Summer 2017: A recap

Wow, this summer went by so fast! I had so many blog posts written in my head that I planned to publish over the course of the summer, and then before I knew it, it was October. To be fair August didn’t really feel like summer. But thanks to Hurricane Maria we had a crazy spell of 90-degree days in September, which inspired me to revisit my half-written posts.

We didn’t end up taking the boat on a week-long, halfway around the mitten trip as we’d hoped last year. It turns out there’s a bit more to a multi-night boat trip than just deciding to take five days off from work and heading out. For one thing, weather plays a major role (I know – news flash!!). In fact, at least in Michigan, I think that realistically it would take two full weeks or more to pull off an eight- or nine-night trip. But we did get some good overnights and one multi-night trip in, and so I’m sharing a little recap of our 2017 boating adventures.

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A calm morning in Holland, looking out at Lake Macatawa.

One plan we made last year that did stick was bringing our bikes on our overnights. It really makes a remarkable difference in the ability to truly explore every port – and also allows us to get a bit more exercise than we’d get from just walking.

Biking in Montague

Having our bikes for overnights is a game-changer. Great exercise and you can’t beat the views!

We kicked off the Summer 2017 Overnight season in Saugatuck, a longtime favorite getaway town for us. We have done several boat overnights in this charming community, but this year was the first time we stayed in nearby Douglas AND took the dinghy across the lake to the town of Saugatuck. In fact, this trip was when we really discovered the joy of dinghy ownership. In 2015 when we first bought the boat, there was so much to learn it was too overwhelming to try to figure out the dinghy (not to mention we were also planning a wedding so probably a tad distracted), but last year we gradually started taking it out on little jaunts on Spring Lake. Since then we’ve realized that the dinghy brings a whole new level of freedom to our excursions.

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Taking the dinghy across Kalamazoo Lake to Saugatuck on our first overnight of the season.

Favorite spots: Coral Gables for patio dining, live Jimmy Buffet-esque music and some serious boat watching; the Butler for more outdoor dining and live music; Wally’s for indoor/outdoor seating, live music and dancing; and Phil’s for a beer and good bar food any time of day or night – plus our favorite bar pastime, dirty-word Hangman.

Dirty hangman

This was taken a few years ago when we docked late on a Friday night and were happy to find anyplace in Saugatuck still serving food. Phil’s Bar and Grille is a great place to grab a late-night snack and play dirty-word Hangman.

Next up was Muskegon. This lakefront Western Michigan town is on the rise! We stayed there twice this summer and made wonderful little discoveries both times. One of the happiest moments for me was finding out that my favorite wine bar, Smash, had been reopened. That place is so cool and I was sad when it closed last year. But it’s now under new ownership, and I really hope it can keep going. 18th Amendment, a new distillery, was another awesome spot we stumbled onto. We enjoyed their creatively named cocktails and the pizza was delish. The Tipsy Toad has a fun rooftop bar area that we usually try to visit for one quick drink.

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Sharing a “Scallywag” at 18th Amendment

Some non alcohol-focused highlights include the Muskegon Farmers Market – we managed to squeeze in two stops there, both with bountiful results. Another must-visit place is The Cheese Lady, which, in addition to having an incredible cheese selection, offers gourmet snacks, wine, olive oils, gifts, and more.

Cheese Lady

The Cheese Lady is a charming gem of a cheese shop in downtown Muskegon.

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Kicking off a night on the town in Muskegon with a stop at the Tipsy Toad.

On our second trip to Muskegon we stayed at the Great Lakes Marina which is a bit further from downtown, but with our bikes, it was a super easy ride into town. We discovered the bike trail, which made the trek to and from town a pleasure and allowed us to avoid much of the downtown traffic. We also found that hanging out in the Lakeside neighborhood near the marina was a fun, easy way to stay local. There are several bars in stumbling distance, and just outside the marina is a little hotdog joint, Max N Marley’s Doghouse. They have a million different hotdog options including a breakfast dog, a taco dog, a gyro dog and many more. On a whim we decided to get our lunch to go and enjoy it on the bow of the boat with a glass of wine. While I’m sure their hotdogs are always good, somehow they were magical when eaten on the bow of the boat.

Max N Marleys

We neglected to get a picture of our hotdogs, but they were amazing and just the ticket after a busy morning of biking around town. Worth stopping for a dog if you’re ever in Muskegon!

