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Sault St. Marie to Mackinac City, MI

In this email, we started at the yellow dot at Sault St. Marie, Michigan. We did an overnight trip to Whitefish in Lake Superior, then returned to Sault St. Marie, but this time to the Canadian side. After exploring some, we made our way to Mackinac Island and then to Mackinac City in Lake Huron. We then did a side trip to Beaver Island, in Lake Michigan, only to have to backtrack and go to Cheboygan, back in Lake Huron, for repairs to our stabilizer system. We finally finished this leg at the blue dot, Mackinac City.

Friday, Aug. 18 Sault Saint Marie, MI

Well, we returned from our wedding in France and our side trip to Sweden to visit Karin and Bjorn. It was a long ride from Detroit and for poor Jason who did not sleep on the plane, a 20 hour travel day.

While transferring flights in Amsterdam, we are sitting and reading and Jason says “uh oh”. He had broken a tooth just sitting there. We were actually able to get him an appointment in Sault St. Marie, miracles of miracles, but it still took 4 days to repair the tooth.

Nancy rented a car and got Radar groomed. They groomed him a little too much, and now he looks like a cross between a hound dog and a chihuahua.

Jason did many tests on the batteries. Somehow the system thinks the batteries are charging but after charging them 80% (doesn’t matter whether on shore power or generator) the chargers switch to float mode. They don’t seem to understand that the boat is still using power, so we are actually losing battery voltage once we are in float mode. Jason suspects the shunt interface (not made by either master volt or c-zone) is the problem. We have also confused the system by adding a second battery charger. They are never both charging. Jason asked someone at Master Volt if their was anyone there who understood both MasterVolt and C-Zone (they are owned by the same company) or was he looking for an unicorn. The guy said it would be easier to find a unicorn.

Nancy and Jason did give themselves one down day to rest and recover from the trip (although Jason said since he went to the dentist first thing in the morning, it didn’t count for him). We could have left on Friday, but the wind was blowing 25-30 from the west, which were definitely no go conditions for us on Lake Superior.

We visited the museum tanker ship, The Camp Valley. All the years spent circling and checking out cargo ships on the Chesapeake, neither had ever been inside one. It was really cool. This one had been coal/steam powered. It took sooooo much coal! The floor of the ship was quarter inch steel, but it was rippled and dented from the years of hauling iron ore. Nancy was disappointed in the ship’s wheel which was a basic 3 ft. metal wheel you could find on any pleasure craft.

We watched a movie about a cargo ship that went down who lost 27 of the 29 men aboard. In the storm, the ship snapped in half. Turns out that in such horrendous sea conditions, the old 1950’s life jackets didn’t stay on the men. Maybe not the best movie to watch when heading out to Lake Superior’s graveyard of 550 ships the next day.

Sat. Aug. 19

Nancy and Jason left at 9 am and went through the MacArthur lock on the American side, right next to the large glass enclosed grandstand filled with spectators looking at the super cargo ships locking through. The lockmaster threw down braided half inch line, which would not have held the boat if any real force was applied. However, the ride up was smooth as silk, so the other cruiser and tug boat behind us had nothing to worry about.

We had a nice 40 mile trip in to Lake Superior. The wind was 10 knots from our port quarter, so we had the Seakeeper on to help stabilize the boat in case the seas got worse. As we were leaving, Coast Guard put out a wind warning for Whitefish Point, where we were headed. The prior forecasts had said the wind wouldn’t pick up until late afternoon. We decided to cruise at a plane for 40 minutes to be on the safe side and arrive earlier. We probably should have kept our speed for a little longer because by the time we came into Whitefish harbor, Jason was concerned about the seas kicking the boat around while we zigged zagged in between the steel jetty walls.

We had been warned that the harbor entrance shoaled frequently, fortunately we made it in with a foot and a half of water under us. The slip was very narrow and it was quite windy, Jason did a great job backing the boat in. One of the other boaters met us at the finger dock which was very helpful.

We got out our e-scooters and headed over the Lake Superior Shipwreck Museum and the memorial to the Edmund Fitzgerald, from the famous shipwreck song.

Despite some diving excursions, they never did find out what sunk her.

She had been taking on water and had lost her Radar, but the last radio contact, the captain reported that they had stabilized the situation. No one survived. Today, no one is allowed to dive the wreck as a memorial not only to its sailors but all the other sailors who lost their lives here.

