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Sunday, August 3, 2014, in Northport, Michigan, again

Hi everyone. We’re back in Northport after a little excursion away this week. Last time I wrote, we had just arrived here.

The day we left Charlevoix was foggy but calm, but became less foggy as the day brightened. Would the newly-installed GPS improve our reception from the WAAS satellite and reduce the number of alerts we’d hear? It was much better. And the 40-degree offset on the apparent wind: gone.

We arrived at Northport in mid-morning, and were assigned to lie alongside the wall at the far end of the small harbor. We tied up carefully, anticipating strong north winds the next day.

Art had eliminated nearly all of the items on his mid-season to-do list, and several on his over-the-winter list. But this is a boat, and when we went below after docking at Northport, he noticed some water in the guest cabin that undoubtedly originated from a small leak in a washer/dryer hose. This item went on a new list, and was deleted within a day when Art found and tightened a hose behind the unit.

There isn’t much to Northport, with a year-round population of about 500. In 1848, the town that is now Northport was simply a place to emigrate those who had not yet contracted smallpox in an infected community elsewhere in Michigan. Settlers carefully carved their plat that was not included in a recognized reservation for the Ottawa and Chippewa. It was a tough life, with a short and demanding growing season, and a cold, icy winter devoted to cutting and transporting ice blocks with the intention of saving whatever had been harvested and not already consumed. There’s a more festive aura these days.

The marina is one of the town’s attractions, and most of the commerce is within the few adjoining acres. It doesn’t take long to traverse the entirety of Northport, with nearly every business catering simply to summer visitors. But there is a small post office, a medium-sized hardware store, and a large (considering its audience) supermarket. In my pre-arrival research about the town, I noticed that a coffee place is on Mill Street, which amused me for a moment. When we arrived at the café’s location, I realized that the street is called Mill Street because of the old mill that still sits behind what is now a coffee shop. The wheel, rusted and decaying, can still spin with a small push of your finger several feet above the now-dribbling creek, like an old Don Quixote, slashing at nothing.

After a few lazy Northport days, some of which didn’t get much beyond the mid-60-degree range, we moved along the Leelanau Peninsula to nearby Suttons Bay. We’d asked about a space in the marina, but were shut out. When we arrived, we could see that there was only one space that could accommodate us. We were ready for anchoring, anyway, because we hadn’t had that many opportunities yet to try it out.

We dropped the anchor just outside the marina and the town. It was still morning, and we launched the dinghy with little fanfare. There’s a crane mounted near the dinghy cradle. It clips to some chains that spread around the inside of the inflatable. The crane required a small learning curve, and Art had to add chain here and there to make the dinghy pull up with its bottom flat. A line attached to the stern lets me straighten the boat fore and aft as needed during launch. The present arrangement means that the process requires little more physical effort than some finger taps here and there to get it right.

Suttons Bay was founded by Harry C. Sutton, who arrived with his crew in 1854 and began a business to supply wood for fuel to passing steamboats. A train route between Suttons Bay and Traverse City was begun in 1903.

The dinghy dock for boats anchored out rents for the hour or for the day. After settling with the harbormaster, we explored the town. This takes about an hour, if you actually go into some of the shops. There are the expected resort wear and gift places and galleries, a large selection of restaurants for the size of the place, and access to the Leelanau Trail.

This 17-mile stretch of paved trail connects Suttons Bay with Traverse City over the now-unused train route. During the summer, it’s busy with bikes; in the winter, it’s groomed for cross-country skiing. We rented bikes on our second day in town to check it out.

We were outfitted with new bikes and helmets, but definitely no locks. The entrance to the trail showed that we were at mile marker 17 from Traverse City. The trail was quite flat, and just wide enough for us to ride abreast, or for easy passing when bikers met from two directions. Most of the trail overlooked idyllic scenes, wild flowers that stretched high into lavender or white or red flowers, a tiny pristine lake, scrub bursting with fruit, and pine trees with cones dangling from their branches. I listened to the sounds of summer, chirping and high chatter, along with the clicking from my own spokes. At one point, a great heron standing right in the middle of the trail waited for us to get within about 50 yards before taking off with its gigantic wingspan, still looking indifferent to our approach.

Our destination was only a few miles away, the Black Star Farms vineyards and inn. Among its many pleasures for vacationers, there are numerous vineyards along the trail, many of which are delighted to host tastings for visitors. We were looking for lunch, and the restaurant at Black Star Farms, called the Hearth & Vine, would be ideal. It’s only about a half mile from the trail (although a half mile of hills and valleys). The restaurant is located between the hoops house and the stables. Most of what it serves is harvested or raised on the farm, and anything that isn’t is sourced locally and carefully.

We intended to stay at anchor in Suttons Bay for another day, and then anchor in another nearby harbor for one night. We needed to revisit that when Art tried to charge the batteries while I was making dinner. We probably should have timed our activities better. In the past, I wouldn’t have run a needy appliance when the generator was peaking at charging batteries and heating water. But that probably just exacerbated the several things that were wrong inside the electrical system.

Moments after the convection oven went on, the inverter shut off. No appliances worked. The oven was off, the TV was silent, and the outlets no longer showed little green lights in the USB chargers. The generator stopped generating, even though the motor was running. Then the motor wouldn’t stay on for more than a few seconds. Then there was a generator message that the filter was clogged. That would be a second problem, at least. And we were at anchor.

Art started to rule out issues. The main engines were still able to charge the batteries. This ruled out the battery charger. Art found a popped breaker in the inverter and popped it back into operation. This cleared the inverter. All of this identified the generator as the problem. We would have been fine at anchor charging the batteries from the engines, and we could have even gone to the next anchorage. Art was thinking ahead of me and called Northport Marina for a space. Even though we had workarounds for a day or two, I knew that Art wouldn’t sleep unless we got ourselves secure somewhere connected to power.

It took less than an hour at high speed and in thankfully still water, and we arrived early enough to get secured before the dock staff was finished for the night. Northport was having a summer concert in the park adjacent to the marina, and the particular repairs we needed didn’t keep us from wandering over to listen and calm down a little.

In the next day, Art cleaned the generator filter, and the air conditioner filters while he was in the neighborhood. He removed the impeller from the generator, or at least the portion of it that wasn’t mangled with age. This was undoubtedly the reason that the water flow to cool the generator was impeded. It occurred to him that the generator shut itself off well before it was hot; maybe it had some electronic intelligence that checked for cooling water before the entire engine started melting down. That would be smart.

The charms of Northport have drawn chef Mario Batali, who has provided a handful of lists of his favorite area eateries to magazines like Vanity Fair and Bon Appetit. Another local is Tool Man Tim Allen, who provides the voice for the Pure Michigan advertising campaign. We discovered a few days into our visit that our slip was the next-door neighbor to Tim Allen’s boat. We think we borrowed your hose, so thanks, neighbor. You didn’t happen to use your boat for the weekend that we were there, so we were the neighbor you never saw. Does this mean that we now have to rename the boat Wilson?

Love, Karen (and Art)