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Section 8

Lake Huron

(July 10 - 22, 1999)

Saturday, July 10, 1999.  We decide early to spend the day in port since the winds have continued to howl at 20-30k.  We could go, but why chance it!  We spend the day doing maintenance and chores.  .  We decide early-on  to spend the day in port since the winds have continued to howl at 20-30k.  We could go, but why chance it!  We spend the day doing maintenance and chores, a nice way to celebrate Bill's birthday--39 again!

Sunday, July 11, 1999.  We get an early start on the long run from Harbor Beach to Bay City.  This will complete the run up and around the thumb of Michigan and all the way down to the Saginaw River and then six miles down the river to our marina at Liberty Harbor. 

An aside about Michigan's fine state-sponsored marinas.   Michigan has harbors of refuge about every thirty miles along its shoreline of the Great Lakes--these are generally adequately deep, they have 30 and sometimes 50 amp electrical service, and some have fuel.  Part of these marinas are run by the state, some by local municipalities.   As nice as they are, they're also a problem.  They don't take reservations, and for a boat the size of Interlude, this is a major problem since there are few slips large enough for us.  Everything is first-come-first-served.  We've found some marinas will "pencil in" that we're coming, but this is far from a guarantee.

In the case of Bay City, the young (high school age) woman who answers the phone won't give us any assurance there will be room for Interlude, only that they do have two slips which would be large enough.  I tried to leverage my contact with Bob Liggett who made some calls for us, but for a couple of reasons, it wasn't successful.

In Bay City, we happen to have a commissioner for the Michigan State Waterways Commission docked next to us and the subject of reservations came up.  He said it's policy, and acknowledged that it is a problem for large yachts (he has a 50'+ motor yacht).  But he didn't offer any realistic suggestions, only to call on a cell phone and let them know you're coming and hopefully, they'll "pencil you in".

As we approach Bay City, we call on the VHF radio and the marina staff person on duty indicates there is room for us--this is really important since (1) there aren't any other marinas in Bay City that can accommodate our size, (2) Wayne and Robbin's kids are driving to Bay City to pick them up and take them to their cottage further North in Michigan, and (3) we are flying from the Bay City airport to St. Petersburg on Monday.  At least we're in (we hope).

The trip through the Saginaw Bay, the body of water that separates Michigan's thumb from the rest of the lower peninsula is very shallow, so we follow a carefully charted course which keeps us in "deep" water. Deep in this case is 20'.  As in the case of Toledo, we enter the Saginaw River channel more than 10 miles out in the bay.  We follow the channel in along with literally hundreds of small boats--it's Sunday, a great day, and everybody is out.

As we enter the mouth of the Saginaw River, we still have six miles to go, and we're met by a stampede of small boats coming out of the river.  We don't understand at that moment why they all seem to be at full throttle--but we will shortly.   We slow to idle to attempt to navigate among the Sunday boaters when we're hailed on the VHF radio by the local marine police telling us to slow down.  We're already at dead slow, and Bill calls to them with this information.  Their response is to slow substantially more!  So, for the next hour, we take the boat in and out of gear every 10 or 15 seconds, to net a forward speed of about 3 knots.  They local Mounties follow us all the way up the river.  If we lived in this area and had to replicate this agenda each time we came in or went out of the river, we'd wear out our transmissions in a year.  They obviously have a problem with small boats and don't realize the impact on large yachts (we're the biggest in sight, by a considerable margin).

We dock at Liberty Harbor, and the marina attendant (the high school girl) puts us in a slip that is only about 50 feet deep. We stick out in the channel nearly 20 feet.  We'll leave the flag flying to help people spot our stern.  Otherwise, we have dual 50 amp connections, fresh water and cable TV.

For dinner, we walk into town and have bar food at a cute pub. Dinner, wine and beer for four cost $24!

Monday, July 12, 1999.  We have the morning for chores and Jan works on the wash while Bill cleans out the sumps and bilges.  We discover that the sump pump for the mid cabins sinks and showers plus the washing machine is not working.  We also find a major fuse in the alternator circuit for the port engine is blown.  Bill calls Hatteras and orders replacement parts which will be sent second day to us.  They should be here when we return from St. Petersburg.

Adam Ferne, Rich and Nancy's youngest son, comes over to the boat with a friend to look us over. They live only a few miles away.   We all go to lunch across the river and take the dinghy rather than make the long walk down to a bridge.  Adam takes us to the airport early in the afternoon.  We leave Wayne and Robbin on board.  They'll meet their kids on Wednesday and drive to the Ferne cottage. The trip to St. Pete is through Pittsburgh and uneventful.

