July 16, 2014

Day 305 - July 16, 2014: Crossing our wake and completing the Great Loop!

The weather cooperated with sun and light winds out of the northwest, and we headed out towards Little Sable Point. I'm not sure why it is call "Little" since it is physically much bigger than Big Sable Point which we passed north of here two days ago. Later, with the wind on our stern, we passed White Lake and Muskegon Lake, which are both good ports of refuge.

Little Sable Lighthouse
We began to see the Grand Haven Pier about noon, and at 1:15 PM, we made the turn east, entered the channel, and crossed our wake! I stopped to mount the new "gold burgee" and tooted the horn and we "high fived" our accomplishment of 305 cruising days covering a 6,850-mile circumnavigation of the eastern U.S. and parts of Canada.

Flying the new Gold AGLCA Burgee
Friends and family came out to greet us and get pictures of the event. Our friend Susie was on the north pier, my sister Shari and her husband Jim were on the south pier, and our friend Bari was further down on the south pier boardwalk. Our neighbor, Bob, came out and took pictures as we arrived at our home dock, as well. Thanks to them for being a part of our return home celebration.

Pausing after crossing our wake in the entrance to the Grand Haven Harbor

Showing off the burgee to our friends
After another 6 miles up the Grand River and into Spring Lake, we were backing into the slip. We'll have to get used to not having marina dock workers meet us to assist in tying up again.

Now the unenviable task of carrying our clothing, food, electronics and other personal items up the 33 stairs to the deck and another 13 steps into the house. No regrets though, it was well worth it.


This blog was intended to keep our family and friends up to date on our Great Loop adventure, and we hope it has been of use to others looping or planning to loop in the future. I know we followed other boaters blogs for the same purpose. My writing became a ritual each day, and sometimes seemed like work, but it did preserve the trip for us to relive again and again in the future. Thanks to Anne for all the help in making this a complete, accurate, interesting and readable record. We will now sign out until our next adventure.

July 15, 2014

Day 304 - July 15, 2014: Anticipating completing the Great Loop

With the hazardous weather on the lake, we spent today in Pentwater mostly on Great Laker anticipating completion of the Great Loop. After 1 1/2 years of researching, looking, and deciding to purchase the American Tug, 1 1/2 years researching the Great Loop and outfitting the boat, and starting our trip in September 2012 (taking 10 months off over the winter of 2013/14), we are about to complete our dream adventure.

The culmination of the trip will be marked by "crossing our wake" at the end of the Grand Haven Pier and replacing the current America's Great Loop Cruising Association burgee, which has a white background, with one that has a gold background. The gold background signifies to other boaters that we have completed the loop.

The Gold AGLCA Burgee!
One of our routines during the trip was recording data about our travels. Both of us kept fairly detailed spreadsheets, mine mostly focussed on the logging of boating data, and Anne's on tracking travel and expenses. In addition, I maintained a daily blog, and Anne kept a daily diary. This rainy cold day was the perfect opportunity to bring these up to date, do some reminiscing, and compile some overall statistics. Since Anne has a banking background and I have an engineering background, this data collection/analysis/processing comes naturally.

Summary Data:   As of tomorrow in Spring Lake, we will have...

  • Spent 305 days living aboard Great Laker
  • Cruised 6,850 miles (the basic loop of 5,250 miles, plus 1600 miles on side trips)
  • Taken over 11,000 pictures, saving about 9,000 of the best
  • Visited 17 states, 2 countries and 2 provinces
  • Traversed through 147 locks
  • Stayed one or more nights in 179 places
  • Dined out 152 times
  • Trekked to the laundromat 28 times
  • Toured 72 museums, battlefields or forts
  • Visited 20 family members and 34 friends along the way
  • Taken a break to travel home and back 4 times
  • Accumulated 914 hours on the boat diesel engine
  • Averaged 7.5 mph (when including all engine-on hours)
  • Consumed 2191 gallons of fuel, averaging 2.4 gallons per hour
We took a break to eat lunch at our favorite place called the Cottage Garden Cafe on Third Street. Tomorrow looks like low winds and sun, and we plan to depart at first light. 

July 14, 2014

Day 303 - July 14, 2014: Pentwater, MI

We are getting close to home, and anticipating "crossing our wake" and celebrating the completion of the Great Loop. But, I digress. First, we must get there...

The route home takes us along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, and one of our favorite ports, among many, is Pentwater. Since it is about halfway to Spring Lake, we chose this for tonight. After leaving Frankfort, there is a long curving stretch where we passed ports such as Arcadia, Portage Lake, and Manistee. This led to Big Sable Point, where we turned south, passed Ludington, and headed for Pentwater. 

