Friends at Harbor Springs

Life is looking up in Michigan. Finally, we have clear skies, sunny days, calm seas, and just finished up a fantastic visit with our friends Jim and Sherryl.

Craig and Jim have been friends since third grade and Sherryl felt like my long lost sister. We took a two hour cruise to lovely Charlevoix, motored over to Petoskey, ate tons of food, had drinks on deck, and had a grand old time!

We asked what their biggest surprise was when they first boarded Joy Girl. Since they recently traveled through New Zealand for nearly a month in a camper van, they didn’t expect her to be so large and comfortable. So, be encouraged, there’s room for friends!

Good news: the auto pilot is fixed 🙂 Bad news: now the alternator is intermittently not fully charging the start batteries. The boat still runs but before we go far, we need to get a new alternator. Harbor Springs is a gorgeous little spot to be stuck while looking for a mechanic.

Once that is taken care of, we’ll probably head to Lake Superior for a short jaunt into the largest and deepest of the Great Lakes. It’s also the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area, is really more of an inland sea, and a bit intimidating. Gulp. Executive Officer Niki has approved travel to Munising, Michigan only, home of Pictured Rock. We’ll see….

It Pours, Man, It Pours…

Yes, I have a song for every occasion. It’s just the way my brain works. Drives Craig crazy since I hum each tune as it pops into my head. Today it is…

It never rains in Northern Michigan, but girl, don’t they warn ya? It pours, man, it pours.

If you don’t know this great old 70’s song, it’s actually about Southern California. But, holy schmoly, it’s raining cats and dogs in Michigan, too. Will it ever end? Doesn’t look like any time soon…

Because of all this record level rain and the large snow fall this past winter, the water levels in the Great Lakes are higher than usual which is causing beach erosion and some house/marina damage due to flooding. Lake Michigan is 13 inches higher than normal. Thankfully, we are warm and dry on Joy Girl and had a few days of sunshine in beautiful Pentwater…

We dug around in Davy Jones locker and found our backup anchor chain in a woeful condition. We hoped to fix it but then decided to just throw it out since we’ve never used it and Craig would never trust his boat to this rusty old thang…

During the seven hour stint from Pentwater to Frankfort our autopilot went out,

which meant we had to manually steer the boat. Doesn’t sounds too bad except staring at the murky horizon and trying to keep a steady course while the lake gently rocked the boat had a catatonic effect on me. I struggled to stay awake and finally napped for an hour after my watch.

Diagnosis: the auto pilot needs a new pump. The electrical issue was identified as stemming from the AC units but is not yet fixed. While it’s raining, Craig spends much of his time on the phone with various technicians, gathering information to understand the issues, and coordinating service visits. I assist him as best I can, write my book, read, and create shell jewelry.

When the weather clears on Monday we plan to anchor one night at South Manitou Island, part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, then run over to Leland, which has been a fishing village for the past 150 years and claims pristine beaches, great views and an out-of-the-way feel. Come on, sunshine!

My Girl

When we first arrived in Grand Haven I often found myself humming this old Temptations tune...

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day. When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May. We’ll, I guess you’d say what can make me feel this way… Joy Girl, talkin’ ’bout Joy Girl.

Yes, she is a wonderful girl and we are so happy to be aboard!

Which led us to wonder, why is a boat called a “she”? We like this explanation the best:

“A ship is called a she because there is always a great deal of bustle around her; there is usually a gang of men about; in the days of sailing she had a waist and stays; it takes a lot of paint to keep her good-looking; it is not the initial expense that breaks you, it is the upkeep; she can be all decked out; it takes an experienced man to handle her correctly; and without a man at the helm, she is absolutely uncontrollable. She shows her topsides, hides her bottom and, when coming into port, always heads for the buoys.”

We’ve spent the week provisioning, cleaning, discussing future plans and performing small fixes. Her keel is repaired and all ready to go. We even disassembled the master head (toilet) and replaced a seal by ourselves, woo hoo! But since the marina did not have time (in 7 months?) to fix the electrical issue, we’ve decided to take care of that problem farther north. We received references for electrical experts from the Nordic Tug dealer in Traverse City. Suffice it to say, most marinas seem to work on island time while boat owners anxiously circle around them, waiting breathlessly with wallets in hand for the work to be done. We miss Jesse, our local expert in Hilton Head!

