Tag Archives: Beaver Island

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.

Repost: Beaver Island Cape Dory Rendezvous, 2010

I’d nearly forgotten about a Lake Michigan Cape Dory site I created a few years ago. Digging through the posts, I thought this one was worthy of sharing here because of the handsome boats.

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There could be no greater testimony to the high caliber of Cape Dory owners than a loosely planned event – hosted by a couple of newbies, no less – turning out to be a great time. And such was the case for the Lake Michigan rendezvous held Aug. 2-6 at St. James Harbor, Beaver Island, the relaxed island atmosphere and its natural beauty providing the perfect backdrop. Even without a carefully planned schedule, tours, or activities, there was plenty of good conversation, a congenial spirit, and a lot of enthusiasm for the event – and even excited talk about planning one for next year.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of Cathy Monaghan and Great Lakes Fleet Captain Ed Haley, who regularly posted registration reminders to the CD Board, 10 people registered for the event and four boats made the trip. Now this number might be small in comparison to some of our other fleets, but as our Dear Mr. Dunn pointed out in a recent issue of Masthead, the vastness of the Great Lakes shoreline tends to complicate things. (Some quick math indicates that the one-way mileage average of the four boats is roughly 160nm)

When Ariel and her crew, Dave and David VanDenburgh, arrived Sunday evening, August 1, we were greeted with a pretty harbor made more attractive by the presence of two Cape Dorys, SISU (CD28) and Spindrift (CD300MS). After anchoring and settling in, we dinghied over to SISU and met Guy Leslie and Jan Jones. Guy is a long-time Cape Dory owner (first a Typhoon Weekender, then a CD25) and the proud new owner of a beautiful CD28, SISU, which he purchased in Holland, MI, in September 2009 and brought to her new port in Traverse City. When he heard about the rendezvous, Guy was eager to meet up with other CD owners and said he “just had to make it.” And make it he did, taking SISU on their first extended trip together. Little did he know he’d have a few more opportunities to “get acquainted” with her as the week progressed. In the true spirit of a rendezvous, however, he found that he had plenty of support as he dealt with tough anchoring conditions and some transmission issues. Much to his credit, Guy remained optimistic and unflappable through it all.

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Guy Leslie descending into the engine compartment to ferret out the cause of his transmission woes.
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Guy Leslie aboard SISU.

Monday morning dawned rainy and windy, a 15-20 kt southwesterly setting in for much of the week. The gusts proved too much for SISU’s anchor and she began creeping downwind through the anchorage, her anchor fouled with weeds. Once SISU was safely re-anchored, we went ashore to meet Bill and Mary Kay Movalson, new owners of Spindrift, a very clean CD 300 Motorsailer out of Gladstone, MI, just north of Escanaba.

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A weedy bottom made for tough anchoring.

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Bill and Mary Kay Movalson’s CD 300 Motorsailer, Spindrift

Bill and Mary Kay purchased Spindrift in May and, like Guy, they were excited to hear about the Beaver Island rendezvous. Bill is quite the gadget/innovation guy and has already made a number of upgrades to the boat, including custom dinghy davits and pilothouse doors. Mary Kay is a gracious host and loves the comfortable ride and versatility afforded by the Motorsailer. Bill and Mary Kay had obligations in Mackinac and needed to get an early start in the morning, so the group enjoyed drinks and conversation aboard Spindrift before heading to Shamrock, a local restaurant. Just as we were leaving the dock, Mike Ritenour and Sue arrived aboard La Vida, a CD33. Rit and Sue, exhausted from their 60+ nm trip from Cheboygan (not to mention their earlier travels through Lake Superior and the Soo locks), opted to settle in for the night and anchored in the harbor.

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La Vida anchored in St. James Harbor.

The group met in the morning for coffee and breakfast (and yet more great conversation), and then walked over the St. James Boat Shop to check on Bill, a skilled woodworker and old friend of Rit’s. Bill and his apprentice make fine cherry buckets and strip canoes. Sawdust covers the floor of the shop and partially completed boats hang from the ceiling or rest on sawhorses. After taking a bit of joshing from Bill, whose 80-something mind is as sharp as ever, Rit added another cherry bucket memento to his collection.

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Old Bill splicing a handle for his cherry bucket.

After some exploring and stocking up on groceries, the group migrated to La Vida for drinks and conversation. Rit gave a tour of La Vida, which is absolutely decked out with gear, while Sue listened graciously. For those who don’t know, La Vida was a victim of hurricane Hugo and rescued by Rit, who has put some 60,000 miles under her keel since then. To say that she is equipped is an understatement. By Rit’s own account, even the Coast Guard during a courtesy inspection finally gave up trying to find fault when they realized they weren’t in the presence of your typical Weekend Warrior. Rit’s good nature and wonderful companion, combined with his considerable experience, made the time aboard La Vida a real privilege.

