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Sunday, September 21, 2014, in Charlevoix, Michigan

Hi all. We’re back in Charlevoix, again, this time in preparation for hauling out the boat for the winter. Last time I wrote, we were in Traverse City.

We spent another week exploring Traverse City on our own. We had compiled an assortment of favorite places for lunch, and took advantage of the many movies offered by the downtown cinema. By this time, we knew where to find folk music on the street, gospel at the beach, and our favorite bluegrass group we’d seen in Northport. The downtown area would have entertained us by itself, but we knew that this was an unusual opportunity to rent a car for a few days, and we extended our horizon a bit.

The first day was devoted to errands, a trip to West Marine, and visits to superstores for housewares, hardware, and groceries. On another day, we checked out the Village at Traverse Commons. Bottles aren’t the only recycled goods in Michigan.

In 1883, a large project began as the Northern Michigan Asylum to centralize the patients from various facilities across the state. Even this long ago, the initiative appears to have been an attempt to create a beneficial environment for those whose ailments were bewildering to the science of the time.

In time, the hospital closed, and the buildings were derelict. At the time of the closing in 1989, the tract was 484 acres of land with 60 buildings, all about a mile from downtown. The city and township created a redevelopment corporation to design and construct a walkable, mixed-use village. The present site includes housing, shops, and restaurants, and is a destination for events and entertainment.

We used lunchtime as our reason to visit the complex. It would be a medium-length walk from town that we probably would have accomplished at some point, but the car made it easy. We also used our wheels to take a drive up Mission Bay Peninsula, a sleepy residential suburb of Traverse City with beachfront opportunities up and down its edges. There was a restaurant up there that we had wanted to try, and our plans to anchor there a few weeks earlier had been thwarted by a generator problem.

One day, we drove up to a nearby national park called Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Our first stop was at the dune climb, a 200-foot wall of sand, on this sunny day literally crawling with children, who gleefully played Sisyphus for a while and then came charging down at gravitational speed.

We continued on along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7.4 mile tour of the local history, complete with several stops for photos, hiking, or simple ogling at the beauty of the overlooks. We finished our tour with a visit to an inland restaurant that would never be within walking distance of any harbor we might stop.

Art didn’t ignore the boat during our stay in Traverse City. For the fourth time, someone from Caterpillar stopped by in an effort to reset the trip meter. On this visit, the tech flashed the software (a sophisticated version of turning it off and turning it back on again), and the trip meter began to work. Art also fixed the spotlight by tightening a connector.

For the weekend, we’d bought passes to two events at the Traverse City Food Festival. The first, on Friday night, was a “grub crawl”. Restaurants and shops sponsored wine and small plates and desserts. By the time we’d exhausted the route, we could call the progressive snacks dinner (and dessert and coffee). The next day, we took a bus to a resort in a neighboring town, where the food festival continued.

We moved on to Charlevoix and its centrally-located municipal marina. They’d been unable to accommodate us on our previous visit during the town’s big summer festival. Just after Labor Day, the marina was dotted with empty berths.

The marina also delivered excellent and much-needed wireless service. We’d caught Traverse City on the verge of a communications upgrade, and there was no connectivity for our entire visit. I’d already unwittingly jammed my inbox with messages waiting for download. We didn’t have much planned for Charlevoix in the post-summer week, but I was grateful for the opportunity to set up my PC and catch up with, as Art describes it, “whatever it is you do.”

After less than a week, we moved to Harbor Springs, where we docked at the municipal marina. The town, situated on an offshoot of Lake Michigan called Little Traverse Bay, was founded by Jesuits, and apparently visited by the French before then, because its original name was L’Arbre Croche, which means “crooked tree.” In the mid-19th century, Harbor Springs had the largest concentration of Native Americans in Michigan. Indeed the first postmaster, in 1861, was Chief Andrew J. Blackbird.

Like other places we’ve visited around Lake Michigan, fur trading, lumber, and manufacturing were part of the town’s history. Today, the economy revolves around tourism. The old Grand Rapids and Indiana train depot is now a restaurant. Summer brings visitors to the beaches, to water sports and golf, and to the quaint shops along the short main street. In the winter, hardier vacationers come back for cross-country skiing or ice fishing.

We’d expected Harbor Springs to be an upscale resort, even if it was slightly after the summer season. In some ways our expectations were met, with shop mannequins wearing three and four digit prices on casual wear. In other ways, we were surprised that there were few restaurants along the downtown, and even fewer places that served both lunch and dinner.

Our first few days in Harbor Springs greeted us with glorious summer weather. But one day mid-week was a rainy, cold mess. Art could see from the forecast that we’d be back in prettier fall weather soon. I wondered, though, if the switch that changed spring into summer at Memorial Day months earlier had a corresponding off switch after Labor Day.

