Ahoy Lake Michigan

Thursday, June 15th to Saturday, June 17th

Woke up in Mackinaw Island harbor with much calmer waters as the winds had greatly subsided over night. Today’s weather report is not great but it does indicate winds that may be favorable for putting up sails for south travel on Lake Michigan. Glad to see though the one biggie we now look for in any report. No storms predicted.

Pulling out of the island harbor around 8:00 am Thursday morning we pointed the bow of the boat directly toward the Mackinaw Bridge. As we approached the bridge, so was a freighter approaching from the other side. A slight adjustment to our heading will put us out of the path of the freighter and also provide a tack with favorable winds allowing us to hoist sails for our passage under the bridge.

Heading toward the Mackinaw Bridge.

Once the freighter was past us it was sails up. With the engine off we’re moving less than half the speed of which we had been traveling just moments ago, but soon we will be able to say we “sailed” under the Mackinaw Bridge. It’s a glorious thing to sail under the bridge, however, at this pace we’ll continue sailing under the bridge for the rest of the day. Sails down, we turn the engine back on to continue on our way.

Chad Checking the sails

As we put the bridge further behind us I learn that even though the northern part of Lake Michigan looks like a huge bathtub filled with pristine freshwater. There are many shallow areas and shoals that can snag a boat even this size. The marked shipping lanes are not just for the big boys; we must use them too to stay out of trouble. With fog once again consuming us, we’re relying solely on radar and GPS to guide us through the marked waterway.

On this side of the bridge boat traffic, of all sizes, is the most we’ve met so far. As we come around the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula we set a direct course, nearly due south, for Charlevoix MI. A few hours into today’s journey the fog has finally lifted enough to provide a glimpse of land and winds have picked up too. Chad calculates that with a course adjustment we can use the sails. Also figuring the speed of the wind may very well provide a better boat speed than the engine is currently giving us. With a new heading and one tack, we will be able to sail all the way to Charlevoix on this wind.

We raise the Jib and then the main sail. Chad has us cruising along at a pretty good clip as the boat is heeled over so the rail on the port side of the boat is nearly in the lake. With the boat leaning at this angle the boat wants to turn into the wind, so he re-trims the sails to get maximum advantage from the sails but not have the boat heel so hard. We lose a little bit of speed but the boat is now tracking along our intended heading, not to mention it’s now easier to find comfortable footing when standing at the helm.

Sailing along for roughly twenty minutes Chad says he’s going below to make some lunch. He wasn’t down there for more than two minutes when the wind simply died away as if someone had unplugged the fan. Guess we forgot to pay the bill for all the wind we had in Lake Superior. Well, it’s back to diesel power and the more direct heading to Charlevoix.

Approaching the channel entrance at Charlevoix, Chad had me go below to look on the chart to find information about the drawbridge we must pass to get into the harbor. Chart info states it opens on the hour and half hour, as needed. We have about twenty minutes to make the 6:30 pm opening. Should work out perfect.

As we enter the channel we see that Chad’s sister Kristin and Brother in-law Matt are waiting on the pier for our arrival. They walk along the pier with us able to ask question like how it’s going and where we should meet for dinner in this idyllic little town between the harbor and Lake Michigan.

Us from Matt and Kristin’s view. Photo by Kristin Rogers.


Approaching the Charlevoix bridge from our point of view.

Photo by Kristin Rogers

As soon as we pass the bridge we’re in Round Lake, the harbor of Charlevoix, we head straight for the fuel dock only to find it had closed at 5:00. Unable to fuel the boat, our bodies still need fuel in the form of a tasty sandwich. So we motor from the fuel dock to an empty slip to tie up for a couple of hours.

It was very nice to have dinner with Kristin and Matt. We told them about our adventures so far and how, even now, sitting on land give us an uneasy feeling of still being in motion, and a yearning to be back on the boat… Welcome to our new normal. After dinner Chad gave them a tour of the new boat and shortly there after we shoved off to continue traveling while the weather was good.

