Category Archives: Destinations

Report: Traverse City to Suttons Bay

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Contributed by Guy L., who sails his CD28 out of Traverse City.

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Perhaps the best part of winter is that it gives us time to reflect on the previous sailing season and anticipate the next. Without a doubt, two adventures aboard my new (to me) Cape Dory 28 Sisu (name to change this year) will always stand out. The first was the CDSOA Lake Michigan cruise to Beaver Island in August, followed in October by our sail up to Suttons Bay from Traverse City.

As much as the trip to Beaver Island was a fantastic week with new experiences – e.g., difficult anchoring conditions, living aboard for a week – the conditions were such that we had to motor up and back. Suttons Bay was a great opportunity for some sailing.

Suttons Bay is an easy sail from Traverse City, just 15 nautical miles or so. We started out with brisk NW winds at 15, gusting to 25 mph. Having owned two boats previous to the 28 – a CD Typhoon and then a CD 25 – I finally learned the value and necessity of reefing the main. While temperatures were comfortable, having the dodger was added protection and the boat handled the trip as if to say “no problem!” I have read many similar comments regarding the stiff sailing abilities of these fine craft and am proud to be among that group.

Rounding the marker at Stony Point, the wind shifted to the southwest which prompted our decision to drop sails and motor the rest of the way. Our original plan was to spend a couple nights at anchor, but we realized that this wind direction would be better managed tied up in a slip at the municipal marina. We hailed the harbor master on the VHF and were assigned a transient slip. One word of caution for future reference: request assistance upon arrival as the slip number assigned was actually on the opposite side we were told. Having a young man at the slip not only marked the correct location, but he was helpful in making a more successful landing!

Suttons Bay Municipal Marina
Suttons Bay Municipal Marina. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

The marina offers restrooms with showers, and water and electricity at the slip. Being centrally located in this popular tourist town, the marina offers easy access to many fine restaurants, most within an easy walk. There’s a movie theater, shopping, and a nice, well-stocked grocery store nearby to provide all your needs. Whether transportation is provided by the local bus system or other means, several wineries offer tasting rooms, adding to shoreside things to do.

After spending two relaxing nights, it was time to head back to Traverse City. As we departed the marina and headed out to the bay, the beautiful tall ship Inland Seas was out with another group. This organization’s mission is to help people of all ages experience the science and spirit of the Great Lakes. The group offers both shipboard and onshore programs.

Our conditions heading back to town were similar, and again we were under reefed main with winds out of the northwest. With this wind direction, the trip was made easy by not having to tack or jibe – as was our experience two days before.

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As for destinations on your sailing itinerary, Suttons Bay is not to be missed and is situated between two other fine ports: Northport and Traverse City.

Report: Beaver Island Rendezvous

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There could be no greater testimony to the high caliber of Cape Dory owners than a loosely planned event – hosted by a couple of newbies, no less – turning out to be a great time. And such was the case for the Lake Michigan rendezvous held Aug. 2-6 at St. James Harbor, Beaver Island, the relaxed island atmosphere and its natural beauty providing the perfect backdrop. Even without a carefully planned schedule, tours, or activities, there was plenty of good conversation, a congenial spirit, and a lot of enthusiasm for the event – and even excited talk about planning one for next year.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of Cathy Monaghan and Great Lakes Fleet Captain Ed Haley, who regularly posted registration reminders to the CD Board, 10 people registered for the event and four boats made the trip. Now this number might be small in comparison to some of our other fleets, but as our Dear Mr. Dunn pointed out in a recent issue of Masthead, the vastness of the Great Lakes shoreline tends to complicate things. (Some quick math indicates that the one-way mileage average of the four boats is roughly 160nm)

When Ariel and her crew, Dave and David VanDenburgh, arrived Sunday evening, August 1, we were greeted with a pretty harbor made more attractive by the presence of two Cape Dorys, SISU (CD28) and Spindrift (CD300MS). After anchoring and settling in, we dinghied over to SISU and met Guy Leslie and Jan Jones. Guy is a long-time Cape Dory owner (first a Typhoon Weekender, then a CD25) and the proud new owner of a beautiful CD28, SISU, which he purchased in Holland, MI, in September 2009 and brought to her new port in Traverse City. When he heard about the rendezvous, Guy was eager to meet up with other CD owners and said he “just had to make it.” And make it he did, taking SISU on their first extended trip together. Little did he know he’d have a few more opportunities to “get acquainted” with her as the week progressed. In the true spirit of a rendezvous, however, he found that he had plenty of support as he dealt with tough anchoring conditions and some transmission issues. Much to his credit, Guy remained optimistic and unflappable through it all.

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Guy Leslie descending into the engine compartment to ferret out the cause of his transmission woes.
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Guy Leslie aboard SISU.

Monday morning dawned rainy and windy, a 15-20 kt southwesterly setting in for much of the week. The gusts proved too much for SISU’s anchor and she began creeping downwind through the anchorage, her anchor fouled with weeds. Once SISU was safely re-anchored, we went ashore to meet Bill and Mary Kay Movalson, new owners of Spindrift, a very clean CD 300 Motorsailer out of Gladstone, MI, just north of Escanaba.

