Category Archives: Travels

More summer cruising: Exploring Beaver Island

When my wife, boys, and I departed St. Joseph back in June, we were hoping to make Beaver Island within about 10 days or so. I had talked up the beauty and solitude of the harbor quite a bit, and both of my boys, I’m pretty sure, had some wild imaginings of a place along the lines of Robinson Crusoe or Treasure Island. We’ve spent cold winter evenings tracing our fingers over chart book pages of the Beaver Island archipelago, dreaming of dropping anchor in remote harbors and going ashore to explore uninhabited islands, so it’s easy to imagine my family’s disappointment when our trip was interrupted by mechanical issues.

Two weeks later my youngest could barely contain his excitement as we departed Charlevoix and headed for Beaver Island. Ever cheerful, Josh did his best to contain his anxiety about wind and waves during our passage and toughed it out by focusing on the expectation of a sweet anchorage in Beaver Island’s St. James Harbor later that day. As we motored into the harbor, he chatted away excitedly and couldn’t wait to go ashore to explore. What a joy to see through the enthusiastic and unfettered eyes of a child.

With evening upon us, however, we enjoyed the island from Ariel’s deck, watched the sun set, ate a good supper, and went to bed.


Josh awoke the next morning ready to explore, so we pumped up the dinghy and headed ashore. Prior to this leg of the trip we’d been rowing our Trinka dinghy ashore, so Josh was jazzed to try something new: the inflatable and a 4hp outboard. Not quite as classy or clean as a rowing dink, the inflatable certainly stows (and travels) much better when not in use, so we put up with its gasoline, heavy outboard, and unattractive appearance. But Josh loves it.


Josh wanted to get the lay of the land, so we beached the dinghy at the north end of the harbor and walked south through town, stopping along the way to read historical markers and peek into a few shops (there aren’t many). Again, Josh was chattering with questions and excitement, and I loved every minute of it.


Like most sailors, I suspect, we had to walk the docks at the municipal marina, a prospect Josh approached with a hint of trepidation due to my story from several years ago about a run-in with the harbormaster. If he’s still there, we didn’t run into him this time.

At the south end of town we visited the historical society and read all about the Irish and Mormon history on the island before heading back to the north end. Although I’ve been to Beaver Island a few times, I was surprised to discover at the northeast end of the harbor the Beaver Island Marine Museum. And imagine my joy when Josh begged to stop in. A kind lady greeted us and handed Josh a scavenger hunt sheet, telling him that he could win a prize if he found all of the artifacts listed therein. Away he went!

The museum preserves the island’s fishing heritage with numerous artifacts and pictures. Perhaps the coolest exhibit is the Bob S., an historic fishing tug.


Captain Josh at the wheel of the Bob S. fishing tug.

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Josh’s scavenger hunt diligence earned him a free postcard, while I had the joy of watching this kid’s enthusiasm and wonder.

We left the museum and walked south along the east side of the harbor to check out the entrance light and the view out over the north end of Lake Michigan.


After exploring the island, we ate lunch at Dalwhinnie’s and stocked up on groceries at McDonough’s before heading back to Ariel, our bellies full and our wonder satisfied.

We (or rather Josh) hauled anchor the next morning and set a course through Gray’s Reef Passage and on to the Mackinac Bridge, another landmark Josh was eager to see – this time from below. (I greased the bow roller after this, by the way. She’s quiet now!). Josh had hauled anchor in Charlevoix as well, so with this haul we decided to promote him from “barnacle” to “swab.” He was thrilled.

Summer cruising Part II (or fixing things)

With a new ZF Marine 12M gear from Trans Atlantic Diesels, Inc., my boys and I made the 5-hour drive back to Northport and Ariel on a Sunday. Installation was simple and the transmission slid right into place as it should. I knew that was the easy part. After all the jockeying/shifting of the engine to get the TMC gear to “fit,” I figured I was in for a tough time of aligning the engine and prop shaft. As it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. A few shifts and tweaks of the motor mounts had alignment looking good, and I had the transmission in and the shaft aligned within .004″ in three hours.

Really, the only major frustration was the original shift cable bracket – mounted on the back of the transmission – which was too short to position the shift cable properly so that the shift lever could travel equal distances forward and aft. I set the cable to ensure positive engagement in forward and reverse, and the next morning we hauled anchor and sea-trialed the new gear. With the transmission running smoothly – no vibrations or shifting issues – we motored into Northport marina and picked up a slip for the night to charge batteries, fill water tanks, and otherwise ready Ariel for cruising again. The plan was for the boys to sail together, but Jake was running a fever and feeling lousy, so he headed back home with my mom, leaving Josh and me to sail with grandpa. I was bummed to “lose” one of my boys, but being sick is never fun, especially on a boat away from home.


Hurth HBW 10 2 R in blue. ZF Marine 12M in the raw. For those wondering, a new ZF 12M from TAD runs $1700.


ZF 12M


Clearance was so tight I had to use the shift lever from the old Hurth. Ridiculous.


Gear in, aligned, filled with oil, and ready for action. Let’s hear it for another 37 years of service. (Fingers crossed).

We departed Northport Tuesday morning bound for Charlevoix and quickly found a nice breeze that allowed us the sail the entire way. We arrived in Charlevoix in a squall and just in time to catch the bridge opening into Round Lake.


Emerald Isle ferry departing Charlevoix for Beaver Island.


Channel from Round Lake into Lake Charlevoix.


Up North cruising is beautiful, and this little cut into Lake Charlevoix is no exception.


Lake Charlevoix ahead.

