137 Britt, Ontario to Milwaukee, WI


Britt disappeared astern. Instead of turning and following the sheltered small craft channel we’d been enjoying for the past few weeks we headed for open water and followed the coast offshore. Within a few hours we’d passed the areas that had taken days to explore with Linda and Steve and continued until we again picked our way between the rocks and marks to the sheltered water that leads to Collins Inlet.

Steep, tree lined cliffs form one side with a rocky shore on the other. Increasing clouds dulled the greens and blues but didn’t diminish the beauty of this unique geologic wonder–a wide, water-filled split in the rock that runs arrow straight for miles. Halfway along, Mill Lake provided a pleasant diversion. We poked deep into the lake passing boats anchored just a short way off the channel. Finally near the end of the lake we found a rocky cliff with a nice anchorage area just made for us. The sun and clouds approved of our choice and provided a fascinating mix of sun shadows and color changes across the cliff face. We settled in and watched a changing show over the next two days. The weather was cool. Afternoon clouds gave way to evening showers and thunderstorms providing an evening concert and light show.

The bear at Hotham Isaland

The bear at Hotham Isaland

The cruising guide cautioned that local knowledge is advised before trying Hotham Island’s shallow south anchorage. Working slowly in the crystal clear water we approached, backed off and then found our way around the large rock just below the surface that blocked the center of the entrance. A distinctive lone black rock against a gray shoreline caught my eye for a split second before returning to the job of finding a safe spot to drop the hook. Minutes later I looked up again and discovered the rock was changing position. A bear had watched us come in and was now ambling off for less populated areas. A mad dive for the camera yielded a bear’s posterior as it moved off. Amid the crowds in the North Channel we’d found a secluded anchorage for ourselves. We kept watch, but our bear didn’t come back.

Scan on the VHF easily followed cruisers using code words like “switch” to go to prearranged channels when we chose to follow conversations. It got amusing when further coded comments such as “lets go to choice 2” were used. We could only assume they were worried that the cruising fleet hearing of their choice would rush to beat them to their selection.

Spanish had been a marginal destination because of shallow waters when we cruised the North Channel in our sailboat. Now with less draft we gave it a try and ran the narrow dredged channel to their beautiful marina. A long hike along a loose grid of streets with a few modest homes brought us to the Trans Canada Highway and the business section of town. Dashing across the road with cars and trucks blasting through town at 60 mph brought us to the grocery store. We paid the store their $3.00 fee for a ride back to the marina. A hike to the top of the hill to see the wind generator completed all of Spanish’s highlights.

Our years of traveling together have created a synchronization of feelings that is difficult to explain. Bear Drop is one of our favorite anchorages in the North Channel. We arrived early and even though it was a bit crowded, we found a nice spot away from most of the closer packed boats and got the anchor set. We were just settling in when we looked at each other and could read in each other’s expression that this wasn’t moving us. Ten minutes later we were on our way for the long hop to Drummond Island, MI.

We’d never been to Drummond Island, and it generated a unique reaction. It felt familiar; then we realized we were ‘up north’ a Michigan phrase used to denote vacation country. We were back in cottage country with cottages built in a manner we’d grown up with. We turned down the $8 rental car and instead walked the two miles to one of the island’s few restaurants and had a wonderful dinner. On the way back we made note of the line of impressive private planes at the island’s airport and realized there was more to the island than was visible on our short walk.

It took a bit of effort but we finally got the anchor to hold on Mackinac Island’s notoriously difficult harbor bottom. We’d worked behind the moorings and had a scant three feet of water under the bottom. Then we settled in to watch the sailboats finish the Chicago-Mackinac race. For us it was a kick since I’d raced the Port Huron version of the race. It was also a frustration since the marina was closed to all but racers so we’d be anchored out until the next day before getting a slip. The next day just before we got our slip assignment we noticed a boat dragging onto the riprap wall. A quick dinghy launch and I was off to assist the owner in getting off the rocks. Between boat saves and watching racers finish we got in our island exploring and then in the fashion of true sailors ended up closing the Pink Pony, celebrating with the stragglers who were finishing one of the slowest Mac races on record for lack of wind.

