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.
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.