We left Harbor Springs in favor of larger Petoskey across the bay during the weekend. Waves in the harbor deterred us from fueling up on the way in; we’d try again on our way out of town. The marina is welcoming, with modern amenities and fine Wi-Fi.

Petoskey itself is compact and cosmopolitan, with a history museum at the harbor and an underground pedestrian walkway to avoid crossing the small highway between the water and downtown. In the marina, you’re surrounded by municipal open space and sheltered from the bustle, such as it is after Labor Day in a small city.

Petoskey owes its name to a historical tribal chief, Chief Pet-O-Sega, a French-Ottawan merchant and fur trader. His name also graces the locally-famous Petoskey stone, a seaside find that is the fossilized result of glaciation of the coral that once graced the area. Polished stones are found in gift shops in the form of jewelry, household objects, and simple souvenirs of Northern Michigan. Lucky beachgoers can sometimes find virginal stones on the sand.

Petoskey’s marina is well-situated a public park away from downtown, and we noted immediately that the town has more restaurants per capita than we’d expected. The compact downtown has a bounty of unexpected shops, such as an original J. C. Penney, and a paucity of expected ones, such as a grocery store that isn’t a specialty shop.

The best feature of this small town is the restaurant scene, which is as great as or better than Traverse City. Within a few days, we’d explored a handful of innovative menus in cozy environments. One of them, the City Park Grill, is in an old building that once housed a saloon (and most likely a speakeasy, with a tunnel to a nearby hotel for the transport of alcohol.) The place, called the Annex at the time, was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway, who would take the second seat from the end of the bar and write notes for stories. The Annex is a part of the Hemingway short story Gentleman of the World.

Hemingway’s parents had a summer cottage on Walloon Lake in Little Traverse Bay, and his visits each summer made a clear impression on both the man and his art. His first novel, “The Torrent of Spring” is set in Petoskey.

It was neither as wintry as I’d feared nor as summery as Art had expected, but the weather didn’t keep us from taking walks through town or any other exploration we had in mind.

Even though it’s a real town, after Labor Day, Petoskey was quiet. Walking along the downtown streets on a Sunday was like inspecting a movie set when it isn’t in use. The weather was pretty but chilly, and leaves began to shimmer in colors on the edges of some trees. Only about ten percent of the berths in the marina were occupied.

We spent five days in Petoskey. One evening, friends invited us to watch their presentation at a Coast Guard Power Squadron meeting. We had originally met these cruisers in Palma de Mallorca, Spain in 2000, and then met them again when we all participated in the Eastern Mediterranean Yacht Rally in 2004. Ten years later, we were both docked in Leland on Lake Michigan and renewed our acquaintance. Cruising has a quiet way of reuniting people half a world away from the place you saw them the last time.

We met wonderful cruising colleagues at the Power Squadron meeting. The entertaining and informative presentation covered the adventures our friends had experienced when they’d sailed in the Mediterranean, in some places we hadn’t visited and many places that we had. I could see how enthralling the prospect is to live abroad on a boat, and realized how lucky we’d been to have as many seasons as we did in the waters surrounding Europe.

Art picked a day with favorable weather for us to return to Charlevoix, so that the boat was an easy delivery to its winter home. The municipal marina in Charlevoix, inaccessible during our first visit at the height of the summer season, was less than half occupied. Luckily for us, if some shops close for the season, none had done so yet, and there were restaurants for us to enjoy and a three-screen movie theater within a block or two of the boat. There’s also a good supermarket only steps away. Charlevoix, of all the places we’ve stayed in this season (other than Chicago, which wouldn’t be a fair comparison), might be the best-equipped place for a person to enjoy life on a boat without access to a car or bikes. Both Petoskey and Traverse City have more retail and eateries, but neither has a good supermarket a short walk away.

Marinas are quiet, but the restaurants are still active. There are virtually no events directed at tourists, although harvest festivals and Halloween events most certainly will occur after we head for home as they do in small towns all over the country. It’s clear to us that the cruising season ends before the residents with homes close up for the winter and head south.

Because we are in our winter destination, we began to put the boat away even before we move the boat to the boatyard for haulout. Art arranged for oil changes and other engine work in preparation for winter storage. We are both pulling apart cabinets to make sure that we have the right clothes on board, but not more than we need of anything. I go through cabinets to move seldom-used items to deeper storage and frequent items to easy access.

We’re powerboat cruisers now, and the transition wasn’t as hard as I’d feared, nor even as big a change. There’s more of this, and less of that. We go shorter distances at higher speeds. We view weather forecasts with different interests. In the end, the boat is our home, just as it was for our cruising sailboats. And in the end, we think that we’re very lucky to be able to do this.

We’re here for another week or two, and then we’ll spend the winter figuring out where we’re headed next.

Love, Karen (and Art)