Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Making the Run to Chicago – Holland and St. Joseph / Benton Harbor to Hammond, IN

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.
The Holland Turnpike, as it was called by a fellow boater in Holland.

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. (I am usually a mild mannered guy. But when it comes to foosball I am RUTHLESS!!!!!)
Lake Macatawa from the yacht club restaurant.

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. 
Boaters waiting to get to the ramps.

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.

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   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcQfy1SavdQ ) 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 needed a bit of attention.

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 marina 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 terribly 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 very 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.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

We’ve been here in St. Joseph now for five nights and we have one night to go. The marine forecast for Monday the 10th of September is a favorable one. So much so we are skipping stopping over in Michigan City and going straight to Hammond Marina in Hammond, IN. which is a short distance to the mouth of the Calumet River and the Chicago Sanitary Canal. It will be a fifty-five mile leg. But as I said the conditions are good for the crossing. That being said the stay here in St. Joseph has been interesting. The main point of interest here has been the weather. A major storm system passed through here overnight on Friday into Saturday and as predicted (see above) the conditions were terrible for boating but great to stay in a marina.

Saturday was very rough. There was some rain but not too much. The big features were the winds and waves. We took a short walk to see what was happening on the lake and we were shocked how turbulent and violent the surf was. The waves were easily six to eight feet coming onto the shore and we could only imagine what it was like a bit further out. There was a charter fishing boat (above)  trying to make its way out through the protected jettied channel where the waves were rolling in at about a six foot level. We watched with an attitude of something like, “What the hell is he thinking.” He was pitching up and down very pronouncedly until his smarts finally kicked in when he turned his boat around and went back in. Our stay in the marina was totally without incident as it is very well protected. We didn’t feel a thing.

Lisa, the Zamboni Queen!
Monday the 10th of September came and we pulled out of the marina in St. Joseph right at daybreak. It was a long day for us, 55 miles, and we wanted to get a head start on it. I did set a course that did go to Michigan City and then to Hammond rather than straight across Lake Michigan because I wasn’t sure the forecast was all that hot to cross over to Hammond mid-lake. That turned out to be a good decision as the seas were following with two to three feet swells rather than the one foot waves predicted. Fortunately, they were gentle swells with a bit of duration to them so the ride was more of a never ending undulation rather than anything more abrupt. (Lisa says, “It was like a mild “Tilt-a-Whirl” ride.)
Chicago in the distance while underway to Hammond.

We can see Chicago from our marina. That's cool!

A couple of adjustments are in order on our part. First, we have entered the Central Time Zone which, like the change from daylight savings time to standard time there is always a glitch in one’s internal clock. The other is that we are going to be transitioning to a different kind of boating once again. Hammond marks the end of our big lake boating experience which we both liked a lot. The entrance of the Calumet SAG river is just three miles away. Once we enter we will pretty much be exclusively in rivers for the next gazillion miles all the way down to Mobile, Alabama.