Sailing Lake Michigan

[Guest post by Dave Worfel of Whitehall Michigan]

My wife and I are retired and we spend summers on our thirty-six foot sailboat Amadeus. Home port is Whitehall, Michigan where we’ve kept a boat for close to 30 years. Whitehall sits on the shores of White Lake, which provides a channel to the broad expanses of Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes.

I’ve been sailing since I was a kid and the lifestyle now provides me a great window to endless scenes around Lake Michigan that beg to be sketched and painted. The drawings here follow this summer’s sailing season.

Early season at the marina is a flurry of activity. Boats are launched and elbow grease liberally applied. Here, an owner scrapes varnish to refinish the wood. His work, and for us all who live life on a boat, is part of a yearly cycle that starts in April and ends in October before the winter’s deep freeze.

Our boat went in the water in mid-May, but many were still ashore in mid-June. From our boat, I sketched the boats that won’t see water this season and will sit out the summer season in the back corner of the marina’s storage area.

More boats waiting for owners’ care and water under their keels

In late June we headed from Whitehall for the north end of Lake Michigan. Our goal for this year’s trip: Beaver Island. Outbound from White Lake into Lake Michigan we pass the White River Light.

The light is rumored to be haunted. I’ve been there a lot of times…no ghosts. Ghosts or no, the light is a great landmark and a comforting welcome home at the end of trips on Lake Michigan. 

North on Lake Michigan, our first stop was Ludington. Ludington was once home to ferries that provided a shortcut across Lake Michigan for rail cars heading to and from Wisconsin. Rail cars are gone. The remaining ferry, the Badger, carries summer tourists and their autos to and from Wisconsin daily. The Badger also hauls large trucks and oversized cargo… lately windmill blades and tower sections. The Spartan (pictured above), no longer in operation, is used for parts to keep the Badger running.

We used to buy fresh fish at the Fish House on the Ludington dock, but the place has long closed its doors.

After another day on the water we spent the night in Frankfort, Michigan. Shortly after sunrise as we headed offshore, Frankfort recedes in the distance and a freighter heads south.

Through the long Manitou Passage—between the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and North and South Manitou Islands, we continued on to Charlevoix, Michigan. The Passage can be home to rough seas and bad weather. This year we motored through the passage with no wind and smooth seas.

Charlevoix’s waterfront on Round Lake

We were lucky to find a slip in Charlevoix’s downtown municipal marina. The marina is a great place to watch the waterfront, the hundreds of boats large and small, and the endless stream of summer tourists.

Fourth of July weekend was in Petroskey, Michigan. I drew downtown from the cockpit of our boat.

Then up Traverse Bay for Beaver Island—our most northern point for this year’s trip. Beaver Island, a quaint backwater, hasn’t much changed since I first saw it almost 60 years ago with my parents and brother. In the mid-1800s, the island was home to an isolated Mormon kingdom. Then it became the largest supplier of freshwater fish in the United States. The Mormons are long gone, as is the fishing industry. Today it’s a rustic island, with a quaint little town, summer homes, and tourists who arrive by boat, ferry, and air.

Ruby Ann and Bob S are rusting relics from Beaver Island’s fishing industry heyday. Boats were enclosed because fishermen braved the sometimes violent waters of Lake Michigan year round.

Back across Lake Michigan to Northport, on the southern tip of Grand Traverse Bay, I sketched Optimist dingies, that are used to teach kids how to sail.

We began our return trip south, stopping in Leland’s sheltered port.

There’s only one company that still operates a fishing boat from the docks. The buildings are now populated by t-shirt and souvenir shops…and tourists.

Homeward bound, we rounded Big Point Sable Lighthouse, returning to our home port in late July. Summer season is coming to an end. We’ve traveled over 900 miles in the boat this year.

Our marina is a flurry of activity as boats are prepped to be pulled from the water. Taking a break from getting Amadeus ready for winter, I did one last sketch—our marina’s floating gas dock.

Dave Worfel, when not on his boat, lives in Rockford, Michigan. He is a Regional Correspondent for Urban Sketchers Midwest, where many of these images were originally blogged individually. Find out more about Dave through his Meet the Correspondent.


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