Explore the Door

Polar Bear Plunge

While Door County is widely known as a summertime vacation mecca, it does have its undeniable wintertime charms. Visitors from around the Great Lakes and the country visit the peninsula during the offseason for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing… and especially the Jacksonport Polar Bear Plunge. Held on New Year’s Day, the plunge draws hundreds into frigid Lake Michigan.

Yes, hundreds. The Jacksonport Polar Bear Club’s annual event has drawn such attention in recent years that a Hollywood production team chose to use the plunge as the climax for the independent film “Feed the Fish.” The majority of the movie was shot in Door County during the winter of 2009.

Written and directed by Green Bay native Michael Matzdorff and executive-produced by fellow Wisconsinite and Emmy award-winning actor Tony Shalhoub, the film is a love letter to Door County, particularly during the months in which it becomes the Great White North.

And yes, viewers will experience the Polar Bear Plunge vicariously. Not only will Door County residents and former visitors delight in seeing familiar faces and businesses— such as the Skyway Drive-In and Ellison Bay’s beloved Viking Grill—throughout the movie, they’ll also recognize Jacksonport Polar Bear Club founder J.R. Jarosh leading the charge into Lake Michigan, clad in his signature tuxedo.

Jarosh founded the club in 1986, when he was just 14 years old.

I wondered how many months of the year I could go into the lake,” he recalled. “I’d done October, and I thought December sounded fun. So I did it, and it wasn’t too bad!”

For the next two years, Jarosh swam alone. In 1989, he added two swimmers—his brother Jon, director of communications and public relations for the Door County Visitors Bureau, and Heidi Hodges, a reporter and photographer with the Door County Advocate. And so the Jacksonport Polar Bear Club was born.

It’s grown a bit. In recent years, the club has drawn more than 800 people to its New Year’s Day plunge, and it remains one of the largest of its kind in the country.

“I think it’s because we have a lot of open water, so we can get everyone in,” Jarosh said. “We’ve also stayed organized; we do the countdown, and the fire department is on hand to keep everyone safe.”

The Jacksonport Polar Bear Club is now in its 26th season, and Jarosh said he’s enjoying himself as much as ever. “We’re keeping it fun,” he concluded. “We keep encouraging group participation, encouraging costumes. And we’ll see where the future takes us.”

To learn more about the Jacksonport Polar Bear Club, visit www.doorbell.net/pbc/.

For information about “Feed the Fish,” visit www.feedthefishmovie.com

Join the Club

The Fish Creek-based Mariner’s Club offers unlimited access to Door County.

If you’re looking to explore Door County waters, but either don’t own a boat or cruised in on a large vessel and are looking for a smaller boat to tool around, then you might consider joining The Mariners Club. The Mariner’s Club, based at Alibi Dock in Fish Creek, isn’t a yacht club; it’s a boat club, entering its second year of operation, that offers members unlimited use of its boats from May to October. Trial memberships are priced at $695, and the club provides complimentary training through the Mariners School.

“Our Seasonal Unlimited package is $3,995, flat, for May to October,” observed the Mariners Club’s Jay Chomeau. “That’s the cost of a slip in a Northern Door marina.”

For the same price as an empty slip, club members will enjoy unlimited use of the club’s boats, 2008 Everglades 210CCs and 2009 Sea Ray Sundecks. The center console is perfect for anglers, while the open-bow sundeck models will appeal to families, couples and groups of friends. The club handles all tasks associated with ownership, including cleaning, slip fees, fueling and provisioning. Members simply show up, enjoy quality time on the water and drop off the keys at the end of the day.

Seasonal Unlimited members will receive training for two captains and get an extended Green Bay area orientation. Seasonal Limited and Weekly Membership packages also are available. To learn more, call 920-868-1177 or www.visit doorcountymariner.com.


