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.

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Around the Mitten 2015

Recently Rich and I embarked on a big adventure: bringing our new-to-us boat from a marina in St. Clair Shores, Michigan to our lakehouse in Spring Lake – a trip around the Mitten State that totaled nearly 400 nautical miles.

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Captain Rich with his new boat right after we did the sea trial.

When we first looked at the boat, a 2000 Carver 404, it was in the middle of January and boating season seemed like it was a million miles away. The sea trial was scheduled for a Saturday morning in April, so we slept on the boat the night before. We both slept well and were excited about the idea of spending many more overnights on this boat than we did on our old one. The morning of the sea trial was bitterly cold and gusty – challenging circumstances for Rich to try driving his new boat for the first time. It all went fairly well though and got us excited for our big solo excursion.

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The night before our big trip.

The morning of our departure was a foggy one and we were delayed by a couple of hours. Finally it lifted enough for us to be able to leave the marina, and it turned out to be a nice sunny day. The trip through the St. Clair River was uneventful, and after we passed under the Bluewater Bridge, we were treated to a breathtaking view of the clear, calm, deep blue waters of Lake Huron.

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Entering into Lake Huron. I felt like we were on a space ship launching into outer space.

Our first day, Thursday, turned out to be the only day I was able to work on my tan. I discovered that the aft deck is a heavenly place to lie in the sun, especially with a glass of wine nearby and jazz playing in my headphones.

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My pale, dry Michigan legs are in desperate need of a tan.

We spent the evening in Harrisville Harbor. Rich had made reservations for our two ports of call and because it was such a slow time of year, he was able to call ahead and get help from the harbormaster, greatly reducing the stress for the first mate (especially considering that my sole boating skill consists of doing the splits when jumping onto the dock to tie off the spring line). The harbormaster recommended a pub that was in walking distance from the harbor, and we had a relaxing meal there. Harrisville is a nice little town but quiet. Quite different from the resort towns on the west side of the state, which are thriving and filled with quaint boutiques and eateries.

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On the bow of the Just Like Heaven in our first port of call.

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Beautiful sunrise in Harrisville.

The next morning Captain Rich let me take a quick shower at the marina, and we hit the water right around 7:30 a.m. We saw a beautiful sunrise, but the day clouded over quickly and got chilly. I was a little disappointed that the sun wasn’t shining when we passed under the mighty Mackinac Bridge, but at least it wasn’t raining.

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This sight never gets old. The stunning Mackinac Bridge.

Shortly after we made it into Lake Michigan, the water became extremely choppy and fog rolled in. It was a pretty hairy ride for a while. But when we stopped in Harbor Springs for fuel, everything seemed to calm down and the sun was out so we decided to push on to Leland where we had a reservation for a slip.

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Stopping for fuel in Harbor Springs. There was still ice in the marina!

Unfortunately the fog and rough water came back and the ride into Leland was another nail biter (for me anyway – Rich handled it all like a pro). We couldn’t even see shore until we were almost right on top of it. But the harbormaster was waiting to help us so docking was fine, and we enjoyed a fun evening with our friends Jeff and Norma who came over from their cottage in Traverse City.

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Both of us are sporting some serious boat hair, but we were extremely pleased to have made it safely to our second overnight port of call.

Saturday, home stretch day! The weather was pretty miserable – drizzly and really cold. We showered quickly and I picked up breakfast sandwiches from a nearby diner, then we set out. The water was rough again – not choppy but big rollers – and again we had fog. At one point Rich had me take the helm while he went to check some stuff below. I was nervous and it gave me a new respect for his captaining abilities. The fog continued to thicken and by the time we got to the Grand Haven channel, it was like pea soup. Fortunately, there were very few boats in the channel, and Rich’s keen navigating skills prevented us from colliding with anyone.

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Me at the helm

We had to call ahead to have the Spring Lake drawbridge lifted and while we waited, we idled and drank a glass of wine together. We were both elated and considered the trip a complete success! I was also extremely proud of my fiance for his adroit handling of his new boat, how quickly he learned all the equipment including the radar, and how well he navigated some seriously rough waters. All in two and a half days to boot. This was no small feat!

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Success!! Back in familiar waters, he’s finally able to relax.

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Drawbridge into Spring Lake. We’re still not sure if we need to have it raised for us to pass under, but we didn’t want to take any chances the first time.

We were so happy when we finally rounded the corner into our beloved Laguna Bayou.

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Laguna Bayou – a welcome sight!

Docking at the dock at the lakehouse was a piece of cake. The boat looks beautiful in her home slip!

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The Just Like Heaven in her home slip. The old Rinker looks dwarfed in comparison.

A few things I learned:

  • Even though the boat’s bathrooms (in particular the master bath) are nicely sized, it’s much easier to take a shower in marina bathrooms.
  • On such a big boat, it’s hard for the first mate to be of much assistance to the captain. Doing the splits between this boat and a dock would probably send me to the hospital!
  • Preparing meals when you’re cruising, even on a big boat, is challenging, and you probably won’t end up doing much. It’s much easier to bring stuff that’s pre-made (and easy to eat) or to buy prepared food onshore to eat while cruising.
  • Sleeping on a boat is heavenly.
  • Most wine glasses don’t fit in the cup holders.

So that’s the story of our 2015 Pure Michigan Around the Mitten trip. All in all it went like clockwork, and we can’t wait to take the Just Like Heaven on many more adventures.