This is update #12 as we cover Fred and Sidonia St. Germaine's trip along The Great Loop in their Nimbus 405 Coupe. Links to the other updates are below.
After enjoying the company and local knowledge of friends Walt and Tiggy, Sidonia and Fred were ready to move on from Fish Creek.
One of the issues the couple must deal with, as do all other Loopers currently on Lake Michigan, is the closure of the Brandon Road Lock and Dam. One of eight locks in the Illinois Waterway, these locks are well past their 50-year lifespan since they were built in the 1920–1930s.
Significant upgrades and repair work are scheduled to take place next summer in 2023, but some repairs are being done now, and the Brandon lock is not scheduled to fully reopen for commercial and recreational traffic until late September or early October. There may be some limited and restricted openings beginning in early September, but they will likely occur off hours, such as during a 6pm to 6am window. This is being carefully monitored.
Until then, there is no point rushing down Lake Michigan.
So, the crew of Last Item has slowed down their travel pace and will gunkhole down the Wisconsin coast in the interim, stopping every 25 miles or so. While they may stop at towns that are not traditional tourist stops, they do represent Americana at its best, slices of honest American life and industry, and worth of a visit on their own.
Over the course of nine days, Last Item only traveled about 125 miles down Lake Michigan, from Fish Creek to Port Washington, but still about 100 miles north of Chicago and the beginning of the Illinois Waterway. They hope it reopens as expected late September.
Once it opens, they will give the bunched-up Loopers several days to get through, and then take their time and continue south.
“On Friday, August 12th, we made the short jaunt from Fish Creek to Sturgeon Bay on a nice, calm Green Bay. Before reaching the marina, we passed the huge Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding piers.
FBS builds many different types of commercial and military vessels, and barges. These vessels include large warships, frigates, minesweepers, drug interdiction boats, floating barracks, as well as research and support ships for the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, law enforcement, and research organizations.
“We docked at Skipper Bud’s Harbor Club Marina next to the Michigan Street bridge. It is a good-sized marina and well kept.
(Below: Lighthouse at entrance to Sturgeon Bay Canal from Lake Michigan.)
“We awoke the next morning after it rained all night. At around 6:00am, it started pounding down with lightning and thunder which lasted well into early afternoon. Needless to say, no one at the marina stirred. Even the mallards in the marina hid under the docks and the American white pelicans were bunched up together in the canal. When the rain eventually let up, there was a parade of people walking their dogs to make a fast trip on shore. We stayed aboard our Nimbus cruiser the entire day.
“The next morning proved a no-show as well. The rains from the previous day were replaced with gusty winds, far too strong to safely venture back out onto Lake Michigan. So, we stayed put for another day. At least it was nice enough to get off the boat and take a bike ride around town. Most of the shops near the marina were closed but we did have a nice lunch at Kitty O’Reilly’s. The grocery store and other shops were farther away than either of us wanted to go on our bikes.
“The Door County Maritime Museum is right next to Skipper Bud’s Harbor Club Marina.
It was built to resemble a lighthouse, and each of its 10 floors is dedicated to some aspect of life of the Door County lakes: shipwrecks, life underwater, recreational boating, ship building, commerce, navigation, people of the water, the working waterfront, and an observation deck.
It is all nicely done and not overwhelming. There is also the option to tour the 149’ tug ‘John Purves’ although it was closed when we were there.”
(Below: A machine used for seaweed control.)
The next obvious stop on their slow travels south was Kewaunee, another 28 or so miles from Sturgeon Bay. The seas were calm when Last Item made the run. They found there was no room at the local marina, but there was wall space (with power) across the river. They rode their bikes back over to the marina office to check in and then have lunch at the only restaurant open on Mondays, the Waterfront Grill.
By now the couple realized that during this trip, they tended to have lunch whenever they arrive at a new town. It is now their routine after they check in, and it works for them.
“After lunch, we rode our bikes along the wetlands/river trail loop past acres of cattails. We saw our first bald eagles of the trip, a pair of immatures performing mock air battles. The trail extends much farther but the loop was just the right distance for the charge of the batteries on our little bikes.
“Also docked against the wall is the 115-foot seagoing tugboat ‘Ludington.’
It was built in WWII and towed ammunition barges during the Normandy invasion of France in 1944. The tug is open for self-guided tours, so we climbed aboard.
“Though I don’t like the over-used word ‘awesome,’ I can’t think of a better way to describe the inner workings of this rugged, little ship. The engine room is a maze of pipes, valves, wiring, and mechanical equipment, not to mention the huge eight-cylinder diesel engine.
