Weekend Getaway

Cruising Beaver Island & Little Traverse Bay - The Great Lakes

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April 2016
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By
Capt. Jeff
Werner

Every summer, the Great Lakes offer some of the best cruising grounds in America. What could be better? There's no salt spray to rinse off and no tides or tidal currents to account for. Add to that a fascinating historical mix of Native Americans, French explorers, religious groups, 19th-century settlers and a larger-than-life cast of characters, and boaters have plenty to keep them amused throughout the Memorial Day to Labor Day season. One such area on Lake Michigan, just of the northwest corner of the lower peninsula of the state of Michigan, is Beaver Island and Little Traverse Bay.

Beaver Island

The Strange Case of King Strang: Whether cruising from Door County, Mackinac Island or the Leelenau Peninsula, Beaver Island is a crossroads port of call that will take you back in time. The pace is slower there, and although it is no longer the isolated community it was just 10 or 15 years ago, it is still a wonderful getaway destination.Dalwhinnie Bakery, on the main street that rings St. James Harbor, is Beaver Island's go-to spot for fresh doughnuts and cappuccinos and food for thought while considering a gentleman named James Jesse Strang.Th e Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormon church, was organized in upstate New York in 1830 by Joseph Smith. Mormons considered Joseph a modern day prophet, and his brother Hyrum was designated as Joseph's successor. As fate would have it, both Smiths were murdered by a mob in June 1844. With the church founder and his successor dead, the Mormons were in crisis. Brigham Young assumed control over the majority of church members and eventually moved west with them to the Utah Territory.But other Mormon leaders swayed their followers with their own interpretations of the Latter Day Saints movement, and struck out on their own. James Strang daringly assumed the deceased Joseph Smith's role as prophet, and although excommunicated by the main Mormon church, he convinced about 12,000 followers that he was the true new leader and moved his headquarters to Beaver Island in 1848, bringing with him a small group of church goers to form his initial colony.Up until that point, Beaver Island, which had been settled by the Ojibwe tribe, was also inhabited by some white trappers, traders and fishermen. Two years after Strang and his followers arrived, he crowned himself king of the Kingdom of God, wearing a red flannel robe and a shiny tin crown and carrying a wood scepter during his coronation.King Strang never claimed to rule Beaver Island, but as new Mormons known as Strangites migrated to his kingdom, their population soon outnumbered the non-Mormons, which led to open hostility between the groups. Strang was arrested on federal charges of counterfeiting and treason and brought to Detroit for trial. He defended himself so successfully that he ran for the state legislature and won a seat in 1853.Within his own sect, he harbored a number of adversaries, and one evening in 1856 on Beaver Island, two of them pistol whipped him and then assassinated him with a shot in the back, in full view of the USS Michigan. They claimed sanctuary on the naval vessel and were never punished for their deed. A few weeks later, all the Strangites, almost 2,600 of them, were stripped of their possessions and property and forcibly removed from Beaver Island by a mob.To fill the vacuum, Irish fishermen from around the Great Lakes and as far away as County Donegal came to Beaver Island. As Irish immigration increased, Beaver Island became known as America's Emerald Isle. Gaelic was widely spoken, and today the Shamrock Restaurant and Pub, Donegal Danny's Pub, and McDonough's Market are all reminders of the island's Irish heritage.Beaver Island Marina and Beaver Island Municipal Marina offer slips for visiting boaters. Both are located on St. James Harbor, a well-protected bay at the northeast tip of the island. The harbor and adjacent town were named after none other than James Strang”elevating him from king to saint! While in St. James, don't miss the Toy Museum, Beaver Head Lighthouse, the Marine Museum and the Old Mormon Print Shop Museum, they are gems of local history, art and memorabilia.

Charlevoix - Beaver Island to Charlevoix: 25 nm

About 25 nautical miles southeast of Beaver Island sits the town of Charlevoix, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Charlevoix along the Michigan coast. The town's namesake is Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, a French Jesuit priest and explorer who in 1720 was believed to have weathered a storm on nearby Fisherman's Island.In 1869 the Pine River Channel was dredged, connecting Lake Michigan with Lake Charlevoix. This mile-long canalization of the Pine River and Round Lake made Charlevoix one of the busiest ports on the Great Lakes. In the late 1800s, steamships docked here to load on 40 million board feet of lumber each year, harvested from the trees along Lake Charlevoix.Steamships not only handled freight, they also carried passengers, and brought with them the ­rest summer residents from Chicago. As railways extended their service to Charlevoix, summer tourists and luxurious hotels followed. By World War I, Charlevoix was a popular resort community for wealthy and middle-class Chicagoans. During Prohibition, Chicago's infamous gangsters made Charlevoix's Colonial Club their summer destination of choice.Yachts seeking transient slips have their choice of the Charlevoix City Marina on the west side of Round Lake, or the two marinas of the Irish Boat Shop on Lake Charlevoix. Dock availability at the City Marina is limited due to the many summer festivals and events downtown, but reservations can be made online or by phone.One of the most popular attractions in Charlevoix is the guided walking tour of the Mushroom Houses. These landmark homes were designed by the architect Earl Young, and have unique boulder exteriors and rounded, wavy roofs of cedar shakes.A visit to Castle Farms, a few miles southeast of downtown, is worth a day trip. It was originally built in 1918 by Albert Loeb, the president of Sears Roebuck, as a model dairy farm. From the 1970s through the early 1990s, it served as a rock concert venue. Now it has been restored to its original design, inspired by the stone barns and castles of Normandy, France. It is a family-friendly destination with an outdoor model railroad, a 1918 history museum and a hedge maze.