Explore the Door

By Heather Steinberger
A peninsula circumnavigation unlocks the many treasures of Wisconsin’s Door County.
A former editor of mine used to call it the Proximity-Aversion Theory. When you live in a beautiful place that many people choose for vacationing, you tend to not visit the major attractions or enjoy the highlights yourself. Maybe you figure you’ll get around to it eventually.

In our case, my husband and I usually were far too busy in our respective professions as photographer and writer during the summer months to fully enjoy our own backyard. A shame, since Wisconsin’s Door County is one of the Great Lakes’ top boating destinations. Visitors come from around the Midwest—and indeed, the country—to enjoy the 75-mile-long peninsula’s classic harbors, emerald islands and hundreds of miles of stunning Green Bay and Lake Michigan shoreline.

So one warm morning in late August, we decided to play hooky and undertake that most treasured of Door County boating rites. We set off on a peninsula circumnavigation.

Stepping aboard a 2011 Cruisers Yachts 330 Express at Stone Harbor Resort’s 21-slip marina in downtown Sturgeon Bay, we couldn’t believe our luck. The sunlit water was so clear it seemed translucent, and only the slightest whisper of wind ghosted across the bay’s flat-calm surface.

“At 35 miles per hour, we’re going to get around in a hurry,” joked Jim Viestenz as he gently nudged the 330’s joystick in the direction of the harbor entrance. Viestenz, the now-retired president of Cruisers Yachts’ parent company KCS International, had volunteered to serve as captain for our two-day adventure.

“Looks like we have all the time in the world,” Richard, my husband, observed as he angled his lens for the first shot of the day.

Base Camp: Sturgeon Bay

Sturgeon Bay, the Door County seat and the peninsula’s only city, has become a world-class boating destination in recent years. It’s one of the largest protected harbors in the Great Lakes, and it offers easy access to both Green Bay and Lake Michigan. It’s a compact, walkable city with a full calendar of events and a brand-new bandshell for outdoor concerts in Martin Park. And it boasts six impressive marinas.

The Stone Harbor Resort Marina, our starting point, is operated by Bay Marine—a multigenerational family business that has been in boat sales since 1969. More recently, Bay Marine acquired the famous Sturgeon Bay Yacht Harbor, an historic 12-acre property on the city’s west side that features a 100-slip marina. It accommodates boats from 25 to 100 feet.

Another popular spot is the 150-slip CenterPointe Marina on the east side, which has an average water depth of 15 feet and can accommodate yachts up to 250 feet. Amenities include a 5,000-square-foot clubhouse with second-floor lounge, granite-appointed private shower rooms and laundry room; outdoor pool; indoor pool; fitness center; fireplace and grilling stations. Marina cottages are available for rent.

Great Lakes Yacht Services, located at the east foot of the 1930 Michigan Street Bridge, is another option for transient dockage, moorings and a limited number of seasonal slips, but the company is perhaps best known for its craftsmen and technicians. GLYS services include bottom painting, fiberglass work, varnishing, canvas work and repair, gelcoat repair, engine and genset maintenance, electronics installation and repair, and much more.

Also offering transient dockage are the Snug Harbor Marina, Skipper Bud’s Harbor Club Marina and Skipper Bud’s Quarterdeck Marina. Both Skipper Bud’s locations provide a host of amenities for visiting boaters.

If you like to be close to the action but prefer a peaceful, small-town feel, Wave Pointe Resort and Marina is an excellent choice. 

For those trailering boats, Sturgeon Bay has five launches. Sawyer Park on the west side has six ramps, parking for 190 vehicles and trailers, two fish-cleaning stations and restrooms with showers. Sunset Park on the east side has a two-ramp launch and offers access to fishing sites on the outer bay’s south end. Farther from town is Robert M. Carmody Park in Union Township, with a six-lane boat launch, fishing pier, picnic area and restrooms; and the Potawatomi State Park launch in Sawyer Harbor, a multiple-ramp facility with fishing pier and restrooms.

