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jimh posted 12-07-2013 07:57 AM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan Cruise 2013

Here is a brief report on our cruise in July, 2013, of the Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan areas in our 22-foot Boston Whaler boat. The Grand Traverse Bay and adjacent waters of Lake Michigan have an abundance of nice small boat harbors, and cruising among them has been a standard weekly cruise for us every year for the past decade or so.

Day One: Sunday, July 14, 2013
SE Michigan to Northport on the highway

Our cruise began when we departed SE Michigan very late in the morning with our boat in tow on the highway, heading for an undetermined destination. When we reached Traverse City around 4 p.m., we stopped to add some fuel to the boat at a highway gas station. I prefer to haul the boat on the trailer with as little fuel as possible, so once we were close to a launch site, we added about 40-gallons.

We found the boat launch and marina facilities at Greilickville Harbor Park in Elmwood Township to be extraordinarily busy. The weather was ideal for boating, with very warm 90-degree temperatures and a clear blue and sunny sky. There was a long line of boats waiting to access the ramp, and the huge trailer parking area was filled to overflowing. We decided to bypass this harbor and continue north onto the Leelanau Peninsula, eventually going all the way to Northport.

At Northport we found the ramp much less crowded, and a slip available in the marina for an overnight stay. We got the boat launched and moved to our slip. I don't recall even leaving the harbor, as it was late in the afternoon. After settling into the boat, loading all the gear still left in the truck, and generally taking a break with a beer or two, we were ready for dinner. We walked into Northport village, and found Stubbs restaurant had immediate seating.

Day Two: Monday, July 15, 2013
Northport to Leland via North Manitou Island

On Monday we freshened up at the fine new facilities of Northport Marina's new boater washrooms. Gone are the old needle-point showers and in their place a very nice and modern facility. We discussed with Marv, the harbor master, where we should leave our truck and trailer, as we planned to be gone for five or six days. He requested we move out of the trailer parking area, uncouple the truck and trailer, and park them separately in the general parking lot.

We left our slip in the late morning, and stopped at the fuel dock for some REC-90 gasoline. Northport's fuel dock sells pure gasoline, no ethanol, and they are quite decent with the price. The fuel was only about $0.40-per-gallon higher than the highway price for E-10 blended gasoline and ethanol. We prefer using pure gasoline whenever it is available. We took on 15-gallons more fuel, which cost us $64.63, or $4.31-per-gallon. We now had a total of 65-gallons.

The weather was again ideal. We had fair weather, clear skies, no wind, and warm temperatures. We cruised over a nearly calm Lake Michigan, passing close to the Grand Traverse Light at the tip of the peninsula, and made a course for the northern end of North Manitou Island.

Ahead of us and to the south stretched a large fleet of sailboats participating in the Chicago to Mackinac race. The nearly calm conditions left them ghosting along at just a few knots, barely making way. We would have to cross this big fleet to reach our destination. To avoid creating a large wake which would shake the wind out of their sails, we reduced our speed to about 4-MPH, and very slowly made our way across the race fleet. Once clear of them, we got back to planing speed and approached the north end of North Manitou Island, which is a high sandy bluff. We coasted along the west side of the island, eventually reaching the dock and harbor at the Park Ranger station at North Manitou. The island ferry was just departing for Leland as we came into range. We motored into the harbor, but decided against stopping. The harbor is formed by a steel and concrete break wall. The low water level on the lake has made the deck height to the pier much too high for a small boat to reach easily, and the shore facilities did not look particularly attractive. Also, as the island is part of a National Park, we would probably have to pay a daily fee to set foot there. We continued on to the south, stopping to anchor for lunch in a nice area of sandy beach a few miles south of the harbor in the bight behind Dimmicks Point.

There we drifted at anchor, swam a bit, and made lunch. It was wonderful to relax in the sun and enjoy the clear water and sand. The water temperatures were quite nice, above 70-degrees in this protected anchorage. The air temperature was approaching 90-degrees. After about an hour or two, we got underway and cruised around the point. We anchored again, this time in very shallow water for a few minutes, while I fiddled with the orientation of the newly installed Airmar P66 SONAR transducer. I was hoping to be able to loosen the mounting screws and lower the transducer slightly, as it was not giving good echoes when on plane. This turned out to be harder than I anticipated to do from the water with the transducer below the surface. Also, on this windward side of the island, although there were no waves coming in, the water was filled with a lot of muck from larvae of the Mayfly hatch that had accumulated in the little curve of the beach, and wading in it was not particularly attractive. I abandoned the transducer modification, and got back aboard. We headed for Leland, about ten miles away across a stretch of open water.

