Pure Michigan

Did you know they call the western Michigan coast the “Riveria of the Midwest”? We had no idea this area was that beautiful. Craig always visualizes Detroit when he thinks of Michigan, but just like New York, these states are so much more than their famous cities.

Way up north, Mackinaw Island is surrounded by rocky beaches, but as you head south into Lake Michigan the beaches turn sandy. The water is still a breathtaking mix of aqua, sea green and bright blue, depending on how the sunlight hits it. For us girls, there are only tiny, clam-like shells to collect, including the zebra mussels that have cleaned the lake so thoroughly that it’s see-through 20 feet down. But there are multicolored rocks to sort through, including Petoskey Rocks that bear fossil markings from long ago.

The coastline is studded with delightful resort towns, each rightfully claiming a bit of fame, from Hemingway’s haunt in Petoskey to Sleeping Bear sand dunes near Frankfort.

The sunsets were stunning (!) and we were treated to fireworks right off the stern (back) of our boat in Charlevoix during their Venetian festival. There are more lovely towns south of Frankfort, but we’re saving them for another trip as we needed to head across the lake to Wisconsin, Craig’s adopted home state.

We’ve met some fantastic people along the way but there are no friends like old friends, so we were thrilled to have my wonderful college buddy Deb, and her husband Dave, aboard Joy Girl in Petoskey. We introduced them to anchoring out in Lake Charlevoix, strolled through gorgeous Harbor Springs, grilled, dined out and were not ready to see them go!

Biggest challenge on this leg of the trip: Lake Michigan. Home to approximately 2,000 ship wrecks, this beastie is enormous, unpredictable, and prone to squalls and wicked wind that can produce waves that range from uncomfortable to terrifying. Our days were filled with chart watching to identify the weather window when we could venture out without being tossed in the ocean-like swells and waves. We did make it across her, from Frankfort, Michigan to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin in 7 hours without bodily or boat injury!

The good news: Michigan is usually the “lee” shore, meaning it typically gets blasted by winds from the west. Wisconsin is the “windward” shore, so it shouldn’t be as rough since the wind rolls over it, headed east. Here’s hoping!

Future Plans: We’ll slow down for the month of August and take our time cruising Door County, Wisconsin.

This peninsula is surrounded by Lake Michigan and the waters of Green Bay, and is well known for its quaint resort towns, beautiful sunsets, and thriving arts community including painters, musicians and excellent theater. As theater people, we’re excited to see a few good shows. In early September, we plan to leave Wisconsin with a big bang by attending the Green Bay Packers home opener against the Chicago Bears in Lambeau Field on 9/9. Go Pack Go!

Adult Disneyland: Mackinaw

Mackinaw Island is so picture perfect it’s like an amusement park for grown ups. Touted as Michigan’s crown jewel, it’s encircled by Caribbean-like beaches (only with rocks, not sand), sprinkled with elegant Victorian architecture, crammed full of charming shops, delicious eateries, plus it’s steeped in history, including war. No cars allowed here since the late 1800’s, just horses and bikes are allowed!

The Native Americans believed the Great Spirit lived here and buried their chiefs on the island. It was a fur trade epicenter, site of the first battle of the War of 1812, the nation’s second National Park in 1875 (three years after Yellowstone), Michigan’s first state park, then quickly thereafter transformed into a popular tourist location for the wealthy from Chicago and Detroit. The splendid Grand Hotel, built in 1887, was the filming location of the dreamy romance “Somewhere In Time”.

Sigh. We love it.

All photographers love a Butterfly Pavilion, and I was not disappointed by the small but beautiful one here on the island. I even made a friend…

Only bummer is that the winds picked up. That, and the three ferry lines that bring people in and out on an hourly basis, stirred up the water and flung Joy Girl round and round like she was a bucking bronco. To be fair, we were warned of this possibility, still, we suffered through some of the most uncomfortable days and nights of our entire trip in this marina.

Enduring the bumpy water was worth being here, but tomorrow the weather forecast is good and we’re ready to move on. So, we’re off to Petoskey on the east side of Lake Michigan!

North Channel Island Hopping

Everything we were told about Canada’s North Channel is true… it’s magnificent! More like Colorado than ever, it has even bigger boulders and more pine trees on small foothills. But it is all surrounded by gorgeous emerald green water so clear you can easily see 15-20 feet down.

