Monday, August 27, 2012

Mackinac Island

We finally got a good weather day and had a lovely trip from DeTour to Mackinac Island. Mackinac Island has a State of Michigan marina which is reputed to always be full. The cruising guides warn that you may have to anchor out in the bay to wait for a slip. That was not our experience. We made an online reservation before we left DeTour and had no trouble getting in. Friends of ours just stopped by in their boat to see if they could get a slip - no problem. The economy is taking its toll on the number of boaters out here.

Mackinac Island marina seen from the fort
We weren't the only ones who had been waiting to move. While we were in Mackinac Island a number of boats we have been traveling with over the summer came through, including Bama Belle, Hallelujah,  and Viking Star. We also ran into Harlen and Sharon on Two for the Road. They were part of the Lock 2 Yacht Club group of boats trapped in the Erie Canal by Hurricane Irene last year. They stored Two for the Road in the same yard where we stored Downtime last year, but they hadn't returned from Wyoming before we left. They took a completely different route to reach Mackinac than we did, traveling to the western end of the Erie Canal, through the Welland Canal to Lake Erie, through Detroit, and up Lake Huron. Like us, they are leaving their boat in Michigan this winter, although they are storing in Muskegon which is much further south than we are going.

Lock 2 Yacht Club reunion
As you probably know, Mackinac Island is a vacation destination where the automobile was banned in 1898 because it scared the horses. This lends a certain pungent odor to the town, although they work very hard to keep the streets clean in the busiest tourist sections of the island. There are 8-10 hotels, including the 319 room Grand Hotel, numerous B&Bs, and vacation rental homes on the island, but most of the tourists here are day trippers known as "Fudgies" who come over for the day on ferry boats from Mackinaw City on the lower peninsula of Michigan, or from St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula. They are called Fudgies because Mackinac Island is known for its fudge. There must be 25 fudge stores in the one mile stretch that is the main tourist drag on the island.

The lack of automobiles and trucks makes stocking the stores and hotels interesting. Delivery trucks arrive early in the morning on ferries. They are unloaded while still on the ferry and their cargo is transferred to horse drawn wagons. Most of this goes on before the first ferries full of Fudgies arrive.

UPS truck on its ferry

SYSCO wagon delivering food to restaurants
Grocery store deliveries
Basic services depend on horses and wagons as well. This is a Mackinac Island taxi.


And this is the Island's version of the Waste Management truck.

Garbage collector
Although it is possible to rent horses to see the island, most tourists rent bicycles if they want to leave the immediate downtown area near the docks. The island is ringed with an 8 1/2 mile road, the only State of Michigan highway where motorized vehicles are banned.

Mackinac Island has been a vacation destination from the end of the Civil War. Many wealthy families built vacation homes here in the 19th century, some of which are still private residences. Many of these lovely Victorians have been turned into B&Bs or small hotels.

Victorians seen from the water
The grandest of the hotels is the Grand Hotel, built in 1872. This place thinks so much of itself, they charge $10 per person just to go in and look around. We went to the buffet luncheon so our entry fee was credited to our lunch bill.

Grand Hotel from the water

Closer view of the Grand Hotel porch
It truly is a beautiful place, but it is very expensive. We saw some advertised "deals" that were only $189 per person per night mid-week. That does include lunch and dinner, but still seems pricey to me. In the "small world" department, we were sitting on the porch enjoying the view after lunch when a former client from the County of Los Angeles Public Library walked up to say hello. Terri had been the Deputy County Librarian until she retired and moved to Hilo, Hawaii two years ago. I asked what someone who lives in Hawaii was doing vacationing in Michigan. She said she grew up in Wisconsin and remembered her father bringing her to see the Grand Hotel when she was only 12. She had always wanted to stay there and this was the year she finally did it.

After 2 1/2 days of enjoying the island, we left for Mackinaw City on the northern most tip of the lower peninsula of Michigan. We've been doing some touring around from here (more about that in the next post) but we are nearing the end of this year's journey. For several weeks now Ron has been claiming he sees the trees beginning to change and now Jim and I can see it also. Fall comes early when you are this far north.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

DeTour, Michigan

Waiting, once again, for weather. It seems to be the theme of the end of this year's trip.

We are in DeTour, Michigan, at the southeast corner of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. DeTour is a town of 325 hardy souls with one grocery store, three restaurants (one is actually the local bar), and a State of Michigan marina. Michigan has built "marinas of refuge" about 20 miles apart down all of its coastline, in recognition of just how nasty the marine weather can get in a very short period of time.

