Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sturgeon Bay

We've been spending some time in Door County, Wisconsin. It is a huge tourist mecca which I'm sure you're all familiar with. Actually, I had never heard of it before Vicki dragged us down here from Superior. We're here to see the sights and to meet up with my sister who brought her husband and two sons from Midland, Michigan to spend a few days with us. The County consists almost entirely of a peninsula which juts up into Lake Michigan and forms Green Bay (that's Green Bay, the bay... not Green Bay, the football obsessed city). Off the northern tip of the peninsula is Washington Island and the peninsula gets its name from the strait between them. This narrow strip of water is littered with shipwrecks going back three centuries caused by the turbulence where the waters of Green Bay meet the open waters of Lake Michigan. The early French explorers named the straight "Porte des Morts Passage", which translates roughly as the Door of Death. With this pleasant and inviting appellation, it was inevitable that Door County would become a tourist destination. The County has a full-time population of about 28,000, but during the three months of decent weather in the summer it has a tourist population of nearly a quarter million.

We are staying just south of Sturgeon Bay, the largest town on the peninsula. The bay at Sturgeon Bay cuts about halfway through the peninsula. In 1881, they dug a canal through the other half to provide a quicker, safer passage for ships headed towards Michigan rather than going through Death's Door all the time. Since then, the northern half of the peninsula is technically an island, but they don't call it that.

Our first day after we met up with my sister, the six of us went to Potawatomi State Park for a picnic lunch and to exercise the dogs. Technically, the dogs were not welcome in the park but, even though they were outlawed, there seemed to be an awful lot of dogs there before we arrived, so we became scofflaws and took them along anyway. We had crackers and cheese and summer sausages except for David, who hates cheese so he just had garlic sausage (and an apple).

A couple of real boats
Afterward, we went to the Sturgeon Bay Maritime Museum to fulfill the educational portion of our mission requirement. They only had a couple of actual boats, one of which they gave fire boat rides on. The other was a tugboat that you could tour for an additional fee. None of us could work up enough interest to pay
Model ship
the extra 10 bucks, so we just admired it from the outside. Inside the museum were mostly detailed boat models to
Tugboat we didn't pay to see.
look at. Basically, the city put up a huge museum to support somebody's teenage hobby. Most of the models were realistically painted, but I liked this unfinished wooden number.

There were a few other displays. I particularly liked this one that Vicki is standing by. I'm pretty sure I took a ride through the rivers of the world at Disneyland on something quite like this.
Leftover from the Jungle Boat ride
My sister educates herself about ship building
Arrrgh... pirate deck matey!
On the upper level, they had an exhibit about pirates which was pretty good. There was a small 17th-century town where you could see where pirates would buy their cutlasses, blunderbusses, grog and whatever else pirates needed. You could lock yourself in a pirate jail and watch one of your colleagues get hanged outside the window. There was a simulated deck of a pirate ship where you could try firing the canons at passing ships but in the end they always blew you out of the water. And oddly enough, there were tiny boxes scattered around that you're supposed to open up and sniff and decide what it was you were smelling. I don't know how you were supposed to figure this out since they were like nothing I've experienced in the modern age. The smells were just nondescript god-awful and I think were there just to make you feel sorry for the pirates having to live in a time before there were sewer systems and air fresheners. The odd thing about all of this is that I'm pretty sure there were never any pirates in the Great Lakes (except for an indoor football team at Port Huron). So we never really figured out what that was all about.

As a matter of pure dumb luck, that evening the Tall Ships Festival came through Sturgeon Bay on their way to Green Bay where they were to be displayed over the weekend. We had missed them by two days when we were in Duluth. I gather that they tour the Great Lakes about every three years. The canal at Sturgeon Bay has three drawbridges across it and as the ships arrived they had to raise the bridges to get the masts through. They came through in groups of two or three. They would raise the drawbridge and a couple of ships would come through, then they would lower the bridge and let traffic through for 10 or 15 min.  We parked on the shore near the foot of the easternmost bridge, set up our folding chairs on the grass and kicked back to enjoy the show. My nephews (who didn't have chairs) got pretty antsy since the whole thing took over an hour, but Vicki and I enjoyed it and we got some great pictures. I was surprised that a number of the boats came through under sail. Anyway, a smattering of photographs follow.
A tall ship comes through  the drawbridge
The Hindu

The Dennis Sullivan

The Peacemaker, maybe

The Appledore IV goes under the bridge

The Windy with full sails

It seems to be a common "thing" these days for towns to have statue decorating contests, presumably to give the town a kind of coherent decorative theme for tourists. A bunch of more or less identical statues of an animal are provided or purchased by local businesses who then paint/decorate them however they see fit. We've seen this done with bears and cows. They had buffalo statues all over Cody, Wyoming when we were there. Here, the statues are of, guess what, sturgeons. These statues are not all quite alike but they are all about the same size. At the end of the tourist season, they are supposed to be auctioned off and the money used for a good cause which I don't remember and don't care enough to look up. They range from this fairly plain looking fellow…

… to more colorful renditions like this open water themed fish…

… or an all-American theme.

But my favorite was this guy, a Sturgeon made entirely out of old dinnerware with spoon bowl scales, fork tyne gills and dinner knife fins sitting outside a little Café downtown. Bon appétite.


  1. Excited that you got to see Tall Ships. The kids and I saw them a few years back in Connecticut and thought they were pretty amazing. Speaking of which, have you any plans to visit New England any time soon? Would love to see you all!