We focused on the islands in the north eastern part of the channel and anchored at a different island each day, every one unique and beautiful. We explored in our dinghy, swam and bathed off our swim platform, grilled and ate dinner on the back deck, then played cards or read after dinner. Not many people out here, it’s a perfect place to get away. So relaxing…ahhhh…

But the Benjamin Islands deserve a special shout out. Wow, this little group of islands was amazingly beautiful! Not sure we captured it well but let’s give it a shot…

Before entering the North Channel, we stayed at Killarney Mountain Lodge Marina for two days. I fell in love with its mountain decor, pristinely beautiful and expansive grounds, and refreshing pool. If you’d like a Canadian vacation not too far from the States but far away from it all, I’d highly recommend this place. Free kayaks and canoes, too!

Only bad thing about the North Channel is the poor internet connection. But then again, maybe that’s the point!

We headed toward home in FOG. It’s utterly nerve wracking floating through water blindly when visibility is only a half mile – good for the prayer life! But it doesn’t faze Captain Craig who is used to flying airplanes in clouds by instruments only. Ugh.

Yesterday we re-entered the good ol’ USA at Drummond Island, Michigan! We were in Canada for exactly one month and it was very lovely but it’s great to see the stars and stripes flying again, besides on the back of our boat. Today we are headed to the Les Cheneaux Islands in Northern Michigan to anchor out a few days before our stay at Mackinaw Island on July 18th.

And we are delighted to have very special guests visiting us in Petoskey, Michigan on July 23rd!  More on that later…

Gorgeous Georgian Bay

If you asked us to sum up our thoughts on the Georgian Bay we’d say this: it’s Rocky Mountain National Park on water. For the past week we’ve been reminded of our beautiful home state of Colorado as we cruise by huge lichen-covered boulders, miles of coniferous trees, the sweet smell of pine sap and deep blue skies. Just add water and you’ve got the Georgian Bay.

We spent the week anchoring in spots ranging from pristine, quiet getaways to bays filled to the brim with other boats. Everyone who owned a boat was out on Canada Day weekend and we watched a private fireworks show on an island right next to us (scared poor Scully nearly to death!). We spent July 4th at anchorage with our American friends, Tom and Julie.

Canada didn’t escape the early summer heat wave so when it got too hot to handle, we jumped off our boat and took a dip in the clean, refreshing water. That was a first for me and I loved it! Craig had a blast diving off various parts of the boat but hasn’t found the nerve to plunge in from the fly-bridge yet. Other days were cool and windy, requiring sweat shirts.

Christian Island was a very special, peaceful anchorage for us, made famous by Gordon Lightfoot’s song of the same name. His lyrics summarized Craig’s mood perfectly…

I’m sailing down the summer wind
I got whiskers on my chin
And I like the mood I’m in
As I while away the time of day
In the lee of Christian Island

We traveled through easy, broad bays then, just around the corner, channels so narrow that we held our breath as we squeaked through, boulders surrounding us on both sides and below us, their sharp edges visible through the clear water. Check out this video…

We are now in Killarney, Ontario at the base of the North Channel, an even more remote area. If you, like me, said, “Huh? Where is that?” see the photo below:

After about a week anchoring in the the North Channel we will be back in the States on Mackinaw Island on July 18th.  Hope everyone is well and happy!

Traveling The Trent-Severn

Without doubt, everyone was right – Canada is beautiful! We are one day away from exiting their lock system, the Trent-Severn Waterway, where many Canadians take their summer respite and enjoy the water. The Waterway shores are lined with summer cottages decked to the nines with water toys including slides, gazebos, water trampolines, and of course, boats. Some areas were frighteningly narrow and shallow and others spread out into ponds and lakes filled with tiny, rock islands with homes built on them. Imagine spending the summer on your own island!

We’ve been through 70 locks since we started the Erie Canal. We went up 418 feet then down 180 in the Erie. We went up 600 feet and came down 260 in the Trent. Your faithful First Mate grabbed lines, tied them down, hung on tight to keep Joy Girl steady, put fenders out, took fenders back in…70 times.

Due to sheer exhaustion, I earned a three day rest in the beautiful boutique town of Orillia, birthplace of Gordon Lightfoot and our favorite city on the waterway.

