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Homeward Bound-The Final Leg

By kismet - Published December 01, 2010 - Viewed 847 times

By Jim & Lisa Favors

It’s often said, it’s easier to accomplish something (whatever that something happens to be) if you take it one step, day, or segment at a time. Not only does this mind-set relieve the stress of concentrating on the, sometimes enormous, bigger picture it helps one focus more on the daily pleasures that happen to come your way. It’s the, “stop to smell the roses” theory. In the case of the 6,000-plus-mile Great Loop boat trip, which winds through an assortment of rivers, lakes, bays, bayous, sounds, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, this could not be truer.

A sleepy little town, Detour is well known by boaters as they return to U.S. waters from Canada.

 

After leaving Canada’s North Channel and clearing U.S. Customs, at Drummond Island, Michigan, Lisa and I were excited to be exiting foreign waters for the more familiar, to us, U.S. waters. We were excited to be headed towards Mackinac Island, our last stop before returning to our homeport of Charlevoix, Michigan. It had rained most of the night and although the sky was clear when we departed Drummond Island Yacht Haven, by the time we entered the St. Marys River to navigate the Detour Passage the weather had changed dramatically. As we entered the narrows of the passage between Drummond Island, to our portside, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on our starboard side, a very thick blanket of fog set in, the kind where you really cannot see much farther than the bow pulpit of your boat

The fog was thick and our nerves a little frayed as we dodged small fishing boats and one big freighter.

 

With the use of our radar we were able to be aware of all the small fishing boats, trolling just outside of the shipping channel, that were scattered around us before we could actually see them. About half way through the channel I began to notice a big blob appear at the top of the radar screen, a large freighter I thought, but we couldn’t see anything with the naked eye. By this time we were moving forward at idle speed trying desperately to quickly spot anything close to us with our eyes, as the blob grew rather quickly and menacingly large on the radar screen. With Lisa on the bow carefully listening and watching for undetected objects nearby, suddenly out of the thick fog came the bow of the freighter off of our portside, within a close 100 feet of us. I thought to myself that this was the closet mishap and thickest fog we’d encountered in over 6,000-plus-miles and that we were very thankful for the radar technology that allowed us to be aware of the big blob on the screen long before we saw it’s bow peek through the fog, kind of like being able to see in the dark!

With the freighter episode behind us we continued to idle, past what seemed like an endless flotilla of fishing boats masked by the cover of fog, until we reached the fabled DeTour Reef Lighthouse. There has been a lighthouse located at the northwest head of Lake Huron, just off DeTour Village, helping guide the way for transiting vessels since 1847. After leaving the lighthouse to our starboard side the fog gradually cleared and the warmth of the sun quickly began to burn the remnants away. We were on our way to Mackinac Island, our favorite home cruising ground destination.

When you walk up the bluff that over looks the busy harbor on Mackinac Island this is the spectacular view – well worth the effort of climbing the steep hill.

 

Before embarking on the Great Loop we had a boating tradition of cruising to Mackinac Island every summer and felt fortunate to be returning to this beautiful historic summer paradise and have it mark our return home from a fun adventure. Mackinac Island sits at the confluence of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron in an area called the Straits of Mackinac. The Island has very high bluffs, which made it a natural site for the Fort Mackinac (built in 1780 and overlooks the harbor). The great location and view from up high made it easier for the troops at the fort to defend the island. Mackinac island has been occupied over the years by many different people including the Straits Indians, French, British, Americans, back to the British and finally returned to the Americans with the War of 1812 treaty.

The very famous Grand Hotel sits proudly on top of the bluff that sits on the southwest side of the island.

 

As we enter the harbor and a short time later, while waiting for our slip assignment at the Mackinac Island Municipal Marina, we had an unobstructed view of all the familiar island landmarks. The legendary Grand Hotel (with the longest porch in the world – 660 feet long) sits majestically on one of the highest bluffs. I told Lisa we’d go there for a visit once we were settled in at the marina. The island is not only well known for its many lilac trees but the Island is also famous for their horses which almost dominate the island. I forgot to mention, for those that have never been to Mackinac Island, there are no motorized vehicles on the island. Every package, piece of luggage, supplies, groceries, etc are all moved around the island by horses pulling wagons, carriages or coaches. People either walk, ride bikes, ride horseback or take a carriage ride to get around on the island. It’s like stepping back in time (Mackinac Island is also the location of the popular movie, Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve), especially when you get off the beaten path of downtown – this is one of the reasons why we love Mackinac Island so much and recommend it as a “Must See” when doing the Loop.

