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Frankfort, MI Part II July 31, 2009

Posted by Fritz in Travel, Yachts and other things that float.
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God’s Country

Change has come slow to this town. While new buildings and businesses have come and gone, the rate and quantity of new things up this way has been pretty lethargic. Depending on who you talk to that’s either a good or bad thing. As a summer resident, I tend to enjoy the slow growth and am glad that the small town charm that makes Frankfort, MI and the surrounding area so appealing has not been compromised. One thing that has changed this summer is the addition of a cruise boat taking passengers out on Lake Michigan on a nearly three hour tour north, towards the Sleeping Bear National Sand Dunes.

Over the winter I had read about the company working on getting the business started  and was pleased to see they had opened for business this summer. I’m impressed that anyone would chance a risky start-up in this economy…especially in Michigan.

A good friend of mine was visiting and I took advantage of one of the perks he enjoys in his profession. He is a tour operator/travel agent and almost always gets free tickets or reduced rates to events or attractions once he identifies himself.

We popped into the cruise lines office just after 10am last Wednesday. The spacious building along Main street once housed the Firestone dealership. The faded outline of the Firestone logo is still very visible across the buildings facade. I’m hoping that if the cruise line has a successful enough year they will splurge and repaint.

We were greeted by Molly who very much looked the nautical part in a crisp white officers shirt complete with epaulets and shoulder bars. She had just finished a phone call recanting sailing schedules and other pertinent information regarding the twice daily cruises. She could not have been nicer and quickly offered us comp tickets once my friend introduced himself as a tour operator. We chose the second or sunset sailing scheduled for 6:30pm. I was impressed that during our 10 minutes or so in the office the phone was constantly ringing and the walk-ins were steady. All good signs for a new business.

Molly offered up what would turn into a good piece of advice; “boarding commences 20 minutes prior to sailing and the top deck fills fast”. The vessel, Miner’s Castle, is a 68′ steel passenger vessel certified for 150. Her twin diesel’s cruises her at 13 knots which allows her to complete the 32 round-trip miles in just under three hours.

M/V Miner's Castle

M/V Miner's Castle

We returned to town just after 6pm to see a growing line of passengers already queuing up to board. Wanting to sit up top we quickly joined the line and once aboard secured prime space along the rail on the port side.

The boat actually departed a few minutes late as the captain held her at the dock to allow the last few stragglers to board. By my estimate we were full. Another good sign for a new business.

On the west coast of northern Michigan, the sun sets well after 9pm for most of the summer. As a young kid this was one of the coolest things about summer. At home bedtime was around 9pm but here we got to stay up much later because it was still light out. Even with the days beginning to get shorter, tonight’s set was around 9:15 so we were able to once again take advantage of being so far north and so far west in the eastern time zone.

Frankfort Bluffs
Frankfort Bluffs

The Miner’s Castle slipped easily away from the dock and out through Frankfort Harbor passing between the north and south breakwalls that protect the harbor’s entrance. We turned right as soon as we cleared the north breakwall and headed along about a quarter mile offshore in 40 feet of water. The bluffs of Frankfort were the first imposing dunes that came before us. Our captain, Dave, began his narration as we cruised  in a gently rolling sea. He expounded on the geological aspects of the dunes as well as passing along area history and the occasional corny joke.


As a teenager I had explored most of the major dunes from the land side and had my own personal stories relating to one or more of the youthful adventures that had taken place on or about them. They offered a safe haven away from the constraints of parents for all kinds of illegal behaviors and the dunes became our giant playground.

Abby's Bluff Abby’s Bluff


Point Betsie lighthouse

Point Betsie lighthouse

About 30 minutes into the trip we came upon the most photographed lighthouse in Michigan; Point Betsie. Every cottage within a fifty mile radius surely must have a picture or two of this beautiful structure.

The lighthouse has been recently renovated after it was taken over from the Coast Guard by a non-profit. The work is ongoing but she is open for weekend tours and looks magnificent from the water.

Our trip continued north, passing by the stately summer homes along the shore that included those built within the Crystal Downs Country Club.

Summer cottages

Summer cottages

The clubhouse sits atop the highest point on that particular stretch of dune. This private club boasts a spectacular golf course that is rated perennially in the top ten in the United States.

