We finish our trip down Lake Michigan, stopping in Sheboygan, Port Washington, and Milwaukee. Then make a mad dash to reach Chicago! Now, we are waiting for our turn to go through the locks. The weather on Lake Michigan has been switching into its Fall crappy mode, with some days having up to 10-foot waves!

Day 129 – Sun, 10/01 – From Kewaunee, WI to Sheboygan, WI – 53 miles, Travel Time: 3hrs 18min

Kewaunee to Sheboygan, WI

When we left Sheboygan, we planned to stop in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, about 26 miles south. Today’s weather forecast to be pretty good, with light winds and 1-2 foot swells. The weather for the next three days was predicted to be bad, so we decided to push on skipping Manitowoc and continuing to Sheboygan while the weather was good.

Traveling on Lake Michigan at this time of year is all about opportunity, and we had our opportunity. We left at 7:30 a.m., just as the sun rose above the clouds, turned south, and headed for Sheboygan.

Overall, the ride was not too bad. There were 1-2 foot swells, with an occasional random 3-footer. The wind was from the west, and the waves were coming from the North, so we kept close to shore and took advantage of the large dunes on the shore to block the wind and keep the waves at about a 30° angle to the back of the boat for a better ride. We also ran pretty fast (14 knots, 16 mph), which helped smooth the ride.

At 10:30, we pulled into Sheboygan Harbor, which is very protected behind a curved seawall. We stopped at the fuel dock, topped up our fuel tanks, then went to our slip and settled in. The main part of town is at the top of a hill about half a mile from the waterfront. We walked up the hill and stopped at a small restaurant for lunch on the way. Like many of the larger cities we’ve been visiting in Wisconsin, Sheboygan has a large business base with lots of manufacturing. It’s really not a tourist town as such, so there are a lot of bars and restaurants downtown but very few boutique and souvenir shops.

We made a quick pass down the main street to see what was there and then decided to head back to the boat. It was a little over a mile back, and Sheboygan has the Bird Electric Scooter rental program. We walked past a couple of scooters on the sidewalk, and I convinced Brenda to give it a try. We jumped on and rode back to the marina. Brenda did great! Not as bad as she had thought!

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When we returned to the boat, we chatted with Debbie and Tom on Two Harbors, who had arrived from Kewaunee while we were gone. They also had taken advantage of the good weather window to make some distance south.

Day 130 – Mon, 10/02 – In Sheboygan, WI

Sheboygan is the home of Kohler. Faucets, Generators, and several other spinoffs. Kohler is the name of a suburb of Sheboygan. The family that founded Kohler was very philanthropic and has endowed several museums and public spaces around the city.

There are a couple of interesting spots to visit, but they are very spread out, some 2-3 miles from the marina. We broke out the bikes as walking was not an option. Our first visit was to the Sheboygan Historical Society. The Historical Society is a couple of miles outside of town and is a custom-built facility with a large park area where they have moved historical buildings to preserve them. Again, it was great to see local history documented and preserved.

We visited the museum and building. We learned that Sheboygan was a circus mecca in the 1930s and 40s. There were five major circuses based in Sheboygan; interestingly, most performers were from the Sheboygan area. Another surprise was “The Sheybogan Chordettes,” a women’s harmony group from the 1940s famous for such songs as “Lollipop, Lollipop” and “Mr. Sandman“.

Sheboygan was settled by mostly Germanic immigrants. Germany, Switzerland, and Ukraine had a great deal of immigration during the late 1800s and early 1900s. There were a lot of craftsmen from those areas, and as a result of the skilled labor force and the availability of quality hardwoods in the area, the furniture industry, specifically chair production, flourished in Sheboygan. The museum had a number of displays about the chair-making industry, an industry that continues today!

