It’s the eve of the 91st running of the Bayview Yacht Club Port Huron to Mackinac Race, Port Huron is wall to wall people, the banks of the Black River are thick with boats, a forest of tall masts pierce the sky; the excitement is palpable. 250 teams have entered the race sponsored by Bell’s Beer, they will sail either a 259 nm Cove Island Course–for faster, bigger boats, or a 204 nm Shore Course–for all others, taking them from lower Lake Huron to Mackinac Island. Bayview Yacht Club is celebrating 100 years of sailing in 2015. What began as a 3-story tin boat house in 1915 on Motor Boat Lane is now 1,000 members strong, occupying a 5,000 sq ft clubhouse on the Detroit River near the mouth of Lake St Clair.
We park our car on Military Street and walk to the Black River, downtown is swarming with pedestrians, walkways on both sides of the river are overrun with activity. We cross the drawbridge and head down to the water, it’s an amazing scene; the sky is powder blue, a few puffy, white clouds hang low, a steady procession of boats travel up and down the river, huge sailboats are anchored two deep parallel to the walkways, everyone seems to know one another. We walk to the farthest drawbridge then slowly, taking our time, walk back, observing the bash that is Boat Night.
Dockside picnic tables are crowded with beer cans, bottles of wine and tasty looking edibles, leashed dogs seem unfazed by all of the activity. Crews arrive with sleeping bags, back packs and supplies, they talk strategies and routes getting ready for the morning start, Bell’s decals cling to the bow of participating boats. We traverse the wide sidewalk passing live performers, family BBQ’s and restaurants and bars filled to capacity—everyone is having a good time. Lovely condos line the south side of the river seizing the best view of all. Boats have arrived from Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, South Carolina, Chicago and Detroit, many are personalized, one has a giant Detroit Lions decal. Flags from sister yacht clubs cling to the rigging, colorful spinnakers flutter in the breeze. The old Michigan National Bank building (aka Bank of America) hovers in the background, come August it will begin its transition into a City Flats Hotel.
Back on street level, the main drag through downtown is closed to vehicles, the area is teeming with visitors and vendors, games and activities. Human mannequins grab our attention, we make our way to the live mannequin contest sponsored by Salon Pizazz. Talented stylists have created exotic, make-believe characters, extravagant hairdo’s, whimsical, eccentric costumes all combine into surreal mannequins; my two favorites were the young ladies who looked like fire and ice–very cool! We direct our steps toward the lake, traffic is still heavy on the river; vintage wood boats, pontoons and a pilot-boat all join in the fun. Each restaurant we pass has a line, doors and windows are open to the street, smiling patrons are wedged inside. As we near the lake we remember a little out-of-the-way place, riverside.
Vinomondo Wine Bar and Brew Pub is a nice place to catch a light meal, a glass of wine or pint of beer while relaxing waterside. We are happy to see open tables available on the deck, we choose one with a view of the Black River and Lake Huron—perfect! We order as the sun goes down, an orchestra plays Big Band standards under a canopy nearby, Kris sips on Kiwi Pear wine, tables fill up quickly. As darkness arrives so does our dinner, the panini is made with turkey, brie and slices of Granny Smith apples, the bread is crisp but tender, the brie warm and gooey. Our flatbread pizza is covered with a sun-dried tomato bruschetta, prosciutto, tiny pepperoni, yellow pepper rings and mozzarella, a tasty combo. Looking out, city lights dance on the water’s surface, clouds create interesting patterns in the night sky, lights from carnival rides glow in the distance. When we finally get up to leave our table is snatched quickly, the inside of the restaurant is empty, every patron is on the deck on this spectacular July night.
Back on Military Street we stop in at The Raven before hitting the road; a combination cafe and coffeehouse that also serves cocktails. The interior is a wonderful combination of wood, wrought iron, stained glass fixtures, book shelves, photographs and movie posters. A musician is singing on the balcony above the door, the tune sounds straight from the Delta. Kris orders an iced coffee and a brownie, I can’t resist the Rioja on the wine list. As we sit and listen much of the talk is centered around the boat race, this is the biggest night of the year for Port Huron and the city is a wonderful host.