Tag Archives: Chris-Craft

Port Sanilac

30 Oct

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Michigan’s thumb coast is often overlooked, underappreciated and ignored by potential tourists residing in southeast Michigan. Meanwhile generations of families have built or maintained cottages along the St. Clair River and Lake Huron, enjoying the deep blue water, numerous beaches, quaint towns, ice cream shops, restaurants and camping… not to mention the availability of bait on nearly every street corner in town. The thumb has its own unique culture. Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley recently gushed to readers about her visit to Marine City; with so much to offer, why don’t more Detroiter’s take advantage of  the close proximity of this water-wonderland? Today we’re headed about mid-way up the thumb coast.

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The Village of Port Sanilac sits snugly on the shores of Lake Huron. About 90 minutes northeast of downtown Detroit, it was originally a lumberjack settlement; the village is home to restaurants, beaches, marinas, the Port Sanilac Lighthouse (1886) and the oldest, continuously operating hardware store in Michigan, Raymond Hardware (since 1850). We’re in town for the Antique Boat Show and Vintage Festival. Old cars, boats and trailers fill Main Street, the harbor and the park. A steady stream of sandal-wearing pedestrians gravitate toward the activity; live music is playing in the distance, the aroma of food fills the air.

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Classic cars are parked on both sides of Main St. I follow Kris’s lead and walk over to the 1961 Dodge Phoenix, this one is white with a fire engine red interior, lots of chrome, glass and push buttons, great upholstery too.  The late 1950’s Galaxie Skyliner has a retractable top, it looks great in powder blue and white. Vehicles span the decades, there’s a beautiful Model A, I like the yellow wire wheels, the 1976 black Trans Am is a limited edition celebrating Pontiac’s 50th Anniversary. The metallic orange paint on the custom Chevy truck glows in the sunlight, the mid-60’s Ford Ranchero is pretty cool too.

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We walk directly down to the water, the lake is gorgeous today, people mill about checking out the antique boats. As usual, I like to read all the names; Chrissy, Alibi, Tight Lines, oh and a boat I think is stunning, Tiger Lily. We’ve been to a lot of these antique boat shows, many of the them have become familiar but I never get tired of looking. Chris Craft seems to rule the water in this area, all of that lovely wood, simple interiors, they truly are classics.

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I have lost Kris for the moment, then I see him on a dock, City Slicker has caught his attention. The long, black off-shore is a Stinger by Chris Craft; graphics in shades of red hug the sides, loop the arch and come to a point on the ‘hood’, not to be left out, bold stripes continue across the white upholstery, slick indeed… We pass more wooden beauties, larger cabin boats are further down in the marina, they have a nice turn out today, the weather is perfect too. Tables are set up by one of the buildings, model boats are on display; I can’t get over the detail! Replicas of boats from African Queen and Jaws get a lot of attention, I think they’re all pretty amazing.

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Members of Tin Can Tourists are set up in Harbor Park, not only are the trailers kitschy-cool, the owners let you go inside–I love that. Airstream, Shasta, Trotwood, just a few of the brands present today. Generally speaking, people who have vintage trailers seem to enjoy all things vintage; bicycles, furnishings, accessories, linens, electronics, they do a great job assembling items and incorporating them into their home-on-wheels.

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Many of the trailers have beautifully restored wood paneling, along with original features people add modern conveniences and their own personal touch. One of my favorites looks like a family room out of a 1950’s home decorating magazine. Mid-Century decor is probably the most prevalent. Theme’s are always popular too, the western one with the desert mural or the 70’s style with shag carpet.  Here’s something different, a newer motor-home (relatively speaking) with the original interior; dark wood, hammered copper tabletops, back splash and accents, stained glass inserts in the cabinet doors. I really like the leaf pattern on the couch and the tropical bedspread. The couple lives in the motor-home full-time, they travel from place to place like the wind.

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We drive over to The Portly Pig for lunch. The restaurant is located in a pretty blue house trimmed in white with orange accents. There’s a definite animal theme inside; meat, of course, is the main attraction. We order at the counter then have a seat near the large front windows, teal-colored walls remind me we’re right off Lake Huron. Large quantities of food arrive, I can’t wait to dig in. The Pork Stack is a generous heap of flavorful pulled pork resting on an amazing cornbread pancake topped with coleslaw and bbq sauce, every forkful is spectacularly delicious. Sharing table space is a side of fries and coleslaw, both excellent. They have full ice cream service too; cones, cups, malts, sundaes, not possible after the lunch we just had..

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At the public beach we park the car and take a walk on the pier, the scalloped edges are unique. It feels like we’re far out into Lake Huron; we watch sailboats and pleasure boats out for a cruise, wooden boats from the show are out enjoying the lake too. Swimmers, sunbathers and beachcombers are caught up in their surroundings, waves are rolling in, sunlight sparkles off the water, it’s like a picture in tourism brochure. You don’t have to drive all day and spend a lot of money for a trip to be a vacation, in Michigan you just follow the water.

ALGONAC: Got Wood ??

