Charlevoix to S. Fox Island, thence to N. Fox Island and Beaver Island
|Date:||Friday, July 6, 2001|
|Weather:||Sunny, warm. Another Low forecasted in 24-48 hours from NW|
|Waves:||1-2 foot from WSW|
After a very quiet and calm night in the harbor, we awake to another beautiful day of fair weather and sunny skies. Because of the light winds and waves, conditions are excellent for a long trip offshore to visit South Fox Island, a jewel of sand dunes and beaches that lies about 25 miles west, almost in mid-lake. It is a long run in a small boat, and you need cooperation from the weather to keep the lake calm in order to get out there and back. Before we leave, we all stop at the gas dock in Charlevoix to top off our fuel tanks.
1030 Fueling at Ward Brothers Boats in Round Lake Added $64 of gas at $1.95 gallon, approx 32 gallons. Tank goes from 9/16 to 16/16. Topped off oil tanks with remaining Yamaha oil. Oil consumption seems very low. "Precision Tune" must run near 100:1 ratio when possible.
After fueling with the friendly fellows at Ward Brothers, we slowly idle out to the lake, waiting for the rest of our mates to finish gassing up. As we enter the narrow channel to the lake, we see another Boston Whaler coming inbound. Generally, when boaters meet in such close quarters they give each other a wave, and particularly so if they happen to be operating similar boats. So, in accordance with this custom, we give the two older guys passing by us in their shiny new Boston Whaler 24-foot Outrage a big wave. These two jerks look as us like we are invisible. Absolutely no reaction, no wave, nothing, nada. I am stunned. In a lifetime of boating, I've never seen that--and from another Boston Whaler owner! Incredible.
1100 Depart Charlevoix for South Fox Island Good run due west about 25+ miles into 1-2 foot seas. On plane at 22-23 mph. Chris and I take turns at helm.
Out in the lake the waves are from the west, but their height is moderate. We will be able to run on plane into them without beating up ourselves or the boat. The four boat flotilla assembles, and led by LHG on WHALE LURE, we begin our run to South Fox Island.
In virtually every boating adventure we've made in the last 14 years, I have brought charts, more charts, cruising guides, and notebooks, but this trip is different. In getting ready, we put all our effort into the boat and preparing it, and we don't have a single chart with us! We are relying on our mates to guide us. So we really don't have a clue precisely where we are headed, but just follow in the wake of the lead boat. In a way, it makes the passage a bit more relaxing.
The motors are running smoothly, and this long run gives me a chance to experiment with different trim and throttle settings. After I get the boat dialed in, Chris takes the helm. An experienced sailboater, she is still getting acustomed to operating a twin engine power boat. Keeping the engines in synchronization is a new added task for the her.
Across Lake Michigan
The low coastline of Michigan has dipped below the horizon as we run about 25 miles offshore toward South Fox Island. Twin engines are a comfort in these waters.
Photo Credit: JWH
1300 Arrive South tip of S. Fox Beautiful island Cruise up western coast Stop for photo-op Round point
After the long run, made longer I think because we could not plot our progress on the chart, we reach the southern tip of South Fox Island. What a beautiful sight! The water of the lake turns to turquiose as the sand bottom shoals underneath it. The beach and tall dunes are spotted with trees, and there are no abrupt shoals or rocks in the vicinity to threaten us. It is a beautiful setting, and so far off shore that it has gone unseen by practically the entire boating population of the Great Lakes. There is no ferry service to the island, so there is no way to see it without visiting in your own boat. (There are no services available on the island, no fuel, no public docks. A trip out, around, and back is a minimum of about 65 miles, beyond the endurance of most 17-foot bowriders.) It is an exclusive view we enjoy as we swing around the south tip and head up the western shoreline. We are the only boats, and people, in sight.
South Fox Island
The southwest tip of South Fox Island was once marked by this lighthouse. Title to and control of this property has become an issue of much controversy among environmentalist and State of Michigan agencies. Because of the long distance off shore, most residents of the Great Lakes have never seen it. [A larger image with a panoramic view is also available.]