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A weedy bottom made for tough anchoring.

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Bill and Mary Kay Movalson’s CD 300 Motorsailer, Spindrift

Bill and Mary Kay purchased Spindrift in May and, like Guy, they were excited to hear about the Beaver Island rendezvous. Bill is quite the gadget/innovation guy and has already made a number of upgrades to the boat, including custom dinghy davits and pilothouse doors. Mary Kay is a gracious host and loves the comfortable ride and versatility afforded by the Motorsailer. Bill and Mary Kay had obligations in Mackinac and needed to get an early start in the morning, so the group enjoyed drinks and conversation aboard Spindrift before heading to Shamrock, a local restaurant. Just as we were leaving the dock, Mike Ritenour and Sue arrived aboard La Vida, a CD33. Rit and Sue, exhausted from their 60+ nm trip from Cheboygan (not to mention their earlier travels through Lake Superior and the Soo locks), opted to settle in for the night and anchored in the harbor.

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La Vida anchored in St. James Harbor.

The group met in the morning for coffee and breakfast (and yet more great conversation), and then walked over the St. James Boat Shop to check on Bill, a skilled woodworker and old friend of Rit’s. Bill and his apprentice make fine cherry buckets and strip canoes. Sawdust covers the floor of the shop and partially completed boats hang from the ceiling or rest on sawhorses. After taking a bit of joshing from Bill, whose 80-something mind is as sharp as ever, Rit added another cherry bucket memento to his collection.

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Old Bill splicing a handle for his cherry bucket.

After some exploring and stocking up on groceries, the group migrated to La Vida for drinks and conversation. Rit gave a tour of La Vida, which is absolutely decked out with gear, while Sue listened graciously. For those who don’t know, La Vida was a victim of hurricane Hugo and rescued by Rit, who has put some 60,000 miles under her keel since then. To say that she is equipped is an understatement. By Rit’s own account, even the Coast Guard during a courtesy inspection finally gave up trying to find fault when they realized they weren’t in the presence of your typical Weekend Warrior. Rit’s good nature and wonderful companion, combined with his considerable experience, made the time aboard La Vida a real privilege.

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l-r: Michael “Rit” Ritenour, Guy Leslie, Sue

Two members came in by ferry: Kevin LeMans and Great Lakes Fleet Captain Ed Haley. Kevin had originally planned to sail Raconteur, his CD30, but crew plans fell through and he ended up camping on the island with his family and joining the group for breakfast. We hope to meet Raconteur in person at the next rendezvous! Ed Haley traveled and then traveled some more to make an appearance, and we are grateful for his dedication. After completing a 500-mile bike ride through Iowa with his son, Ed drove to Charlevoix and caught the ferry to Beaver Island, arriving just in time to sort out some transmission issues on SISU. Not surprisingly, Ed once owned a CD28, so his experience came in handy.

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Dinner with the crew the night before departure.

Friday morning brought with it a shift in wind, giving everyone a fair wind home. We said our goodbyes over breakfast, courtesy of the GLF, and set a course for home. Rit, Sue and La Vida set out through Gray’s Reef Passage and on to Mackinac; Ariel headed south for South Manitou Island (and St. Joseph); and Ed and Guy messed about with SISU before Ed took the ferry back to Charlevoix. Despite his earlier transmission troubles, Guy made it home safely to Traverse City without a glitch.

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Rit and Ed Haley say goodbye.

Although the newbies might like to take credit for a successful rendezvous, there’s no doubt that it was due to the unequaled character of your typical Cape Dory owner. After all, great boats pick great people. Perhaps there will be more great boats and great people next year?! We’ll keep you posted.

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Ariel in early morning sunlight, departure day.

Destination: St. Joseph, Michigan

It’s hard not to be biased about your hometown, but St. Joseph really is a great town – and it’s getting better.

The St. Joseph River channel is well marked and dredged to a depth of approximately 20 ft. Visitors arriving by boat can find transient slips at either West Basin Municipal Marina or Harbor Isle, a private marina located upriver. West Basin, located on the north side of the channel, has several well-maintained transient slips, is easily accessed, and provides foot access to Tiscornia Beach. The marina is located next to the St. Joseph River Yacht Club, a beautiful, historic brick building on the water’s edge, and a railroad swing bridge. The entrance is clearly marked and the marina has good depth for moderate-draft vessels. Major renovations in fall 2009 and early spring 2010 resulted in updated docks and a new marina office. Harbormaster Jimmy Carolla is very friendly and accommodating. Visitors should contact the harbormaster on VHF ch 9 for slip assignment. As always, specify your vessel type, length, and draft.

New office and haulout well at West Basin

Harbor Isle was also undergoing renovation in 2010 to make way for a condo and marina complex. Since most of the area likely will be rebuilt, little maintenance has been performed on the existing docks. Visitors will need to pass through three bridges to reach Harbor Isle – one railroad swing bridge and two bascule bridges. Water depth in the area of Harbor Isle gets very shallow and is not well marked. It would be wise to stay near the slips on the south side of the river.