During the trip from Northport to Charlevoix a familiar creak from the steering system was noticeably worse. After losing a transmission this summer, I wasn’t about to risk another interruption, so once into Charlevoix we headed to Irish Boat Works and tied up at their courtesy dock. Cramming myself into the engine compartment once again, I loosened the steering cable and removed the suspect sheave pin.


Clearly the bronze pin had been rotating in the SS sheave mount. All of the other pins have anti-rotation locks to keep the sheave spinning on the pin, not the pin spinning on the mounting flanges. I talked with Edson, the maker of our steering system, and they said that replacement pins are now SS and $23.00 a pop. I sourced a SS clevis pin of the appropriate size for $5.00 and the system is silent and silky smooth once again. If you have an Edson system, ensure that your pins aren’t rotating. If they are, pull and inspect them.

We spent a couple nights anchored in Oyster Bay, one of our favorite spots, swimming and relaxing. It was nice to be cruising again and to have the transmission issue behind us. Sort of.

During our passage from Northport, I was troubled by a slight thrumming coming from the prop shaft as it freewheeled, so…once again I squeezed myself behind the engine, undid the coupling (and Drive Saver), and checked alignment, figuring that maybe the engine bouncing around on its mounts might have shifted alignment ever so slightly. At the end of this round of alignment, I couldn’t fit the .003″ feeler gauge between the output flange and the coupling. The pilot on the coupling slid smoothly into the output flange and the faces mated up about as perfectly as one could hope. I put everything back together and was immensely pleased to hear…nothing…during our boisterous passage from Charlevoix to Beaver Island.

We made a fast trip to Beaver Island under double-reefed main and staysail on a WSW wind blowing 25 kts and gusting to 30. Sailors unfamiliar with Lake Michigan sailing might be surprised by the waves the wind kicks up when it has sufficient fetch. Unlike the ocean, with a steady swell, Lake Michigan kicks up steep waves that are packed together, making the experience much like sailing an inlet or channel. Multiple wave patterns make things even more boisterous. I was glad I’d replaced the sheave pin. Pictures rarely convey wave height, but the pics below are of about 6′ waves.

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Even though we’d had a beautiful, clear day, a storm hit us just as we were approaching Beaver Island’s St. James Harbor. We anchored in a rain and enjoyed a beautiful sunset as the storm cleared – even witnessing a spectacular full rainbow.

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Beaver Island has long been a favorite anchorage – we even hosted a Cape Dory Rendezvous there in 2010. It was nice to be back.

Repost: Beaver Island Cape Dory Rendezvous, 2010

I’d nearly forgotten about a Lake Michigan Cape Dory site I created a few years ago. Digging through the posts, I thought this one was worthy of sharing here because of the handsome boats.



There could be no greater testimony to the high caliber of Cape Dory owners than a loosely planned event – hosted by a couple of newbies, no less – turning out to be a great time. And such was the case for the Lake Michigan rendezvous held Aug. 2-6 at St. James Harbor, Beaver Island, the relaxed island atmosphere and its natural beauty providing the perfect backdrop. Even without a carefully planned schedule, tours, or activities, there was plenty of good conversation, a congenial spirit, and a lot of enthusiasm for the event – and even excited talk about planning one for next year.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of Cathy Monaghan and Great Lakes Fleet Captain Ed Haley, who regularly posted registration reminders to the CD Board, 10 people registered for the event and four boats made the trip. Now this number might be small in comparison to some of our other fleets, but as our Dear Mr. Dunn pointed out in a recent issue of Masthead, the vastness of the Great Lakes shoreline tends to complicate things. (Some quick math indicates that the one-way mileage average of the four boats is roughly 160nm)

When Ariel and her crew, Dave and David VanDenburgh, arrived Sunday evening, August 1, we were greeted with a pretty harbor made more attractive by the presence of two Cape Dorys, SISU (CD28) and Spindrift (CD300MS). After anchoring and settling in, we dinghied over to SISU and met Guy Leslie and Jan Jones. Guy is a long-time Cape Dory owner (first a Typhoon Weekender, then a CD25) and the proud new owner of a beautiful CD28, SISU, which he purchased in Holland, MI, in September 2009 and brought to her new port in Traverse City. When he heard about the rendezvous, Guy was eager to meet up with other CD owners and said he “just had to make it.” And make it he did, taking SISU on their first extended trip together. Little did he know he’d have a few more opportunities to “get acquainted” with her as the week progressed. In the true spirit of a rendezvous, however, he found that he had plenty of support as he dealt with tough anchoring conditions and some transmission issues. Much to his credit, Guy remained optimistic and unflappable through it all.

Guy Leslie descending into the engine compartment to ferret out the cause of his transmission woes.
Guy Leslie aboard SISU.

Monday morning dawned rainy and windy, a 15-20 kt southwesterly setting in for much of the week. The gusts proved too much for SISU’s anchor and she began creeping downwind through the anchorage, her anchor fouled with weeds. Once SISU was safely re-anchored, we went ashore to meet Bill and Mary Kay Movalson, new owners of Spindrift, a very clean CD 300 Motorsailer out of Gladstone, MI, just north of Escanaba.

A weedy bottom made for tough anchoring.