There was a lot of good but scary information on some of the 550 ships that had wrecked off that point of land. A surprisingly large number had sunk due to colliding with other tankers. The shipping channel into Sault St. Marie hugs that point. Many of them seemed preventable if the captains had only slowed down due to fog or poor visibility or avoided shipping in November. Captains who collided with other boats only received a slap on the wrist. One boat had sunk 8 other ships! However, it was this dangerous point of land that helped create today’s US Coast Guard. In the first few years, the number of shipwreck deaths in the area decreased by 85%.

The wind had picked up and the waves off the lighthouse point were 3-4 feet on this warm summer day. Jason and I both agreed that neither one of us would have liked to row one of the life saver row boats 2 miles out in those conditions much less into November storm force winds.

The forecast shifted once more and the calm weather window predicted for Sunday morning disappeared. Monday was supposed to have gale force winds. Jason and Nancy decided to wake up at sunrise and hope for a calm spell as the wind clocked around to the west.

Sunday, Aug. 20th Sault St. Marie Canada. Nancy and Radar watched a beautiful sunrise over Lake Superior. Fortunately, the wind had calmed. Jason and I were going by 6:30 am. Just as we entered into the bay for the Sault St. Marie locks, the wind started to pick up. We couldn’t go to the marina until noon, so we explored some of the shore line first. Had another smooth locking on the Macarthur lock. Crossed over to Canada. There was a fair bit of current and wind at the entrance and Jason had to abort the first try while a tour boat was bearing down on us. Jason decided to turn the boat around inside the protected marina and that worked much better. It took us about 30 minutes to clear customs over the phone.

Bondar Marina turned out to be named after Canada’s first female astronaut going up on a NASA shuttle. There was a lot of great public art and a wonderful waterfront arena and many biking trails. We ate at a nearby BBQ place for dinner.

Monday, Aug. 21 Gawas Bay, ON

We headed down the Canadian side of the St Mary’s river through St. Joseph channel. There wasn’t a breath of wind and Lake George acted as a giant mirror. We went past one group of islands that we could have anchored at, but the islands weren’t quite tall enough to protect if the wind picked up. We were excited to anchor behind Picture Island, where the chart showed two anchorages in 16 feet of water. However, when we poked in, it was 50 feet all the way up to the cliffs. We tried a third anchorage to no avail. We decided to go farther down river and into a long inlet with cottages on one side and trees on the other. It wasn’t the beautiful and isolated anchorage Nancy had been hoping for. It did have a beach around the corner where Radar had a lot of fun. It had a wide shallow shelf that he liked to wade in.

Tuesday, Aug. 22 Portlock Island, ON After checking the chart more carefully, we decided to go a little down river and across to back side of Portlock Island. Fortunately, the first cove on the right was a perfect protected anchorage with cottages only in the distance. Jason used the dinghy to wash the hull of the boat and Nancy polished the stainless steel railings and portholes. Jason and Nancy took advantage of the last nice day for a while to do a long exploration by dinghy. We let Radar free on a small island only to be horrified to find there were hundreds of three inch nails on the ground. A cottage must have burned down there in the past. The only other empty rock island was challenging to bring the dinghy into so Nancy and Radar scrambled while Jason waited in the dinghy for us. Fortunately, there was a much easier place to go to shore right near the boat, which came in handy over the next three rainy days. Nancy and Jason read, watched tv and napped and slept. It was glorious and the scenery was absolutely spectacular.

Friday, Aug. 25—Hilton Beach, ON We had our shortest day of the trip, just crossing the river to go to Hilton Beach Marina, so that Jason could change the oil on the generator. Afterwards, we took our e-scooters through the town, which had an adorable small library and a general store. Met a nice couple from St. Louis and had docktails with them. Then Jason and I had dinner at - and I'm not kidding here - the Tilt’n Hilton restaurant.

Saturday Aug. 26—De Tour Harbor Nancy woke up in the middle of the night to Jason cursing. Turns out there was water on the floor of our bedroom. Fortunately, it was not an accident from Radar! Unfortunately, the water was coming from behind Nancy’s closet where the Hot Water Heater was located. The next morning, Jason dismantled Nancy’s closet and found a plastic to metal joint was leaking. We had planned to anchor out in the Drummond islands, but decided to go to De Tour Harbor Marina where there was a hardware store. Had a calm 20 mile route through the Drummond Islands to the marina on the inlet into Lake Huron. When Nancy went to check what time the hardware store closed, she found out that it was not open on the weekends. However, due to Jason’s skill, he was able to repair the problem with the tools on hand.