Having to pass under the drawbridge again our timing was good to make the 9:30pm opening, only needing to wait a few short minutes before it was our turn to pass. Past the bridge and motoring down the channel towards Lake Michigan we’re heading directly towards a beautiful horizon, where the sun had set just moments ago. While Chad manned the helm I stood at the forward cockpit with my arms crossed resting on the top of the dodger, giving me something to lean against. Looking over the front of the boat and feeling the warm gentile breeze coming in off the lake, I took a deep breath and savored the moment of serenity.

I turned back to Chad and said; “You just fulfilled a childhood dream for me”. Told him that while growing up, my grandparents lived about twenty miles south of Charlevoix in the little town of Central Lake, and how as a kid I spent many a summer there. Explained that numerous trips to Charlevoix we would watch the bridge open so sailboats could enter town from Lake Michigan, and how my young mind imagined what it must be like to be on one of those boats the impressive drawbridge must open for. Hey Grandpa… Now I know, and it’s pretty cool!

Leaving Charlevoix

About mile from shore Chad pointed the boat south again, toward our next destination of Leland MI. There will be no last-minute decisions to bypass this one to take advantage of good weather. We need to get fuel. As darkness descends on the lake, a beacon at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula comes into view, and my land based thinking is having a hard time processing it’s closeness to our position. By land, it’s easily a two-hour drive from Charlevoix to the tip of the Leelanau. However, I’m noticing if one could travel at driving speed in a straight line over the water, it would be maybe a five-minute drive? All the years spent in Northern Michigan I never fully realized just how close those two points actually are. But all the same, today we’re not traveling at driving speed. Heck, we’re not even traveling at jogging speed.

The waves tonight are just slightly larger than what we experienced prior to Charlevoix, but it’s still a quiet journey. Nineteen hours after setting out from Mackinaw Island we pull into the harbor at Leland. Standing on the bow of the boat I’m shining a light on an empty slip about fifty yards away for Chad to gracefully park thirty-three feet of boat right where it needs to be. Noticing the time of our arrival, I bring it to Chad’s attention that, so far, every time we have docked for the night, we have done so at 3:00 am. I’ve become very proficient at this early morning docking business because I just want it over and done with as quickly as possible so I can go below and pass right the heck out. Chad, on the other hand, needs a bit to wind down and likes to go on little expeditions of town once we dock. I’ll do that in the morning after a few hours of sleep, thank you very much.

Woke in Leland to a beautiful morning of warm sunshine, and a rather busy harbor area thanks to the nearby famous “Fish Town” of Leland. To be honest, after visiting Fish Town later in the morning, I fail to see the attraction. With breakfast in our bellies from visiting the local diner, we take the boat to the fuel dock for the all-important diesel fuel so we can get underway to our next destination further down the Lake Michigan coast.

Today’s near shore forecast is calling for South/Southeast winds 10 to 15 knots with occasional gust to 25. Waves 2 feet or less. Scattered showers and chance of Thunder Storms later. We can live with that, so it’s a go. A few miles into our morning journey, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore started coming into view about the same time the predicted winds started making their appearance. With the winds so do come the waves but they are certainly no two feet or less! More like two to four-foot waves, and coming dead on at the bow of the boat. Uggh!

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Traveling straight into the wind and the on coming swells, our progress has slowed by a couple of knots. There was an unmistakable rhythm to the onslaught of attacking waves. The frequency is a nearly predictable period of small rollers in between a group of three or four larger swells right in a row that launch the bow of the boat with it coming down just in time to meet the face of the following wave. The boat is hitting the water much like a kid cannonballing into a pool attempting to create as much splash as possible. As the boat crashes into each of these waves, a shudder is sent through out the entire boat. I quickly learned too, the further back in the boat one can sit, this lifting and slamming is felt less. But it’s still a tiring ride after a few hours.