We arrived at Leland about 4 p.m., and our timing was good. The transient slips of the marina were just about filled, and we got one of the few remaining spaces. The marina held the usual eclectic collection of boats of all kinds: fancy yachts, more modest cruising boats, sailboats of all sizes, and many very hardcore sport fishing boats, fitted with dozens of rods, holders, down riggers, outriggers, and other gizmos. Chris went into town to explore, and I stayed aboard, doing some fiddling with boat gear and a general deck clean up.

Around 5:30 p.m. a trawler yacht came into the harbor, and was docked at one of about three special slips designated as the ADA (for Americans with Disabilities Act) slips. The recent renovation of all the facilities at Leland apparently required them to come into compliance with the ADA. To do this they had to go so far as to regrade the slope of the land from the public road into their parking area and all the way to the finger pier of the slip. And, of course, the washrooms, halls and entranceways were similarly compliant. And special slips, which could be accessed from land by a wheelchair with ramps whose grades, width, and other features complied with the regulations, were kept in reserve for the use of disabled boaters.

The trawler in one of the "ADA slips" was a real beauty, so we went over to take a closer look. We'd been talking about trawlers, and this one was a fine example. The master and crew were aboard. We said hello to them and complimented them on the Bristol appearance of their yacht.

The master and crew were not happy. The lamented to us the awful situation they were in: the dock was too high for them to get off the boat, a situation almost universal in our experience in visiting marinas on the Great Lakes in the last ten years of low water levels in our boat, whose deck is about four feet lower than the trawler's.

The finger pier deck of the ADA slip was about even with the highly varnished and polished teak cap of their yacht's side rails. Assessing their predicament, Chris said, "Why don't you just step up on the rail and step over to the pier," and moved her one of her feet, in a soft boat shoe, toward the yacht's railing.

"STOP" yelled the boat's master. "Don't step on that railing." He said this so forcefully that we were both taken aback--I mean we both literally took a step back.

"I just spent (here he mentioned some crazy amount of money, like $7,000) to get those rail caps refinished and varnished. Do not put your feet on them," he scolded.

The fellow went on to inform us how terrible it was, he and his wife were both disabled--although we could see that they both seemed to be able to walk around their yacht just fine and did not need canes, walkers, or wheelchairs--and wasn't it just ridiculous, he insisted, that the marina had put them into this slip from which they could not get off their boat.

"What good is the Americans With Disabilities Act," he postulated, "if we can't get off this boat at this dock?"

At this point our conversation ended, as the master was not happy with the way his boat had been made fast in the slip, and he wanted the marina dock hands to come back and tie up his yacht to his specification while he directed from the confines of his deck.

Chris and I left him to solve his problem, with both of us wondering exactly what the problem really was. Was compliance with the ADA supposed to mean that the height on every dock would perfectly match the deck height of any boat that occupied it, no matter what the water level?

Back at our boat, we heard the fellow a few minutes later calling on the radio to the harbor master to ask for the deck hands to come again, this time to connect his shore power cords. I was wondering if he were going to tip these hard working kids for all the extra attention they were giving him.

We went to dinner at our traditional spot, The Bluebird, a restaurant that continues in the northern resort tradition of serving fine dining all summer long. It was crowded and we had to wait quite a while for a table. We had a nice meal. I am sure Chris got her usual whitefish dinner, a specialty there. I might have had something else. I don't recall, but it was good. It is hard to go wrong at The Bluebird.

Boats kept coming into the marina all evening. Most of the late arrivals were sailboats, and soon the sailors were rafted three-deep on the end of all the piers. It was a very busy evening at the Leland harbor.

We burned 19.3-gallons on the trip today, which covered 53.5-miles, giving us a 2.8-MPG average

Day Three: Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Leland to Elk Rapids via Old Mission Point

We took our morning with the usual leisure. While walking to the bath house, I noticed the trawler yacht at the ADA slip was already gone. He must have left very early. I had a short conversation with the harbor master regarding the fellow and his expectations of dock height and service. The harbor master explained that the guy really wanted him to make another boater move out of one of the standard slips, which have floating docks, and switch with the fellow so he could have a better slip. The harbor master explained the situation from his point of view: he didn't really want to ask anyone to do move their boat at 6 p.m., as it was very late in the day, people were already cooking their dinners, they'd probably had a few cocktails, and many had put out deck chairs and were relaxing. It sounded quite reasonable to me. Once these larger yachts are in a slip, lines all set, shore power cords run, water attached, and so on, it can be quite a project to disconnect everything and move to a new slip, just to reconnect everything all over again.

We took off in the late morning at 10:40 a.m. with calm seas and the prospect of another beautiful summer day ahead. We cruised north along the coast, marveling at the beauty of the sand bluffs and the outrageous homes perched on them. After rounding Lighthouse Point we picked up speed and headed for Old Mission Point. Just west of the point there is a small bight with a public beach. We like to anchor and swim there. We arrived about 1:30 p.m. The water was delightfully warm. We took a swim, had our lunch, and then relaxed and read for a while.

