Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Charlevoix, MI - We liked Charlevoix a lot!


The cruise down from Mackinaw City to the busy port of Charlevoix, MI on August 19 took about five hours. The inlet into Charlevoix is kind of narrow and about a fifth of a mile long. At the east end of the inlet is a drawbridge that only opens on the top and bottom of each hour so we had to loiter out in the lake for a short while. After making our pass under the bridge we pulled into Round Lake, the central harbor of Charlevoix. There is the much larger Lake Charlevoix a short distance further east but our destination was the Charlevoix City Marina right in the center of the city of Charlevoix. Charlevoix was scheduled to be a five night stop. We needed to have a few repairs done and contracted with a local marine mechanic to do them. He would not be able to come to us until Wednesday. We also were using this stop as a mail delivery point and a place to have some online orders shipped to us which included a new set of binoculars, a digital chart chip for our chart plotter and a special wrench for our windlass.

One of the things that I have experienced during this trip is that I will dream up an expectation of a place only to have that expectation be totally blown away for better or worse. The upper Hudson River valley was one such case. I expected a semi-urban, sort-of-industrial river scene only to be charmed by its natural beauty and splendor. I have tried to seize this expectation game in my mind to at least not be overtly leaning too much one way or the other. So as we approached Charlevoix I was pretty neutral as to what it would be like. Well, to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. Charlevoix is charming beyond my greatest expectations. The harbor, Round Lake, is as the name says, round. Downtown Charlevoix runs along the western shore along Bridge Street with mostly homes and condos spreading along the northern and southern shores towards the narrow straight that passes on to Lake Charlevoix. The marina is very new and first class all the way. And to make it all even better there again was Ross and Laura of The Zone. We pulled into our slip and got all tied in and settled. After conferring with Ross and Laura we set up a time to go to dinner together at a local restaurant called Whitney’s right across the street from the marina on Bridge Street.

Our dinner with Ross and Laura was very pleasant and we enjoy their company very much. There was of course the typical dock talk but we also got to know them a bit more personally and found that we had a lot in common with them. They’re terrific people.

The next morning, Monday the 20th, the weather was wonderful. It warmed up and the sun was shining very brightly. Lisa and I were down in the galley doing mostly online stuff when Lisa walked up into the salon. She then exclaimed that I needed to come up and take a look at a very unusual sight. There right next to us on the tee-head was a very large cruise ship pulling up to dock. Now this was not like an ocean going cruise ship like a Carnival Cruise liner but a smaller Great Lakes size cruise ship named the Yorktown from New York City. There used to be quite a few of these cruise ships on the Great Lakes but their popularity, necessity and thus their numbers have diminished during the years.

Docking the Yorktown didn’t go so well. The boat itself was a tad short of twice the length of the dock and it pulled up to the dock with its stern flush to one end with the bow sticking out maybe fifty or sixty feet. The dock didn’t have any large cleats that could be tied onto with the size of the lines on the boat. There are vertical posts on the dock that are only screwed onto the dock, not sunk into the bottom like a typical piling. The wind was blowing somewhere between ten and fifteen knots straight from the west hitting the Yorktown at its port bow effectively pushing the nose away from the dock. The dock hands were making what I thought were bad decisions as to how and where they were tying up. All these factors made for a very nervous time. One midship line that really couldn’t be described as a spring line was tied around one of these posts way too high on the post so that when a slight pressure from the wind was put on the bow and thusly the line the post snapped off like a toothpick. All this hassling about was causing turbulence in the water and Why Knot was starting to get knocked around a lot. The dock was physically being moved so much so that the harbor master cleared the dock of spectators and Lisa and I grabbed our wallets and passports and headed up on shore. It’s a bit startling to see the dock being moved around like it was. Finally the harbor master had seen enough and waved the ship off of the dock. The ship then backed up to another marina that had steel docks that were actually permanently built into the bottom of the lake. (Like, why didn’t it go there first?)

With all that excitement done more boaters came into the marina which included some more loopers. We all decided to have a nice barbecue up on shore and had a very good time. There was one guy in particular named Kermit that kept us in stitches. There was lots of laughter, good food and good conversation.

Since we had a few days of down time we caught up on some of the big tasks on our to-do list. The biggest of which was to do something about the brown mustache that the boat picked up initially way back in Myrtle Beach and that has been added to along the way. It was getting pretty gross and I should have done something about it sooner. But this was the time apparently, and with the right chemicals, our dinghy and a handy suction cup we got the job done in just a few hours. Why Knot’s smile is bright and white now and she looks much better.

Charlevoix is a great town. The main street of town, Bridge Street runs right along the edge of the marina and a very nice little shore side park. I am not sure when all of this civic renewal took place but it must have been only a few years ago. Everything is new and unblemished. The boater’s shore side amenities are first rate with a large comfortable lounge, laundry and restrooms. The marina staff is very friendly and helpful. And as I have said before we have generally found that most municipal marinas are very good. There is a grocery store along Bridge Street within minutes of the marina along with a variety of shops and services. One of the nice things about Bridge Street is that there are actually some stores there where you can buy clothing other than souvenir tee-shirts. And as we both needed some cool weather gear for our continuing cruise into early fall this was very helpful.

The weather was for the most part good. The days were mostly sunny and warm and the evenings were cool with a nice breeze. We originally were planning to get underway on Friday the 24th but I determined that the winds were still a bit too high for our tastes. We got conflicting reports on wave heights from incoming boaters throughout the day but I think I made the right decision to stay one more night and depart on Saturday the 25th. (As I am writing this early on Saturday the forecast is for pretty much close to calm conditions particularly during the second half of our cruise.)

So how did I rate Charlevoix? I am a pretty prodigious contributor to ActiveCaptain.com, one of boating’s most used portals. They have a one-to-five-star rating system that captains can use to critique locations and cruising particulars. I have given ratings everywhere from a few one and two star marinas, a couple of four star marinas and mostly three star marinas. I have given only one or two five star appraisals. Whitaker Pointe Marina in Oriental, NC comes to mind as does St. Augustine Municipal. The marina and experience in Charlevoix, Michigan got a five star review from us. It is a terrific place, very picturesque, friendly and inviting. The physical features of the marina are absolutely tremendous and the town of Charlevoix is singularly awesome. I can safely say that we will be back here someday.