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After we finished at the History Museum, we headed back into town and rode along the river. This area used to be a huge coal dock and has been reclaimed and converted into a housing and retail area. We stopped at “Parker John’s BBQ & Pizza” for lunch. While we were there, we ran into Debbie and Tom from Two Harbors. They asked, “Have you seen the local news?” The boat that was next to you in Kewaunee caught fire and burned along with two boats next to it!” We had not heard but looked up the story when we got back to the boat. The boat that caught fire was one slip over from us, and the sailboat next to us, and the boat on the far side of us both sustained damage. While we were there, they were working on the electrical shore power pedestals. I wonder if that was the cause! (Click for Local TV coverage)

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Marina fires are very scary! Fiberglass burns very hot and is difficult to extinguish. Also, many boats are fueled by gasoline rather than diesel and, if not properly maintained and vented, can explode violently. We feel bad for the people who lost their boats and consider ourselves lucky that it didn’t happen while we were there.

When we got back to the boat, we stopped at the “Lottie Cooper,” a recovered shipwreck on display in the marina park. The Lottie Cooper sank in 1894 just off Sheboygan. In 1997, while dredging for the new marina complex, the remains were discovered and they were recovered and put on display. It is fascinating to see the construction of a ship built in 1876. They were very well constructed!

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After visiting the Lottie Cooper, we parked the bikes back at the boat and went for a walk out the breakwater to the Sheboygan Light. The waves on the lakeside were rolling in pretty good, and we had to time our passage in spots to avoid getting splashed.

In the evening, there were not a lot of dinner options as many of the restaurants were closed on Monday so we ended up at what we can only describe as a Dive Bar, “Sly’s Midtown Saloon.” It had good food and friendly people, but it was definitely a “Blue Collar” establishment.

We’ve noticed that in Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay, and here in Sheboygan, where there are lots of large industrial employers running multiple shifts of workers, there are a LOT of bar and grill type establishments, many of them open 24 hours or that open at 5 a.m. to serve a very early clientele for third shift workers getting off of work.

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Day 131 – Tue, 10/03 – In Sheboygan, WI

We started our day visiting the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. John Michael Kohler was the founder of the Kohler Plumbing company and was a supporter of the arts. Upon his death, his wife endowed a museum in Sheboygan, the Kohler Arts Center. The Arts Center focuses on modern art collections. Many of the displays are from what might be considered “Fringe” artists who collected or created more for their own enjoyment rather than creating art for art’s sake. One of the best examples from the museum is Kea Tawana, who lived in Newark, New Jersey, collected salvaged items from abandoned buildings and used them to create art objects. She built 100s of simple wooden boxes that she filled with carefully indexed “items”, pressed plants, newspaper clippings, drawings, and other collections. Using salvaged glass, she created beautiful stained glass panels. The Arts Center obtained her entire collection and is displaying it in a rotating display. She also created detailed, carefully drawn architectural plans, where she would use a single outer building design and then create multiple interiors. One was an arts auditorium, a school, a hospital, and housing. Fascinating!

Another feature of the Arts Center is that the bathrooms are all works of art! You are encouraged to visit both the men’s and ladies’ rooms (knock and call out first) to see the designs. (Of course, all of the fixtures are made by Kohler).

Not all of the art was to our taste, there was some that was pretty far out but still creative. Check out the photos below!

While there, we were told that they had another facility about 2 miles away near the Historical Museum we had been to yesterday. This is the “Art Preserve of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center”. We plan on visiting it tomorrow.

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After the arts center, we rode past the library with its huge waterfall, then down to the reclaimed waterfront and around the Blue Harbor Resort, which looks like one of the old Grand Hotels. The Blue Harbor has indoor gyms, spas, and a water park!

For dinner, we went back downtown to “The Black Pig,” a slightly higher-end restaurant, and had a great meal! Highly recommended! As we were riding back to the boat, we noticed a building that had a ship stuck in the middle of it! It’s a children’s museum.

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Day 132 – Wed, 10/04 – In Sheboygan, WI

We jumped on the bikes and rode the two miles to the Art Preserve of the Kohler Arts Center that we had heard about yesterday. The Art Preserve is a very modern building that sits in the middle of a large field. The design of the building is stunning, with large radiating timber framing that goes up three stories.