We got underway and made a careful navigation of the shoals off Old Mission Point. Then we set a course for Elk Rapids, arriving about 4 p.m. The marina there was very busy, too, but we were able to get a slip for the night. The weather was extremely warm--too warm really for natives of northern Michigan. We are just not comfortable at 95-degrees.

We arranged with the marina staff to get a lift to Pearl's Kitchen, our favorite local eatery, which was too far to walk to in this heat. Pearl's was busy, as always. My dinner was not as good as I recalled from my last visit. Perhaps it was too hot in the kitchen today for the cooks to work properly.

We were about to call the marina to pick us up when their van arrived to deliver another boating couple. We hopped aboard and rode back. The drivers don't take tips, but they do welcome contributions to a shared pool. Back at the marina, it was still very warm. We moved into the air conditioning of the boater's lounge to read and relax.

Elk Rapids is the only marina I know that has fresh flowers in the Men's bathroom every day. They do not allow overnight trailer parking in the lot adjacent to their very nice boat launch ramp, but there is off-site parking available. The water circulation in the marina is excellent; there is no green water to stain your boat hull.

We burned 15.8-gallons today, covering 45.4-miles, for a 2.87-MPG average.

Day Four; Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Elk Rapids to Northport via Old Mission Point

On Wednesday the warm and fair weather continued. As we left Elk Rapids we were passed by an incoming boat. We heard him hail the marina for a slip. They assigned him to the slip we had just left, a sign of how close to full the marina was.

On this cruise we had made some appointments on land for rendezvous with relatives, and tonight we had a date to keep. We were tentatively headed for dinner in Traverse City. We decided that rather than going by boat, we'd return to Northport, take a slip there for the evening, and drive by highway to the dinner. This turned out to be a good plan as there was a last minute change; the rendezvous was moved to Suttons Bay. If we'd been in Traverse City with the boat, we'd have needed a ride to get to dinner.

We took our time getting to Old Mission Point. We again went to anchor in the bight on the West side, and had another lunch, swim, and afternoon nap there. Then back to Northport, where we arrived about 3:40 p.m.

At Northport the harbor has been improved by the addition of about ten new slips with floating docks along the North sea wall. The slips with floating docks are perfect for us, because our boat has such low gunwales. We asked the harbormaster if we could have a spot there. No, we couldn't, because those slips were kept clear during the day for use by day-use visitors and shoppers. We went back into a regular slip with fixed height docks. Fortunately at Northport many of the smaller slips have had the finger pier height lowered to better suit the small boats that use them, so it was not too hard to get to or from the pier to our boat.

I went to the parking lot to get the truck, and got a shock. My trailer was gone. Apparently the people who run the parking lot disagreed with the harbormaster about parking boat trailers there. I was momentarily panicked, until I found my boat trailer back at the boat launch area. Someone must have pushed it over there or maybe hitched it up and moved it.

We drove off to our dinner party in Suttons Bay with Chris's Aunt, her cousin and their family. (I am saddened to say that Chris's Aunt passed away very unexpectedly in December of 2013, and this would be the last time we saw her in good health.)

We burned about 7.6-gallons today covering 29.7-miles, for a 3.9-MPG average.

Day Five; Thursday, July 18, 2013
Northport to Charlevoix

Our fuel was down to 22.4-gallons remaining. We went to the fuel dock again, and added 25-gallons of REC-90. We left Northport in the late morning, heading northeast to Charlevoix, about a 24-mile run in some open water. We were in no particular hurry so we were cruising along at a rather slow pace.

So far in this week of coastal cruising the days had been unusual only in their high temperatures and calm winds. I think we were lulled into a lapse in diligence about the weather. We began to notice to the West a very dark line of clouds approaching. We could see some lightning in them. About ten miles out from Charlevoix we realized that there was some unusually bad weather coming in from the West, and we got on plane. Even with five miles to go, the storm looked far enough away that I stopped for a minute to take some pictures of it. But we soon realized the storm was moving very fast and would overtake us.

Around 2 p.m. and with about two miles to go to the Charlevoix harbor entrance we realized that the storm had some very unusual weather. We increased our speed even more, and made the entrance channel to Charlevoix with the dark clouds right in our wake.

Photo: storm clouds overtaking us as we run for cover We were just passing under the highway bridge that crosses the channel when the wind and rain hit us. The rain came down in a torrent, accompanied by very high winds that blew it horizontally. There was no refuge under our canvas; we were immediately soaked. The water was churned to foam and spume blew in all directions. We were just into Round Lake when the peak wind and rain came. Visibility was very limited. We kept the engine at idle, and watched for other boats or buoys.

