Saturday, August 31, 2019

Free at last

We are underway westbound through the Straits of Mackinac, bound for Beaver Island, Michigan. It feels good to be back underway after being pinned down by weather for nearly a full week. Of course, we are thankful to be here, casually waiting out weather on the lakes rather than anywhere along the southeast coast of the country right now. Our thoughts are with our many friends there.

When last I posted here, we were en route to Mackinac Island, and we were docked at the state marina there (map) shortly after 1pm. Knowing the weather situation, we paid for a full four days, the limit there for transient vessels. I headed off on foot to explore; Mackinac island prohibits electric bicycles.

Approaching the Mighty Mack in the calm this morning. We did not go under the main span, some two miles out of our way; we passed off-camera to the left.

It did not take long to walk all the way through town to the entrance to the Grand Hotel and back. On a pleasant Sunday afternoon, the town was jam-packed with tourists. Business was brisk all along Main Street, which is lined end-to-end with fudge shops, souvenir stands, overpriced restaurants, and exorbitant bicycle rentals.

Motor vehicles, even electric carts, are prohibited on the island, and so all commerce, from tours to taxis to deliveries to service contractors, moves by horse-drawn cart, or by bicycle. Both of those run in the streets, which have a thin coating of horse poop their entire length. It's all very quaint if not very practical, and I decided to hold off on taking photos for the blog until a weekday, when it would be less crowded.

Fort Mackinac, overlooking the marina. They fired the canon periodically; it was uncomfortably loud.

By dinner time, the wind had picked up and clocked around to the southeast, and there were two footers coming into the marina. A number of boats arriving after us had a real challenge docking, and we were very glad that we made the decision to get an early start for an arrival before things picked up. We bounced all afternoon, evening, and night, one of our least comfortable marina stays.

There are more than a dozen restaurants in walking distance of the marina, but only two or three had decent reviews online. When dinner time came we opted to stroll over to the Seabiscuit Cafe, which is themed after the storied racehorse. We went a bit early, anticipating a weekend crowd, and we beat the rush. It was good to be off the bouncing boat.

Vector at Mackinac Island. Chippewa hotel to the right.

When Monday morning rolled around it was still uncomfortable in the marina. We knew that sometime Tuesday the winds would clock around to the west, making the marina itself much more comfortable, but basically pinning us there for the duration. And when we checked the forecast Monday morning, things had deteriorated, and it looked like "the duration" might well be all the way to Saturday (today).

You may recall that I mentioned the marina has a four-night stay limit. That meant we'd have to leave on Thursday, or else cross our fingers and hope that they'd give us a waiver due to weather. Several other boats were already signing up on the list they keep for that purpose. On top of all this, the storm that was soon to become Hurricane Dorian was taking aim at the U.S., and I am on call this month for the Red Cross. If I got called, Vector would have to stay in place for at least a couple of weeks.

Looking back toward the Grand Hotel on our way out.

Two nights would have been a perfect stay on Mackinac Island. It's enough time to see all that's on offer, and overpay for a couple of dinners at the only decently rated joints on the island. Maybe we could even have cocktails again at the cupola bar at the Grand Hotel, which was a much nicer experience than their dining room the last time we were here. Four nights, which is what we planned on arrival, we would have endured, but it would be very old by then. But being stuck here for a week or longer was beyond the pale.

We opted to get out of Dodge while we still could, before the wind clocked around, and make it to the mainland. There we'd have more inexpensive restaurant choices, we could stay longer without concern, and if I got deployed I could make my way to an airport. We ruminated over lunch about whether to leave before the 1pm checkout, or first thing in the morning. The forecast gave the edge to an immediate departure, so we informed the office, requesting a refund of our three unused nights, and dropped lines for Mackinaw city. I never did get the photos I'd planned to take.

Vector at Mackinaw City, as seen from the bridge of the USCGC Mackinaw, WAGB-83.

I picked Mackinaw City, at the tip of the "mitt," rather than St. Ignace, on the upper peninsula, simply because we'd been  to St. Ignace in the bus, and that's where we did our round trip ferry to the island. Either way would be about an hour of bumpy ride, and bumpy it was. We backed into a slip in heavy crosswind, and were tied alongside (map) by 2pm. In hindsight, St. Ignace would have been a better choice simply because there are more services there.

Nevertheless, we made the best of a five-night stay. There are only a few decent eateries in town, and we tried them all. The lone grocery store here is even less well-stocked than the upscale one on the island, albeit with somewhat better prices, and we had to settle for off brands for staples such as cat litter and coffee. Louise did a lot of quilting, and I knocked out a couple of maintenance items and spent an inordinate amount of time re-writing the route plan every day based on new weather information.

Ice Breaker Mackinaw museum. Docked at the old railroad ferry ramp.

Of course we both also spent a lot of time watching Dorian and chatting with people making plans around it. I did get out to explore a bit, spending a pleasant hour touring the historic Coast Guard ice breaker Mackinaw, and an afternoon riding the e-bike around the tip of the mitt, under the bridge, and past the Headlands International Dark Sky Park. I stopped at the beach there, overlooking Lake Michigan, for a visceral confirmation that the lake was no place to be quite yet.

After six solid days of blowing, the wind and waves finally laid down late yesterday afternoon, too late in the day to make any sort of progress, and well after checkout time. This morning we awoke to the sounds of a half dozen boats starting their engines; at least a couple of them had been there longer than we had. We enjoyed our coffee before getting started, letting the pack clear out ahead of us.

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, in the lovely park at the north end of the town.

We have a three-day window of good weather, and while it would be nice to continue a little ways down the Michigan coast, perhaps to Charlevoix, before crossing the lake, we are wary of being stuck on the eastern shore for another multi-day period, and so we've decided to make our crossing now, while the crossing is good. That will put us in Wisconsin tomorrow night, where it will be a lot easier to get to a major airport if need be.

Tonight we will be anchored in the harbor at the north end of Beaver Island, where we have an opportunity to get ashore, and where we hope to find a slightly better store than the one in Mackinaw City. Tomorrow we have a ten-hour passage across the lake to the northern tip of Wisconsin's Door Peninsula. I expect to be offline most of the day and maybe even overnight. On Monday we will make our way down Green Bay toward the community of Sturgeon Bay, where Vector, then known as Acadian, spent the first four years of her career.

The only photo I took aboard the Mack, the helm console. Only because they used uncommon Jastram steering equipment, just like Vector. Compass is mis-labeled: gyro repeater is off to the left; that's the magnetic compass ahead of the sign.

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