Shake off the salt of the world, set sail.

We’ve all heard alcohol is liquid courage but I can’t imagine the type of adventurous spirits needed to quit your day job, buy a boat, and set sail around the world. To most people the dream is beautiful, but the fear of actually doing so is utterly horrifying. Which is why only the courageous few are able to look past those formidable storms of the unknown and truly live for their passions.

For these two Founders Mug Club members, beer may have been a factor in deciding to set sail but truly, it’s an accompaniment to the dream. The element to give one courage to weather the storms as well as refreshment for a job well done.

Please follow them along at their website here for more adventures, and their Instagram as svtypsygypsy

 

Steady the sails. Have a brew. Mary and Tharon are on deck.

Steady the sails. Have a brew. Mary and Tharon are on deck.

From the day I was born I’ve been guided by passion and intrigue. No lie, I was once that 3 year old, half naked girl, blindly following Canadian geese through the skies.

So, when the opportunity arose to join Mary and Tharon on their newly acquired 36 foot sailboat, gloriously dubbed Typsy Gypsy, from Charlevoix to Muskegon Michigan for 4 days I couldn’t resist. Before I continue though, I hope anyone reading along can take this call of adventure to heart. These two weren’t bred within the upper echelons of society, or born into the life of sea faring way farers with silver spoons in hand. They are middle class. Their house consists of the expanse of their Nonsuch boat with the added company of 2 dogs and a cat. Like most of us, they enjoy the few select things life can afford to send their way; good food, good beer, and good friends. Buying a sailboat may not be relatable to everyone, but a lot of us out there constantly waver with how firmly we grip the reins of our dreams. This is where I am grateful to have friends with such broad associations.

“I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people anymore that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people that dream and support and do things.”- Amy Poehler

It’s in being surrounded by those who are driven and passionate, who are kind enough to include you in their dreams, which makes me want to keep a tighter grip on my own. Following Mary and Tharon on this 4 day trip has been a wonderful release from worldly expectations. Allowing myself to reflect on what truly matters…

 

CHARLEVOIX: Thursday

I’m extremely thankful to be under the good graces of such a marvelous friend as Steve Heystead. Not everyone is always up for a 3 hour drive north and back again from Whitehall just to drop a soul off. But that’s who he is. Hell, the man even sent me off with a couple bottles of his mead.

For a sunny day in Northern Michigan it was still pretty brisk as we grabbed a table on the patio at Stafford’s Weathervane Restaurant, which was our location to meet up with Mary and Tharon. It’s an oddly beautiful place that is part of a collection of buildings called “mushroom houses”.

After a nice meal we said our goodbyes to Steve as he gave us his blessings for a safe trip South and told to keep in touch when we arrive in Whitehall on Saturday.

This is a first time I have ever set foot on a sail boat and found myself extremely giddy to be having a hands on experience with sailing one. Especially for 4 days. However, don’t let the serene looks of graceful sails flapping in the wind fool you. This shit is complicated. And I was pretty overwhelmed with absorbing all the information at once. At one point Tharon handed me a list of Terms and Operating Procedures. I tried to concentrate but found myself getting tripped up on my own adrenaline. I could barely discern between what a Clew and Tack were. There were fancy names for things that did things but towards the end of the 4 days, however, I became extremely comfortable with the terms red cord, other red cord, blue cord, raise the sail, and green cord.

It’s a system that worked. Don’t knock it.

Once out in the open waters, the waves had a comfortable thrash and lull to them that kept the craft at a playful beat. Unfortunately the wind was soft and coming from a direction that would easily have tacked on an extra 12 hours to our trip had we stuck to using only the wind in our sails.

Thank Neptune for diesel-fueled inboard motors.