With Frankfort MI, our destination for the day, still over an hour away, the skies to the west looked as though the “chance of thunderstorms after 8:00” was going be happening earlier than predicted. Checking the radar on our phones showed Green Bay WI was getting hammered with a storm that will soon be making the relatively short crossing of Lake Michigan to inconvenience us. The question is, as Chad increases the throttle, can we beat it to the harbor of Frankfort? Just about the time we reached the entrance of the waterway into Frankfort, the skies looked much less menacing. Another look at the radar showed the storm dissipated as it came across the lake. So I guess those weather folks do know a thing or two… Once in a while.

6:30 pm Friday evening, seven hours from departing Leland, we pulled into one of the several marinas in Frankfort to occupy a slip for the night. Another stellar docking job by Chad with three kids working the marina coming out to help secure the dock lines. I could get spoiled with this kind of service, instead of what has become our typical, grab the dock with a boat hook as the boat tries to sail past in the wind. Then hop off the boat to scurry around the dock, quickly tying lines to keep the boat from hitting the dock.

Now docked and the typical ‘docking matters’ taken care of, we made the very short trek into downtown Frankfort to get some dinner. On our way into port, we had this place in mind to dine that both of us had visited from previous individual trips to town. For me it was from a vacation last summer, that I’d largely like to forget, and for Chad; when him and Michelle sailed up from Holland last year. Neither one of us could remember the name of the place, but we certainly agreed on the delicious flat bread pizzas.

Walking up the street we could see the building of our destination. As we got closer the sign came into view and we simultaneously read the name out loud “Storm Cloud” as our memories were instantly refreshed. The irony we would choose a place with the name ‘Storm Cloud’ after what we’ve been through the past several days.

Chad’s friend Jim was vacationing in Frankfort with his sailboat, so Chad sent a text to let him know we had arrived and where we were having a beer and dinner so he could join us. We had been telling our tale to a couple that was sharing a large outdoor table with us, then had to recap many parts when Jim arrived. Was a very pleasant evening with great company.

With time running short for both of us, concerning this adventure, Jim would be the first to learn that Frankfort will be my last port of call and Chad will be leaving the boat docked as he needs to get back home to take care of a few things. Him and Michelle will return in a week to take the boat the remaining 150 miles to Holland.

Felt good to be gently rocked to sleep one last time in the front cabin of the boat. In a beautiful Frankfort morning we gathered and packed things away, then walked to get some breakfast before moving the boat to the same marina that Jim and his wife Kelly have their boat docked. Today Frankfort is hosting a downtown street fair, car show, and farmer’s market. I thought it very nice of them to organize these activities in our honor and celebrate this awesome adventure. I love Frankfort, even though fireworks the night before would have been a nice touch.

Early afternoon Michelle arrived at the marina to take us all back home. We packed things away and loaded into her car whatever needed to go back. Had one last lunch on the boat before heading out. I’m typically sad to see such an adventure come to an end, but with plenty of story to reflect on and a feeling of a well fulfilled voyage achieved, there was no melancholy mood heading home. I’m sure Chad and I had Michelle at her wit’s end during the car ride. Like a couple of kids, we couldn’t stop talking about the many things we experienced over the previous seven days, as well as laughing hysterically at our inside jokes.

Chad and I in Frankfort MI

I plan to pen a recap of this adventure, with video and more pictures that just didn’t have a place with the story as written. Hopefully this recap will come together in a few days, but back in the hustle and bustle of land living, who knows when it will materialize? Please stay tuned.






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4 thoughts on “Ahoy Lake Michigan

  1. Eric Rendall

    Extremely exciting,I was hanging on every word ,Chad ,Michelle ,and Scott ,Enjoy this life long adventure and continue sharing your Great Lakes and Ocean adventures

  2. Mom

    What a wonderful adventure! So happy you were able to do this! Thank you for sharing this with us, as only you can do. Wondering what your next adventure will be! ❤️

  3. Sue Dasky

    I so enjoyed your story telling regarding this adventure. Wish I could have such an experience. Great Job to the both of you.


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