Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Lake Erie Boating Excursion: Kelley's Island

We recently joined a group of avid boaters from the Cleveland Yacht Club for a 10-day cruise, visiting several yacht clubs that line the tranquil harbors of Lake Erie, the Detroit River, and Lake St. Clair.  The Cleveland Yacht Club traces its origin to the founding of the Cleveland Yachting Association in 1878 and an excellent recitation of the Club's distinctive history may be found on its website:

For those unfamiliar with Lake Erie, it is one of five lakes (Huron, Erie, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior) comprising the Great Lakes system, the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world, accounting for 21 percent of the world's fresh water supply.  Only Lake Michigan lies entirely within the United States, with the others forming a serpentine boundary of water between the United States and Canada.

Our first port was Kelley's Island in Lake Erie, named for two brothers who once owned the entire island and christened it with their surname in 1840.  At four square miles, Kelley's is the largest American island in Lake Erie.  The Kelley brothers established businesses engaged in exporting limestone, fruit, and lumber.  Ironically, since they disapproved of alcohol and encouraged their employees to abstain, the island is now replete with a multitude of bars catering to boaters' medicinal needs.  In our case, particularly, vodka.

There are a few attractions on Kelley's which deserve special mention.  The Glacial Grooves are among the largest accessible grooves in the world, created by the ice sheet which covered a large swath of North America 18,000 years ago.  A trough that is 400 feet long, 35 feet wide, and 10 feet deep is etched into the terrain and is easily viewable by a network of trails and catwalks.  It is recommended, however, that you do not stroll near the trough after an afternoon of bar-hopping.
Glacial Groove

Another view

Abandoned Stone Structure

Inscription Rock features pictographs carved into the limestone rock by Native Americans in the 1600's.   A pleasant natural feature on the island is the delightful sandy beach at the State Park near the Glacial Grooves.  We enjoyed the time spent on Kelley's with our fellow boaters, sharing a drink and dinner with friends old and new.  Then another drink.  Another.

My liver began to tingle and I knew that it was going to be a long week. 

Lake Erie Cruise: Kelley's Island to Grosse Point Yacht Club

The Grosse Point Yacht Club was founded in 1914 and is a stunning facility of Italian Renaissance design.  Its architect, Bostonian Guy Lowell, unfortunately died before his plans were completed, but the club members were so taken with his vision that they ensured its completion.  The Club was selected in 1997 as the number one yacht club in America and has held that distinction ever since.

A highlight of the visit to Grosse Pointe was a tour of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford home.  Edsel was the only child of Henry Ford and Clare Bryant.  The sprawling home, designed by Albert Kahn to resemble a cluster of Cotswold village cottages, houses an impressive collection of artwork, antiques, and furnishings.  The gardens and expansive grounds were designed by Jens Jensen and provide a graceful natural complement to the main house and related out-buildings, including a Tudor-style playhouse built to 2/3 scale for the couples' daughter, Josephine, on her seventh birthday. 

                                                                          Main House

Entry Gate
One of the Antique Cars on Display


The home was completed in 1929, but the Fords later engaged architect Walter Teague to redesign four rooms in a more modern style, with exotic hardwoods and recessed lighting.  These rooms were intended to be used primarily by the four Ford children. 

The Gross Pointe Yacht Club has excellent amenities, including exceptional restaurants.  We enjoyed a cocktail reception in the Tower, with beautiful views of the marina and Detroit River, including the rare and stunning view of a double sunset.  An evening of bowling and cocktails in the Club's compact bowling alley followed.  Some of our companions drank and bowled.  Others just drank.  Maybe some just bowled, but I doubt it. 

Rainbows Spanning the Marina

From Grosse Point to The North Channel Yacht Club

We departed Grosse Point and ventured into Lake St. Clair, which lies between the United States and the Canadian province of Ontario.  Traversing the Lake to its NE corner, we entered the gentle flow of the North Channel and followed its meandering path through the vast marshland.  We docked at the North Channel Yacht Club, its stately clubhouse perched on a four-acre island. 

Originally established as a shooting club in 1869, the Club once hosted many prominent duck hunting and fishing enthusiasts, including Theodore Roosevelt.  Club ownership changed hands more than once before it was eventually acquired by the Chrysler Yacht Club, comprised of Chrysler management committee members, in 1968.  Eventually, that group began admitting non-Chrysler members and the name was changed to the North Channel Yacht Club in 1981. 

The Club is operated by its members, all of whom donate time each year to reside in the Clubhouse and care for members and guests.  In addition to its marina, the Club offers a game room, bar, swimming hole, and great fishing.  There is no restaurant, although the aforementioned bar congers up some of the best pizza this side of Naples.  Perhaps the pizza tastes so delectable only because it is usually consumed by those who have overindulged and might be unable to distinguish dough from cardboard, but who am I to judge? 

Speaking of alcohol, our group had a great time on the island, including a convivial Bloody Mary party.  Some might argue that the decision to schedule a kick-ball game following the Bloody Mary festivities was questionable, but a good time was had by all, with minimal injuries.

Again speaking of alcohol, I may have left my liver at the North Channel Yacht Club.  If you see it, please let me know.  I'm quite sure that it was pickled enough to survive anything. 

From the North Channel to the Old Club

Heading further northeast, then swinging southeast at Algonac, Michigan, our flotilla continued on to the Old Club near Hansen's Island.  Founded by four Detroit businessmen in 1872, only four years after the capitulation of the south at Appomattox, the Old Club is the dreamy type of place that evokes images of black tie nights and martini sodden days.  Originally named the "St. Clair Fishing and Shooting Club of Detroit," the founders built, on stilts, a clubhouse and 26 boathouses. 

In 1902, and reorganized as the Old Club, the facilities were regularly expanded and today the Club offers a golf course, a hotel, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a trap range.  The original boathouses remain, each bathed in its own distinct hue.  This Club is best described as an elegant blend of tranquility, class, and comfort. 

Oh, and alcohol.  The Club makes a mean Hummer.  Didn't want to leave that out. 

The Old Club to the Detroit Yacht Club

Our final night of the cruise was spent at the storied Detroit Yacht Club.  The extraordinary clubhouse--at 93,000 square feet the largest yachting clubhouse in the United States--was designed by George Mason, the noted architect who also designed the Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island.  The facility exudes a sense of faded grandeur and clearly needs some tender, loving care.  It is gratifying to see that the membership has established a restoration fund because the grand structure should be preserved to honor its significance to the State of Michigan and the tradition of yachting. 

The immense ballroom can accommodate four hundred guests.  There are an indoor and outdoor pool, tennis courts, a restaurant, bar, meeting rooms, and a large marina all wedged into the NW corner of Belle Isle. 

We enjoyed a final cocktail party, my liver no doubt grateful that it had long since abandoned me, and bid adieu to friends, old and new.  Calm seas beckoned and we cruised away, headed for home.