Grand Traverse Bay is a 30-mile inlet on the north-west coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, enclosed on the west side by the Leelanau Peninsula, and containing several other small bays.
We had taken the opportunity offered by a short spell of fine weather to travel from Charlevoix to Northport, on the west side of Grand Traverse Bay, where we had arranged for Carina’s noise problem to be further investigated at Northport Boatyard, while we headed to Virginia for 10 days to visit the family.
We had a few days in hand, so after anchoring at Northport overnight, cruised up the bay to Traverse City.
Traverse City was bustling. On the park behind the marina, people were busy clearing up after the Pride Festival and the main street was full of shoppers at its upmarket shops. Unlike Britain, America’s towns don’t seem to have been taken over by ubiquitous chains and every high street has its own specialties to offer. We ventured into Cherry Republic, a large emporium devoted to everything that could be possibly made from cherries, which grow in abundance in this part of Michigan. There was a bar where you could taste the various cherry wines and we now have a bottle of Cherry Republic Balaton in the cupboard, waiting for a suitable occasion to be consumed.
We had two nights in Traverse City, but didn’t really use our time well. We could have gone to a historic house, or the Botanic Gardens, or Jenny’s restaurant where Michigan’s version of Cornish pasties are sold. Michigan was one of the places where Cornish miners immigrated when tin mining ended in Cornwall, and they brought their recipes with them.
But we decided instead to go for a bike ride, following the TART trail eastward out of the town. Unfortunately, once again we misinterpreted the word ‘trail’ and failed to read the small print in the information , which was that the TART Trail is a ‘paved urban transportation and recreation corridor’ and not, as we had fondly imagined, a route through leafy glades into unspoiled countryside. Traverse City, like any large town, has its less scenic parts and after passing through some pleasant suburbs, we found ourselves sandwiched between a four-lane highway and a railroad. Then we passed through industrial estates and an empire of car dealerships and auto repair shops. There wasn’t a coffee shop in sight.
Eventually we reached the shore and got some lunch at RedMesa, so the mood improved. We decided to head back towards the city and take the Boardman Lake trail instead, at which point a suggestion was made that we could cut a corner by taking the airport road instead of following the TART trail back to where it joined the Boardman Lake trail. Unfortunately the cycle track along the highway petered out after a few hundred yards and we ended up pushing the bikes a couple of miles along a dusty, busy road before finally reaching Boardman Lake.
The next day was brilliantly sunny and before we left I was allowed out to take some pictures.
As we left, I earned some crew’s points. I had put the lines away tidily, and turned my attention to the fenders, only to notice that one of the big ball fenders had detached itself from its rope and was floating away some yards behind us. Ian turned Carina around and I then retrieved the ball fender with the boat hook at the first attempt. For someone of my general boating ability, this was impressive.
This part of Lake Michigan is very shallow near the sandy shoreline, then drops suddenly in depth. This produces a sharp contrast between the pale turquoise water of the shallows and the dark azure of the deeper waters.
We had an overnight mooring near Suttons Bay, and took the dinghy to the shopping dock at the marina there, to have a look round the shops and satisfy Ian’s curiosity as to whether the local Moomer’s ice-cream lived up to its reputation (it did).
Suttons Bay had a lovely shop called Enerdyne which sold educational and scientific toys for children, and camera stuff for grown-ups, so I took the opportunity to get a tripod for use on the boat. It’s vastly superior to the one I have at home so I’m hoping to have enough baggage allowance to do a swap.
We had a contact in Northport. We had met Jim’s daughter Jessie in Newcastle, and anyone who has ever wondered what it’s like to cross the Atlantic via the northern route in a 32′ sailboat, getting up close and personal with whales and icebergs, might like to look at Jessie’s blog which contains amazing writing and photographs.
We had a great time in Northport. After we docked at the marina, Ian rang Jim and he said he would come to the boat in 10 minutes to say hello and discuss where we would go for dinner. Dismissing my plan for the afternoon to do my laundry in the marina, he took us to his house to use Jessie’s washing machine, look at his projects in his workshop, and then we had a guided tour of the Leelanau peninsula, including a house perched precariously on top of the dunes overlooking Lake Michigan, and a drive round an exclusive gated community, where our bona fides were checked by a neatly dressed, severe-looking older lady with coiffured hair who emerged from her sentry box and clearly entertained some doubts about Jim and his fellow-travellers. In the evening, we met Jim’s girlfriend Laura, his brother John and sister-in-law Kim who very generously took us out for a very good meal at the Bluebird Restaurant in Leland.
In America, junk shops are called consignment stores, or, if they’re a little more upscale, consignment boutiques. Less euphemistically, Northport tells it like it is.
The next day we took the boat half a mile across Northport Bay from the marina to the Boatyard, where we hoped to have Carina’s knocking noise definitively diagnosed. Carina was lifted out of the water at this point and supported in a cradle and for the next 3 nights, before we left for Virginia, getting on and off the boat involved a precarious ascent or descent of a 15′ ladder.
In the evening, we cycled back up to Northport village for the first of their summer concerts in the park area behind the marina. The artistes on this occasion were Igor and the Red Elvises. Igor was a large man with a commanding presence and a guttural accent, and the music a fusion of rock with Eastern European rhythms and cadences. Their lyrics too reflected the group’s dual heritage – ‘she worked for KGB, I worked at Taco Bell………’
On the Saturday we travelled back to Traverse City for the first day of the National Cherry Festival. Laura had kindly offered to take us in her car, but we went on the bus which runs twice a day up and down the peninsula. Laura and Jim obviously thought this a manifestation of British oddness, but we do actually like using public transport and in any case didn’t want to trouble her.
There was a big fair on the waterfront, live music, a large area selling food, and an air display.
There was a wide variety of food on offer, but Cherry Brats appealed the most.
The Air Show was delayed because of the low cloud, but eventually the sky cleared.
In the evening we took Laura and Jim out for dinner, and to round off the evening we drove a few miles south to a beach where Jim had an Etchells yacht which he had been working on, and which required launching. This appeared to be a complicated, manly operation involving multiple reversings of Jim’s truck, to which the Etchells was attached, but fortunately there were several other people around who assisted, while Laura and I merely photographed the proceedings. Eventually the boat was safely on the water and tied up on the dock.
The following evening John and Kim invited us to their lakeside cottage for a barbecue dinner with the younger members of their family who had all gathered for the July 4 celebrations.
Jim, Laura, John and Kim – if you’ve read this far – thank you so much for your generous hospitality and making us feel so welcome. Meeting you all has been the highlight of this trip.
The next morning Laura took us to Traverse City to pick up our rental car to start our journey through Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to see our family in Virginia.