Dudleyville, settled in 1851 as a lumber mill town. The town provided much of the lumber used to rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire in 1871. Once most of the trees had been cleared, the area became a centre for growing and shipping fruit, particularly peaches.
There were no available transient slips in Saugatuck, so our marina was across the lake in Douglas. We had planned to ride our bikes to Saugatuck for dinner, so we got ready and wrestled the bikes off the boat. At this point we discovered that my rear tire was completely flat. Further investigation clearly showed that there was a problem that could not be solved with a bicycle pump. Since Google told us it was just 1.8 miles to the restaurant, and my weather app said clouds and a pleasant 72 temperature, we decided to walk. Naturally, the sun came out, there was not a breath of breeze, and it was a lot closer to 80. I was fine with the 1 mile, it was the .8 in the hot sun that was miserable! The restaurant was another one with good food served in a very crowded and noisy setting. Certainly not worth the long, hot walk.
We were able to order a new inner tube for the bike, to be delivered to the marina in just two days. We have had several urgent orders this year. Our AGLCA burgee, critical for making new friends on the docks, had become so frayed that it was about to fall apart. Our Eartec headsets (aka marriage savers) that are very important aids for docking, had the plastic on the ear pieces flaking off. One of my only pair of sandals decided to shed its sole, and the ink cartridges in the printer ran out. Fortunately, between our friends in Whitehall, and those in Chicago, we were able to place online orders for these important items. Funny that we have been travelling for 3 years and never needed to order anything. I guess everything wears out, and the gap year allowed things to deteriorate.
The next day we took the dinghy into town. There is an excellent dinghy dock at a park right in the centre, very convenient, and of course much cooler than trying to walk (or even ride the bikes). As we walked around town, we enjoyed seeing the most amazing old cars. They were part of a car club, really old, in stunning condition, and more than I have ever seen outside of a museum. My father would have been in his element, chatting with the owners and reminiscing. I couldn’t help but think about how much Dad would have enjoyed this trip we are taking!
We enjoyed more of the shops in Saugatuck (some wonderful art galleries particularly), and went to a restaurant on the waterfront for dinner. On this occasion we decided to sit outside, in hopes that it might be a little quieter. While we were waiting for our order, a lady came out and stood at the railing. It seemed as though she was taking pictures, very strange because it was a foggy, drizzly day and nothing much to see (or photograph). In fact, she was trying to get a signal for an important phone call. Eventually the lady turned around, and (in her words), was about to stop at our table and tell me that she knows someone who looks just like me. Then she looked at Dick, and realized that I am who she was thinking of! Leslie is a neighbour from Wexford, and we were all very surprised at the chance meeting. No wonder there are so few people in our neighbourhood in summer, they all head north!
The next day was a quiet morning for errands (Dick) and laundry (me), and then a return to Saugatuck in the dinghy. We explored the remaining shops and enjoyed a very nice meal at Coast236. Finally, a quiet dining experience with good food, although a very limited menu.
On Thursday we walked to J.Petter Galleries, an art gallery and wine shop just off the bridge between Saugatuck and Douglas. They offer wine tastings, and a very pleasant selection of accompaniments. We shared a wonderful cheese and charcuterie plate with tastings, and returned to the boat with 3 bottles of a delicious white wine from Navarre and some more yummies to enjoy on board. A new boat had joined us on our T-head, another catamaran, this time a sailing cat. We paused for some dockside chat.
Friday was a quiet day. Dick walked over to what he thought was a museum, but wasn’t, and took the time to repair my bike. This involved some critical bike repair tools that he found in the cutlery drawer, but the repair was successful and I am once again mobile.
In the evening we again took the dinghy across, this time to a steak house called Bowdies. After Dick overheard the bartender say he was moving to Hilton Head in the fall, he mentioned to our charming waiter that we live there. The bartender came over and introduced himself. He is in fact the restaurant owner, and is opening his 4th Bowdies very near to Wexford in October. The steaks were absolutely delicious, and we are looking forward to the opening in the autumn. As restaurants go, it is very pricey indeed, with everything ordered separately (in other words, you order your steak and it comes with no sauces, vegetables, or starch), so I expect it will be a special occasion destination!
On our return to the marina, we had, ahem, fun, putting up the dinghy. It is always a tricky job, because of the weight and design of the dinghy and supports, and several glasses of wine do not make it easier! The boaters on the other side of the dock had returned to their boat for the weekend, very friendly people, who are planning to do the Great Loop soon. We sat with them and enjoyed further adult beverages while chatting with them and other boat neighbours until 11:30! Whoa! Very late hours for Loopers.