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l-r: Michael “Rit” Ritenour, Guy Leslie, Sue

Two members came in by ferry: Kevin LeMans and Great Lakes Fleet Captain Ed Haley. Kevin had originally planned to sail Raconteur, his CD30, but crew plans fell through and he ended up camping on the island with his family and joining the group for breakfast. We hope to meet Raconteur in person at the next rendezvous! Ed Haley traveled and then traveled some more to make an appearance, and we are grateful for his dedication. After completing a 500-mile bike ride through Iowa with his son, Ed drove to Charlevoix and caught the ferry to Beaver Island, arriving just in time to sort out some transmission issues on SISU. Not surprisingly, Ed once owned a CD28, so his experience came in handy.

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Dinner with the crew the night before departure.

Friday morning brought with it a shift in wind, giving everyone a fair wind home. We said our goodbyes over breakfast, courtesy of the GLF, and set a course for home. Rit, Sue and La Vida set out through Gray’s Reef Passage and on to Mackinac; Ariel headed south for South Manitou Island (and St. Joseph); and Ed and Guy messed about with SISU before Ed took the ferry back to Charlevoix. Despite his earlier transmission troubles, Guy made it home safely to Traverse City without a glitch.

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Rit and Ed Haley say goodbye.

Although the newbies might like to take credit for a successful rendezvous, there’s no doubt that it was due to the unequaled character of your typical Cape Dory owner. After all, great boats pick great people. Perhaps there will be more great boats and great people next year?! We’ll keep you posted.

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Ariel in early morning sunlight, departure day.

St. James Harbor, Beaver Island

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Ariel anchored in St. James Harbor, Beaver Island.

One of the great things about sailing Lake Michigan is that it’s easy to feel like you’ve really gotten away from it all. With a harbor dotting the eastern shoreline every 40nm or so, it’s easy to slip away for a weekend and enjoy a tranquil anchorage and some new sights. Beaver Island, located at the northern end of Lake Michigan, is a great cruising destination and one that really is away from it all. If you like anchoring out and prefer staying aboard reading, relaxing, and enjoying the sights from the deck of your boat, Beaver Island is the perfect spot. (If you like people, fine restaurants, and lots to do, check out Charlevoix’s Round Lake, where you can anchor on short scope, surrounded by other boats, and watch the parade of boats watch you.)

The following report provides basic information about St. James Harbor and is not intended to be used for navigational purposes.

The approach to St. James Harbor is from the ESE and presents no obstacles. (The northern end of Lake Michigan presents far more navigational obstacles than the southern end; sailors unfamiliar with the area should consult their charts carefully.) Once inside the harbor, there is significant shoaling to the south and southwest, and some thin water to the north. The ferry dock (Emerald Isle ferry from Charlevoix) and municipal marina, located in the NW portion of the harbor, provide a good landmark to steer for. Although the local marina offers transient slips, St. James Harbor provides good holding and shelter, making anchoring preferable*, especially if you have a dinghy to go ashore.

*Anchoring is especially preferable thanks to the harbormaster at the Municipal Marina who, apparently, has little affection or patience for visitors to his island.

Buoys in the inner harbor mark a channel to the northern part of the harbor. There is good* holding in a sandy bottom with moderate depths. Our preference was to nose into the shallower water at the southern end of the inner harbor to reduce rode length. We anchored in about 10-12 feet of water and set out 70′ of rode for a scope of 7:1. *Our experience during the rendezvous of 2010 indicates that holding can be marginal. An abundance of weeds resulted in two members dragging their anchors or having difficulty setting. Be sure to back on your anchor to ensure that it is well dug in.***

The island is not especially dinghy friendly, but we discovered that the folks at Beaver Island Marina, at the north end of the harbor, are happy to let sailors use their beach for coming ashore.

Local sights ashore include a historical society and museum, with much attention given to King Strang and the island’s Irish heritage. There are a few local eateries. A store located near the Beaver Island Marina provided easy dinghy access. I understand that there is some great hiking and camping on the island, but we didn’t look into that.

Without a doubt, the best part of Beaver Island is the harbor. The solitude, the wooded shoreline, the sounds of a pulpwood tug, and the absence of other boats make St. James Harbor a peaceful getaway.

North end Lake Michigan
About 27nm NNW of Charlevoix and 37nm from the north end of Traverse Bay, Beaver Island is a good destination for those interested in a weekend getaway.

Beaver Island group
Beaver Island and its surrounding islands – Fox, Garden, Hog, High. Although cruisers can explore the other islands, thin water and exposed anchorages require more caution and planning.

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The approach to St. James Harbor.

St. James Harbor
Boats with a shallow draft can cut north into the main harbor. Deeper draft vessels must exercise caution or use the channel.

Photos of Beaver Island’s St. James Harbor

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