The seasons are changing. We have learned that animals start to group together in preparation for migrating from these regions. We have seen this in the behavior of both birds and butterflies. Several species of ducks and the Canada geese are flocking into great gatherings and we are shocked to actually see a group of 10-12 swans together in open water – never seen that before! For the last few weeks we have also seen an amazing 8-10 monarchs at a time fluttering in and around our boat while we are underway (yes, a few even passed us!). None of them seem to be moving south yet but the signs are there that they are getting ready and we too are finally moving south.
We leave Traverse City heading north up Great Traverse Bay with a decent weather prediction only to find that the prognosticators have underestimated the wind and waves AGAIN. They are to our bow as we go north, which is bumpy but do-able.
A little later, there is spray breaking over the bow and splashing up to the flying bridge. This is not what we wanted for Blake’s first trip with us but he seems to take it in stride.
The water is beautiful and Gulf-stream blue but it is much rougher than we would like it to be. As we contemplate rounding the tip of the Leelanau peninsula, we figure we are going to have to tack in order not to be rolling broadside with the waves which are 3-5’ now. Jerry does a great job engineering the best place to make the turns for the best possible ride.
As we turn south, we are taking the seas to our stern which makes steering a challenge. The boat gets lifted up on a swell and we are surfing for minute before the bow plows into the next wave and then wallows for a minute before recovering. This is the ride for the three more hours that it takes us to reach the lovely town of Leland. The upside of this that we’ve been helped by wind and seas and have arrived earlier than we thought we might. The approach to Leland looks like the picture postcards I have seen of Bali, sans the palm trees, the water is that clear and that many shades of blue. It is gorgeous.
We arrive just as the wind starts to gust (typical docking expectations for us these days) and there are a bunch of Loopers there to help catch and secure our lines. They invite us to docktails in the clubhouse. I trade some of my fresh basil for some home-grown cucumbers and make some quick tsazicki-like dip to take for sharing and we have a nice time with some new faces and some that we have encountered before. There are great stories of all the boats that have been boarded by bears this summer up in the North Channel. Apparently, it has been so warm and dry that the blueberries are not plentiful enough to support the bear population and so they have taken to climbing on swim platforms and rummaging through boat food lockers!
The next day we actually have a calm, sunny day and we move from Leland to Frankfort with little challenge. We travel south down the coast of Sleeping Bear National Seashore, which is truly amazing and we feel fortunate that we were able to see it by land and now from the water.
The whole shore is giant dunes of tan sand; some bare, some covered in grassy growth and all edged by crystal blue waters.
It is a pleasant day’s trip and we refuel and dock at Jacobson’s Marina in Frankfort, which I would highly recommend.
Blake suggests Storm Cloud brewery and we enjoy tasting the local beer. He stays to watch a game on their TV and we head back to the boat for a nap before dinner but the empty hot tub beckons and we relax for a while before dinner. I think we have had bathing suits on maybe 3 times since we left the Keys in January and it is nice to soak in the sun for a bit.
The next day dawns bright and we huddle up over coffee and decide that the weather conditions are favorable to make the crossing from Michigan to Wisconsin. We all agree on the plan and take off, giving Blake his first taste of captaining a boat when the seas can’t make up their mind which way they want to go. He gets the hang of it quickly and does a great job.
The crossing of Lake Michigan is easy compared to what it might have been and it is a little eerie not to be able to see land while in the middle of a lake! We change time zones and finally see the peninsula of Door County come into view. We enter the long canal to Sturgeon Bay, past its light house and Coast Guard station.
Center Pointe Marina makes me wish we were here for a couple of days. It has a great club house, lots of outdoor cooking spaces and a pool and hot tub, none of which we take advantage of due to our moving forward the next day. We have another good travel day but the one after that looks like the waves will make travel tough so we will probably explore by car. I think all of us are ready for a break from 5-8 hour on-the-water-days.
Once the boat is secure, we set out to explore the town of Sturgeon Bay. It is a nice little town though much of it is closed either owing to the fact that it is Monday and/or that the season up here really is close to being over. It is interesting to see that people are pulling their boats out for the winter already and marine services are starting to become less available. Bubblers are already working in the marina and will keep the ice from forming around the boats later in the season. There are trailers and scaffolds standing at the ready on every vacant lot of land near the water.
We find the Door County Historical museum which I would heartily recommend to anyone visiting this area. It is the most impressive collection of area history that I have seen in a long time.