Perhaps most noteworthy, however, is the launch at Olde Stone Quarry Park. This underwent a major renovation in 2005 and now features a protected harbor, a system of floating docks, ramps that accommodate three trailers at once, a pavilion and an unofficial swimming beach that is popular with scuba divers due to several offshore wrecks.

Many trailer boaters arrive from Milwaukee, Chicago and the Twin Cities. If you’re in Michigan or points farther east, however, don’t assume you need to head north for the Mackinac Bridge or tackle the frequently miserable southern drive through Chicago and Gary, Indiana. Just book passage for your family, your car and your boat on the SS Badger, which sails daily between Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin—home of Burger Boats.

Launched at Sturgeon Bay’s Christy Corporation in 1952, the Badger crosses 60 miles of Lake Michigan in roughly four hours. Two compound Skinner Unaflow steam engines power the 410-foot ship, which is the last coal-burning passenger steamer in the United States. Once you arrive in Manitowoc, you’ll have just a 1.5-hour drive to reach Sturgeon Bay.

Should you want to relax a little before heading north, Manitowoc Marina is a great spot with deep water slips, fuel and a well-stocked ship’s store. Before you launch your boat or cast off the docklines, however, make sure you take time to explore your base-camp city. Sturgeon Bay is a worthy destination in its own right, thanks to an intact 19th century “Main Street” historic district, a variety of cosmopolitan dining and shopping options, and three worthwhile public museums.

The Door County Maritime Museum & Lighthouse Preservation Society is a must-visit. In addition to its array of permanent exhibitions, the 20,000-square-foot facility also is showing the popular rotating exhibit “Ghosts! Haunted Lighthouses of the Great Lakes.” Guests also may tour the historic John Purves tugboat.

Continue on Sturgeon Bay’s “Museum Walk” by visiting the Miller Art Museum, which features changing exhibitions as well as works from the permanent collection, including the late Gerhard Miller’s watercolor and egg tempera paintings. This summer, the museum will showcase the work of acclaimed Milwaukee photographer Christopher Winters, whose “Centennial” images capture life aboard the century-old lake freighter St. Marys Challenger. The artist will attend an opening reception and gallery talk on Saturday, July 23 at 5 p.m.

The third stop on the Museum Walk is the Door County Historical Museum, also on Fourth Avenue. The Chicago Tribune called it “the best small museum in the Midwest.”

After perusing the museums, make sure to stroll the east side’s Third Avenue and Jefferson Street shopping districts. Anchoring the two is On Deck Clothing Company, at the corner of Third and Jefferson.

This is a great stop, and not only to purchase a last-minute fleece for the cruise. The entire store, housed in a former pharmacy/soda fountain that also once was the Corner Cinema, has a nautical bent. And Mitch Larson, whose family has been active in Door County since the 1800s, is as dedicated to historical preservation as he is to commerce. This is evident in all of his Sturgeon Bay, Fish Creek and Sister Bay businesses.

Cruising Green Bay

Our Cruisers Yachts 330 Express knifed northwestward through Sturgeon Bay. Leaving Dunlap’s Reef and Bay Shipbuilding’s famous gantry crane behind us, we breezed past the pristine Potawatomi State Park shoreline and the entrance to Sawyer Harbor.

Soon, we spotted the 1883—and allegedly haunted—Sherwood Point Lighthouse standing sentinel on the Niagara Escarpment bluffs to port. Green Bay lay before us, a shimmering blue millpond with just a slight silvery haze hovering above the water.

Since we had time, we hit the throttles and roared 11 miles across the bay to see the 1934 Peshtigo Reef Lighthouse. Although the 330 tops out around 52 miles per hour, we kept her comfortably within her 3500-4000 rpm sweet spot. She ran surprisingly flat, matching her rpm to speed over ground, and we were within spitting distance of the light before we knew it.

