This is update #11 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.
When we last left Sidonia and Fred on their Nimbus cruiser, they were struggling to enter the U.S. after their travels in Canada. The spectacular waters and scenery of the Ontario waterways certainly created lasting memories, as they had hoped, but their Great Loop now brought them back into the U.S.
On Monday, August 1st, the official hot line was again open, and they were finally able to speak with customs agents. Together, they worked through the issues of not having the vessel decal they should have obtained before leaving the American border. But now that was no longer an issue, and they were back in country.
They spent the first day back in De Tours Harbor, riding their electric bikes around the small town and decompressing from the busy days of travel in Ontario. After a lunch with a good ole’ hamburger at the De Tour Village Inn, they visited a local market where they restocked the fresh vegetables they had been forced to get rid of before crossing the border.
They continue to come across other Loopers on all kinds of big and small boats. Even so, they were surprised to see an unusual cruiser that came in during the night.
“There is a boat docked across from us that is also doing The Loop. It is no more than 20 feet long, if that. We didn’t see it arrive last evening but today it is completely covered with canvas. We can only imagine what it must be like inside, chilly and dark with only four tiny plastic windows in the canvas over the bow. The desire must be strong to do the Great Loop with those accommodations.”
But now enjoying the familiarity of being back in the U.S., the crew of Last Item were ready to continue their journey and see what new was around the next corner. For Loopers and all other cruisers who have come this far, there is one destination that beckons stronger than most other attractions along the Great Loop. It is steeped in history, was center stage in a classic movie love story years ago and represents the peak of Lake Michigan highlights: Mackinac Island.
Mackinac Island is located between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas, although it is still in Lake Huron. It is one of the last places on Huron before crossing into Lake Michigan. The island is famous for its trails and woods as part of Mackinac Island State Park. It is the home of Fort Mackinac, originally built by the French, and later run by the British, to control the fur trade in the Great Lakes during the early 18th and 19th centuries.
Motorized vehicles have been banned on the island for well over 100 years, and only bicycle and horse travel are allowed. The 8.2-mile perimeter road around the island is the only state highway in the country that does not allow motor vehicles.
And, of course, there is the magnificent Grand Hotel, which has been welcoming guests since 1887. It is a landmark that still holds onto the lavish lifestyle of a long-gone era. It is on the bucket list of a great many people, whether they are Loopers or not.
To answer the often-asked question, it does not matter whether it is spelled Mackinac or Mackinaw, the island is pronounced “Mackinaw.” Always.
“We left De Tour Harbor on August 2nd, on a beautiful sunny day. We arrived at Mackinac Island in just an hour and a half. We were told on the phone they didn’t take reservations, but we hoped to get a slip in the chance that one became available after another cruiser left, which is precisely what happened. We later learned that one can indeed make reservations, but for only one day at a time.
“Mackinac Island is very special because they do not allow any motorized vehicles (fire and police aside). From the marina we could see the horse-drawn carriages going by and hear gun and canon fire from Fort Michilimackinac (Fort Mackinac) just up the hill from the marina.
“We couldn’t wait to get into town, but it was a bit of a shock after all the quiet little villages we’ve been to in the past two months. The sidewalks were literally packed with people, most of whom came from the multiple passenger ferries that travel back and forth from the mainland. And the streets were crowded with bicycles and horse-drawn carriages. We had to be careful crossing the street, so we didn’t get hit by bike riders, some of whom were so wobbly they clearly hadn’t been on a bicycle in a very long time.
“Despite the crowds, Mackinac Island is unique and charming. There are homes from the early 1800s as well as ones that date from the Victorian era. All are beautifully maintained with lush gardens and flowers galore.
“We walked the length of the main street and back, and then up the hill toward the fort. We wished for our electric bikes. We bypassed the fort though and continued for quite a way to the Grand Hotel, the largest summer resort hotel in the world. It also has the longest porch in the world at 668 feet. We continued and ended up back at the end of the main street, still a distance back to the marina.
“We enjoyed watching the horse-drawn carriages, especially when a very fancy carriage passed by with a newly married couple in their wedding attire. People clapped, waved, and cheered as they rode by.
“Late in the afternoon, we were entertained by a man on a stand-up jet ski. He did back flips, four or five flips in a row and then lateral spins. He must have had incredible stamina as he continued doing flips for at least a half an hour.
“Fudge must be very popular around here as it seems there is at least one fudge shop on every block.
‘The Robert Stuart House Museum has good information about the island and explains the impact of John Jacob Astor. In 1817, Astor made Mackinac Island the headquarters for his lucrative fur business. In 1823, three million dollars worth of furs went through the island. He closed and sold his business in the 1830s when the fur trade moved west.
