Crossing Lake Michigan on a steam ship 🚢

After our time spent in Door Country, we headed slightly south to take the car ferry across Lake Michigan and into Michigan state. This was partly for the novelty of crossing a lake that looked more like a sea, but also because it saved us 500 miles of driving. What we didn’t really notice beforehand was the fact that this was listed as a historic ship – the SS Badger is the last remaining coal-fired passenger steam ship in the United States. This sounded cool, but the black smoke coming out of the funnel into the already-hazy atmosphere was less so!

Before setting sail, we went to visit the friendly badger sculpture who was on the dock ready to wave off the ship. We then left our car for a member of staff to drive onto the ferry, since this is what they insist on doing – you’re not allowed to load your own vehicle.

Once on board, we sat out on deck for the whole four-hour crossing, despite the crew member who was insisting that it would be too windy to stay outside – “You’ll see! You’ll ALL see!” she was shouting to no one in particular before we set sail. (Ok, she didn’t quite say the second bit but it was still very theatrical).

We couldn’t see far at all as it was so hazy (due to smoke from the wildfires in Canada), so Dad settled down for a nap as he was recovering from a cold. That was, he napped until a crew member bypassed us and gently woke Dad to ask if his name was Leon. Half asleep, you could see the cogs turning – was he in fact Leon? No, he concluded, he was not, so they left him alone. We spent a while speculating whether the real Leon was on the run, until we overheard that his wife had lost him on the ship and the staff were helping to search for him. They didn’t do a very good job because it turned out he’d been snoozing right behind us the whole time – I just hope he didn’t overhear all our speculation about him!

We spent the rest of the crossing joking about the car conveyor belt that might meet us at the other end – because how else would we collect our car than as if it were baggage at an airport? In the end, this turned out to be uncannily similar to what actually happened.

We had a good laugh as each car was driven off the ferry by the staff and left with keys in the ignition and doors unlocked for people to claim, seemingly with no security checks that they were indeed the rightful owner. We thought this was bizarre but pretty funny until we realised two things:

  1. How easy it would be for someone to steal our hire car
  2. How easy it would be for us to accidentally steal someone else’s car, since we noticed only at this point that we had no idea of our car’s registration plate and couldn’t even agree what colour it was!

Our laughs gradually turned to cold sweat as the group of other waiting passengers dwindled and the flow of cars from the ferry slowed. It was at this point that we realised that none of us actually saw the staff drive our car onto the ferry before boarding. Our minds quickly jumped to the conversation we might soon be having with the hire company, covering how we simply left the keys in the vehicle, window open, and boarded a ferry. And then, finally, our hire car rolled off the ferry as one of the very last vehicles. Phew!

I assume that the whole thing is a pretty good illustration of the low crime rates in Ludington, MI…

Car collection roulette

After our jaunt on the lake, we spent the next few days sampling lots of beach towns while working our way down the east coast of Lake Michigan.

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