A Summer Sail to Grand Traverse Bay

"It was a poetic recreation to watch those distant sails steering for half-fabulous ports, whose very names are a mysterious music to our ears. It is remarkable that men do not sail the sea with more expectation. Nothing was ever accomplished in a prosaic mood." -Henry David Thoreau

I know, I know. Citing a Thoreau quote to open a simple sailor's blog post is going to alienate some of you. But still, I think he sets the stage well for my kind of summer cruise. There's nothing unimagined or lacking poetry when I leave the dock in the summer, even if only for 9 days. When I cast off the lines headed for the other end of Muskegon Lake or the northern basin of Lake Michigan I might as well be sailing to the far side of the world. My mind and spirit run free like a child's on the first day of summer break. I'm James Cook and Bernard Moitessier in a common skin.

And oh how those half-fabulous ports of Leland, Northport, Suttons Bay and Traverse City were indeed mysterious music to our ears.

But before we could listen to the music, we actually did have to cast off the lines and find the west side of Muskegon Lake and the channel out to Lake Michigan that would set it all in motion. Just like last year, it was o'dark thirty (~4am) when we left the dock hoping to make miles on the first day. Freshly baked blueberry bread from the galley oven and stove top coffee brewed in our Nautical Scout collapsible kettle made the morning very pleasant. We again found ourselves in Manistee when the crew became weary. But instead of the marina, this time we opted for the anchorage in the south arm of the breakwater. Izzy officially took on the role of dinghy master for this cruise and it started that afternoon in Manistee when she had things prepped to go ashore nearly before I even had the anchor set.

Manistee is ok, but it's only one quarter-fabulous. I'm probably just jaded by the bluer water farther north. Or maybe it's the newly created memory of Soleil's concussion she received when Erin and I allowed her to climb a boulder and then proceed to tumble off the other side. She had a good cry, but seemed ok on the ~1 mile walk back to the beach where our dinghy was waiting. Then she ended up sleeping immediately back at the boat. When I roused her for dinner, she vomited twice. After calls to her pediatrician and the local urgent care facility in Manistee, we were told she'd be ok as long as the vomiting stopped and she didn't pass out upon hitting the ground from the fall, which she didn't.  Long story short, she woke up the next morning before the rest of us (like usual!) and was her normal, playful, inquisitive self. Phew! Knowing she was going to be just fine, we pull the hook and made the short sail north to Frankfort.

We grabbed a slip at pricey but quite nice Jacobson Marina so we could enjoy short walks into town to restock groceries, refill the growler at Storm Cloud Brewing, enjoy a frozen treat from Scoopers and relax in the pool. Erin hit up the local grocery store while I played with the kids at the nearby playground. The highlight was Izzy helping Soleil overcome her fear of bugs when they both befriended a newly hatched mayfly they named "Fetcher". It's pure joy to watch siblings loving on each other. Erin took Hannah and Izzy into town after dinner to see Jurasic World while Soleil and I read quietly on the boat. Erin and I put the evening to bed with sundowners in the cockpit under the glow of our oil lamp.

Bedtime stories by lamplight in Frankfort

We awoke early the next morning and pointed the bow northward into blue water with the sun rising over the mammoth Sleeping Bear Dunes (a site worthy of a 4am alarm clock!). Winds were light in the morning, so the motor got a workout. Erin hooked a salmon on our dipsy diver rig and fought it for about 5 minutes until I dumbly took the rod to adjust the drag and promptly lost her catch. Doh!

The admiral was all smiles until I lost our
grilled salmon lunch to an overly tightened drag

We also flew our symmetrical spinnaker for the first time on Bearly-A-Wake during this stretch, which I'm proud to say worked just fine off the wind by having the spinnaker tacked around the forestay with parrel beads and parachord instead of using the spin pole (I'll describe the rig in a separate post). It took a fair bit of packing and rigging to get it all set up, which didn't seem to be an efficient use of time since the wind died completely after the sail was set for only about 15 minutes. Oh well, you've got to do something to occupy yourself on a 10 hour sail.

The breeze finally started to build by midday and we had a beautiful sail as we approached Grand Traverse Light on Lighthouse Point. We thought about making the run up to Charlevoix, but opted to spend some time exploring Grand Traverse Bay instead. Our first night was spent at anchor right next to Hulabaloo, who is ultimately headed for the Caribbean. If you visit Northport, I highly recommend Northport Brewing and their food truck for nice way to spend a few hours. When the morning came, we were treated to a card boat from a powerboat poker run anchored right next to us. Believe it or not, we sailors really enjoyed listening to and watching the brightly colored go-fasters zip in and thunder out of the bay as they retrieved their cards.

