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.

St. Joseph

St. Joseph channel
The channel during a fall storm.

st joseph

st joseph

Raconteur, CD30

Kevin LeMans and his beautiful blonde first mate sail Raconteur, a CD30, out of Port Washington, Wisconsin.

Some information from Kevin:
We are new to the Great Lakes.

I purchased Raconteur in San Francisco in 1999. I guess that means more than ten years ago. How time flies. The boat was very, very clean when I got her but had been stripped of cruising gear (she had been from Boston to the Caribbean with a previous owner). Ground tackle, new furling gear, new headsails, navigation, new running rigging, lots of re-bedding, re-building, re-finishing, etc., etc., etc.

My passion is ocean sailing and we covered the coast of California from Bodega Head (60 miles North of the Golden Gate) to the Channel Islands (off Santa Barbara). I don’t need to discuss what it’s like to sail her ‘cause you have a Cape Dory too.

When I moved to Madison in 2007 I had her trucked to Marinette WI. Had her at NestEgg the first season, Menominee marina the second season. Green Bay is beautiful and has lots of great destinations, but is just too far away from Madison (where I live) for someone who (of necessity) maintains his own boat.

She will be in Port Washington this season, and I’m looking forward to being able to spend a lot more time with her.

I’m hoping to doing some real cruising in the Great Lakes – I’m particularly interested in the North Passage of Huron. The challenge for me, being new here, is finding crew. You know, not racers, but people who want to go cruising.

There are a couple of pix attached, a shot of the boat in the slip in Alameda. Sorry, nothing under sail. Also, there’s a shot of my beautiful blonde first mate. Eat your heart out……!

Great to be in touch with Cape Dory owners. Maybe we can rendezvous somewhere, some time.

Destination: St. James Harbor, Beaver Island

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.

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


Anam Cara, CD28

Todd Townsend, author, philosopher, and sailor, is restoring his Cape Dory 28 near Saugatuck, Michigan. His reflections on boat ownership were published in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of Good Old Boat Magazine. You may link to his article here.

About Todd and his boat:

When my 1975 Cape Dory 28 is ready, we are heading south to bum around. This spring she will be rechristened Anam Cara, Gaelic for Soul Friend. I have been working on her on weekends since April 2007. Either late this Summer, or next Spring, a major refit will be finished. The refit has/will include re-wiring, re-plumbing, new standing and running rigging, re-wire/prime/paint mast, some minor fiberglass repair on hull, replacement of cockpit floor, and some medium cabinet work in main cabin. I’m going to see if I can get one more season out of the old sails that she came with. I may end up with new(er) sails by the time she is in the water.

Ariel, CD36

Ariel is a 1979 Cape Dory 36, hull #7, owned and maintained by a father-son team. We bought the boat in 2002 and transported her to St. Joseph from her original home on Cayuga Lake in Upstate New York. Ariel has been in freshwater since her construction (as far as we know) and is well preserved. We have upgraded many of her systems and do our best to keep her in top shape. She is not only attractive, but she’s a joy to sail. She has been to Door County, Wisconsin, Beaver Island, Charlevoix, and most ports along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. Summer 2010 should find her in the North Channel.

You can visit our website HERE where you will find more information about the boat, the crew, and projects.