Sailing Stories, Part 3

I have already shared Sailing Stories from our first summer living aboard, and from the first leg of last summer’s journey.  Today, I’m sharing the posts from our under-the-bridge cruise.  This part of the summer involved a lot of learning, and quite a few adventures.  Enjoy!

Tentative Plan
You know how plans go. But we were still making them!

The Dinghy Project
She was rough, but I huge improvement over the inflatable that we used the previous summer.

Leaving Thunder Bay, A Beautiful Anchorage, a Small Craft Advisory, and PISH
The first change to our plans, and it ended up being lovely.

Sight Seeing!
Since we were stuck, we decided to see what we could see.

Quiet Journey to Rogers City
Finally, a quiet run, with no engine failure!

Rogers City
Exploring the favorite port town of Rob’s childhood.

Long Run to Bois Blanc
This is where we were, a year ago today. Beautiful pictures.

Under the Bridge
It’s a right of passage, for sailors on the Lakes.

Arrival at Beaver Island
In another change of plans, we visit our friends on the island.

A Great Off-the-Grid House
Our friends’ very fun tiny house. This family (plus a new addition!) are now living on Beaver Island full time.

Back to the Mainland
Our journey to Lake Charlevoix.

Taking Advantage of a Good Wind
Another change of plans, leads us to Grand Traverse Bay.

On the Hook in Cherryland
The Cherry Festival was going on, and the harbor master laughed at me, when I asked if they had any slips available.

A Bit of Luxury
An extremely posh marina in Elk Rapids.

Decisions, Decisions
We chose a destination (although it ended up not being our destination, in the end). And, what to do next summer? North Channel or Loop? It’s laughable to read, because it goes to show exactly how futile making plans can be.

Cathead Bay
The most beautiful anchorage ever.

Lessons Learned
What we learned, so far, in our cruising.

Fun in Fishtown
An unusual stop.

Lessons en Route to Manitou
Time to remember to take nature seriously. Spoiler: we made it back…

Beating the Heat
How we deal with summer’s heat, with no air conditioning. (P.S. We’re going to have a/c when we move to Houston!)

Enjoy reading!  There will be a part 4, eventually.  Part 5 will be written after we move to Houston.

Sailboat -

Also, don’t forget that there is still time to help Abby, for my $1 a month challenge!

Back to Reality

We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.
John F. Kennedy

We’re at home. Or perhaps I should say “home”. We’re at our house, the place where we spend 9 months out of the year.

This summer’s adventure is over.

After we pulled into the overgrown yard, I tentatively walked out of the car, feeling the cold, damp grass on my bare feet. When we opened the door, I was bombarded by the slightly musty, cottage-like smell of home. Beanie’s preschool diploma and artwork still covered the fridge. The launch reminder sat on the stove.

But man, so much stuff!

Do we really need a collection of old laptops, mountains of toys, and so many dishes? I thought we were done decluttering, that we’d reached our just-right amount of stuff. And our house does look more minimalistic than most. But, after living comfortably for 91 days, with so few possessions, the house looked like it belonged on “Hoarders”. There will be more decluttering, and I will keep you posted.

I needed to go to the grocery store.

I toyed with the idea of taking my bike, and I would have if the store were closer, if the town were more bike-able. So I drove.

I hadn’t noticed that stores are more fun by the water, especially in the middle of the western side of the state. There, people would always visit while in line, and somebody usually had something funny to say. At the very least, there would be small talk about the weather, and sometimes I would tell our story, which always interested everyone. Getting groceries was pleasant.

People here are so quiet. It felt lonely. I looked around for a familiar face, for some connection, for someone to at least welcome us back. Nothing.

We humans are social beings. We need community, even if modern corporate-sponsored culture has led us to believe that we don’t. This will be something we seek out. Friends will be much more of a priority than they have been in the past. Stay tuned.

There were the simple adjustments as well. Beanie rediscovered her dress-up clothes and took a bath. We have access to so much electricity, without any trouble (until the bill comes, so we will conserve!). We slept in our bedroom, on a comfortable mattress.

This morning, I procrastinated with starting the coffee, because I knew it was a pain. First, I had to go outside and get water. Then, rinsing the French press was always messy business. The stove had to be lit, which was especially annoying if it was windy or the fan was nearby. We always had coffee late in the morning.

But, folks, guess what…We have water, inside! There is a spigot right over my sink, and it’s even safe for drinking! We’re totally living it up here!

The stove isn’t that different, though. The range has an igniter of sorts, but we still get to light the oven. Bringing a bit of Moonraker home, I guess.

