"Sailors plan for safety. For escape. For survival. Sailors rely on plans, on strategies that have worked before. Trust me, most mariners are conservative. We stick to the tried and true." Randall Peffer, "Listen to the Dead"

Sunday, September 12, 2021

On Death's' Door

      I don't mean to scare anybody with the title. It's  just that we spent a week in Door County, Wisconsin. The county is named after the treacherous passage around the northern tip of the peninsula called Porte de Morts. 

Overlooking Green Bay

     The name refers back to a deadly raid in the 1600s by a group of Native Americans against a rival tribe. But later the name proved providential for Europeans since the passage became the site of scores of deadly shipwrecks suffered by French explorers and others who dared make the turn around the northern tip of the peninsula into the safety of Green Bay.

Fish Creek has a fairly large marina

     We were there as part of our trip to see my daughter and granddaughter, who live in Madison, and who were able to join us for a week of vacation. We were also attracted to the area because it's been called the Cape Cod of the Midwest. We love Cape Cod. So we figured we would love Door County.

We asked:  this boat came up the Hudson River and across the Erie Canal

     There are some similarities. Cape Cod is a peninsula east of Boston. Door County is a peninsula east of Green Bay. Both have modest populations in the winter, but are flooded with vacationers in the summer. A lot of people own second homes. We know a few New Yorkers who have vacation homes on Cape Cod, along with people from Connecticut and the Boston area.

Street in Fish Creek

     Cape Cod also has its share of retirees, including some friends who live in Falmouth. B and I even considered retiring to Cape Cod. But we finally decided that the winters are to long . . . which is what we hear about Door County as well.

A child's eye view of Lake Michigan

     Similarly, people from Milwaukee and Madison and other places around Wisconsin have vacation homes in Door County. But we were told the big crowds -- and big money -- come from Chicago, about a four-hour drive away.

An aid to sailors in Bailey's Harbor

     We stayed at a lodge in Bailey's Harbor on Lake Michigan, considered the "quiet side" of the peninsula. The more touristy side borders Green Bay where the water is warmer. There are more beaches on the bay. There's more shopping and things to do with the kids. And apparently the fishing is better. I don't fish. So I can't confirm that piece of advice.

Johnson's Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay ... that's real grass on the roof

     We found several nice restaurants in Sister Bay, Fish Creek and Egg Harbor, all with outdoor seating. We went to the beach, took a bike ride through Peninsula State Park, spent some time shopping for presents and souvenirs. But with a grandchild around (as many of you no doubt know) we spent most of our time on the playground running after a toddler.

Remember, we're in America's dairyland

     We drew the line at changing diapers. That's a parent's job, not a grandparent's responsibility. Don't you think?

A cove in Bailey's Harbor

     We're back home now. But we're planning a trip to the Massachusetts Cape Cod later in September -- to visit friends, eat lobsta and clam chowda, and maybe even go for a swim. The Cape can still be warm in September.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Journey Across the Water

     I never paid attention to the Great Lakes. I'm not even sure I could name all five of them. Can you?

     I spent most of my life in New York state, which borders Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and I now live in Pennsylvania which also touches Lake Erie. But I have always lived downstate so the waters I see are not the Great Lakes, but Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean, the Hudson and Delaware rivers.

     To be sure, I have spied Lake Michigan a few times, when I was in Chicago, and once I glimpsed Lake Erie from Buffalo. I've also seen Niagara Falls -- does that count? But the Great Lakes simply do not loom large in my mind.

     Until a couple of weeks ago. That's when we boarded a ferry to cross Lake Michigan. It turns out . . . those lakes are big!

Harbor in Muskegon, Mich.
 
   We left Muskegon, Mich. at 10:15 a.m., heading west, due to arrive in Milwaukee, Wis. at 11:45 a.m.. An hour-and-a-half voyage, I thought. But no, it's actually a 2-1/2-hour journey because of the time change, from Eastern time to Central time. And that's the high-speed ferry. The regular ferry takes four hours to make the crossing.

Ship docked in Muskegon

     It's about 90 miles across the lake, and you're out of sight of land for half the trip. It's a lot of water, which is why the Great Lakes are called an inland sea -- the largest group of freshwater lakes on earth, according to one source, containing 21% of the fresh water on the surface of the globe.

Michigan fishing boat

     The Great Lakes are subject to storms and rolling waves. But when we made the crossing the waters were calm. In case you're wondering, masks were required inside the rather spacious cabin, but not outside since the speed of the boat created a 30-40-mph wind in our face. 

Goodbye Muskegon

     But we knew we couldn't let complacency overtake us. After all, we were headed to Door County for a week's vacation. This region of Wisconsin is like a finger sticking out into Lake Michigan, with the lake to the east and Green Bay on the other side.

Open water

     The county is named from the French Porte des Morts, or Death's Door. The name refers back to a deadly raid in the 1600s by a group of Native Americans against a rival tribe. But later the name proved providential for Europeans since the passage became the site of scores of deadly shipwrecks suffered by French explorers and others who dared make the turn around the northern tip of the peninsula into the safety of Green Bay.

Land ho!

     According to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, in all at least 6,000 ships and 30,000 lives have been lost on the Great Lakes. Some historians say the numbers are even higher, as many as 25,000 ships in the course of the past 300 years.

Milwaukee skyline

     But as I said, the day we were on the lake the waters were calm, the sailing smooth, the trip offering a safe and pleasant morning. And so we continued on . . . to tempt the fates of Door County.