Lake Michigan’s Eastern Shore: Northport to Manistee

Lake Michigan has toughened us up. The criteria for whether we venture out or not have shifted to the right. The terms and conditions have changed from ‘we will venture out only when wave heights are two feet or less’ to ‘we will venture out as long as the furniture upstairs isn’t actively moving of its own volition across the boat’. I’ve reframed Carina’s pitchings and lurchings by imagining I’m on some marine fairground ride, which clearly I’m supposed to enjoy. Otherwise, it would probably have taken us a year to get down to Chicago.

Ian was anxious to make some progress in that direction, so when the weather improved we made a very early start from Northport, to travel 60 miles down the coast to Frankfort.

Sunrise at Northport

Northport to Manistee

Michigan’s coastline has spectacular sand dunes, the largest fresh water dunes in the world, formed from glacial activity 16,000 years ago. In parts they are covered with trees and grass, and elsewhere the golden sand is exposed. After we rounded the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula after leaving Northport, we got our first views of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and later, North and South Manitou Islands, which are part of the Sleeping Bear State Park. A low haze hung over the water, so we didn’t see the dunes quite at their best.

I was sorry we didn’t have time to visit the Manitous. John had lent us a book about the history of  North Manitou, by Rita Hadra Rusco, who had gone to live there in 1942. Her book, North Manitou: Between sunrise and sunset, tells the story of the pioneers who lived on the island during the 19th and 20th centuries, the harsh conditions they endured, and the small community that grew up there, only to eventually leave the island for ever in the late 70s, when the island was taken over by the National Parks Service. Houses and land were compulsorily purchased, and most of the buildings demolished. Rita’s plangent sentence “It is as reprehensible to ignore the island’s human history as it would be to desecrate a prime wilderness” seemed to summarise her sadness that a unique way of life had vanished, and her frustration that this had not been recognised by the Parks Service in its zeal to establish a wilderness area.

Low mist on Lake Michigan

Near Frankfort

The sky began to lighten as we neared Frankfort

The harbours on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore are situated around inlets and rivers which feed the main lake. The State has a programme of harbour development and supports the local communities by providing facilities for boaters at the municipal marinas.

At Frankfort, the marina was full but we were able to anchor in the channel and take the dinghy to go ashore for a meal and have a look round the busy town. Like many places, the waterfront was attractive with a pretty garden area overlooking the channel.

Waterfront gardens at Frankfort


We left the next day for Manistee, where the lighthouse heralds the entrance to Big River and Manistee Lake beyond it. In Dozier’s Guide to the Waterways, it advises that ‘….if a crew change is necessary, airlines and buses serve Manistee.’ But Ian obviously felt I would do, for the time being.

The dunes near Manistee

Manistee Lighthouse


100 years ago, Manistee was an industrial centre with saltworks, an iron works and lumber factories, and large ships would come up Big River to transport goods. It had the largest number of millionaires per capita in the world. Some fine houses and other buildings are their legacy, and although the downtown has a number of boarded up premises, and Oleson’s the only decent supermarket has recently closed, the main street, overlooking the river, is attractive. The old shop fronts have been retained and there are hanging baskets and small gardens everywhere. The south bank of the river, where the municipal marina is, has a boardwalk leading to the beach and that too is attractively landscaped.

River St. Manistee, showing the former drugstore, now the museum

River St Manistee

Hanging baskets



In the morning, I went in search of groceries. Family Dollar, on the opposite bank of the river, did have milk and orange juice but perhaps unsurprisingly,  no fresh fruit, vegetables or meat. Miller’s produce store and another shop selling ‘organics real food’ were both closed at 9.45 on a Sunday morning. Feeling a little frustrated, I walked back along River Street, and a young woman said hello to me as she turned to open Glenwood Market, a shop which I had noticed the previous day, but which I had assumed sold only jams, cookies and other gift items. But it turned out they sold freshly made bread too, of various types. The one I chose was a potato/rosemary sourdough and after weeks of packaged supermarket bread, it was a luxury. And that was not all. They had fruit pies too. It took me a few minutes to decide that a large, 3-berry pie (cherry, raspberry and blueberry) would not take up too much space in our small refrigerator, that spending $13.50 on a pie was not wildly extravagant, and that we would manage to eat it all. We did, and it was worth every cent.

We had hoped to leave later in the day and make some progress. We left the dock, cruised down the river past the lighthouse, and out into the lake. Two minutes later we turned back. The dockmaster said she wasn’t surprised we had returned. We went out and walked along River Street and consoled ourselves with some wine-tasting at Gardner’s, the outlet for the Douglas winery and invested in some very good Michigan Pinot Grigio.

The strong winds continued so we had another day to explore Manistee. We went to the Manistee County Museum, and were given a conducted tour by Ray, who not only told us what everything was, but demonstrated how many of them actually worked. Most of the exhibits had been donated by local residents and gave a fascinating insight into the history of the area and how people lived. The building was originally Lyman’s Drugstore, and when the business closed in the 1950’s, the family donated the building and contents to the town.

Inside the museum

Ray and the chocolate-dispensing bicycle

The bicycle originally dispensed cigars. Coins would be put in at the top, causing the wheels to turn round and a number would randomly come up. This would determine the number of cigars dispensed. Later, when it became an attraction for children, it was altered to dispense chocolates.

model covered wagon

Old pharmacy relics

Upstairs, rooms were given over to displays of local businesses which had thrived in the past.

photography exhibit

In the afternoon we cycled a few miles north to the Audubon bird sanctuary at Bluff Lake. We didn’t see any birds, but the lake looked spectacular and the waves reminded us why we weren’t actually boating.

Lake Michigan at Bluff Lake Bird Sanctuary

Lake Michigan at Bluff Lake Bird Sanctuary

Wedding Anniversary!

It was our 47th wedding anniversary and in the evening we had  good meal at the Bluefish Bar and Grille, overlooking Big River.

Grand Traverse Bay and Northport 

Charlevoix to Traverse City and Northport

Charlevoix to Traverse City and Northport

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.

IMG_0069Charlevoix Bridge

Charlevoix Bridge

IMG_0071Leaving Charlevoix

Leaving Charlevoix

We had a few days in hand, so after anchoring at Northport overnight, cruised up the bay to Traverse City.

IMG_0078Morning sun at Northport

Morning Sun at Northport

IMG_0080on the way to Traverse City

svManitou near 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.

Peace at last – Boardman Lake

The next day was brilliantly sunny and before we left I was allowed out to take some pictures.

Warehouse quarter, Traverse City

Carina in the slips at Traverse City

Boats at Traverse City Marina

Preparing for the Cherry Festival

West Bay Traverse City

Ducklings by the water

West Bay Traverse City


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.

Grand Traverse Bay near Suttons Bay

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).

Main Street, Suttons Bay

Where to buy garden stuff in Suttons Bay

The beach at Suttons Bay

From the mooring at Suttons Bay

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.

Mill St Northport

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.

Consignment store, Northport

Waukazoo St, Northport

Carina at Northport Marina

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………’

Igor and the Red Elvises

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.



IMG_0012Flying elephants

The flying elephants



IMG_0027Cherry stall

The cherry stall 

IMG_0029Dining area

Dining area

IMG_0030Lunch stall

Sausage stall

There was a wide variety of food on offer, but Cherry Brats appealed the most.



IMG_0037Waiting for the air show

Waiting for the Air Show

IMG_0038Cool dude

Orange man


Nike man

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.


Preparing to launch the Etchells

IMG_0051Evening at Omena

Evening near Omena

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.

IMG_0004Morning at Northport Boatyard

Early morning from Northport Boatyard