Monday, September 15, 2014

More Michigan - a Little Indiana - and on to Illinois

Our memories of Mackinac Island are dominated by fudge and flowers. The island is justifiably famous for its fudge, with at least a half dozen shops along the main street and more varieties of fudge than we could count. Of course we indulged ourselves, and it was delicious, but no tastier than Dahlonega's own Fudge Factory. The fudge doesn't stop on Mackinac Island, either; every town along the western shore had at least one fudge shop, plus ice cream. 
One backyard garden on the island is truly a masterpiece, and it's all the work of one man. Stand beside it, inhale the sweet smells, and feel the gentle breeze caress your face.         

"Betty," our usually faithful Ford Lehman engine, had coughed and hiccuped a couple of times as we crossed the North Channel to Drummond Island, so our next stop was Harbor Springs, where a skilled diesel mechanic quickly found the problem - engine-mounted fuel filters that had not been cleaned in the three years we've owned the boat. He replaced the difficult to remove old filters with a newer design; problem solved, with no further issues in the three weeks and 300+ miles since.  We celebrated Mike's 70th birthday with an excellent dinner in Harbor Springs after a much needed trip to Walmart and a pet store in Petroskey, thanks to the use of the marina's van. With our small refrigerator chock full, cupboards and Midas's supply of dog food replenished, and good weather, we cleaned the boat Sunday morning and reached Charlevoix by late afternoon. We were delighted to reconnect with Pauline and Ken, Canadian friends we'd met in Spanish, on Shipperly, when we docked at the very nice municipal marina. Marian found a book store with a going out of business sale - bargains on the latest J.D. Robb novel, Concealed in Death, and on At Home in Mitford for Pauline, whose dad was an Anglican (Episcopalian in the U.S.) priest. Charlevoix is known for the "Fairy Houses" and "Mushroom Houses, which resemble story- book fantasies, and like most homes we've seen along the way, have spectacular gardens. We walked across the bridge the day we left and along the street in front of these homes. The front yards are just as beautiful as the back, which overlook Round Lake, the entrance to Lake Charlevoix. 

Next stop: Leland, a small but charming village, known for Fish Town, formerly the docks and fish processing buildings when commercial fishing was the main industry and now the home of quirky shops and restaurants. Although the town is small, its municipal marina is excellent - with helpful, caring dockhands, a friendly harbormaster, and terrific showers. Transient boaters receive a welcome package with coupons and information on the town. We visited its small museum to learn more of the local history and enjoyed the company of Ken and Pauline plus Carolyn and Harry on Pour-House, former residents of Atlanta and owners of a couple of Thai restaurants there. Carolyn is the consummate shopper, and since they travel faster than we do in their Ranger tug, she had already checked out all the shops along the main block.  We were thrilled to find Morning Glory muffins at the local bakery, and left with a four-day supply.
The western coast of Michigan's "mitten" (lower peninsula) is known for its truly huge dunes. These were visible from our dock at the Leland Municipal Marina.
Leland is full of charming shops and galleries with cool art like this horse and the faces below. Maybe the artist is a fan of CBS Sunday Morning.

Midas likes exploring shops - mainly because many of them have treats. When he's allowed to go in, his first stop is always at the counter or cash register to find any goodies that might be waiting. Although the owners told us he was welcome in this shop, it had quite a few breakable items, so he had to wait outside and look irresistible. 
       The clerks took turns going out to make  friends with him
Below left, one of the shops of "Fishtown," formerly the center of commercial fishing activity and now the home of shops and an excellent restaurant.   Below right, a view of the marina's breakwater and beautiful Lake Michigan beyond it.  Our boat was docked to the right of those seen in the picture.   
The dunes at sunrise early on the morning we left Leland and continued south toward our next destination - Manistee.