Bill and Mary Kay Movalson’s CD 300 Motorsailer, Spindrift

Bill and Mary Kay purchased Spindrift in May and, like Guy, they were excited to hear about the Beaver Island rendezvous. Bill is quite the gadget/innovation guy and has already made a number of upgrades to the boat, including custom dinghy davits and pilothouse doors. Mary Kay is a gracious host and loves the comfortable ride and versatility afforded by the Motorsailer. Bill and Mary Kay had obligations in Mackinac and needed to get an early start in the morning, so the group enjoyed drinks and conversation aboard Spindrift before heading to Shamrock, a local restaurant. Just as we were leaving the dock, Mike Ritenour and Sue arrived aboard La Vida, a CD33. Rit and Sue, exhausted from their 60+ nm trip from Cheboygan (not to mention their earlier travels through Lake Superior and the Soo locks), opted to settle in for the night and anchored in the harbor.

La Vida anchored in St. James Harbor.

The group met in the morning for coffee and breakfast (and yet more great conversation), and then walked over the St. James Boat Shop to check on Bill, a skilled woodworker and old friend of Rit’s. Bill and his apprentice make fine cherry buckets and strip canoes. Sawdust covers the floor of the shop and partially completed boats hang from the ceiling or rest on sawhorses. After taking a bit of joshing from Bill, whose 80-something mind is as sharp as ever, Rit added another cherry bucket memento to his collection.

Old Bill splicing a handle for his cherry bucket.

After some exploring and stocking up on groceries, the group migrated to La Vida for drinks and conversation. Rit gave a tour of La Vida, which is absolutely decked out with gear, while Sue listened graciously. For those who don’t know, La Vida was a victim of hurricane Hugo and rescued by Rit, who has put some 60,000 miles under her keel since then. To say that she is equipped is an understatement. By Rit’s own account, even the Coast Guard during a courtesy inspection finally gave up trying to find fault when they realized they weren’t in the presence of your typical Weekend Warrior. Rit’s good nature and wonderful companion, combined with his considerable experience, made the time aboard La Vida a real privilege.

l-r: Michael “Rit” Ritenour, Guy Leslie, Sue

Two members came in by ferry: Kevin LeMans and Great Lakes Fleet Captain Ed Haley. Kevin had originally planned to sail Raconteur, his CD30, but crew plans fell through and he ended up camping on the island with his family and joining the group for breakfast. We hope to meet Raconteur in person at the next rendezvous! Ed Haley traveled and then traveled some more to make an appearance, and we are grateful for his dedication. After completing a 500-mile bike ride through Iowa with his son, Ed drove to Charlevoix and caught the ferry to Beaver Island, arriving just in time to sort out some transmission issues on SISU. Not surprisingly, Ed once owned a CD28, so his experience came in handy.

Dinner with the crew the night before departure.

Friday morning brought with it a shift in wind, giving everyone a fair wind home. We said our goodbyes over breakfast, courtesy of the GLF, and set a course for home. Rit, Sue and La Vida set out through Gray’s Reef Passage and on to Mackinac; Ariel headed south for South Manitou Island (and St. Joseph); and Ed and Guy messed about with SISU before Ed took the ferry back to Charlevoix. Despite his earlier transmission troubles, Guy made it home safely to Traverse City without a glitch.

Rit and Ed Haley say goodbye.

Although the newbies might like to take credit for a successful rendezvous, there’s no doubt that it was due to the unequaled character of your typical Cape Dory owner. After all, great boats pick great people. Perhaps there will be more great boats and great people next year?! We’ll keep you posted.

Ariel in early morning sunlight, departure day.

A cruising sailor’s creed

When I was 19 I spent a year living on a remote island in the Marshall Islands. During my time there I worked alongside the islanders, my neighbors and my hosts. I learned how to harvest coconut meat – their sole source of income – ripping open blisters on my tender palms as I ripped the tough coconut husk from the shell on a sharpened steel spike driven firmly into the ground. I taught their children in a thatched hut with a coral rock floor. When it rained heavily and the wind drove the rain in sideways under the thatched roof, I moved my students to the opposite side of the hut and kept right on teaching. I sat on woven grass mats in my hosts’ homes, playing cards or talking by lantern light late into the night about their past, their island, their adventures, their dreams. I delivered my condolences and the traditional bar of soap to a grieving family and paid my respects to the lifeless body, covered by a clean, white sheet, motionless atop a woven mat, hands folded peacefully across her chest. I attended yokwe parties and ate (sometimes I didn’t know what) whatever was put before me. Loathe to leave, I delayed my departure date repeatedly, radioing the secretary on the big island to say “one more week, one more week.” I wept when I said goodbye. I promised never to forget my island friends.


As a kid I had always loved fish and the water, so it was natural that I got hooked on snorkeling and spearfishing while I was on Woja.  Almost every day after I’d finished my work, I’d don my bathing suit, grab my mask and spear, and head to the water. I’d bring my fish to Elie, my next-door neighbor, and ask him which ones were edible and which weren’t. Elie taught me how to prepare the fish, and I would eat supper with him and his family. Elie was grateful for the fresh fish; his boys no longer valued the tradition of harvesting their own food from the sea, canned and processed foods proving too convenient. I was pleased that my sport was useful – if not entirely necessary – and part of his culture’s tradition.

Now I’m a high school teacher and a Lake Michigan sailor. I don’t teach in a thatched hut, I don’t husk coconuts, and I don’t spearfish. I satisfy my longing for adventure with summer sailing on Lake Michigan and camping trips to the Upper Peninsula – as if being dad to two energetic and imaginative young boys isn’t adventure enough.

