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Sunday, July 27, 2014, in Northport, Michigan

Hi everyone. We’re in Northport, Michigan, exploring Traverse Bay. Last we wrote, we were in Leland, another tiny resort town. Here’s what we’ve been doing.

The area that is now Leland was first settled by the Anishnabek Native Americans. They settled on the tiny Carp River, which they called the Mishi-me-go-bing, "the place where canoes run up into the river to land, because they have no harbor.” It’s accurate, if not succinct.

In the mid-nineteenth century, settler Antoine Manseau built a dam across the Carp River (now called the Leland River) through the town to support his sawmill and docks. Fishermen began to use this area, first with sailboats, and then with primitive gas-powered oak boats around 1900. Eventually, they built a completely local design, a steel-hulled tug that was especially designed to withstand ice and waves. Around this time, the banks of the river had small shanties that served the fishermen as net sheds, ice houses, and smokers. Overfishing and the invasive sea lamprey nearly decimated the local fishing industry in the mid-twentieth century.

Though we’d arrived in Leland at the end of the day, there was still plenty of summer daylight to use. After dinner, we took our first stroll through the town. The area next to the harbor is the historic Fishtown, the skeletal infrastructure left by the fishing industry. A local entrepreneur bought up many of the unused and dilapidated sheds for restoration, and now many of the wooden shanties lining the harbor house shops selling gifts, artisanal foods, and resort wear. One shop continues the tradition of smoking its own fish, and the constant steam from the smoke shed is heady and intoxicating.

The rest of the town’s commerce continues the theme of a northern resort, including restaurants, galleries, and single-focus shops. Many of them sell Michigan cherry products in nearly unimaginable variety: dried, in jams, and in pie fillings, as expected, but also salsas, salad dressings, and barbecue sauces. It’s simply a charming place to wander around and accomplish very little.

On our second full day in town, we were surprised to see temperatures in the low 50s, not forecast to rise much during a dreary and rainy day. The normal temperature for mid-July is thirty degrees higher than the day we were seeing. Because neither of us is a beachgoer, and because we’re well-equipped for fall and spring, this doesn’t present the same problem for us as it would for someone who carefully selected this vacation week to spend their budgeted days off. I always feel bad for visitors during my winters in Fort Lauderdale, when we have the occasional front causing a sunny cold day or an unusual winter rainy day. For us, it’s no problem to sit still, and Leland is so small that there isn’t far to scurry when we want to get outdoors to see something outside of our own boat.

We had our choice of departure days from Leland, and selected the one that was the calmest, after the seas abated. A few hours later, we approached the inlet to Charlevoix, just in time for the bridge opening. Through the bridge, we were in Lake Charlevoix, referred to henceforth by locals as “the little lake” as Lake Macatawa had been when we were in Holland. We passed by the miniature downtown area and the municipal marina in favor of the docks at Irish Boat Shop. This visit was to be a pitstop for our team.

The boat was in very good condition when we took delivery of it in May, but there were some tasks that were beyond the capability of the yard in Holland, other tasks that emerged as we cruised around, and still more that we simply decided couldn’t wait until the fall, when we’d bring the boat to this well-regarded yard for winter storage. We arrived on a Thursday afternoon, created a punch list with the service desk, and on Friday morning, one after another specialist arrived to inspect, confer, or resolve the items on our list. Many of the tasks needed to wait a few days for the right technician, or needed follow-up attention.

On the first day after our arrival, the yard added a 12 volt plug on “my” side of the flybridge, as I’m never more than arm’s length from battery-draining mobile applications. They changed the labels on some mischaracterized breakers on the panel, and added a breaker to reassign the televisions in a more logical pattern. They adjusted the alignment of the wind sensor, because the apparent wind was reading forty degrees away from its actual location. They reversed the bothersome asymmetry that had my port bedside light switches connected to the starboard overhead lights and vice versa. There wasn’t anything dangerous, just counter-intuitive.

Art, in the meantime, was busy fixing up the boat as well. He fixed the depth sounder, which hadn’t been communicating with the rest of the instruments, and he worked with the Yacht Controller support people (it’s a remote control for the engines and the anchor) to improve its capabilities.

Mildew in the lazarette had been noticed by the previous owner, but his research never led him to a solution. Art saw the mildew, and could see that water was getting in even after he cleaned up the spot. Because the boat was sitting in fresh water, there was no way to know whether the water was coming from the lake, or from our own water systems, or even rain. But situations like this one eat at Art, and the technician who came aboard could see that there was a leak somewhere near the swim platform. It would have to come off, and that meant that we’d need to be hauled out of the water.

