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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.


1. irisofthewayfarer - April 2, 2010

Are you coming back this summer to write a little more?

2. Hector - July 3, 2011

Im pretty sure that before Firestone that building was a Dodge dearership

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