When winter approaches, which is right about this time of year, I enjoy reading sailing blogs. Generally the photos of far-off exotic places bring me a little warmth during the cold Michigan winter. Lately, however, the photos have left me feeling a little…cold. Spearfishing, it seems, has become a popular sport among cruising sailors – at least those whose blogs I follow. Many of their blogs feature photos of stunning and enormous dead fish – and delectable recipes. I understand the allure – trust me, I do – but I’m troubled.

When I was into backpacking there was a motto: “Take only pictures; Leave only footprints.” A few years later, when I was obsessed with my classic ’74 Land Cruiser and off-roading, the motto was “Tread Lightly.” I’m beginning to think that it’s time cruising sailors come up with a similar creed.

I’m not a militant conservationist, but my time in the islands taught me – among many, many other things – to respect the local people and their resources. The photos and videos of sailors – transients, guests, interlopers, in some cases – harvesting far more fish for just themselves than I ever caught for my adopted Marshallese family troubles me, leaves me cold. I understand the allure, but I also understand the importance of treading lightly, respecting the native people, and leaving as little evidence of your presence as possible. Perhaps sailors need to add to their extensive tradition of aphorisms, proverbs, and sayings a new phrase: “Catch only the wind; Make nary a wake.”

U.P. Tradition (Warning: No sailing content)

We lived in Michigan for about 15 years before we discovered the beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula three years ago. Since that discovery, we’ve made it a summer tradition to spend at least a week camping, kayaking, fishing, and exploring the beautiful wilds of northern Michigan.

While previous years emphasized the hiking and camping, this year we decided to focus on the fishing. (Read about our two prior trips to the UP). I’d purchased fly fishing equipment for Carrie and the boys last winter – including waders for all of us and vests for the boys. Primarily we were after trout, but any fish on a fly rod is a good fish.

Our first stop on our way north was the fly shop at Gates Au Sable Lodge, where we picked up a few flies and an excellent book about fly fishing Michigan. Last summer, with the acquisition of a pop up trailer, we began the tradition of collecting bumper stickers, so we added a trout sticker to the pop up before leaving Gates and heading north across the Mighty Mac.


First night in Grayling.


Saying good morning to the Au Sable River.


Josh gets the honor of placing the first sticker.


Hopefully they’ll humor me for a few more years!


Crossing the Mighty Mackinac Bridge on a beautiful day.

We’d planned to camp at a site we found last summer, but we arrived late in the afternoon and drove from campground to campground before finally finding a (semi) vacant site six miles down a dirt road. I say a “semi-vacant” site because, although the site was empty, there was a reservation tag attached to the site post, indicating that someone had paid their fees and “set up” camp. It was the absence of ANY gear or sign of occupation that prompted me to ignore the tag, set up camp, and see what happened. Admittedly, Carrie and I were a bit apprehensive, hoping that 1) no one would show up to claim the site (on a motorcycle or some self-contained camper), and 2) if they did, they would be nice and not like Sea Bass on Dumb and Dumber. Afternoon turned into evening before we heard vehicles coming down the road toward the camp. Two scruffy looking dudes in a pickup pulled up in front of our site and gave me a weird look. I approached the truck and was relieved to find that they were very polite and had accidentally put their tag on the wrong post – they were occupying sites 1 and 2, but had mistakenly placed their tags on 2 and 3. Phew! Only after I knew the site was ours could I really relax and enjoy the up north beauty.


Tough view to beat.


Finally cooked supper when we were assured the site was ours.


Fishing, naturally, followed supper!


Love this place.


Two loons and their haunting cries made this place even more beautiful.

We spent a day simply lounging around the site, kayaking, fishing, relaxing in the hammock, and cooking over the campfire – s’mores, too, of course! Jake and Josh waded along the shore and caught a fair number of pumpkinseeds, bluegill, and the occasional perch and bass.

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After a lazy day at camp, we decided we needed to head to Pictured Rocks and do some hiking, so we loaded in the car and headed to Chapel Rock. The trail out to Chapel Rock is an easy hike that passes Chapel Falls on the way to Lake Superior. Just above the falls there’s a little spot in the creek that I fished last year. I had to try my luck there again, and fortunately Carrie and the boys humored me. Like last year, I pulled a little brook trout out of a loggy area.


Such a beautiful hike to Chapel Rock.


Chapel Falls


Dreaming about trout!


Chapel Rock and Lake Superior


Carrie’s first time in Lake Superior!


Another tradition: Picture in Lake Superior with my boys.


A blurry image of my (little) brookie.


Section of the river where the brook trout was hiding.


Happy hikers. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Since we hadn’t made any real itinerary, we made up each day as it came. Following a lazy breakfast, we headed back out to do some more hiking/sightseeing. We particularly wanted to visit a few places that we’d missed during our earlier trips, so we stopped by Miners Falls and Castle, and a silly little place called Horeshoe Falls where you can feed trout in a pond.

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My cool guidebook to fly fishing Michigan offered some tantalizing information about places elsewhere in the UP, and, eager to do more fishing, we broke camp and headed east toward Hemingway’s Two-Hearted River (yeah, I know Hemingway was really describing the Fox River, but this sounded like better fishing). After hours on washboard dirt roads, we arrived at a campground right on the bank of the Two-Hearted River. What I had hoped would be a pleasantly quiet and remote campground turned out to be occupied by several large RVs and their raucous, disrespectful, foul-mouthed owners, a fact we didn’t learn until evening when they all returned from canoeing and began speaking in ways that prompted Josh to call our remote piece of paradise an “R-rated campground.”