Well on our way into the evening, Mary made some ramen, we had some beers, and caught up with each other. It was a few months ago at Founders when we last had a chance to hang out. Even before then it had been a while since we last grabbed a beer to catch up. Once in a great while I’ll spot them in the taproom but it’s typically during work hours, so it’s really just a fleeting moment of conversation. We’ve known each other since our college days at Grand Valley and I’m fortunate to have fallen in with their crowd, the Alpena crew. They are all a solid group of fine folks whom I still hang out with on a semi-regular basis. I’m not sure if they are even aware of the impact they have had on me, but I would have had an entirely different path in life if it wasn’t for them. It’s a long story, but not for today.

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The engine kept us going for the next 15 hours as we sailed through the chilly evening and on into next morning. We had planned to take shifts through the night so everyone could at least grab a little sleep. The sway of the ship put me in such a dead slumber that I was an hour and a half late to covering the night shift for Mary. So, at 1:30 am, my ashamed and groggy self, crawled up to the cock-pit. She showed me the controls and told me it’s pretty simple. Mary had continued sticking with me for the next hour. Such a graceful heart. This was of much relief when at some point I decided it would be a grand idea to switch off of auto and go into manual mode to get us back 20 degrees.

With a giant lurch in some unknown direction, the wheel took off into a rigorous spin. Keep in mind this is 2am. It’s dark. There is no foreseen horizon save for the cluster of city glow off in the distance. Getting back to our original course in the middle of the night and fully enclosed within our dark nebulous surroundings was a dreadful task. We had a few good wallows of the ship as it made a near complete 360 degrees. Tharon came rushing up to the cockpit with a look of muddled horror. He surmised that one of us had gone overboard when the turns nearly tossed him from his bed.

With him back at the wheel the ship was on course for Manistee. We would arrive there in about 4.5 hours. Mary went off to bed and I covered the wheel for another hour or so before Tharon took over.

There’s nothing quite like watching the early sunrise. It’s dark for so long with nothing but the stars; not even the moon in its tiniest of slivers that night had surfaced above the horizon. It started as a dull foreign light emanating beyond the city glow at 4am. Then, the lazy pale blue light spreads itself to cast an even darker shadow upon the world. The light is so slow you almost wonder if even the sun wants to arrive to its own day. Then, that warm honey light spills over. Those faint 2 extra degrees of heat gets lapped up by any exposed skin, thawing these chilly bones. An ethereal glacier consuming the world.

Damn, I was exhausted.

 

MANISTEE: Friday

We anchored and made a good rest stop at the base of the Manistee River for 8 hours. We loaded up a cooler, the hammocks, and the dogs into their dingy, aptly named Dingus. The beach where we touched solid ground on was at Douglas Park. It was a modest but clean looking park with about 5 or so pergolas lined up, complete with grills and picnic tables. The dogs, Jake and Elwood, were both incredibly relieved to relieve themselves. Full speed from one piss point to the next! Leyla the cat was content to nap in her dark quarters on the quiet ship.

It’s a bizarre feeling to have your days flipped. Your internal clocks are at odds with the body. One telling you to stay awake, the other to sleep. So, when we tied off our hammocks under the pergolas, my body didn’t know what to do. It didn’t help that the weather itself was also confused. The wind had a light chill, the sun was hot, and the shade was brisk.

When it comes to sailing, it’s not so much the waves that one has to acclimate themselves to. It’s being out in the elements for all hours of the day/night is what takes its toll. But, we all managed to get some sleep at some point.

Between our frequent cat naps, we noticed a fair amount of people coming to the park for a lunch break. They would arrive in their car, eat their sandwiches in their car, then leave. For such a beautiful day, we found this odd.

Around 3 in the afternoon, we decided to pack up camp and head back to the boat for a quick lunch before setting sail once more. It wasn’t too long after our departure when we discovered we were being tailed by the U.S. Coast Guard.

There are three things to remember when dealing with the U.S. Coast Guard.

First and foremost, they check to make sure you are safe. This includes making sure you have enough life vests, flares, fire extinguishers, and that everything is in operable order.

They check to make sure you aren’t trafficking humans or drugs. It’s a big issue, especially in Michigan.

They operate under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  They aren’t cops. They have 100% authority to search your vessel. Don’t be a jerk.