Down Time in DeTour

The first day we came in was lovely, but by the next day the winds had picked up and it had started to rain. After three days, the rain has stopped, but the winds are still high and coming from the direction we want to go. The forecast for tomorrow is good, so we're hopeful we can leave and go to Mackinac Island.

One compensation for spending time in DeTour is ship watching. DeTour is on the DeTour Passage, a body of water that connects Lake Huron with the St. Mary's River. The St. Mary's River is the connecting point between Lake Huron and Lake Superior, through the Sault St. Marie Locks. I think this is the busiest commercial waterway we have been on since Norfolk, Virginia.

There are two types of commercial boats streaming up and down the river, lakers and salties. Lakers are the inland ships that move materials between the lake ports, for example taking taconite (an iron-bearing sedimentary rock) from the mines in Duluth to the steel mills in Chicago and Gary, Indiana. Salties are the ships that move things from Great Lakes ports across oceans. I'm not sure which one this is, but it was big. We have a book on board titled Know Your Ships that gives information about the boats that travel up here. A length of 600 feet with a width of 60 feet and a carrying capacity of 20,000 tons is a fairly standard ship up here.

Saltie or laker?
We are only three good weather days away from where we will store the boat, although we have planned to stop along the way and see some of the sites. Think good weather thoughts for us. Otherwise this year's water cruise may end more abruptly than we had planned and we may find ourselves seeing this last of this year's sights from a rental car.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Back in the U.S.A.

Just a quick note to let everyone know that we have checked back into the States at Drummond Island, Michigan. Verizon phone and Internet service is still spotty, but it should get better as we head west to Mackinac Island, then south to Charlevoix.

We've had two lovely days of weather since we left Gore Bay. The forecast is for increasing winds from the west (the direction we need to go) over the next two days, so we may be sitting, waiting for weather again. I have noticed that we now seem to be surrounded by Michigan and Wisconsin boats heading for home. I guess the locals know the weather signs that indicate the end of the boating season. Ron swears that he has seen trees that are starting to change colors and it is only the 14th of August.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Gore Bay, North Channel

I am writing this from inside a marine store in Gore Bay, a bay on the south side of the North Channel about half way along. I am writing from land rather than the boat because the weather is so bad, and the boat is so rocky, that trying to use my computer on board makes me seasick. Mind you, the boat is tried to the dock and still rocking hard enough to make me seasick. Not a fun time.

We really can't complain. Until this week the weather has been wonderful. But this week has more than made up for it. We left Little Current and went to a nearby anchorage in Clapperton Island for the night. The weather forecast for the next day was winds 15-20 knots from the west-northwest, so we changed our plans and went to Hotham Island which had a protected anchorage for winds from that direction. We weren't the only ones with that plan. There were already 6-8 boats when we got there and another 5-6 came in during the afternoon. By the evening the winds had picked up considerably and it blew hard and steady the entire next day. We just hunkered down on the boat in sunny, not particularly cold weather. Unfortunately, the winds shifted 180 degrees between when we arrived and when the strongest winds blew. Those of us anchored at the end of the pack all ended up dragging anchor. Fortunately, we were the last boat to drift and by then, having watched three others deal with the problem, Ron and I were sitting on deck and he noticed immediately when the problem began. Like the well-oiled machine that we are, we started the engines and got re-anchored with a minimum of drama.

The following morning the winds were still brisk, but they had lightened up and were blowing from behind us, given where we wanted to go, so we moved on to Eagle Island. The crew (Jim and Ron) claim to have seen an otter in the water as we anchored, I can't confirm that, I was busy driving the boat. We had a wonderful, sunny day but next day dawned overcast and crisply cool. Our next planned anchorage required navigating through rocks to get in and it isn't easy to see rocks under water with overcast skies. We decided to sit at Eagle another day. That night the winds kicked up again to over 20 knots coming straight down the mouth of the bay at Eagle. Wary because of our recent dragging experience, neither Jim nor I could sleep. We decided to sit up, spelling each other in one hour watches, to keep an eye on the anchor. Of course, she held like a champ.

We moved on the the Benjamin Islands which are one of the most popular anchorages in the North Channel. But now it was the 8th of August and the vacationing Canadians are beginning to thin out. The Great Loopers who are doing this trip in a single year are also moving through because they need to be through Chicago by Labor Day to stay ahead of the weather. So we had only six other boats in an anchorage which apparently holds up to forty boats on a typical summer night.

North Benjamin Island
Ron and I got off to walk on the island and stretch our legs. Fortunately Ron recognizes poison ivy when he sees it, so we were able to steer clear of the abundant weed. We did find an Inukshuk, a rock representation of a man created by the First Nation people to identify places where men had passed before. These things exist all over the Georgian Bay and North Channel. They were meant to indicate places where food had been stored, or locations critical to the fall hunting excursions.