The next day was another horrible corkscrewing passage to St Joseph for me, even though both wind and waves were acceptable speed and heights. I now realize that when a fellow Looper refers to Lake Michigan as Lake Washing Machine, he is not necessarily referring to stormy conditions. Instead, it is the rolling corkscrew that is so much more common than the easy chop we were used to on the other Great Lakes.
Initially a trading post, St Joseph lies near the southern end of Lake Michigan, and is a convenient location for crossing to Chicago. The convenience was recognized during the early years of the city, as a number of shipping companies and routes provided transportation, freight, and mail between the cities. In 1911, three brothers, Emory, Lewis, and Frederick Upton, began a company manufacturing household washing machines. By the 1950’s the company became Whirlpool, and is still the world’s largest manufacturer of household appliances, with its world headquarters in Benton Harbor, across the river from St Joseph. Some of Whirlpool’s many brands include Maytag, Jenn-Air, KitchenAid, Amana, Hot Point, and Indesit. Our route by bicycle to St Joseph shops and restaurants took us through the enormous (deserted over the weekend) parking lot of the Whirlpool Headquarters building.
St Joseph is quite a large city, and once again the marina was across the river, requiring a long and quite unpleasant (and unsafe) bike ride to the town and restaurants. The St Joseph waterfront has a beautiful park, and the town is at the top of a bluff, so taking the dinghy instead of the bikes would still have involved a lot of walking. Dinner in a highly rated hotel restaurant was good, but staff shortages meant that our poor waitress was trying to look after far too many tables. We like a leisurely dinner, but more than two and a half hours is too long even for us.
We enjoyed a very easy crossing to Chicago, running fast for about 2/3 of the distance. On this stop we stayed in Burnham Harbor, a 1000 slip marina located beside Soldier Field, The Shedd Aquarium, and the Planetarium. We had our slip assignment (a T-head), but as usual no docking assistance. We are now at the point where we prefer to handle the docking ourselves, and were reminded of that when we were “helped” at the fuel dock on our way out. The helpful young man grabbed the bow line, and prepared to try to haul Nine Lives in with that. Leaving aside the fact that 12 tons of boat is a lot for even a strong young man to haul about safely, pulling us in by a bow line results in the stern going out away from the dock to the point where even a good throw of the stern line won’t reach. Of course, getting no docking help means no tip is required, a small saving, but it all adds up! It is especially annoying to tip a dockhand who has made our arrival more difficult that it would have been without the well-meant but useless assistance.
This marina was the worst so far, with just 2 showers for the entire marina, and no other facilities. Of course, being downtown in a major city, it was also the most expensive!
Our location on the t-head next to the fuel dock made for interesting watching. It soon becomes obvious that having a lot of money does not necessarily mean that a boater has any actual boat handling skills, and the dock hands spend a lot of time grabbing tangled lines, jumping over errant fenders, and pushing and pulling just to get some of these big yachts set for fuelling. I watched a Chicago Police boat decide on a stop and search. They tied their big RIB to a yacht that was fuelling, and after taking the owner’s keys, they sent down a diver to look at something. Of course, from the position of an observer, the story is all speculation, and one never really knows the whys or wherefores, or the eventual outcome! I also watched the set up for some sort of filming across the harbour. There was a big green screen set up, and all sorts of people bustling about, moving equipment in and out and stringing wires everywhere. Actors (?) in white shirts and ties stood about looking at large dark cars. I didn’t see the actual filming, but the setting up took hours, and then suddenly everyone was gone and there was no trace they had even been there.
We visited the Shedd Aquarium. Normally we love aquariums, but this was not quite the experience we had hoped for. With COVID, there are still only advance timed tickets, and I (wrongly) thought this would mean fewer people. Instead, it was horribly crowded, and being summer, there were also large numbers of children jumping about, banging on the glass, and generally being a nuisance. Worst, the rules are now that for indoor venues, if you don’t wear a mask you are certifying that you are fully vaccinated. Given that the US has roughly 50% of the population vaccinated, that would suggest that in any given venue, about half the visitors should be wearing masks. If it was 10% I would be surprised. I found it quite disturbing, and wished I had tucked my own mask into my pocket, with all these potentially infected people crowding around me. Yes, we are vaccinated, but there are still breakthrough infections, and I don’t want it, no matter how “mild” the symptoms might be! We never found the underwater viewing places for the belugas, and we decided that any of the other shows would be even more crowded than the exhibits, so we didn’t stay as long as we might have done.