Like the downtown Arts Center, they specialize in curating total collections from artists. For some of the artists they have on display, this represents over 1,000 works of art. Many of the display areas have layers of rolling panels covered with paintings that let the museum display a rotating selection of works simply by sliding the panels back and forth.

One of the artists pasted their work on the walls, ceiling, and floor of their home, both inside and out. The arts center obtained the entire house, disassembled it, and displayed portions of the house (entire rooms and a porch) in the museum.

There are several collections of full-sized human and animal sculptures, some with over 100 pieces. In most cases, these sculptures were displayed outdoors, and the museum obtained them to save them from destruction. It’s unique to see a museum that has such a focus! Some of the art was quite beautiful and much to our liking. Others were unique and just plain weird, like the collection of miniature thrones and sculptures made from chicken bones. One of our favorite displays was hanging mobiles made with wire, found objects, and Christmas lights.

We also found the stories behind the collections fascinating. A Vietnam Veteran with PTSD who created 1,000s of paintings of skull faces as therapy for his PTSD. In the case of the hanging wire sculptures, the drug store owner where the artist purchased many of his supplies saved the collection after the artist passed and donated it to the museum. A large collection of full-sized clay statues from India that were installed in a vacant lot and would have been destroyed if not purchased by the museum.

We spent several hours at the museum. Here, too, the bathrooms were works of art but not as spectacular as the downtown location.

From the museum, we rode to the other side of town to the 3 Sheeps Brewing Company for lunch. When we finally got back to the boat, we rested for a bit, then rode back into downtown for dinner at “Al and Al’s Stein House,” a German restaurant. The food was excellent!

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Day 133 – Thu, 10/05 – From Sheboygan, WI to Port Washington, WI – 29 miles, Travel Time: 2hrs 55min

Our time in Sheboygan was good, but we had seen most of what there was to see, so it was fortunate that Thursday was a good weather day, and we could move on. We left Sheboygan at 9:00 and three hours later arrived in Port Washington. The ride was excellent, with just gentle rolling 1-foot waves.

One of the things that attracted us to Port Washington was the unique lighthouse design on their break wall. It has arched legs, a design that we’ve never seen before. Port Washington is a tourist, fishing, and bedroom community for Milwaukee, less than 30 minutes away by car. There is a large park surrounding the waterfront, which is very popular with people fishing. A large gas turbine power plant sits right next to the harbor. This used to be a coal-fired plant, and the park area was the old coal storage yard. The power plant uses lake water to cool the gas turbines’ steam, which is then pumped into the harbor area. The warm water attracts the salmon and trout, which, in turn, attracts fishermen to the shore. On Saturday, we saw well over 100 people fishing, many reeling in two and three-foot-long fish!

Once settled in our slip, we took a walk into town to get the lay of the land. The town is just a short walk from the marina. We stopped at a local restaurant for some lunch, then walked the main street. This is the time of year when boaters up in the northern climates take their boats out of the water before the freeze sets in. There were large boats on trucks cruising up the main street all during our stay.

While walking around, we saw signs that there was going to be a homecoming parade on Friday afternoon. Also, on Saturday, there was a Farmers Market and a Fall Street Fair with car and motorcycle shows, live music, and vendors lining the five blocks of the main street and a couple of the side streets. Looks like we picked the right time to visit!

In the evening, we walked to the far side of town to the Inventor’s Brew Pub for dinner. They are currently building a large brewery and event center right next to the marina, which will be open in the fall, but their current location is only a short walk away in an old brewery building.

From their wall. “Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.” – Dave Barry

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Day 134 – Fri, 10/06 – In Port Washington, WI

Friday morning dawned clear but cold. At 47°, it was our first morning under 50! We stayed on the boat until about noon to let it warm up a bit, then went for a walk through town. We started by doing a Geocache at a giant propeller in the marina parking lot. Then, we walked down the main street, checking out the many small shops, including an excellent butcher shop specializing in bratwurst (we bought some!)

