Sunday, September 2, 2012

Back in the USA! Les Cheneaux Islands, MI

August 4-7, 2012

From the early days of planning our Loop trip, we had been looking forward to visiting friends Ron and Susan Whitaker at their summer home in the Les Cheneaux Islands in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. As we got nearer, we confirmed that we would visit them in early August.  While we were in the Benjamin Islands and looked at the weather for the next few days, we saw there was a potentially nasty system coming in that would bring high winds and big waves. So we made a decision to leave early the next morning and try to beat the storm by going the 100+ miles through the North Channel, into Lake Huron and finally to Cedarville in the Les Cheneaux Islands in one shot.

The trip started fine, but the winds began to build as we continued west through the North Channel and eventually we had pretty uncomfortable 4 foot waves that had us rolling a bit. But it was exciting to watch our GPS and see us getting ever closer to the invisible line in the water that marks the US border.  After nearly two wonderful months in Canada, it felt good to be returning home.  This was our last sight of Canada.


When we appeared to have crossed the border, Craig called the US Customs station at Drummond Island, Michigan to report in.  Before we left Cincinnati, we had gone to the Customs office near the Cincinnati airport and after a long wait and a very tedious process that involved photos and fingerprinting, we were issued a Form I-68, which allowed us to re-enter the United States by phone call, without having to report in person.  We hoped it would work, and it did!  Very easy, and saved us probably an hour of docking and shore time.

By that time, though, I wouldn’t have minded some shore time.  North Channel had been rough, and I wasn’t looking forward to Lake Huron, which could be worse. Once we entered the sheltered Potagannissing Bay on the northwest side of Drummond Island, we enjoyed calm water, a beautiful aqua in color. As we proceeded through DeTour Pass that leads into Lake Huron, we checked with both the Drummond marina and the DeTour Harbor marina to see what they had heard about conditions on the lake.  Both had heard reports of choppy but manageable seas, but both assured us they had space for us if we got out into the lake and decided to turn back.

So we moved ahead. The lake was quite rough, probably 5 foot waves, and I wasn’t a happy camper, but we both were anxious to get to Cedarville. We spoke by radio with a passing sailboat who had just come from the direction we were heading and he assured us we would have no problems. Of course, we learned early in our travels that sailboaters and powerboaters have very different ways of looking at things. Once again, our boat handled the waves much better than the crew did.  I couldn’t get the song ”Edmund Fitzgerald” out of my head!

But eventually we turned the corner into the calm waters of the Les Cheneaux Islands and threaded our way through the narrow channel to Cedarville, where we had reservations for the next few days.  American flags flew all along the dock.  No question we were back in the good old USA at last!


After tying up to the fuel dock (it was the only space large enough for our boat), we took the dogs for a walk into town.  This was our first stop in the US!IMG_2293

We called Ron and Susan and told them we had arrived a day early and they came to pick us up to go to dinner. Their house is on an island and they have to go everywhere by boat.  The water levels on Lake Huron have been dropping for several years, and the day’s strong winds blew even more water out of their bay. But they made it over to us, and first thing took us to the grocery store, then to dinner at a local north woods restaurant.  So great to see them!


The next morning was Sunday, and we went to the 9:00 service at the small church across the street from the marina.


At 10:30, Ron picked up Craig and they went to the local gun club to shoot clay birds.  Craig enjoyed it, and no animals were harmed in the making of these pictures!

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One especially fun part of our visit with Ron and Susan was reconnecting with our first boat, a 1959 Cruisers wooden outboard, which they bought from us almost 30 years ago when we lived in Philadelphia. Now renamed the False Start, she has been beautifully restored, and they still use her to run back and forth from their island to the mainland.  The boat still has the bench seat my then-teenaged brother Scott built for it back in the 1970s.  On Sunday afternoon, Ron and Susan picked us up in False Start to take us to their yacht club annual meeting and dinner.  Such fun to take a ride in our old boat!  We did that a few times over the days we were there.  This is wooden boat country, and it’s nice to see her looking so good in a setting where she fits right in. 

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The next morning, Ron and Susan picked us up to drive into Sault Ste. Marie, MI to go shopping and have lunch.  Susan also returned the load of laundry she had so kindly taken to her house to do for us.  Thank you, Susan!  While we were in Sault Ste. Marie, we visited the Soo locks and were lucky enough to see three of the day’s 5 scheduled freighter lockings.  These are huge locks, so different from the little hand-operated locks we had become used to in Canada!  One of the ships we saw was the largest freighter on the Great Lakes, the 1,013 foot Paul R. Tregurtha.

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Later we rode in False Start over to Ron and Susan’s home for dinner. On the way we passed this whimsical house on Dollar Island. 


These islands are loaded with picturesque boat houses.

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We enjoyed a great evening at Ron and Susan’s home.  It was a treat to be able to have an extended visit with them. It will be one of the wonderful memories of our trip.

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The next day Craig and I walked to the Les Cheneaux Historical Maritime Museum.  They have a wonderful collection of old boats and boat-related items, and Craig and I enjoyed reminiscing about the kinds of boats and motors we remember from our childhood.  They even had an old rectangular “surfboard” like the one we used to have at my grandparents’ summer home in Wisconsin.  This is what the kids all rode on before we learned to water ski.  You would stand on it, holding the rope attached to the front, while a boat pulled you at less than water-skiing speed.

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Later that afternoon, we were picked up by boat by Wally Cordes, the former village administrator of our town of Glendale.  Wally is one of many Cincinnatians who have summer homes in the Les Cheneaux Islands.  In fact, there is a whole section of the islands they call “Cincinnati Row.”  Anyway, Wally and his wife, Paula, recently bought a cottage just two lots down from his grandfather’s former cottage, and he has been enjoying fixing it up.  Paula was back in Ohio, but Wally brought us – and Joey and Bailey – to his cottage and made us a terrific dinner of grilled steaks and all the trimmings.  While Joey was happy joining us on the deck, Bailey LOVED being in a real house with rugs on the floor!  After dinner we took the dogs for a long walk down the circular road through the woods behind his house.  We all had a wonderful time. 

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Later, Wally took us back to the marina, and as we pulled up in the dark, there was a beautiful ChrisCraft boat that had made an emergency stop at the dock with some kind of engine problem.  Craig thought he might know what their problem was, so he quickly changed clothes and went back to the boat to help.  He was able to get them going again, and felt good about helping someone else, after all the times others have helped us on our trip.

The next morning we had a leisurely start before heading out for the 20 mile trip to Mackinac Island. Before leaving, we called both Susan and Wally as we passed their homes.  Here’s Wally waving from his dock.


We loved our stay in the Les Cheneaux Islands, spending time with friends from our pre-Looping life! 


Next, Mackinac Island.

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