“The next day was especially nice. We had a lovely, 45-minute buggy ride to get to the Wawashkamo Golf Course. Nothing like having a horse and carriage for your taxi to play golf. There were closer courses to our marina, but Wawashkamo is the oldest links-type course in the country and is rich in history. There was a battle between the Americans and the British in 1812 when this golf course was part of a farm. The Americans went around a low hill to flank the British but were ambushed on the other side of the hill by Indians loyal to the British. They lost the fight.
“The ride to and from the course took us through part of the cool forest of Mackinac State Park. On the route back, we passed some beautiful old houses set within the forest. We got out at the Grand Hotel as we wanted to see inside. My impression is that it is very colorful with huge floral print furniture everywhere. After looking around a bit, we sat on the longest porch in the world and had a very refreshing cosmopolitan while watching people play croquet and corn hole on the lawn below.”
For two full days, Sidonia and Fred enjoyed the island, its sights, and people watching. Mackinac Island is a special place. Loopers really should experience all the island has to offer before heading westward on the next leg of the Loop. And that includes the world-famous fudge.
As is true for so much of cruising, one may not pass this way again.
But it was time to move on, so on August 5th, the crew of Last Item left Mackinac Island and traveled the short distance to Mackinac City on the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Seeing the fuel prices for diesel were lower than the last time they bought fuel, they filled their tanks, paying $5.23 a gallon.
Their next stop was Charlevoix, considered by most as the best natural harbor on Lake Michigan. For vessels on the lake in nasty weather, there is the Charlevoix South Pier Light Station on Lake Michigan at the entrance to Lake Charlevoix via the short Pine River “canal.”
Given its protected location, there is also a U.S. Coast Guard station in Charlevoix. For over 100 years, Station Charlevoix continues to stand ready to assist all mariners in this part of Lake Michigan, with an area of responsibility of over 2,500 square miles.
“We entered Charlevoix and proceeded to the Charlevoix Municipal Marina in Round Lake. It is well protected, modern looking and well kept. There is a park area adjacent to it as well as a children’s water fountain playground.
“We walked along the main street checking out the many shops. Charlevoix and nearby towns are in a very popular tourist area and there were lots of people doing exactly what we were doing. The main street was constantly jammed with traffic, in part because the bridge over the canal opens every half hour.
“While waiting for my laundry to wash and dry, I sat outside and watched the children in the fountain pool. The little toddlers were so cute as they sat on the waterspouts, tried to drink from them or were surprised when the jets spurted up in the air.
“We had a very good dinner at Terry’s which had been recommended to us.
“We slept a little late the next morning and it was already hot and muggy when we got up. Toward noon, we had ice cream cones for lunch and then went on the mushroom house tour.
“The mushroom houses were designed and built by Earl Young. He gathered rocks and boulders, some of which came out of Lake Michigan, and used them in all his houses. One of his other trademarks was that he never used blueprints or leveled the ground for a house. Each house was built to mold into the terrain however it lay.
“Though clever and unique, his houses are not very practical as they have no closets and only tiny kitchens and low doorways. Most of the houses are in the historic district of the town, so they are required to stay original or as close as possible. Almost all of them are now VRBO houses.
“We spent the latter part of the afternoon in our air-conditioned saloon. We had a good dinner at The Weathervane Restaurant, designed and built by Arthur Young. The fireplace in the restaurant resembles a map of Michigan, and contains a boulder that Young brought to Charlevoix but then hid for 26 years before using it in this fireplace.”
Thankfully Sidonia and Fred are not following a schedule, hands down the curse of most cruisers. So, when the weather looked to be unpleasant over the next couple of days, they stayed put in Charlevoix. They enjoyed the simple life aboard, only going out for a few groceries. Their original plan of visiting Leland, Michigan would ultimately not happen.
Once the weather cleared on Tuesday, August 9th, they were off to the western shore of Lake Michigan, heading for Fish Creek, Wisconsin, where they had dear friends they planned to visit on their Loop. After many weeks of mostly nonstop travel, it was going to be a treat to slow down and spend time with friends. They also hoped to get a personal tour of one of the favorite areas in the country.
“Finally, a sunny morning with under 10-knot winds and predicted one foot or less seas on both the weather apps we use. As we waited for the 9:00am bridge opening in the Charlevoix canal, we spotted ‘Keokuk,’ another Nimbus cruiser. This is the first Nimbus yacht we’ve seen on our trip thus far. We got close enough to them to exchange a few words but wished we could have had a real visit.
