Kim from Hudsonville, MI shares a story about her family and growing up on Lake Michigan, sailing the coastline…
Flip flops make the best boats! Dragged behind “Outrageous”, our Erickson 29 sailboat, flip flops were the Mack Daddy of the boating fleets. Little rubber shoes bouncing and crossing the wake like Sea-Doo’s jumping 2 footers, our toys were the simplest things. My brothers and I would fight for space on the wake and jostle for position as we pulled and tugged our strings to make our boat hop and skip. If our flip flop broke, we dragged ourselves behind the boat, hanging on to a line for dear life! Lake Michigan, and Michigan’s West coast, offered my family the best playground any kid could dream of.
Beginning at age 5, my family and I sailed Lake Michigan every weekend, and for three weeks in the Summer, further North to foreign countries like Canada! We always stopped in Saugatuck and Kings’ Kandy Korner where we would eat ourselves stupid with jawbreakers the size of our heads! We traveled up the coast to my most feared corner of the world, Little Sable Point. Around this notorious bend of land the weather changed more times than we changed sails. A flat, windless day would quickly turn to 20-30 knot winds, creating 5’ waves and spray in our shocked faces.
This is the point where my father would test Mother Nature, keeping the spinnaker up a moment too long. I learned to thrust the boat more than my father’s persistence. I also learned that if the boat wouldn’t kill us then the black flies just might. Horrible, incessant biting at our ankles! With the family screened in the cabin, the short straw draw earned you a place at the helm, huddled under beach towels armed with your weapons of choice, the fly swatter and a bucket of water! Not too much later we would round Big Sable Point creating another rush of adrenaline as the winds kicked up once again. At least the flies were gone.
Franfort offered refuge from the Lake’s storms. Although sometimes we weren’t any safer in port! Before the City of Frankfort repaired their public marina, our sailboat nearly sank with the docks many times. While we were holed up waiting for whatever gale force winds were upon us, my brothers and I would play in the city. Decades before safety was an issue, Frankfort rented go-carts in a little shop along the main road. No helmet or driving skills required! I remember flying down the street like Mario Andretti, zipping between cars and passing pedestrians! So low to the ground, I felt like the little specks on the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Through binoculars we could see that the little specks were actually dune buggies digging their wheels into the sand. We watched as they traveled up and down the dunes, scratching the backs of Mother Bear and her cubs.
Finally we would reach Leland where to this day, the smell of smoked fish conj8res up grand memories of making “art-deco” sandcastles along the shore with pieces of driftwood. My brother, Dave, always dreamed of being an architect like Mr. Brady, and at age 10, was a professional, constructing homes with modular roof peeks, side yards, and, of course, a boat dock. Soon Summer would be in full swing and we’d ration out our Twizzlers on the deck as the Mighty Mack floated above us like an enormous green monster. The roar of the cars above offered us peace, knowing perch fishing and blueberry pancakes were just around the corner in the North Channel. Our peacefulness switched instantly to caution as we approached the Channel opening.
The rocks were our enemies with a 6’ draw. As we stood on the bow of the boat my brothers would call out, “4:00 o’clock! Rock!” “3:00 o’clock, Big rock!” “12:00 o’clock! TURN!!!” My heart raced whenever I got a turn on the bow, forgetting how to tell time. We arrived to sun-warmed rocks and dozens of islands that made my mouth water. Islands called Maple, Grape, Sweets, Cherry, and Bacon gave me hope that we would eat something other than perch and blueberries. As we traveled deeper into the North Channel, I understood why they named a few islands Wreck and Propeller because you’re always one bobble away from a wrecked propeller!
The sun would set on our Summer sailing. My family would return to Lake Macatawa with bellies full of fudge, smoked fish and a little something for our printers drawer. Lake Michigan is my second home, my adopted mother and my most loved teacher. She shaped me more than my birth order (youngest and always at the helm in a swarm of black flies!). Lake Michigan taught me how to smell water a mile away and how to predict a storm by looking toward a sky as blue as the water beneath me. Today, my kids ask me, “Mommy, what’s your favorite color?” I always answer the same, “Blue, the color of Lake Michigan.”
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