A few locks deserve special coverage, namely the Peterborough & Kirkfield Lift Locks and the Big Chute Marine Railway. Captain Craig will explain the technicalities of the lift locks for the guys…

Unlike conventional locks which open or close valves to fill or empty their chambers, the lift locks feature two matching pans holding between 1300 and 1500 tons of water each. Boats displace water equal to their weight (hence the term displacement) so their presence in the lock chambers has no effect on the weights. Once the boats are in and secured, the water level is increased by merely a foot or so in the upper chamber, and that is all it takes to aid the two sides in their opposing 65 foot vertical journeys. It’s incredible to think about, and even more so to behold and enjoy. And yes, enjoy is the correct word, because with their almost constant water levels, it is much easier on the crews who don’t have to attend the lines nearly as closely.

Big Chute was the only lock to pick Joy Girl up in a marine railway car, drive us over land, and plop us down 58 feet on the other side! It was like a slow motion boat roller coaster ride and a great way to end the Trent-Severn with a big bang (no, we didn’t fall out of the slings 🙂

After tomorrow it’s goodbye to the Trent Severn and hello to the Georgian Bay, the land of 30,000 islands and crystal clear water. Where the heck is that? We’ll be in the highlighted area of this map.

This is a place of unspoiled beauty and not many towns or marinas, so we’ll be anchoring out for about a week. We won’t have much of an internet connection, so we’ll reconnect on the other side. Ciao for now!

Canada, eh?

For the past two weeks we deliberated where to go next when we emerged from the Erie Canal at Oswego, NY. Our initial plan was to go west to Lake Erie, see family  and friends, then up through Detroit and on to Lake Michigan.

But then we heard from other boaters that the Trent-Severn Waterway and the Georgian Bay in Canada were renowned for their beauty and should not be missed. We were so torn…

After much thought (and sadness that we’ll miss family on Lake Erie), we decided to make a run to Canada. We hope my cousins and uncle will visit us again in other locations!

We are now in Trenton, Ontario after cruising 10 hours across Lake Ontario. Captain Craig chose a splendid day for the crossing and the lake was smooth as glass…no seasickness for Niki or the kitties 😀

After we cleared customs (just a quick phone call) we took down the yellow quarantine flag and raised the Canadian courtesy flag. Our big American flag still flies at the stern (back of the boat).

If you’ve never heard of the Trent-Severn before (join the club!), here is a Google map. It’s a continuous waterway that consists of lakes, rivers and 45 locks and connects Lake Ontario to the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. (Didn’t think you’d be getting a geography lesson, did ya?)

After the Georgian Bay (rumored to be glorious) and the North Channel, we’ll skip over to Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. At that point we’ll be just a hop away from Craig’s home state of Wisconsin where we plan to hang out for a month or so.

We welcome visitors anywhere along this route. Come see us and take a cruise on Joy Girl!

We’ve Got It Locked Up

We received a few inquiries about how we are faring in the Erie Canal, so we apologize for the delay in this post. After a full day of locks we were just too tired to write!

Leaving Waterford, NY the first day, Captain Craig was nervous for Joy Girl as we heard horror stories of out-of-control boats ramming others, hull scratches from the lock walls, locks breaking, etc. But we’ve had great neighbor boats, the locks are not too turbulent so it’s fairly easy to keep Joy Girl steady, and things have run smoothly.

Here’s the drill: we drive through the narrow lock gate, secure Joy Girl by either grabbing a line that drops down from the top or wrap a line around a cable that extends the length of the wall, then hang on, keeping the boat near the wall. The lock then slowly fills with water. The tallest lock lifted us up 40 feet.

One afternoon – while Niki took a nap out of sheer exhaustion – Craig toured the hundred year old Lock #14 (the canal was begun in 1817). The very friendly and informative lock master named Chris took him on an extensive tour of the lock’s inner workings and mechanisms. While they were talking, a tug boat came into the lock and, under careful supervision, Craig was allowed to open the valves and run the lock. Many captains go through the locks but not many are privileged to operate them!

We have been through 23 locks so far…whew! Since First Mate Niki does most of the line handling, she is now pooped (although not too pooped to party!)

About the canal itself…it’s pretty, filled with Cottonwoods and deciduous trees. But if I am brutally honest, I was spoiled by the East Coast. After a day of travel, it was wonderful to visit world-class cities like Charleston, Annapolis and New York City. Upstate New York is a quieter, country atmosphere and, unfortunately, there is not a lot of money or industry here anymore and the towns are struggling.

We have nine more locks to go before we arrive in Oswego, NY, located on Lake Ontario and the end of the New York state canal system for us. For now, we are taking a much needed three day break in Brewerton, NY in a sweet marina called Ess-Kay Yards.

Tomorrow, we do not travel…ahhhhh!