The ships officers (aka the kitties) had a smooth transition back to Maritime life.

They ran around comfortably like they were home and happily scratched their backs on the carpet. When Craig started the engine, Admiral Roswell did not flee to the lower regions in terror, hallelujah. And this time we brought seasickness pills for Supreme Commander Scully-when I take mine, she’ll get a dose, too.

Tomorrow we leave for the little town of Whitehall, MI. It’s just 3 hours north of us so our first jaunt will be short and hopefully sweet as the weather is predicted to be perfect: mostly sunny, high of 73, and winds calm at 5-10mph. We’ll stay there for a couple days, then continue to move north.

No decisions yet, but the possibility of completing the Great Loop had resurfaced

so, who knows, we may go down the rivers this Fall. Since two locks on the Illinois river will be completely closed for repairs next year, it’s pretty much now or never. But it depends on a lot of factors…

P.S. We’re happy to report Mom and Dad are doing great at home!

On The “Road” Again

Ahoy, mateys! We hope all is well with our friends around the world!

Winter has passed and spring is here. Hallelujah. It was a strange winter for us. We were Mom and Dadlost in retirement transition pains without our full and active life on Joy Girl. And it was difficult to watch my mother suffer as she waited for her hip replacement. However, that surgery was accomplished on April 29th and though she is recovering more slowly than we hoped, she is improving daily. Yesterday my parents returned home from an assisted living facility (think land-based cruise ship) where she recovered more fully. I’m grateful we were here to help her transition back home.

Other things we accomplished this winter…uhhhh…we learned a lot about elder care! Whew, that is a sobering and depressing picture.

Needless to say, we are ready to board Joy Girl in Grand Haven, Michigan! Unfortunately, we are delayed. Last July, in the North Channel of Canada, we bumped an unmarked rock in a very narrow channel. Craig worried about damage ever since but we didn’t identify any problems. However, since she has been “on the hard” in storage, our friend Tom Van Hall was able to spot a leak which led us to find a crack in her keel, at the bottom of the boat. That damage must be fixed before we can put her into the water. Thanks to Tom for his sharp eye!

port keel skeg bolts

Therefore, the plan is to be aboard around June 1st. We will then need to fix an electrical issue on Joy Girl. Electrical safety regulations in marinas have become more stringent, in part to curb ESD (Electric Shock Drowning), which occurs when people swim near boats that inadvertently emit small amounts of electricity. The person is immobilized, their vocal cords frozen, and they silently drown. Never swim in a marina! For some reason Joy Girl is not meeting the new standards which means we can’t use the electrical power posts at marinas that have implemented them. The problem will need to be diagnosed and fixed, requiring more “boat units”. (One boat unit equals $1,000, yikes…)

Once Joy Girl is all fixed up, our plan is to head north, up the beautiful Michigan Coast. The quaint, sandy-beached, sea-side towns like Frankfort, Pentwater and Harbor Springs are not to be missed. We hope to see my dear college friend Deb and her husband Dave somewhere on this lovely coastline and our friends Jim and Sherryl in the Mackinac Island area.

From there, our crystal ball gets a mite cloudy. We could jog west over to Door County Wisconsin, northeast to the Canadian North Channel (and avoid all hidden rocks!), northwest to Lake Superior, or east to Lake Erie.

Summer map possibilites

Once summer fades, we’re not sure what the plan is. We could do one of two things:

1. Store Joy Girl on the hard somewhere on the Great Lakes and come home for the winter, or

2. Travel back down the East Coast and snuggle into Shelter Cove Marina on Hilton Head Island. This would extend our boating season into winter. However, this is the more expensive option. We’ll see…

Our plan is to leave for Chicago this Thursday to see Craig’s Mom, then on to Michigan. Next time we check in, we hope to be aboard Joy Girl! Friends are always welcome to join us 🙂

Top Ten Favorite Spots

During our 9 months living aboard and 7 months of travel from May to October we docked or anchored Joy Girl in 86 different locations. We cruised 3,100 nautical miles (3,584 statute miles) in 10 states and 2 countries.

Naturally, people ask us “What were your favorite places?” We asked the same question of other boaters when we started and many said, “Oh, every place is different. We loved them all!” Hmmmm. We can honestly say we didn’t love them all (Atlantic City comes to mind), but there were enough great spots that it was difficult to whittle it down to just a few.