The Benjamin Islands also treated us to another of those beautiful Canadian sunsets.

Sailboat in the Benjamins at sunset
During our walkabout on North Benjamin Island, Ron did something only crazy Canadians do, he went in the water. You have to understand, the water is cold up here, seriously cold. The Canadians, hardy people that they are, jump in all the time, but we wimpy Americans limit our water experiences to dangling our feet from the swim platform, or trailing our hands in the water when riding in the dinghy. We don't, as a rule, put our whole bodies in the water. Ron will kill me for posting this picture, but he won't see it until he gets home and by then it will be too late.

Ron at the Benjamins
While we were at the Benjamins, the weather forecast got ugly, north and northeast winds at a steady  25 knots with higher gusts for two full days. This is the kind of weather where you want to be safely tied up at a dock, not swinging around on an anchor. We needed to re-provision anyway so we left early Thursday morning headed for Gore Bay.

Gore Bay is southwest of the Benjamins, so we had the winds behind us all the way. A good thing because the seas were already building to 3 feet. We got here at noon and by that afternoon the boat began to bounce. Even in a protected bay, the winds and seas were rough, Then it began to rain. All in all, an icky couple of days. So here we sit, on shore to avoid the lumpy seas and bouncy boat, waiting for the weather to change. It is Saturday, and the forecast doesn't look like we'll be leaving before Monday.

When we do leave, we'll be starting what will probably be our last week in Canada. By the end of the week we'll be in Drummond Island, where we will clear back into the U.S. The season is coming to an end up here. Soon it will be time to clean and store the boat. We have enjoyed both the North Channel and the Georgian Bay, but neither of us feels the need to stay up here another year. So we'll put the boat away for the winter and next year we're headed south.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Goodbye Georgian Bay, Hello North Channel

We have made it through the Georgian Bay and entered the North Channel. We are in the town of Little Current on Manitoulin Island right at the juncture of the Georgian Bay and the north Channel. This map will give you some idea of where that actually is. It also shows where the rest of this year's trip will take us because we will be leaving the boat in storage along the upper western shore of Michigan some time in September. [Thanks to our friends on Sojourner from whom I copied this map.]
Georgian Bay and North Channel
Our last blog was created in Parry Sound. Since then we have wandered through the small craft channel among some of the prettiest and most unforgiving cruising grounds we have ever been in. As you can see from the pictures, the route winds around low lying granite rocks. It takes two people to navigate this stuff, one to drive the boat and the other to search for the next marker and keep a close eye on the charts.

The upside of all these islands and rocks, for the Canadians, is an endless supply of places to build their "cottages." As we cruised through we took pictures of some of the more typical and/or interesting cottages we passed.

As you can tell, the styles range from actual cottages to "what was the architect thinking?" construction. I would like to have heard the construction manager's comments on that last house when he first saw the plans. Remember that all of these places are on islands. That means they probably bring the construction materials to the sites in the dead of winter, driving over the ice. Otherwise all of the materials would have to arrive by boat. The cottagers themselves arrive by boat, or in some cases airplane.

As we've gone further north the terrain has been changing. There are fewer low lying rocks; instead we have steeper hills and pine forests right down to the water line. Ron says it is like boating through the tops of the Rockies and I think he is right.

One night we found ourselves in Mill Lake, the most beautiful place we have anchored so far, and we had the anchorage entirely to ourselves. It was a rare and wonderful treat. It was also one of the places where we enjoyed one of many spectacular Canadian sunsets.

Down time in Mill Lake

On our trip from Mill Lake to Killarney we even saw a beaver lodge, no beaver just the lodge.

We have also been serenaded many nights by the calls of loons. Ron calls them "loonie tunes." I have tried unsuccessfully to snap a picture of these colorful birds, but to no avail. Every time one gets close enough to photograph, as soon as I get the camera out, they dive under the water. Jim says it is loons 37, Diane 0. He's right. So you'll have to settle for this image from the Internet. This is their summer plumage. They are not a colorful in the winter.

Tomorrow we are headed off to enjoy the islands of the North Channel. At the end of the North Channel is Drummond Island where we check back into the U.S. We probably won't have Internet access again until then (maybe two weeks from now). So look for the next posting then. This post is brought to you courtesy of the Town Docks in Little Current, Manitoulin Island, Ontario, the only marina we have been in in Canada that actually gets the Internet and understands how to run a WiFi network. I love these people!