Monday, August 17, 2009

Lake Michigan (Aug 12 - 26)

Dodging the fast ferries as we left Mackinac Island, we had an impressive last view of the Grand Hotel before we passed under the Mackinac Bridge which joins the two Michigan peninsulas. The bridge is four miles long and the suspension cables are painted a nice green. Impressive bridge. This is where we officially left Lake Huron and entered Lake Michigan. At my request, Petoskey was our next stop. Before we started the trip I bought a “1000 Places to See Before You Die” book to help plan our stops. Petoskey’s claim to fame – besides the Petoskey Stone (fossilized coral that is the Michigan State Stone) – is the nearby Bay View community. The entire community, founded in 1875, is designated as a National Historic Landmark. The cottages generally are not the Cape May gingerbread Victorians, but it is a beautiful neighborhood with curving roads, tall trees and nice houses. There was a nice bike path to get there and I even passed a small waterfall on the way. Down the eastern side of Lake Michigan, the state has made “harbors of refuge.” These are reasonably priced marinas spaced about every 20 miles so boaters can get off the lake if things turn bad. Lake Michigan is known for turning bad at a moment’s notice. At some marinas, the pilings on the sides of the dock come up much higher than the dock itself. Our dinghy motor overhangs the port side a bit. As we backed out of the slip in Petoskey the prop caught on a piling and bent nicely. Joe didn’t like the new design and already had a spare on board. Mr. Redundant! He and Fred took care of it at our next stop, Leland.
The guide books that we use give information about anchorages and marinas and the towns near them. Leland gets no build-up as a place to stay. It's really only mentioned as being a good halfway point between two recommended towns and that's why we headed there. The predicted one to two foot seas somehow ended up being three to four feet, sending spray over our bow and giving us a less than comfortable ride south. We arrived late in the day and were allowed to tie up at the fuel dock since all the slips were full. Young America arrived shortly after us and rafted up. We went to the BlueBird Restaurant overlooking the river and had a very good dinner - great cinnamon bread! The next morning we had to move the boats from the fuel dock (after filling up at the best price we've seen in a while - $2.409) over to the end of another dock, rafting up again. This marina is in the process of being re-done. The docks are new but the building with restrooms and showers is not open yet. Because of that, the dockage was half price. Because we were rafted, only one boat had to pay even though we both had power! Although the weather in town was beautiful, out on the lake the wind was whipping things up, so we stayed a few days. As the storms passed by, we saw some interesting cloud formations. The town has a small but well stocked grocery store, post office and a cute shopping area, called Fishtown, along the river. Unlike the guide books, we would recommend it as a great place to stop. As a matter of fact, there were seven "loopers" there waiting out the weather. While we were there another "small" boat showed up with the best dinghy we've seen yet! Heading south from Leland we passed the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The sand dunes here are nearly 500' high and mostly topped with trees. We stopped at Manistee for two nights to wait for a good weather window to cross to Wisconsin. It was a good stop for filling a prescription and hitting a grocery store. The marina was home to a couple minks who provided some entertainment. We shared another dinner with Fred and Linda and watched the sunset with ice-cream on the fly bridge. Rocky informed me that his haircut could not wait any longer. This is probably the longest hair he's had since he was a puppy. So, for better or worse, he got a bath and a haircut. The weather has been so unpredictable that we debate every evening whether or not to leave the next day, only to get up the next morning and find that the forecast has changed. Joe woke up early and decided it was time to leave. I woke up as he walked back and forth across the deck (right over the bed) disconnecting the power cord. We managed to leave by about 7:30am and had an almost uneventful lake crossing. The big event was figuring out what that was floating in the water - a bag of balloons! Young America looked quite festive after scooping them up and tying them to the aft rail. Our first stop in Wisconsin was Manitowoc - home of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum which features the submarine, USS Cobia. We awoke to thick fog, followed by dark clouds and rain. We'd planned to stay anyway to go to the museum, which turned out to be great. The museum was nice, with a hands-on kids area that we all enjoyed. The submarine tour, though, was definitely the highlight, especially since Fred had served on a similar one during his time in the Navy. Our official guide had also been a submariner, so we got lots of first hand information. These were small and housed just under 100 man crews. Generally, there were no showers allowed during the cruises - up to two months long. One reason is because food was stored in every available location, including the showers and around the engines. After the tour, we went to Beernstsen's Confectionary - recommended by the guide books - for ice cream. Cute place, but maybe not worth the trouble.