Thursday, July 15, 1999.  We return to Interlude in the afternoon.  There are several boxes waiting for us--the spare parts, the hammock we've ordered, plus a second ozone generator for the forward areas of the boat.  We unpack, watch the local news, eat leftovers, and turn in.  We're bushed.

Friday, July 16, 1999.  We check with the marina attendant, and we can stay another day.  We're going to use the day for maintenance. Bill replaces the big alternator fuse, then the broken sump pump. Naturally the pump is accessible only through a small opening in the sole, and is a long reach at that--it takes two hours, but the job is successfully done.  It turns out that neither the Rule float switch nor the Rule pump are defective.  Rather, it is a sour connection between the pump and the switch.  This is surprising since the quality of the connections is very high--crimped stranded tinned wires that are then sealed in watertight imbedding compound then in shrink tubing.  But water is insidious--it gets everywhere and eventually causes problems.

Next, we tackle the new hammock.  We plan to stretch it between the sides of the radar arch on the bridge.  The hammock is a genuine Pawley Island cotton rope hammock.  (We went by Pawley's Island earlier in the trip.)  We bought stainless steel screw eyes in St. Pete, and so we're ready.  We drill and mount the screw eye and stretch the hammock between them--but it sags so low under the weight of a person, that we end up sitting on the floor on the bridge.  We spend a couple of hours untying each of the cotton ropes that make up the hammock and shortening the hammock by about a foot.  It works, and it's wonderful.  Jan has added a cotton pillow to the hammock, and now we have a first-class place to read (until you fall asleep).   Hopefully, we'll be able to give it a real try in the weeks ahead.

In the afternoon, we walk across the bridge to the downtown area of Bay City--not much to see; the big "antique mall" is mostly lots of junk, so we have a cold drink and head back.

Saturday, July 17, 1999.  We get an early start at 7:45 am since there is a prediction of thunderstorms in the afternoon as a cold front passes.   The trip to East Tawas State Dock is uneventful.  Radar gives us indications of weather all around us but we experience only moderate rain.  We arrive by 1:00pm and dock in a secure location in the marina.  East Tawas is a state marina and the fellows who help us dock cannot accept tips.  But they did say extra food was always welcome (partly in jest, I think).  So as we walked around town, we ordered a pizza sent to their office, compliments of the Interlude.

East Tawas was supposed to be a small town with little going on, but it ends up to be a great destination with people on the street, tourist type stores, a small market, even a small kitchen store.  Jan hits them all, and finds items that need to be replaced or added.  We load up on perishables from the small market.

We spend the afternoon reading and doing chores.  The skies clear by 7:00pm indicating a better day on Sunday, weather-wise.

Sunday, July 18, 1999.  We have about 80 miles to travel, so we get a 6:45am start.  The day is cool, winds light to moderate, and the trip is uneventful.  We arrive at Presque Isle (pronounced Press - keel), north of Alpena, about 2:00pm.  Bill spends a couple of hours washing the bugs off again while Jan works on things inside.

An aside about bugs:  We have seldom been bothered by bugs in Florida--in fact, we can hardly remember seeing bugs on either Interlude or its predecessor.  But with our arrival in the Great Lakes, we've been overwhelmed by insects--both the biting and the non-biting kind--flies, may flies, spiders, and miscellaneous other critters.  On any given day we wash off thousands of small bugs that accumulate in the cockpit, along the sides, and under the "eves" on Interlude.  Keeping the boat shipshape has become a bigger and bigger job largely due to the big problem.  Bugs virtually eliminates sitting outside particularly at dusk, or when there is no breeze.

During the transit to Presque Isle our navigation monitor fails again.  Yes, friendly readers, this is the same monitor we had just gotten back from Sony repair in Chicago only days before.  This time there is no pussy-footing around half live-half dead, it just dies dead.  We go back to the laptop and Magellan battery operated fall-back system, and yank out the monitor again.

We heard about a special restaurant in Presque Isle which features fresh local white fish.  The Michigan waterway's commissioner we met in Harbor Beach told us about it--and, best yet, it's right at the end of the dock!  Well, we surveyed our directories and discovered that the Fireside Inn is that place--the book says it features white fish which is spectacular, and it conveniently located right at the end of the dock in Presque Isle.  Upon arrival in Presque Isle, we discovered that the Fireside Inn is not at the end of the dock but five to ten miles away.  We call the restaurant and ask if they have a means to get us there, and they say no.  So Bill bribes a dock attendant with a $10 bill to drive us there and back.  It works.

