Great Loop – Week 11 Mackinac to Northport

Mack Is ParkMackinac Island (pronounced Mackinaw) lies at the north of Lake Huron, close to Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. The cold waters of Lake Michigan flow eastward and brings foggy conditions with it. Besides the clatter of the Volvo as we motor through the calm, the only other sound through the thick fog was a piercing horn every two minutes through our VHF/PA system or the jangle of bells on a nearby buoy.

Reviews of the Mackinac Harbour anchorage were not good. Holding was apparently poor the bottom supposedly rocky and full of rubbish. There’s little room to anchor, but after three attempts our anchor held firm in 4m surrounded by boats on moorings. Fortunately anchoring doesn’t cost anything, but the marina charges US$10 per day to use their dinghy dock. Other small piers are to the east side of the harbour, but these are privately owned with no direct access to the roads.

Mack Is cyclingThe history of this little island is very interesting. The British built the fort, but in 1812 they wanted the island back so captured it while the Americans weren’t looking. But in 1814 the British and American’s fought again, but the Americans lost once more. In 1815 though the Brits reluctantly gave it back. There are informative signs around the island such as where the British Landed or where the Battle of 1814 took place (which is now a lovely golf course!).

Famous Grand Hotel

Famous Grand Hotel

Mackinac Island is a major tourist destination and the famous Grand Hotel built in 1887 has attracted Presidents and all sorts of famous folks. In summer the island attracts hordes of tourists like our cockpit light attracts bugs. Unique to Mackinac Island is the use of horse and carriage and bicycles in favour of cars. There are no road vehicles on the island (except for some golf carts, ride on lawn mowers and a fire engine). The road around the island is bitumen so it’s easy to avoid the piles of abundant horse poo, although the pungent smell of horse pee seems to pervade the back of the nose.

The historic homes and buildings are beautifully restored in most cases, and accentuated by the dark-green grassy lawns and brightly coloured flower beds. In the main street are dozens of sweet-smelling fudge shops, bicycle rental shops, gift shops and restaurants to please the throng of tourists that ferry in from the mainland.

Main Street shops, bikes, horses, and tourists

Main Street shops, bikes, horses, and tourists

The following day we took the bikes ashore for a ride around the island’s 13km circumference. By 9.30am while most people were finishing their mid-morning coffee, we’d already reached the north end of the island. Here’s where we turned and cut through the middle and over the top, stopping to read the various historic information signs along the way. In fact the island is so small, by the time we’d returned to the town it was only 10am so we decided to ride around again, this time anti-clockwise!

By Wednesday the forecast was for little wind – so it was a case of motoring south to our next destination. One thing which astounds me is that AIS (Automatic Identification System) is not required, nor used it seems, on the lakes. Even the ferries which run at high speeds don’t transmit their position. In normal conditions not having AIS is not so important. But up here the fog is thick. To overcome the peace-of-mind with AIS tracking, vessels alert others to their position over VHF-16. This produces incessant chatter and ceaseless ‘Securité Securité Securité’ alerts (which when spoken fast sound like ‘scary scary scary’).

Best view of Mackinac Bridge

Best view of Mackinac Bridge

Dulled by the continuous announcements, we motored west under the Mackinac Bridge; the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world. Do you think we could see it! While we couldn’t even see the bridge there was little chance we would see another vessel. Part of the bridge came into view half a mile away and we could see a US Coast Guard ship to the south. (I had to Google it later to see what it looked like!).

Changing course south down the Grey Channel Wayne joined the chorus of captains’ voices on VHF-16 to alert others of our manoeuvre. We had a response from a vessel advising us that he was somewhere nearby but perpendicular to us, although his exact position wasn’t clearly understood so we kept a good eye out for him.

The moist and still conditions attracted thousands of mozzies and midges. To get away from the hundreds of insects swarming around the cockpit, I sat on the bow to enjoy a cool breeze while listening for horns and squinting to locate any possible dark shape through the whiteness.