Big Sable Point Lighthouse
Like most ports along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, Pentwater is a summer tourist and boating destination and also a port of refuge. A port of refuge is a place that is required to take boats and provide shelter when the captain believes that to continue the voyage would put the boat and passengers in peril. Most of these ports of refuge are inlets with a channel into a small river-fed lake that provides natural protection from winds and waves. Here, the Pentwater River feeds Pentwater Lake which outflows into Lake Michigan. 

The Pentwater beach on Lake Michigan
Pierhead in the Pentwater channel
View of Pentwater from Pentwater Lake
The most disastrous day in the history of Lake Michigan shipping occurred here in November 1940, when 75 mph winds and 20 ft waves and a raging rainstorm destroyed three ships and took the lives of 59 seamen. Two freighters sank with all hands lost, and a third freighter ran aground, losing two seamen. That night a snowstorm arrived, hampering the Coast Guard rescue efforts for three days. 

We docked at the Snug Harbor Marina, and after Anne's especially healthy dinner of baked catfish and asparagus, we walked a couple of blocks into town and  treated ourselves to some Amaretto Cherry Chocolate Moose Tracks ice cream before retiring for the night. We are expecting a small craft warning with high winds and waves tomorrow, and won't know until dawn whether we will make the run for home. 

July 13, 2014

Day 302 - July 13, 2014: Frankfort, MI

I awoke to the noise of high winds and rain during the night, and it was howling early this morning as well. West winds of 15 - 20 knots gusting to 25 knots were registering at the Grand Traverse Light. It looked like this would be a weather day for sure. In looking at all of my weather sites online, it became apparent that both south of us, in Frankfort, and north of us, in Petoskey, the winds were lower, and that didn't seem to make sense. Local boaters said it had something to do with how the winds became focused on the Leland area from passing in between the north and south Manitou Islands a few miles to the west.

Win, Anne and I spent a good deal of time studying weather data and listening to the NOAA forecasts hoping for a cruising window later in the day. Around noon, a couple of large cruisers departed, followed by a sailboat or two. We thought they might turn back, but not so. Then there seemed to be just a hint of the slackening of the wind, as the flags standing at attention started to drop a bit. By 2:30 the weather reports reflected the reduction in winds and gusts, and we said our goodbyes to Win and Susan and departed south for Frankfort. They left north for home an hour or so later as well. As always, we enjoy being together, and cruising together just makes it even more special.

With the waters settling down, we passed Pyramid Point and then rounded Sleeping Bear Point, seeing the first evidence of the massive sand dunes.

Hundreds of mature pine trees dwarfed by the underlying massive dunes
The sun was out, and we took this opportunity to stay along the shore and get close-up pictures of the same Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park sand dunes that we walked to four days ago. You can see the steep dune that Rachael and Anthony climbed down and back up, and those current hikers appear like ants on the 1000 ft. high dune. We had watched from the wooden observation deck barely visible in the top left third of the picture just left of the cluster of trees.

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Rachael and Anthony's dune climb location, with climbers strung out on the vertical trail
Point Betsie came up next, and here we made the turn south to Frankfort, welcomed by the breakwater and the Frankfort Light. We stayed at the Frankfort Municipal Marina, which is on a nice park just a block from downtown. After a somewhat stressful beginning, the day turned out fine, and we capped it off dining on a shrimp and homemade pesto pasta dinner that Anne prepared. It was especially tasty and really hit the spot.

Pt. Betsie Lighthouse
Frankfort Lighthouse

July 12, 2014

Day 301 - July 12, 2014: Leland, MI

It was another calm morning with an overcast sky, but was quite warm. We moved up the Grand Traverse Bay, rounded the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula at the Grand Traverse Light, and passed Cathead Point on the way south. Win and Susan left later, but with a faster Tiara easily passed us and got to the Leland Harbor Marina first. We began to see evidence of the steep high dunes that lead to Sleeping Bear Dunes that we will see by water tomorrow.

The Grand Traverse Light
Cottage looking over the steep dunes along Lake Michigan
Leland is located where the Leland (Carp) River flows into Lake Michigan. It was the site of a large Ottawa Indian settlement years ago because the river dropping down over the rocks formed a natural fish ladder. White settlers began to come here around 1830 and built a sawmill and 12 ft. high dam on the river in 1854. This increased the level of the upstream lakes and allowed transportation of goods up to 10 miles inland by boat. 