We then stopped at the Port Washington Visitor Center, a beautiful building built of small stones collected from the lakeshore. Our next stop was “The Chocolate Chisel,” a chocolate shop. They are very nice people, and we learned that most Dark Chocolate is “Vegan”. It contains no milk. We have a friend with a milk allergy, so it was great to be able to get a local treat for them.

From there, we walked across the creek that feeds into the harbor to the “Coal Dock Park.” When the power plant was coal-fired, this is where the large freighters unloaded coal to operate the plant. Now that it has been converted to natural gas, this area is a very nice park, and the former wharf is now a popular fishing spot.

We were able to do another Geocache in the park, then walked back through downtown to the north end. The main part of Port Washington is at the level of the harbor, but like much of the shore of Lake Michigan, the land rises sharply to bluffs above the lake. The north end of town is one of these bluffs. Back in the 1860s, the Lighthouse Service built a lighthouse on the top of this bluff. From just past the marina parking lot, there is a very steep staircase with 107 (give or take) steps. Unfortunately, the lighthouse was not open for tours, but we still got a great view from the top of the hill.

We were pretty cold as it was a bit windy and had only warmed up to the low 50°s, so we went back to the boat to warm up a little before the Homecoming Parade.

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The signs for the Homecoming parade said that it was starting at 3:00. We walked back to the main street at 3:00 only to find out that it wasn’t starting until 4:30. 3:00 was when the police started kicking all the cars off of the main street. So, we went into one of the taverns to get out of the cold until then. We thought the parade would be a few cheerleaders, the band, and some football players trudging up the main street with a few onlookers. Boy, were we ever wrong! As we were waiting, the tavern started filling up as was the main street. By the time 4:30 rolled around, the street was packed with onlookers.

This was a whole town event. Every school from kindergarten to high school, several civic groups and all of the school sports teams, including the swim team and volleyball team, marched in the parade. It was great to see parents marching alongside their kids. Each graduating year had its own group: 2024, 2025, 2026, 2027… (Boy, do we feel old!) Then they had some convertibles with some past graduating classes, including 1958!

It was a huge affair. Port Washington has a population of about 12,000 and I think half of them turned out either watching or in the parade! A great Hometown Middle America event.

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Day 135 – Sat, 10/07 – In Port Washington, WI

Saturday was Farmers Market day and Port Washington was having their Fall Street Festival in conjunction with it. The signs said that the Farmers Market started at 9:00, so we walked into town for 9. When we got there, the stands were just starting to set up. Because the Fall Street Festival started at 11:00, they delayed the start of the Farmers Market until then. It was only 47° and windy, so we went back to the boat until 11:00 to keep warm.

The Farmers Market and Street Festival were pretty good. Most of the local businesses had stalls, as well as a number of other businesses and organizations. There was also a classic car and motorcycle show as part of the event. We walked around checking out the stalls and listening to the bands playing on each end of the street. When we went past the tent for Bernie’s Meat Market, the odor of grilling bratwurst was overpowering, and we stopped and each got one for lunch! Delicious!

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When we had seen all there was to see at the Market, we went down to the Coal Dock Park and watched the 100 or so fishermen lining both banks. There were a few that got some good-sized fish, and we noticed that most of the fishing was catch-and-release. Keeping the stocks strong, I guess.

It had started to warm up, so we decided to walk to the other side of the marina and go out on the breakwater to the lighthouse. The wind was still pretty strong, around 15 mph, and the waves were rolling in on the outside of the breakwater. Halfway out, the breakwater narrows, with large boulders on either side. We had to time our passage to avoid the spray from the breaking waves!

Once we got out to the lighthouse, we kept behind the legs of the lighthouse to stay out of the wind. We noticed a sailboat bouncing on the waves headed toward the harbor. It was making pretty good time, and we watched it approach and make it into the protected area near the breakwater. It made us glad that we were not traveling out there today. They were really getting bounced around in 3-4 foot waves.

That evening we had dinner reservations at The Beacon Restaurant, which does a Saturday night Prime Rib dinner special.

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