Who doesn’t want a bigger boat? Early this Spring we decided to take the plunge. When our 351 Silverton Sedan sold in two weeks, my husband Cliff combed Boat Trader and other websites every day. We soon realized boats are in high demand and finding a replacement would not be easy.
After an exhaustive search, we were impressed by the condition of a gem near Toledo, Ohio. The results of a sea trial and survey proved satisfactory. We purchased a 2001 Silverton 42 Convertible, and made plans to drive it home around Michigan via the Great Lakes. A trip around the entire “mitten,” from the southeast tip, counterclockwise, to our home in Holland was our planned endeavor. If you’re not familiar with Michigan, raise your left hand to look at the back of it. Hold your fingers together, spreading out your thumb, to envision the approximate shape of our state.
Our son Andrew drove us to Toledo Beach Marina, early on a Friday morning, mid-May. I haphazardly unpacked our tubs of supplies, clothes, and food so he could take the empty tubs back home. I would have ample time to organize during the weekend. Cliff’s sister Laurie, and her twelve-year-old son Michael joined us on the voyage, which was a great help when mooring. We welcomed extra hands because this boat and the waters were unfamiliar to us.
We finished loading and went to the marina gas dock to fill both tanks. Our first lake, Lake Erie, barely produced a ripple. Captain Cliff settled on the course he plotted using charts of each of the lakes and rivers we would navigate. This beautiful, sunny ride led into Detroit River. Since it was early in the season and cool, ours was one of the few pleasure boats on the water.
Just before downtown Detroit, we passed under the Ambassador Bridge, which spans eastward to Canada. Detroit’s tall stately buildings came into full view. We snapped many photos as we motored north into Lake St. Clair.
This brought us to the east side of the thumb area. After scooting northeast across the middle of Lake St. Clair, we entered St. Clair River which leads into Lake Huron. The entire first day the water was smooth.
About sixty miles north into Lake Huron, we floated between curving rock breakwaters as high as our bridge, into our first night’s port, Port Sanilac. Since I called ahead, two dockhands appeared to help us moor in the slip. Shadows were long after our eight-hour day and sleep came quickly to all of us.
On Saturday morning, we went up to the gas dock where three assistants stood with their hands behind their backs. The dock master had trained two teenage girls in a professional, military-like manner. She told an interesting story about the outpost stand there, preserved after WWII, where US troops monitored possible Nazi submarines which could have approached through Canadian waters.
Most of the time during the first two days, Canada was visible on our starboard side. There’s an invisible line in the middle of these waterways where Canada and Michigan meet. Normally, our course was about ten miles off the Michigan shore. Cliff wanted to stay on his straight plotted course. He used the autopilot during the journey but didn’t have radar, so he kept his eyes peeled to make sure we wouldn’t collide with a boat or any other obstacle. Since temperatures were in the high fifties or low sixties he often traveled with his hands in his sweatshirt pockets, but the mostly enclosed bridge stayed comfortable. We ran the generator a majority of the time which enabled me to prepare our meals with the microwave. I also cleaned inside at various times throughout each day. The still water allowed me to perform these tasks with ease.
We traveled north/northwest on Lake Huron this brilliant day. Later there were some small waves but that didn’t faze this solid Silverton with a fifteen foot beam. When we crossed the Saginaw Bay there was an hour period when land wasn’t visible. The air became chillier during the day heading north where springtime water temperatures lingered colder. When a lighthouse appeared along the shore, we attempted to match them with photos in a Michigan lighthouse book.
Michael helped me clean throughout the boat with the convenient central vacuum system. Later Laurie, Michael and I played board games and cards. We arrived about 6 p.m. at Rogers City Marina with its high harbor wall, where the dock hand assisted at the back of the gas dock. The door had to stay closed for the evening because of the thick swarms of May flies. After dinner we fell into bed early because the eight-hour day in the fresh air made it difficult to keep our eyes open.