More than three miles off the mainland Wisconsin shore, Peshtigo Reef is an otherworldly spot. Cormorants spilled off the tower in waves, like bats, and I could see the dangerous mustard-colored shallows just on the other side.

“When the light was manned, keepers stayed here for 30 days at a time,” Viestenz told us.

I couldn’t imagine life in such a lonely place, eerie in its almost forsaken beauty.

From there, we cruised north to Green Island, where the ruins of a lighthouse that burned decades ago, and stories about someone buried there, continue to fuel beach-bonfire ghost stories. Looking back, I could still see the Bay Ship gantry hovering over the water like a mirage. And ahead of us, on the island, we spotted an intriguing, empty sand beach and the silhouette of a solitary white pelican bobbing offshore.

Next we investigated Chambers Island, where a dive boat already had dropped anchor. I looked at the depth gauge and was surprised to see that, while we could’ve hit the beach with a rock, we were still in 90 feet of water.

Slowly cruising along the island’s western shore, we examined the 1868 Chambers Island Lighthouse and marveled at the serene anchorage, home this morning to just one trolling fishing boat and a cruising sailboat on its hook.

While we explored these “back roads” northward, most cruising boaters will prefer to hit the regular harbors that scallop the peninsula’s Green Bay coast. Traveling north from Sturgeon Bay, you will first reach appropriately named Egg Harbor, where the village recently completed a year-long, $6.5 million marina renovation project. This is a great spot to tie up, as it’s a short (though steep) walk up the bluff to charming downtown.

In town, you will find some of Door County’s best food and shopping at Liberty Square.

You also can pick up provisions—from certified Angus beef, homemade bakery, fresh produce and specialty cheeses to fine wines and beers from around the world—at the well-stocked Main Street Market, voted Door County’s No. 1 food store in Door County Magazine. Then enjoy a locally crafted beer and a sandwich on the patio at Shipwrecked, a restaurant and microbrew pub with legendary mob connections and its own resident ghosts.

A footnote: If you’re a golfer, you won’t want to miss the Alpine Resort’s Blue Nine. Make sure you have your camera for the mesmerizing 9th hole. This is one view you’ll never forget.

Next is Fish Creek, nestled beneath the escarpment bluffs south of Peninsula State Park. Tie up at the Fish Creek Municipal Dock or the Alibi Dock, and allot plenty of time to wander the celebrated shopping district.

Take in a traditional Door County fish boil at the 1896 White Gull Inn. Or maybe you’d rather have breakfast; the inn’s cherry stuffed French toast recently won the national Best Breakfast Challenge on “Good Morning America.”

Fish Creek also is a great place to become acquainted with some of the many talented artists who live and work on the peninsula—and with the world-class galleries that showcase their work. Perhaps the best known is Edgewood Orchard Galleries, located south of town on Peninsula Players Road.

Founded in 1969 by Irene Pamperin Haberland and her daughter, Anne Haberland Emerson, the gallery earned “Most Intriguing Art Gallery/Studio” honors in Door County Magazine. Anne’s husband, Minnow, crafted an exceptional gallery space in Edgewood Orchard’s 1918 apple barn. Visitors marvel at the leaded glass windows, glassed portico, carved doors, bricked courtyard with bistro tables and the light, airy gallery spaces overflowing with works from approximately 140 featured artists.

Now in the hands of Anne’s daughter, Nell, and her husband, J. R. Jarosh, the property also includes a sculpture garden. And it continues to overflow with warmth, joy and creative passion.

While in the area, you may also want to check out a performance at Peninsula Players, the American Folklore Theater or the Door Community Auditorium, which hosts the Peninsula Music Festival each August. The Peninsula School of Art and its free Guenzel Gallery also are nearby.

Please note, however, that many of these locations are not easily accessible to cruising boaters who don’t have ground transportation. If you’re a cruiser rather than a trailer boater, you might want to considering renting a car, at least for a day, so you can better explore the area or enjoy an evening out. Young Automotive in Sturgeon Bay has the county’s largest fleet of rental vehicles; in addition to Harley Davidson motorcycles, it offers cars, minivans, full-size vans and pickup trucks.