We wondered how the engineers figured out how to fit so much equipment into such a tightly organized small space. The living quarters were spartan, to say the least, the bunks narrow with no railings to keep crew members from rolling out.
“During our run down from Sturgeon Bay, we had passed three other Looper boats, which arrived after us and were now also docked on the wall.
We met Jack & JoAnn on ‘Jackpot,’ Kevin & Lisa on ‘Skafos,’ and Rod & Diana on ‘Nibi-Dancer.’ We gathered on the wall for a couple of hours of docktails. Fred noticed that several of the group looked like walking wounded. One had tripped at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island and suffered a badly bruised foot. Another had a hand injury. But the most unlikely injury was a bad knee from getting tangled in a fishing line. He was riding past a boy who was fishing, just as the boy was casting his line. The line wound around his neck causing him to fall off his bike.
“The next day, we had calm seas on our run to Manitowoc, an hour’s cruise to make the 25 miles to the new port. We did our usual check-in, and then had lunch. The marina staff recommended Ryan’s on York.
“It wasn’t at all the mid-end restaurant we expected. It was listed as a gastropub and served mostly Asian & Indian-flavored foods. There was quite a variety of naan-wrapped items, which we enjoyed very much. The clientele was interesting: several sporting dreadlocks and others had lots of body art, as well as mainstream ladies having lunch during a shopping break.
“Later in the day, we rode a good two miles to the Piggly Wiggly supermarket and back. We both wore backpacks, and Fred’s pack weighed about 30 pounds on the way back. About a mile from the marina, the battery on Fred’s e-bike began to falter. He suggested we trade bikes as the weight difference most likely caused his battery to run down faster than mine. That worked, but we barely made it back to the marina before the battery was exhausted.”
The couple stayed another day in Manitowoc and explored more of what the town had to offer, although none of these towns are particularly focused on tourism. While there is a maritime museum and other historical sights that highlight the shipbuilding history of Lake Michigan, the town is not on the typical cruising itinerary.
And that is the jewel of this trip, in my opinion, and perhaps the gem of cruising in general. When circumstances force an unforeseen change in one’s plans, one often finds the best of all comes from the unexpected.
The closure of the locks in Chicago forced all Loopers to seek alternative destinations, and visit places not normally considered along the Great Loop. But exploring places not on the cruising wishlist can yield unforeseen treasures. And that is the case no matter how one travels.
I was once driving cross country, westward towards a new job on the West Coast. I started having difficulties crossing the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming. The altitude was wrecking havoc with the settings on my diesel engine. It would all soon come to a stop in Cheyenne unless I could find the nearest dealer. It turned out the dealer happened to be a state away, in Greeley, Colorado to be exact. Not having much choice, I retraced my steps to get on US 85, which took me south to Greeley.
The memory today is still fresh. Within 30 seconds of arriving in Greeley, I knew that if the dealer could not fix my car, it didn’t matter. The heck with the new job in Seattle. I would spend the rest of my life here. Everything about the place was a wonderland in my eyes. The clean air, the distant mountains, the friendly people on the street and at the dealer… The clean, vibrant town spoke to me.
And that is the case along the Wisconsin coast of Lake Michigan. Sturgeon Bay, Kawaunee, Manitowac, Sheboygan, and Port Washington, each a unique town. And for travelers who find themselves on the streets of any of these Midwest’s treasures, it is as rewarding as moving from one tourist town to the next, down the magenta line.
Each of these towns is about the American dream, settled by people looking to create the good life for their families, then and to come. And each town has something in its history or other highlight that makes it special in its own way.
Manitowac is Wisconsin’s Maritime Capital, which highlights the rich shipbuilding history of Lake Michigan. It also has local museums and exhibits that celebrate its history and cultural heritage, including a long history as a Native American crossroads before pioneers settled the region.
Sheboygan is known as the Bratwurst Capital, for the obvious reason that its population has a love affair with this food staple that is center to much of its cuisine. It is also called the Malibu of the Midwest, as surfing is surprisingly good off the Lake Michigan beaches. And while Port Washington is not considered the capital of anything, it is home to six golf courses, numerous charter fishing companies, wreck diving, lighthouse museums and cultural centers, state parks, bike and hiking trails, nature reserves, and all those things that make a town a pleasure to live in.
Check out this short video of Sheboygan, although it might be fitting for many of these Midwest towns:
So, let’s continue the journal of Last Item as they travel down the Wisconsin coast.
“Manitowoc Marina is almost completely enclosed in a breakwater and is a nice location and quiet. There are no parties or loud music. There is a long waterfront park and a six-mile walking/bike path called Mariners’ Trail.