Access to the downtown on foot from West Basin Municipal and Harbor Isle requires crossing the river, but West Basin has a courtesy van available. Additionally, slip renters may use four bicycles provided by West Basin Municipal marina. A shuttle also operates between West Basin and downtown during certain hours. If you do walk into town, plan on a 10-15 minute walk from either location.

If you don’t mind a potentially bumpy ride and boat traffic, boats may tie up along the seawall on the south side of the channel just past the railroad swing bridge. From there it is a short walk up the bluff to the downtown – and it’s free. Even better, you just might have a front row seat to a concert in the nearby bandshell. Skippers tying up along the seawall should use fender boards or several over-sized fenders to keep the boat off of the corrugated steel. The seawall will be especially uncomfortable during periods of sustained winds from the W to NW, as waves tend to roll down the St. Joseph channel.

Anchoring in the inner basin just upriver from the first bascule bridge is possible, but St. Joseph is a working harbor and large ships deposit loads of gravel nearby. Bottom conditions in the area are unknown to me, but I would expect them to be muddy and potentially foul.

Boaters arriving in St. Joseph would do well to check out Wolf’s Marine, Southwest Michigan’s largest marine store. Wolf’s stocks an extensive inventory and has an on-site rigging shop.

Downtown St. Joseph is a great mix of natural beauty and quaint city streets lined by shops of all kinds. There are several great places to eat – Silver Beach Pizza, Pump House Grill, Port 412, Tim’s Too, Kilwin’s ice cream – and several fun shops. The newest attraction opened in 2010, the St. Joseph Carousel. Located in a brand new pavilion, the carousel comes close to recreating an old-time St. Joseph carousel that closed sometime in the 70s, I believe. And nearby Silver Beach is one of the most attractive beaches on Lake Michigan.

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St. Joseph channel
The channel during a fall storm.

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Destination: St. James Harbor, Beaver Island

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Ariel anchored in St. James Harbor, Beaver Island.

One of the great things about sailing Lake Michigan is that it’s easy to feel like you’ve really gotten away from it all. With a harbor dotting the eastern shoreline every 40nm or so, it’s easy to slip away for a weekend and enjoy a tranquil anchorage and some new sights. Beaver Island, located at the northern end of Lake Michigan, is a great cruising destination and one that really is away from it all. If you like anchoring out and prefer staying aboard reading, relaxing, and enjoying the sights from the deck of your boat, Beaver Island is the perfect spot. (If you like people, fine restaurants, and lots to do, check out Charlevoix’s Round Lake, where you can anchor on short scope, surrounded by other boats, and watch the parade of boats watch you.)

The following report provides basic information about St. James Harbor and is not intended to be used for navigational purposes.

The approach to St. James Harbor is from the ESE and presents no obstacles. (The northern end of Lake Michigan presents far more navigational obstacles than the southern end; sailors unfamiliar with the area should consult their charts carefully.) Once inside the harbor, there is significant shoaling to the south and southwest, and some thin water to the north. The ferry dock (Emerald Isle ferry from Charlevoix) and municipal marina, located in the NW portion of the harbor, provide a good landmark to steer for. Although the local marina offers transient slips, St. James Harbor provides good holding and shelter, making anchoring preferable*, especially if you have a dinghy to go ashore.

*Anchoring is especially preferable thanks to the harbormaster at the Municipal Marina who, apparently, has little affection or patience for visitors to his island.

Buoys in the inner harbor mark a channel to the northern part of the harbor. There is ***good holding in a sandy bottom with moderate depths. Our preference was to nose into the shallower water at the southern end of the inner harbor to reduce rode length. We anchored in about 10-12 feet of water and set out 70′ of rode for a scope of 7:1. ***Our experience during the rendezvous of 2010 indicates that holding can be marginal. An abundance of weeds resulted in two members dragging their anchors or having difficulty setting. Be sure to back on your anchor to ensure that it is well dug in.***

The island is not especially dinghy friendly, but we discovered that the folks at Beaver Island Marina, at the north end of the harbor, are happy to let sailors use their beach for coming ashore.

Local sights ashore include a historical society and museum, with much attention given to King Strang and the island’s Irish heritage. There are a few local eateries. A store located near the Beaver Island Marina provided easy dinghy access. I understand that there is some great hiking and camping on the island, but we didn’t look into that.

Without a doubt, the best part of Beaver Island is the harbor. The solitude, the wooded shoreline, the sounds of a pulpwood tug, and the absence of other boats make St. James Harbor a peaceful getaway.

North end Lake Michigan
About 27nm NNW of Charlevoix and 37nm from the north end of Traverse Bay, Beaver Island is a good destination for those interested in a weekend getaway.

Beaver Island group
Beaver Island and its surrounding islands – Fox, Garden, Hog, High. Although cruisers can explore the other islands, thin water and exposed anchorages require more caution and planning.

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The approach to St. James Harbor.

St. James Harbor
Boats with a shallow draft can cut north into the main harbor. Deeper draft vessels must exercise caution or use the channel.

Photos of Beaver Island’s St. James Harbor

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