Visits to towns often include a Loopers favorite activity: provisioning.  Some marinas (not many) have a courtesy car, but there's often a grocery store in the small towns along the western coast. Manistee is no exception, and after laundry, our next ashore chore was a walk to the grocery, pulling our folding red wagon.  Our friends Ken and Pauline made the
same trip, and took this photo of the three of us. Midas and Mike waited at the Family Dollar store, our first stop, while Marian cruised the grocery store.  When we crossed the bridge back to the marina, where the docks line the waterfront, Mike and Midas turned left to find a hardware store and Marian returned to the boat.  Rechargeable batteries and charger in hand, Mike and Midas left the hardware store. Sniffing out possible treats, Midas dragged Mike into the Happy Hippy next door, and there our real adventure began.  Robin, who reminds us of Tigger from Winnie-the-Pooh on speed, began asking questions: where are you from? How long did it take you to get here?  Is this your first trip to Michigan?  One of the shops was a shoe store where the world's tallest man, memorialized in an actual size statue in the corner, purchased his made to order shoes.  
As they walked back toward the boat, stopping in most of the shops along the way, Robin said, "We have to go get your wife and then you all have to go to the art exhibit at the Ramsdell Theatre."  Since we volunteer at the Historic Holly Theater in Dahlonega when we're not "looping," this turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. In addition to the art exhibit, we were treated to a tour conducted by one of the members of the board of this vibrant community theater.  From the outside, the building looks almost like an early 20th century factory, re-purposed as a theater and art center.  While it has undergone restoration and renovation over the years, it was built as a theater, plus a large ballroom on the second floor and exhibit hall on the main floor, entered from the first set of steps. The theater entrance, just visible in the photo, is to the right.   
Built in 1902 - 1903 by local lawyer and philanthropist Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell, the idea of a theater was not welcomed by the grand dames of the town, who feared it would bring an unsavory element to the town. Ramsdell built the theater anyway, and his son, Frederick Winthrop Ramsdell, 
a talented artist, painted the murals which grace the two sides of the lobby.  Note the sheer garments worn by the "Greek" goddesses; their faces are portraits of the town's prominent ladies, the women who had voiced their opposition to the theater.

Above left, from Wikipedia: The famed theatrical artist Walter Burridge, scenic artist who painted sets for The Wizard of Oz, painted the front drop curtain entitled A Grove Near Athens that is still being used today.   

                                                                                             Above, Mike's photos show the beautifully restored auditorium, somehow reminiscent of Atlanta's Fox Theater on a much smaller scale.  
Below, pretend you're standing on the 34 foot deep by 60 foot wide stage and looking straight up.  Since Mike has performed in four plays at the Holly and knows firsthand how cramped our stage is, especially when a show has a large cast (like My Fair Lady, Big River, or Hello, Dolly!), he was drooling at the space the Ramsdell performers have. 

We've now traveled on from Manistee through Pentwater, Grand Haven (more wait for good weather days) and St. Joseph's in Michigan, then on to Indiana: Michigan City and Hammond. We spent five days in Hammond, once again waiting for fair skies and gentle breezes instead of unseasonably cold temperatures, rain, and very strong winds.  Finally, we continued west on September 14th, hoping to see Chicago from the water, but work on one of the bridges - closed for repairs - meant we had to turn around, travel about 10 miles back the way we had come, and continue down the Calumet River/Cal-Sag Canal. This is primarily an industrial area, not at all scenic, sometimes smelly, and dominated by very large "tows," which consist of a tug boat pushing up to six or more long barges, some of them "double-wides." Our trusty Waterway Guide warns that as we go further south and enter the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, the tows will get even larger.  They have the right of way, and pleasure craft skippers know not to defy them; we won't win.  We caught up with fellow Loopers who left Hammond about the same time we did at the Lockport Lock, where some had been waiting for two or three hours for several northbound tows to get through. These locks are much larger (100 feet wide by 600 feet long) than those on the Erie Canal and the Trent-Severn Waterway, both now used almost exclusively by recreational boaters, and it takes much longer to fill the lock for northbound/upbound traffic and to drain it for southbound/downward bound boats. We had a 40' drop at Lockport, and it took 30 minutes to descend. Nine cruising boats and one tow filled the lock, and the cruisers (most of us Loopers) traveled together to Joliet, where we all tied up overnight at the free dock adjacent to Bicentennial Park.  This wall also has free power - and we'll probably stay a few days while we wait for flooding downstream to subside. 
One almost final note for regular readers of the blog, who already know that our Golden Retriever Midas is an integral part of our crew and an endless source of entertainment and joy.  During our time in Georgian Bay and the North Channel, we anchored out more than we stayed in marinas, and Midas had to go ashore at least twice daily to "get busy."  He needs a little assistance to get down the almost vertical ladder from the aft deck to the dinghy, but he's mastered getting back up all by himself.  We're proud of our terrific therapy dog, and we can tell he's also proud of his accomplishment.