So, here we are. There’s a lot to do, and eventually I will have to deal with work.

But the thing we’ve noticed is that we’ve changed. Not everything will be as it was when we left. And I have a feeling that we have yet to discover exactly how profound that change is.

Adventures in Grand Haven

So here we are, at our end point for the summer. We’ve been having fun here, but we’ve been without electricity, so I haven’t been able to update.

Now, we’re in a slip, complete with hook-ups and showers, but I mistakenly took home our computer with a card reader, and brought a computer without one. So the pictures will have to wait until tomorrow, when we go back home.

In the meantime, here are some stories about our adventures:

Beanie and the Wave
We arrived at the sea wall on Tuesday, which gave the three of us time to play on Wednesday and Thursday, before getting ready for Rob’s moped rally over the weekend. One of the first things we did, of course, was explore the river walk.

Wednesday was a crazy day, with waves breaking over the end of the pier. The red flags were up on the beach, and few people ventured out far into the water. The pier itself was safe, although we got a little wet as we made our way toward the light house.

Rob and Beanie–with her life jacket on–made their way to the front of the light house, where a wave crashed right in front of them (they were still a safe distance from the edge). Beanie thought this was amazing and couldn’t stop talking and singing about it as we walked back to our slip.

Fun Downtown
There is always something going on here! We bought Beanie a lighthouse shirt, got free ice cream, cinnamon rolls, and coffee, and explored the splash park and playground.

Remember Tawas, our first port of the summer? And those pancake-covered hot dogs that I fantasize about? Well, they’ve got a stand here, too! Yummy…

The Musical Fountain
On the wall, we were right across from a hill that had “Coast Guard City” written on it. At night, there is actually a musical fountain on that hill. Downtown becomes absolutely crowded at least an hour before it starts. Local artists design the shows, and there is something for everyone–usually, there is a classical song, a current pop song, a song from the ’80s or ’90s, etc. Beanie was fascinated by it, then she began dancing to the music. She would look, to make sure the people nearby were watching her. If they weren’t, she would seek out a new audience.

Crunchy Guests
The overwhelming majority of Michigan Natural Parenting members live in Grand Rapids. And many of them have been stalking us this summer…

We knew we would stop in Grand Haven! But we hadn’t counted on the rough Lake Michigan weather making it our end point. This was kind of a bonus.

Dawn, a music therapist, came to visit while we were on the sea wall. We enjoyed the sunset, and Beanie kept her entertained. Sadly, I forgot to take pictures…

Today, Jenn and her family came to visit. Beanie showed them the playground.

And then there was Emily and Keegan, with their two .ittle ones. On Sunday, we decided to take the boat up the river to Riven Haven, our end point. It was a short motor, so we invited them to come along…

Up the River (and Back Again)
So, we rented some life jackets and piled everyone into our boat. Emily took the pictures (which you will see tomorrow), while I helped navigate.

This trip did require precise navigation, because then channel gets narrow at one point. It is shallow as well, but the marina owner assured us that a boat with a 3 1/2 foot draft could make it in, if we stayed in the channel. And the river is a muck and seaweed bottom, so we wouldn’t damage the boat if we ran aground.

First, we learned that the depth sounder can’t get a reading in muck.

Then, we learned that running aground in muck sounds a lot different than running aground on rocks. We tried to plow through. We tried the center and both sides of the channel. It wasn’t happening. We later learned that the water levels are down by 6 inches, from the drought this summer. We turned around.

(Thank you, Emily, for taking the pictures of the river trip!)

The real fun began in the morning. I saw a nice looking marina on our way back, so I drove there (our phone battery was dead, and we could only charge it in the car). They didn’t do sailboats. They recommended the marina down the road. Full.

This place said I would probably have to go back to Muskegon. No, wait a minute. All the sailboats go to North Shore. I should try them.

I called North Shore, and, happily, they had room for us. And they’re backed up, so–darn it!–we just have to keep our boat in a free slip for a week or so.

It’s a rough life.

A Bittersweet Symphony

Happily, I found that my storage space upgrade went through (darned e-checks!). So I have a lot to share with you today.

Upon waking up at the Muskegon Municipal Marina, I realized that there was both a Save A Lot and an Aldi easily within biking distance. Yay! We stocked up on whole wheat bread, meat, artisan lettuce, grapes for Beanie, and, of course, a few bottles of Winking Owl!

We found that Muskegon was a very bike-able town, even if it wasn’t your typical, downtown-cute port town. They have a nice bike trail, good sidewalks, and everything is within two miles.