Eager to get away from the yahoos, we donned our fishing gear and headed for the river where it was peaceful, natural, and a whole lot more Hemingway-esque, I thought. The river is gorgeous and gave us plenty of time to relax and concentrate on our fishing. Jake and I hooked fish, but in both cases they broke our leader. It wasn’t until our second day on the river that I finally landed a pretty little rainbow. And it was on the morning of our second day, when the local-yokels broke camp and headed back to their cave, that we enjoyed the site’s true beauty, serenity, and a refreshing, cleansing dip in the river.

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The Two-Hearted River, despite the local “wildlife,” was good to us (I just hope the boys forget some of the language they learned that day), but we (well, Carrie was) were ready to try fly fishing the wide-open waters of the Au Sable River, so we loaded up and headed south, hitting one of our favorites, Tahquamenon Falls, on our way out before crossing the Mackinac Bridge.

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It’s always tough to say goodbye to the beauty up north.


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Grayling has plenty of her own beauty too, however, and gave us a proper welcome our first evening.

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The boys spent the evening learning how to shoot their newly-acquired slingshots – something every boy must have/do.

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The following morning, we stopped by Gates Fly Lodge again to get a little local information about fishing spots (and a few more flies!) and headed out to some fishing on the South Branch of the Au Sable.  This portion of the river is wide and easily waded, perfect for beginning and little fly fishers. I was hopeful that Carrie and the boys would experience the thrill of catching their first trout. As it turned out, Carrie and Jake got lucky, but poor Josh struck out. Poor little guy.


In search of trout.


Jake’s first first.


Jake’s second fish – slightly larger.


Carrie giving Josh a hand.


Lunch break.


Cute little photo bomber.


Carrie’s first trout!


My new 4wt fiberglass rod.


Jake and the scenic Au Sable.


My one and only brook trout.


Drying out on the morning of our departure.

We stopped by Cabela’s on our way home and stocked up on a few more flies and some great gear. Once again, the memories just keep getting sweeter. What a blessing to be able to do so much with the people I love SO much. Until next summer, Michigan.


Racing the Chicago-Mac

Well, I checked an item off my bucket list: I sailed the Chicago-Mackinac Race.

Elixir – a Catalina 400 – and her crew finished next to last in her section and 122nd overall (out of 334 boats). Not a stellar finish, but not too bad for a new skipper, boat, and crew – and a boat that underwent major repairs for weeks before the start of the race, which not only significantly limited practice time but threatened to keep the boat out of the race altogether.

We made the trip in 2 days, 9 hours, and 43 minutes (uncorrected), averaging 123nm/day. Winds were generally southerly, averaging about 10 knots. We saw everything from flat calm to a sustained 20-25kts and moderate seas. Both boat and crew did well with no significant complications (although yours truly managed to fall butt first through the forward hatch…lame). We ghosted under the Mackinac Bridge Monday evening in light air and slowly worked our way to the finish line at less than 2 kts with about 20 other boats.


The Elixir crew at the awards ceremony Tuesday afternoon. From left to right: Kurt, Me, Tim, Ron (captain), Scott, Bob. Although we didn’t receive an award, a safe trip with a good group of guys was rewarding enough – and I think most of us learned a lot on this trip, which certainly made it worthwhile.

Under the bridge!

Under the bridge!

Ron, Tim, and I delivered the boat to Chicago prior to the race late Wednesday evening in an attempt to beat some weather forecast to arrive Thursday morning. As luck would have it, I had come down with a nasty cold the previous weekend and made it worse by putting in 12-hour days rebuilding our front porch. Admittedly, I wasn’t too keen on pulling an all-nighter or heading over to Chicago so early. We departed St. Joseph under cloudy skies at 2155 and motored for Chicago in flat seas and light wind. Ron and Tim were kind enough to let me go below and rest. I turned in about 0100 and slept till 0500. When I awoke, we were about 5nm off of Chicago, the wind northerly about 10-15kts, a light rain falling. We motored past the outer light and rafted up on Tsunami, a Swan 42 tied up on the sea wall just north of the Chicago Yacht Club.

We spent most of Thursday scrubbing the deck, stowing and organizing gear, and taking care of last-minute items as a steady stream of boats arrived and rafted up in the harbor.


Early morning in Chicago, the day of our arrival.

Ron had originally intended that Elixir would have her mandatory pre-race inspection weeks earlier as part of the Queens Cup race, but an earlier night race to South Haven exposed a serious defect in the boat when the bilge suddenly starting fill with water. Ron returned to St. Joseph, had the boat hauled, and discovered that the aft end of the keel was separating from the hull. I’m not sure of the whole story, but it seems that  Elixir had sustained serious damage during prior ownership and been poorly repaired, leaving a number of voids in the keel stub and loads of fairing filler that provided no structural integrity. The severity of the damage suggested that Elixir and crew might be out of the race; however, thanks to Ron’s determination and a fast repair, Elixir was in Chicago on Thursday and passed her inspection with flying colors.


Inspection time.


Running up new sails to check fit and sheeting angles.



The forecast for race day wasn’t looking too promising: light winds out of the south about 5kts. As we headed out of the harbor and approached the starting area, the wind filled in nicely at about 8kts. We popped up the asymmetrical, cruised across the start line, and began a long diagonal toward Point Betsie on the east side of the lake. The wind continued nicely out of the south at 10kts for most of the day, falling off around dusk and then picking up after sunset. The weather turned out to be great. The lake was flat, and the wind held steady at 10-13kts out of the south, swinging SE and SW at times. We sailed just west of the rhumbline all the way to Point Betsie. At one point, we were in 6th position in our section, but we were becalmed on Sunday night and watched helplessly as lighter boats with more extensive sail inventories ghosted past us.