Now, fair reader, how do you anticipate a place as romantic sounding as the Fireside Inn?  We felt it would be rustic, a real hidden treasure in the rural northern shore of Lake Huron, overlooking the lake, with a huge stone fireplace, tables set for the view, a fine wine list, waiters who know what they're doing, and food to die for.  Well, we got there and it wasn't exactly as we anticipated.  First, and it should have been a cue, they only serve dinner from 5:00 until 6:30pm, but what the heck, we'll conform to local mores.   But, the Fireside Inn turns out to be a tired old resort, teaming with kids.   We enter the restaurant which looks like a 1950's diner -- or the Bible camp dining hall we remember from childhood.  We were seated and told the menu is baked chicken--no choices, no local white fish, tonight just chicken.  And the dinner is served with mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans (canned), and ice cream.  So instead of a great bottle of sauvignon blanc, we have a diet coke, and quickly and expediently eat our dinners and leave.

We end our Fireside Inn adventure spending a couple of minutes sitting on a swing overlooking a small lake, then call our driver, and quickly return home.  So much for the Fireside Inn, and our badly written boating guide to Lake Huron.  They really got us good!

We end the evening well by hiking to the old Presque Isle lighthouse which is now a museum, and enjoy a look at local history.

Monday, July 19, 1999.  The day begins with a downpour and a heavy overcast that looks like it will never lift.  Since our itinerary for the day is very short, 17 miles, we decide to wait a while before we depart.  The wait is beneficial, almost like magic, the rain quits, and the sun comes out.  We depart Presque Isle for Rogers City about 10:30am and arrive about 12:30pm.

Rogers City could easily have been bypassed, but since John and Sherry, Jan's brother and sister-in-law, had once lived here, we decided to stop in over night. 

Upon arrival, we fuel and do a pump out.  The crew here on the docks, as in the other state run docks, are very helpful high school and college kids--generally what they lack in knowledge the make up for in attitude and enthusiasm.   A nicer bunch of kids you won't find anywhere.

After fueling we tie up to their long outer wall (2--50a circuits!) and explore the town.  We find a small wine store and decide to restock the cellar (it is below deck).  We accumulate a case of white table wine and decide that will be sufficient (remember what William Tell said about temperance and moderation:  semper ubi sub ubi!--if you're Latin is a little stale, contact Lisa [(lhaueisen@hbs.edu]  for a current translation.)  The problem becomes one of hauling this large box back the several blocks to the boat.  Well, casual readers, stand by for one of the great human interest stories of the year--filled with passion, urgency, good will, and a restoration of faith in all mankind--and right here in Rogers City, Michigan.

The proprietor of the small wine store offers his pickup truck to us.  It's out on the street, unlocked, and the keys are in the ignition (really).   We thank him, say we want to leave the wine in the store for a little while and explore the town.  He says he's on duty only until 5:00pm so we need to watch our time if we want to use his truck.  It's 3:45pm.  We walk the town, check restaurant recommendations (there are only two), and walk to the Buoy (the recommendation) to check out the menu--no more Fireside Inn's for us,  we're going into this meal-thing with our eyes wide open.  The Buoy has local white fish, broiled, and they serve past 6:00pm.  We're impressed, and in luck.

On the walk back, we pass a print shop that advertising they'll ship UPS for customers.  We stop in since we want to return that funky monitor and the proprietor says he can do it, but he doesn't have a box big enough.  But, he knows the owner of the local furniture store and gives him a call.  He's just a block down the street, and has a cardboard box that will work.  We leave the print shop promising to return shortly, but he also admonishes us to return quickly since he has to leave at 5:00pm, too. (I think there's something going on in this town at 5:00 pm that they're not telling the tourists...)

We walk to the furniture store and get the box.  The owner is going out of business and moving to Bradenton (Florida), so as official goodwill ambassadors for the Tampa Bay Area, we're the first to welcome him to his new home.   Back to the box.  It's too large to carry down the street, so, and as astute readers I am sure you can see a plan coming together, we say we'll be back momentarily in a truck to pick up the box. 

We walk back to the wine store, borrow the truck, load the wine, drive to the Interlude, unload the wine, load the monitor, print some SRG letters to fax (the print shop also will fax for a price), and we race to the furniture store for the box, then back to the print shop to pack and ship the monitor.  By now it's 10 minutes to five so Jan returns the truck while Bill packs the shipment.  The print shop happens to have a large box of Styrofoam peanuts that he is just about to throw out, so we use them instead, to pack the monitor.  Long story kept long--everything gets done, and everybody gets to go home on time.  To quote Shakespeare:  "I love it when a plan comes together..."

We have a wonderful dinner of local broiled white fish at The Buoy and wash it down with a bottle of 1995 Pinot Grigio (oldest P.G. we've seen since 1996).   A great meal.  And as we're finishing up about 9:00pm, some other diners are just coming into the restaurant, to eat, no less--this place is really chic,  they serve really late!  This has been a prodigious fine day, to quote Jack Aubrey.