So, in David Letterman tradition, we’ve created Joy Girl’s Top Ten List of Favorite Spots. One caveat: Craig and I don’t agree on all of these, so the nominating spouse will be duly noted if there is a disagreement.

Drum roll, please…

10. Door County, Wisconsin. Captain Craig nominated this area as he loves Wisconsin, and Door County in particular, which is comprised of tiny resort towns nestled in lush forests on the shores of Green Bay. Niki was less thrilled and thinks Craig is still romanticizing the Wisconsin of his youth…

9. Charlevoix, Michigan. Michigan was such a surprise to us, we didn’t expect such beauty. Charlevoix is like a little seaside town with a beautiful beach, a huge lake to cruise in (Lake Charlevoix), and an adorable town with plenty of shops and restaurants. We visited a couple of times.

8. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Who doesn’t love Hilton Head? Thoughtfully developed and designed for tourism, it’s a hotbed of fun, beauty, beaches and great seafood. We were blessed to have 14 guests on Joy Girl during our three month stay, including three cousins (two live on the island) and my aunt and uncle who own a timeshare there. We fell in love with it.

7. Beaufort, South Carolina. This magical little town was our second destination on Joy Girl. Fortunately, it was close enough that we returned several times with different guests. With its antebellum mansions and Live Oaks draped in Spanish Moss, it’s like living in a dream.

6. New.York.City. What a vibrant and surprisingly beautiful city with gorgeous architecture (new and old), plenty of parks, and American history on every corner. The city girl in me loves New York! Small town boy Craig would prefer never to return…sigh…

5. Charleston, South Carolina. Niki flipped out over this gorgeous place and fought for higher ratings, but Craig was a bit less thrilled. The historic “Holy City” is filled with breathtaking homes (one more beautiful than the next), lovely parks, charming restaurants in historic buildings…the whole place glitters with southern charm and style.

4. Mackinaw Island, Michigan. Mackinaw was our first glimpse of Michigan and she amazed us with her Caribbean-blue water, white beaches, Victorian architecture and sense of fun. Horses and bikes only, no cars. She’s Michigan’s Crown Jewel, and deservedly so.

3. Roanoke Island/Outer Banks, North Carolina. The Outer Banks will steal your heart. Manteo on Roanoke Island is simply adorable and across the bridge there are white beaches, capes that stretch sand bars out into the ocean for miles, zillions of shells to collect, Kitty Hawk, Hatteras, wow. We loved it all.

2. Benjamin Islands, North Channel, Ontario, Canada. The pristine beauty and get-away-from-it-all feel of these little islands cannot be overstated. Pine trees, rock islands, and clear, emerald green water make it a place to sit back, relax and relish the splendor. It is the mountain beauty of Colorado with gorgeous water added on top.

1. Bald Head Island, North Carolina. We both agree that this island, two miles off the coast of Southport and only accessible by boat, is the number one place we would like to return to and spend a good bit of time. It’s quiet (no cars) with uncrowded beaches, lovely homes overlooking the beach, giant swathes of sand that lead out to Cape Fear, beautiful shells and it even has a nice grocery store. We are brokenhearted over the destruction Hurricane Florence brought to this area and pray for their quick recovery. Unfortunately, I hadn’t caught my photography stride yet so I don’t have many good photos of Bald Head or the Outer Banks…

So, th, th, th, that’s all folks! If you follow this blog, you’ll receive new posts when we put Joy Girl back in the water next May. Cheers from Colorado for a great winter!

Home Sweet Home

Since we talked last the Team Joy Girl trajectory was modified. After weeks of discussion and prayer we decided to return home to Colorado for the winter!

What?! Why?

Primarily, we both have parents in their 80’s (two are holding their own at 88) who we want to spend time with and provide assistance to. My folks are in Colorado and Craig’s Mom is in Chicago, so we can visit her easily.

Secondarily, Hurricanes Florence and Michael put a dent into our plans. After floating down the rivers we would hit the Florida Panhandle which is, of course, in emergency status. It’s unclear when the marinas down there will reopen, so other Loopers are stuck in a holding pattern in Tennessee and Kentucky right now.

Even if we made it past the horrible hurricane destruction, the sugar sand beaches of western Florida would not be waiting for us. The Red Tide temporarily ruined many of them to the point where our friends cancelled their Sarasota beach condo reservation because of the filth and stench.  And, we had hoped to spend a month on Bald Head Island, home of Cape Fear, in North Carolina this winter. That beautiful area still needs time to repair and rejuvenate after Florence.

