A relentless summer cold has walloped my body the past five days, but it hasn’t extinguished the torch in my heart for South Haven after our maiden voyage to the shores of Lake Michigan. It may have been our first trip, but Lord willing, it won’t be our last.

How do you justify a cross-country schlep to the ocean when the wonders of Lake Michigan are only a short drive from Indianapolis? For first-time visitors like us, I can’t imagine a better place to stay than the Yelton Manor Inn, a lakeside bed and breakfast within walking distance of South Haven’s harbor and a stone’s throw from the beach. Innkeepers Robert and Elaine maintain two meticulous Victorian homes as perfect sanctuaries for weary city dwellers, especially those in need of a good book.

Don’t worry about packing something to read because a vast library awaits you there. Their collection is tucked into every nook and cranny of the antique-filled houses, which are studded with delicious reading coves for your private pleasure–nirvana for bibliophiles of all stripes. Over the course of our four-day stay, I attempted to use every one of them. Their guestbook includes the rich and famous, from author Clive Cussler (he stayed while his crew was trying to unearth lost wreckage from a 1950 airplane accident) to the musician Earl Klugh, who compared Elaine’s flower gardens to the sweetness of jazz.

It was our good fortune to visit the same weekend South Haven played first-time host to a world-class sailing event, the Queens Cup. Now in its 74th year, the Queens Cup is one of the oldest freshwater races in yachting and attracts over 200 boats. Sailors begin the 78 nautical-mile race in Milwaukee and end in Grand Haven or Muskegon, alternating between the two cities each year. It was Grand Haven’s turn in 2012, but they had to take a pass.

Crowded mooring conditions in Grand Haven’s harbor rankled participants from previous years, convincing the Queens Cup Committee to choose nearby South Haven as the 2012 alternative. The winning yacht left Milwaukee early Friday morning and arrived in South Haven during the wee hours of Saturday.

We strolled down to the harbor with our morning coffee to watch the remaining boats trail in from 6 to 9 a.m., wondering aloud to each other about a lone sailor piloting one boat. Where was his crew? Probably sleeping below, we speculated. Considering the physical and mental challenges of a sport that’s frequently compared to playing chess on water, our guess is as likely as any.

The morning after the race, we shared breakfast with a bright-eyed sailor from Chicago who stayed overnight at the Yelton Manor Inn. “South Haven makes a much better venue,” she said. “They are so welcoming. I think I prefer it here.” I’ll second that remark.

If the spectacle of a grand tradition like the Queens Cup wasn’t enough for a vintage enthusiast, why not add an antique car show to the mix? By happy coincidence, the 2012 Pierce-Arrow Society was visiting nearby Hickory Corners for their annual meeting at the Gilmore Car Museum. Members were invited to South Haven for a group tour of the Michigan Maritime Museum. While making their tours, naturally they needed a safe place to park their antiques on wheels. South Haven’s savvy planners cordoned off the harbor entrance for Pierce Arrow parking, fully aware that their provisions would double as a car show for tourists and residents. Or so it seemed to us. We spent Friday morning gawking at the Pierce Arrows that lined the harbor entrance.

Our visit ended Sunday morning at South Haven’s 54th Summer Art Fair. With the two great artist dens of Douglas and Saugatuck just up the road, there’s no need to import artistic talent. But that didn’t discourage 130 fine artists who set up shop for the day in Stanley Johnson Park located just behind the inn. For a mere $20, I bought six limited edition prints by Chicago artist Susan Murtaugh. I’ve been plotting a redecorating project for an upstairs bedroom and I owe a decisive moment of inspiration to Lake Michigan, starting with these stunning nautical prints, purchased from the South Haven Center for Art.

Here are three artists that caught my eye.


These paintings are encaustics, a technique using beeswax. According to artist Brenda Zimmerman, this method dates back to ancient Egypt. Paper dolls are incorporated into these works. Notice the Chicago scenery in the background? You can see more of her work at her Flickr site.


Dollmaker Kimberly McDermott draws and paints the most imaginative faces on her dolls. I love the fanciful costumes they wear. Wouldn’t it be fun to wear the adult versions?

I was so stunned by Ann Loveless’s amazing quilts that I stood with my mouth agape. I forgot to ask for a photo, but you can check out her work on your own. Do not be fooled–these are not computer-generated quilts; Ann uses a photograph as inspiration, cutting shapes by hand and quilting them into lush landscapes.

Three other marvels of our trip that still mystify me.

On our way to lunch and dinner each day we passed the same abandoned golf course located between South Haven and Saugatuck on Route A2. My husband commented on it every time. Why?


Passing through Ganges, Michigan, I remembered the first verse of Scarlatti’s aria Già il sole dal Gange, which I learned in Italian when I was a seventh-grader. I can’t remember the user name or password for an account I set up yesterday, but I can sing an Italian aria I learned almost 40 years ago? What’s up with that?

When the sun sets on the opalescent pool of Lake Michigan, people gather in clusters along the beach as if for worship. As we stare at a glorious sliver of hot pink and orange in the sky, we’re all clutching digital cameras, hoping to capture the essence of a perfect sunset. In the silence you can sense people contemplating their own insignificance. Is it possible that anyone will walk away doubting God’s existence?

I can’t answer these questions, but I can leave you with the English translation of Scarlatti’s aria celebrating the beauty of the sun over India’s Gange River.

Already the sun over the Ganges is shining more brightly and dries every teardrop from the weeping dawn. With golden rays it bejewels every stem, and draws the stars in heaven on the meadow.

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.