Later we took the dinghy across the lake to Dockers, a longtime favorite spot for us. We’ve gone there by boat several times but it was a novelty to take the dinghy. Known for their tiki bar and over-the-top Bloody Marys, this boaters paradise is only open for the summer season so it’s always packed.

Bloody Mary

Holland:
We spent both our first and second anniversaries at the Eldean Marina in Holland, so I’m thinking we can call it our anniversary tradition.

Us in Holland

Bubbly on the boat

We love Holland and we love the marina. The only drawback is that it’s quite a hike outside of town (about five miles) so it’s not super convenient to go back and forth. Fortunately Uber is now available in Holland, plus this year we took our bikes so we were a bit more mobile.

Favorite spots: The Holland Farmers Market is fabulous!! Jam-packed with hyper-local produce plus fun and funky crafts and homemade food products. The downtown is thriving, with lots of locally-owned boutiques and gift shops as well as a few retail chain stores (think White House Black Market, Chico’s, etc.). Some eateries we enjoy are the 8th Street Grille for the amazing soup bar; Boatwerks with waterfront seating on Lake Macatawa; New Holland Brewing Co. for fantastic local beer; and Curragh Irish Pub for last call.

Farmers market bounty

I have a tendency to over-buy when we visit farmers markets during boating trips. Everything is so tempting and I’m always convinced I’ll use it all!

The advantage of riding our bikes to and from Holland was that we were able to stop and ogle the seriously gorgeous real estate along S. Shore Drive. Here are just a few of the drool-worthy homes and gardens we passed.

Pretty yard

Garden

Holland hydrangeas

Talk about hydrangea envy!! I wish I knew how to grow them like this. Absolutely stunning.

Whitehall/Montague:
One of our favorite ports, Whitehall/Montague is less touristy and has a quirky, small-town vibe. It’s quite hilly and feels like you’re up north, plus the establishments have a definite local friendliness. The farmers market was more like a community meeting spot than a place for farmers to sell their wares, and the bookstore/coffee shop/wine bar seemed to be the kickoff-to-Saturday night spot for the locals. We were especially adventurous (well, my husband was, and I was dragged along), and we rode our bikes six miles outside of Montague to the Old Channel Inn, which is charming and has a decided Northern Michigan feel.

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Spotted on our bike ride outside of Montague.

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Stopping for a beverage at the historic Old Channel Inn, right on Lake Michigan outside of Montague.

Marina lowdown: We’ve had fantastic experiences at the White Lake municipal marina right on White Lake. The staff is super helpful and it’s a convenient walk to both Whitehall and Montague. We even got to “witness” a wedding while docked there on our last trip (probably more enjoyable for this hopeless romantic than for my husband).

Whitehall wedding

What can I say? I’m a sucker for weddings.

Favorite spots: Fetch Brewery (live music and board games), Pub 111 (live music and fantastic dance floor), Bardic Wells Meadery (because MEADE and also fun, quirky staff), Book Nook (combines four favorites: books, coffee, wine and live music), Old Channel Inn (for an off-the-beaten-path Northern Michigan experience).

Book Nook

The Book Nook in Montague offers a unique blend of books, coffee, wine/beer and live music.

That’s the rundown of our 2017 one-night excursions. Stay tuned for the recap of our four-nighter trip, coming soon!

 

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Looking back: Our 2016 early-fall boating adventure

The closer we get to the 2017 boating season, the more nostalgic/reminiscent we get about previous, happy experiences aboard the Just Like Heaven. Our favorite so far was the three-night trip we took last September.

We decided to do this outing somewhat at the last minute, much the way many boat trips end up happening. We had pondered a variety of different late summer/early fall vacations, then decided that one last boat excursion seemed doable. The tentative plan was to spend the first night in Pentwater, head up to Frankfort for the second night, and then make our way back south and stay in Ludington for a final night before heading home.

We met right after work at the marina, where I left my car, and made our way to Pentwater. It’s ridiculous that as a lifelong Michigander, I’ve never been to this popular Lake Michigan town before, but this was in fact my first visit.

