My wife and I determined to sail to Lake Charlevoix on a 200 mile trip north along the Lake Michigan shoreline, and to stop, eat, and sleep at ports along the way. This was our second season we had our sailboat, a Jeanneau 37 named “Reverie”. We knew Lake Michigan can be dangerous and we had some anxiety on the wind, waves, getting a slip when we needed one, and getting into a slip at a foreign marina. On July 26th, it was go-time. We planned our voyage to include another couple on their sailboat, so almost a real flotilla. Their boat name was Reprieve, a 26 ft Catalina. Their captain, Rich, was a Chicago to Mac 14 time veteran along with Kim who is a a great people person, made it very comforting for us to have another sailing ship with experienced crew with us.
Day 1, Provisioning and stowage. I delayed our start 30+ minutes as I assemble the spinnaker for the first time on the foredeck, and we setup the fore-to-aft safety jack-lines. I had new offshore life vests with leashes that would connect the life vest to the jack-lines to be used when on foredeck in high winds or rough waves.
Left Muskegon at 1pm and we were headed to either Whitehall (13 miles) or Pentwater (30 miles). We encountered lots of haze partially a result of the California wildfires and visibility was limited to ½ mile, so we lost sight of land for hours. It was my wife’s first time sailing away from sight of land 😊 and she did great as the chart plotter confirmed our location safely along the Lake Michigan shoreline. We prefer to sail 2-5 miles offshore as the winds are more stable and safety of water depth. We flew our spinnaker for the first time ever and it was great 😊. When we rounded little sable point and cleared from some of the haze, we saw Silver Lake Sand Dunes and we had noticed that we had surpassed our sailing buddies on Reprieve 😊. This was one of only two times that we passed our friends while sailing.
Day 2, we were headed to Onekama (40 miles) (a.k.a. Lake Portage) and we knew we would have bigger wind and bigger waves this day. We did not expect more haze. We wore our offshore life vests all the time. It was a good thing since being on the water for 8+ hours, we eventually hit a light squall and rain. Waves rose often to exceed 8 ft, and since we sailed with the waves, it only took a few hours to acclimate to the concept that the aft of the sailboat would rise and fall as each wave went under us, and we learned that the boat wants to float offering us more some peace and comfort. We started with reefed main, then full main, and even some wing and wing. We added a preventer, which is a line from the midship cleat to the boom to prevent it from swinging violently to the opposite side, possibly hitting someone in the head (boom) or breaking critical hardware. Reprieve noted we were ahead of schedule and suggested we stop in Manistee for lunch as they secured us two municipal slips for free for a few hours. We accepted and had lunch at the Red River Station, and then back out to Lake Michigan for another 13 miles to Portage Lake “Onekama” where we dropped anchor. Locals Walt and Carrol offered us dinner and cocktails. They were excellent ambassadors to the Onekema region.
Day 3 Slept and lunch on land at our ambassador’s establishment. By happenstance, our group of us, Rich & Kim, expanded to include our ambassadors and a neighbor couple, where we accepted the neighbors offer for a pontoon boat ride and back to Manistee for a late lunch at the fancy Blue Fish restaurant. Oh what fun to be so spontaneous. Our hosts and neighbors treated us so well. So many thanks to our new friends on Portage Lake 😊.
Day 4, Big mileage day planned as we headed North through the Manitou passage to Leland or Northport. Because of wind being less than our desired minimum sailing speed of 5 knots/hour, we motor-sailed under engine power with mainsail up, and I was constantly checking our engine RPM and for engine smoke, yet our engine continued nicely. We had not ever run our engine for hours on end. Motor-sailing with sail(s) up was a bit foreign to me, yet now I am a big believer that cruisers must embrace. The technique is to create your own apparent wind and the wind assists the engine, as we consumed 1 gallon per 4 hours on this technique versus the usual 1 gallon per 2 hours. “Otto” was our auto-helm and she performed marvelously on these calm waters 😊. We avoid Otto on rough or wavey days to avoid some type of mechanical failure and wearing down the batteries, yet so nice to have her help when she can. It was getting late towards evening and our sailing buddies on Reprieve secured us slips in Leland. We had heard it was rare to get slips at Leland and we were so thankful on this long day to have them 😊. It would have been 4-5 more hours of moto-sailing to Northport and no other areas to stop for the evening because the shoreline did not offer any other stops. Also, anchoring in the dark in a foreign anchorage is less preferred than during the day. In Leland, as a reward for laboring toughly for the day, we were off to another great restaurant on land 😊. Leland is beautiful little village. Eating on the channel was entertaining as we saw the locals pull up by boat for their dinner or shopping. We met sailors on a nearby marina slip that were one of our children’s schoolteacher 😊. They have been sailing together for 46 years and the last few on a 36 Erickson. They shared a few cruising tips and we spotted their Sport-a-Seat cushions with ratcheting backrest 😊. They are like improved stadium seat and I can’t wait to secure a couple of those for our Reverie.