Since our gas tanks were full, it was simple to pull out on Lake Huron Sunday morning. It was a cloudier day, but we were thankful to God for peaceful waters because this area, called the Straights of Mackinac, is notoriously rough. Storms occasionally cause shipwrecks on all five Great Lakes of Michigan, including the famous Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975 on Lake Superior. It was fascinating to identify ships spotted in the distance, on a phone App which describes the name, location, port of origin and destination of each vessel.
Late morning on a more westerly path the mighty Mackinac Bridge came into view. This five mile long bridge connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. Driving underneath it created a unique perspective of the world famous suspension bridge with its tall stately towers and strong cables. Mackinac Island lay to our north, and two of Shepler’s ferries that transport island visitors crossed our line of sight. Going under the bridge meant we officially entered Lake Michigan. Now our route was in a west, southwest direction.
Flies covered the boat from the previous evening’s invasion, so Michael helped me vacuum a second time. It was helpful if one person held the stretchy hose while the other worked the head of the vacuum. The bugs didn’t disappear but were smashed on the damp surfaces, creating black streaks on the cockpit floor, stairs, and bridge. Ah, the joys of nature.
Later, while Laurie, Michael and I ate lunch inside, suddenly Cliff pulled the throttle all the way down to a crawl. He tried a little bit of a shortcut in the Traverse City area but regretted it when he came upon a shallow shoal with a rocky bottom, knowing our draft was only three and a half feet. The crystal clear water made the vibrant yellow, brown, and white stones in the six foot depth look frightening. This area is known for beautiful rocks called Petoskey stones. Holding our breath, we gaped over the sides, hoping not to get hung up or scrape bottom. After a few anxious minutes the rocks were no longer visible. Cliff steered back on course and regained his normal speed of about 20 miles per hour. His keen eyes and quick actions prevented a disaster. That was not an enjoyable way to view Petoskey stones!
Midafternoon, heavy fog blanketed us. Laurie sat up in the bridge with Cliff to be an extra pair of eyes. With visibility only about 100 feet in front of us, he backed down the speed. I texted several of my friends to pray for us. Near the end of this three hour period Cliff and Laurie kept their eyes peeled for the pier of Frankfort. We stayed on course thanks to the autopilot, although it was unnerving with no radar to alert him of possible collisions. Finally, the pier popped out through the fog to announce our arrival at the third port of the trip. We felt grateful that God was our radar.
Piloting into the channel, the fog gave way to a sunny evening in Frankfort. The marina manager helped us tie up after our nine hour trek. Arriving just before 6 p.m., we walked the main street of the quaint little town in search of a restaurant. The French fries, hot dogs, and chicken tenders at a locally owned establishment were tasty. Back in the boat, the stress of the foggy hours took its toll as we sank into sweet dreams.
On Monday morning, we drove up to the main marina dock where the owner helped with our bug-filled boat while it filled with fuel. The marina didn’t have a scrub brush to borrow or buy, but he had a brush broom. Cliff sloshed lake water from our little pail all over the bow, bridge, steps, and cockpit to make them a bit more presentable. Any captain likes a clean boat, especially when you’re arriving home with a new one.
Frankfort’s pier and lighthouse bid us goodbye just before 9 a.m. on our last leg of the adventure. We gazed in amazement at the glass-like water during the final seven hours because it’s highly unusual to have four consecutive calm days on the Great Lakes. Familiar landmarks and cities on this western side of Michigan drew us home.
Finally, we spotted the Big Red lighthouse of Holland Harbor. A half hour later, Captain Cliff backed into our Marina slip where several friends and family offered a warm welcome. Since we didn’t have lines on our poles, a few pushes and pulls were helpful.
In the coming days, we named our new Silverton “Hiatus,” as it provides a respite for us. We praised God for calm waters, safety through fog and rocks, no storms, enough warmth, powerful motors, no accidents, and especially, light winds.