Photo Credit: JWH
The beautiful water color is faithfully reproduced in this image. The beaches and dunes are now owned either by the State of Michigan or by a single private land holder.
Photo Credit: JWH
T/T WHALE LURE
The "mare's tail" clouds above forecast rain within 24 hours. This view shows a wealth of details of the interior of this fine small boat.
Photo Credit: JWH
The island dunes and beaches looked inviting, but the water temperature and wave action prevented us from wading ashore. We enjoyed the view from the lake, a vista seldom seen, even by boat owners, due to the long distance from the mainland.
Photo Credit: JWH
Chris and I enjoy our first look at the beautiful shoreline and dunes of Michigan's South Fox Island, accessible only by a 25-mile offshore passage in our small boat.
Photo Credit: LHG
1400 Raft for lunch Weather beginning to turn to cloudy Run to N. Fox Then to Beaver Island Up west coast Cross tip Enter St. James harbor Tie Up at Beaver Island Marina
After our break for picture taking, we cruise up the western shoreline of the sandy island, round its northern tip, and turn south. In the lee of the the tall dunes the waves dissappear, and we raft up and drift to have lunch. The island appears completely unoccupied; there is no sign of man or development that we have seen so far, except for the abandoned lighthouse.
After lunch, we break out of the raft a bit early and head for N. Fox Island, visible a few miles to the east and north of us. Since all the other boats like to cruise a little faster than we do, we take this head start. They'll catch up to us soon with their faster speed capabilities.
North Fox Island is unlike its sibling, its shoreline more wooded and no great dunes collecting sand. It also appears to be undeveloped. The rest of the boats catch us as we come abeam its northern tip. Across another stretch of open lake lies Beaver Island, about ten more miles to the north.
After a smooth passage we are coasting up the western beaches of Beaver Island. Here we see many homes and cottages on the shore. The island has quite a history of development, including at one time being the only Kingdom in North America, self-declared by its Mormon inhabitants.
We make a circle around the northern end, and turn south to run down a half mile and turn west into St. James harbor, an excellent natural shelter that has been the principal harbor on the island for hundreds of years. After a bit of indecision on where to stay, we end up at the private docks of Beaver Island Marina, located on the northern shore of the harbor.
Not unexpected (because of its rather remote and rough lake location), Beaver Island is home to quite a number of other Boston Whalers. We see a 22-Dauntless hauling out at the boat ramp. It came over on a trailer on the ferry. There is an 18-Dauntless at the dock, its red canvas cover appears to not have done a good job keeping the rain out. On a trailer ashore there is a 16-Katama. That's quite a high percentage of the small boats in view!
Soon we bump into Dan, who arrives by sea in a 17-Eastport from Harbor Springs, another 30-mile or so crossing! Using his experienced carpentry skills, he has created his own replacement wooden center console, using a flush cut router bit to cut new wood directly from the pattern of the old. He got the boat from the original owner in Wekwetonksing, and keeps in now in Harbor Springs. They leave the boat at the dock and hike inland to camp out. Quite a bit more adventurous than we, I must say!
This older Boston Whaler 16-footer made the crossing on its own bottom from Charlevoix to Beaver Island. The tall deck height of the docks at Beaver Island Marina are seen here.
Photo Credit: JWH
|Marina:||Beaver Island Marina|
|Mooring:||Downwind side of dock. Rate $0.75/foot ($15 min.)|
|Dock height:||At least 5 feet above water. Difficult to tie to and to get on or off boat|
|Bathroom:||1 urinal + 1 stall Not very clean. Wet sand and mud on floor.|
|Showers:||2 - not clean; unuseable.|
We find room for our fleet of four boats at Beaver Island Marina, a private establishment on the north shore of the harbor. The municipal docks were just about full and couldn't accommodate us as well, we decided. The marina does not have a sea wall, but we moor along the inner dock, a row and a half of other boats upwind of us to cut down the wave action. The harbormaster directs us where to tie up. She seems friendly, although a touch disorganized. After the long run--we've been underway now for most the last five hours--it feels good to rest a bit. I discover a new, mystery bruise on my right knee; I can hardly bend it and cannot put any weight on it. Where did that come from?