Day 5, Northport bound, and about 4-5 hours of estimated travel time. No slips at the marina this time, yet the anchorage on a plateau depth of 12’ was so beautiful that we swam and snorkeled. Amazing! We caught up with another friend of Reprieve named “Rob” that summered in the Northport marina and he showed us the town and we ate out at the “Garage” 😊. Thanks Rob of Northport! Another great reward after a wonderful sailing day. We were then entertained by the marina locals where we watched them dance around in a dinghy in the marina fairlane and retrieved an outboard motor that had broken off its sailboat stern hours before. They dinghy master were successful and a big round of applause was shared. Then we exited the marina on our dinghy back to our anchored sailboat and we watched the sunset.
Day 6, Lake Charlevoix was our next destiny so we hoisted anchor and sailed away. As we entered the channel, we hailed the drawbridge on channel 13 and they noted the “next time the draw bridge will be opened is 4:30pm and we should be in the channel close to the bridge and be ready”. Well as we were ready and within 50 yards of the drawbridge, a working barge of about 30’ wide x 120’ long came astern and hailed us to get moving. As we yelled back that it was not 4:30pm yet and the draw bridge was closed, they DEMANDED we move and that “the bridge will open for our working vessel”. Well, we complied and began to head towards the CLOSED drawbridge and low and behold, it began to rise and through we went 😊. Our first drawbridge!
Hard to anchor in Round Lake at 30-40ft of water, but we found a shelf of 20’ and set anchor. A few minutes later the wind died and thus the another sailboat drifted freely on anchor within 15 ft of Reverie, eek ☹. We dinghied to the public docks and ate at a nearby restaurant within view of our sailboats. Reprieve wisely drafted off our boat as we were first to set anchor as Round Lake is a confined space.
After lunch, we were off to Oyster Bay, a nice cove off of Lake Charlevoix, about 1.2 NM away from Round Lake and the channel to Lake Michigan. It was a nice depth of 15’ and well protected in Oyster Bay. Beautiful, peaceful, and holding five other sailboats.
Day 6, Sailing Lake Charlevoix is beautiful, surrounded by hills, and trees, and some palatial estates. We had a strong 16 knots of wind and we cruised 13 miles to Boyne City where we secured two slips for the evening. It was my birthday 😊 and we shopped downtown and had great food at a restaurant that had a local band playing “Adam and Kabana Boys”. They were very entertaining 😊. We ran into college friends and shared a few more good stories 😊.
Day 7, Reprieve and Reverie headed back to Oyster Bay for the night and had a terrific sail of 16-20 knots under full main and partial genoa. We surpassed Reprieve, our second time only to do so 😊. We met more college friends who lived on Oyster Bay and we dined and had cocktails onshore 😊. Reprieve was to depart Oyster Bay at 730am to return downstate and we would stay for another week of sailing Lake Charlevoix and catching up on work work.
Day 1 return. We left Oyster Bay for South Manitou Island to anchor in the cove. This allowed the second pass through for a draw bridge. We flew the spinnaker for a bit, but then doused it and used the mainsail only as we moto-sailed all the way to the lighthouse in the Manitou passage. On the way, we asked each other, do you think anyone ever hits that light house and we concluded, possibly once per year, so about 100 people in past 100 years. Well, we went south of it by 200 yards and then did a U-turn as we headed into the wind to raise the mainsail all the way, and low and behold, we had a few issues to resolve, and we got within 30 yards of hitting the light house. Then we laughed at the dangerous thoughts and headed to our planned anchorage on South Manitou Island. We watched the weather, and all was OK at 4 knots of wind. It was a clam placid evening, and we swam to shore and skipped stones and pebbles from the shoreline.