Sunday, Aug 27Les Cheneaux Islands Had another calm day with a following breeze, going about 7 and half knots. Nancy had the helm. There were white plastic sticks with flags on them. The book said those could be nets and while you could go through them you needed to stay clear of the white sticks because that is where the nets came to the surface. At the first row of white sticks in about 20 ft of water, Nancy adjusted course to go on the outside of the stick. She didn’t see any nets though. A few miles later, there was another white stick, but we were in 77ft of water, which seemed very deep to deploy nets. If there were other white sticks they were at least a quarter to half mile away, but there were black floats.

Nancy once again went to the outside of the white stick and gave it about 150 ft of room, which turns out was not nearly enough because it was a net and by the time she saw it and put the boat in neutral it was too late and we ran over the net which made a clunking sound as it hit the propellers. Our momentum carried us forward. Jason took the helm and Nancy ran back to see if we had a net trailing the boat or any ropes floating near the back of boat. She didn’t see anything. Jason put the boat into reverse with the hope of unwrapping anything that had wrapped around the prop. Nothing came to the surface. We were able to return to our original speed at the same rpm. After a few minutes, we sped her up to full speed and didn’t notice any vibration or cavitation. We dodged a bullet (or in this case a net) and the line cutters on our prop shafts did their job!

We entered the Les Cheneaux Islands, locally called “the snows”, and into a bay of 8-12 ft of water. Found a great, remote anchorage near a small beach (rare where the shoreline is primarily rocky). We used the dinghy to take a small cut to the outside of the island chain, passing half a dozen beautiful antique wooden boats. We were disappointed that the outside facing beaches were also quite rocky. We decided to stay outside and circle back to the main entrance. The water kept changing from 30ft to 2-3ft, which kept us on our toes until it dawned on us to use the hand held GPS that we had brought to see where the rocks were! Most of the shore was rocky limestone lined, with ragged rocks the size of cobble stones. We found one 20ft section of sand by the point but it was barricaded by rocks, so Nancy jumped out of the dinghy with the dog while Jason waited for Radar to finish his business. Radar's obsession with feathers is only getting worse.

When we got back to the boat, the generator stopped working. Turns out the impeller needed to be changed. Unfortunately for Jason there was no easy access panel, so he had to dismantle the casing of the generator. However, he had the correct replacement and the accompanying o ring and was able to get the generator running again in an hour and half. If our batteries were keeping their charge properly, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but we only had 3.5 hours until the refrigerators shut down to fix the generator. Yes, we could have run the engines but it is bad for them to idle for long periods of time. We had a peaceful evening after that. Nancy taking Radar to the nearby beach at sunset.

Monday, Aug 28 Mackinac Island (pronounced Mackinaw)

Nancy woke up in the morning to take Radar to the beach, only to find that the dinghy was no longer behind the boat. Fortunately, it was only 2-3 football fields away. Unfortunately, the water was REALLY Cold and it appeared that there was no one around. Nancy wanted Jason to pick up anchor and at least get closer to the dinghy. Dinghys do have a tendency to escape. The rule is the person who last tied up the dinghy (or in this case clipped the dinghy line) is the one who has to swim for it, jellyfish or cold water not withstanding. Nancy was in luck, so as she changed into her bathing suit, a couple fisherman arrived. After a few minutes of waving and shouting, Jason was able to get their attention and they very nicely towed the dinghy back to us. They were super nice men and suggested a scenic back way to exit the islands by the Western channel which Nancy had been worried about due to depth concerns within the channel. Turns out that all marked channels in Michigan are at least 8 feet deep and with a rock bottom the channels don’t change very often. Between the net, the generator, and the dinghy, Jason and Nancy were happy to leave “the Snows” in their wake. Below, the dinghy is to the left and the fishermen are on the right.

We had a peaceful 19 mile ride followed by an uneventful docking at our next stop, historic Mackinac Island. They only allow bicycles and horse drawn carriages on the island, no motorized vehicles including e-scooters allowed ☹. Jason and Nancy took a tour on a horse drawn carriage up to the antique carriage museum, which had some beautiful carriages (several from the Vanderbilt family) and we passed by the Grand Hotel, with the largest porch in the US at over 600 ft long. It is hard to believe but they were able to build the hotel in 93 days with a crew of 330 carpenters! Meanwhile, we are 5 months into our new garage buil and it still isn’t finished!