The next day the wind was up as we pounded our way toward Harbor Springs. At Grays Reef a crash below told us we had become lax at securing for heavy weather running. A broken wine glass and drinking glass now rest forever in the Grays Reef waters.

Sandy and Steve joined us for a few days cruising. We stopped to visit Jim and Helen, Steve’s parents in their beautiful new assisted living apartment before heading for Beaver Island and it’s wonderful not-much-going-on feeling. We spent two days exploring the island’s charm. It was the first time in years we’d had an interlude to enjoy Sandy and Steve for an extended period. It was wonderful just chatting and getting caught up on the fun little things that make lives interesting. We cruised over to Charlevoix as planned and then were having such a nice time that we added in an extra night and headed to Petoskey just to enjoy a bit more of being together and cruising.

For all our sailing on Lake Michigan we’d never been to Traverse City by boat. Our visits by car many years earlier hadn’t impressed us, and it was a long ride down Grand Traverse Bay especially by sailboat. Curious, we made the passage down the bay and started to explore town. The tired old town had changed for the better. Downtown was interesting, the historic areas beautifully redone and the restaurants great. We even found great pasties–one of the great food treats from my Finnish heritage.

We tucked into Suttons Bay for the first time. It’s a tiny community on the west shore of Grand Traverse Bay. We’ll go back again. Well done artwork and home décor we’d not seen elsewhere populated the shops. There was nothing we could use, but it was enjoyable to see excellent art and unique accessories. The peninsula has bus service connecting the scattered towns. A bus ride over to Leland provided an inexpensive tour of the pleasant rolling countryside between Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. Municipal marinas at almost all Michigan ports were well maintained and a bargain to boot.

The NOAA weather forecast bothered us as we walked South Manitou, one of our favorite wilderness islands. Plans to anchor overnight vanished, and we moved on to Frankfort to anchor in more protected waters. Early in the morning we were still uneasy and moved on to Manistee. We arrived as the winds the Mackinac boats had been looking for showed up and blew us into the harbor with 20 knot following winds and building seas. Way up the river at the hill-sheltered marina we hardly knew the wind was blowing. A chance encounter introduced us to Tim and Sandi. We may not have been a good influence while being weathered in. Friendships grew rapidly, and happy hours extended into dinners. They added a unique experience, inviting us over to their sailboat for dinner, but while cooking it aboard their boat requesting that they bring dinner over to Odyssey’s larger and enclosed cockpit to enjoy. As we were leaving they had modified their travel plans to attend Trawler Fest in Wisconsin and are thinking of switch from sail to power so they, too, can cruise.

Ludington was a kick as we revisited old haunts. Pushing on we entered White Lake for the first time and docked next to Tomcat with Tom and Dianne, friends we’d met years earlier in the Keys. This was going to be our last chance to see them as boaters since Tomcat was up for sale, and they had just had a new home built in Florida. Rick and Joan drove over from Dearborn and joined the party. A wonderful time was had by all.

 Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee Art Museum

Our early morning departure hadn’t been planned, but there we were at 2:30AM starting Odyssey’s engines and slipping dock lines. At 2AM we were both wide-awake a bit keyed up and ready to leave. The still air outside was an incentive. The forecast was for 20 knot winds from the west in the afternoon. The breadcrumb trail on the GPS and radar made it easy to find our way out of White Lake to Lake Michigan. A punch of the autopilot track button and all we had to do was stand watch as we headed for our Milwaukee waypoint. It was a treat to do a night crossing—something we used to do on Tranquility but hadn’t had much need to do on Odyssey. As the sun came up the wind began to fill in as forecast but by that time Milwaukee’s skyline was high on the horizon. We arrived in time to watch the newly expanded Milwaukee Art Museum spread its two huge bird like wings from their folded position hugging the building sides and literally open the building for the day. For us we’d again come full circle. As we were leaving on our personal odyssey after retirement in 1997, the plans for the museum expansion had just been announced. Then two years later we were teased by seeing the start of construction. Now this beautiful finished piece of architecture in all its unique glory awaited exploration as did our old favorite haunts. Milwaukee is a very special city.


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