More summer cruising: Exploring Beaver Island

When my wife, boys, and I departed St. Joseph back in June, we were hoping to make Beaver Island within about 10 days or so. I had talked up the beauty and solitude of the harbor quite a bit, and both of my boys, I’m pretty sure, had some wild imaginings of a place along the lines of Robinson Crusoe or Treasure Island. We’ve spent cold winter evenings tracing our fingers over chart book pages of the Beaver Island archipelago, dreaming of dropping anchor in remote harbors and going ashore to explore uninhabited islands, so it’s easy to imagine my family’s disappointment when our trip was interrupted by mechanical issues.

Two weeks later my youngest could barely contain his excitement as we departed Charlevoix and headed for Beaver Island. Ever cheerful, Josh did his best to contain his anxiety about wind and waves during our passage and toughed it out by focusing on the expectation of a sweet anchorage in Beaver Island’s St. James Harbor later that day. As we motored into the harbor, he chatted away excitedly and couldn’t wait to go ashore to explore. What a joy to see through the enthusiastic and unfettered eyes of a child.

With evening upon us, however, we enjoyed the island from Ariel’s deck, watched the sun set, ate a good supper, and went to bed.

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Josh awoke the next morning ready to explore, so we pumped up the dinghy and headed ashore. Prior to this leg of the trip we’d been rowing our Trinka dinghy ashore, so Josh was jazzed to try something new: the inflatable and a 4hp outboard. Not quite as classy or clean as a rowing dink, the inflatable certainly stows (and travels) much better when not in use, so we put up with its gasoline, heavy outboard, and unattractive appearance. But Josh loves it.

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Josh wanted to get the lay of the land, so we beached the dinghy at the north end of the harbor and walked south through town, stopping along the way to read historical markers and peek into a few shops (there aren’t many). Again, Josh was chattering with questions and excitement, and I loved every minute of it.

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Like most sailors, I suspect, we had to walk the docks at the municipal marina, a prospect Josh approached with a hint of trepidation due to my story from several years ago about a run-in with the harbormaster. If he’s still there, we didn’t run into him this time.

At the south end of town we visited the historical society and read all about the Irish and Mormon history on the island before heading back to the north end. Although I’ve been to Beaver Island a few times, I was surprised to discover at the northeast end of the harbor the Beaver Island Marine Museum. And imagine my joy when Josh begged to stop in. A kind lady greeted us and handed Josh a scavenger hunt sheet, telling him that he could win a prize if he found all of the artifacts listed therein. Away he went!

The museum preserves the island’s fishing heritage with numerous artifacts and pictures. Perhaps the coolest exhibit is the Bob S., an historic fishing tug.

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Captain Josh at the wheel of the Bob S. fishing tug.

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Josh’s scavenger hunt diligence earned him a free postcard, while I had the joy of watching this kid’s enthusiasm and wonder.

We left the museum and walked south along the east side of the harbor to check out the entrance light and the view out over the north end of Lake Michigan.

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After exploring the island, we ate lunch at Dalwhinnie’s and stocked up on groceries at McDonough’s before heading back to Ariel, our bellies full and our wonder satisfied.

We (or rather Josh) hauled anchor the next morning and set a course through Gray’s Reef Passage and on to the Mackinac Bridge, another landmark Josh was eager to see – this time from below. (I greased the bow roller after this, by the way. She’s quiet now!). Josh had hauled anchor in Charlevoix as well, so with this haul we decided to promote him from “barnacle” to “swab.” He was thrilled.

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