Thursday, September 6, 2012

Making the Run to Chicago – Holland and St. Joseph / Benton Harbor (part one)

For the ride from White Lake to Holland the NWS predicted eastern winds of ten to twenty knots and seas of around one foot and that is pretty much what we got. It was a mostly sunny day, pleasant temperatures with the seas being at what could best be called a rough chop, certainly doable. There were never any real waves that were in an organized fashion so the ride was a bit bouncy but that’s all. No problem.

By the time we pulled into Lake Macatawa, which is the harbor for Holland, it was a beautiful sunny but windy day and there were a ton a boats on the water. When we came in to the inlet there were enough boats that it looked like a busy street with cars that were two abreast in each direction. Our marina, the Anchorage Marina Yacht Club was on the north side and with a little help of a dock mate we got tied up and secured for a two night stay. It was Labor Day weekend and we thought that staying in on Labor Day would be a good idea.
Busy, busy, busy!

Looking out from the restaurant at Anchorage Marina Yacht Club

The marina was very nice and it really is a club that offers transient dockage if they have the room. The club house was very nice with a swimming pool, restaurant and even a small game room with a foosball table. YAY! One of my unpublicized past accomplishments is that during my college days I was a badass foosball player. Not to sound less than humble but I’m really not kidding. Along with a fraternity brother of mine named Mark Merritt we were the dominant foosball team at the entire university (Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY) as well as in fraternity competitions in the northeastern US.  Lisa, who was the one to find the table, very kindly stepped up and let herself be a sucker for awhile as I pummeled her in some one on one play.

We arrived on Sunday the 2nd of September and the yacht club as well as the entire Holland lake area was in full last-weekend-of-the-boating-season mode. It was crazy-busy. Add to that the weather was sunny and warm so it was time to party. Everybody was having a great time. We did a bit of maintenance (Nothing too strenuous. It was Labor Day after all.) and then went for a swim. It felt great.

One of the interesting sights was to watch the mayhem at the nearby public boat ramp. Starting about 4:30 on Labor Day dozens of boats all came cruising in to get shoved back onto their trailers to be lugged home for the winter. 
Time to get the boats out of the water.

Our getaway day was Tuesday the 4th and the forecast predicted an ideal day to go to Benton Harbor, MI, our next stop. We pulled out of our slip in a light fog after a short rain. It was grey and overcast and the water was not only flat as a pancake but disserted as well. The Labor Day weekend was over. Everybody went home. All the kiddies were starting school. The summer boating season was over. Now would begin the arduous task of the marinas pulling all of the boats out of the water, winterizing them and putting them up until next year. Kind of sad really. But we aren’t anywhere close to being done, so off we went.
A hazy departure from Holland.
Darrell loves his nappies!

Out in Lake Michigan the skies soon opened up to sunshine with high altitude clouds and the seas were almost flat. There was a gentle north breeze with lightly rolling waves to the south that pushed us along at brisk speeds of 8.6 to 9.1 knots. This was a great cruising day. Pulling into the St. Joseph West Basin Marina was a snap. Our slip was almost directly in front of the harbor office (Awesome wifi! Yay Netflix!)

Now the only thing that I have ever known about Benton Harbor was that the name of the town was used as the alias for the white winged crusader Chickenman, for the 60s era radio comedy series. (Here is a Youtube link for the uninitiated ) It is an industrial town and a bit run down. Our marina location is in St. Joseph which is less industrial and run down. The marina is very newish with a friendly harbor master named Brian. He is very accommodating and gives us rides to stores and whatnot. This is also a scheduled maintenance stop. I am going to do a full routine maintenance regimen so I won’t have to worry about it while we are in the rivers. The windlass also needs a bit of attention.
A beautiful sunset in St. Joseph

When we get out of here is kind of a dilemma. The next major destination is most likely Hammond, IN near the mouth of the Calumet River (Or the Chicago Sanitary Canal, whatever you want to call it.) We could shoot straight across the southern tip of Lake Michigan to get there. It’s a distance of about 52 miles. That is doable but there is an alternate float plan to break that up into two days stopping off at Michigan City, IN. Each leg would be about thirty miles. So here’s the dilemma. The weather forecast for the next several days kind of sucks. Here is direct copy of the marine forecast from the NWS for a near-shore location outside of Michigan City as of Sept. 6, about 6:00 am.
Today (ed. 9/6/2011): WNW wind 5 to 10 kt becoming NNE in the afternoon. Sunny. Waves around 1 ft.
Tonight: Variable winds 5 kt or less. Mostly clear. Waves 1 ft or less.
Friday: S wind 5 to 10 kt becoming WNW in the afternoon. Showers and thunderstorms likely, mainly after 1pm. Waves 1 ft or less.
Friday Night: N wind around 20 kt. Showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm before 1am, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms after 1am. Waves 2 ft building to 7 ft.
Saturday: NNW wind 15 to 20 kt. A chance of showers. Waves 7 to 8 ft.
Saturday Night: NW wind around 10 kt. A slight chance of showers. Waves 4 to 6 ft.
Sunday: NW wind around 10 kt. Mostly sunny. Waves 3 to 4 ft.
Sunday Night: N wind 5 to 10 kt. Mostly clear. Waves 2 to 3 ft.
Monday: Variable winds 5 kt or less. Sunny. Waves 1 ft or less.

SEVEN TO EIGHT FEET WAVES ON SATURDAY?! Are they kidding? And that’s the near shore forecast.

So what do we do? Do we do our maintenance today and head out to Michigan City tomorrow (Friday)? We can’t go straight to Hammond (52 nm, about seven hours cruise time.) because how I’m reading the forecast is that the storm front is moving into the area in the early afternoon. We don’t want to be out in big water then. Do we go to Michigan City on Friday? We could, but I am not convinced that the marina in Michigan City is such a hot place to be during a very, very stormy couple of days. (One complication is that there are absolutely no reviews of the marina in Michigan City on any of the usual website resources that loopers use such as ActiveCaptain, the AGLCA website forums nor Marina Life. When viewing satellite pictures of the marina I am not convinced that it’s a great location during a big blow.) Also if a big storm is coming through that very well could mean that after it passes there likely could be a period of good conditions for a few days which opens up the opportunity to go directly to Hammond. Well the crew has voted and we are going to sacrifice a fair to decent day on Friday and stay here in St. Joseph. We are not in so great a hurry to get anywhere that we have to take a big chance during a period of unsettled conditions.

More later.