The Adventure Begins


When I was a young boy of nine my parents took a summer vacation in northern Michigan. The only part of the vacation I remember was the stop we made in Charlevoix. I recall the appeal of the Round Lake harbor that sits at the foot of the downtown area, just off of Lake Michigan. I can still remember the feeling when, as a child, I ran down the grassy knoll towards the marina. I still remember seeing all the boats moored at the docks. The year was 1959.

The new and improved Charlevoix harbor

Today the marina is sparkling new with floating docks; the harbor house is built in the style of the late architect, Earl Young. The park has a new band shell and the boats are newer and bigger. What good fortune, what kismet, that 40 years later, Lisa and I would call this same marina our homeport. It’s here that we’ve made all our final preparations, said our goodbyes, and cast off for our two-year Great Loop adventure.

Lisa and I spent Labor Day weekend enjoying time with two of our sons, Bart and Skyler -- Ross is out West. We celebrated Skyler’s birthday ahead of time, had prefect weather for some freshwater swimming at one of our favorite anchorages, and said our goodbyes to Lisa’s mother. The tears flowed easily and the hugs were plentiful, all moments that will be warm in our hearts until we all meet again. Our friends were more than gracious by having us over for dinner, out to dinner, or visiting us at the boat all while we were frantically finalizing all of the last chores on our to-do list.

Saying goodbye to family was one of the hardest things we had to do.

While at a friend’s home, when asked what she’d miss the most while away, tears filled Lisa’s eyes. She said she’d really miss everyone’s friendship, and miss seeing those she cared about for such a long period of time. I tried to lighten things up, saying that I thought Lisa was becoming so emotional because it was finally dawning on her that she’d be spending so much time alone with me. It worked, everyone laughed, and it was on to more merriment as the water and cruising called to us.

So after we said all our final goodbyes, and our I-love-yous, after we stocked the boat, and stored our truck, we woke up to less-than-favorable boating conditions on our scheduled departure day. The remnants of Hurricane Gustav had worked their way into Lake Michigan to foil our exit. We patiently waited three more days for the big lake to settle down.

We enjoy a marina picnic with our son Skyler. Then, just before departure we had one last northern Michigan sunset dinghy ride with our son Bart.

Saturday morning I woke up before the 5 a.m. alarm went off, anxious to get ready so we could make the 6 a.m. bridge opening and enjoy the calm waters that waited. We left under the cover of darkness with the only light coming from the setting quarter moon and the two-dozen fishing boats plying the early-morning waters.

We had to trust that all the fishing boats had lights on and that our radar was picking them up, as we inched our way out past them at a slow seven knots into the Lake Michigan waters. Needing the sunrise to help guide us we were thankful the waters were calm for the first four hours. The waves were only 1 to 2 footers; our decision to delay the start by three days had been a good one.

Once past the protection of the Manitou Islands, just off Leland, Michigan we were rudely greeted by consistent four-to-six-foot waves, with the occasional seven-footer thrown in. We hadn’t expected this after closely monitoring the weather. Although our Kismet handled the rough water and kept chugging along, Lisa and I would’ve preferred not to be tossed around as much as we were.

We were up and departed before sunrise to get an early start on the day.

As the waves rolled against our starboard front quarter, pushing the boat around, I found myself clinching my jaw and grinding my teeth. I was struggling to accept the water conditions in which we found ourselves, conditions our boat seemed to accept without question. The only causality was a latch on the master bed that holds down the mattress platform. I heard one of those new noises I hadn’t heard before so I left the pilothouse to investigate. I found the mattress platform bouncing up and down like the jaws of a hungry alligator, whenever the bow ran into one of the larger waves. Four long hours later we dropped anchor in the protected Frankfort, Michigan, harbor to spend our first night.

Even though we’ve been living on Kismet for six months, we consider the first portion of our trip a shakedown of sorts. Once we got settled into our anchorage I took the time to check all the fluids, inspect the sea strainers, hoses and belts. I wanted to make sure all was as it should be and it was. I then repaired the latch so the mattress platform would stay secure the next time we found ourselves in bumpy conditions

Frankfort has a picturesque harbor approach with the lighthouse and Sand Dunes, which grace the shoreline.

Also on my list was to check our newly installed satellite antenna. It worked fine during the first week back in port but we’d never tried it while at anchor. We don’t watch much television, and never while underway, but it’s nice to be able to catch up on national news or watch our favorite shows. However this was not going to happen on our first night on the hook!

After resetting all the satellite parameters and receiving a reception signal of 86 percent, we had no picture. Very frustrating. It took two-and-a-half more days and several phone calls to our service provider before we finally found someone who knew how guide us to an obscure setting change. If this is the toughest situation we’re faced with over the next two years I’ll consider us very fortunate.

We found the water conditions for the next three days to be less than favorable and decided only to travel two of the three days. We made our way 45 miles south to Ludington, Michigan, where we spent two nights moored at the Municipal Marina. Visiting new towns, whether they’re planned stops or weather related layovers, are all part of the fun.

Kismet at the dock in Ludington, Michigan

We walked into town to make visits to the post office, a used bookstore, and had lunch at the fourth-generation Greek restaurant Old Hamlin. We then had to stop at the original House of Flavors ice cream store/factory for treats -- they produce 40 million gallons per year! This is small town America at its best.

When we left Ludington Tuesday morning, we were greeted yet again by another water condition, following seas. We had large, mostly four-footers, and Lisa and I agreed it was a gentler ride than during our prior two travel days. After eight-and-a-half hours the gentle surfing began to wear us out and we looked forward to our anchoring out in Lake Macatawa in Holland, Michigan.

As we entered the protected harbor off Lake Michigan we were greeted by a couple of Looper friends, Ginger and Laura on Stargazer. They too have decided to venture off for a second Great Loop adventure, and their start just happened to coincide with the start of ours. They were calling us on their VHF radio from the same anchorage area we were descending upon. What a small world.

The waves were pretty big the first few days out. It was a rocky ride to say the least. But we got through it, got our sea legs, and now our adventure has officially begun.