Heading to the starting area.


Tim and Scott




Mr. Foredeck Tim.


And…we’re racing!


End of the first day.


Asymmetrical pulling nicely.

By Sunday night the wind filled in and we sailed past Point Betsie and entered the Manitous with a looming thunderstorm over Wisconsin flashing lightning and threatening to overtake us. The wind backed, coming forward of the beam, forcing us to douse the asymmetrical and pop up a gennaker. As we rounded the point at Sleeping Bear Dunes, the wind piped up and we decided to douse the gennaker and fly under main and genoa. It was at this point that the sock jammed and we spent a few interesting minutes trying to sort out how best to drop the sail while Elixir dipped her rail a time or two. Eventually we blew the tack line and hauled the gennaker in under the boom and down the companionway. The excitement over, we sailed on through the night, arriving at the North Manitou light just after sunrise. We continued the rest of the way north toward Grays Reef under main and genoa with the wind off the starboard quarter at 25kts. Elixir cruised right along for hours, touching 9.6kts at one point. Sadly, several other boats were able to fly spinnakers during that long downwind passage, allowing them to slowly work their way past Elixir.


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Although the wind was forecast to be light through the Straits of Mackinac, we had a steady 13kts on the beam once through Grays Reef Passage, allowing us to once again hoist the asymmetrical and make a steady 7.5kts toward the Mackinac bridge.

Just a few miles from the bridge the wind went light and came aft. We did our best to jibe our way toward the bridge, dodging the occasional lake freighter. Finally, accompanied by a few other boats, we ghosted under the Mackinac bridge.


On the west side of the bridge. Almost under.


We played leapfrog for a bit with this beautiful Offshore 36, Flying Buffalo.


Eventually the Offshore 36’s massive sail inventory gave them the edge.


Dozens of boats wait patiently to cross the finish line.

After 2 days, 9 hours, 43 minutes, we crossed the finish line at less than 2kts at 2144, fired up the diesel, and headed for our assigned dock. Inside the harbor, music from The Pink Pony thumped and pulsed over the water as racers celebrated their finish. The music made it impossible to hear anything aboard Elixir, but I went about readying dock lines and fenders in preparation for the raft up. As Elixir nosed down a narrow fairway and sailboats fell into line behind us, awaiting their chance to tie up, we heard someone on the dock yelling and flashing lights at us. Just audible over the Pink Pony music, “Elixir! Don’t dock here. Don’t dock here. Turn on your radio!” Ron got on the radio and learned from the harbormaster that he had heard the wrong slip assignment. After some close quarters maneuvering, we eased Elixir into open water and turned her bow toward her proper dock, finally rafting up around 2230. The crew enjoyed appropriate celebration and congratulations before calling it a night and falling into a well-earned sleep.


Rafting up in Mackinac on the Arnold Transit Company dock.

Tuesday morning Bob, Kurt, and I headed into town for breakfast and some sightseeing. It was my first time on the island (I’d sailed into the harbor a couple years ago). We spent the remaining time eating good food, napping, and hanging out on the boat. Racers are forced off the docks by 1000 Wednesday morning, so Ron, accompanied by his brother-in-law, Mark, left the raft up around 0800 and pointed Elixir’s bow toward Grays Reef and St. Joseph while the rest of us boarded a ferry for Mackinaw City and home.


Church on Mackinac.


Saying goodbye to Mackinac Island.


Back home with my boys!



Summer 2009 Slideshow

I stumbled upon this slideshow of our 2009 summer cruise on my dad’s YouTube channel. I’d forgotten he put it together.

Counting My Blessings – Summer Memories (or, what we do when we’re not sailing)

We’ve lived in Michigan for nearly 16 years now, but it wasn’t until last year that we discovered just how much natural beauty Michigan’s upper peninsula has to offer – and I’m talking beauty comparable to the mountains and country I knew as a kid growing up in California. Even though we’ve come to love this place because of Lake Michigan, it wasn’t until that summer, after spending a week exploring the Picture Rocks area in the U.P., that I felt that genuine deep-down kind of pride to be a Michigander. In fact, we loved it so much and had such a fantastic time we decided it needed to become an annual tradition. So we did it again this summer, hitting some of the same places and adding a few new sights to the list.

But first the highlights from Summer 2013:


We camped in Munising, on the southern shore of Lake Superior. Clearly one of the boys was more jazzed about it than the other. It rained for much of the week that we were there, but we didn’t let it dampen our spirits too much.


The rain broke long enough for us to enjoy our tour of Pictured Rocks by boat.


If I remember correctly, this is called Battleship Row.


This awesome feature is called Chapel Rock. Notice the roots linking the tree to its life source.


Miners Falls.


Two little boys and a big rock.


The beautiful root beer-colored Tahquamenon Falls.


We visited the shipwreck museum at Whitefish Point.


IMG_8534 Fantastic rock formations and beautifully clear water.


We even stopped and toured the Soo Locks.


And, of course, we managed to do a little fly fishing – but not a lot of catching.

This summer (2014) we enjoyed significantly improved accommodations during our trip north thanks to the acquisition of a Jayco pop-up trailer. This little beauty was given to us by some friends and, after camping in the rain last summer, it promised a more refined experience (not that we’re opposed to tent camping, but let’s be honest…wet and tent don’t go together well).


Since I had spent most of the summer wrapping up ESL certification (yes, more summer classes – ugh!), Carrie took charge of the trip itinerary and lined up a tantalizing list of sights. Once I’d finished up my last exam, we loaded up and headed north.


