The Thumb. Yikes.

This post is labelled “yikes” because a “thumb” sounds tame…but wasn’t. It’s Lake Huron. One of the Great Lakes. It can mess with you. And it did, with us.

You probably know that Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten. (By now, you also know that the crew of Many Moons is from an entirely separate part of Michigan, called the Upper Peninsula, which is a land unto its own…but never mind that right now.) The point of this post is that the Great Lakes must be respected. All of them. As natives of Lake Superior, we know this. We’ve been through three of them on this boat already. And yet. Lake Huron kicked our butts. Sort of.

I don’t have pictures of this because I was too busy hanging on. What happened, you ask? A turn-around, that’s what. That’s what you do when you venture out and find the seas are too big for comfort — and maybe safety — and turn around to return to port. That’s what happened when we left Harbor Beach, headed for Port Austin. That’s what a wise Looper does when necessary. (Better yet, you know the weather so well that you never find yourself in that situation. We did study the weather. We did wait for the right time…almost. The itch-to-go played a part here. Get-there-itis did, too.) So, we went. And we rocked. And the white caps kept growing. After an hour, we asked ourselves…Is it getting better? Nope. Twenty more miles of this? Nope! We decided to turn around and go back. That’s when things got scary, at least for me. When heading “downwind” with big following seas, the boat surfs the waves like a clumsy snowboarder in deep powder. It plunges and rises but also wobbles and weaves. Jeff had to steer madly and vigorously, almost working up a sweat, to keep us going the right way through the crests while I hung on as best I could, trying to look neither forward nor backward because both freaked me out.

I’ve been wondering since why this particular kind of sea is so unnerving to me…why I’d rather be going into steep waves that send spray over the bow – which we also did – than sliding down them with a push from behind. I think the reason is that I’m completely out of control, dependent entirely on Jeff’s boat-handling skills (which are considerable). I can steer into steep waves without fear…not much, anyway. It might be uncomfortable but I know what the boat will do. I know I can handle the helm in that situation if I must. But being a passenger while sliding down them? Nope. Not fun. Because if something should happen to him, I don’t know if I could handle driving in that. It takes a certain feel, which comes only with experience, and I don’t have it. There, I’ve said it. I don’t like being out of control that way. It’s odd, though. I didn’t feel that way while skydiving or rappelling over a cliff. I don’t feel that way in a plane. And I love free-hand wake-surfing behind a (small) boat, where I’m controlling my motion through the waves. But surfing-the-waves in a boat, when someone else is driving? That is helplessness, for me.

Tonight, we sit in Port Austin’s calm harbor after a smooth 2nd-try run early this morning. (I set my alarm for 0445, and we were under way by 0515. Love those early mornings! 🤪) Seas were good. I’m grateful. Tomorrow, to Harrisville on Michigan’s east coast, IF the winds are right. Photos and captions of our port-to-port cruise up Michigan’s thumb, below.

P.S. Most boaters I’ve met don’t talk much about internal conditions (how they felt) on days like this. They focus on external conditions (the winds, the boat, what they did about it). But I’m guessing that I speak for many who keep quiet about those pesky things called feelings for fear of seeming weak. That’s just a guess, since they don’t talk about it. 😄

The blue dot is where we spent our first night on Lake Huron after the Saint Clair River. See the thumb of the mitten? We are trying to make it to the tip of that thumb. No big deal, right? Looks that way on a map!
We spent our first night on “the thumb” at Port Sanilac, about 30 miles north of Port Huron. It was a quirky place.
Many Moons is visible here in Port Sanilac by her blue flybridge top and dinghy on the stern.
The state harbor at Port Sanilac, on the east coast of Michigan’s thumb, was a nice and clean place.
I’m grateful to the Army Corps of Engineers and the State of Michigan for creating these Safe Harbors. This is the entrance to Port Sanilac. This port has a private partner also, which I’m a bit confused about.
Interesting sign on the beach next to the marina at Port Sanilac. (In some states, this isn’t the case. The shoreline walking, I mean.)
There isn’t a lot “to see” at Port Sanilac, but this is one. The quirky and eclectic Alli Bar.
The Alli Bar is, literally, down an alley. Not sure why they spell it the other way. I’m sure there’s a story behind it but we didn’t hear it.
Of course we had to stop there, since other Loopers have told us we must. See the coats of armor behind me?
It’s hard to describe how … odd … this place is. Some might call it junky. Certainly memorable!
Toilets are among the … um … decorations.
I’m impressed by the sea walls at the harbors-of-refuge. I suppose that’s what makes them a refuge! Your tax dollars at work…both federal and state. Considering the small percentage of citizens who are boaters, I’m rather surprised at the investment.
Leaving Port Sanilac behind, all looked hunky-dory. We were headed to Harbor Beach, just 30 miles up the coast, to hide out for awhile until the winds at our ultimate destination (60 miles up) calmed down. IF the forecast can be trusted.
Skies were blue leaving Port Sanilac. Another Looping boat named Dionysus sped past us on her way north. You can just make her out on the horizon. (She kept going when we turned around. We heard from her the next day that it was a rough day even for that big boat.)
After 30 miles, we anchored here in Harbor Beach to spend a few hours resting (it was another 0600 start) and waiting for the winds farther north to calm down, as they were forecast to do.
The breakwall at Harbor Beach is a haven for seagulls for some reason. They sure made a racket!
So…long story short, we did leave Harbor Beach after a two-hour pause, but returned a few hours later. And here we are back at Harbor Beach, safety tucked into a slip .The water inside the breakwall is perfectly calm. Outside of it? Not!
The much-photographed lighthouse at Harbor Beach at sunset, marina docks in the foreground. Not a lot of boats here tonight.
After a good night’s sleep, we were up before 0500 to try another run at it. These are fellow boaters we met the previous night. We agreed to all leave the marina together at “first light” — i.e., 0515, which is when I took this pic.
Leaving Port Sanilac before sunrise.
Sunrise on Lake Huron was our reward for the previous day’s drama.
Passing Port Austin Lighthouse, a few miles off-shore at the tip of Michigan’s thumb.
Port Austin is a small but charming town.
“The Bank” is a repurposed historic building that now serves food and beverages.
The local history center at Port Austin was one of those somewhat rough but genuine museums you find in small towns. Its volunteer docents were wonderful.
Some of the “old stuff” we saw in the museum.
Port Austin makes the best of its waterfront, including this bar-restaurant with an open cargo door, and patio, looking out into the harbor.
What is it with the keys, which happens all over the world? (Somebody explain in “comments,” below.) We’ve also seen two other phenomena during our Great Loop travels; roadside “free libraries,” and bottle trees. The trees are mostly decorated with wine bottles, but the last one we saw was adorned with whisky bottles.
Many Moons at Port Austin, as seen past a sandy beach, kayaks, the start of the seawall, and vegetation.
We used our bikes well in this town.
Jeff walking on the seawall at Port Austin.
The seawalls of these Safe Harbors are an engineering marvel. I wonder about their upkeep.

2 thoughts on “The Thumb. Yikes.

  1. Hi to You and Jeff! Congrats on almost finishing your Loop!
    That Lock Tree in Port Austin is couples pledging their undying love
    for each other, and discarding the key. Gail and I use locks to protect our
    belongings from those couples who have lost their way.
    There is a shoe tree on the Misery Bay road where you can tie shoes together and play toss across and hang them on a branch. The only meaning there that I can think of is it is a perfect way to discard an old stinky pair of sneakers. Safe Travels


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