Storybook Living in Door County

The last few days here have been straight out of a children’s book, written something like this…

Land ho! Egg Harbor! Secure the lines and ready the boat. Adventures in town await! Befriend the bat that made a cozy home in the showers, and skip your way past the raccoons and minks as you make your way to town.

Pop into shops on Egg Harbor Road as delectable smells from Casey’s BBQ fill the street. Slurp up a scoop or two from the Chocolate Chicken, then hop in your Radio Flyer, over the hill and through the forest, past the towering trees and gruffalos, to the beach, where rock forts and sandy waterfalls await.

You leave a sandy trail all the way back to the dock, and as you drift off to sleep cuddled up in your cabin, the next port beckons. You cast lines once again as the sun rises. With sails full, you slice through the Strawberry Channel, with the tree-filled tufts of Jack Island and Adventure Island in the distance.

A grumbling belly brings the shores of Fish Creek into view just in time. Perhaps a tub of salt water taffy at the confectionary will suffice, or better yet, fresh bacon and sea salt cakey perfection from The Singing Donut!

Then off you go down Main Street, past your friends Nan and Jerry, to miles of trails at Peninsula State Park. Make temporary treehouses in white cedars, watch a family of ducks dig for their lunch in the shallow pond, and crackle on branches as you cross over the marsh to a sweeping view of town and the marina.

Clarity waves, calling you back. With tired legs and a full heart, you take to the sea once again, heading north toward the Sister Islands, catching the fresh breeze all the way in to Sister Bay, just as the sun dips into Green Bay.

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Landlubbers in Sturgeon Bay

Fall has descended on Sturgeon Bay! A week ago, we were gladly dipping our toes in the chilly Lake Michigan water, cooling off from the 90-degree days in blissfully oppressive sunshine. Today, for a trip to town, pants and fleece jackets were in order, and I found myself wishing I had a pair of gloves.

I was prepared for colder weather up north, but frankly, this is just ridiculous. Fifty-degree days and winds steady at 15-20 mph, for at least two days now. And with the wind from the west, the waves build as they head east to Door County and max out at five- to seven-footers. That’s pretty much a sailing death sentence for Claire, as she gets seasick in fours, and likely for me, too. So, we’ve had plenty of time getting to know the ins and outs of this port.

Luckily, Sturgeon Bay is a gem, with plenty to keep us busy: Toy stores and book stores that keep Claire entertained for hours, friendly neighborhood coffee shops and bakeries to satisfy my caffeine addiction (I’ll admit it – coffee shops are my security blanket). And Sturgeon Bay is a bustling maritime community: Aaron and I have both enjoyed window shopping at Palmer Johnson Yachts and ogling the barges and freighters lined up for fixes at Bay Shipbuilding.

We’ve also been fortunate to be spending the extra days at a marina that has a gorgeous clubhouse, where I can fix our dinners in a full kitchen and we can cuddle up on the couches and catch some cable before heading back to Clarity.

The weather is supposed to break a bit tomorrow, with the waves dissipating and the temperatures slowly creeping their way back up throughout the week. The plan is to finally cast lines tomorrow morning, after four (GASP!) nights here, and head to Egg Harbor. Fingers crossed that a fish boil is in our future!

Cute Kewaunee, then Door County

Our batteries recharged in this sleepy community, a welcome reprieve from our last port. We honestly knew nothing about this town, other than that it was a stop on the way north, and were pleasantly surprised by its charm, with a picturesque lighthouse, scenic downtown, rural trails and friendly residents.

While Aaron took advantage of the Wi-Fi in Amy’s Coffee Shop to get some hours on the clock, Claire and I went adventuring. We toured the WWII tugboat permanently docked along the river, just off of Main Street. We made fast friends digging holes at the beach and went on a scenic marshland walk. And we managed to find some delicious local custard – with sprinkles, of course.

We spent two full days in town – a half-day too long, in my opinion, since it is quite small – but Aaron’s work schedule and the five-to-seven-foot waves out on the lake after Tuesday night’s storms and the cold front that followed pushed back our departure.  The extra time allowed me to make a grocery run and knock out some laundry – the less glamorous but necessary elements to these cruises.

Friday morning, with the sun blazing and brisk temps in the 50s, we bundled up, brewed a French press and cast lines for Sturgeon Bay, the southernmost city in Door County. For the past year, as we’ve visualized this cruise, that’s been the goal – but schedules can change, weather may not cooperate, the boat could have issues. Regardless of planning trips like this, where you wind up is never a given. I’m proud that we’ve already made it this far.

