September 16 – 23, 2019 Exploring Lake Michigan

On Monday, the winds were low and we headed out to LeLand, MI, also known as “Fishtown.”  In the mid 1800’s to early 1900’s, LeLand established itself as a large commercial fishing area.  Still present are the old wooden buildings where fish was brought in to port, right off the boats.  There is still some commercial fishing there, but the town is now more of a tourist attraction.  

WOW, we got two days in a row of low winds, so we moved again on Tuesday to Frankfort, MI. Along the way we started noticing many sandy beach areas.  We had no idea that so much of the coast of Michigan was sand.  We passed Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park – more about that later.  Several Looper boats were traveling together, making our way towards Chicago.

Winds were pretty high for the next few days, so we looked to see what we could do in Frankfort. Couldn’t find any public transportation to take us anywhere and no Uber.  We really wanted to see Sleeping Bear Dunes, but it was several miles away – biking wasn’t a good option.  Going out to dinner that evening with friends Patty and Todd, I decided that we would try to see if any of the wait staff at the restaurant might drive us over tomorrow.  Well, we sat down at a table and before our waiter could even introduce himself, Patty said “Do you have a car?”  Looking a little stunned, he said “yes.”  Then she said “What are you doing tomorrow?”  I’m thinking that he has thoughts of “Mrs. Robinson” in his head!  We explained that we wanted to go to the park.  As it turned out, he had just given up his next day’s shift to someone who needed the work hours.  He was free and would be happy to take us.  We agreed on a price and time for pick up.  Where there is a will, there is a way.

GREAT day at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.  The weather was sunny and comfortable, so we hiked the dunes.  Some of the dunes are over 450 ft high. Beautiful sand and fabulous views of the Lake are the rewards at the top of the dunes.  

Our driver, Lowell, had dropped us off and said he would return in a couple of hours.  When he came back, he asked if we wanted to go anywhere else.  Sure, let’s go to the Visitor’s Center.  So we went there and got some education about the area.   We tried to get in to one of the lighthouses, but it was closed that day. Then – since he was willing – we went to Glen Arbor, the next small town south of us.  We treated Lowell to some ice cream at the Cherry Republic Store, which is a fun place to visit.  Anything “cherry” that you can think of to eat or drink is available at a Cherry Republic Store.   All those Michigan cherries are delicious.  We walked around the town, then headed back to Frankfort. We paid Lowell and tipped him. We were happy, and he probably made more money driving us around than he would have made at work that day. We suggested that he could set up a side business during the summer and offer his driving services to Loopers.

While at Frankfort, we also did some beach walking, had an outdoor Looper Pot Luck Dinner, did some biking and even found a farmer’s market.  The sun was out, the temps were great — just the wind held us back from traveling, but it was a fun time there.  One note about the market – there was a man there who sold various kinds of mushrooms.  We got quite an education talking with him.  We tried some of the mushrooms he had available – quite delicious.

One of the benefits of traveling late in the season, is that many of the Michigan marinas are half price after Labor Day.  We were glad to have some compensation for having to stay so long at each place because of the September winds.  Unfortunately, we had to skip over many places we would have liked to visit because there were only so many days we could still be cruising, and many of those days were too windy to move.  Something that we haven’t previously mentioned – the locks south of Chicago were to be closed Sept 21 – Oct 5.  Earlier in the trip we had to make a decision.  Would we rush thru Georgian Bay and North Channel to get thru the locks BEFORE they closed, or take our time and plan to go thru after they reopened?  Waiting for the reopening put us late in the season, but we didn’t want to rush thru some great places and miss out.  The downside is that the winds were curtailing where and when we could cruise.  I guess that’s the Ying and Yang of life!

On the 20thwe were able to move to Ludington.  This is home to the SS Badger, the last remaining large coal-burning steamship in the US.  It cruises between Wisconsin and Michigan, connecting the eastern and western segments of US 10, and has officially been designated as part of US 10.  It was originally a rail car ferry, but now only transports passengers, autos, busses, and trucks. It makes two trips in each direction, each day, and rarely misses a sailing due to inclement weather. The departure and arrival of the ship is somewhat of an event each day in Ludington, and we were able to see it come and go several times.  Some of the Loopers took the trip over to Wisconsin and returned later in the day.  The ship is a registered historical site.

We also did some lighthouse visits in Ludington.  The North Breakwater Lighthouse (yes, same name as the one in Frankfort) is at the entrance to the channel to the marina, so we saw it when we entered Ludington, and we walked out to it while on a bike ride.  The waves crash against the stone breakwater, splashing water up into the air. 

The Big Sable Lighthouse is located in Ludington State Park.  That visit required a much longer bike ride.  We were able to go inside this lighthouse and the views from the top were fabulous.  

We had another Looper Pot Luck Dinner in Ludington – 10 Looper Boat crews in attendance. Lots of chatter and laughs. Games followed dinner.  Not such a bad way to spend windy days in port.