Tharon knew the drill pretty well from watching youtube videos of other sailing vessels handling being boarded and what to expect. Needless to say it all went really smooth. There was no need to stop since they caught up with us in good time and kept their pace in tow with the Typsy Gypsy. With both ships side by side at a good speed, a few of the men hopped on over. Mary and Tharon had everything in order, save for some number that was supposed to be visibly on the boat somewhere. It all checked out though. They gracefully made their way back onto their boat, we waved our goodbyes, and we continued onward into the evening making our way South towards Whitehall.

Remember when I said that it’s not so much the waves but the elements that take their toll? Yeah, all that sun and wind were getting to me. I was extremely parched no matter how much water I drank. I stayed in the shade but still felt a little more than kissed by the sun, which was now starting to set and taking about 15 degrees of warmth along with it. It was our goal to sail through the night and anchor in Whitehall sometime around 6am Saturday morning. My eyes were getting heavy and started to burn from being open. At this point I could only hope to catch a second wind. Or third wind. Any wind really…

I lasted until 2 am where I crashed in my quarters with a Chihuahua nugget at my side.

I cursed myself upon the rising sun. I had missed my shift as Mary and Tharon descended into the cabin to get their sleep at 6am.

 

WHITEHALL: Saturday

The boat was anchored at Indian Bay within White Lake. It was just a short trip to the Whitehall Municipal Marina where we would dock the Typsy Gypsy for our zero day. Tharon and I brought up the anchor which required a bit of muscle. His left arm was worn out from controlling the sails all night long but I tried my best to keep in pace with him. Mary had the motor going and was propelling us forward to give us slack as we pulled up the rope, which became more soiled with each passing heave. The chains eventually started to bring up this thick, smelly, dark sludge that got everywhere. After the anchor was up and hoisted to the bow, we tried washing ourselves off. It was futile. That putrid stench lasted with us into the evening even after many washes.

A little history to White Lake: It was the factory site of Whitehall Leather Co. tannery that had been running since the late 1800’s and closed in 2000. It was also home to multiple chemical plants- Muskegon Chemical/Koch Chemical, Hooker Chemical, and Dupont. In 1985, the lake was one of 43 Great Lakes areas that were considered to be in critical condition and labeled as a “toxic hot spot”. In 2002, efforts were made to clean up sections of the lake after finding extremely contaminated purple sediment due to the chemicals and leather dyes.

So there you have it.

Chemical sludge.

There was a bit of trouble pulling into the Municipal Marina. Sailboats don’t have the most astute steering and the quarters for docking required some sharp maneuvering. Tharon steered while Mary, myself, and the hands at the marina tried to get us pulled in without damaging the boat. We received some prompt guidance from a man from a neighboring boat who helped rope us in and put bumpers up when we realized the boat wasn’t going into quite the spot we were aiming for. But all was well and we got in just as there was a slight drizzle from the skies. The drizzle didn’t last long. We were able to get the sail cover on just as it stopped. Which was good timing since we started our leisurely walk towards Bardic Wells Meadery around 2pm with not a drop left in the grey skies.

Of course we took time to smell the wildflowers and admire the world’s tallest weathervane along the way. Seriously, it’s impressive. Steve boasts about it constantly.

As we walk through the door to the meadery, we are received with a spirited greeting from Steve Heystead. He has plenty of company and predictably all are lively and laughing, half tipsy with mead. Three are in town for their friend’s wedding party- Abbey, Emily, and Kyle. And then the lone wolf Kory who is biking his way across America.

You can follow him here: www.bikingdude.com

Kory stayed for a spell but had to hit the trails in order to keep time. He had already stayed longer than anticipated due to the good company and provocative nature of Steve. The three of us found hearty conversation with the other 2 ladies of the wedding party. I especially admired the drunken sass from Abbey as Steve brought up how the mark of a good mead maker is to have a baby boy born after the honeymoon. The party all spoke fondly of Founders (except for the parking situation) and hang out there semi-regularly; so I hope to encounter them again for more shenanigans.