Day 2 return. Anchor alarm went off at 430am. We had 20 knot winds, small waves 1-2’ and howling sounds through the running rigging. ☹. I then expanded our anchor circle on the app, and used a flashlight to check the other 4 sailboats in the area and all were OK. Then I was tired but could not stop watching the anchor app as we continued to drag anchor 5’ every hour ☹. And then it was 8am and time to make plans. Good thing our smart phones had signal and data as the radar apps showed more storms were headed toward us ☹. At 930am, we watched a sailboat leave into the South Manitou passage where the really high winds were located and the whitecaps were topping over the waves, and they returned in 5 minutes ☹. We watched through the dry inside of our sailboat port holes. We hailed them on the radio and asked if they were OK. They noted they were fine and their paddle board was not secured. They went out a second time to return in 5 minutes with their genoa partially rolled and flapping ☹ uncontrollably. After many minutes, they unrolled and re-rolled the genoa and they exited the cove for the rough waters for a third and final time. We knew our planned destination was Frankfort, which was far-away and no stops in between ☹. Therefore, we needed to make-a-plan to exit the semi-safe cove that we were dragging anchor. At 1030am, we saw a potential break in the radar storm clouds turning from red and yellow to dark blue. We hoisted anchor and hit the passage, literally we hit the whitecaps and waves head-on with loud bangs on the hull ☹. We changed our angle from direct to a diagonal offering a longer distance between waves. We pushed our engine at 3000 RPM, as high as I dared, and after an hour we saw a bit of white smoke ☹. We knew we needed to average 5 knots to safely make Frankfort port and we were barely averaging 5 knots. We dropped the RPM a little to 2800 RPM. Then the angle of the wind improved a bit, and we were able to hoist full mainsail and partial genoa. Sailing went from good to great😊 and we were on the right angle towards Frankfort 😊. As we left in a storm that morning, we rounded Betsie Point to enter another rainstorm. Many hours on the water in the same day provide you the opportunity to see the lake change over time, in waves, wind, sun, and rain. Very humbling experience. We made it into our slip at the Frankfort Municipal Marina and had a great dinner at a Thai Fusion restaurant 😊.
Day 3 return. We departed Frankfort early at 7am and headed to Ludington, also a long mileage day and many hours. We sailed and moto-sailed throughout the day. While my crew was napping below, I maintained the course as long as I could, but then as we rounded Big Sable Point, I had to tack, and attempting to tack solo, woke the crew. Then a weather report on the radio noted 30 knot winds hitting Pentwater south of us, so we knew it was a matter of time before it heads North and hits us. We were about 7 nautical miles (NM) away from the Ludington pier and it was out of sight. The rain clouds were coming at us from the South and we were hoping to beat the heavy weather. Well, it started to rain with 6 nm to go, then heavy winds, and more rain. I should have put on full foulies so I only had a raincoat on. At 5km and at 5 knots per hour, it would take an hour. We battled the winds and rain for that hour. While the visibility of the pier and shore would come and go every few minutes, we were also nervous the mobile chart plotter battery would run out. Also, as we got closer, we saw partially submerged garbage floating by that must have exited the Ludington channel, whereby a garbage bag could get caught in the engine water cooling intake and overheat the engine. Pressure was building, so when we entered the channel, we let a big sigh of relief 😊. I slept on land at a crew’s house nearby.
Day 4 return. We were switching out crew and after checking the weather forecast for the next sailing day, I noticed more bad weather on its way, so I asked the crew to wait a day. We also heard the ferry “Badger” was shutting down for a week because of a Covid outbreak ☹. Nice lazy day at the marina and then at 10:15PM at night in the Ludington Municipal Marina slip, we were hit by my biggest storm being on board a sailboat. Yes, my biggest stoarm was while I was slipped at a marina! We were rocked by 60 knots winds as posted by the interior Ludington buoy. After the initial squall passed by, I donned my full foulies and secured another dock line and fixed a fender that was il-lodged by the high-winds.
Day 5 return. The crew arrived late in the day, and after full boat inspection we headed off to dinner at one of the few restaurants that had power after the prior night’s windstorm. Yes, we rewarded ourselves with a dinner out before the work was done. A round of bourbon and lights out for the night.
Day 6 return. We departed early from the marina and out to Lake Michigan. It was pleasant and we sailed and moto-sailed for most of the day, all taking turns at the wheel. A crew of engineers is like going back to college, as they eagerly disembarked their knowledge and expertise on to me. We arrived safely at Muskegon channel, we were greeted by friends cheering at the local beach. Many thanks to my special greeters as it made for a special closure to a great voyage.
Lessons learned list is pretty low as we had a great trip 😊 😊 😊:
- Get a bigger anchor or find a way to increase scope beyond my 90’ of chain
- Rely on the fridge less for items that might spoil. We over stored and then had trouble eating it all. We ate dinner out and relied on fridge less
- Get more comfy cockpit chairs (Hint: Sport a Seat)
- Check the weather 3 states away on what is headed your way as the weather reports rarely include those out of state storms headed your way!