There is information on the biology and geology of the area with a number of taxidermized animals and birds that frequent this region, lots of First Nations artifacts and then everything from clothing to medicine to patents for things that were invented in or are common to this area.
Two that standout to me are the Father of the Forward Pass and the Mother of Synchronized Swimming! But the coolest patent, to a mariner anyway, is that the sling lift was actually patented in Door County in 1954!
We wish we were here at the right time when we learn about the history surrounding the annual Door County “fish boil” that now feeds hundreds of people.
We browse the museum’s collection of ancient fire trucks, hand-carved, wooden hearses and jailhouse cells and learn about Door county’s industries from fishing to timber to orchard produce and more.
We end up chatting with a 78 year old docent who is raising her 28th guide dog puppy, Karma, who lies in a crate inside the museum. She is a tiny ball of fire and says she hopes to raise a total of 30 puppies before she is done and we are amazed that a woman who probably doesn’t weigh 100 pounds soaking wet has a big enough heart to deal with the shenanigans that go along with training a puppy who will probably end up weighing 80 pounds or more by the time she turns her back in for training. It reminds me of our guide dog puppy, Holly who lived with us for a little over a year before going back to Southeast Guide Dogs for formal training.
We meandered the town, checking out a couple of the local pubs before arriving at Crate Restaurant and Bar for dinner. It is described as; “Decorated in wood, earth tones and candles, this eatery specializes in inventive sushi, seafood dishes and steak.” We laugh because a few minutes earlier we had joked that this town would probably not be a good place to order sushi but we do it anyway and our choices are really good. We end up sharing our orders so we get the best of all worlds!
Jerry and I are up early as we want to get an early enough start so that we dock in Manitowoc before the southeast winds kick up the waves on the lake too much. He wakes me at quarter to six and we make ready, departing in the dark, thank goodness for the little battery operated headlamps, they really make it easier to see what you are doing with lines and fenders, etc.! As we come out of the canal, Jerry says, “Nice work, we are underway at 5:15!” Wait, what?!?!? Obviously our phones reset themselves but we forgot to reset the clocks in the master stateroom. This is not the first time this has happened to me while traveling, so I am not phased.
I am glad we started early anyway because it takes a while to get out of the 5-mile canal and we enter Lake Michigan as the sun is just rising. I LOVE this time of day! Everything is so soft looking and the colors bleed into the sky, suffusing everything in a child’s watercolor wash of pastel pinks, purples and golds.
The ride along the Wisconsin coast is surprising to me; there is a LOT of undeveloped forest. Not surprisingly, there are also many dairy farms dotting the crests of the cliffs and we decide we really must try the fried cheese curds that seem to be on every menu around here. A little later, the smell of cow wafts across the water on the wind from a fertilizer plant but it isn’t a bad smell, earthy and well, welcome to Wisconsin!
We arrive at the Manitowoc Marina early because we left Sturgeon Bay so early and we rent a car. We accomplish our first mission which is to find the spot where the Soviet satellite, Sputnik crashed in 1962.
From Atlas Obscura: “The Soviets had launched the spacecraft into orbit two years earlier, in 1960, 5,000 miles away from Manitowoc. But when the crew had tried to return it to Earth a few days later, the spacecraft inadvertently went even higher into orbit due to a computer glitch. When Sputnik finally left orbit in 1962, most of it was burned in the atmosphere, except for a little chunk that crash-landed in Manitowoc.
Once the blackened, fiery space junk crashed, most of the people in town ignored it, including two police officers, who assumed it was merely a piece of scrap metal from a nearby foundry. But when the officers heard the news that the Korabl-Sputnik had reentered Earth’s atmosphere, they were able to put two and two together.
The policemen sent the space junk to the Smithsonian, who, perhaps mockingly, sent it back to Russia to remind them of their embarrassment. Two replicas were made, one of which is still on display in Manitowoc’s Rahr-West Art Museum.
The crash landing of the “Kerplunknik” space junk is perhaps Manitowoc’s biggest claim to fame, and it has even been the inspiration for the annual Sputnikfest, a space-themed festival featuring the Ms. Space Debris Pageant, the Cosmic Cake competition, the Alien Drop raffle, and various other extraterrestrial oddities. What’s best is the ridiculous costumes that emerge, spanning from coneheads drinking vodka to Russians with a hammer and sickle.
