Tag Archives: destination

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

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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