Tag Archives: south haven

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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Plans change with the weather around here

We’d planned to make another trip back to White Lake (or at least some distance north) Wednesday of last week, sailing through the night to arrive in the morning.  The weather, however, had other plans.  A healthy northwest wind greeted us as we exited the channel at 1800 under double-reefed main and staysail and began pounding our way …north… west.  It was going to be a long night.

By 2100 we were only 5nm north of St. Joseph, and the weather was deteriorating.  Sailing is supposed to be fun, and the prospect of pounding into wind and waves all night only to make Holland 40nm away by morning, combined with a storm system that was moving through the area, convinced us to turn back for home.  The lightning display off our starboard beam assured us that we’d made the right decision.

Storms and foul winds kept us “in harbor” for a couple of days, but we planned to head out again on Friday, this time for New Buffalo, with a following wind.  Too bad we didn’t think to call ahead to make a reservation.  New Buffalo, it turns out, was booked.  After daysailing off St. Joseph, we spent the night aboard, determined to go somewhere soon.

We set off for South Haven late Saturday morning, with a light following wind (8-10kts) and plenty of sunshine.  The trip north was uneventful, and the boys took turns at the helm as Ariel coasted along under drifter.

Sailing toward South Haven under drifter.

Jake at the helm.

Dad at the wheel.

Josh wanted to swim, so we rigged up a swing and dragged him through the water. He loved it.

My mom drove up and met us in South Haven for dinner and ice cream.  We had a lovely walk through town, then mom and dad drove back to St. Joseph, leaving Carrie, the boys, and me on the boat.

Ariel tied up at South Haven Municipal Marina. (She’s to the left of the power cruiser to the right of center in the image).

Originally we’d planned to spend the night in South Haven and then head home the next day, but the weather was too nice to stop so we caught a gentle southwest wind and rode it to Saugatuck for our first ever visit by water.  We tied up at Coral Gables ($2.50/ft = $90!) on the east side of the river and right in the middle of the action.

Lazy sailing north with a following wind.

Tied up at Coral Gables. Didn’t think to get a pic of the docks.

Saugatuck is an eclectic blend of artsty small-town and hipster coffee-shop types with an annoying party element on the waterfront.  The town itself is very cute and quaint, with a chain ferry and paddlewheel riverboat, a number of old buildings, and a riverfront park and bandstand.  The docks around Coral Gables and the Singapore Yacht Club to the south tend to be busy and noisy.  We fell asleep around 2300 to the sounds of Michael Jackson and Sonny and Cher karaoke coming from a nearby bar called The Annex.

For $90 a night, I think we’ll opt to anchor on the lake during our next visit.

Winds for our return to St. Joseph were forecast to be (big surprise) SW’erly – right on the nose – until later in the day when they were expected to veer west, which they never did.  We departed around 1100 and beat our way south under main, staysail, and jib in a 10-12 knot breeze.  Although the wind could have been from a better direction, the day was perfect – clear skies, moderate seas, and a steady wind.

Carrie and the boys singing silly songs.

Four long tacks about 8nm offshore carried us past South Haven by around dusk.  Several shorter tacks in a decreasing wind carried us about 7nm north of St. Joseph before the wind went flukey.  Once again, lightning off to the west prompted us to call it quits, drop sail, and steam for home.  We arrived in the slip just before 0400 and decided to spend what was left of the night aboard.  We awoke a couple hours later to lightning and the sound of thunder and heavy raindrops.  It was nice to be in our slip rather than on the water.

Nearly there.

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