Well, They Can’t All Be Winners…

One of the things we’ve learned as cruisers is to trust your gut. If the forecast reads great but you’re unsure of what’s brewing, wait it out. If you’re out sailing, or in the middle of peaceful sleep, and you hear the boat make an unfamiliar noise, you should probably check it out, immediately. And when you feel bad juju in a place, run.

Manitowoc was a mess from the start. The sail up from Sheboygan was peacefully uneventful, but as the city came into focus Monday afternoon, so did the S.S. Badger, pumping ash from the coal in a black cloud that hung over the entire city. I had called ahead to reserve a slip at the marina, and though I had given the staff our length, width and draw, it became clear as we tried to dock that the slip they assigned us was too short and the width allowed us only six inches on either side thanks to a wooden pylon separating our slip from the next.

After some minor scrapes on Clarity’s rub rail, and some minor scrapes on our feet from cleats planted directly in the middle of the dock, we kindly alerted the office to their oversights. The bad vibes had already taken root, but I wonder, if a thunderstorm hadn’t passed through shortly after we docked, if we wouldn’t have turned around.

When the skies cleared a bit, we grabbed our umbrellas and walked to town. Or, I should say, what I’m sure was a bustling town some years ago. We were met with deserted streets, vacant storefronts, credit unions, and the county jail. Ahhhhhh, yes…. Just what I’m looking for in a picturesque seaside getaway.

We tucked in for the night, and if I’m being honest, Aaron and I had a nice chat that quickly evolved into a not-so-nice argument, with us both going to bed in a grumpy funk that persisted the next morning. Those bad vibes were getting stronger.

We had planned to spend a day or two in Manitowoc so that Aaron could put in full work days. After some frustrating searches on spotty Wi-Fi and cellular connections, I decided to take Claire to West of the Lake Gardens, a privately run botanic garden on the lake about a mile-and-a-half north of the marina, and save the maritime museum for the next day, which was supposed to be rainy. Thankfully, the mother of one of the marina staff members offered to give us a ride there, so we only had to do the walk one way.

As we pulled up, it looked promising. The grounds were small but beautiful, with plenty of great spots for hide-and-seek. Claire and I got to it, and within 15 minutes, a male staff member ran up to me (literally), proclaiming that I couldn’t allow my daughter to run ahead of me. Right at that moment, Claire, being a normal 3-year-old, picked up a few rocks on the path. He then said that, unless I held her hand the whole time we were there, we had to leave. I felt so terrible, trying to explain to Claire that we had to head back while she begged me in tears to stay and run around.

So, off we went on the Mariners Trail, back toward the marina, with the lake on one side and a CVS on the other. While Claire dug around at the beach that qualified more as an unsanitary sandbox, Aaron texted me: “Want to head to Kewaunee?”

In speeds formerly unrealized to me with a 3-year-old, I got that kiddo off the beach, showered and back on the boat, and we cast lines within an hour. As soon as Manitowoc was behind us, we instantly felt better, lighter, happier, with a three-hour sail to dust off the last of that black cloud. Suffice to say, unless at some point in the future we desperately need refuge in a storm, we won’t be returning.

Aaron will put in a full work day today, so Claire and I will again be left to our own silly devices. I have no idea what Kewaunee has in store for us, but I already know it’s going to be a better day.

Sheboygan – Two Days in Pictures

We sailed into Sheboygan roughly a week into our 2015 cruise and spent two full hot summer days painting the town red.

With plenty of family-friendly activity options, we didn’t get to everything, but everything we did do was a home run.

The ability to take our feet off the gas for a day or two also allowed Aaron and I to reflect on the cruise so far, and we’ve realized that cruising in Wisconsin is a very different thing than cruising the coast of Michigan.

For one, every channel heading in from the lake is bookended by a (rundown) lighthouse on one side and a more prominent power plant on the other. Lighthouse tours are not in the tourist brochures here :).

Another more important difference is that these are towns with harbors, rather than harbor towns. In Michigan, the ports are usually offshore and down a river, which means it’s a walk to get to the beaches, but your slip is in the epicenter of town, usually along a picturesque boardwalk, with streets lined with toy stores and coffee shops and restaurants not even a five-minute walk away.

Here in Wisconsin, the marinas are just inside a break wall off of the lake, so you’re right by the coast, but quite a walk from, well, anything.

These aren’t bad differences – they’ve just required a change in perspective. And we are definitely different as a cruising family this year – but more on that in another post :).

In the meantime, we’re keeping the sails full and the compass pointed north!

 

 

Adventures in Port Washington

As soon as we cast lines in Milwaukee and pointed north, Clarity was on new cruising grounds!