Watching the poker run in Northport

Next it was on to Suttons Bay, just a short 2 hour sail south. We've anchored in Sutton's Bay in the past and it remains one of my favorites. The combination of clear water, a protected anchorage and a friendly town make for a nice trio. That evening we were treated to an amazing optical illusion. As the haze of dusk set in, the water and sky blended and the horizon disappeared. It look as if we were peering into an infinite watery opening to worlds beyond. We had a nice breakfast ashore the next morning and toured the Inland Seas Education Association facilities before continuing on to Traverse City at the southern end of the west bay.

A quiet morning at anchor in Suttons Bay

Our 2-night stay at the municipal marina in Traverse City was the only multiple night layover of the cruise. Highlights included watching the girls (including Soleil) enjoy a stand-up paddle board at the beach, the nearby splash park and the atmosphere of being docked so close to a decent sized city. We had the only rain of the trip during our first morning in TC, but Horizon Books bookstore and the samples at Cherry Republic (chocolate covered cherries, cherry salsa, cherry wine...yes please!)  kept us all busy for the 2 hours or so that it lasted. We were also fortunate to have an impromptu visit from Erin's parents. In addition to their company, we were happy to grab a car ride with them over to the Apache Trout Grill for dinner, one of our favorite shore side restaurants anywhere.

Traverse Bay is one of those cruising areas you could spend an entire summer exploring, so we'll have to come back to check off a few more places we didn't get to on this trip like Elk Rapids and Power Island. The deep blue water and diversity of bays and "up north" towns is a strong elixir. Nevertheless, a low pressure system was moving into the area and bringing favorable north winds on our last evening in Traverse Bay so we reluctantly made morning plans to bash through building seas on the way out of the bay until we could round the Lighthouse Point and ride the wind and swell south to Leland.

Soleil soaking up the fun on Traverse City's splash pad

As it turns out, the forecast materialized just as was predicted (20+ kt north winds and 3-5' waves) and we were able to surf, splash and roll our way into Leland's unique harbor. The harbor itself is actually just a small marina tucked inside of a modest rock breakwater open to the south. The entrance is surrounded by shallow water and puts your beam to the seas in most conditions, so the turn in 3-5 foot waves was a rush, as was negotiating the tight fairways to our slip in the gusty conditions. But all was well when we finally tied up and were able to restock the refrigerator at the local grocery store and watch the surfers and kite boarders make the breaking waves look more enjoyable than they had been for us just a few hours earlier.  

Another record fell for us on the leg from Leland to Pentwater...our longest continuous passage to date (~90 nautical miles). How did we keep three kids (ages 3-12) occupied for the nearly 16 hours of sea time? Food! Well, food played at least some part since the kids devoured pizzas we grilled on the stern rail mounted grill. Erin also brilliantly gave Hannah and Izzy the responsibility of cooking brownies in the propane oven all on their own. Between the eating, mixing, baking and cleaning of the galley mess, they were occupied for well over an hour. Games of Uno and singing on the foredeck also helped pass the time until Pentwater's pier showed up on the horizon an hour or so before sunset. Speaking of Pentwater, this is the first time in many visits that we never actually made it to shore. We simply dropped the hook and went to sleep shortly thereafter.

The following day we returned to Muskegon and completed our second longest total cruise mileage to date (Our 2010 journey to the North Channel still holds our family record). I'm happy to report that the new fuel tank I installed in June performed flawlessly. And as usual, our cruise taught me more about patience (It's a perpetual lesson) and provided the special connection to my wife and three daughters that I sometimes long for when I'm living on land or working in a cube. The return to homeport also made me once again face the reality of not being a full-time cruiser. I had to let go of my James Cook-Bernard Moitessier persona and let it marinate in the crockpot of shore life until our next family cruise.

Stop me if you've heard this one:
A unicorn, a turkey and a girl with talons walk into a bar...
Hannah and Izzy know what's SUP
Your author enjoying a Moitessier moment in the morning
Isabel polishing a Petoskey stone on the foredeck

Hannah captures a surfer in Leland for Instagram
Izzy takes us home the last couple of
nautical miles to Terrace Point


  1. Loved the Thoreau. Have you ever read Don Casey's "Sensible Cruising: The Thoreau Approach"? Thoreau and sailing actually go quite well together.

    Sounds like you had a great time.

    S/V Kintala

  2. Hate it when the kids get hurt! Glad she's ok - and glad you guys had a good trip.


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