What can I tell you about Chicago? It is the third largest city in the United States (by population), and one of the 40 largest urban areas in the world. The location of the city, incorporated in 1837, was close to the portage that connected Lake Michigan (and thus, via the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence River with the Atlantic Ocean) with the Mississippi watershed and the Gulf of Mexico. In 1848 the Illinois and Michigan Canal opened, connecting the two watersheds. One of the destination cities of North America, Chicago is a centre for food, culture, architecture and history, and of course, shopping. As we have been finding with many American cities, the waterfront has been beautifully redeveloped, with parks connected by bike paths and pedestrian trails.
We enjoyed a wonderful evening with Thor and Jim, friends from Wexford, who have a stunning condo overlooking the waterfront and Lincoln Park. We had dinner with them at a French Vietnamese restaurant that is one of their favourites.
The next day was our turn to entertain. Dick spent hours with the water hose and boat soap, and also window cleaners, so Nine Lives sparkled. I prepared cottage pie with some ground bison meat we had found in one of the specialty shops on our travels, and made some chocolate mousse with plenty of grand marnier for dessert. We loved having our friends on board.
While Dick was boat cleaning, I had an interesting phone conversation. I answered Dick’s phone for him, it was a nice lady to say that he had left a message about a reservation, but she was calling to advise that they don’t take reservations, it is first come first served. I explained to her that we understand some places do this, but we are a catamaran, and 19 feet wide, so usually we are able to talk to the dockmaster and he will hold a slip for us. The nice lady heard me out, there was a pause, and then she explained that they are a restaurant.
Our passage from Chicago to Winthrop Harbor was done fast. The water was very smooth, and if it had been the ocean it would have been perfect, but there was a very long fetch from the top of the Lake, and a short period (to explain to the non-mariners among us, the fetch means that waves start at the north end, and have the whole length of the lake to build up. The period means that unlike the ocean where the distance between the tops of the waves is longer, here it is short, and boats bob up and down much sooner). This made for what would have been an awful trip for me. Dick was good to his wife and we ran fast, thus shortening the passage by hours.
We had made reservations and been assigned a slip in Winthrop Harbor, but on our arrival, we discovered that our place was already occupied. We tied up at the next slip over, and eventually managed to get an answer from the marina to say they were sorry, someone had bought that slip for the season, and if we were happy where we were, we could stay there. So followed all the palaver of spring lines, careful and judicious tying of bow lines, and placement of fenders here and there, and the last job is to connect the power. That was when we found that the elderly pedestal did not have an outlet that was suitable for our boat. More calls to the marina, and explained the situation, so we were sent to a different dock that we were assured would have the right power, and would be wide enough for a catamaran. After some exceptional manoeuvring on Dick’s part, he shoehorned Nine Lives into the assigned slip, and we began the tying up process. It was clear that our 44 ft, plus another 5 feet of dinghy, was not appropriate for a 35-foot pier, as we were sticking out and obstructing about half of the fairway. So, untie, more clever ducking and spinning of our fortunately very nimble cat, and we returned to the first spot with the plan to run the generator if necessary. Fortunately, the slips directly across from us do have the right power outlets, so we have run our (trip hazard) cable across the dock and are all set. Dick rode his bike to the handy local West Marine, and bought an adaptor for the next time (and there will be a next time for sure). We figure that since this exceptionally large marina of 1500 slips probably has many boats arriving with the same issue, the relatively small West Marine outlet keeps a good stock of what must be a big seller for them!
Winthrop Harbor is the location for the National Weather Service’s marine warnings for Lake Michigan. There doesn’t seem to be much else to tell, other than that the marina is the largest in the Great Lakes.
Winthrop Harbor has little to offer in terms of restaurants or shopping, so we are eating on board both nights of our stay. Today is our 44th wedding anniversary, so I planned a nice supper, trying a new recipe for chicken pies, followed by some blueberry cake for dessert. There just happened to be a bottle of champagne on board as well. One of the local AGLCA Harbor Hosts arrived in time to join us for cocktails and dinner. A convivial evening with exchanged stories of visits to Europe and future boating plans. The new recipe for chicken pies is a keeper too!