Our first stop was the cozy harbor town of Port Washington, with shops in pretty Victorians that line the Main Street like stairs, leading up the hill to the majestic St. Mary’s Catholic Church. As always, we managed to get into plenty of trouble, touring downtown and out to the lakefront until our Jell-O legs begged for reprieve.

We’ve been cruising the Michigan ports for years (back to when Aaron and I were sans kiddo), so I find myself making comparisons, and so far I’ve noticed a few differences. On the west side of the lake, cafes and wineries are replaced with smoke shops (both fish and meat) and German brauhauses – definitely not a bad thing, though I’m grateful that we’re inherently walking off our purchases :).

The beaches, however, are another story. I was planning on colder water as we headed north, and rocky shores, rather than sandy. But I did not anticipate waves of E.-coli-friendly weeds, black sand and the smell of rotting vegetation that’s impossible to ignore. Even so, Claire and I managed to find a fairly decent patch pretty far down, and while I held my nose, she made drip castles and dug for rocks, happy as a clam.

After a full day in port, it was time to pack up the wagon, pull in the laundry drying on the lifelines, and make wake once again. Next stop: Sheboygan!

Thanks for the memories, Milwaukee!

BoatKid2

I think we packed an entire summer in three days in Milwaukee, and racked up countless miles on the Radio Flyer. While Aaron put in full days working, Claire and I explored the area on foot (and in wagon), skipping through the parks, picking rocks on the beaches and singing “I’m a Little Teapot” at the top of our lungs at Milwaukee’s finest kite shop (I guess Claire just got inspired!). We also may have visited Colectivo, my favorite local coffee shop, a time or three.

The three of us spent the late afternoons at the Milwaukee Yacht Club pool and hot tub; we went on a walking adventure one night, and enjoyed dinner with friends at the tiki bar another. Yep, the yacht club also has a tiki bar, not to mention a gorgeous clubhouse and showers that rival a five-star hotel.

Anxious to reach new cruising grounds, we cast lines mid-afternoon yesterday and arrived at Port Washington just as the sun was setting. So excited to explore this charming little town today as the three amigos – Aaron is officially on vacation!

Land, Ho! Milwaukee!

We did it! Clarity is cruising once again!

As many cruisers know, casting the first lines of the trip is often the hardest part – so much tethers us to land. There are so many reasons that we should stay in Chicago and do the daily grind. But as soon as the skyline is in our wake, I remember why we do this.

See pics from our weekend sails here!

On Saturday, we sailed with 10-15 knots out of the northeast and were able to fly both the jib and the main for six hours out of our eight-hour run. It was overcast and a bit chilly out there. I was also reminded as the waves kicked up (unforecasted) to occasional three-footers, that yep, I do get seasick. A few seasons under my belt helped me keep it in check, though, and overall, it was a great trip up to North Point Marina in Winthrop Harbor, just south of the Wisconsin border.

Sunday morning, a lovely couple saw our Columbia Yacht Club flag and invited us to the Winthrop Harbor Yacht Club for their $5 breakfast (we get reciprocal rights with most yacht clubs). We swapped sailing tales over scrambled eggs and pancakes and they helped us cast lines late morning as we pointed north once again.

The plan was to make a quick run up to Racine; the wind was straight out of the north and on our nose, so we wouldn’t be able to sail anyway. But just before we put the blinker on to turn left into port, the wind shifted to the northeast and the fog started to lift. Claire was happy as a clam and we thought, let’s just keep going! We cut the engine, rolled out the sails, and five hours later, we tied up at Milwaukee Yacht Club.

We’ll be here for a few days, meeting up with friends and taking advantage of the high-speed Wi-Fi to knock out some work.

It’s hard to believe it was so hard to cast those lines back at 31st Street…

One More Before We Go

As far as long weekends go, this last one was pretty epic. Over the course of four days, we managed to pack in the definition of Chicago summer on the water. Gusty afternoon sails and kites dancing off the docks. Burying each other at the beach, cannonballs in the pool and unending ice cream rivers running down our chins.

Brats barbecued off the stern of Clarity, brunch on the bow of the club ship, and cocktails by candlelight. The soothing sound of water lapping against the paddle boards, and the deafening pound down below of a passing hail storm.

Warm morning breezes, sunny, sticky afternoons, and awe-inspiring sunsets…

This was our last full weekend in Chicago for awhile, as we leave this Saturday or Sunday to point north. First to Racine, then Milwaukee, then Port Washington, and then who knows? We’ll keep you posted along the way :).