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Pure Michigan August 18, 2013

Posted by Fritz in Yachts and other things that float.
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IMG_20130809_211850My Michigan summer is over. I can’t remember a more wonderful one….except for maybe next year.

Best 4th of July Parade Eveh! July 4, 2011

Posted by Fritz in Yachts and other things that float.
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Frankfort, Michigan’s 4th of July parade is just the best. Small town Americana at it’s finest.

Pasty Boy...it's a Michigan thing.

The end of an era August 19, 2010

Posted by Fritz in Yachts and other things that float.
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Our yacht club on Crystal Lake in Michigan is dedicated to promoting sailboat racing to kids of all ages. The Junior Fleet is the incubating ground the Club has used to nurture the love of the sport throughout the Club’s history. The Junior Fleet is open to any child, 5 to 16 years old, who passes the swimming test. My daughter started when she was 7.

This past summer marked the last season of her membership in the Juniors. Her summer was abbreviated by her study abroad in Spain, but she got to sail in a handful of races before the season ended. As an active parent volunteer for the last 10 years her last race hit me hard. I am very thankful for the chance to watch her mature both as a racer and as a young woman.

Own a Lighthouse July 15, 2010

Posted by Fritz in Travel, Yachts and other things that float.
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For virtually all my life my summer home has been up north on the west coast of the lower peninsula of Michigan. My grandparents built a cottage on Crystal Lake back in the 50’s that served as the focal point for my family’s summer rendezvous.

The little town of Frankfort is just five miles away and I consider it my second home. So it was with much interest that I read a news story about one of the city’s icons going up for sale. Frankfort is a port city (town) on Lake Michigan. The town has a long history as a bustling port; even once boasting more millionaires per capita than anywhere in the US. That happened during the logging boom of the middle 1800’s. Northern Michigan’s tall hardwoods supplied the insatiable building appetite in the midwest, especially Chicago after the Great Fire.

The Betsie river flows to Lake Michigan through Betsie Lake which provides a large natural harbor  perfect  for thriving seagoing businesses that include fishing and the shipping of cargo. When the railroads finished a spur line that terminated in the town across the bay from Frankfort, the car ferries began service across Lake Michigan in 1892.

With all this burgeoning shipping traffic, Frankfort harbor was in need of a breakwater to protect the harbors’ entrance from ferocious storms that would invariably blow up throughout the year. Of course once you build a structure out into the lake you had better put a light on the end to keep sailors from running in to it. In the winter of 1866, the Congress appropriated a bill of $90,000 for the construction of the piers. The work was commenced the following year by the Hubbel and Whitwood Company. Soon afterwards the lighthouse was built.” Memo’s of Betsie Bay – A history of Frankfort, by Charles M. Anderson

Frankfort Lighthouse on the north breakwater

That lighthouse has served mariners for over 140 years. The US Coast Guard has been in charge of operating and maintaining her all that time—until now.

From The Detroit Free Press The public may get a chance to buy a Michigan lighthouse if no government or nonprofit organization steps forward to preserve three that the U.S. Coast Guard no longer needs.

The latest round of excess lighthouses includes 11 around the country, three of them in Michigan: The Frankfort North Breakwater Lighthouse, the Middle Island Lighthouse, across Thunder Bay from Alpena, and the South Haven South Pierhead Lighthouse. Lighthouses can come in all shapes and sizes, but these three are all more traditional looking towers.

“I knew this day was coming,” said Josh Mills, Frankfort’s city superintendent. “Obviously, this structure means a lot to this community. It’s a signature structure in our community and we’ll do whatever is necessary to keep it.”

Mills already has talked to the Friends of the Point Betsie Lighthouse, near Frankfort, about taking the breakwater lighthouse under their wings, but hadn’t pressed for a commitment. He will now.

Lighthouse ownership is not an inexpensive proposition. The Frankfort lighthouse needs about $1 million in upgrades to make it a top-notch city attraction, Mills estimated, including restoring a catwalk on the breakwater, out to the lighthouse. The Point Betsie Light preservation group has so far raised $1 million for that structure’s maintenance.

Anybody want to buy a lighthouse?

Frankfort Lighthouse on the north breakwater

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