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.

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Beautiful Beaver Island

This is our third morning on Beaver Island, and I have mixed feelings about this remote place. We’ve experienced some of our most memorable moments of the trip here – and it seems, the island doesn’t want us to leave!

We planned to stay just one full day, setting sail again on Wednesday morning. But Beaver has enveloped us in a bear hug of intermittent torrential downpours, winds of up to 50 knots, waves up to 11 feet out on the lake, and waves big enough in the harbor to splash up over our stern. All of the boats in the municipal marina here, including Clarity, become like bucking broncos during the storm peaks, trying to break free of their lines. Aaron’s diligently been checking and adjusting them to make sure we safely stay put.

While the extra days here have thrown a small wrench in our cruising plans, they have allowed us to truly experience this place – and it’s more than worth the time. After a bustling Labor Day weekend in touristy beach towns, we arrived in Beaver Island on Tuesday early evening – a day after the season closes here. And it’s a ghost town. Shops are closed. Restaurants are closed. Museums are closed. And there are only a handful of souls around.

But, what the Island lacks in population it makes up for in community. And though the islanders may seem quiet and reserved, if you strike up a conversation, they’re more than happy to chat with you. Claire, Aaron and I stopped in the St. James Boat Shop (which happened to be open), where they spend hundreds of hours crafting cherry stand-up paddleboards, canoes, dingys and more, and struck up a wonderful conversation with one of the owners. A year-round resident, her children are a few of the 68 students that attend the Beaver Creek Community School. High school graduating classes are often just three or four students.

I mentioned hoping to visit the Marine Museum across the street. “If it’s closed, let me know,” she said. “I’ll call the owner for you.” The owner of the Toy Museum a bit further down was a personal friend, too, and just a phone call away.

Based on a recommendation from a good friend, we popped in the Beaver Island Fish Market, where they catch, smoke and sell local catch. Unfortunately, the owner who had operated the place for decades passed away a month prior. But the current operator, a humble and tall drink of water still in his fishing gear from the morning, offered us samples of his cajun lake trout, genuinely asking our opinion. Our taste buds told us he’s doing just fine so far.

Those stops were all in St. James Harbor, the tiny town on the northern tip of the island where, we had to pause while a wild turkey and her three babies crossed the road. After checking the radar and realizing that we would be here awhile, Aaron and I followed the local bartender’s advice and rented a Geo Tracker from the marina down the road. In a few lucky weather windows between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, we drove all over the island, deer watching along gravel roads, climbing dunes, hiking through dense forests and relishing in an unforgettable sunset barbecue and campfire on the northern coast, with unparalleled views of Whisky, Squaw and Garden Islands to the north, and the Upper Peninsula on the horizon. (Did you know Beaver Island is one in a cluster of seven islands?!) I highly recommend that you do this if you’re ever in town. And buy the $5 map – it’s worth it.

Aaron and I also both had work deadlines while in town. He spent hours in the Shamrock Bar and Restaurant up the road, scarfing their WiFi to write proposals, while I spent a few evenings hunkered down on the boat, finishing up edits to a report for a client.

All signs point to the weather clearing out by midday today, and the waves should follow by this evening. I’m still trying to convince Aaron that a moonlit sail is in order, but either way, we should be casting lines by tomorrow late morning. Time to go, though I’m going to miss this place.