U.P. here we come!


First campground. First night in the pop up.


We stayed at a campground just a couple of hours north of home.


Early-morning beauty.


Our first breakfast in the pop up. Yes, plush, I know.


Officially entering the north country! Crossing the Mackinac Bridge and the Straits of Mackinac.

Our first stop in the U.P. was the Indian Lake campground near Manistique. Upon arriving, I was a bit put off by all of the weekend-warriors with their fifth-wheels, ski boats, generators, and noisy groups – I much prefer a rustic campground over full electrical hookups and hot showers – but the weekend crowd quickly thinned out by the next morning (a Monday).


Living large in the Jayco!


And cooking is so much easier. CJ’s happy.


Ain’t nothing better than brothers.


Sunset swing.


First night at Indian Lake.

Part of the reason Carrie chose the Indian Lake campground was because it was close to Kitch-iti-kipi (did that from memory…now to check Google for spelling. Yes, got it right!). Kitch-iti-kipi, which means “The Big Spring,” is just that: Michigan’s largest freshwater spring. Not only is the water amazingly and beautifully clear, but it’s also home to a healthy trout population. And for a fly fisherman like me, who fishes more than he catches, seeing all those beautiful fish was torture – and pretty darn cool.

Visitors to the spring can crank themselves across the deep pool on a floating observation deck that allows a birds eye view of the springs and fish.


The floating observation “ferry” is a sort of chain ferry that visitors crank across the pool and back.


Obligatory family pic.


Look at all those fish!

Back at the campground we wasted no time trying out our new Sea Eagle inflatable kayaks. Some other friends of ours told us we “had” to buy one, so I went online, ordered one at closeout pricing, then ordered another when my parents decided they wanted one too. I’m glad we had two on the trip. Although we crammed all four of us into one, it wasn’t comfortable.


The Sea Eagles and their crew.


Indian Lake has an average depth of about 8′ and is only 15′ deep at its deepest. It’s a great place to swim, float, and relax.


Paddling with my boy.

Our next stop was to the north, once again back in the Pictured Rocks lakeshore. Carrie had originally hoped to camp along the shore of Lake Superior at 12-mile campground, but we arrived there late and just missed the last available site. (We quickly learned that getting a campsite in the Pictured Rocks area can be a cutthroat, no-holds-barred event). We continued on down the road to a campground not too far away and were fortunate enough to find an empty spot, which we quickly snatched up. The next day we site hopped and set up camp in a prime spot overlooking a small lake. The spot was so beautiful we changed our plans and stayed there for several days, making day-trips to the various sights along the lakeshore.


The water was beautiful; the leeches not so much.


Enjoying a lazy paddle with my wife.


Rub-a-dub-dub, four peeps in an inflatable kayak.


The boys had a blast catching frogs along the shore.


Josh’s new buddy.




Little fisherman Jake honing his fly rod skills while mommy lazily paddles around the lake.


Josh and I stalked a few fish along the shore – mostly little perch and bluegill. Although we did score a bass or two.


I admire Jake’s persistence. He got pretty good at casting the fly rod.


Life is good!


Spectacular view.

The weather couldn’t have been better during our time in the UP – it was positively perfect! We spent one day hiking along the Superior shore out to the Au Sable light station. The trail parallels the beach, so there are several opportunities to climb down and hike along the rocks and sand.

The Au Sable light trail starts at the mouth of Hurricane Creek. The view is typical of Superior beauty.

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We had enough time left in the afternoon to drive to the Log Slide, which got its name from the lumbering days when large logs were slid down the dune to lake, bound together and floated to harbor. If you’ve been to Sleeping Bear Dunes and made the run down to the water and the long, tiring hike back to the top of the dune, you have an idea of the Log Slide. Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the two places, however, is the sign at the top of the Log Slide warning visitors that the nearest emergency response team is a long way away and cell phone coverage is spotty enough that there are no guarantees a call will go through in the event of an emergency. With the day coming to an end, we opted to enjoy the view from the top of the slide.

As it turned out, we arrived just in time to witness a “rescue.” An older woman had hiked down with her son and pooped out during her climb back to the top. We watched from the top of the dune as a Sheriff’s boat sped from the harbor in Grand Marais, met the woman at the base of the dune, loaded her up and took her back to Grand Marais, where her husband would have to pick her up. Thankfully everyone was okay.

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The introduction to the Pictured Rocks shoreline by boat the previous year was grand and breathtaking, but we wanted a different perspective and experience this year, so we decided to hike the Chapel Creek trail to Chapel Falls and, ultimately, to Chapel Rock right on the Superior shore. What a fantastic experience! Swimming with my boys in Lake Superior for the first time will be one of the high points in my life. Eating lunch perched on a ledge next to Chapel Rock, overlooking the turquoise water of Lake Superior, as tourists were ferried by in the tour boats and a little chipmunk scampered around chattering at us, was absolutely sublime. There, at that moment, it was clear why people love the U.P. so much and how the north country can lay hold of your heart, calling you back year after year.

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Since this trip was the beginning of a new tradition, we decided to start a sticker collection on the Jayco to mark our travels.



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We passed by Tahquamenon Falls on our drive back toward the Mackinac Bridge, so we decided to stop and see the falls again. Carrie and I remarked to each other that there seemed to be a lot less color to the falls this year. Comparing this year’s picture to one from last year, we realized why: there was significantly more water going over the falls this time last year, which would make sense since it rained almost the whole week last year.

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One of our last stops was Oswald’s Bear Ranch. Roar! Of course we picked up another sticker for the trailer.