Here are some pictures from Muskegon.

One of the many boats you can tour in Muskegon.

A nice woody, at a mooring.

Yet another old Islander!

The "Milwaukee Clipper," open for tours.

The yacht club was ALWAYS having a race!

A very cool Coast Guard boat, open for tours.

Yes, you can even tour a submarine!

Muskegon light

Sailboat Mecca
The municipal dock was decent, but we’ve been curious about Torresen Marine. Probably the best sailboat repair shop and dealer in Michigan, Torresen is where our boat-hunting adventures began. Right after our summer on the Sonnet, before I was expecting Beanie, we fell in love with a Grampion from their derilict lot. We didn’t buy it, because it needed too much work. (Ironically, the biggest thing it needed was repair to the bulkheads…and we’ve already repaired Moonraker’s bulkhead once. We’ll need to do more repairs to it before next summer).

Anyway, we wanted to see their shop, because they were very likely to have used parts for our boat. Usually slips at private marinas are too expensive, but I took a look. 50 cents a foot! We headed right over.

We were on a tall metal dock that wobbled when we walked on it. There were four private bathrooms, and two had showers. But everyone there was so friendly. Any trip off of the boat resulted in a long conversation. It was really a fun place, and there were always races on the water to watch. That’s the only place we will stay, when we go to Muskegon.

My friend Karen, from Michigan Natural Parenting, came to visit with her two kids. Beanie enjoyed sharing her v-berth with them!

Its always great to have company!

Thank you, Karen, for taking a nice picture of the three of us!


Last Run of the Season
Here’s where it becomes bittersweet.

We had thought that we would definitely make it to Saugatuck and probably to Holland as well. But, for the first time all summer, we have had bad weather this month. The one night we had planned to spend in Pentwater turned into a week. While we were at Torrensen, there was nearly a week of thunderstorms that were so bad the ferries didn’t go out.

Grand Haven was the next port. We would have time to spend a couple days downtown, get the car from Torresen, get a better moped from home, send Rob to the moped rally over the weekend (yes, there are moped rallies all over the country–more about that in a future post!), get Rob’s wisdom tooth pulled, travel up the river, and pull out at River Haven.

So, our run to Grand Haven would be the last of the season.

It was very foggy on Muskegon Lake, so we waited until 11:00 to leave. We made our way up the river and watched the lighthouse disappear in the fog. We turned around and anchored off of the state park (next to all the other boats who had headed out, then turned around).

At 1:00, we tried again. We followed all the other boats, then followed them back up e river after they turned around. Back to the state park.

Well, third time is the charm! We were about to row ashore and pick up food, expecting to spend the night at the anchorage, when we decided to try it one more time, at 4:00. It was still foggy, but not dangerously so. There was no wind, so our last run was a two hour motor. Happily, we knew where we were going, because Torresen sold charts. We stayed close to shore, and the scenery was beautiful.

We arrived in Grand Haven in time for dinner and tied up (for free) on their seawall. It’s a fun town, and they had a light-and-fountain show after dark. We love downtown wall slips, so I think we will have a good time while we’re here.

And to Lake Michigan, Moonraker’s new lake–Farewell, it’s been a pleasure.

Reflecting on the No-Car Lifestyle

Tomorrow marks another turning point in our adventures. For 76 days, we have relied on bicycles (and a moped, occasionally, since Frankfort, when we were able to repair the flat tire) for transportation. In the morning, we will take a cab to the airport and rent a car. I will then drive Rob to Midland, where he will ride with his dad to Ossineke, where we left our car. On Saturday, Rob will return with the car, which we will have with us for the rest of the trip.

So, after some crazy jockeying around, we will once again have an automobile. How bizarre.

This change of events has led me to reflect on our 3+ months of car-free living. There are some definite pros, and some changes I will make when we return home. And there are some cons, and some things we will do differently next year.

First, the great things about life without an automobile:
–It’s cheaper! We spend less on gas, and I haven’t bothered to renew our car insurance yet (I will tomorrow, of course…).

–It’s forced us to shop locally. It’s been quite some time since I’ve been in a Walmart or other big box store. If a big box store is in a town, it’s almost always on the outskirts, and I’m going to favor the closer store on Main Street. Surprisingly, we have not spent more this way. However…

–We have consumed less! There are no “errand running” afternoons, no recreational shopping. There aren’t a lot of impulse buys, because we’re not going to “superstores.”

–The obvious one: we’re getting more exercise. We’ve had more energy, we’ve sleeping better. It’s been great.