Docking was a bit hairy, especially because it was late in the season and there were no other boats in the marina. Luckily the man who owned the bookstore across the street saw us and dashed over to help. We chatted and he told us he and his wife were Great Loopers, that elite group of boaters who complete the loop that consists of the waterways of the eastern part of the U.S. (Turned out, we were to meet two more sets of Great Loopers during this trip. To learn more about this interesting, somewhat daunting, adventure, visit here.)

The marina was right in the center of downtown Pentwater and once we were safely tied off, we explored town a bit and enjoyed dinner and drinks in the local establishments, including a “tiki bar” that seemed somewhat out of place in Northern Michigan but was nonetheless quite charming.

Tiki bar

Every Northern Michigan town needs a tiki bar!

The next day I took a local yoga class and we spent a little more time checking out the quaint downtown. We were especially intrigued by a super funky, local antique shop that specialized in nautical antiques. We purchased a few vintage buoys that we thought we might use to decorate our boathouse. We also discovered a gift shop that had lots of paraphernalia for wine lovers, including a wine cup complete with a lid and straw (okay, it’s basically a sippy cup) that looked ideal for rough boating days.

Once we got organized, we headed out to the next port, Frankfort. The trip was fairly uneventful, but it was a tad choppy and I was happy I had my new wine cup.

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Farewell Pentwater! On to Frankfort.

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On rough trips, a sippy cup for your wine comes in very handy!

We had a reservation for a slip at a local marina, Jacobson, that promised lobster bisque in its little market and in general sounded quite lovely. The owner was on hand to help us dock (with far less anxiety than the Pentwater docking). This marina, too, was right in the heart of town and we ventured in to get the lay of the land.

We learned that Zumba was offered at a local VFW hall the next morning, and also discovered that we needed beer.

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A very complicated beer flow chart.

After a bit of strolling, we enjoyed a lovely meal at The Fusion, a local Asian/sushi restaurant that came highly recommended by one of my colleagues. My husband ordered the massaman curry and proclaimed it to be one of the best he’d ever had.

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This isn’t the prettiest food shot, but I can guarantee he enjoyed his dinner. If you ever visit Frankfort, a meal at The Fusion is a must.

The next morning, we intended to head down to Ludington after I took my Zumba class and we got organized. However, the wind was gusting and after doing a bit of research (mainly by asking other boaters in the marina), my husband decided we were staying put for the day. To be honest, I was thrilled. I loved Frankfort, absolutely LOVED the marina, and was excited about having a day to hang and explore the town.

We hopped on our bikes (first time we’d actually brought them along on an overnight, but something we will be sure to do for all multi-night trips in the future) and rode out to Elberta Beach, where we confirmed our decision to stay put. The waves were dramatic to look at… but too dramatic to be boating on. We stopped for a beer at a local joint and made our way back to the marina.

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These waves confirmed our decision to spend another night in Frankfort. It was actually a warm day though – perfect for riding our bikes and exploring the area.

The Jacobson Marina in Frankfort is, in my opinion, the nicest we’ve ever stayed in. The bathrooms/shower areas are practically spa-like, with air conditioning, roomy showers, clean, spacious counters, makeup mirrors and excellent lighting. Unlike most other marina bathrooms, this one made getting ready for a night on the town almost an event in itself.

Me on the bow

Ahhh, the boating life. Rosé on the bow makes all stress melt away.

That night we enjoyed a few stops at the local bars and ended up eating dinner at the Hotel Frankfort, where we had the world’s largest piece of whitefish. We ended the evening by taking a stroll along the boardwalk and catching a glimpse of the full moon before getting a soothing night’s sleep on the boat.

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A beautiful evening in Frankfort.

The next morning we headed out early. Rich wanted to avoid the rough waters that were predicted that day, and while the first part of the trip wasn’t too bad, we still experienced some jaw-breaking, bone-jarring waves. The shining sun and blue skies were deceptive – the wind roared and we crashed our way for most of the trip home.

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The big lake was angry that day, my friends. This deceptively pleasant photo of our trip home was taken before the water got too rough to do anything but sit and tough it out.

Despite the brutal return trip, we enjoyed our adventure so much we decided then and there that our next excursion was going to be an eight-day, halfway around the mitten trip that hits all our favorite spots along the way. The trip will definitely include stops in both Pentwater and Frankfort. We will bring our bikes, and the dog may even get to come along. Stay tuned!

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Home port… always a welcome sight.