Leaving the north country behind us…until next year.

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To Grand Haven and Back

One of the best things about sailing Lake Michigan’s eastern shore is the many great harbors every 20-40nm. And one of the best ways to get that getting-away-from-it-all feeling is to sail to a different Lake Michigan destination. It may be a 20-minute drive by car, but when you get there by a six-hour sail, it really feels like an accomplishment – and a different place. I compare the feeling of arriving in port to the feeling I’ve had walking down a quaint cobblestone street in Toledo, Spain, or some other equally foreign town: everything looks and feels different. And you don’t have to go far to feel far away from home.

This past summer Jake and I traveled with my parents (and their dogs) up to Grand Haven and back. Departing St. Joseph – the wind light to non-existent – we kept the engine on a motored in the fog toward South Haven for our first stop. Jake, lulled by the rhythm of the water and the thrum of the diesel, feel asleep almost immediately. We arrived in South Haven about six hours later, tied up in a slip, and watched as an impressive system rolled through.

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South Haven is an attractive port on the Black River. The municipal marina has slips on the north and south side of the river, although the slips on the south side make it an easy walk to town. We spent a day or two lazing about on the boat, strolling into town occasionally for a meal, as we waited for the weather to improve. We also visited the Michigan Maritime Museum, which has a pretty cool collection for a such a small town.


Jake poses in front of a lifeboat that is part of the museum’s life-saving exhibit.


Friends Good Will, a replica of a Great Lakes tall ship, is available for tours or charters.


Ariel tied up at the municipal marina.

We sailed north past Saugatuck and Holland, the next two ports beyond South Haven, and tied up along the seawall in Grand Haven. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of the Grand Haven – or its seawall – for a few reasons: 1) the river is dirty and leaves a nasty mess on Ariel’s topsides; 2) the river traffic bounces the boat around, so I’m constantly worried about a fender popping out of place and the hull rubbing against the steel seawall (not good!) – as it was, there was enough motion that even the smooth fender rubbed the topsides enough to dull the gelcoat; 3) the path along the seawall is busy with bikers and pedestrians, so there’s little privacy. On the flip side, the musical fountain is a real treat…for the kids (again, I’m not too jazzed about it, either). There are some great restaurants and coffee shops, however. And if you’re into shopping, there are several boutiques, etc. Jake, my mom, and I found a nearby miniature golf place and spent an hour or so humiliating ourselves chasing golf balls.


Entering Grand Haven channel.


Tied up on the seawall. Local traffic heading in.


The musical fountain is located on the hill just under the sun.


Tying the dinghy alongside Ariel and putting out fenders to keep her from banging into the boat.


You’re never too old for a selfie.

Although my parents had said that they planned to head farther north, the combination of fog and dogs prompted them to make Grand Haven their northernmost port. We sailed out of Grand Haven bound for South Haven and, ultimately, St. Joseph. Once out of the Grand Haven channel, I put the fishing line in the water – as we always do – hopeful we’d hook a salmon. Sure enough, we hooked a beauty – exactly what we were eager to catch before the trip was over.


The rest of the trip home was a lazy sail under drifter in a light fog.

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And here’s a brief video of the drifter in action.

What we did last summer – Part II

Here it is, March 17, 2014, nine months after our sailing trip in June of 2013. And here I am, sitting in the living room in the early-morning quiet of spring break, the boys still asleep, replaying in my mind the snapshots of last summer: Jake lazily dangling an arm over the side of the dinghy on a warm, still afternoon; Josh eagerly cranking on the fishing reel in the hope of hauling in a beautiful silver salmon; both boys cuddling with their grandpa as he reads to them. The snapshots are almost endless, and entirely invaluable. And they’re a big part of why we sail.


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The four boys – my dad, Jake, Josh, and I – cruised for three weeks last summer. Although we would have liked to have had more of the family along, summer school and other commitments tied them to the dock. The boys had been chattering excitedly about Beaver Island, at the top of the lake, so without any definite plans, dates, or deadlines we set off for points north.

They say in these parts that if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes. Our departure day was one of those crazy Michigan days when the lake is a flat calm and there isn’t so much as a breath of wind – a little surprising for early June. We hoisted the drifter and waited well beyond 5 minutes for a change. When the weather refused to cooperate, we fired up the diesel late in the afternoon and motored for Holland.

The first evening was a spectacular reminder of why we love this lake!

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With the thrum of the diesel in the background, we soaked in the first sunset of the trip, snacked on some tasty treats, and enjoyed being together on the boat.

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We arrived in Holland well after dark and found our usual anchorage occupied by a barge and tug, so we picked up a vacant mooring ball in front of Eldean Shipyard.

Perhaps because we slept in late, we decided to spend the day in Holland. My little fishermen were eager to see what treasures Lake Macatawa would yield, so we fished (without luck) and rowed around in the Trinka.

The boys’ first boat-based fishing experience was quite the laugh. The prospect of baiting their hook with a squirming worm was almost more than they could handle, but it was time for them to learn – there was no way I was going to be baiting hooks for the entire trip! What followed was a discussion of the finer points of annelid anatomy.

This season was our first cruise with the Trinka 10, which we purchased fall of 2012, and although we decided long ago that towing a dinghy is too much hassle, the desire to teach the boys to row and sail outweighed the negatives. Beyond that, as readers of this blog might know, I had a 7′ Fatty Knees as a kid, and the Trinka is my second chance at acting like a kid again. I stepped the mast, bent on the sail, and relived my younger years.

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