“As we exited the canal and saw the seas beyond, I wasn’t too happy. One foot or less, Hah! This sure doesn’t give one confidence in weather forecasts. We plowed on anyway and after passing South Fox Island, about an hour and a half into the trip, the seas did drop to one foot or less.
“Being in the middle of Lake Michigan, with no land or other boats in sight, was somewhat intimidating, as it’s been 28 years since we last did any offshore cruising. Almost four hours later, however, we were in Green Bay, docked at Alibi Marina in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. Though not a large marina, Fish Creek is very nice, has the typical amenities, and is only a block from town.
“We came here specifically to visit our Tucson next-door neighbors, Walt and Tiggy, who have a summer house in Ephraim. They told us about this beautiful area, and we were most anxious to see them and the Door County they spoke so highly of.
(Below: Walt and Tiggy.)
“We got our first taste of this delightful area when they took us to a lovely restaurant in Egg Harbor, which overlooks the bay. It was a beautiful evening, and we had the perfect table setting for viewing the water and the big orange ball of a sun setting through the tall evergreens.
“The next day we saw a wonder of nature that passes through Door County. The Niagara Escarpment is, in simple terms, a long, steep limestone cliff that is the result of unequal erosion. Niagara Falls is near one end of the escarpment near Lake Erie, and its waters flow over it. The escarpment has the oldest forest ecosystem and trees in eastern North America.”
The escarpment exists at its most eastern point near Watertown, New York, and continues westward through New York, Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. It represented a major consideration when building the Welland Canal between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and was a significant obstacle when planning the construction of the Erie Canal in New York State. Despite these issues, the limestone cliffs form beautiful cliff walls and caves seen along its length.
“Knowing we like to play golf, Walt arranged a game for us at his Peninsula Golf Club. On the way, we stopped at the Door Artisan Cheese Co. Walt and I sampled several kinds of their local cheeses and did not come away empty handed. The Peninsula Golf Course is very nice and much of it lies on the escarpment. The course opened in 1917 as a six-hole course but has grown over the years to a full 18 holes.
“After golf, we came back to the boat to meet a mechanic who was going to check on a couple of issues we were having. Nothing was resolved, but the next day Fred fixed one of the issues himself. The other issue turned out to be a non-issue, but rather a misunderstanding of how the battery system interfaced with the inverter.
“We began our evening at the childhood summer home of Tiggy’s family. The house was built in 1909 by her grandfather and is where her sister and brother-in-law spend many summers. When I stepped through the doorway, it was like stepping into my own childhood house, which was built it 1894. It had that same, nice ‘old house’ smell. We all sat on the large front deck with the view of Green Bay and Chambers Island in the distance.
From there we went to Walt and Tiggy’s house for dinner. Their charming house, though much newer, is in the historic district as is the old family house up the hill. We can certainly understand why they are always so anxious to get here to spend their summers.”
Sidonia and Fred were now in full chill mode, and eager to play tourist. For those readers who have asked to follow their schedule, it was now Thursday, August 11th.
The couple and their friends started the day with an authentic Swedish breakfast at a famous local restaurant in Sister Bay. Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik began in 1949 as a simple restaurant called Al’s Home Cooking. In the 1970s, they did a major renovation of the restaurant to create a more Scandinavian design and feel. Their friend donated a goat for the partial sod roof as a joke but given the overwhelming response to people seeing the sight of a goat munching on a sod-roof, it became a trademark of the restaurant.
(It was so successful as a marketing gimmick, the Johnsons covered the entire roof in sod and brought in more goats. In 1996, the Johnsons trademarked “Goats on the Roof,” so no other restaurant could imitate such a dining spectacle.)
“After breakfast we had a grand tour of the northern half of Door Peninsula. We passed through all the villages on the Green Bay side of the peninsula to White Fish Bay on the Lake Michigan side. Door County is known to have more shoreline and more lighthouses than any other county in the country.
“Tiggy and I bought some pieces at a pottery shop in Ellison Bay, as well as some goodies at the Rowley’s Bay Swedish Bakery. We had beers at the Door County Brewery in Baileys Harbor and then stopped at Cave Point to watch kids jump into the water off the escarpment cliffs.
“Heading back, we crossed the interior of the peninsula, where we saw corn fields and other crops. To finish the day, we enjoyed a good rib dinner at a funky restaurant on a little lake in the interior of the peninsula.
“How lucky we are to have wonderful and knowledgable friends/guides to show us their beautiful area.”
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: This Post
Update #12: Gunkholing Down The Wisconsin Coast
Update #13: Visiting Kenosha
Update #14: Great Loop Trip Continues Into Illinois
Update #15: Exploring The Heartland
Update #16: Heading Into Tennessee
Update #17: Cruising In The Tenn-Tom