In less than five minutes the storm front blew past, the sun returned, the rain stopped, and the water was calm again. We hailed the dockmaster at the Charlevoix town marina dock, and got a nice slip assigned to us.

Our visit to Charlevoix was planned for another rendezvous, this one with Chris's sister and nephew, who had arranged accommodations ashore in town. We soon coordinated by cellular telephone, and went for dinner at Stafford's Weathervane, another resort restaurant with a long legacy of fine dinning.

At the Weathervane we got a table near the window and watched boat traffic in the entrance channel. After dinner we became the boat traffic. We took an evening cruise out into Lake Michigan to watch the sunset. The lake was no longer calm, and a westerly wind had blown up two to three footers. We enjoyed a nice sunset and returned to the shelter of the harbor.

The run today was 24.4-miles and we burned 7.9-gallons, for a 3.1-MPG average.

Day Six; Friday, July 19, 2013
Charlevoix to Lake Charlevoix, then return; thence to Northport

The heat wave continued. We spent the night in the boat with a 120-VAC fan cooling us; thank you, shore power. The wind had been blowing all night, and it continued this morning, with a steady 25-knot Southwesterly.

We sat at the dock and watched several sailboats leave, expecting to make their way to the Southwest and down the lake. In less than two hours they all returned, citing very bad conditions on Lake Michigan and an inability to make any headway into the big waves, reported to be over six feet. Our plans called for us to depart in the early afternoon and return to Northport. At this moment, that looked very unlikely.

We rendezvoused with our shore party, they came aboard, and we departed the marina for a trip into Lake Charlevoix. Even this inland lake was filled with whitecaps. We hugged the western shoreline, and ventured a few miles into the lake, seeking some calm in the lee of a big point. The waves were tolerable but the wind was high. We anchored and went for a swim, but I stayed aboard the boat. If the anchor dragged, I did not want to be in the water and be trying to catch up.

After lunch and drying off from the swim, we headed back to Charlevoix to drop off our guests. They were traveling on to their cabin a few hours south. Our plan was to head for Northport, but the conditions on Lake Michigan were impossible.

We returned to the marina and found our slip still empty. The high wind was probably delaying the arrival of boats coming in from the lake. We tied up in our old slip and went to the marina office, hoping to see if there was any dockage available for the night. Unknown to us, this Friday was the occasion of the local Venetian Festival, and every slip was reserved. No room at the marina tonight. We called over to Irish Boat Shop to see if they had room. Another coincidence: this was their boaters appreciation weekend festival, and all of their transient slips were long gone. We were left with the prospect of anchoring out in Round Lake, but probably having to wait until quite late to let the Venetian Festival activities clear out. On top of that, the forecast for tomorrow morning was not very encouraging, offering more strong Westerlies. Our situation was not pleasant. We were stuck in Charlevoix, it seemed, any maybe stuck for two days.

About 4 p.m. a curious thing happened. The wind slacked a bit for the first time in 24-hours. My GRIB model weather forecast had predicted it. Watching the weather RADAR via the internet, I could see a big thunderstorm cell passing to the South. By 5 p.m. the storm should be clear and the wind should have been down for at least an hour. We decided to try our luck at a crossing then. At five, we cast off and headed out, not quite sure what to expect from Lake Michigan.

The conditions were decent, waves down to about three foot, and we were able to make our way upwind at about 12-MPH without making the ride too rough. In a little more than an hour we gained the lee of the Leelanau Peninsula, and the waves reduced to less than one foot. In 40-minutes more we were at Northport, arriving rather late, about 6:45 p.m.. This late arrival gave us access to the coveted floating docks, and we took a slip there for the night.

Northport was hosting a music festival, and a band was performing at the band shell adjacent to the marina. A local restaurateur was in the parking lot making fresh-baked pizza to order from a wood fired oven he had trailered there. They sounded great and better than going to a restaurant for dinner. We ate on the boat: delicious pizza made just a few feet away, cold beer, and good music coming across the water. We were having a much better evening than we anticipated earlier in the day, when it looked like we'd be stuck in Charlevoix for an extra night or two.

Today's log showed 33.5-miles traveled and 14-gallons burned. We had run for over an hour in high seas with only 1.8-MPG, so our average today was only 2.4-MPG. Back at Northport, 25.5-gallons remained in the tank. I guess we bought a little too much fuel on Thursday. The totals for the cruise so far were 193.8-miles and 64.7-gallons, giving an average of 3.0-MPG

Day Seven; Saturday, July 20, 2013
Northport local cruise, then to home on the highway

On Saturday we decided we'd had enough fun boating. Sleeping aboard our small boat seems to wear us out after about six nights. We took a short and slow cruise around the bay at Northport, and then hauled the boat onto the trailer. We took our time preparing it for the highway, and got on the road well after Noon. We were home in time for a later dinner.

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