Downtown dam on the Leland River
Around 1900, wealthy industrialists discovered this area and began to build cottages and eventually hotels. Today, Leland is largely a summer resort and a vibrant charter fishing location, welcoming tourists by car and by boat. It is a "must stop" for Great Loop cruisers coming from Charlevoix to Frankfort. 

A quaint collection of restaurants, cheese, fish, art, and clothing stores
Early restored fishing trawler

Out exploring the shops
After a relaxing day, Win, Susan, Anne and I went to dinner at the Riverside Inn, located two blocks east of the marina. This is an honest to goodness fine establishment with a real chef. The sea bass was very unusual and delicious.

July 11, 2014

Day 300 - July 11, 2014: Northport, MI

The overnight temperatures were in the low 60s which makes for great sleeping, and we arose to finding a mixture of sunshine and clouds. By mid-morning we were ready to cruise north, along with Win and Susan in their boat Swift, to Northport.

Northport, in the heart of the Leelanau Peninsula, has a reputation for being an area where the rich and famous can live quietly and anonymously. The first cherries were planted here, and there are still farms and vineyards in the surrounding hillsides. We had come here before, but were unprepared for all the changes underway. Since the town put in a sewer system, it has attracted a significant investment by businesses in the downtown. There are new marina buildings, a new bowling alley bar and restaurant, a restaurant/bar about to open in the old train station, a combined wine tasting, restaurant and inn, and a general sense of awakening throughout.

The Northport Marina

View from the upper deck into downtown

Great Laker in our slip

Anne and Susan enjoyed the farmers market, while Win and I explored the new establishments and came back to reminisce about the good old college days at the U of M. After hors d'oeuvres on Great Laker, we ate delicious pulled pork and ribs at The Garage Bar and Grill in town and listened to an amazingly great jazz concert in the park just adjacent to the marina. Another great day with good friends.

Day 299 - July 10, 2014: Wine tasting on the Leelanau Peninsula

Today we rendezvoused with Win, my college roommate, and his wife Susan at Suttons Bay. They are boaters out of Harbor Springs, and we have cruised with them before, so we were anxious to spend some time with them while here in Grand Traverse Bay. Suttons Bay lies midway up the Leelanau Peninsula on the West Arm, and we cruised there this morning in sun and glassy water.

This peninsula is long and narrow and lined with rolling sandy hills covered with trees and some lakes. It has turned out to be ideal for growing cherries and grapes. The shoreline reveals small tourist towns, hillside cottages, year round homes and vineyards.

Leelanau Peninsula
We took our bikes up into town and took a bus a few miles to a cluster of wineries to do some wine tasting. The bus was designed for bike and ride, meaning the rear seating of the bus had been removed and replaced with 8 bike racks. So we loaded them on and got off at the first winery which was south along the coast road. From there we rode up some very steep inclines, stopping to walk as necessary, to three other wineries. Today was warm, still, and sunny, and the views from up top were spectacular. It reminded Anne and me of areas we have seen in Tuscany.

Anne and Susan high up on the Leelanau Peninsula

Vineyards overlooking the bay
We enjoyed sitting on the patios of the wineries, tasting various wines and catching up. Michigan wines are no match for California wines, but are getting better each year. The dry whites are the best in my opinion, with only a few reds of interest. The harsh winter is reported to have caused some setbacks for this year's production, and time will tell. Then we rode over to the Leelanau Bike Trail which is on an old railway roadbed and followed it back to Suttons Bay. Fortunately, it was a gentle slope down all the way. Today was relaxing and fun.

July 9, 2014

Day 298 - July 9, 2014: Sleeping Bear Dunes

Today was devoted to seeing Anne's family, including her sister Carolyn and husband Steve and their daughter Rachel and husband Anthony. The four of them are staying at our house for a short vacation and drove up to Sleeping Bear Dunes for the day. Plus, Anne's sister-in-law Mary K. and husband Emilio drove up from Texas and are staying near Traverse City, where they recently purchased a spot in a recreational vehicle park.

We all met in Glen Arbor for lunch and then drove to Empire, picked up passes to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Forest, and drove out to Empire Bluffs for the most incredible views of the dunes.

The gang paired up

Anne, Carolyn, Rachael and Mary K.
And us, of course

Next we moved on to the Pierce Stocking Scenic Trail, which is a 7.4 mile drive that winds through forested land and goes up and over the dunes and features lookout points along the way. The most interesting stop is number 9, which has an incredibly steep and wide open dune dropping a few hundred feet to the water's edge. Tourists, who are adventuresome and in good shape, come to hike down and back. A large sign at the top warns of the strenuousness of this hill, and that it make take up to 2 hours.