The tour then took us to “the Arch”, a natural stone formation, which had beautiful coastal views. We then headed over to Ft. Mackinac, an 18th century fort which had several great exhibits. The Americans surrendering the fort to the British was the first land engagement of the War of 1812. The 24yr old fort commander with 60 men, facing over 600 British and Native Americans, and without an internal source of water, did not think forcing a siege would work and surrendered the fort to the British commander.

Mackinac Island reminded Nancy a lot of Martha's Vineyard. The island houses were grander albeit with less gingerbread accents than the Massachusetts cottages. The island also is where fudge was supposedly invented and there were more than a dozen fudge shops making Nancy happy. We had a great dinner at a lovely inn across from the marina with seafood and prime rib entrees and yummy banana fosters for dessert.

Tuesday, Aug 29th. The day was rainy, cold, and windy. Nancy did a little shopping, finding the first art piece for the boat (although Jason was unimpressed). Jason took a down day. Had dinner on main street and Nancy went grocery shopping afterward.

Wednesday, Aug 30th Mackinac City

A short travel day across the Mackinac Straits brought a new boat issue as our Seakeeper stabilizer started throwing voltage codes when turning it on so it was turned off. We found the entrance to the Mackinac City marina very optically deceiving. They put up a sign “marina to the right”, but it looked like the sign was pointing to a stone wall. You had to literally be almost right on top of the entrance where you could finally differentiate that there were two stone walls with an entrance channel between them into the marina. Once inside, it was a very nice marina out on a point of land. Nancy let Radar off the leash some but he kept eating feathers, so his freedom was curtailed.

Thursday, Aug 31 We took our e-scooters over to the Coast Guard icebreaker ship “Mackinaw” which had been turned into a museum. They used 6 train engines hooked to generators to power her and she had a third propellor at the bow to suck the ice down and away from the ship. She serviced almost all of the Great Lakes and was beloved by many. I bet seeing her create a shipping channel into your harbor after a long winter iced in was a welcome sight indeed! She had a massive chain tow line she deployed off the stern to drag ships out of the ice including the sometimes the local smaller icebreaker boats. She once broke through a 15ft tall ice wall!

Jason and I had lunch at the White Buffalo; Nancy had bison salami and Jason had a bison burger. We explored the town and the coastline some by e-scooter. Nancy scooted over to an Italian place for take out and walked into a sea of antlers and taxidermy. The previous owner had been a great outdoor store and the restaurant just kept the décor. Jason got in touch with the closest Seakeeper dealer, Walstrom Marine, who were located in Cheboygan, Michigan, about 20 miles south of our location on the Lake Huron side. They were nice enough to squeeze us into their busy schedule and agreed to look at the boat the Tuesday morning after Labor Day. They also had a slip for us at their own marina at no charge which was very convenient.

Friday, Sept. 1 Beaver Island The wind forecast had been 5-10 kts and changed to 10-15. It was blowing a steady 20kts once we got onto the open Lake Michigan with waves, 3-4 ft with occasional sets of 6 foot waves. The boat handled the sea well but it was a long slog for the 20 miles out to Beaver Island, especially without our Seakeeper stabilizer working.

Nancy’s friend, Lisa Borre, a freshwater ecology expert, greeted us at the dock. It was still very windy at the docks and Jason took two attempts to back into the slip, but the second time was textbook perfect! A few large boats came in after us and they struggled as well. The wind was more powerful than people’s thrusters.

We gave Lisa a tour of the boat and then she let us settle in some before driving Nancy over to the grocery store for a “all things heavy” provisioning (water, drinks, dogfood). We met her and her neighbor, Bob, at a restaurant that evening for taco night. Bob brought some amazing watermelon gazpacho, which he made sure to share with the owner and staff.

Saturday, Sept. 2 Nancy let Radar off the leash at the beach, the wind had blown most of the feathers away and he was able to happily go feather hunting up and down the beach. Lisa picked up Nancy for a nature hike through a cedar wetland out to a beach and they got to geek out over plants. Lisa explained that Lake Michigan was now a little too clear due to the invasive zebra mussels. The clearer water allowed a type of bottom mat algae to grow which then washes up on the beach and as it rots, botulism bacteria proliferate. The minnows eat the toxic bacteria which bioaccumulates up the food chain killing off cormorants and larger fish. The toxic algae is also very bad for dogs and we kept Radar on a very short leash.