The yard hauled us out and placed the boat on land right next to the place we’d been along the seawall. We connected to the same electric plug and got the same wireless service. Because the seawall is fixed, and somewhat high, it was actually easier for me to board the boat from land, especially because the boatyard considerately added a stairway alongside our elevated decks. We couldn’t eat meals aboard, but nearly nothing else changed about how we lived for that day, unless you count the unsettling feeling I had when I woke up groggy and we seemed to be aground everywhere I looked.

During the work week, more specialists began to arrive, someone to re-varnish our nameboards and a few other vexing places, someone to fix the leak while the boat was out of the water, and lots of people to keep us posted about our work and help us move the boat around. Later in the week, we’d install a television to replace the culprit in a blinking breaker alert light. After the new TV was installed and hadn’t fixed the blink problem, they found a wiring issue inside the cabinet and fixed that. We’d leave the varnish of the toe rails and the salon floor for the winter. We had the yard install a spare GPS and antenna in the flybridge in the hope that we’d stop seeing an alert while we were cruising around that was probably due to the location of the existing antennas.

Irish is a high-service yard, and we liked the knowledge of the people we met, the availability of specialized skills, and the attention to detail that we found, including fresh flowers in vases in the men’s and ladies’ rooms. It’s a nice thing to see in a marina, but Irish is a yard, more a factory than a resort. If the wireless worked well, I’d find it to be nearly perfect.

The yard is about a half-hour walk from the downtown (while the municipal marina is surrounded by the village), but we found one or two reasons to take the walk nearly every day. The street that led to town was bordered on one side by the lake and the other by a country club community with the warm facades of traditional houses and long lawns festooned with signs plainly indicating that visitors are not welcome on the private club property. I didn’t mind the prohibition; it just seemed arrogant that they might think I wouldn’t know not to walk around at a stranger’s house.

One of the reasons to visit the town is that it’s very charming, a street that alternates a fudge shop with a resort-wear shop with a restaurant with a gallery with a shop that sells foods made of cherries, and then the sequence starts again. Down the street are the famed “mushroom houses” built by architect Earl Young.

Earl Young was quite the character, but he wasn’t a registered architect. This, of course, didn’t keep him from designing buildings. He was guided by the philosophy of Frank Lloyd Wright, but he apparently wasn’t bothered by blueprints. The mushroom houses of Charlevoix were conceived by letting the materials drive the design, which resulted in places that were a little difficult to use and are still difficult to maintain. But they are adorable to view from the outside, and occasional house tours are popular locally.

The rest of the residential community is a patchwork of architecture, from wood-sided Americana to gingerbread Victoriana, to gabled Gothic. The houses close to town were nearly unilaterally manicured with sweeping lawns and perfectly arranged flowers. The large porches in the front of many houses reminded me of how life changes when paved streets bring fast, noisy cars and tourism. A front porch is nostalgic, where you’d sit after dinner to get out of the hot (not air-conditioned) kitchen, where you’d ponder life and chat with passers-by instead of watching summer reruns and checking email. I’d never go back myself; I’m lost without Wikipedia and IMDB, but I certainly understand the sentimentality about slow-paced summer days gone by.

It appears that nearly all of these places are simply closed for three-quarters of the year, covered in snow, but burst forth in spring in glorious primary colors. It’s enough to make you forget how forbidding the place must be after the leaves fall.

We’d specifically chosen this time in July to visit, because of the Charlevoix Venetian Festival, which apparently has as much to do with Venetian Italy as it does to Venetian blinds. The park next door to the boatyard was giddy with a mini-festival called Aquapalooza during our first weekend, and the downtown was alive with concerts at the shell overlooking the lake (the little lake), shoppers strolling the street, and an antique car show sprawled across the lakeside park. Daily tournaments in golf, tennis, volleyball, basketball, soccer and sailing dotted the festival schedule.

The festival drew us in nearly every day, to concerts in town or in the park next to our marina. One evening, we watched one of the original members of the band Rare Earth, followed by the 60s band Paul Revere and the Raiders, alas, without its title character. The band did a fine job of the show that they’ve no doubt done thousands of times already, and were followed up by a late-assigned act from the same era, Mitch Ryder, minus the Detroit Wheels.

Hope you’re all getting outdoors and enjoying what appears to be great summer weather where you are.

Love, Karen (and Art)