And last but not least, this year we’ve read horror stories of boats damaged and even sunk (!) on the rivers. Tales of debris from flooding, shallow water, crashes with tow boats, added on top of our general disinterest in traveling the midwest rivers all worked together to help us decide to head home.

Since we decided to store Joy Girl “on the hard” so late in the season, EVERY marina we called was booked solid already. Thanks to a tip from our friends Tom and Julie Van Hall we lucked into a spot at North Shore Marina in Grand Haven, Michigan. North Shore was only able to accommodate us because of a cancellation that morning. Providence was with us.

So, off we went, back across Lake Mean-chigan. It was a tough two days of pitching and rolling – poor Scully got seasick both days. Thankfully, Grand Haven turned out to be a lovely spot with a fascinating mix of pretty beaches, sand dunes, Fall colors and coniferous trees, too.

During our three weeks in Grand Haven we had dinner with boater friends, celebrated both our birthdays and our 3rd wedding anniversary.

Unfortunately, after a week of great weather, Fall came upon us and it turned cloudy, cold and windy, with winds as high as 30 knots and waves up to 14 feet. No worries, we only watched them from ashore.

Winter is long on the Great Lakes so we won’t see Joy Girl again until next May. She’ll be hibernating in a heated storage unit and having some maintenance work done. We will miss her and our adventures but we’re sure this is the right thing to do during this season of our lives. We are now home in Colorado, enjoying the delightful weather!

We get a lot of questions about our favorite places, so look for our Top 10 Locations post coming up next to wrap up this segment of our adventure.

Chicagoland

Last time we left you we were cruising down the Wisconsin coast toward Chicago…

In a fluke of good luck, Lake Michigan was quiet as a lamb, the wind-free weather on the Great Lakes related to Hurricane Florence in some weird weather front I don’t understand. As heartbroken as I was that North Carolina was brutally pummeled, I was grateful that Lake Mean-chigan was smooth as glass for once. She earned her new nickname after tossing us in the waves like a cork so many times. Yes, I do get seasick but I have my trusty scopolamine patch to get me through the rougher passages!

Recommended spots to stay on the Wisconsin coast: Port Washington is a charming little town, Manitowoc has a great Maritime museum with a fully restored World War II submarine, and Racine has a fantastic marina.

In Chicago we stayed at Belmont Harbor on the north side, next to beautiful Lincoln Park and only a short distance from my brother’s house. The weather was glorious, so, champagne in hand, Joy Girl toured Steve and Noel down to Navy Pier to view downtown by water. Our evening was topped off with the absolutely delicious, Chicago-style, official pizza of the Chicago Cubs – Giordano’s. YUM!!

Craig’s brother and his wife Linda live in the Chicago suburbs so they trekked up from Downers Grove with Shirley, Craig’s 88 year old mother. We were blessed with yet another day of smooth water so off we went to Navy Pier but this time with Shirley driving!

I haven’t had this much fun since the pigs ate my little brother!” Shirley exclaimed multiple times. I’d never heard that one (ha!) but we haven’t seen her that happy in a long time. It was a dream come true for Craig, so thanks to Linda and Gary for making it happen.

Both Craig and I lived in the Chicago area and don’t have great memories of it, but we do agree it’s a beautiful and impressive city. We had a blast seeing family, spent a day in the Science and Industry Museum, and enjoyed our stay very much.

Since I have not been home since January, I flew out of O’Hare to Denver and spent a week in Colorful Colorado while Craig waited for me in the Hammond Port Authority marina in Indiana, 20 miles south of Chicago. Dare I say my scenery was prettier than his? We missed each other but I had a fantastic time at home!

Since we have come such a long way, people are asking about our favorite spots on this trip. In our next post we plan to highlight those beautiful locations!

The Door

Door County, Wisconsin was named after “Death’s Door“, the legendary passage between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. The exact number of deaths and ships lost in this narrow passageway is unknown but the official 1906 Sailing Directions for the area describes the passage this way:

There is a strong current setting in and out according to the direction of the wind, and many vessels have been lost in con­sequence. It is frequently so strong that sailing vessels can not make headway against it. The coast is rock-bound and certain destruction awaits the craft going ashore.

Did we go through it? Noooo, we just peeked over as we rode by!