Moving north from Fish Creek, boaters will find two of Door County’s most popular spots for dropping the hook: Nicolet Bay—known locally as Shanty Bay—and Horseshoe Island. Tucked behind Peninsula State Park’s Eagle Bluff, these anchorages are routinely filled with kayakers, windsurfers, PWCs and raft-ups of both sail- and powerboats, while the beaches explode with towels, umbrellas and frisbees.

On this weekday morning, we found five anchored sailboats within Horseshoe Island’s embrace. Four PWCs raced across our diminishing wake as several kayaks paddled past, and a lone parasailer drifted past the Pen Park lookout tower. Laughter rang across the water from children perched on a cheerfully colored raft, each smiling face aglow as the pale morning gave way to noontime’s more vivid blues and greens.

“I wonder how many days like this are left?” I mused, feeling fall lurking around the corner.

“Oh, they’re numbered!” Viestenz responded with a chuckle.

Although we opted not to enter Eagle Harbor, the village of Ephraim is another popular stop for cruisers. Voted the “No. 1 small-town getaway destination” by Midwest Living magazine, Ephraim was settled in 1853 by Rev. Andreas Iverson and 40 Norwegian Moravians, and it features five special historic properties: The 1854 Iverson House, the county’s oldest frame house; the 1880 Pioneer Schoolhouse; the 1853 Goodletson Cabin, once located on Horseshoe Island; the 1880 Anderson Barn History Center and Svalhus; and the 1858 Anderson Dock, a National Historic Landmark that is now home to the Francis Hardy Center for the Arts.

Boaters may tie up at the Anderson Dock, Ephraim Yacht Harbor or the Ephraim Municipal Dock. Ephraim Yacht Harbor offers all the amenities you could want, including internet access. After touring the historic sites, refuel at Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor, a peninsula institution that opened in 1906.

We decided to stop for lunch at Fred & Fuzzy’s Waterfront Bar & Grill, located at the Little Sister Resort south of Sister Bay. Colorful umbrellas adorned the open-air restaurant on Pebble Beach, and even this early in the day, the signature Bloody Marys and margaritas were flowing.

I’d highly recommend the wraps, and you’ll want to upgrade the chips to homemade sweet-potato fries. I chose a fish wrap, tangy with the bite of cilantro, coleslaw and a chipotle sauce.

A couple of additional tips: If you want to tie up at Fred & Fuzzy’s, go early, as day dockage disappears quickly. And make sure you’re tying up at the restaurant dock, not one of the Little Sister Resort piers. Those spots are reserved for guests.

Many boaters will also want to stop in Sister Bay. This is Sturgeon Bay’s northern counterpart when it comes to serving the boating community. Transient dockage is available at the Sister Bay Marina, which offers 35 transient slips, restrooms, showers, a recently remodeled dockmaster’s office and lounge area, and an easily accessible launch ramp. You also may dock at the full-service Yacht Works Inc. Marina; the company offers Tiara and Pursuit new boat sales, a service department and a ship’s store. In addition, the YWI team sells engines, generators, inflatables and dinghies.

If you’re interested in boat sales and are eager to see more, nearby Cal-Marine represents Cobalt and Back Cove in Door County. The Cobalt lineup includes bowriders and cuddy-cabin models from 20 to 32 feet, while the limited-production, hand-built Back Cove models include 26- and 29-foot open day boats and a 33-foot hardtop.

The Sister Bay waterfront is as ideally suited to public gatherings as it is to boats. Settled in 1857, Sister Bay reveals Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and even Finnish influences; in keeping with the Scandinavian tradition of hospitality, it allows everyone to participate in community life with the Festival of Blossoms in May, the Door County Folk Festival in July, Marina Fest on Labor Day weekend and the Fall Festival in October.