Unfortunately for us the SputnikFest was last weekend so we miss that but we find the brass ring memorial in the middle of 8th street and dodge cars to take the obligatory photos, it is actually kind of cool!
The point of renting a car is that Two Rivers is right up the road; we passed it on the way south and it is the last place Jerry lived before moving to Tarpon Springs when he was 12. He is bent on finding his childhood home which was above a derelict cheese factory and was also right on the river. Blake and I are suspect of the mission but we are supportive anyway. We drive through beautiful rolling countryside, rife with farms of all types from corn and alfalfa to livestock.
Suddenly Jerry yanks the wheel to the right and exclaims, “There it is!!!” I can’t believe it but he has actually found his old home. The rusty steel bridge has been replaced with a paved concrete bridge but the home looks the same to him. We get out and take pictures while he tells stories of what happened all over the property. “Here’s where dad build us a zipline, right on this hill and BJ got going so fast one time he hit the side of the garage!”
Here’s where I learned to really love fishing but the river looks faster and higher than I remember it!”
We stroll down memory lane with him, swatting herds of bloodthirsty mosquitoes in the process. We drive from there up to where his school was but it doesn’t look as familiar. It seems that all 3 schools were on one property when he attended but the high and elementary schools have been moved somewhere else now.
Next we go out to the Coast Guard Station where his friend’s father used to let the boys play on the Coast Guard boats, like the one in the photo below.
This man eventually came to St. Pete to swear Jerry into the Coast Guard. We are able to walk out to the stone pier where Jerry fished as a boy and it is wonderful to see how happy he is in remembering this part of his childhood.
On a wild hair, we decide to go to Green Bay since none of us has ever been there, we have a car and it isn’t all that far away. The countryside is gorgeous, Green Bay is smaller than I imagined it would be but we find an absolutely excellent pizza place called Jake’s where we enjoy icy cold PBR’s and a square cut pizza that is to die for.
Afterwards we go to Lambeau Field because you just have to do that when you are in Green Bay, right?
And we stop to sample the wares at Hinterland brewery afterwards. Nice day!
The next day is museum day and we take in the Rogers Street Fishing Village Museum in Two Rivers where we learn that this area was actually settled by French Canadians.
We visit a restored home in which they might have lived and see how the lighthouse, fish packing house and Kahlenberg engine building might have functioned back in those days. They have a nice artifact museum and a lot of Coast Guard memorabilia.
From there we return to Manitowoc to the Rahr Art Museum which is right next to the Sputnik memorial. It is housed in a lovely old mansion that belonged to the Rahr family.
They have a large collection of Boehm birds that is especially impressive. I never knew Boehm made porcelain birds of this magnitude. You might not be able to tell from the photo but this eagle mom is about 2′ tall.
The museum’s collection is small, eclectic and makes a nice way to spend an hour or so.
We return our rental car and walk through town to the Courthouse Pub where Jerry and I sample our first ever fried cheese curds. Blake has had them many times but declares these to rate high in comparison and we LOVE them!
We explore the Maritime Museum on the way back to the marina and learn about the subs that were manufactured here in Manitowoc (who knew!). They launched them here and piloted them down to Chicago where they were loaded onto barges and then floated down the Mississippi to be armed in New Orleans and deployed from there.
We get a very cool guided tour of the Cobia, a sub which wasn’t actually built here but which is a pretty good representation of what one of them would have been like.
The Maritime Museum’s collection includes a nice display of America’s Great Loop! We have covered over 5,000 miles of it now!
The next stop is Sheboygan, where we are all impressed with the effort that has gone into downtown revitalization. The marina is sheltered by a rock breakwater and the waterfront along the Sheboygan River is rimmed with brand new docks and new muti-family housing that is clean and modern. There are tons of bars, pubs and restaurants along the walkway and on 8th street which runs through the middles of town. They are gearing up for an Octoberfest in a park that has a nice bandstand.
That night we go to sleep laughing because as it gets dark about a hundred ducks have gathered in each of the fairways and we are tickled to listen to them quack back and forth, some seem happy and some definitely don’t!
We leave Sheboygan on a calm morning with the water of Lake Michigan as smooth as glass and once clear of the city, the coast is mostly sandy beach with pines. There are farms in the distance but not much developed area close to the water, which surprises us. We arrive in Port Washington, explore a little and get ready to hit Milwaukee to pick up Zack and then on to Chicago! As Zack says, “Good times are coming!” Hope Jerry and I can keep up with them!