Rachel and Anthony had heard about this climb and came excited and prepared. They got down in 7 minutes, put their feet in the water, and hiked back up (sometimes on all fours) in 23 minutes. Oh, to be young again!

The steep and challenging Sleeping Bear Dunes
In 2011, ABC's Good Morning America conducted a nationwide poll which voted Sleeping Bear Dunes the most beautiful place in America, and after a great and fun day, we all certainly agree with that conclusion.

July 8, 2014

Day 297 - July 8, 2014: Traverse City, MI

Morning in Petoskey brought a mix of dark clouds interspersed with patches of lighter sky, and the view out over the water showed haze and a dense fog bank in the distance. And, with our good experience using radar yesterday, I was fully prepared to move along despite the uncooperative weather. We expected some rain and it started and stopped fitfully during the day.

Early rainy morning over the Petoskey Marina
As we moved up Little Traverse Bay, we passed Charlevoix, a must-see port for any looper. But since we have been there by boat twice before, we decided to pass on by. Along this west exposure, we were now experiencing 20 mph winds and solid 3 ft and occasional 4 ft frothy-topped waves on the beam. This required Anne to do a quick check of anything loose that would soon be taking flight across the interior. On occasion, several large consecutive waves timed just right would initiate some pretty exciting rolls, but Great Laker always damped them back and righted herself to a steady path.

High winds and waves on the beam
Finally, we were able to make the turn south into Grand Traverse Bay, and that put the wind and waves to our stern. We would climb a wave and then surf down the other side, causing our speed to vary greatly. All in all, it was kind of a fun change from the otherwise steady heartbeat of cruising on level seas. As the chart plotter reveals, we headed into the West Arm along the Leelanau Peninsula and continued to Traverse City located at the southern tip.

Chart plotter view of Grand Traverse Bay
Traverse City is the largest city in a 21-county northern region of lower Michigan. Its population, including surrounding areas, is close to 150,000. The city got its name from the French settlers who had made the grande traverse or "the long crossing" across the mouth of the Grand Traverse Bay.

Today this area, including the Leelanau Peninsula, is the largest producer of tart cherries in the U.S., and the annual one-week Cherry Festival, which attracts over 500,000 people each year, is currently in full swing. The surrounding land also produces wine grapes, making this one of the centers of wine production in the Midwest. There are numerous golf courses of repute here, and in the winter there are several ski areas that draw enthusiasts from across the state. In addition, nearby and along Lake Michigan lie the beautiful Sleeping Bear Dunes.

While Anne and I have been here by car, the chance to take a side-trip to see Traverse City by water was irresistible. Plus, as a bonus, it just so happens Anne's sister and her family will be in this area tomorrow as well. We found the only slip available in the area for tonight at the Elmwood Township Marina, about 2 miles north of downtown Traverse City. This marina is populated primarily with locally owned smaller fishing or sailing vessels, and I have yet to see another person on the docks. No loopers or docktails tonight!

Day 296 - July 7, 2014: Petoskey, MI

 Lake Michigan once again!

I was excited this morning to get going as we would be passing under the Straits of Mackinac Bridge and entering Lake Michigan headed for Petoskey. It felt good that we were on the homeward leg of our Great Loop voyage.

After rising and coming up to the pilot house, I looked out and was shocked that I couldn't see more than 50 yards beyond the boat. It was totally fogged in. I walked the dock and ran into a local boater who said that this was fairly common in this area this time of year. With our very good radar, and having had some experience previously running Lake Huron in a total whiteout, I felt confident we could venture out.

The first challenge was avoiding the tour boats that enter and exit Mackinac Island many times each hour. As we moved out into the harbor, the tour boats were properly making securite calls informing others of their presence, and I did the same. Watching their presence on the radar allowed us to stay clear. Soon we had moved free of the tour boat traffic, and by the time we got to the bridge, the fog had cleared enough to get a picture.

The Straits of Mackinac Bridge
Almost immediately afterwards, we were socked in again, and we ran west off and on in the fog all the way to Gray's Reef where we turned south. The familiar shoreline's high dunes and sandy beaches welcomed us along the way, although the wind started picking up and it got a bit lumpy.

Familiar dunes and sandy beaches on Lake Michigan
We had arranged to meet Ida and Brian, who are good friends from California and now have a summer home here in Petoskey. As we pulled into the Bayfront Park Marina, they surprised us by being just a few slips down the dock with their new sailboat, Daisy May! They have the perfect boat for going out and cruising Little Traverse Bay. We spent the afternoon at their home, enjoyed dinner in town, and later went back to Great Laker for the sunset.