1600 Boater returns to marina in 17-foot I/O. Complains we have taken his dock space!
We have a few minutes of excitement when another boater returns to the marina after having been gone most of the afternoon, only to find that my boat is occupying his spot! This is quite a problem, as we are all snuggled in with our mates, tied quite closely as a matter of fact, and we really don't want to change our location.
The young captain and his young bride are understandably upset, having paid for a berth and now finding it given away. We suggest the best alternative is for him to take another spot. I go to the marina office to find the harbormistress. She comes down to the dock to ejudicate the situation.
"How 'bout he takes that slip over there," I suggest while pointing at a vacant slip on the upwind dock.
At first our hostess is reluctant to agree, since the slip is able to accommodate a much larger boat and might earn more income than she has charged our 17-foot arrival, but eventually she assents. We direct the captain to his new berthing.
The fellow is amicable, and proceeds toward the slip.
"You gotta bring my dock line over for me," he yells, "I left it tied on the dock."
I glance at the pilings near where my boat is moored. There is an orphaned piece of line hanging, a 5-foot length of odd cordage and a tiny bumper.
"OK," I holler back, "I'll meet you over there with it."
In truth, the line is rather short and a bit undersized, as is the miniature fender, but I want to help this guy because he has been quite decent about moving, so I untie them from the pier and hurry to meet his arrival at the other dock.
As the captain approaches the slip, he seems quite unsure how to proceed. He is a new boater, and he's never moored in a slip before, just tied alongside of a dock. I'm trying to explain to him the process of driving the boat into the slip, when the neighboring boaters come to life.
"Hey," they cry, "you can't tie up here. This is [so-and-so's] slip and he'll be back in an hour."
Well, I am certain that this is the slip the harbormistress just told us to move to, so now we have more problems. I head back up the dock to the office to consult about this.
In the marina office, my intrusion is not greeted too warmly. I get that look that says, "what's the matter now." I explain the problem with the proposed location for our displaced boater. The staff takes a caucus.
Their initial remedy is to have him return to his original location, but that is totally unworkable, as I explain. I point out we now have four boats tied along the dock where once he was the only resident, and I have serious doubt about his ability to manuever his craft with enough precision to take the place of mine in the limited space that my leaving would create. On top of that, where does that solution leave me?
Close scrutiny of a chart of the docks finally reveals an alternative.
"Put him in Slip [X]," she tells me. I guess I am the dock boy now.
"I normally charge way more for that slip than he's paying," she complains, then turns back to tend to other business.
I guess I am getting a little of the flavor of Beaver Island in this process. I head back down the dock to help my poor boating companion.
"OK," I hail him, "come over here and tie up." I direct him to the appointed slip, one of the larger and deeper accommodations on the dock.
He heads the little bow-rider in toward the slip. By now the wind has come up a bit, and being on the front row of docks it is a bit windier. He has some trouble getting his boat to come up into the wind. Finally he turns the bow into the slip, then guns the engine.
The little boat rockets forward into the slip, heading right for the pier. His young wife, standing in the bow and trying to fend off as the boat noses under the main dock, is knocked backwards and to the cockpit floor.
I hand down the single mooring line I brought over with me, instructing the now recovering young woman to make the end fast to the bow cleat. I tie the other end to the dock cleat, and the wind blows the boat back down into the slip. The captain cuts the engine. A few neighboring boaters arrive to lend a hand.
"Give us your stern lines," they suggest, "and we'll tie you up."
Unfortunately, our new boater is out of lines. The remaining mooring line onboard, a foot or two of unraveling ski-tow rope, is hopelessly too short to span the width of this rather wide slip. We have a dilemma, solved by borrowing a line from each of the adjoining boaters, their generousity motived in part by a little self-interest in not seeing this new arrival become free-floating during the night.
The bow-rider couple are still in pretty good spirits, particularly for the wife who survived near decapitation in sailing under the dock. I offer my thanks for all their trouble in moving, and again proffer the explanation that we'd have never taken their mooring space if not directed to do so by the harbor mistress.