The sheer distance from Frankfort to the actual Sleeping Bear Dunes would preclude us from getting closer than 6 miles to the jaw dropping edifice that is the largest moving sand dune in the world. So large in fact that it can easily be seen from space.

Sleeping Bear Dunes
Sleeping Bear Dunes

Even at 6 miles away the mass of sand that forms the near 50 degree slope is awesome. We settled for an up close look at the Empire Dunes, the second largest dune, as the Miner’s Castle slowed to make her turn back south.

Empire Bluff dunes
Empire Bluff dunes

By now the sun was nearing the horizon and some stray stratus clouds had drifted between us and the darkening red orb making for a another beautiful northern Michigan sunset.

Of course Dave, our captain, took notice and full credit for the added bonus.  The trip back was far more windy as we now headed into the 10 knot breeze at 13 knots. With the sun going down quickly, the temperature moved about half of the upper deckers to the main deck below. The air temperature was in the mid 60’s and the 23 knot wind chill made it hard to believe it was the 28th of July. We could have used a bit of that Global Warming they say is going around.

Michigan sunset

Michigan sunset

When we arrived back in the harbor, we were surprised to see Molly standing dockside with mooring lines in hand. This woman was fast approaching a 12-hour day. I guess that’s how you succeed in the most economically depressed state in the US, during one of the most difficult financial times in our country’s history.

My buddy and I hung out near the gangway as passengers disembarked. Every comment was positive and genuine; the cruise was a hit. We made sure to thank Molly for the comped tickets and added our glowing review to the others.

I hope Sleeping Bear Dunes Boat Cruises succeeds for many years. It’s a great change for Frankfort; my little slice of God’s Country.

200 hundred year-old trees re-exposed
200 hundred year-old trees re-exposed


Tickets for the cruise are $33 for adults, children 6-12 are $10 and kids 5 and under are free. The current cruise season began in June and will run to October 18, seven days a week.

Frankfort, Michigan July 15, 2009

Posted by Fritz in Travel.
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At anchor in Betsie Bay, Frankfort, MI

At anchor in Betsie Bay, Frankfort, MI

Precious places are  many in our great country and one of mine is the northwest side of the lower peninsula of Michigan. Frankfort, MI and the surrounding area has been my summer home since I was born. My grandparents first came up this way in the early ’50’s and bought a cottage on Crystal Lake that is still in the family today.

Pt. Betsie Lighthouse

Pt. Betsie Lighthouse

I’m the third generation to enjoy this spectacular place and my daughter is the fourth. There is also a fifth generation toddling their way through the sand and I surely hope that there will be many more after that.

Betsie Bay at dusk

Betsie Bay at dusk

Our cottage is on Crystal Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the US.

Nearly nine miles long and three wide, the lake is a spring fed, sandy bottom beauty that offers the finest venue for every water sport imaginable. Our favorite is sailing or more specifically racing sailboats.

The unique geography of the lake makes for near perfect conditions for the preferred sailing vessel at our yacht club; the scow. Kids start on the Butterfly and work their way up to the E-scow usually skippered by the fathers (and occasional mother) on the weekends.

Butterfly's at the start

Butterfly's at the start

Our sailing season is excruciatingly short as the club doesn’t open ’til mid June and finishes in mid-August when the school year begins.  When I was a kid the season continued up to Labor Day as we didn’t return to school till after that. The shortened summer just means more activity packed into a smaller time frame and we sure try to savor every minute. If you ever get the chance to visit, I promise you’ll experience one of the most wonderful places in America.

E-scows with spinakers flying

E-scows with spinnakers flying

To teleprompt or not to teleprompt July 14, 2009

Posted by Fritz in Yachts and other things that float.
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An easy read.

I just read this article and started thinking about the state of the leadership in this country.


Our current President has received a lot of attention surrounding his use of the teleprompter.  The Right makes an issue of his seeming hopeless addiction to the device while the Left lamely dismisses any attempts to exploit the man’s self-acknowledged ‘need to read’.  During the recent  White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in May the President himself made comic reference to his teleprompter usage.  While every President since JFK has used a teleprompter, no other Chief Executive has so embraced the device or suffered so for it.

