We made it off Lake Superior! Here’s a description of the last few days.
From Houghton, Michigan, where we stayed 3 nights to wait out weather, we travelled 52.5 miles to a small harbor of refuge called Big Bay. We encountered our first bigger waves on this segment. The NOAA forecasts called for calm to 1 foot waves, but we are sure they were 2 foot (maybe plus) and hitting the boat from a less than ideal angle. Happily, that only lasted a couple of hours before we turned a corner and the wind died down. It was nice the rest of the way to Big Bay.
Although the bay is big, the marina is not. The depth to get in the harbor is about 5’6”. The creeks cause silting in of the harbor mouths, so the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) must come dredge it occasionally. It is often years between dredging operations.. In the meantime, USACE takes soundings and maps the bottom. Nowadays, people with “smart” depth-sounders can also contribute to crowdsourced depth information. The result of this depth sounding is that the electronic charts show a red-yellow-green-blue schematic that shows where the deep-enough water is.
We also joined the Great Lakes Cruising Club which has members report back on depths and the state of marinas. With all this information, we are able to make decisions on where to go.
Big Bay was a peaceful, country setting, as opposed to the busier “on the main drag” setting of Houghton. The harbor has a volunteer harbor host couple, Dan and Julie, who stay there in their camp trailer with a couple of dogs. Their home is in New Mexico, but they like the summers in the Upper Peninsula. Dan and Julie keep the goose poop washed off the docks, keep the bathrooms clean, take our money, and generally enjoy their retirement in this peaceful setting. They told us the mama deer across the creek had two or three fawns that just got their spots.
This is also where I became aware of Mergansers. This type of duck is one I hadn’t seen before, so when I posted a picture on facebook, lots of people commented that these birds were Mergansers. One person called them a fish duck. They swim underwater a lot.
From Big Bay we went 35.2 miles to Marquette where we stayed in the municipal marina. Marquette is a university town, so there was a lot going on. We walked a mile or so to the closest grocery store in the drizzle, to get a couple of necessary items. We also saw there was a Farmer’s Market that evening so we walked up to it as well to get some dessert after dinner. Freeze dried candy, to be exact. We had to try some.
We stayed two nights in Marquette, waiting for wind to die down. We met Gold Loopers (those who have been around the entire loop already) Doug and Dana. They are making their way to Fort Lauderdale where they will put their boat on a ship to be delivered to Victoria. They live in Arizona, but keep their big boat in places they can do extended cruising. They have done thousands of miles in the eastern US and are moving on to the the Puget Sound and Alaska.
After two nights in Marquette we headed off 42 miles to Munising. We ran into fog about halfway there so implemented fog protocols (slow down and blow your horn every two minutes) while it lasted. It lasted most of the rest of the way there, but fortunately cleared up in time to pull into town.
Munising is the jumping off point for the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. There are a lot of tour boats in the harbor and lots of people in town to take the tours. This is not on the beaten path, so people come from all over just to see them.
We really enjoyed walking around the small town. It is tourist oriented, so we were able to find some good ice cream!
The waterfront in Munising is a city park with a war memorial.
The next morning we cast off our lines bound for Grand Marais…Michigan, not Minnesota. I thought I had located a church for us to attend the next day until I put the directions in Google maps and it said it was 8 hours away! Oops. Wrong Grand Marais.
Happily enough, there was no fog the next day as we travelled by the Pictured Rocks. The sun was such that we didn’t get a great look at them, but still caught enough of the grandeur to be properly awed. Directly following the pictured rocks is a massive sand dune which is also part of the National Lakeshore.
Grand Marais was pretty special. The marina is just a harbor wall to tie to, but the town is pretty interesting.
A couple of blocks from the marina was a campground. This campground was established around 1911. It has over 150 campsites and it has just been in the last couple of years that they have started taking reservations for a portion of the sites. As we walked around the small town, groups of kids were zipping around on bikes, or walking around, or playing basketball. The campground seems to be the main event in town for visitors. As I walked through the campground, it reminded me of the camping trips my parents would have in recent years, with grandkids sitting around under tarps eating snacks. It looked like a situation in which families all went for their annual camping trip together. It wouldn’t surprise me to know that the same kids saw each other year after year.
