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Sunday, May 31, 2015, in Charlevoix, Michigan

Hi all. Another boating season has begun, and I’ve launched yet another journal about what we’re up to, even when it’s mostly not much.

For the last twenty years, traveling by boat has been primarily an experience of exploration. The 46-foot sailboat in which we lived for months from 2000 to 2005 gave us an exploration of Northern Europe and the whole Mediterranean, not to mention the newness of outfitting a new and empty vessel. For more than ten years, we explored Europe’s edges, and outfitted a similar, but more complicated new sailboat in 2007. Our sailing became a little more adventurous, through the Baltic and following the routes of northern explorers from Viking lands to the Mediterranean. I’m not comparing our seagoing experience to theirs; for example, we had GPS, cell phones and TV, not to mention stops for scones and clotted cream in lovely resort ports. I just mean that we traveled in their footsteps, or at least their wake.

In 2014, back in the US, and with a powerboat, we had to search within ourselves to define our season as an adventure. The vessel’s original owner had thoughtfully configured it with electronics and aftermarket touches, and at first it seemed as if we’d be living in a sublet. We’d never really been in most places around Lake Michigan, or actually anywhere near the Midwest. Also, we could rent a car for our first few weeks aboard, and I’m not subject to homesickness if a fifteen-minute ride can take me to Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond. Some people see America in Mt. Rushmore. I see it in unlimited coffee refills at Panera.

The cruising experience has changed in a subtle way rather than dramatically. For example, power can change where you go compared to sailing, because your decreased depth is more forgiving in shallower waters, and it changes how far you go, simply because you get to places faster. Typically, on the powerboat we could leave at our leisure in the morning and count on arriving somewhere in time to have lunch ashore. This is very different from counting on leaving at first light in Sweden's summertime to cross to Norway and hope to get settled eighty miles away before darkness. Eighty miles took us across Lake Michigan in 2014 in four hours. Summer up north is still short, but you can spend more of it exploring ashore if you don’t have to depend on the winds.

The 2015 season for Northern Exposure begins in Charlevoix, Michigan. Our 2014 maiden year had begun in Holland, Michigan in mid-May, but that seemed a little early for the weather. In Holland, in the southern part of the state, Memorial Day changed from mild winter weather to breezy summer as if turned on by a switch. We discovered that most of the season ends around Charlevoix in late August, and only the hardiest locals are around, let alone cruising, after Labor Day. So this season, we decided to wait until the end of May to arrive in Charlevoix just after Memorial Day weekend.

The boatyard had launched Northern Exposure and moved it to its nearby docks on Ferry Avenue. We’d rented a car for a few days at Traverse City and reserved a hotel room for one night, even though the boat would have been ready for us to move onboard immediately. There was a poetic symmetry to staying in a hotel on the way to the boat, like whatever is the opposite of decompressing out of a deep dive.

The yard had done some maintenance tasks for us over the winter, but I was most interested in seeing the varnish work. They’d redone the toerails from scratch (I literally mean scratch, because the varnish had been neglected for so long that they had to sand it down to bare wood). They’d also redone the floors in the main salon, which had some flaws. The craftsman who’d performed the work had done an excellent job, and this compliment comes from Art, who for many years varnished our Hinckley B-40 himself from stem to stern (again, literally) and who can make a varnished surface into a mirror.

When we came aboard, one side of the boat was clear, and the other was swarming with gnats. There hadn’t been any ashore and we hadn’t seen any on the long stroll down the dock. We walked around to the side door and brushed off the bugs that had already adopted us by moving onto our shirts, and squeezed ourselves inside with a minimal number of gnatty guests. This was the case every time we entered or exited the boat. Cleaning any outdoor surface, and some of the ones inside, removed piles of dead bugs.

Normally, the first few days aboard are consumed in the search for things that worked when the boat was decommissioned and now fail to work. Art found only a small number of items: warped companionway steps on both sides of the main salon that needed a little shave, and a joker valve in the guest head with a leak (as in “ha ha, you want to take a leak? Well, I got here first!” Just a joker valve, though not a particularly witty one.) In any case, both were fixed quickly.

The yard had noticed two other problems in the commissioning process: some problem with the spreader lights that prevented them from going on, and a leak in the icemaker. The problem in the spreader lights turned out to be operator error; however you’re supposed to flick the switch, they didn’t do it right and the lights went on as soon as Art did. Art couldn’t find the icemaker leak, but by the time he knew that, the boatyard was off for the weekend. He’d have to call them and ask where to look for the leak.

There wasn’t much keeping us at the boatyard marina, which is far enough from town to make it accessible, but inconvenient to do anything spontaneous. By Thursday, only a day after we’d moved onboard, we brought the boat to Charlevoix town marina. A day after that, we returned our rental car. The cruising season was officially underway.

One thing I always forget when I leave Florida is that other places have something called “weather”. In Florida, we have seasons. We have winter, which is paradise. We have summer, which apparently is hell. I don’t mind it, but we leave anyway, as do many other Florida residents. I remember that a Florida meteorologist who transferred to a Philadelphia station said that she liked Philadelphia because there’s never anything to report in South Florida (this interview occurred before Hurricanes Andrew and Wilma did.) We simply don’t have weather on a daily basis. But our Florida summer apparently begins well before Michigan exits their own version of hell, which is any month that isn’t June, July or August.

On this arrival week, Charlevoix weather offered me a more toxic relationship than I remembered. I expected cold and even rain. Instead, it gave me a beautiful day, and then a cold evening, and then another okay day, and then a bunch of freezing rainy days. Apparently this is called “spring” to locals. I think it’s just playing with my head.

On Saturday, I piled on my high-tech base layer (this stuff used to be called “long underwear” but now that sounds like something for lumberjacks). Then I put on my clothes and a jacket over it to brave the cold rain pelting my face and walked by the harbormaster outside of his office. He was wearing a polo shirt and shorts. And a smile. The day before, there had been kids playing in the fountain. Now they were playing alongside it. I zipped up my jacket over my long underwear and fastened my hood over my exposed ears.

In spite of its short tolerable season, Charlevoix, now that I’ve experienced a lot of this area, is nearly perfect. The town marina is close to everything and has great wireless service and great heads. There’s a first-class boatyard nearby in case something needs to be fixed, which it always does. Within a block of the marina, there is a good supermarket, a movie theater, five or six good restaurants for lunch and a few for dinner, and places to stop for coffee in the morning. We won’t do this, but I think that I could sit here all summer. I can only think of a few other places I like as much as a base, like Annapolis, Maryland, Lymington, England, and Gzira, Malta. Now that I’ve realized that, we’re leaving as soon as the weather is right.

We’ll have good access to email and phone service for most of the summer, with the possible exception of, yikes, June. I’ll send a smoke signal if we’re likely to go offline.

Love, Karen (and Art)