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