Friday, September 6, 2019

Bound for Cream City

We are underway southbound in a very bumpy Lake Michigan, the Milwaukee skyline growing larger in the pilothouse windows. We got an early start due to weather, and the plotter says we'll be inside the harbor breakwaters by 11am. We are already starting to see fall color here along the shoreline.

Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse.

Wednesday we rounded the interesting Manitowoc Breakwater Light and had the hook down in Manitowoc Harbor (map) just in time for 5 o'clock beer. Afterward we splashed the tender and headed ashore to have a look around and find some dinner. The city very generously provides free courtesy docks right downtown along the Manitowoc River.

USS Cobia in front of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.

We enjoyed our very short cruise upriver past the WWII submarine Cobia docked in front of the Maritime museum, as well as our stroll around the historic downtown. We had dinner at the well-rated Courthouse Pub across from its historic namesake. We walked through Burger Boat Company Park, whose namesake is the last remaining shipbuilder in town, on our way back to the tender.

Possibly the largest bollard we've ever used for a tender. Before we found the easier bulkhead with smaller cleats on the other side of the bridge.

Manitowoc was a nice stop, and we could easily have spent another night or two there. But yesterday was one of the best travel days on the lake, with the window rapidly closing, and we decided to make tracks while we could. In fact it was so glass calm on the lake that we blasted right past Sheboygan and all the way to Port Washington Harbor, where we dropped the hook just a bit after 3pm (map). It was a beautiful, warm afternoon, and I splashed the tender and went ashore to have a look around.

Downtown Manitowoc.

There is a quaint downtown right near the harbor, with perhaps a half dozen restaurants and a few shops. The town bills itself as something of a fishing mecca, and in addition to there being maybe a dozen charter boats in the harbor, the jettys on all sides were lined with fishermen the whole time we were there. We returned ashore at dinner time and had an enjoyable meal at the Twisted Willow right on the main drag.

Manitowoc Courthouse. With an ugly afterthought fire escape stuck on front.

A bit of a rainstorm blew threw while we were eating, but all was dry again when we strolled back to the tender. As we rounded the marina jetty into the harbor, however, we encountered significant swell of two feet or so. We could see Vector pitching as we approached, and when we arrived, the swim platform was bashing up and down too violently to disembark. We had to bring it alongside and use the side boarding gate to get back aboard, and we hip-tied it for the night as it was too dangerous to lift.

Port Washington from our anchorage. The marina is separated from the outer harbor with this jetty.

We need fuel. For one thing, we have just 200 gallons left, which will only get us just shy of 400 miles, barely reaching the Mississippi. Perhaps more importantly, we want to be sitting as low in the water as possible when we reach the infamous 19'8" bridge in Lemont, Illinois; another 5,700 pounds of fuel on board will help with that. Port Washington and Milwaukee have been running neck-on-neck for the cheapest fuel on our route, but when I called yesterday they both told me they would be adjusting their price this morning based on new deliveries.

Thus when we awoke this morning, still pitching as much as when we returned from dinner, I called both marinas for an update. Milwaukee has the edge right now, and we'll fuel there, but we still had to head into the Port Washington marina this morning to get out of the swell just long enough to deck the tender. In hindsight we should have realized this harbor was too exposed to SE swell to be an anchorage last night.

The view the other direction, to the harbor entrance. With SE wind the swell came right in. That's our anchor day shape at bottom right.

Today's forecast called for more of the same until mid-morning, when the wind would clock around from south to north through west. In just the time it's taken me to type this post, the wind has become northerly and the seas are much flatter and more comfortable. When we arrive in Milwaukee we'll spend a couple of hours at the fuel dock before heading to an anchorage closer to town.


  1. After following your Great Lakes travels, I have realized how often it gets lumpy there. For some reason I imagined lakes would be relatively calm most of the time, but your narrative made me realize the Great Lakes are often Great Lumpy Lakes.

    I hope Burger Yachts looked busy -- since Palmer Johnson closed down Burger is the only custom yacht builder left in the Midwest, and one of few US custom yacht builders still operating.

    1. Yes, the lakes are great inland seas, but their relative shallowness makes for steeper waves, often, than the oceans. The lake bottoms are littered with shipwrecks, and the clear waters make for great wreck diving if you can gear up for the cold. I chose a line from Longfellow's poem for the Lake Superior post title, but I also considered using a line from Lightfoot's ballad. It's hard to see any of the pilothouse-forward freighters on the lakes without thinking of the Fitz.

      We did not go upriver to the Burger plant, so I can't say if they were busy. We only walked through the downtown park that bears their name.


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