I graduated in 1982 with a degree in communication—Radio and Television major, from the University of Houston. One of the coolest things I recall from those early days was my fascination for the teleprompter. An ingenious device that allowed its reader to look directly at the camera while reading their script.360px-Teleprompter_schematic.svg

Schematic representation:

(1) Video camera (2) Shroud
(3) Video monitor (4) Two-way mirror
(5) Image from subject (6) Image from video monitor

The original prompter idea was born in the 1950’s. Fred Barton, Jr., Hubert J, (Hub) Schaflly and Irving Berlin Kahn devised the first device that projected an actor’s script onto a precisely angled plate of glass fixed in front of the camera’s lens. The words were typed onto a scroll of paper that was wound from one spool to another while being shot with a video camera. The image of the words were sent into a monitor facing up, directly below the lens of the camera. The angled glass above the monitor reflected the words scrolling from bottom to top. The speed of the scroll was controlled by a teleprompter operator who used a rheostat to adjust to the readers pace. This was essentially a rolling cue card directly in front of the lens.

In my senior year I was a member of Campus Workshop at U of H, a real world production class that produced a half hour, all-student created, television program.  The show aired Saturday mornings on KHTV, Channel 39.  The class was split between the two major sides in Broadcast television; Production and Performance. Students pursuing on-air careers filled our performance side and those seeking the production side made up the group that wrote, produced and directed the show’s content. One of my first tasks that semester was to operate the teleprompter as a member of the floor crew during our first taping. I can still remember how surprised I was to learn the secret of how news anchors looked so smart.

Claim to Fame:  CBS Sports great Jim Nantz was an alum of the performance class during my year.

My next gig in TV was a news internship at the local CBS affiliate, KHOU-TV in Houston —- the same station that made Dan Rather famous. His live broadcasts on the Galveston seawall during Hurricane Carla in 1961 elevated the little known newscaster to national prominence. Never before had America watched, live, the reporting of a major  natural disaster.  Dan’s luck got even better as the storm developed into the second worst hurricane to ever strike Texas to date. (The Galveston hurricane of 1911 ranks as the worst.)

I was four when Carla hit, living in Houston. I have no memory of the storm or Dan Rather’s broadcast and I could have never imagined I would return 21 years later to intern at the station that launched his national career.

My awe at interning at such a famous and prestigious TV station was dashed when I discovered the teleprompter system used in those revered studios was even less sophisticated than what we  had in college. Single sheet carbon copies were fed by an operator, one after another, onto a scrolling bed for the duration of the newscast.  God forbid they mixed up a page!

The First Personal Computer based Teleprompter, Compu=Prompt appeared in 1982. It was invented and marketed by Courtney M. Goodin & Laurence B. Abrams in Hollywood, California. This custom software and specially re-designed camera hardware ran on the ATARI 800 Personal Computer. Their company later became ProPrompt Inc., which is still providing teleprompting services. Other paper-based Teleprompting Companies Q-TV and Telescript followed suit and developed their own software several years later when the Commodore 64 the IBM PC evolved into computers with enough graphics power to provide the smooth scrolling text.

The advent of computer generated copy has allowed the writer to edit and update content with the immediacy our current lifestyle demands. A producer can write a script on his Blackberry in Bombay, text it to his studio in Stuttgart and almost instantly have his talking head making news—all in the blink of an eye.

So what’s the big deal with using a teleprompter?  Well….for politicians, it’s a freakin crutch. Wanting to look as Hollywood and as polished and as knowledgeable as possible, politicians have committed themselves to a device that allows them to articulate ideas and positions that they could never do extemporaneously. That’s because the art of the speech is dead. A good speaker like a good preacher can spill his words with nary so much as a note card. The idea and ideals underlying his words are so much the fabric of his person that he cannot help but to know the entire text in his mind and as such pontificate seamlessly from beginning to end. It is only when the words or ideals to be spoken are not the fabric of the speaker’s life that a crutch must be employed—like a teleprompter.

It would be so refreshing to see a politician speak without a script. I would like to see our President speak to us without a teleprompter. Tell me what you think, straight out of your head. If you believe it, if it is part of your fabric, you’ll do fine and I will get to hear your words, not someone else’s.

Dan Rather became famous because he didn’t use a teleprompter at the most important opportunity of his life.  He winged it and endeared himself to a national audience. America rewards the authentic, the genuine. So let’s turn off the teleprompters and start reading from the heart.

(For the record:  Several of the employees at KHOU-TV had scathing stories about the egocentric Dan Rather following his national debut. Douche bag, ass hole, and prick were frequent adjectives preceding his name in most conversations.)