Bouncing our way down Lake Michigan

180 Days Looping
2,641.9 Nautical Miles Total ( 3,040.2 Statute Miles)
146.1 Nautical Miles This Week
10.0 Hours Underway This Week
14.4 NMph Average Speed
0 Locks This Week, Total Locks

Monday – Oct 7th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: Frankfort, MI
On Monday morning we slept in, checked out of the hotel around 10:30, had some breakfast at a nice Jewish Deli, then dropped our bags off at the boat. The wind and waves had calmed some, but the boat was still rocking enough as to be uncomfortable. The public library was right next to the marina, so we grabbed our computers, and went to the library and sat there for most of the day. I worked on the blog and Brenda caught up on some email and cat videos. 😉

Around 1:00 we took a break and walked back into town for some lunch and a quick walk to the end of main street to see the waves which had subsided quite a bit. In the late afternoon things had calmed down almost completely and two of the sailboats boats in the marina pulled out to head south to the next port. We chatted with the couple on the large sailboat next to us and they were planning on heading out at first light, so we decided to do the same. We turned in early planning a 7 am pre-dawn departure.

Tuesday – Oct 8th – 93.6 NM – 0 Locks – To: Muskegon, MI
Tuesday we woke up at 5:30 and got the boat ready to go. It took us a while to get the spider’s web of lines and extra fenders off and get ready to go in the dark, but by 7:00 we were ready to head out. It was still fully dark, with just a hint of dawn in the eastern sky. We bid our neighbors goodbye, and carefully backed out of our slip and headed for the harbor entrance.

This is the first time we’d run the boat in full darkness, and it was very disconcerting. We quickly learned that our fancy spotlight, is pretty much useless unless you are very near an object or it’s highly reflective. We crawled along closely watching our chartplotter and with our heads hanging out the doors. Fortunately the markers in the harbor entrance channel were lighted so once it narrowed down we were in good shape and could see the shore on both sides with the spotlight.

The water was almost completely calm, we had a few gentle rollers as we cruised past the lighthouse at the harbor entrance and into open water. We then turned south, and brought the boat up to cruising speed. There were only about 1 to 2 ft waves and we made good time. We watched the sky continue to lighten up to our east, and at 8:00 the sun peeked over the hills on shore.

It was a great day and when we passed Luddington, MI (our port if the weather was bad), we decided to push on another 40 miles to Muskegon, MI. The shores here are huge sand dunes and sand cliffs. Many had houses precariously perched on the tops, not property we’d want!

At 1:30 we arrived in Muskegon, MI and went down the harbor channel past the NOAA research center, a Coast Guard Station, and a maritime museum with an old Coast Guard icebreaker and a submarine!

The Muskegon harbor entrance is about 1/2 mile long and leads into a large lake. The marina is in a side channel off the lake, so very protected. We pulled into the marina and docked on the fuel dock to check-in and take on 220 gallons of fuel. After filling up, we just had to pull forward to the next dock for our tie-up for the night.

Again, pretty much everything in the area had closed for the season, however there was on restaurant nearby that was still open for a few more days. We could see the restaurant from the boat on the other side of the marina, but you have to walk around on the street to get to it. On our way we stopped at the Maritime Museum which was unfortunately closed, but we were able to walk around the outside exhibits and look at the Silversides a World War II era submarine.

We had dinner at the restaurant with a few of the locals. At most of the shops we’ve visited along Lake Michigan you see t-shirts that say “Lake Michigan, No Salt, No Sharks, No Worries”, well I found a shark!

After dinner we walked back to the boat, and checked the weather. Wednesday was predicted to be good weather until early afternoon, and then starting to go down as the wind turned to the West and increased. We decided to head 50 miles south to South Haven, MI in the morning before the weather went down.

Wednesday – Oct 9th – 52.5 NM – 0 Locks – To: South Haven, MI
We had a great sunrise as we prepped the boat for departure, left Muskegon at 8:30 and had a nice ride to South Haven. We went back out of the channel into the lake passing the Muskegon lighthouses and then heading pretty much straight south.

The coast of the lake curves in so we the farther south we went, the farther offshore we went. The waves started to build and about halfway to South Haven, we turned and headed toward the shore to get into the lee of the hills that line the shore and block some of the wind. We ran the rest of the trip about 1/2 a mile to a mile off shore and it was much smoother.

