Freighterspotting at the Boatnerd HQ

30 05 2012

You probably didn’t know boatnerd.com existed, let alone that it had a World Headquarters, but it is very much a real thing. Its real-world HQ is right on the St. Clair River in Port Huron – a prime location for freighter-watching (freighterspotting?).

It also happens to be a prime day trip opportunity for anyone in the Detroit Metro area. I decided to head up on my motorcycle May 14, the day before I surrendered to adulthood and started working the 9-to-5 (the main reason I haven’t been posting at all lately).

I had spent the previous night in East China Township, so I was well-positioned for a quick jaunt to Port Huron. The weather was great, and the ride was just long enough to clear up the last vestiges of my hangover. Perfect.

The boatnerd.com HQ in all its glory

You’d think dedicated freighter-watching would appeal to a pretty small subset of the population. If it does, they all must be in Port Huron, because the Great Lakes Maritime Center was busy – and there weren’t any freighters due to pass by for over an hour. People were playing dominoes, knitting, and having business meetings/lunches; the GLMC, as it is known to insiders, must be a hotspot for Port Huron’s movers and shakers and bored senior citizens.

With no lakeboats on the horizon to distract me, I realized I was pretty hungry. It’s strange being alone in an unfamiliar town looking for a place to eat – just like that one Bob Seger song, except that I was nowhere near Omaha, I wasn’t really strung out from the road, and I don’t think I’m easily mistaken for a woman. I settled on Cavis Grill, because you can’t really go wrong at a place with a lunch counter when you’re dining solo.

Cavis Grill: a place where the kind of people who still buy newspapers can feel at home

Feeling no eyes upon me as I shook of the cold (it was pretty warm that day anyway), I sat down and ordered a reuben. I hadn’t eaten all day. All objectivity falls by the wayside in starvation situations, but fortunately, my as-of-yet infallible French Fry Index* confirmed that the cook knew what he was doing. That, and the other diners had the look and girth of regulars. So I’ll probably go back to Cavis again if I happen to be in the area. Which will probably be the next time I head to the Great Lakes Maritime Center.

Sated, I decided it would be kind of a waste to leave Port Huron having seen no freighters. I headed back to the GLMC, and just in time.

The Great Republic was headed down the St. Clair River:

More information here

…just as the Mississagi was steaming up the river:

More information here

I was about to witness one of the most horrific maritime accidents in Great Lakes history!

That, or a routine but impressive passage that just so happened to take place in front of the very well-positioned GLMC:

They looked bigger in person, I swear

Many of us lucky enough to have spent time on the Great Lakes have seen freighters far off on the horizon; boaters know to stay clear of the shipping channels. But the Great Lakes Maritime Center gives visitors a chance to really study the boats that still make up an important part of the region’s nautical backdrop – and economy. Head up to Port Huron some time to check it out. If you’re hungry, you can go to Cavis. I can’t recommend the reuben, at least.

* Generally if the french fries a diner serves are crisp on the outside, yet not dry or crunchy (but at the same time not too greasy), and most importantly, just a bit too hot to eat when they are served, the rest of the food will be pretty good. I’ve found that fancy places in Ann Arbor screw fries up far more often than dives that have been around since the dawn of time, which ought to tell you something.


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