After the outdoor fun, visit Al Johnson’s restaurant for Swedish pancakes and pictures of his famous rooftop goats, or try the Sister Bay Café for such Norwegian treats as Norsk Torsk and lapskaus.

The last Green Bay port is Ellison Bay, where boaters may tie up at the Ellison Bay Safe Harbor or the Cedar Grove Resort. Make sure to visit the Pioneer Store, which reopened in July 2007 after the devastating 2006 propane explosions that destroyed the original 106-year-old structure. And definitely stop at the Viking Grill next door for a cup of coffee, breakfast or an authentic Door County fish boil. This beloved restaurant, prominently featured in the recent independent film “Feed the Fish,” reopened its doors this spring after a devastating 2010 kitchen fire.

If you choose to cross the Death’s Door passage with your own boat, Washington Island has four marina facilities for visiting boaters: Island Outpost, Krueger’s Kaps Marina and Shipyard Island Marina in Detroit Harbor; and the Town Dock at Jackson Harbor. If you’d rather leave your boat in port, however, the Washington Island Ferry Line is a great alternative.

Island highlights include a meal at the Washington Hotel, Restaurant & Culinary School, built in 1904, and joining the Bitters Club at Nelsen’s Hall, an 1899 island mainstay.

Experienced boaters and kayakers may want to visit Rock Island to the northeast. This veritable wilderness is home to Rock Island State Park, the 1836 Pottawatomie Lighthouse and the onetime estate of Chester Thordarson, a wealthy Icelandic inventor. Boaters are welcome, but be cautious: These waters are known for dangerous reefs and rapidly changing weather, plus overnighters should note the island’s dock isn’t fully protected if the wind shifts.

On Lake Michigan Shores

Although the wind picked up during lunch, seas remained manageable as we cruised past the commercial fishing operations at Gills Rock. A distinct fish smell wafted on the breeze as we admired the weathered shanties and nets drying on the docks.

From there, we examined uninhabited Plum Island, home to the 1897 Plum Island Range Lights, where the Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands organization is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore the historic life-saving station. We also took a peek at sad, remote Pilot Island, where the 1858 lighthouse and keeper’s dwelling are slowly crumbling into ruin.

As we motored around the Door Peninsula’s tip, the swell gave way to choppier, two-foot seas on Lake Michigan. Heading south, we swung around hard-to-spot, almost-a-reef Spider Island and entered the channel to Rowleys Bay—gateway to the Mink River Estuary and southern boundary of Newport State Park, Wisconsin’s only formally designated wilderness park.

This particular harbor is a lot like a Bahamian anchorage; the water is skinny and littered with shoals. Even if you trust your electronics, you’ll want to make sure the sun is still high when you enter. That way someone can keep an eye on the channel, winding like a ribbon of blue through the shoals, to avoid unexpected surprises.

Although this can be tricky, it also makes Rowleys Bay a trailer boater’s haven. The big guys can’t get in here, but if you have a boat 30 feet or less (yes, we were pushing it at 33 feet), you have the keys to the kingdom. And it’s worth it, to see the unbroken, pristine shores and broad stretches of open water with virtually no boat traffic.

We docked at the 1948 Rowleys Bay Resort, known in years past as the Wagon Trail. The resort manages the small marina for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; there’s a new public launch as well. Transient slips include electric and water; gas and diesel are available at Baileys Harbor, approximately 15 miles to the south.

According to resort manager Jewel Ouradnik, whose family has owned Rowleys Bay since she was 8 years old, Rowleys Bay recently earned the Safe Harbor designation. Four slips are reserved for vessels seeking refuge.

Once you’ve docked here, you’re a resort guest and can enjoy all the amenities. And there are quite a few, as this is an authentic, old-time family resort. Rent a kayak or join a kayaking trip to explore the estuary or state park. Try Door County’s only zipline. Go for a bike ride or try your hand at charter fishing. Stroll the nature trails, or challenge friends and family to a game of tennis, volleyball or basketball. Take the kids to the playground.