Who knows what our next adventure will be? We do know that we'll find good friends along the way and that each day will bring new experiences to enjoy, new challenges to overcome, and memories to last a lifetime.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Back in the USA - from the North Channel to Michigan's Western Coast

Monday was Labor Day - and we're still making our way south along Michigan's western shore, with several days, like today, spent safely tied to a dock while we wait for wind to come from the south and/or east at a comfortable speed for cruising.  Some folks had said we should be off Lake Michigan by now.  We didn't listen to them; instead, as we met boaters from Michigan in Georgian Bay and the North Channel, we learned that the month of September offers great cruising days along the western shore of the Lower Peninsula.  We won't spend the entire month here, and we've already experienced a couple of weather delays, which simply means we have more time to explore the charming towns we've visited on our journey south, beginning with Mackinac Island.
But first, let's look back at the North Channel, part of the Canadian Shield (Google it) and even more beautiful, in some ways, than Georgian Bay.  The North Channel has fewer cottages and is much less developed, but it has the same warm, welcoming friendly Canadians we met from Gananoque to Port Severn and beyond. 
Rocks, rocks, and more rocks, throughout the North Channel. 

Orange lichen grows on some, but not all, of the rocks; from a distance, it looks like vandals have spray-painted graffiti, but up close, you can see that it's actually a primitive plant - and quite pretty.  The photo below doesn't clearly show the range of colors.

We all enjoyed climbing these rocks on the shore of Lee Island when we took the dinghy from our anchorage at - where else? - Anchor Island after spending a couple of weather days in Spanish, where there's little to do.

Below, the rocks on Lee Island had pink veins between layers of gray granite.
A full moon reflects in the clear, calm water of a North Channel anchorage - quiet, serene, peaceful. 

Midas Touch seems small when looking down from the rocks at our Croker Island anchorage, part of the Benjamin Islands in the North Channel.  Fellow adventurers from several other boats, who had anchored in the same cove, also hiked to the top of the island and on to the other side.
View from the summit of Croker Island, looking north.

We had an anchorage to ourselves one evening, and Mike decided to use the swim platform and shower on the stern of the boat instead of the shower in the aft head.  It was a warmish evening, but not warm enough for Marian to join him. This was one of several spots where we dropped the anchor on the bow, then used the dinghy to take a line to shore and tie the boat to a tree.  This prevents swinging around when the wind picks up, and Marian could take Midas ashore by pulling the dinghy along the rope, without starting the motor. Have we mentioned that Midas can now climb the swim platform ladder all by himself?  Capturing that accomplishment on video was a "must do," and we finally got

The brown two-story building on the left is the municipal marina at Meldrum Bay, on the north side of Manitoulin Island (the largest fresh water island in the world). The white building beyond it is an inn where we indulged in one of the best meals we've had on the trip. Two other boats had been stuck here for six days waiting for good weather to make the jump west to Drummond Island. We were there for only two, then followed one of them when we left.  The Canadians on "As the Crow Flies" had sold their house and will live on the boat while they complete the Loop.  A second boat, "Kingfisher," had arrived our second day in Meldrum Bay and was part of our small fleet, but they chose a route farther away from shore and cruise at a faster speed. By the time we docked at Drummond Island Yacht Haven, they had already checked in with U.S. Customs and continued on their way. The Customs and Border patrol agent on duty the day we returned, August 17th, was friendly - and she even waived a $30 user fee. We had not purchased the required decal, but when we assured her that we would not be returning to Canada this year, she gave us a very much appreciated break.  When we arrived, we were delighted to see Ken and Pauline, Canadians from near Calgary whom we had met in Spanish. We had dinner with them Sunday night, and they headed on the next day.                                                             