Bardic Wells Meadery. Never filled with too much downtime and blessed with a few good original songs from the iconic Steve Heystead!

Bardic Wells Meadery. Never filled with too much downtime and blessed with a few good original songs from the iconic Steve Heystead!

 

There is an ebb and flow to Steve’s tasting room. As people leave there is this brief void that the universe delights in filling with interesting people. So as Abbey, Emily, and Kyle hit the road to go back to the wedding festivities, an older gentleman walked in. He stated he only had experience drinking “regular” wines, as in wines made from grapes. Steve claimed he only makes “extraordinary” wines.

That being said, a humble man at his core and not one to boast or turn mead into something pretentious; whom has only two rules when finishing a mead, ultimately determining its worthiness:

Will it get you drunk?

Yes.

Will it get you laid?

Yes.

Then that’s all you need.

Steve sold him two meads and a cherry cyser.

The measures of mead through the afternoon were starting to hit when two young gentlemen walked in. Stephen and Eddie. These two would come in throughout the week to assist Steve with the racking and packaging of the mead. They had just gotten done with their work on the cranberry farm laying gratuitous amounts of plastic down in the fields. For being college students I was really impressed with their mannerisms- amiable, well-rounded and brilliant individuals. They started helping at the meadery earlier in the year after some hardship really relied on their good graces and hard work. More on that later.

Too much mead was setting in fast for the three of us on our empty bellies, so Steve ordered a couple pizzas. As soon as we downed some slices, Steve brought out the brandy. A while back, he took a batch of his traditional mead and froze it; ultimately distilling it.

It was heaven with concentrated flavors of honey, warm with the smooth glow of alcohol. This was a huge treat and I’m glad he shared it with Mary, Tharon, and myself.  A delicious cap to our wonderful day!

Night had set in quickly. It’s easy to lose track of time for 6 hours while under the influence of Steve and tiny samples of mead. Tiny samples are very misleading.

He drove us all back to the boat and was even given a tour of the Typsy Gypsy by Mary and Tharon. Even introduced him to Leyla, Jake, and Elwood. For a man who loves cats, the dogs seemed more interested in his affection. We talked a little about plans for the next morning to visit the Heystead property, then said our goodnights.

Crawling into bed felt so damn good…

 

WHITEHALL TO MUSKEGON: Sunday

Around 2 in the morning, or was it 1am, the propane alarm started to beep. I knew it was the propane alarm only because all throughout our trip it would randomly trigger itself. Only Tharon knew how to shut it off, so I assumed it was him shuffling about the cabin. It was.

Later, he told us that he had decided to completely sever the wires. He regretted it when the time came to fix it…

Other than that it was by far the most solid sleep I’ve had since this trip began. We took our time waking up. Steve planned on picking us up at 8:30.

It was 8am.

I managed to hurry my grungy self into the Municipal shower to wash off the salt and crust of being out in the elements for 3 days. Mary and Tharon were a bit behind, but honestly I can’t blame them. Those two were the powerhouse that managed 2 all-nighters followed by a day of drinking at the meadery. I could incur that Steve had predicted our molasses morning state but, the reality is, Steve isn’t much of a morning person either. He arrived at 9am to take us to the Villa Venafro for some of the finest eggs benedict around.

Infinite wisdom. Right here.

Infinite wisdom. Right here.

 

We were looking forward to grounding ourselves at Steve’s property after breakfast. He has one of the best views in Montague. There have been a memorable few nights spent on the hammock at the top of his dune. There is nothing quite like being awoken by the beautiful sun rise spilling over all the hills and farmland, or some random stranger in the middle of the night on a full moon.

There is so much care and heart to this property.