At 12:15 we went through the harbor channel, past the lighthouse and into the harbor. We tied up in the marina which was nice. We were the only boat in the marina, and our slip was shielded behind the marina building. After checking in, we walked up the hill to the main street and checked out the restaurants for dinner and the tourist shops.

South Haven has a very vibrant downtown with a large selection of restaurants and shops all within easy walking distance of the marina. After checking out downtown, we walked to a hillside that overlooked the marina and the harbor entrance to take a few pictures.

At 5:00 we went to the Harbor Light Brewery, a micro-brewery in downtown. It’s an interesting model, they only serve small snacks and encourage patrons to bring in food from restaurants around town. They provide menus and have a deal with a local delivery service. The place was crowded with folks having dinner or sitting in groups playing games. As long as you’re drinking beer, they are happy! I had a IPA and Brenda had a peach cider both of which were excellent. We also tried their pretzels made with the spent grain from their beer and beer cheese also made with their beer, both of which are produced right in town.

We chatted with the bartender and he suggested two dinner spots. One was a small plate restaurant called Taste. We decided on that, and Brenda and I shared three small plates, which were basically oversized appetizers. The food was very good and we had a nice dinner.

When we finished, we walked down to the harbor entrance. The entrance to most of the Michigan harbors are a 50 to 100 foot wide entrance channel with rock and steel breakwater jetties extending out into the lake to protect the harbor entrance. At the end of these jetties are navigation lights, typically a lighthouse on one, and a marker light on the other. In South Haven there used to be a raised walkway so that the light keeper could get to the lighthouse when the waves were breaking over the jetty. The steel structure is still there but the walkway has been removed. We walked down the jetty which was quite crowded hoping to see a sunset. Unfortunately, the clouds were already starting to build out in the lake and we didn’t get much of a sunset, but the view was still spectacular.

Thursday – Oct 10th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: South Haven, MI
Overnight the wind had shifted to be from due west and had started to build. The forecast was for high winds and waves for the next 4-5 days, and we decided to stay in South Haven as it seemed to be a pretty protected harbor.

One of our plans for our trip was to visit Ramona Okkema-Clark an old neighbor, my “first girlfriend” (third grade) from New Hampshire who now lives in Central Michigan and has a large dairy farm. For those of you from New Hampshire, you probably remember Clarks Farm in Bedford which was famous for their Butter & Sugar corn. Ramona was the oldest Clark child. We reconnected several years ago on Facebook, and have been following the story of her growing dairy.

Ramona went to the Netherlands where she met Tjerk who was running a small dairy there and they were married. In 1999 they moved to Michigan and purchased a small dairy farm which they have been expanding since then. Brenda chats with Ramona through Facebook, and we reached out to see if she would let us visit and see the farm. We arranged with her to visit on Friday. Also, since we knew we’d be in South Haven for the weekend, we invited Brenda’s sister and her fiance Steve to visit us in South Haven. We had been planning to get together with them, and they offered to drive the 4 hours from their home in Ohio as this is the closest we’d be to them on the trip.

We spent the rest of the day making hotel arrangements for Steve and Pam and picking up a rental car from the local Ford dealer (note to boaters, most Ford dealers offer local rentals at an excellent rate!) In the afternoon the wind was starting to build, and we were wind blown as we walked the 1 1/2 miles to the Ford dealer and picked up the rental. We needed bottled water and a few other groceries at Walmart so we headed there next.

Next to Walmart was a Meijer superstore. We’d heard about them, but they are a central US chain, so we decided to stop there and check it out. Meijer is basically like Walmart. The store we were in was larger, and had a wider selection of products than the Walmart. There are some store brand items, but they seem to concentrate more on brand names. The produce was excellent, and the clothing was more brand name than Walmart (Levis, Carhartt, Rebook, etc.) and seemed higher quality. The prices were comparable to Walmart as well. We were very impressed and hope that they will come to the South soon!

We went back to the boat and dropped off our shopping, then walked back to town and had dinner at a local grill.

Friday – Oct 11th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: South Haven, MI
During the night, the rain started and the winds got stronger. We woke up a couple of times to the boat rolling with the waves blowing in through the harbor entrance. We got ready, added a few more lines and fenders and headed out to drive the two hours to Blanchard Michigan where the Okkema farm is located. Along the way we went through spots of heavy rain but there wasn’t a lot of traffic and it was an easy trip. As we got more into north central Michigan, we started seeing some color in the trees and the scenery was nice.