"Yeah," the fellow says, "I understand. I wouldn't be mad at all about this, but this is the second time in two days that she has done that to me!"
More of the flavor of life on Beaver Island is what you'd call that, I guess.
The island does offer a number of restaurants. Our first choice is the Beaver Island Lodge, but our call to them discovers they are booked full for the evening and cannot accommodate us. Second choice is The Rectory. We call and confirm our seating. As it is several miles from the marina, they'll send a van down to pick us up.
1900 Call for car to come pick us up from Restaurant. 1930 Beaver Island Lodge van arrives; freshly washed and waxed large van. 1945 The Old Rectory van arrives: dusty and missing back seat. Only seats for four passengers, three ride on the floor in the back! 1950 Arrive restaurant. LHG comments about dusty pickup trucks on island. Restaurant parking lot exclusively contains rusted, unwashed pickup trucks!
|Restaurant:||The Old Rectory|
|Location:||Beaver Island, Michigan|
|Setting:||Literally, an old church rectory|
|Meal:||Shrimp Scampi; Spinach Tortellini; odd choices but menu was a bit unusual.|
The Rectory restaurant occupies an old rectory on the island. It has an assortment of dining rooms, and we are seated on what was once the screened in porch of the large old home. Once inside the place presents a better appearance than its pick-up van or parking lot foreshadowed.
One interesting feature on the menu is imported Guiness Stout, served not too cold and with a foamy, creamy head produced by using nitrogen gas. I cannot resist giving it a try. Quite good, it turns out.
The menu choices are wide ranging, but for some reason both Chris and I are slightly hesitant about ordering some of the fish and meats offered. We both end up choosing pasta dishes! They are well prepared and served with outstanding salads accented with fresh garden greens grown in the back yard. A young woman takes to a small stage and entertains us with some nice singing, accompanying herself on guitar. In all, a good meal and an enjoyable evening.
After dinner we signal to the hostess that we need the services of the three-seater Van and its driver again. In a few moments our young fellow appears and we reboard the bus to return to the harbor.
It is just at dusk, now, close to 10 P.M., as we pull out of the restaurant and onto the gravel road leading back to town. Tall grassy fields and woods line the road.
Do you have lots of deer on this island?" I ask the driver.
"Oh, yeah, plenty of deer," he replies.
"This looks to me like just the place to see one," I comment, as the van begins to speed up.
About a second later a huge buck steps out of the grass on the right, stops momentarily in the middle of the road, then bolts off into the woods on the left. Uncanny!
"He must have heard you, Jim," says someone in the back of the van.
"Precognition" says another.
I have a rather eerie feeling. More flavor of Beaver Island!
We return to the dock and retire for the evening. Recall we are moored alongside the dock, abeam to the wind, which is now blowing across the mile or so of open water in St. James harbor and producing a steady flow of waves. Also recall the marina lacks a sea wall to keep them from us.
|Weather:||Cold front approaching.|
|Waves:||1-foot swell rolling across harbor.|
2330 Boat is rolling about +/- 15 degrees. Not much sleep possible. Tired and sleepy, we fall asleep despite the motion on the boat. 0200 Windy night. Low front blows through, waking us up. Sleep now impossible. I read for a couple of hours Up until 5 a.m., then slight lull at dawn calms motion on boat. Awake again at 8 a.m. Wind back to 25 knots and piping across harbor.
About 2 A.M. the real cold front and low pressure system arrives, building the winds to over 20 knots and creating such a chop in the harbor that sleep becomes impossible. I spend most of the night rocking in the vee-berth, reading The Voyage of the Whale Ship Essex, the true account of the event that inspired Melville's Moby Dick classic. A good book, but an awful night rocking at the dock. I am certain we would have much more comfort anchored head-to-wind in the roadstead, rather than paying for the privilege of getting rocked to death here.
The six-day narrative continues in Day Five.
Copyright © 2001 by James W. Hebert. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited!
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Author: James W. Hebert
This article first appeared June 2002.