For the past month, we cruised all over Door County and the waters of Green Bay. Although this area is a bit off the beaten path, Wisconsin is Craig’s boyhood home so he was excited to spend some time here. This area has a quieter, laid back, country feel, tons of homemade ice cream, fried cheese curds, old fashioned Supper Clubs and good, down to earth folks who have never lived outside Wisconsin (a foreign concept for me, haha). It’s not flashy like its Michigan coast neighbor but it’s peaceful and pretty.

In Green Bay, we dressed up (as best we could) for a National Railroad Museum event on their Silver Spirit Dining car. After cocktails and appetizers, the train chugged us around the grounds for a bit and then we settled in for drinks and a delicious 5 course meal. Craig was excited as a kid…on a train!

We had a great visit from our friends Dick and Peg Bousum and Peg’s sister Barb and her husband John. The windy weather didn’t allow us to take Dick out on Joy Girl but we ate a scrumptious lunch at historic Wilson’s and ordered the most decadent ice cream creation I’ve ever seen in celebration of their 47th wedding anniversary. Congrats Dick and Peg!

Last, but not least, we went to the Packers vs Bears home opener, the first game of the Packers 100th season. What a heart stopping game that was only clinched by the Packers with 75 yard run for a touchdown at the 2 minute mark! The crowd was so loud my ears ached and Craig almost lost his voice from screaming the Bears down.

We’ve now traveled 2,700 miles. Wisconsin was a crossroads for us since Craig’s main objective was to bring Joy Girl here. After that, we weren’t sure if we would put her “on the hard” and store her here for the winter, which would allow us to go home and reconnect with friends and family. Or, we could continue with “The Loop” and go down the mid-west rivers to the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida, then back to Hilton Head. We’ve been torn, weighing the pros and cons of each option and brainstorming for weeks. At long last, due to multiple circumstances, we’ve decided to finish The Loop!

We haven’t mentioned the Loop a lot because we weren’t sure we would crank all the way round, so here is a map compliments of veteran Looper and resource extraordinaire, Captain John. We will aim for Mobile, Alabama.

We left Green Bay today, heading toward Chicago. After about a week cruising down the eastern coast of Wisconsin, we’ll visit our brothers and Craig’s mom in Chicago, traverse through downtown Chicago in Joy Girl, then head south on the Illinois river. More adventure awaits!

 

Northern Sky Theater

For the past two weeks we cruised the bay of Green Bay, which extends north from the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin. One of the highlights was the Northern Sky Theater, an enchanting outdoor venue located in Peninsula State Park.

At first, we were flummoxed about how to get there since it’s in the middle of the woods, far away from town, and we don’t have a car. After ruling out bikes (too far, too dark) and Uber (too expensive), Captain Craig wisely concluded,

“We don’t have a car, but we do have a boat…” 

That hatched one of our most fun adventures yet. The day of the show we anchored Joy Girl near the theater in Horseshoe Bay, fired up our dinghy (appropriately named Ode to Joy), motored in to shore, parked it on the beach, and walked the half mile wooded pathway to the theater. We chose the 6pm show so we could make it there and back before dark.

We were not disappointed! “Lumberjacks in Love”, an original musical performed here since 1996, was as hilarious as the title promised, with great acting, nice voices, and goofy jokes. And we enjoyed it all surrounded by towering trees in beautiful weather. Very cool!

In fact, we loved it so much that we decided to go back for another show just two days later. “Dairy Heirs” had one performance at 8pm so we got our bold on and decided that this time we could dinghy home in the dark. It definitely added a new twist to an old plot for us.

As to the show, “Dairy Heirs” is a “Mooo-sical” centered around a Wisconsin dairy farm, and was even better with beautiful voices, spot on comic timing and even a bit of drama…and a completely original script and music. Wow!

 

Craig has never met a stranger, and instantly struck up a conversation with Nola and Dave as we waited for the mad rush to get the best seats in the unreserved section. We ended up having a blast with them and hope to see them again in September when we travel through their hometown, Peoria, IL.

 

After the show, we used our flashlight like a dinghy headlight to find Joy Girl as she floated in the harbor with about five other boats. The half moon was glowing gold, the air was warm and the night was calm. We had a ball.

Next week we’ll travel to Chicago to do some family stuff and then we’ll be back in the waters of Green Bay. Talk to you then!

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!