Saturday brought a chance of afternoon thunderstorms and “hazardous weather,” and an even greater chance of hazardous ferry and cargo ship traffic. We figured it best to take it all head-on so we left early. It was hard to tell how early, of course, because the sun never really came up. Just cold and cloudy all day.
Yup, ferries lugging tourists to and from Mackinac Island. Absolutely none of them cared about the huge wakes they toss off.
The cargo ships like John G. Munson—who caused us to pull over to let her pass—also didn’t much care if they bothered us.
That lighthouse, by the way, is the Round Island Light. Except it’s on the tippy-end of a point on an island that really should be called Genie Lamp Island or something, because it ain’t close to round.
Once the traffic cleared, we settled in to a nice smooth cold ride under weirdly-colored clouds. Intermittent sprinkles and not a smidge of sun. It’s worth a photo though, because it put us back on Lake Huron.
Then on in to DeTour Village, which Father James Marquette named in disgust when road construction forced him to deviate from the path he was taking down to the heathens he needed to convert in St. Ignace. We assume the good Father and his band of Jesuit priests didn’t stay long, because the village has two marijuana shops but not much else.
Back on Tumbleweed, we watched a few episodes of Good Karma Hospital after the rain stopped. Will Dr. Varma stick with Ruby? Or will he run off with that skeezy plastic surgeon from Mumbai?
Adding to her expanding portfolio of wildlife photos, Dana bagged her first mink. She didn’t have her big camera with her but he’s still cute.
After the medical shenanigans in Barco, but before lights out, Ocean Voyager passed by. We assume none of the passengers needed weed since it didn’t stop. Neither Ocean Voyager nor her sister ship Ocean Navigator leave the Great Lakes—raising obvious questions for whatever fraudster suggested the “Ocean” part—but it was cool to watch them on their way to Mackinac Island nonetheless.
Up early yesterday, with the wind pinning us to the dock. The next couple of days looked decidedly rotten, however, so we peeled away and took off. Turned out to be a good call. 50° all day, but the wind died and the St. Marys River was acceptably calm.
Hey wait! It’s the Round Island Light again.
This one, at least, makes sense.
Halfway to Sault Ste. Marie, we started seeing Muskoka chairs instead of Adirondack chairs, reminding us that the shoreline off the starboard side is Canada.
Yup, there’s the Maple Leaf and smiling cottagers. It’s Canada all right.
The St. Marys River is a frigid 54°, which means nobody needs to waste money on a wall to keep out the illegals. A big and beautiful wall that blocks all the Canadian smoke, however, would be quite useful right about now.
The Canadians who own this impressive home probably don’t need to sneak across the border, because, as Dana shrewdly noted, “If they’re rich enough to afford that house, they’re rich enough to leave in the winter.”
One last cool thing from the trip up. This is a scenic enough chapel, but it’s also the Sailors Encampment Channel East Range Front Beacon. The marketing company that came up with that range light name must’ve been paid by the letter.
When we pulled out of DeTour yesterday, our AIS showed the cargo ship Hon. James L. Oberstar steaming up about fifteen miles behind us. James Oberstar was a longtime congressman from Minnesota who undoubtedly appreciated the honor when they renamed the ship in 2010. But what about the other guy? We found no online information about how the family of one Charles M. Beeghly felt when his name was painted over. Oberstar desperately tried to catch us in one of the several passages that would’ve been too narrow for comfort—and steadily closed the gap—but the section of river with a speed limit foiled the plan and we were able to tie off on the George Kemp Downtown Marina fuel dock just as she got close. Ha. So long, suckers.
So obviously we made it to Sault Ste. Marie, which we referenced briefly that time we smuggled our two dogs both ways across the border: Sault Sioux Sue Soo. Except that was Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, not Michigan. In a shocking twist that nobody could have seen coming, both Sault Ste. Maries were named by—wait for it—Father Marquette! The name is French for “Rapids of Saint Mary,” with the local Chippewa tribe later incorporating the “Sault” part. Some treaty along the way gave those same Chippewas permanent fishing rights in the rapids, which is why—according to the menu—they supplied the delicious whitefish that the restaurant prepared Cajun style for Dana and lemon peppered for Doug.
Anyway, Sault Ste. Marie turns out to be a charming place with lots of interesting stuff to see and a cutesy tourist section downtown.
This is the John Johnston House, built in 1796, making it “The second oldest building in the northwest,” according to the plaque.
Wait just a second here! Does it really say “Northwest?” WTF? We get that in 1796 not even the Dutton family had ventured much past the Mississippi River, such that the cartography of the day put Sault Ste. Marie in the upper left corner of the civilized world. But that plaque is dated 1941. By 1870 there was a railroad connecting the east coast to San Francisco. In 1941, we had a massive naval fleet in Hawaii, at least up until December. Washington and Oregon had been states for over seventy years. The point is that Michigan is in neither the “northwest” nor the “west,” no matter what the plaque or the University of Michigan’s dumb fight song says.
Between 1822 and 1893, Fort Brady sat along the river to protect the Yoop from invading British and Canadian forces hellbent on putting Queen Elizabeth on our currency. All that’s left of the fort now is a reconstructed portion of the palisade and a sign warning the soldiers not to bring either guns or pets.
It’s easy to picture this section of fence in a Mel Brooks movie—with all of the combatants climbing over it rather than going around the sides—although he used a similar gag in the Blazing Saddles tollbooth scene: “Somebody’s gotta go back and get a shitload of dimes.”
This is the “Tower of History.” With a nod to Soviet-era brutalist architecture, Sault Ste. Marie built it as an observation platform so that tourists can observe Tumbleweed transit one of the famed Soo locks tomorrow morning.
That’s right. Tomorrow we pop out into Whitefish Bay. Which brings us equal parts nervous excitement and profound sadness. Excitement because it’ll be our first time on Lake Superior and will put us that much closer to seeing Tom and Deb on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Sadness because in the time since we started all of this in 2017, we’ve carelessly wasted just about every interesting tidbit and useable line from The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Grrrrr.
Rain has prevented any further exploration, but we did meet our neighbors Doug and Beth on Boomerang, a pretty blue Nordic Tug that seemingly escaped The Great Lake Michigan Midge Plague of ’23. They’re Lake Superior veterans, so the plan is to follow them on a marathon voyage all the way to Grand Marais, skipping the dangerously shoaled Whitefish Point. An unfamiliar commercial lock followed by eleven hours on big water isn’t at all appealing but it’s better than the alternative.