The last two years we have been making short cruises in northern Lake Michigan, jumping from marina to marina as we could make slip reservations. The marinas were very crowded and getting a slip reservation was really the basis of our cruise planning. The lack of transient dockage was a result of the COVID era, as no one could cruise into Canada, which is alway a very popular destination for boats cruising in northern Lake Michigan or Lake Huron.
This year the marinas seems to have more slips available, so we took our chances and embarked without getting firm slip reservations. To our good fortune, we were able to just show up at a marina and get a slip every night.
I will give a brief overview of the cruise.
Monday, August 14, 2023
Northport to Cheboygan by Highway
The cruise starts by towing the boat 145-miles by highway to Cheboygan, Michigan, on Lake Huron, from Northport. The highway distance is actually longer than the water distance, because we are starting at the top of the Leelanau Peninsula, and we have about 55-miles of driving south and back north, just to get around Grand Traverse Bay.
We arrive at the public launch ramp just north of downtown Cheboygan at the mouth of the Cheboygan River, and launch the boat around 3 p.m. There has been rain threatening all day, but fortunately the storm front remains just south of us, and we miss a lot of wet weather. We stay at the seawall along the river as guests of the Whaler 25 LUCKY TWO and Don and Elsa at the Cheboygan Village Marina.
For dinner we walk a few blocks to Mulligan's, a bar and grill, and have hamburgers and beer.
Tuesday, August 14, 2023
Cheboygan to Hessel via Round Island
We depart Cheboygan under fair weather with 70-gallons of no-ethanol 90-Octane gasoline, heading north to Bois Blanc Island. We investigate the small Bois Blanc Island Township marina on the south shore. A car ferry sails here from Cheboygan, and a number of small boats are tied in slips and along the break wall. Transient slips located along dock on the north side of the break wall are available, although the harbormaster says that on Summer weekends the marina is often full. Today there is plenty of space, but we are just passing by and taking a look. Tucking in here could be very handy in rough weather, as the winds tend to funnel between the mainland and the island.
We return to Lake Huron open water and head toward the Straits of Mackinac, planning on stopping at Round Island for lunch. At Round Island we find a lee and try to anchor in about 8-feet of water, but there is a problem: my large Danforth-style anchor has wedged itself into the anchor locker. We had several hard landings into head seas on some bigger swells coming from the west and southwest on the way here, and they must have bounced the big anchor into this unmovable position. I cannot budge it.
About that moment a big boat wake rolls in from the south, and I realize this spot won't be a very calm anchorage due to all the boat traffic transiting the straits. We abandon the lunch-at-anchor plan, and get back underway, passing between the east end of Round Island and the west end of Bois Blanc island at Lime Kiln Point, noting the charted position of two shoals and maneuvering around them to get back to deep water.
The sea state north of Round and Bois Blanc Islands is very low, so we take our lunch underway at low speed, while steering for Hessel, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula, our destination for the night. We arrive at Hessel, and at 2:30 p.m. we are in a slip behind the outer break wall, enjoying a nice breeze from the southwest coming in from Lake Huron.
We are visited by our old friend and Boston Whaler cruising partner Dave (callsign BUCKDA) who previously owned the amazing OUTRAGE 18 GAMBLER. Dave still has a Boston Whaler boat, but now his main cruising boat is a BERTRAM 28 twin inboard engine sport fisher, which he keeps at the Hessel Marina. Dave drops by for a visit, and we arrange to all go to dinner together, taking LUCKY TWO to Cattails Cove restaurant adjacent to the Clark Township Marina docks, about five or six miles down the inland waterway to the East. Before we depart, Dave gives me a hand with dislodging the stuck anchor, or I should say gives me a foot, as a very well placed kick was needed to break the anchor out of its wedged-in-place position. I am extremely grateful, as I had been tugging and pulling and rigging lifting ropes on the anchor for 45-minutes, trying to un-wedge it. Dave deduced the exact spot where a strong kick would work, and freed it for me. Next we get aboard LUCKY TWO for a no-wake-speed slow cruise to dinner.
The cruise to and from the restaurant has been planned to occur early enough that we won't be returning in darkness. Dave and I both have a good laugh recalling a rather infamous visit to the Snug Harbor restaurant on the Georgian Bay small craft route near Killbear Provincial Park about 15 years ago, when we were navigating in absolute darkness on a moonless night, trying to find dozens of unlighted and very small buoys marking a narrow channel through rocky ground, and vowing we would never do that again.