A couple of days later we talked to a young woman whose mom had made a reservation at the campground. They arrived to discover that, in fact, she had reserved a spot in a campground in Grand Marais, Minnesota! Oops!
We were there the weekend before the 4th of July, so that was a busy time for the camp.
We attended the Lutheran church across the street from the campground. At the luncheon afterward we met a woman who was interested in our story. She took a picture of us at the church lunch and then drove us back to the boat and took our picture there. She was going to see if the local news would be interested in running a piece. As of yet, we have not heard anything, so who knows!
She also told us a chilling story of having lost her father and other family members to Lake Superior. It was a situation in which the waves came up as the motor died. The boat was swamped and there was just one survivor to tell the story of what happened. We had noticed that except around the Apostle Islands and around the Munising area, where there is a large island, there are very few boats on Lake Superior. The few we saw were fishing boats. We decided that in most of the areas we were, there was really nowhere to GO out on the lake. Just a lot of water. So except for fishing boats and some sailboats, people are not oriented towards the water, as far as recreation goes.
We left Grand Marais on a foggy day. It gradually cleared when we were drawing near to Whitefish Point.
Whitefish point is home to a spectacular Shipwreck Museum. The museum has the stories of and honors those lost in shipwrecks on Lake Superior. And there are a lot of stories, including the Edmund Fitzgerald which went down not far from there. They call this area the Graveyard of the Great Lakes. What stood out to me was that so many of them went down very close to the end of their journey. The charts have markers where there are shipwrecks and so many of them are here, near the end. Some, like the Edmund Fitzgerald, got caught in sudden storms, but others, especially before the advent of good electronics, were simply going too fast in a rather narrow passage and in foggy conditions rammed into another ship.
A fun thing from the museum. There is a display at the lighthouse that shows a Marine Traffic screen. And guess who is on it? Blessings Flow! Right up there with the big boys. The docent, when we told him we came by water, asked “Blessings Flow?” It was pretty cool.
The shipwreck museum was over a mile away and at first, we weren’t sure we were headed the right way on the road. But eventually we came around a corner and found a parking lot FULL of cars, so we knew we were at the right place.
Later that evening, a boat who had been at the marina with us in Grand Marais was towed in by a boat from the Shipwreck museum. Their fuel pump had gone out and they were dead in the water (no wind) in a busy shipping lane in the shipwreck capital of the lake. The sailboat called SeaTow (a kind of AAA for boats) who didn’t have anyone nearby, so SeaTow called the Coast Guard who put out a radio announcement asking for anyone who could help. The research boat from the Shipwreck Museum was in the vicinity and was able to help. Lance helped get the boat into its slip. The docent who we had talked to earlier was also there helping out.
Whitefish Harbor is very rustic, with 4 slips dedicated for transients and no power or water. The entrance is one you have to watch the depths closely.
We had an eye on Marine Traffic and AIS the next morning as we headed out for our 41 mile final leg. There was a freighter behind us about 15 miles. Lance did the math based on their speed and ours and determined it would not catch us before we arrived in Sault Ste Marie, and he was right.
There was a second ship, the State of Michigan, who was coming toward us, then was heading away from us, then was coming toward us again. When we got ready to pass it, we moved all the way over to our side of the channel, and then the ship started turning around right in front of us. We cut speed and finally were able to find the captain on VHF channel 12, after having tried 13 (bridge to bridge) and 16 (hailing channel). We said, “We’ll just wait right here while you do whatever you are doing”.
The captain said that was fine. Frankly, I don’t know that he even knew we were there until we spoke up. It turned out to be a training ship and they were training on running ranges…markings on shore that let a boat know they are in the channel. It all worked out well. No harm, no foul.
We made our way to the locks. The American locks are huge and primarily for commercial traffic. The Canadian locks are for smaller boats so we went that direction. It is considered international waters, so we did not have to go through customs or immigration to use it.
Right after the locks, we crossed the St. Mary’s River and tied up safely at George Kemp Marina. We had made it! We were off of Lake Superior! A fitting accomplishment for the Fourth of July.