“We lunched again at Ryan’s and then rode a couple of miles to Manitowoc’s Lincoln Park Zoo.
The zoo is small, only twelve acres, and has paved trails through its woods. This time of year, many of the enclosures are empty and overgrown. Among the few animals we saw are some domestic animals, two beautiful cougars, and a lynx. The zoo has a long-range goal to emphasize conservation and education.
“Every day at noon, the 410-foot cruise ship ‘S.S. Badger’ arrives in Manitowoc.
It makes the four-hour run from Ludington, Michigan, carrying people and vehicles, once a day between Ludington and Manitowac. It has the distinction of being the last coal-fired steamship in the U.S. It arrives in Manitowoc at noon, stays for two hours and then returns to Ludington.
“On August 18th, we once again had good seas for the one-hour ride from Manitowac to Sheboygan. After checking in, we rode over for lunch at Parker John’s BBQ, along the Deland Park bike path. Almost all the waterfront towns we’ve visited have nicely developed paths or trails along their waterfront areas.
“Walt and Tiggy introduced us to cheese curds. While we were skeptical at first, it turns out we like them. Parker John’s had pretty good ones.
“Having been in the commercial plumbing business, we felt an obligation to visit the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. The center is made up of artist-built environments, a bit different from the usual art museum exhibits. The environments ranged from the unusual to the bizarre. Fred and I particularly liked the museum’s artistic interpretations of bathrooms.
Commissioned to make the facility’s six washrooms into unique works of art, the selected artists worked as part of the Arts/Industry residency artist program from nearby industry leader Kohler Company.
“Across the street from the museum, a band warmed up on stage and a crowd was gathering. Part of the street was blocked off and filled with a variety of food trucks lining both sides of the street. The aromas wafting from the food trucks were heavenly and we were sorry we had just had our lunch.
“Our bike tires were getting low, so we rode several more blocks to the nearest gas station. Fred put in the required $2.00 for air but the only air that came out was from the bike tire when Fred attached the hose. Now the tire was flat. The station’s clerk said they didn’t own the air pumps, weren’t responsible, and to call the phone number on the pump. Fred got bounced around through several messages and got nowhere. He gave up and had to walk his bike all the way back to the marina. Going slowly the rest of the way, however, gave us a different perspective and a good look at the many lovely homes from the early 1900s on the tree-lined streets.
“We would have liked to spend at least one more day in Sheboygan, but we have an appointment in Kenosha for oil changes on our main engines a couple of days from now. We have also reserved a rental car as we planned to stay there for a week or more.
“Lake Michigan wasn’t as nice today with two footers, sometimes a little more, and they were pretty much on the nose. But we arrived in Port Washington a little over an hour later and were glad to be out of these bumpy seas.
“Fred made the trip to town with his nearly flat bike tire and got it pumped up. By the time he got back, we were hungry, so off we went for lunch at The Schooner Pub on the waterfront.
“Later, we rode up Franklin Street, the main street of town.
It stretches from the waterfront up a hill past St. Mary’s Church, which is a very visible landmark. Veteran’s Memorial Park is a large park along the waterfront and includes picnic and play areas.
“The next morning, Saturday, August 20th, there was a good downpour, but it cleared as it got closer to noon, so we ventured back out. We meandered through a good local farmers’ market held every Saturday. The vegetables looked so fresh I wanted to load up, but we just didn’t have that much room left in the galley. We did buy some maple syrup from a man whose farm is only a few miles from here.
“We spotted Beanie’s Mexican Restaurant and headed straight for it. We haven’t had Mexican food since we left home. It was quite good. The weather started sprinkling on our way back to the boat and continued the rest of the day.
“The town of Port Washington really appealed to both of us. It is a nice size, has a very pleasant marina, a good variety of shops and restaurants, yet it isn’t jammed with tourists.”
See you next time.
Here are links to the LAST ITEM's previous Great Loop updates:
Update #1: Let's Go On The Great Loop!
Update #2: "Last Item" Begins The Great Loop
Update #3: Up The Hudson To Waterford
Update #4: Last Item Heads To Rome
Update #5: Big Water Ahead As LAST ITEM Heads to Oswego
Update #6: A Taste Of The Thousand Islands
Update #7: Into The Trent-Severn Waterway
Update #8: Deeper Into The Trent-Severn
Update #9: Georgian Bay
Update #10: The North Channel
Update #11: Into Lake Michigan
Update #12: This post.
Update #13: Visiting Kenosha
Update #14: Continuing Into Illinois
Update #15: Exploring The Heartland