Sunday, June 16, 2013

Coastal Western Michigan

We are about a week and a half into our leisurely trip down the western coast of Michigan. Part of the slowness is wanting to stop and see all of the small, cute, small coastal towns. Part of the slowness is that the rivers south of Chicago are still flooded and the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard have closed the rivers to recreational boating traffic. And a couple of days of the slowness are attributable to weather.

For the most part the weather has been fine, we did have one day of 30 knot winds and 4-6 foot seas on Lake Michigan, but we spent that day happily attached to a dock in Pentwater. Today's weather event was fog. We are in Whitehall, which is a town at the upper end of the 4 mile long White Lake, about half way down Michigan's west coast.  When we woke up this morning, the town and marina were shrouded in fog. About 10:00 AM it looked like the fog was lifting, so we left and headed for Lake Michigan. We didn't even get halfway down White Lake before deciding to go back. The fog just kept getting thicker the closer we got to Lake Michigan. We're getting smarter. We were planning to go to Muskegon, which is only 10 miles away. A couple of years ago, we probably would have continued, telling ourselves that the fog would lift. This morning we acknowledged that we weren't in any hurry, turned around and went back to our slip in the municipal marina.

In Ludington, MI, we stopped long enough to ride the last coal-fired steamship car ferry crossing Lake Michigan. The Badger was once part of a fleet of nine steamships that shuttled passengers, cars and railroad cars from Ludington, MI to Manitowoc, WI. In their busiest year, the ships moved 141,000 rail cars from Michigan to Wisconsin. The ferries were actually built and owned by the railroad companies. Before the ferries were built, they would unload the train car's cargo onto boats, ferry the cargo across the lake, then reload the cargo to train cars at the other end. Which, of course, begs the question why didn't they just build their rails to go south of the lake through Chicago? Jim thinks he heard that the rails in the Chicago area were owned by other companies and it was actually cheaper to build ferries that could move the loaded rail cars. Of course, they don't ferry rail cars any more, so who knows what the real story is.

S.S. Badger
Of course, since these ferries were built to hold entire trains, they have plenty of room to transport cars, RVs, and commercial trucks. One of their most frequent cargoes these days are windmill parts. There are several large windmill fields on the Lake Michigan coast already and more are being built. The windmills themselves are built in Wisconsin and then trucked to Michigan.  From a distance, you see the windmills but you don't get any perspective on just how big they are.  Here is a picture of Jim standing next to a part waiting to be loaded.

Jim and the windmill

We watched the parts being loaded in Manitowoc. It was quite a feat. The truck had two large trailer pieces with the windmill part suspended between them. It appeared that the windmill part could be raised or lowered by the two trailer pieces. The windmill parts barely fit (by height) on the ship, so they had been lowered  to nearly dragging on the ground. They would have been much to close to the ground if they were being driven down the road. To back the parts onto the ship, one man from the shipping company controlled the rear trailer with a hand held control, while the driver backed onto the ship. This clearly wasn't the first rodeo for any of the guys who worked for the trucking company. It was fascinating to watch.

Backing onto the ship
Maneuvering from the front
Not everything on the ship was huge. We also got a photo of this charming little camper. Our friends Walter and Margaret Boswell were in the market for a camper and we thought this would be perfect for them, but they found and bought something else before we could get this picture sent to them.

Whitehall, where we are today, is considered the first town "up north" in Michigan. From Muskegon south we will be in much larger cities and more populated resort towns. Stay tuned for posts from the southern half of lower Michigan.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

2013 Cruising Season Begins

We are back on the boat and under way. Yeah! Getting back to the boat was a two step process this year. We had planned to launch the boat in mid-May, but the folks at the boat yard said that was a bit optimistic, the cold weather was lingering in upper lower Michigan and there was still some ice around in early May. So we settled for bringing our clothes, boat parts, cruising guides and charts, etc. up from Cleveland then going back to Ohio to wait for a couple of more weeks. On our brief trip in mid-May, we stopped in Frankenmuth, MI, site of the country's largest Christmas store.  Jim made a motel reservation there and we got a sense of how early in the season we really were when we arrived and found this on the motel's sign board:

We never met the Birggars, but we both agreed that with all the hotels and motels we have stayed in in the last 40 years, this was the first time either of us had been welcomed on the sign out front.

We finally arrived to launch the boat at the end of May. I went to California for my niece's wedding and flew back from there to Charlevoix where the boat was. Jim took the Greyhound bus from Cleveland to Charlevoix, a 13 hour 3 bus experience he declared to be "just fine." Our friends Bill and Birute Fleck let us stay with them for two nights while we were getting the boat launched.

Here is a picture of the boat leaving the barn. Note the cool way the door folds up. These doors are huge, 25-30 feet tall and 50-60 feet wide.

Here she is reversing the process of last fall, being lowered back into the water.

This is the trailer that carried her the 2-3 miles from the barn to the boat launch. We don't normally think of our boat as a trailerable boat, but by the standards of Bergmann's boat yard, she is small.  There was a 55 foot Viking sport fisher waiting to be launched while Down Time was going into the water. That boat was so big they had to bring a bucket truck along to re-set the outriggers (the things that manage the fishing lines).  That trailer had eight sets of wheels, but they still drove it down the city streets from the yard to the boat launch.

Its great to be back on the boat, but we are freezing to death. The morning we left Charlevoix there was ice on the deck.  I didn't pack for this kind of weather, I've already had to buy a sweat shirt and a pair of sweat pants.  Jim says we'll look back on these days with longing when we are in Tennessee in August. I did find one unexpected compensation for the Michigan weather, however -- morel mushrooms. I found them at the Elberta, MI farmer's market this morning for $5.00 for 6 ounces of mushrooms. Fellow fungus lovers, eat your hearts out; fresh morels for less than $1/oz.