We eat outdoors and enjoy perch, whitefish, walleye, and bluegill fried-fish baskets, along with french fries, battered and fried pickles and pepper poppers, and of course cold India Pale Ale pints. All dietary restriction are out the window on this night.
DAY TWO TRIP DATA
TRIP DX = 35.1-miles
TRIP MAX = 30.3-MPH
FUEL USED = 10.6-gallons
FUEL REMAIN = 59.4-gallons
FUEL ECON TODAY = 3.3-MPG
Marine Weather Report
Lingering Showers then Sunny
Rain on Wednesday into Thursday
Wednesday night Gale Force winds
Wednesday, August 16, 2023
Hessel to Detour
We depart Hessel at 10:40 a.m. under overcast skies, and motor at no-wake speed via the inland waterway toward the East.
At Cedarville we pass Red Nun pointy-top buoy 34, keeping it to our right, as in RED-RIGHT-RETURNING from sea. This marks the end of the buoyage for returning from the sea. Continuing on the charted passage, we are now outbound to the sea, and the red-green orientation of the buoys for us flips to green to the right.
We stop for lunch at a well-protected cove just inside the East Entrance from Lake Huron on the north side of Boot Island. The weather forecast this morning said "rain at noon." It is just 12:00 noon now.
As soon as I set the anchor, a rain shower begins. LUCKY TWO rafts alongside. We eat lunch in a light drizzle. The rain stops, the lunch is over, and we depart. The anchor comes up clean, and I carefully position it in the locker to avoid future jams. We resume the passage at no-wake speed, passing by the large commercial docks at Port Dolomite, where limestone is loaded onto freighters, and out into the open water of Lake Huron.
From here we can proceed on plane running a mile or so off the shore of the Upper Peninsula, heading to the crib light at the mouth of the St. Marys River. Again we have head seas, but they're not too large, and we can run on plane at 25-MPH. After about an hour the big crib light appears on the horizon. Thirty minutes later we pass east of the light and head north, up the St. Marys river (the Detour Passage) to the Detour Marina. We are assigned slip number one, which is fine with us as it is the closest slip to the marina bathrooms.
Restaurant choices for dinner are limited, as many places up north are closed on Monday and Tuesday. We walk south from the marina to DINGHY'S, a pizza and sandwich shop. We get a 12-inch pizza and split a chocolate milk shake. Both were just as the good as in our youthful heydays of the 1960's--except the prices were a bit higher.
We have a leisurely walk back to the marina, and prepare the boat for rain overnight.
DAY THREE TRIP DATA
TRIP DX = 34.5-miles
FUEL USED = 11.0-gallons
FUEL REMAIN = 48.4-gallons
FUEL ECON TODAY = 3.1-MPG
Thursday, August 17, 2023
Detour to Sault Ste. Marie, Canada by highway and return
The forecast for rain is exactly correct, and indeed there is rain--very heavy rain--putting our Mills canvas to the test. The canvas withstands an amazing downpour, but, as usual, the opening center section of the fixed windshield has a prominent leak. To stem the flow I use several old boat towels to soak up the incoming water that runs to starboard behind the helm console and drains onto the deck.
It's pouring rain and rather windy, so boating is not an option. We connect with two old cruising companions, David and Kathy from MANIC MOMENT (now sold), who live about 28 miles north (as the crow flies) in Barbeau, just north of Rock Cut on the down bound ship channel. David has a large SUV that can easily seat six. At 10:30 a.m. David and Kathy drive down and pick up our two wet boat crews. We all bring our NEXUS cards, and we head for the International Bridge to Canada.
Thanks to NEXUS, all six of us enter Canada without delay, and we navigate to the Bushplane Museum. We spend several hours there, enjoying the low humidity and warm indoor setting while the rain continues outside. The old float planes on exhibit are very interesting. The theatre is showing a 30-minute film about aerial fire fighting techniques in Ontario, which seems very appropriate for 2023 considering the high number of wild fires still burning this Summer in northern Ontario. Around 3:30 p.m. we are done with the museum, and the rain has finally stopped. We drive to a TIM HORTON'S (an iconic Canadian coffee and pastry franchise) for an afternoon snack (or fika in Swedish). Then it's back to the border. On the U.S.A. side the re-entry process is very slow. We sit without moving for more than ten minutes, switch lanes in desperation, and when finally our turn, we get through customs and immigration inspection without delay, again thanks to the NEXUS cards that everyone in the vehicle has.