Tuesday, July 20, 1999.  We depart Rogers City by 9:00 am for the four hour run to Cheboygan (spelled with a "c", and not to be confused with the Sheboygan in Wisconsin which we'll visit later (we hope) and is cleverly spelled with an "s").  As we are arriving we discover that the county dock with whom we've been discussing our arrival for several days doesn't have a place for us, so we call the city marina and Jan talks to the harbormaster (who is also the chief of police) about power.  He thinks there is a 50a circuit that works, but he goes out and checks just to be sure.  When we arrive, another boat is in the place he's earmarked for us and they already have the 50a circuit.  We tie up anyway and with luck find a second 50a circuit, plus we jury-rig a second 30a/240v circuit.  Jan's happy.

Wednesday, July 21, 1999.  This is a very important day, since it represents one of the important benchmarks and destinations of the trip--arrival at the Ferne cottage in the Les Cheneaux Islands.  Jan has been coming to this area since she was a child, and Bill has been a regular here since the early sixties..  This is a very important day, since it represents one of the important benchmarks and destinations of the trip--arrival at the Ferne cottage in the Les Cheneaux Islands.  Jan has been coming to this area since she was a child, and Bill has been a regular here since the early sixties.

The trip back up the Cheboygan River is quiet and we quickly turn west toward the beautiful Mackinac Bridge that we can see in the distance.  We route our course near the bridge for photos, even though we'll pass under this bridge in a couple of weeks.  Then we turn north and pass nearby Mackinac Island.  As we come close we see dozens of  sailboats leaving the harbor.  These are the boats that competed in the Port Huron to Mackinac race (in its 75th year).  It wasn't a good race this year since winds have been very light.  What is usually a 36 hour race took some boats five days this year.

As we pass Mackinac Island, we see the Grand Hotel, Fort Mackinac, and the Iroquois Hotel (where we spent a pleasant couple of days last year).  Then, we turn still somewhat eastward toward the Les Cheneaux Islands and the small town of Hessel.  Hessel and Cedarville are the two small towns near the Ferne Cottage.   We'll tie up at Mertaugh's Boat Works both because it is central, and because we'll be changing oil in the engines and generators tomorrow.  We've discussed our needs with Mertaugh's by phone and they have the supplies they'll need to get the job done.

The trip into Hessel is wonderful--it is so good to be back, and to have reached a goal we've only dreamed of for so long.  It was a couple of years before we were married, perhaps in 1965, that we sat on the dock at the cottage and dreamed about coming here by boat some day...

Mertaugh's is the epitome of boat yards.  It is a working marina and stays open all year even though the boating season is only a few months of the year.  They are the oldest Chris Craft dealer in the United States.  As we arrive, we can see some of the classic wood boats being prepared for the big antique boat show that happens in the middle of August.  These restored speed boats are in a class by themselves.  See the photos section for some examples.

Shortly after we arrive, we hear a whistle, and discover Wayne, Robbin and the Werner's (friends of Wayne and Robbin that have become friends of ours).   Nobody can whistle like Robbin.  They are in a small boat and have come from the cottage to welcome us.  We take the dinghy down and return to the cottage for a mini-reunion (we haven't seen them for almost a week and a half!). 

We spend a couple of pleasant hours sitting on the dock, then return to Interlude and dress for dinner.  Wayne and Robbin have found a new restaurant on Drummond Island that's supposed to be very special.  Well, trusty reader, we have an oxymoron in the making--can anything on Drummond Island be very special?  Do you know where Drummond Island is?  You drive past Cedarville to the end of the road to a town called De Tour.  Then you board a small ferry and cross over to Drummond Island that appears not to have yet been settled--and probably won't be until the millenium after the next. I mean it's primitive.  It is so primitive that among the six of us who have been coming to this area for a total of almost 170 years, we've never gone to Drummond Island.  Ever!

Well, we crossed on the ferry, then drove another 15 miles or so, to a gravel road, then a couple of more miles, and we come upon Woodmoor Resort and its Bayside Restaurant.  To our surprise and joy--it's sensational.   The best meal we've ever eaten in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (except for those cooked by Mom Ferne, of course).  This place was the private resort of Tom Monaghan, president of Domino's Pizza.  Four years ago he sold it and now it's a working resort village, golf course, small marina and restaurant.  The restaurant is now managed by the New England Culinary Institute.  What a discover.  We'll be back.

Thursday, July 22, 1999.  We spend the morning changing oil and filters in the engines and generators.  The folks at Mertaugh's do a great job with Bill consulting , and we're done by noon.  During that time, Jan borrows Wayne's car and does some serious grocery shopping in Cedarville.

In the afternoon, we drive back to the cottage and spend time on the dock, updating the web, etc.  We watch the weather that is being fickle, and question our plan to move.