8 Jul

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We are in the riverside town of Algonac MI, the Michigan chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society is hosting their annual boat show “The Annual Plant Jamboree, Where It All Began” at the Algonac Harbour Club. Michigan has a rich boating history, 4 of the major builders originated here: Chris Craft in Algonac, Century in Manistee, Gar Wood in Marysville and Hacker Craft in Mt Clemens. Since we are in Algonac, it seems fitting to give you a little background on Chris Craft. While I share the story with you sit back and relax, look at all of the beautiful boat pictures and imagine yourself out on the water in a magnificent, restored wooden power boat, cold drink in hand, soaking up the scenery. 

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The significance of Chris Craft and Algonac go hand in hand. It was here that sport and power of power boating began. Over a century ago Christopher Columbus Smith took the first Chris Craft boat out onto this exact spot to go fishing, in 1881 he enlisted the help of his brother Hank to build boats full-time. In 1915 Smith’s boat “Miss Detroit” won the Gold Cup, earning the right to bring the event to Detroit. Garfield A Wood (known as the Gray Fox of Algonac) purchased the boat in 1916 and went on to win the Gold Cup 6 consecutive times, making Algonac the home of powerboating. In those days America was a powerhouse, we could build anything, we were champions of speed and power, we were unstoppable. The Chris Craft family built and maintained the boating empire over several generations, for many years the company was the region’s largest employer, it supported the United States wartime effort with their marine technology. The original water tower and a factory building still stand on the grounds of Algonac Harbour Club. We peek into the old factory, today cars are parked inside, if these walls could talk…

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So here we are in 2016, Algonac is still referred to as the home of power boating, the Venice of Michigan, boating is a way of life here. Residents drive their boats through turquoise-colored canals the way you and I drive through neighborhood streets. Fisherman are in pursuit of Pickerel, leisure boaters skim the water through canals out to the largest freshwater delta in the world, the St Clair Flats, Harsens Island, Muscamoot Bays and the St Clair river. Go north and you’ll spill out into Lake Huron, south will lead you through Lake St Clair, the Detroit River and eventually into Lake Erie. Michigan is special for its spectacular waterways, just look around and you’ll see why.

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Making our way through the marina we pass one beautiful boat after another, registration cards use terms such as woody, skiff, runabout, utility and cruiser. Mahogany gleams under layers of varnish, American, Canadian and Chris Craft flags waver under a cloudless sky. Interiors are upholstered in solid blues, greens and red and white stripes, some have separate seating compartments while others are wide open, dashboards are decked out with gauges, the sun reflects off sparkling chrome. I love the name plates and badges especially the red, white and blue Super Sport, a boat named Tiger Lily catches my eye, what a beauty in light wood and yellow stain. The houses across the canal are dolled up for the summer, petunias spill from large pots, decks look BBQ-ready, what a quaint area to call home.

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We follow the narrow walkway, wooden boats tied to deck cleats bob on tiny waves made from passing boaters, everybody wants to have a look. Some boats look ready for a fishing excursion while others display picnic gear, the vintage water skis are super-cool. The water craft range in size from tiny fishing boats to ocean-going, I overheard one woman say they came up from Florida to be in the show today, the cabin boat she’s on certainly looks like it’s up to the voyage. Engines bear names like Mercury, Chrysler Marine and even Cadillac, chrome horns rest on bows. At the other end of the marina fiberglass boats from the 1960’s and 70’s wait for their turn on the lake; they wear bright colors, metal flake paint and cool racing stripes, James Bond would look perfect behind the wheel.

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August 25-28 2016 will be the 100th running of the Gold Cup Races on the Detroit River, there will be a display of woody boats belonging to the members of the Antique and Classic Boat Society. Looking for something a little more laid back? Head up to Port Huron September 9-10 for the Blue Water Antique and Classic Boat Show. Don’t forget the annual Parade of Lights on the Clinton River in Harrison Twp. August 6.

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Waterfront dining is a must on a day like today, we follow M 29 north to Mc Rae’s Big River Grille. To the left the bar area pays tribute to Vernor’s; walls are covered in vintage wooden crates, a large yellow sign takes up real estate on one side. The dining room is huge, the length of the room is a wall of windows overlooking the glistening St. Clair River. We place our order and sip on cocktails as we watch boats cruise up and down the river. Our food arrives, we dig into the Sweet Honey Chicken Sriracha Flatbread, a little sweet, a little spicy; banana peppers, pineapple, bacon and cheddar cheese. The Coconut-battered Chicken Strips are crunchy and delicious. This is how a summer day should be, a picturesque drive along the water, gorgeous old wooden boats, dining on the river, perfect!

 

 

Along The St. Clair…..