The weather has markedly improved. We have sunshine, no rain, calm winds. The afternoon forecast called for rain all day with thunderstorms. We could have almost gone boating, but we would have not been able to start until about 2:30 p.m., and we would not have been sure of what the next few hours would have brought.
David gives us a tour of the American Soo, and then we head for Barbeau, to visit their newly renovated summer place on the river. From there we pack in the SUV again and go to dinner at 6 p.m. at COZY CORNERS TAVERN AND GRILL in Barbeau. This place has a great location right on the down bound channel of the waterway, and they have about ten boat slips on a very nice dock for patrons arriving by water. The decoration motif is all about Great Lakes shipping, freighters, and Coast Guard ships. The food was very good, too. Chris says, "this is the best fish taco I have ever had." My whitefish sandwich with fries was delicious. (Again, all dietary restrictions are being held in abeyance because we are on a boat trip.)
After dinner, David has to drive us back to Detour, about 45-miles by road, drop us off, and then drive back to Barbeau. He put over 200-miles on his SUV today, but as Kathy says, "he likes to drive." Back at the boat, we have a lot of wet towels, and some water in places where it shouldn't be. We will clean up tomorrow.
I know the mass media and social media have been scaring the entire population of the United States with warnings about "existential" threat from extreme heat this summer, but tonight we are going to be sleeping aboard and the forecast calls for the overnight low temperature to be 57-degrees-F, and this is August, traditionally the hottest month up here, and we are barely into the third week of August.
Friday, August 17, 2023
Stuck in Detour
Upon awakening and getting out of the cabin, I have to get fully dressed, put on a jacket, and dig out my watch cap to stay warm. The wind is out of the North and blowing steadily at 25-knots. Looking northeast toward the river--now about two-miles wide--there is a sea of white caps--every wave out there is a white cap and about three-feet high. We will be spending another day (and another night) in Detour at the dock.
Around 11 a.m. two guys with a beautifully-just-restored Bertram 28 open-cockpit twin-engine boat decide they will head north in the river, right into all those waves. Around 11:40 a.m. the Bertram 28 returns and goes back to its slip. The two guys are staying somewhere ashore, and they leave.
Around noon a Ranger Tug enters the harbor (coming from God knows where) and attempts to get into a slip that is oriented with a crosswind such that the boat will be blown away from the finger pier. The Ranger Tug makes several attempts to get into the slip, but, each time the tug approaches the finger pier, the wind hits the stern (where there is rigged a very large inflatable boat tilted up on one sponson and acting as a giant sail) and the boat is immediately blown at a very rapid pace away from the finger dock before the first mate can get a line to the two marina attendants trying to help the boat get secured. It would help for tossing the line if the stern line were longer than 10-feet. Several attempts to heave the last five feet of the line to the guys on the dock into the 25-knot wind are spectacularly unsuccessful, and result in the line in the water; each time we all--many were watching this process--hold our breath hoping the propeller suction does not pull the line under the boat and foul the propeller. If that happens there will be even more chaos.
Helping the situation is this slip occurs at an outside bend in the dock, so on the downwind side of the target slip there is no other boat immediately in the path of that swinging stern. Not helping is that in the next slip farther away where the dock bends around is a million-dollar-plus gold-plated hand-built custom 44-foot sailing yacht. Any allision with that moored boat would be a tragedy. The sailing yacht is really an art object, with gorgeous woodwork, flawless paint, beautiful lines, and curiously without any fenders hanging on her exposed starboard side. To the great credit of the Ranger Tug captain, despite the four or five attempts he made to get into the slip and then had to back away, he did not hit the sailing yacht. Eventually the Ranger Tug sails out of this main fairway and loops around to a second fairway, where it eventually gets into a slip where the finger pier and the slip are both downwind--a much better solution for all involved.
After watching this, we have an impromptu post-mortem about what could have been done to produce a more successful approach to the slip and get the lines ashore to the dockhands. Of course, hindsight is much clearer than foresight.
By late morning there are clear skies and brilliant sunshine, but the wind is still blowing hard. At least with the sun and wind we can get all the wet gear dried out. I spend the morning wringing out towels soaked with rain water, drying out everything that was in the lazarette--which always admits some water and with the downpour we had for hours yesterday has plenty of wet stuff in it. (On a Whaler Drive boat there is always a large hatch on centerline at the stern deck with a storage compartment underneath.) The drying-out keeps me busy all morning.