See below: zebra mussel shells on left and rotting algae on the right.

We drove back and picked up Jason and did a drive around the island stopping at Protar’s cabin from the 1800’s. He was not a doctor but he was a learned man with common sense and for decades he treated common ailments of people around the island. His house is preserved and the town erected a nice stone tomb on his favorite nature spot as a memorial.

Not everyone on Beaver Island was so generous. James Strang was a morman leader on the island who became an autocrat and declared himself a “King”. He even did a coronation with a cape, crown and scepter. He carefully avoided claiming any territory instead saying he was a Morman Prophet King. He was King for 6 years and even got elected to Congress as Michigan representative while King. He was killed by some local islanders who he had whipped for not following his rules. The men who shot him were never punished by the law and were feted back on Beaver Island.

Lisa took us to a native American stone circle where several of the stones had carvings and they were oriented by astronomical orientation by Native Americans. Several of the boulders were quite large and would have been difficult to move.

She also took us to the oldest Beech tree in Michigan and the Big Stone, which supposedly is a mandatory photo op for tourists. We then went to her cottage on Fox Lake, which in itself is in a lake (Michigan). We had grilled pork steaks, a local specialty. Her neighbor Bob, brought over his 10 bean baked beans and she served a traditional Michigan desert called bumpy cake. A good time was had by all!

Our slip mates were from Peoria, Illinois, and they have offered to host us when we stop there sometime in October. They also have a dog named Asha and she and Radar had a play date on the boat. Radar seemed confused on how to play with her. We stayed another day on the Island because of the wind.

Monday, Sept 4 (Labor Day)

The weather forecast said there might be a lull in the wind as it shifted direction at 6am, so we got up and off the dock before sun rose and had a calm crossing back to the mainland. We had to backtrack past Mackinac City to Cheboygan, where Walstrom's Marine could diagnose our Seakeeper stabilizer issue.

As we were heading back into the Mackinac Straits, we heard a "security" call by Coast Guard, announcing a security zone around the bridge for the annual Labor Day Bridge walk. We contacted the bridge authority and the coast guard to see if they would allow us through. They both gave definitive no's, that we would have to wait until noon. We guessed they were worried someone would hit the bridge with all the people on it. We anchored in a nearby cove in clear, light blue water for a few hours. Jason took advantage of the time to hose down the bugs that had coated the boat. Unfortunately, the wind shifted just as he finished and another cloud of bugs, this time tiny gnats, covered the boat. Jason was not all.

When we arrived at Walstoms, we docked bow in because the mechanic said there were rocks in the rear of the slip. We were parked next to a gorgeous 72 Vicem, so we came in very carefully. We got all the fenders and lines arranged However, it took the the full power cord plus a 10ft extension cord and a support dock line to reach the pedestal only to find the 50 amp outlet didn't work. Jason even checked it with a multimeter. We could not reach the other pedestal. So we untied and turned around and re-docked, making sure we were clear of the rocks. We needed the AC power to test the stabilizer system. We docked across from a huge US Fish and Wildlife research vessel. Nancy had never seen one before.

Tues. Sept. 5. The mechanic confirmed it was one of the brake solenoids, so he overnighted two replacements. If one is bad the other usually follows. Nancy explored the town of Cheboygan with Radar. It was a real town with stores and restaurants used by locals. Like all the other small towns it had a few empty store fronts, but it was much more authentic feel and had nice public art. They had an old fashioned real movie theatre that was showing "Barbie", which Nancy wanted to see (Jason, not so much). That did not stop him from teasing her about being one of those weird, old people watching movies alone. She noted the irony and went anyway. She really liked the movie. It was very well done. The repairs were done the next afternoon, however, it was storming, so we stayed another night. Radar got some off the leash time in a partially fenced area that was feather free, he played outdoor fetch for the first time in a couple months.

Thursday, Sept 7 returned to Mackinac City. It was still too windy to go out onto Lake Michigan but we travelled 15 miles back to Mackinac City marina. Next stop is Charlevoix. It was hard to figure out what NOAA marine zone the area off Mackinac straits was called in order to find out wave height forecasts. Nancy texted Lisa on Beaver Island and it turns out to be the zone west of Petoskey (which is at the end of a small bay, not a point of land). Its good to have knowledgeable friends!



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