Grand Haven, MI to Chicago, IL


Grand Haven was similar to the other “smaller towns” we have been staying in as we travel down the western side of Michigan. The municipal marinas are often right along multi use pathways in the city’s downtown and a great location for us as boaters. Being as we typically back into a slip it means our boat name and hailing port is visible. All those people walking by our boat are curious about how we got our boat to where they are from Portland, Oregon. This question is raised to us everywhere but for some reason Michigan residents are extra curious. So when we are on the boat in the evening we are asked multiple times an hour – “So how did you get here from Oregon?”. We have had some great lengthy conversations with people who are walking by but we have have mastered the quick reply. 

Entering another Michigan harbor. 

Walking the neighborhoods in Grand Haven. Not every day do you see this sort of yard art. 
Grand Haven’s musical fountain was the largest water fountain until 1998 when the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas took the title. Check it out here as our night pics via iphone did not turn out – 

While in Grand Haven we drove 45 min to Grand Rapids and stocked up on our favorite Trader Joes items. Because we need 10 jars of pesto and a case of sparkling wine on the boat – right?! Another day we drove 30 min to the city of Holland and explored their downtown, adding to our tour of the smaller Western Michigan lake towns. 

We have logged over 800 driving miles in Michigan in a few different rental cars – here we are in a Subaru Outback along Sleeping Bear Dunes scenic drive. 

The only not so fun part of being in Grand Haven was that we had a mechanic out to help with diagnosing the generator issues we have been having. He was a great guy, we are just not excited to have issues with our generator. His conclusion was that we haven’t been putting enough load on it and told us to run it for 8 hrs under a very heavy load to see if that doesn’t clear out the carbon build up. So when we head out of Grand Haven we fire up the generator then the 3 AC units, the oven, the laundry machine and anything else we can think of. Should that not work we will then need to take more drastic steps further south. It is always nice have a mechanic recommend a less complex approach as a first step instead of jumping to the more complex and expensive options. Fingers crossed that his initial recommendation works.

There is a lot of debate among Loopers on when you should be off Lake Michigan and through Chicago. One group feels strongly that it needs to happen by Labor Day. The other group (us included) would rather take our time and enjoy as much of Canada and Michigan that we can. The downside to our choice is we have fewer good weather days to move in September and Lake Michigan can be pretty nasty at times. The upside it there are fewer boats in general out and marinas start to offer nice discounts the week after Labor Day. 

As it relates to weather days I will try to make a long story short. Here it goes – we left Grand Haven with The Blessing (Jay & Barb) thinking we would have 1 good travel day followed by 2-3 sit and wait days. Not ideal but again, we already knew that not every day in September on Lake Michigan would be a travel day. To our surprise we woke up each of the following 3 days with a weather window that allowed us to travel to our next desired location eliminating the need to sit and wait.  Pretty classic example of how we can rarely “plan” to be somewhere until the the day before and in this situation the weather was working in our favor for once.  Our travel looked like this –  (3 states in 3 days)

70 miles Grand Haven, MI to St Joseph, MI

36 miles St Joseph MI to Michigan City, IN

38 miles Michigan City, IN to Chicago, IL

A few pics from what happened along the way – 

Grabbed one of the loaner bikes from West Basin marina in St Joseph and headed out with the Blessing (Jay & Barb) to try a local brewery. 

Kent loved having a bell on the bike and insisted on using it the entire way there and back. 

 The evening at West Basin Marina we had 20 min of (not an exaggeration) 40 knot winds, heavy rain, thunder and lightening. Both of us as well as Jay & Barb agreed it was some of the highest winds and rain we had seen in our lifetimes. Penny was not happy at all with the thunder. 

A huge thank you to the team at West Basin Marina, MI for finding Kent’s wallet and driving it 45 miles the next morning to us. Outstanding customer service. 

A nuclear power plant is not the best view at a marina (this is in Michigan City, IN) but we were sheltered from the evening winds that had picked up on Lake Michigan and within walking distance to town. 

Forgot to get a picture but a highlight coming into the marina at Michigan City was seeing Salty Dog (Jim & Sas). We had first met them last November in Florida but only crossed paths with them a few other times. We all had dinner together, catching up and congratulating them on their recent Platinum Looper status (twice around). 

Chicago here we come! 

Thanks to The Blessing for the family picture.  

We had intended to spend more than one night in Chicago but plans changed at the last minute. I will explain more about that in the next post. Fortunately both Kent and I had been to Chicago before but ideally we would have spent 2-3 nights exploring the city. 

We arrived on a clear sunny day and had a great view from our mooring ball which was right downtown in Monroe Harbor. Great views at night as well. 

The Architecture river tour (in our opinion) is one of the best ways to see Chicago. We have both done it before on previous trips but we were excited to do it again. We set off with Jay & Barb the afternoon we arrived and found a tour that was departing in the next few minutes, walked onto the boat and it departed within minutes. Perfect timing. Our tour guide was very good but the highlight is watching how all the buildings reflect off each other, meshing the old and new together and learning about how the city was designed. Took a ton of pictures as really did try hard to narrow them down to just the highlights. 

Following the Architecture tour we all walked to dinner. No doubt where we were going to eat – Giadones for deep dish pizza. After all, Kent had been talking about this particular meal since we left Kentucky almost a year ago. 

It was a full house at Giordano’s, we got a table but it took almost 2 hrs for our pizza. We are all smiles thinking our pizza will come soon. 

Only half way through … it is thicker than it looks. 

In order to get through downtown Chicago in your own boat you must have an air draft of 17.5' of less. There is however an alternative route that skips downtown in which your boat can be slightly taller. The height restriction to go through downtown is due to a fixed bridge just south of town. We picked and bought our boat making sure we could take it through the route that goes right through downtown because for us this was going to be a true highlight.

Leaving the lock that separates Lake Michigan and the Illinois River. 

Video – Taking our own boat through downtown Chicago was memorable. The boat traffic, the skyscrapers, the bridges … it was an amazing experience.

Video – It always looks like you have less clearance than you do ….  

Approaching the infamous lowest fixed bridge south of downtown. 

Asian Carp (non native) are rampant in the rivers, these electric fences are what is used to keep them from getting into Lake Michigan.  

Stay tuned for the next post where we will explain our early departure from Chicago and our push down the Illinois River.