The recently renovated resort also features a swimming pool, whirlpool, fitness room and game room. And when the time comes to refuel, you won’t want to miss the restaurant, pub and bakery.

We certainly didn’t. Our first stop was the new Rowleys Pub, which opened last year. Colorfully decorated and adorned with an antique bumper-pool table, this was the perfect spot to sample one of the resort’s signature umbrella-topped tropical drinks.

Then we headed outdoors, as we happened to be in time for a Door County fish boil. At Rowleys Bay, that means we joined the other guests on the resort’s front lawn and listened to a master storyteller share bay history while we waited for the dramatic boil-over. Then, inside Rowleys Bay Restaurant, we tackled Door County’s longest buffet and salad bar and savored fresh, flaky whitefish, red potatoes and onions dripping with hot butter.

Then, of course, there were the sinful cinnamon rolls in Grandma’s Swedish Bakery for breakfast.

“My mother was the grandma,” Jewel told us with a smile. “The bakery’s become a real hangout over the years.”

Indeed, as we sipped our morning coffee and licked frosting off our fingers, we listened to the easy banter of old-timers as they swapped news, dealt cards and played dominoes.

I couldn’t shake the feeling of being a kid again, spending summer vacation at a vintage Wisconsin resort. We ate three meals a day there, and we rarely had a reason to ever leave the property. It was the definition of relaxation.

When I mentioned this to Jewel, she nodded.

“The retro feel here is deliberate,” she said. “People want to feel at home, that they know us. So we want to give them an affordable waterfront destination that has everything right here, with a view that will never change.”

All too soon, our own stay came to a close. We carefully wound our way through the channel back to open water, where we were greeted with steep, breaking seas and a stiff wind that had been building overnight. It looked like it was going to be a slog back to Sturgeon Bay.

We weren’t able to stop in Baileys Harbor, the last port of call before the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. But it’s worth the visit if you have the time; transient dockage is available at the municipal marina or at the Baileys Harbor Yacht Club & Resort.

This area is home to what may be the most well known of Door County’s 10 lighthouses: The Cana Island Lighthouse, built in 1868 on an 8.7-acre island. The Door County Maritime Museum has maintained the buildings and grounds for nearly 30 years, while the United State Coast Guard oversees the tower and light with its French-made, third-order Fresnel lens.

Stroll the causeway and explore the grounds, keeper’s quarters, octagonal-shaped oil house, storage building and privy. You may even climb the tower’s circular, 102-step, cast-iron staircase to visit the watch and lantern rooms.

Also along this section of Door County coastline is Lawrence University’s 425-acre Björklunden estate. This magnificent property is home to a variety of adult continuing-education courses as well as Door Shakespeare, a theater company that presents classic performances in an outdoor garden setting.

It was lunchtime when we slipped through the ship canal and beneath Sturgeon Bay’s three bridges, returning to our dock at Stone Harbor. We opted to end our cruise with shepherd’s pie and a pint of Guinness at Kitty O’Reilly’s, a popular Irish pub on the city’s west side. And so our adventure came to a close.

“Ah, that’s what it feels like to be a tourist,” Richard joked, craning his neck to look back at the waterfront. “We should do that more often.”

I had to agree. We moved to Door County in 2002, yet it took us eight years before we had our first alfresco meal at Fred & Fuzzy’s; got an up-close look at Peshtigo Reef, Green Island and Chambers Island; and cruised into timeless, magical Rowleys Bay.

There’s an important lesson here for all of us who call the Great Lakes home. We might dream of lower-latitude cruises and exotic explorations, but really, one of the world’s top cruising grounds is right here.

So cast off the docklines, and look at your own waterways with fresh eyes. Who knows what you might discover?

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