Like many traditional New England designs, this second generation of the T44 invites everyone aboard to relax on the settees within the shelter of the pilothouse or to gather in the cockpit for a drink and a laugh. Folks who choose to stay out of the sun have only to open the power-operated hatches in the overhead and the power side windows to bring the outside inside. The boat’s open arrangement and single step between the cockpit and the bridge deck encourage everyone to mingle. A hefty door in the center of the transom opens onto the teak swim platform. Ryan said that he likes to let Upshort drift into the sandy shore stern first, coming to rest in waist-deep water when the anchor bites. An anchor off the stern steadies the boat while everyone swims.
The sun peeked over the horizon and set fire to the high points of Harbor Springs, Michigan, behind us. Above the shoreline of Petoskey State Park, maybe a third of a mile off our bow, a wisp of cloud arced across the sky like a brush stroke. It glowed a pale pink, as though the brush needed more paint. Hugging the inshore waters off the port quarter, sea smoke, created by the cold night air over warm water, mesmerically undulated, advanced, retreated, opened its maw and closed it again. We motored into it and let it wrap us in gauzy obscurity. Within several minutes, the sea smoke broke into a handful of amorphous shapes and evaporated into the sun’s warmth.
Across the mouth of the bay to the west, the Little Traverse lighthouse stood like an exclamation point at the end of a declaration. It marks the tip of Harbor Point Peninsula, a crescent-shape private enclave of summer homes, protected by a guard at its only shoreside entrance. Ryan opened the throttles, and we planed over for a closer look. The T44 MKII accelerates with a fair amount of authority, certainly briskly enough to satisfy all but the most thrill-crazed pilot. Ryan brought Upshort close to the shore so we could see details of the old light-keeper’s house and the light’s tower. No longer manned, the light continues to operate electronically. The JetStick in docking mode allowed Ryan to maneuver the T44 as though it were an eighth-scale model. (As many times as I’ve seen this device in action and used it myself, it never ceases to amaze me.)
By then, the sun had climbed too high for the best photography, and hunger pangs gnawed. We headed back to the dock, in company with Marty Letts, Hinckley’s director of sales for the Great Lakes, and photographer Billy Black aboard the chase boat, to discuss where to go for breakfast. Like any small town that depends on tourists for its economic base, Harbor Springs has a variety of coffee shops and homey small restaurants. Ryan lobbied for Mary Ellen’s Place, so that’s where we went.
The restaurant began life in 1928 as a newsstand. Mary Ellen Hughes bought the business in 1988 and turned it into the breakfast and lunch restaurant it is today. She works the restaurant every day, and her bright smile and easy manner no doubt encourage year-round residents of Harbor Springs (about 2,000) and summer folks to visit often. In fact, the entire town has that kind of friendly vibe. It felt like a favorite wool sweater on a cold winter’s day, partly because of its 19th century architecture and small physical size (1.3 square miles), but the warmth and openness of its residents has to be the main reason.