The Journal Gazette
Saturday, July 24, 2021 1:00 am

Choppy waters

Mother-in-law's presence adds to intrigue of upper Michigan boat excursion

Frank Hill

Occasionally we have ventured into Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Those trips are infrequent because it is a long drive.

An old joke about the U.P., as it is called, is that summer in the U.P. is the day they play baseball. As you can guess, the joke is unfair.

I concede, however, that most folks do not spend a long time swimming in Lake Superior. You put your right foot in, you take your right foot out. You put your left foot in and you shiver all about.

There was one family excursion along the southern shore of the eastern U.P. when my mother-in-law was convinced her daughter was married to an idiot. At the time we owned a 13-foot Boston Whaler.

Now I ask you, why own a boat if you do not use it?

The answer is obvious. I put our whaler on a trailer. Then I very gently threw my wife and our two young sons into the car and pulled away.

Only when I heard a woman's voice say “fooled ya!” did I realize my mother-in-law was crouching in the back seat.

What was I to do? What could I do? We drove onward.

Approaching Mackinaw City, I suggested to my mother-in-law that our planned cruise among the Les Cheneaux Islands might bore her.

I said we could drop her off at one of the ferry docks in Mackinaw City and she could spend the day on Mackinac Island.

On the island she could eat fudge, drink wine or sit on a bench and people watch. Also fun is eavesdropping as the passing drivers on the carriage tours inject humor into their spiels to their passengers.

My speech almost convinced her because she knows I really do love Mackinac Island. My wife and I worked at the Grand Hotel during summer vacations while in college. Yes, the island has gift shops and the shopping district can be crowded, but Mother Nature blessed the area with more natural beauty than Disney World or Times Square.

I forgot that mothers and daughters have a secret sign language. The disapproving looks directed at me by my spouse were seen by my mother-in-law. She was not sure what I was selling but she was not buying it, fudge or no fudge. So on we ventured.

To get to the U.P., we needed to cross the Straits of Mackinac. That meant crossing on Mighty Mac, the five-mile-long bridge.

The giant bridge arched its broad back as though it were a cat, wary of strangers. Our heads swiveled east, then west as we looked at Mackinac Island, Round Island, ore freighters and pleasure craft.

After crossing the bridge and leaving St. Ignace behind, we drove east to Hessel. It was time to test my nautical skills.

I found a public boat launch and managed to slide the boat off the trailer and into the cold waters of northern Lake Huron. By my count, I was maintaining my average of having two out of three boat launches be accident free.

There was one particularly bad incident when I used a wooden boat ramp. The wood was slippery because of being under water. Out of the car, I straddled the tongue of the boat trailer while I unhitched it. What happened next, well, you can imagine it. I experienced it.

That incident was history as we cruised east through “the Snows,” as some people refer to the Les Cheneaux Islands. In our modest boat were three adults – well, there were two women and me – plus two young boys.

It was a beautiful day as we zigzagged through the islands. We stopped on an uninhabited island and enjoyed our picnic lunch.

Then it was time to get in the boat and return to Hessel and the sanctuary of our car. That was before cell phones existed. Now everyone is a weather forecaster. Back then we trusted the forecasts on the radio or television.

Weather conditions had changed dramatically during our cruise. A strong wind from the west had arrived. To return to Hessel we were going west. Very slowly. Our 35-horsepower motor was like the little engine that thought it could.

A howling wind and waves slapped against the bow of the boat and made it difficult to have conversations. From the looks on the faces of both my wife and mother-in-law, I had a general idea of what they were thinking.

I tried unsuccessfully to be funny, like the carriage tour drivers on Mackinac Island. Even I did not laugh and I always laugh at my own jokes.

Now you know why I served four years in the Army instead of the Navy. And I know why you would never ride in a boat with me.

Frank Hill is a Fort Wayne resident.

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