–We’re really a part of the communities we visit. We walk down the streets. We talk to people. We’re definitely not “fudges.”

–Annoying errands have become fun family outings. We ride together, then stop at the playground.

Still, there are some cons…
–The trips back to Midland for therapy always seem to occur when we’re away from a car rental place (or broke!). So we need to rely on people to pick us up.

–We thought we would take the bus back to Midland, but bus routes are not practical south of Traverse City. It costs more and takes more than 12 hours.

–Bicycling in the rain is okay, but in worse weather, it is no picnic.

So, what are we going to do? When we return home, we’ll definitely use our cars less, at least until winter. And we’ll plan our shopping more deliberately, avoiding the big box stores.

As for next year, we are planning on having a home port, so we will have a car nearby. We will be car-free when we are cruising, but it will be waiting for us in Frankfort. Having a home port will work better for us, until Beanie is done with therapy (or is advanced enough to take a summer off). This summer, it wasn’t really possible, because our goal was to make it to Lake Michigan. Now that we’re here, we plan to,stay for awhile.

Where Are We?

Our chart book ended in Manistee. We didn’t worry about this, because, on the back of the chart book was a map, with every West Marine store in the state marked. There would be one in Ludington. So all we had to do was figure out how to get to one port. And, remember, we followed the other I29 that day.

Our last day in Ludington, Rob took off to find the West Marine, 30 minutes after check-out time. Guess what. It closed a year ago. So, using his instruments on the chart on the wall of the lounge, Rob plotted courses to Pentwater and White Lake. We would then have to figure out how to get to Muskegon, where there would be a West Marine.

So, after being stuck in Pentwater for some time, we were finally blessed with a north wind. Sailing wing-and-wing, we were bouncing off of 8 knots (3 knots above hull speed). As we approached White Lake, we had to decide whether to stop there or continue two more hours to Muskegon (using a poorly copied PDF of NOAA’s chart). The sky was starting to look overcast, so I checked the forecast. We were supposed to get to Muskegon before 6:30, and there was a 40% chance of isolated thunderstorms at 7:00. Normally, we wouldn’t play those odds, but there was more than a 50% chance of thunderstorms tomorrow, so we would be stuck wherever we ended up. We were running low on provisions, and Muskegon has many real grocery stores (including an Aldi, with their wonderful Winking Owl wine!). And, with Rob making his trip to get our car on Friday, we needed to be somewhere with a car rental place by then. So we decided to go for it!

The wind didn’t change much at all, but we heard a disturbing number of distress calls on the radio. A boat sank at anchor, a sailboat capsized, and the Coast Guard answered two “mayday” calls from Grand Haven and Saugatuck (south of us). But, for us, it was calm surfing until we had to lower the sails. Then it was the usual choppy craziness as we beat into the wind for a bit.

We considered anchoring out, but we could not find a good, sheltered place that was shallow enough. We decided to stay at a dock. The municipal docks are usually the cheapest and in the best locations, so we called Hartshorn Marina. We got an answering machine, saying that they closed at 4:30! This is unusual, since most marinas are open until 9:00. We decided to go there and find a slip, and pay in the morning. We saw a well-marked channel leading up to a very cute marina, so we figured that must be the place.

Our depth sounder freaked out as we made our way to the gas dock. The marina was packed, so we planned to tie up there until morning. Two men from a power boat caught our lines and laughed at us. “You’re lost,” he said. “This isn’t Hartshorn!”

It turns out that he gives directions to lots of boaters looking for the municipal dock, which was around the next bend, He was amazed that we made it in without running aground like most of the other boaters do.

So, we managed to turn around and round the next bend. The man had told us that the floating docks were the transient slips, so we tied up to one. The marina was almost empty, with three other families staying there. It surprised me that the bathrooms and showers didn’t have codes, until I saw that we were fenced in by barbed wire. There was a gate that opens for vehicles, and requires a card to get back in. We appear to be surrounded by abandoned factories. Not a typical location for a municipal dock.

We wondered if we were in e right place. Rob talked to the other boaters, who said that we were, and hooked us up with some much-needed kitty litter and beer.

A friend of mine, who is familiar with the area, has assured us that this isn’t actually sketchy, and that we’re downtown! We’ll have to check it out in the daylight.

Here are some pictures from our adventures today.

This barge is called the "Pere Marquette." It used to be a car ferry called the "City of Midland."

Beanie was busy with an activity book from Storybook Village.

Little Sable Point

Stay tuned! I have more pictures to share with you, but they will have to wait until my storage upgrade purchase goes through…