We arrived at the farm around 11:30. Tjerk and the crew had spent most of the day on Thursday and into the early hours of Friday morning harvesting their corn. It was starting to rain and they were hurrying to cover a pile of corn silage that was about 30 ft high, and covered an 100′ x 200′ area. We visited with Ramona and re-connected then Ramona, Brenda and I jumped into one of the farm pick-ups, and Ramona gave us a tour of the farm.

They have expanded the farm significantly since they bought it in 1999. They’ve built several new cow barns, and a huge modern milking parlor. Cow “sheds” don’t begin to describe these amazing barns. So much care is taken to insure the health and happiness of the cows. First, the barns are open sided so that there is good airflow. In the summer months, huge fans circulate cool air around the cows. The barns are split into two sides, each with it’s own group of cows. Down the middle of the barn between the sides, is a driveway (Ramona drove the pick-up down the middle) where the feed mix is distributed to the cows. Periodically, a robot (looks like an industrial R2D2, runs up and down this driveway and pushes the feed closer to the cows so that they can get it.

Each side of the barn, is sectioned off into three areas running the length of the barn. There is the area where the cows stand while eating, there is a central area with a slightly grooved floor where all of the cow poop is collected, and then on the far side is a big sandbox where the cows sleep. I remember when visiting Ramona’s father’s farm growing up, that the cows would sleep (cows sleep lying down) on hay and sawdust. Ramona explained that this is quite bad for cows as the sawdust and hay breed bacteria. Instead, the cows are provided with a custom mix of sand to sleep on which is inert and they can make nice little nests for themselves that conform to their bodies. Sort of like a memory foam mattress. Because of the way the areas are designed, the cows hind ends whether they are sleeping or eating are positioned off the central channel, so the cow poop is by and large centralized.

When the cows are moved to the milking parlor (a couple of times a day), the crew comes in and cleans the stall areas. The poop, is scraped out of the central section and dumped into large ponds filled with water, this is then pumped out and sold as fertilizer. Milk is the primary product of the farm, liquid fertilizer for all of the nearby corn and wheat fields is the second product. The sand bedding is also removed once a day, and replaced with fresh clean sand.

While we were in the cow shed, we met “The Cow Whisperer” whose job it is to do the artificial insemination of the cows. He is very passionate about his work, and takes care of hundreds of cows a month at a number of farms in the area. Apparently most farms put their cows in very narrow stalls with neck holders when they are inseminated, he calms the cows down by talking to them and does it right in the open barn causing much less stress. Quite the amazing and unique skill!

After the tour of the cow sheds, we visited the milking parlor. This is the newest addition on the farm. The milking parlor is a carousel that holds 40 cows. It’s like an amusement park ride, it keeps turning constantly and the cows walk on, get milked while they ride around in a circle, then walk off. Each cow is RFID tagged and are scanned as they step onto the carousel, the milking machines are connected to a computer system and it tracks the volume and quality of the milk from every cow on every milking. There are also manual samples taken to insure the quality of the milk. They were not milking when we got our tour, so we were able to walk into the middle of the milker and into the storage and processing area which was also amazing.

After our tour, we went to lunch in town with Ramona and Tjerk and had a nice 40+ year catch up! When we got back to the farm, they were in the middle of milking, so we got to see the milking parlor in full operation. The Cows enter in one end, walk up a ramp with a heated floor in winter, and large cooling fans in summer to keep them comfortable. They then move one by one into the milking stalls on the rotating carousel. It was fun to watch them jostling each other to be next in line to be milked. On to the milker, the get washed down, and milked, then when the make it around, they back-out off of the carusosel and go back down a ramp for a drink and a snack while they wait for their barn to be cleaned before they go back.

After our tour of the barns and the milking parlor, it was obvious how “happy” the cows were. They can move around at will, live in excellent conditions, and are very well cared for. Also we saw how passionate Ramona, Tjerk and their family are about running a humane and productive dairy. They do a lot of outreach in the local community as well as advocating for dairy farmers at the state and federal level. When they built the new milking parlor, they included an education room on the second floor with large windows overlooking the milking carousel and hold regular education and outreach classes.