Our next stop was Port Washington, after another surprising day on Lake Michigan. Maybe when they say waves 1 to 2 they mean meters, not feet! Anyway, we got there safely if not comfortably.
The real surprise came as we rounded the dock and saw Hemisphere Dancer - a Mirage GH37 belonging to Jim and Karen O'Donnell. We were greeted like family and invited to happy hour once we were all settled in. We had a wonderful visit and they generously offered us use of their slip farther south in Racine. The next morning Young America took off "early" to make it down to Waukegan in two days to have some work done. After some debate, we also left, heading for Milwaukee for a few days.
We entered Milwaukee Harbor dodging sailboats. As it turns out, we arrived just at the end of a "Make a Wish Yacht Blast" and boats were lining up to drop off the kids. Inside the harbor created by a breakwater there is another breakwater creating an inner harbor at a state park. The park is used for all kinds of festivals during the summer and is also home to Discovery World, an interactive museum, and adjacent to the Milwaukee Art Museum. At Discovery World there is nice dockage with power that we tied up to. A big sign declared it to be a public dock and the guide book mentioned a nominal fee for overnight use. Several people said there was no fee and no one ever came to collect, so we stayed four nights. This turned out to be an incredible stop. After we'd tied up, a guy gave us a ticket to a Wine Fest that was going on that evening. Then, on our first day in town, we toured Discovery World. It was great fun. Among the exhibits was an aquarium. In one section of it you walked through a tunnel of glass with fish swimming above, below and all around you. If you ever make it to Milwaukee, don't miss it!
Joe spent the next day on the computer and the phone - which I'll explain shortly - and I walked the two miles to the Pabst Mansion. The walk was great - the city has old and new buildings side by side, a nice looking river walk - and my route took me through the Marquette University campus. Unfortunately I had again forgotten the camera. The mansion, like most, is still in the process of being restored. The restored parts are beautiful and the stories about what has been accomplished and how were interesting also. There were only four of us on my tour. One guy had come to town because he'd been invited to participate in a street painting festival. The other two were friends he'd brought from California - all very interested in the art world, so they added to the tour.
Soon after I returned to the boat, a guy walked by admiring it and asking questions about it. (Not and unusual occurrence.) Next thing I knew, Joe was giving him the tour. He loved the boat, took a brochure and said he wanted us to be his guest for dinner that night. He was Joe Bartolotta, owner of several highly thought of restaurants in Millwaukee. He made us a reservation for a window table at Lake Park Bistro. What we paid for the tip and the taxi both ways would've covered the bottle of wine! Everything considered - food, wine, service, view - it was an incredible meal and certainly a generous gesture.
The following day we toured the Milwaukee Art Museum. The tour starts with the exterior of the building. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, it has wings that open and close. The interior of the building was a work of art also and we spent the afternoon enjoying the exhibits.
It was hard to decide which was our favorite between the exhibits and the architecture!
The sky that evening did not bode well for our planned departure the next day, but spurred by concern that we'd be evicted, we braved the lake.
Actually, the weather was much better in the morning and we were chugging along fine - untill the hot engine alarm went off. Joe killed the engine and went down to find pieces of the engine belt on the floor. Of course he had a spare on board - two actually. Once the engine cooled down a bit, he put the new one on and all was good again.
So, now we're in Racine, WI, in the slip owned by the O'Donnell's. The problem Joe was looking into has still not been resolved, so we plan to be here at least a week. Here's the problem: There are asian carp in the rivers south of Chicago. The carp are an invasive species - eating all the food that the smaller fish need so they can become food for the bigger fish. So the carp are taking over. You may have heard about them jumping out of the water and almost killing a woman in a boat. You Tube has some amazing videos. Anyhow, in an effort to keep the carp from entering Lake Michigan - which some say has already happened - an electrical barrier has been put up. Previously, it was generating 1 volt per square inch, but someone decided to boost it to 2 volts per square inch. Now they don't know if it is safe for non-metallic hulled boats to go through under their power. At this point our options are to have the boat stored here for the winter ($5,000+) or towed through the barrier after disconnecting batteries, etc. (and signing a waiver for any damages) for $600 - cash. There was no warning that this was going to happen and we, of course, are not the only ones stuck here. The Great Loop Association and WaterWay Guide and lots of individuals are joining together to try to find a resolution. This is supposed to be high on the agenda at a meeting on Tuesday, Sept 1.
Until then, we're enjoying Racine. There's a great Thai restaurant...
If you'd like to see more pictures, follow the link to our picasa albums:

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