Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Making The Run To Chicago - Leland and Frankfort

It is desirable that we get to Chicago as soon possible to continue our trek south down the Illinois River, as there are signs everywhere that cool autumn weather was going to settle in early.
·         In the Great Lakes region summer had its big run early in 2012. While the rest of the mid-US had that extreme heat wave that made headlines in July and August, places like Ontario and the mitten of Michigan the hot weather came in and moved out by early July.  

·         According to long range forecasts including the Old Farmer’s Almanac (a source we have personally found to be pretty darn reliable for big overviews of weather conditions) fall weather was going to settle in early.
·         Marina operators in northern climes were saying that boater traffic was down and that they were anticipating closing the marinas down for the season in mid September rather than early October.  

It is approximately 330 miles from Mackinaw City to Chicago going along the eastern shore of the lake stopping at any number of very nice towns to get there. I have already written about our pleasant stays in Mackinaw City and Charlevoix. From Charlevoix we are going to have to get a move on, hopping from town to town to get to Chicago. It is unfortunate that we cannot stay several days at each one of these ports because they all seem to be wonderful places deserving of a day or two of exploration. But that can’t be. So this is our cruise plan after Charlevoix: (Michigan) Leland, Frankfort, Luddington, White Lake, Holland (probably for a few days for provisioning and minor repairs), Benton Harbor/St. Joseph, and New Buffalo or Michigan City, IN. From there we are planning to go to one of the big marinas near the heart of downtown Chicago for a couple of days. From Chicago there are several routes through the metro area to get to the Illinois River. The most scenic, the Chicago River which goes right through downtown is not an option for us because of a low fixed bridge along the way that we cannot fit under. The only option for us is the Chicago Sanitary River to the south of Chicago through Calumet, Illinois.
Anyway, back to Lake Michigan.

8/25/2012 Leland – a pleasant day to be on the water.
Our cruise to from Charlevoix to Leland wasn’t bad at all. The winds were fine and the waves were for the most part not any worse than a hard chop. The worst of it was when we motored past where the mouth to Grand Traverse Bay flows into the lake. The winds were southerly so this is a natural location where wind-pushed waves from both bodies of water collide. The marina in Leland has newish docks with excellent shore side amenities.

The town of Leland is very pleasant. It used to be a very active commercial fishing port. There is a small river call the Carp River that flows through the town from the lake to a larger local lake called Lake Leelanau. But this lake and Lake Michigan are not on the same level so this little river has a big drop about two-hundred yards in from Lake Michigan. In this small river there is a village of sorts of old fishing shacks that used to be the shore side headquarters for commercial fishermen. The area is called appropriately, Fishtown. But the commercial fishermen are all gone and the shacks have been converted to quaint shops and attractions. Pretty cool. The town of Leland is very nice with nice shops and stores that have a warm feel to them and are not tour-isty at all.

8/26/2012 Frankfort – Should have stayed in Leland another day.
Nature is fickle. You can have the greatest weather forecasts ever and she’ll (nature, that is) turn around and decide that you have had it too easy and decide that you need to get a can of whoop-ass opened up in your face. That is what happened on our cruise from Leland to Frankfort. The forecasts were for good conditions with a front moving in later in the day giving us a good cruising window. We launched out into the lake from Leland and had mostly good conditions for most of the cruise. There were some two the three foot waves (not in the forecast) but were easily manageable. We weren’t running late or anything like that but as we cruised towards Frankfort the waves were getting bigger but they had somewhat long durations making them more like swells rather than waves. It was a thirty-five mile cruise and things were ok for the first thirty miles. But once we approached Point Betsie and made the turn to the inlet at Frankfort for the last five miles, oh my, did we get rocked! Waves easily four to six feet were coming at us…fast! Making matters worse was that there was a lot of traffic. There was a local fishing tournament and all of the participants were coming back into the harbor for the weigh-in and they all had to be inside by 1:30 pm. On top of that there were other boats all ducking into the harbor to get out of the heavy seas including two large fast sport fishers that passed us, on plane, on both sides of us. So we had the heavy seas and the opposing heavy wakes of two boats. There was one moment when the second boat passed us on our port side that we were rocked so hard and violently that there were things getting tossed about in the boat that had never been tossed about before. We are both convinced that this was the single most violent and frightening bit of tossing and turning that we have yet experienced. But Why Knot can take it, even when her crew can’t and she got us through to the jetty and into the well protected harbor of Frankfort. When we tied into our slip we were telling the dock hands about our ordeal and they said that they were told that the waves were maybe two, maybe three feet high. “My ass!”, was my comment.
We are going to stay in Frankfort one extra day to give the lake time to settle down before we head south yet again to Ludington.

8/28/2012 – Discretion is the better part of valor

We spent the 27th in Frankfort so that I could, quite frankly, recuperate from the pounding we took the day before as we entered Frankfort. Too bad, too, because the conditions were ideal to make our next leg to Ludington. But as it is said, it is what it is. We spent the day on the boat taking care of business or just blowing off time hanging around. I took two, count'em, TWO naps. I guess in reflection our rough entry into Frankfort did shake me up a bit. It was nice to relax.
Frankfort is a nice enough town with a pleasant little downtown area with several marinas, a time share resort and just enough stores to keep a window shopper busy. The weather was nice (Damn!) if not a bit warm so chillaxing was a good thing.

 As Tuesday the 28th opened up everything pointed to it being a good cruising day. I was able to get online and see that the forecast was for northerly breezes with seas at two feet or less. Not so bad. We pulled out right at 7:00 am and headed out onto the lake. As we made our turn to the south I instantly began to see that the calmer winds that were predicted were blowing over a long fetch and the seas were already at the two to three foot levels and running up our stern. Why Knot does not like following waves very much as she tends to pitch and yawl to a great degree making her a bit hard to keep on course. Plus it makes the ride uncomfortable. I turned on the radio to catch the weather service forecasts and learned that the favorable forecast from earlier was now replaced with one that were not so good. It was now calling for winds of ten to fifteen knots straight from the north with two to three foot waves and as we were already in three foot seas my instincts told me that it was going to get worse before it got any better. Lisa and I first discussed trying to keep going to make it to Manistee about twenty statute miles to the south. But I did not like the way the boat was handling, so I turned her around and we headed back to Frankfort. Tomorrow is another day. The forecasts are for southerly winds of anywhere from calm to fifteen knots back to calm, depending where on the route we would be. There is a saying about single engine boats – If there is trouble keep your bow into it.

 It is so hard to reconcile all of these weather forecast sources! You have the National Weather Service outlets: online graphic forecasts, zone forcasts, radio, & “point & click”. Then there is Weather Underground and other sites. But then any captain has to use personal observation.
So as of the 28th we are back in Frankfort waiting out a day that many captains would have gone for. Bottom line is I got out there and I didn’t like it. So back in we went.