Monthly Archives: November 2014

Ariel’s Famous (sort of…not really)

Ariel and her crew made the local paper back during her haul out in October. I guess it must have been an extremely slow day for the Herald-Palladium because a photographer stopped by the marina to shoot a few pictures around the yard. My dad and I just happened to be “supervising” Ariel’s haul out at the time. I answered a few questions which, naturally, got slightly distorted between my mouth and the printing. Never did I say we’ve visited nearly every port on Lake Michigan. Rather, I said we’ve visited nearly every port on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. But whatever. Perhaps it illustrates why that was the first time I ever bought an issue of the Herald-Palladium.


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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Getting Stuff Done

I wrapped up a couple of sewing projects recently that have been hanging over my head. It’s nice to have them finished. My work schedule doesn’t allow a lot of free time for the things I want to do, and to have must-do sewing projects lingering is a significant stressor – especially when they need to be done before winter weather sets in, as was the case with these last two projects.

The first was a cover for a Zodiac 420. The old cover was a generic, unfitted cover with a bungee/elastic bottom. It had become stiff and the stitching had failed on one of the seams. I thought a nice fitted cover would be more practical because the boat sits on a floating dock/ramp just out of the water. Shock cord attached to rub rail clasps secure the cover to the hull, and four nylon straps can be used for trailering or added security. A collapsable aluminum pole in the middle ensures that even pitch is maintained from the motor to the bow pulpit. I constructed the cover out of TopGun, an 11.5 oz. acrylic-coated woven polyester.


The second and far more labor-intensive project was the construction of a winter cover for a Cape Dory 25D, also out of TopGun. The boat is stored mast up, so constructing the cover required careful measurements and extra detail work to seal around shrouds and stays.

I ordered 37 yards of material for the CD25D cover and had only a few scraps left over when I finished. Normally I like to have more extra material on hand just in case, but from a cost perspective, it came out perfectly. The cover took far more time than I anticipated, and there’s no doubt that I came out on the losing end of this one. This was also the first time I used TopGun. It’s certainly a durable fabric, but it is very slippery, which means that feeding it smoothly through the machine can be a challenge. It’s also quite stiff, so a big pile in a small space can make for frustrating sewing. I wouldn’t use it as cover material for a bigger boat, that’s for sure. I designed the cover in two pieces that attach at the mast and shrouds. The two sections are rolled and ready for installation in the picture below.


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Winter cover for a CD25D

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.

Local Collection of Maritime Tragedy

Somewhere west of South Haven and Benton Harbor, about 20 miles from shore, Northwest Airlines flight 2501 disappeared into a stormy Michigan night June 23, 1950. Bound for Minneapolis from New York, flight 2501’s disappearance was one of the worst crashes of the time. Although Coast Guard search parties recovered some debris and body parts, they were unable to locate major wreckage, providing an indication of the crash’s severity. According to the official accident report, divers descended to 150′ in search of wreckage but found nothing, only an estimated 50′ of silt at the lake bottom. To this day, the cause of the accident remains a mystery.

Several years ago a local Lake Michigan shipwreck group – Michigan Shipwreck Research Association – teamed up with author Clive Cussler with the goal of discovering the wreckage of NWA 2501. One of the research association’s founders, Valerie van Heest, a Holland, Michigan, resident and author of Fatal Crossing: The Mysterious Disappearance of NWA Flight 2501 and the Quest for Answers, became intimately acquainted with the stories of the 58 passengers and crew whose lives were lost during the crash.

During one of our sailing trips this summer we stopped in South Haven and spent several hours touring the Michigan Maritime Museum, a neat little museum located on the Black River. We were pleasantly surprised when we discovered that the museum had an exhibit dedicated to NWA 2501 – an exhibit that van Heest personally designed.


NWA 2501 left behind little evidence, but van Heest has assembled an interesting collection of artifacts, stories, and details about the crash. Her collection – and her book – is a touching tribute to the families whose lives were changed forever that night. It is also just one of the many aspects of Lake Michigan that make this area such an interesting place to live and sail.

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