 

Our last night on our Loop we started our celebration early with happy hour on the back of the deck before we headed into town for a fancy dinner.

 

 

Lisa and I wanted to stretch the last few days of our Great Loop journey out the best way we could. We wanted to savor the accomplishment of this 6,000-plus-mile boating adventure. We wanted to not only slow our pace down but we also wanted to take some quality time to reflect on all the wonderful people we had met, the places we had been and we wanted a period of time to take stock of everything we had learned about our country and ourselves while cruising America’s Great Loop boat trip. We decided the best way to slow things down was to take a long walk on the island to review our trip memories and then celebrate the accomplishment with a nice dinner.

Once settled into our assigned slip we took off for that long walk, up to the bluffs first for some overdue exercise and spectacular views of the harbor. From this vantage point one has a clear view of the Straights of Mackinac below with the ferries busily shuffling people back and forth from the mainland to the island. Off into the distance we had a full view of the Mackinac Bridge, called the “Mighty Mac” by locals. When completed in 1957 it was the longest suspension bridge in the world (5 miles long) and connected the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. A few days later we would be cruising under this magnificent structure while making the last leg of our trip and closing our amazing Loop adventure.

 

 

The Carriage House Restaurant at the Hotel Iroquois is one of our favorites on the island especially if it’s a special occasion; we were all smiles as we felt the accomplishment of completing our Loop.

We decided to go all out with dinner reservations at The Carriage House Restaurant at the Hotel Iroquois. We enjoyed a great view of the harbor and Straights along with white table linens, a piano player who provided live background music, plus a first rate menu featuring the flavor of northern Michigan cuisine. It was the perfect venue for a romantic dinner and to continue our reflection process.

We’ve cruised under the “Mighty Mac” many times before but not as meaningful as our cruise, the last leg of our trip.

We kind of felt like the horses on Mackinac Island as they make the turn for home, quickening their pace as home rests close on the horizon. After a few days at Mackinac Island we finally headed out for the very last cruise of our Great Loop adventure and what a last leg it was! Before we left I was careful to perform my normal weather checks and was confident we’d have a pleasant cruise through the Straights of Mackinac, Grays Reef and finally our homeport of Charlevoix. As we made our way under the Mackinac Bridge all was fine as we moved through the 18 miles to Grays Reef. Eventually we turned south as we headed into the open waters of Lake Michigan and boy did the water conditions change drastically!

Our boating friends, Rick, Jean, Gary, Denise and Jeff were all waiting on the wall of the channel to welcome us home as we approached the last lift bridge of our trip.

The long fetch of Lake Michigan, combined with some unexpected southerly winds, created waves that surprisingly were the largest we’d been in during our Great Loop trip. They were right on the bow, probably in the 7 to 8-foot range so we slowed down and tried to take them as gently as we could without loosing control. It was a slow process, making for a ride much longer and lumpier than we were accustomed to. So when we’re asked “what was the scariest, or most uncomfortable, situation you found yourself in during your Great Loop trip, it’s kind of ironic that it happened to be on our last day on the water.

When Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz, woke up from her dream and declared, “there’s no place like home” – that’s how we felt as we approached the lighthouse that sits at the entrance of the Pine River Channel and welcomes returning boaters to Charlevoix. The sight of the familiar channel we have entered so many times before but never with the great anticipation and excitement we felt on this, our homecoming from the Great Loop adventure. As we entered the channel and while waiting for the last drawbridge of our voyage to open, we recognized a group of our friends, waving and yelling on shore, welcoming us home and what a welcome it was. As Dorothy said a long time ago, and we couldn’t agree more, “there’s no place like home!”

We were surprised with a party at our marina celebrating our return home. Good friends and lots of food what more could a couple of mariners hope for returning from a long trip at sea?

 

A couple of logs ago I mentioned that I’d divulge what our favorite place on the Loop was and I’ve given a lot of thought to this before writing this log. As I sit with dear friends in North Carolina, that we met while on the Great Loop, it dawned on me that the best place on the Loop was where we were at any given moment. Lisa and I have truly become at one with living on the water, so for us it really doesn’t matter where we are as long as we’re on it. Yes there are places with bluer water, prettier beaches nicer marinas and so on but in the end our goal was to absorb the most we could from each and every place we visited. We think we did.

With the Great Loop adventure completed Lisa and I have been discussing what our future boating plans are and we think after living on a boat for the better part of five years we have a new plan that suits us well. Check back for our next log to read what we have in store, we think you’ll be interested!

 





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