After lunch on board, we take a good walk south to a botanical garden combined with a memorial garden, located in a beautiful setting on the river shore, just across from Frying Pan Island. The trees and location create a shelter from the wind, which has now decreased to about 15-knots, and here the river is narrow and more in the lee of the land. Glancing out to seaward the conditions here look quite reasonable. Don checks a weather buoy about ten miles out in Lake Huron: wind 25-knots, seas 6-feet. Appearances can be deceiving.
On the walk back to the marina from the gardens, we come across a very craftily-rigged 12-foot aluminum boat from the 1950's on a trailer with a Johnson 7-1/2-HP outboard engine, offered for sale for just $1,500. The boat has some very smartly done additions of wood, including seats, floorboard, helm console, and remote controls. We both contemplate buying the boat, and soon the owner arrives to give us more details. Eventually our practical senses catch up with reality and we decide against making an offer--but it was fun to look at and consider.
Back at the marina it is now past four, so the drinking lamp is illuminated. Time for a beer and some salty potato chips as an appetizer. I begin to stow all the gear that has been left sitting out to dry. One towel is missing; it must have blown overboard.
Around 6 p.m. we walk to the MAINSAIL restaurant for dinner. I really like this place, as it is old fashioned. The waitress addresses us as "sir" or "ma'am" , never introduces herself ("Hi! I am Moonbeam and I will be your server") nor asks us questions about ourselves ("where are y'all from?"). The prices are quite reasonable, and the food very good. Chris and I have well-prepared, broiled, locally-caught whitefish. Two side dishes are included; I opt for a garden salad, which again is better presented than often seen in today's restaurants, and a side of french-fried potatoes--I just could not pass up these crispy fries. The dinner's price is an astonishingly modest $21. If you go there, do not be in a rush, as the place is small, and you will have to wait a bit for your order to come out of the kitchen. But with good company at the table, we just talk boats and cruising, drink some wine, and relax. We would have eaten at the MAINSAIL earlier, but it was closed on Tuesdays, and on Wednesday we ate in Barbeau.
Saturday, August 18, 2023
Detour to Cheboygan
This morning there is a very heavy dew; it was another cold night. The sun rises as a red orb. But boating weather has returned. By the time I am up and dressed around 8 a.m., the marina has really cleared out. Many boats have been weathered-in at Detour for several days, and they all take advantage of the light winds to resume their journeys. There are now two dozen empty slips on the main dock (with 60-foot slips) that last night was almost completely full.
The Great Lakes Cruising Club Port Captain is hosting coffee and donuts at the pavilion, so Don and I amble over to have a gam with some of the other boaters. We chew the fat so long that we cannot make our normal 10 a.m. departure.
About 10:40 a.m. we depart the dock and proceed to the harbor exit, having to weave through four other boats underway coming to the fuel dock or heading to the fuel dock or departing from the fuel dock. By 11 a.m. we are out in the river and able to get on plane, heading south with the current into Lake Huron. We have a 34-mile open water crossing of Lake Huron ahead of us. We are under fair weather, sunshine, and winds southwest at 5 to 10-knots. The crossing takes two hours. We are back in Cheboygan just after 1 p.m., and we are again tied to the seawall at Cheboygan Village Marina. We have a relaxing lunch, do some boat clean-up and organization, then it's off in the Jeep to fetch the boat trailer and spot it at the launching ramp a mile away. Those logistics take some time, but eventually we are back at the boat, saying our farewells to Don and Elsa, and shoving off for the boat ramp. By 3:30 p.m. we are ready to drive home. The 2023 August Mini Cruise is almost over.
DAY SIX TRIP DATA
TRIP DX = 39.7-miles
FUEL USED = 16.6-gallons
FUEL REMAIN = 31.7-gallons
FUEL ECON TODAY = 2.85-MPG
SEGMENT MILES GALS MPG
Cheboygan-Hessel 35.1 10.6 3.3
Hessel-Detour 34.5 11.0 3.1
Detour-Cheboygan 39.7 16.6 2.4
TOTALS 109.3 38.3 2.85
FUEL REMAIN 31.7-gallons
The dockage was $34 at at Hessel and Detour, so four nights was $136.
The fuel was bought on the highway just before launching at $5.10-per-gallon.
The cost for 38.3-gallons was thus $180.