Sailing Lake Michigan--Southbound

Monday, November 14, 2016

As mentioned last week, we spent an extra night at Ludington, Michigan, during our 2011 sailing vacation because of the strong storms forecast for the afternoon. That was after the severe storm we had experienced while we were at Holland and before others that we would still encounter. Fortunately for us, the worst weather occurred while we were docked.

But others weren’t so fortunate. The Chicago Yacht Club’s Race to Mackinac—better known as the Chicago-Mac—took place while we were on vacation. In its 103-year history, the race had seen its share of bad storms and overturned and damaged boats, but nobody had lost their life. That year, however, two sailors died while we were at Ludington. They were farther north, but it does say something about the nature of the storms over Lake Michigan.

We left Ludington for Muskegon after the storms had passed but while conditions were still not ideal. We needed both pairs of eyes for lookouts as we motored through dense fog in the morning. It cleared up in the afternoon, but it was a long day with nine hours on the water.

Coming into Muskegon, we passed two prominent lights—the Muskegon South Breakwater Light and the Muskegon South Pier Light. Both are painted red and shaped like silos, and you can see them in the picture at the head of this post. The tan building is the Coast Guard station.

We also had an up-close-and-personal look at the Lake Express high-speed ferry between Muskegon and Milwaukee. It wasn’t as nerve-wracking as our experience with the Badger, though. This time we saw the ferry coming toward us before we entered the channel, so we circled inside the breakwater until it went by.

On our first morning in Muskegon, we went to the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum, just up the street from the marina. The exhibits were mostly about submarines and their involvement in the Pacific during World War II. The gem was the World War II submarine U.S.S. Silversides. We took self-guided tours of the submarine and of a decommissioned Coast Guard Cutter, UCCGC McLane. The highlight of the submarine tour was Roland’s attempts to get through the inner hatches, which weren’t made for tall men. That’s the next picture.

We had planned to leave the following morning and we did—sort of. The wind blew us into the dock as we tried to depart, and a few small pieces of wood splintered off the dock. Our port lifelines got stretched, and my hand temporarily came between the boat and the dock, giving me a blood blister. But there was no damage to the side of the boat at all. Still, it should have been a warning.

Once we got out onto Lake Michigan, the high waves bounced us all over the place, so we chickened out and returned to Muskegon. It wasn’t a lost day, though. That afternoon we took the trolley to see the historic Hackley and Hume homes. Hackley was a lumber baron, and Hume became his partner later on. The houses, which are right next to each other, are both ornate but in different ways.

We finally left Muskegon the next morning, intending to go all the way to Holland. However, the weather forecast called for possible thunderstorms for the next two days, so we stopped at Grand Haven and spent two nights there. Again, we had a good view of the show from the musical fountain. As soon as it concluded on the second night, I got ready for bed. Then I heard a very loud ship’s whistle and Roland called down to come outside immediately and bring my camera. A lake freighter was coming up the river and passing close by the marina. We were safely out of the way in our slip, but it was a pretty big ship for that small river. You can see the results of my night photography below.

When we left Grand Haven, we decided to bypass Holland and go all the way to St. Joseph. It was a long day on the water, and St. Joe was just a place to spend the last night on our way home.

Even the final day had its bit of drama. The waves were a little rough when we left St. Joe, and we hadn’t been gone very long before Roland noticed that one of the two lines from the dingy to the hitch that attached it to the boat was broken. We didn’t want to lose the dingy, so Roland slowed Freizeit down, put on a harness, and worked from the rear step while I drove. It took two tries to attach a new rope, but we did it. All while underway, too.

That was our last sailing vacation. We tried two other times, but mechanical problems and bad weather worked against us. And over the last few years, uncooperative weather and various obligations have left us with very little time on the water.

So it is time to sell the boat.

But we will keep the memories.

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