22 Sep

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We are driving up M-29 to the city of Algonac, the water speed capital of the nation. You may not know this but Algonac is the birthplace of America’s supremacy in powerboat racing. The city played a leading role in shipbuilding;  from sailing cargo ships to large pleasure-craft, racing boats and landing craft, including the craft used in the Normandy landing. This is where Chris-Craft was born; in 1927 Chris-Craft was recognized as the world’s largest builder of mahogany-constructed power boats. Between 1921-1932 Christopher Smith (Chris-Craft) and Garfield Wood built 10 Miss America’s in Algonac. Gar Wood established the world water speed record of 124.91 miles per hour in 1932 in the Miss America X.

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Just last summer the Algonac-Clay Historical Society opened a Maritime Museum right on St Clair River Drive in a building donated by Fifth-Third Bank, let’s have a look. The 8,300 sq ft space is loaded with nautically themed displays; several boats are set atop water-like flooring, easels display photos, brochures and newspaper clippings, walls are covered in framed boat designs, photographs and flags. Placards tell the stories of the boats; Winning Ticket was won in a local raffle in 1949–check out the vintage Vernor’s cooler. The Aqua Lady is a cool 19 ft Sports Express Cruiser made by Chris-Craft in 1958 as a kit boat. The inside looks surprisingly roomy; a 2-burner stove, storage and banquettes surrounding a table, pretty cozy! Last Gar is a gorgeous wooden boat with an interesting tale to go with it. Outboard motors, racing boats and a showcase filled with trophies are at our disposal, I learned that Gar Wood won the coveted Harmsworth Trophy 8 times.

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On display is a boat dashboard; covered in gauges, shifters, controls and a steering wheel, visitors take a turns being captain. Further on we find another Chris-Craft Kit Boat, this one built by the Algonac High School shop class, next to it is a boat from 1909, both look brand new! There are model ships, a workbench with tools, more literature and facts on Chris-Craft manufacturing. Engines and replacement parts give us insight on what we cannot see ordinarily, it’s fascinating to be able to see the boats up close, there’s so much detail.

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Outside, we make our way to the riverfront, the 1800 ft long boardwalk offers benches that overlook the lovely blue water. We sit and watch as the City of Algonac ferry transports cars across the St. Clair River to Canada and Walpole Island; pleasure boats zip across the water under the afternoon sun. Time to head north. Back on M-29 we pass the house that Gar Wood once lived in; I like being able to connect the past to the present.

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We are having lunch waterside at Anita’s Riverfront Grille in Marine City. The patio is host to picnic tables with umbrellas that hug a view of the river, colorful flowers and vines topple over the sides of planters, live music is provided by a singer playing guitar. We sip on cold drinks as freighters float downriver, swimsuit-clad boaters skip over the water’s surface in speedboats, smaller boats take a more casual approach, checking out the shoreline as they pass. Our Combo Platter arrives, we waste no time digging in. The wet burrito has a chunky sauce with beans, very tasty, The chicken enchilada and soft taco disappear quickly as does the rice and beans. 

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Today we are visiting the Mariner, a former movie palace built in 1927. The current owner completely restored the building which is now home to the RMS Titanic exhibit and multi-use venue that houses fine models, historical items, antiques and art. A new period marquee welcomes visitors, a 1917 popcorn machine and peanut roaster reside in the lobby area, 46 original 1930’s style mohair theater seats have been installed along with antique light fixtures. The place is pretty amazing. We begin our visit in the galleries; each one displays the finest quality models of automobiles, ships, aircraft and locomotives, the detail is unbelievable. America-themed posters hang on the walls, shelves are lined with books, there’s a jukebox, a transparent clock tower with a bell and a cuckoo clock. Case to case we study miniature war ships, farm equipment, engines and machinery, all are available for purchase. 

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The main attraction, of course, is the exhibit: Titanic – The Building Of An Icon. First a quick review: The Titanic was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, it was the largest passenger steamship in the world at the time. On April 14, 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg, broke into 2 pieces and sank in 2 hours and 40 minutes. In 1995 the builders of the Titanic approached Fine Art Models (of Marine City) to build the “builders model” of the Titanic. “One very important fact surrounding this model is that by agreement with Harland and Wolff, this model would never be displayed with the artifacts brought up from the Titanic gravesite. Furthermore, the exhibit of this model would never be seen as an effort to profit from this tragic event.” The model has traveled to museums and charitable events across the United States, raising over $5 million to date for non-profits and charitable organizations.

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The 18 ft, 1500 lb Titanic model is housed in a glass case, it is the centerpiece of the gallery. We walk around looking at actual photos of the interior and exterior of the ship, reading placards, getting our fill of information before really examining the ship. Completed in 2002, it took 7 years to build the model; artisans worked directly with the original builders, using original drawings. The decking is real wood, so is the deck furniture, the entire superstructure is constructed of brass, 3,376,000 rivets (yes, that’s 3 MILLION) are all placed in their correct location, it boggles the mind. Looking at the model it’s easy to imagine the excitement the passengers must have felt boarding this remarkable vessel, I can almost picture well-dressed couples, strolling arm-in-arm on deck. The story of the Titanic has captured the attention of people all over the world for decades, what an incredible opportunity this is to see the legendary ship (in miniature, of course) up close, to take it in, knowing its ultimate fate.