Weather kept us at Drummond Island for three nights,  and we left on Wednesday morning in fog, radar working well as we cruised carefully though the channel between Drummond Island and DeTour.  Because it was so foggy, we abandoned our plan to anchor out in the Les Cheneux Islands; we couldn't see them.  Instead, we made our way on to another must-see port - Mackinac Island, where we spent two nights at one of Michigan's many very nice municipal marinas.  Restrooms and showers reserved for boaters and secured with a coded lock, the dock hands are helpful, and the docks are in excellent condition.  We walked up the steep hill to Fort Mackinaw on our first day, where we learned about the War of 1812.  Did you know that the U.S. came close to losing that war?  The view from the fort, looking over the harbor and across the channel to Mackinaw City, is impressive.    

After the rifle demonstration, which sent Midas scurrying from a porch on the building from which we'd watched it into an interior room, he agreed to show his respect to one of the participants with a salute and a sit-up.                   
                                                                                                                                                                Looking up at Fort Mackinaw from the lawn below.  It has a commanding view of the harbor. 
Midas made another friend on the island; this young lady has a Golden Retriever, too, and the two dogs made friends.  Unfortunately, we didn't get a good photo of the two of them.

We ate all of our Mackinac Island fudge before we took a picture, but the smell lingers, and we bought more in Harbor Springs, our next stop. As we walked along the main street on Mackinac, the tempting aroma of fudge escaped from the dozen shops we passed, mingling with the not so pleasant smell of horse manure. There are no cars on the island, and the crews quickly clean up after the horses, but the smell, although faint, remains.

The island has dozens of homes with beautiful gardens; these are just a few of the many we saw. Flowers are everywhere, and the landscaping is immaculate.   
Below right: we passed under the Mackinaw Bridge, which connects lower Michigan (the mitten) to the Upper Peninsula after a brief fuel stop at Mackinaw City, then down to Harbor Springs.  Below left: just one of the many beautiful homes on Mackinac Island.                      

We didn't stay at the fabulous Grand Hotel, where much of the movie Somewhere in Time was filmed, but we hiked up the hill to see it, then returned to town.
We have many more pictures to add, but we'll save them for our next update. We're now in Spring Lake, just east of Grand Haven, MI and still waiting for better weather conditions on the big lake before continuing on our journey south toward Chicago.  Stay tuned for photos of a beautiful garden on Mackinac Island and more.

Mike chimes in:
On Friday, 8/29, Midas and I went up to the hardware store in Manistee to buy rechargeable batteries for our camera. When we came out of the hardware store, something pulled my attention into the Happy Hippy, the store next door.  Midas and I drifted in and started talking to the owner, but there was someone else in the store who kept interrupting and asking us questions.  Robin is one of those unforgettable characters you meet, one who leaves an indelible impression. You see, Robin is the unofficial ambassador of Manistee. She knows everything about the town, everyone in it, and everything that is going on.  She jumps up and announces, “We’re going to get your wife and show her the Ramsdell Theater, and the art exhibit.” So off we go, but on the way Robin is bouncing in front of Midas and me, like Winnie-the-Pooh's Tigger, talking about the town. Wait! she exclaims  you’ve got to see this store, and pulls us in to meet the owner. “Hi Robin,” the store own says, like she was related to Robin.  On and on we go, popping into one store after another, talking to the owners, and when we were not in a store, Robin was talking about the town buildings. “Did you know that Manistee burned the same day as the Chicago fire?”