We said our good-byes and started back toward South Haven. About half way back, we got phone call from the marina. They were closing the marina and turning off the power because the water was up to the level of the docks, and the waves coming down the channel, were starting to pop boards off of the docks! We hurried back to the boat, and decided that it was rocking too much to spend the night on the boat, and were concerned that if the water came up any higher we would not be able to get off the boat. So we again quickly packed a suitcase, (after the third time, Brenda can now do this in under 5 minutes!), added more lines and fenders to the boat and went to a local hotel for the night.

Saturday – Oct 12th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: South Haven, MI
Brenda’s sister Pam and her fiance Steve were scheduled to arrive around 10:00 for a visit. We got up early, and headed down to the boat to check on it. When we got there, the marina staff told us to move the boat farther down the river to the docks at the Marine Museum to get away from the waves rolling through the marina. As we were getting the boat ready, Pam and Steve called that they were in town, and we told them to meet us at the Museum. We untied the boat, backed out of the slip fighting 4 foot swells and 25 mph winds. It was lucky that there were some good pilings along the slip that we could use to swing the boat on. We got out of the marina and into the channel with out incident, then it was a quick run with a strong tail wind and following waves about 1/2 mile down the channel to the other marina. The slip they had us go into was around a corner and had a large boat storage building next to it that blocked most of the wind and waves. The docks were pretty old, with lots of screws and random bits of metal sticking out of it, so we got a few scratches going into the slip, but as the old saying goes, “Any port in a storm”. We tied up, and got the boat secure then said our hellos to Pam and Steve. Even though the new slip was much calmer, it was still pretty rolly, so we decided to spend another night at the hotel.

The weather was cold and blustery, with 20-30 mph winds and temperatures in the 40’s making it very cold outside. After getting the boat secure, we went to breakfast, then spent the rest of the day with Pam and Steve, walking around downtown, going to a Farmers Market and visiting the Maritime Museum.

After lunch, we checked them into their hotel which was a small boutique hotel right next to the harbor. The “Hotel Nichols” is run by a very friendly couple. They greeted us and gave us a tour of some of the rooms. Brenda and I had booked the room through Hotels.com and when they saw what we had paid, they reduced the rate by about 30% saying that that was their “summer rate”. What amazing customer service! It was like they were welcoming us into their home (which they were as they live at the hotel), it was more like a Bed & Breakfast than a hotel.

After checking them in, we drove down to the harbor entrance to watch the huge waves breaking over the seawall. The wave height at the harbor entrance was reported at 12 to 14 feet! We couldn’t have left if we wanted to!

Look back at those calm pictures of the harbor entrance from Wednesday!

Around 4:00 we went back to Pam & Steve’s hotel and sat in the parlor for their afternoon tea, and visited for a while, then went for dinner at Clementines, the premier restaurant in town. We had about a 90 minute wait for a table, so we wandered down to the brew pub for a pint until it was time for dinner. Dinner was excellent, we could see why it was so popular. After dinner we said goodnight, and went back to our hotel (a chain hotel near the highway) for the night.

Sunday – Oct 13th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: South Haven, MI
Sunday morning we checked out of our hotel and then met Pam & Steve for breakfast in town. After breakfast did a bit of sightseeing and drove 20 miles south to Benton Harbor, the next harbor down the coast. We walked around the waterfront park and toward the jetty. The waves there were just as bad as in South Haven.

When we got back to South Haven around noon, we said our goodbyes as they had a 4 hour drive back to Ohio.

We went back to the boat and checked the lines, the boat was still rocking pretty good, so we decided to spend one more night off the boat, and went back to the Hotel Nichols. They were happy to see us and gave us a great deal on a room for the night. After checking in, we went across the street to the Michigan Theatre and saw “The Addams Family” movie. Then went back to the hotel until dinner time, had dinner at the Black River Tavern just up the street.

When we got back to the hotel, we checked the weather. The winds had already started to subside. The forecast for the morning was for the wind and waves to continue to decline, with 4-6 ft waves predicted for South Haven, but getting steadily better the farther south and west you went on the lake. Chicago was our next stop and was 70 miles directly south west of us on the other side of the lake. The prediction was that we’d have < 2 ft waves by the time we reached halfway across. We went to bed hoping for good weather in the morning.

NEXT WEEK: Chicago and the Illinois River