Deceiving pretty colours...

Deceiving pretty colours…

Our destination was Charlevoix on the east coast of the Grand Traverse Bay, but when a huge storm cell loomed from the west we changed course to Northport at the top of the Leelanau Peninsula. Unusually though we heard no ear-splitting warnings through the VHF weather channel to inform us of the storm, but we did have internet access and could see the pretty but deadly colours. The sky darkened considerably as storm clouds engulfed us. From zero wind it steadily rose and finally peaked at 38 knots, while the seas whipped up into steep waves, much like the sharp edge of a serrated knife. Later at Newport one of the local sailors who was also out in the middle of the storm told us he was hit with 63knots! We made it to Newport Harbour that evening and dropped anchor for the night while a few more thunderstorms passed over us.

View south from Northport Marina

View south from Northport Marina

Next day we moved to the Northport Marina where we decided to spend a couple of days. Here’s another funny thing. Only a few weeks ago did we learn that another sailing couple we met last year live in the area. Gordon and Helen from the boat ‘Mantra’ travelled across the Indian Ocean last year, as we did. We first met Gordon in Thailand and met again at various countries along the way.  The last time we saw them was in St Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic.

After helping us dock Blue Heeler at the marina, Gordon walked us through this charming ‘seaside’ town before we had lunch at a local cafe. In the evening Gordon and Helen invited us along to dinner with a group of their friends for a really enjoyable evening (I must say though, you know you’re dealing with other sailors when they say ‘Come around for dinner, and don’t forget to bring your laundry!’). Helen prepared a fabulous dinner and as a special treat had whipped up a delicious Pavlova complete with berries and kiwi-fruit! Not only did we enjoy great conversation and great food, the generous offer of a vehicle for the following day by their friend Andy was happily accepted!

The following day after visiting the local Farmer’s Market (also at the marina) we drove around the tip of the peninsula, up to the Leelanau State Park and the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, built back in 1852. Heading south along M22 we following the west coast, we passed a sign that said we’d crossed the 45th parallel – halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. At Glen Arbor we stopped for Clam Chowder and a Rueben sandwich at the popular Art’s Tavern and walked around the small touristy town. A little farther on are the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Huge sand dunes are not what I expected to see in this neck of the woods. Holiday makers were scooting down the sand dunes on the final days of holidays before they head back to school. Heading east we drove across to Traverse City, up to Sutton’s Bay then back to Northport, all the while circling apple and cherry orchards, famous in this region. We wouldn’t have seen this beautiful area without a car; thanks Andy and Gloria!

Music in the parkOn Friday evening the final Northport ‘Music in the Park’ for this summer was held on the grassy area near the marina. Thunderstorms loomed from the south, but fortunately the rain held off as we listened to blues and rock music along with Gordon, Helen, Andy and Gloria and a couple of hundred other revellers.

Strong southerlies are expected over the next few days so while we’ve enjoyed this leg of our trip immensely, we plan to hang around on anchor in the Grand Traverse Bay before venturing west across Lake Michigan next week. Colour is appearing in the trees – oranges and reds.

Signs that winter is coming…

Winter is coming...

Winter is coming…


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Sailing the world aboard Blue Heeler
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2 Responses to Great Loop – Week 11 Mackinac to Northport

  1. Alan and Kathy says:

    I remember Macinaw City as the Northernmost spot in Michigan. Beautiful. Hope you can do some canoeing or kayaking in those lovely waters. Kathy, Karen Johns, Helen Morris, Marg Rowe and Sue Neales have together bought an Etchells for Brighton racing— exciting. But not as exciting as your enviable trip!! Now you are getting the rewards for all that ocean travel. Go well, love Alan and Kathy.


    • It is beautiful up here. Haven’t done any kayaking, but plenty of cycling (sometimes it’s nice to get off the water 😉 good luck to Kathy et al with the Etchell. I assume then that Allegresse is gone??


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