Ida and Brian on Daisy May
Anne and Ida

July 6, 2014

Day 295 - July 6, 2014: Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is small, at 3.8 square miles, and is located between Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas. The high cliffs and distant views make this a strategic position, and the British established a fort here during the American Revolutionary War. This was also the site of two battles during the War of 1812. Today the island is a National Historic Landmark, the location of Mackinac State Park, and site of the famous Victorian Grand Hotel. This hotel was built in 1886 and boasts the longest porch in the world at 660 feet! The island is a very popular tourist destination. Most come in by tour boat, and with no cars allowed on the island, the horse drawn carriages and bikes are in frequent use.

We felt lucky to get a reservation at the Mackinac Island marina and arrived midday in light rain. The marina is right in front of the fort, on the main tourist street of the town, and walking distance to the Grand Hotel. We have been here before and spent a good deal of time at the fort on our last trip. So this time a horse drawn carriage ride made the most sense, and we spend a couple of hours riding around the island. With weather breaks we had a chance to get some pictures of this very unique area. Dinner at the Carriage House in the Iroquois Hotel was simply excellent, and from our table we had views of the harbor entrance.

Mackinac Island State Harbor from the entrance to the fort

The two "horsepower" carriage

The beautifully maintained homes

The massive Grand Hotel 

Arch Rock, 146 ft. above the water
The entrance to the Fort Mackinac

Incidentally, Mackinac Island and and Mackinaw City, across the channel from one another, are spelled differently, but pronounced the same (mack-i-naw).

At 10:30 p.m., "Taps" was played on a trumpet from the fort. What a wonderful way to end the evening.

Day 294 – July 5, 2014: Bois Blanc Island

We left DeTour early to cross over to Bois Blanc Island and visit some long time friends from our California years. The early morning departure brought low winds and calm water, and the forecast was a bit threatening for later today. On the way out, we passed the Lake Huron Light which identifies this channel to freighters going up through Sault Ste. Marie into Lake Superior.

Lake Huron Light outside of DeTour

Midway across Lake Huron we passed Spectacle Reef and rounded the Poe Reef Light to enter the South Channel between Bois Blanc Island and Cheboygan on the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Here we docked against the wall in a very small breakwater in The Bois Blanc Township Marina. There is only room for 4 or 5 boats, no real services, no nearby shops or stores, and it is only occasionally manned by a harbormaster. This island is just southeast of Mackinac Island but much larger, and with no bridge, few people live here and very few are hearty enough to stay for the winter. This is also where the ferry from Cheboygan comes in and serves those living on the island
Bois Blanc Township Marina

Bois Blanc Island southern shoreline

Rich and Betty picked us up, and we spent the afternoon and evening together catching up on what has been happening in our lives since we last saw them two years ago.

Rich and Betty

July 5, 2014

Day 293 - July 4, 2014: Drummond Island and DeTour

It was a bittersweet decision to leave the Benjamin Islands, as this anchorage was as good and maybe better than any on the entire trip. But we wanted to see some more of the northeast end of the Georgian Bay. Our plan was to move on up to John's Island. Like yesterday, we wandered around islands and through channels with names that made you wonder where they came from. For example, there was Frechette Island, McBean Channel, Little Detroit passage, Gilmore Point and Whalesback Channel.

Little Detroit is the narrowest channel in all of the North Channel and requires a security call before entering. Just past there we saw a home with just about every toy you can imagine. There was a float plane, two fishing boats, a catamaran sail boat, kayaks, and a pile of beach toys.

Little Detroit Passage
Summer home with all the toys
As we came upon the John's Island anchorage inlet, the NOAH weather was reporting severe wind warnings for today and thunder storms over the weekend. We were concerned that we might get weathered in several days in this anchorage and decided to make a run to DeTour Village. We pushed Great Laker hard to get to customs at Drummond Island before they closed at 5:50 pm, and got there just in time by 5:45. The custom's officer was in a hurry to get home and passed us through with just a few quick questions. Two years ago the officer here spent almost an hour on the boat. It felt good to be back in the U.S., and we looked forward to having data service on our phones again.

DeTour and the State Harbor Marina were another hour beyond Drummond, and along the way we encountered freighters running up to Lake Superior via Salt Saint Marie.

Freighter headed up to Salt Saint Marie
By the end of the day we had run for 11 hours and were really tired. It was good to dock, get some dinner and relax while watching the 4th of July fireworks over Frying Pan Island.