I don’t wish to take a mournful turn to this story of adventure, but Steve’s late wife as of this past March was an enduring woman whom sadly passed away unexpectedly. It was a huge blow to all of us close to them, and especially so for Steve himself. There is so much of these two wrapped up in this breathtaking parcel of land. Jan would walk for miles on the spans of these 25 acres and Steve would tenderly carve out trails with his lawn mower twice a week just for her. Even still, he tends to the trails keeping these sacred spaces alive; either due to the hope that someone might enjoy them, purely out of habit, or just his love of mowing. Perhaps all three.

It was a blissful scene with Mary, Tharon, and myself and 2 tiny chihuahuas cavorting about with a contented Steve leading the trails, pointing out whatever tree, shrub, or wildflower he was familiar with.

“That’s a Spanish Broom over there with the tiny yellow flowers. I have no idea how the hell it got there, probably some bird ate the seed, shit it out there, and it decided to grow.”

After walking the trails and acquainting ourselves with all the flowers of Jan, Steve showed us his woodshop, where you start to see a little more of the inner workings of a man who really only cares about the end result of his craft- be it wood, mead, or beekeeping. An avid craftsman with no fuss about orderliness and whose only concern is with the finished piece. It was a magnificent space with cobwebs, old tools, whispers of his late father, and tiny staircases for all his beloved cats- Kenny, Libby, Pearl, BooBoo, Bruce, and Bob.

After a fruitless attempt to introduce us to all 6 of his cats we sat down at his table for a few beers. For a man that never drinks alcohol, I’m amazed by his knack for always keeping a few beers in the fridge. It’s uncanny. There we sat, at his table, with some good discussions on life, adventure, and where we’re all going. Steve Heystead in all his infinite wisdom, I’m not sure if I should call it even that. It’s really just his own way of speaking that allows you to dig deeper into the subjective and draw out conclusions for yourself. It’s become a way of receiving advice that is truly authentic and I’ve come to appreciate. Especially for those of us who try so hardheartedly to carve our own path in life. The last thing we need is to be told what we should or should not be doing with our lives. That’s why I’m really glad Mary and Tharon were able to meet this man that I so much admire. I think everyone left this experience being slightly more evolved.

As a last farewell to the Heystead property, Steve gave us a taste of his cherry mead brandy to put us in higher spirits for the sail to Muskegon. We soaked in all we could of the land and soul of this beautiful space.

With grey skies above us, Steve dropped us back off at the Municipal Marina in hopes that the weather would hold until Muskegon where he would meet us again.

We fired up the motor, unwrapped the sail, and cracked that last bottle of mead for our final sail. As we made our slow exit out of the channel, the skies were split in two with nothing but clear skies and a strong gust of wind before us!  Typsy Gypsy was bouncing off of 4 foot waves as we entered Lake Michigan and it was engine off sail up all the way to Muskegon! The perfect weather and lively waves provided us with spirited conversation the whole way there.

Captain Jake McCrustygrump.

Captain Jake McCrustygrump.

little mishap with the sail cord getting wrapped around the thingy...Mary fixed it.

little mishap with the sail cord getting wrapped around the thingy...Mary fixed it.

It takes two...

It takes two...

Steve was right on time in meeting us in Muskegon at 6:30pm. We all loaded up in the car where he drove Mary and Tharon to their car in Walker Township. Steve dropped me off at home not too much further. It was a late sunny evening in Grand Rapids and it was good to be home after my adventures. I missed my husband, Matt, and looked forward to catching up with him and cuddling with my own doggies for the evening.

Those 4 days were such an intense adventure being out in the elements that I still feel the constant rocking of Lake Michigan as I write this even a week and a half later. This experience has become a foundation from which new and great things can harbor. It’s fascinating how having absolutely nothing to do except sail and think can make you think about what truly matters in life.

No wonder these two found solace in the sails. 8 months ago they tried something new and now their house is up on Airbnb and they live on a boat. When you truly know the direction in life you want to take, you don’t hesitate. It’s a frightening piece of work in the world out there today. The skies are sunless, seas are black, the stars are unfamiliar, and your compass is spinning. But I hope to whatever Gods are out there that we all find a way to at least follow some light of ours. However tiny it may be. 

Grab those reins, hold tight.