Bay Harbor - Charlevoix to Bay Harbor: 12 nm

Just over 20 years ago, a developer had a vision to transform a century-old cement plant and mining operation on the south shore of Little Traverse Bay into the ultimate upscale resort, with a deep-water marina, golf course and equestrian center. He dynamited the shoreline that separated the quarry from Lake Michigan, and within 24 hours had created Bay Harbor Lake, as 2.5 billon gallons of water rushed in to the old quarry. Recently Bay Harbor was rated one of the best family boating resorts in the country.Bay Harbor Lake Marina can accommodate yachts up to 200 feet overall and has many slips on floating docks for boats of all sizes. For some classic American cuisine head to Seventeen Restaurant offering numerous soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees along the waterfront.

Petoskey - Bay Harbor to Petoskey: 4 nm

Located at the southeast corner of Little Traverse Bay, Petoskey was long inhabited by the Odawa people before Europeans arrived. The town was named for 18th-century Chief Ignatius Petosega, the son of a French Canadian fur trader and an Odawa mother. His name means, where the light shines through the clouds.Petoskey is a well-known resort destination, and the Bay View Association, founded by the United Methodist Church in 1875, is its most famous community. Bay View is a National Historic Landmark open to the publicand offering music, worship, lectures and seminars every summer in a setting of beautiful Victorian cottages.Th e Petoskey City Marina has recently expanded to a 144-slip marina and is right downtown amidst many new restaurants including Julienne Tomatoes and Polish Kitchen and shops in the Gaslight District.

Harbor Springs - Petoskey to Harbor Springs: 3 nm

Situated on the north side of Little Traverse Bay, just three nautical miles across the bay from Petoskey, is Harbor Springs. Protected by the sheltering arm of Harbor Point peninsula, Harbor Springs is the deepest natural harbor on the Great Lakes and has ample docking. These include Harbor Springs Municipal Marina, Irish Boat Shop and Walstrom Marine's Marina Villa Docks. Going and bicycling are popular activities in Harbor Springs, but it is the unparalleled shopping experience that is the biggest draw. Fine art galleries, unique apparel stores, intimate gift boutiques and local specialty shops abound along the waterfront and nearby streets.These are just a few small glimpses into the many fascinating communities of the Great Lakes. An avid boat owner can cruise the Great Lakes every summer for years and experience a new adventure each time.Capt. Jeff Werner has been in the yachting industry for over 25 years. In addition to working as a captain on private and charter yachts, both sail and power, he is a certified instructor for the USCG, US Sailing, RYA and the MCA. He is also the Diesel Doctor, helping to keep your yacht's fuel in optimal condition for peak performance. For more information, call 239-246-6810, or visit MyDieselDoctor.com. All Marinalife members receive a 10% discount on purchases of equipment, products and supplies from Diesel Doctor.

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Our nation's smallest state has big boating opportunities. Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay is prime for cruising picturesque and protected with many beautiful harbors. While not on everyone's chart plan, Wickford is an historic hamlet with delightfully walkable shady streets lined with beautiful colonial homes. From quiet Wickford, you're set for a straightforward passage out to The Bay, then poised to cross the broad blue expanse of Rhode Island Sound to the fun, boat- and bike-friendly Block Island. This Narragansett tour will have you feeling like a bold explorer while landing at easy modern marinas.

Day 1: Wickford Cove

Wickford Cove is the smallest town in the smallest county of littlest Rhode Island. That's not to minimize its quaint downtown full of waterfront gardens, charming architecture and tremendous yachting heritage. Stroll Wickford's self-guided marker tour of historic seaside homes, then pop into some darling boutiques around the harbor like Serendipity and Pink Parasol.Conclude your walk at Wickford on the Waterfront with a salty cocktail, local oysters or stuffed clams (stuffies in Rhode Island lingo). Tate's Italian Kitchen serves hearty classics across the village's main Brown Street. Moorings can be reserved at Wickford Yacht Club or go to Safe Harbor Wickford Cove for a full-service marina with dock space.

Day 2: Block Island

Wickford to Block Island 29 NMCruising down the western shores of Narragansett Bay under the Jamestown Bridge, passing magnificent mansions then Point Judith Light, you are soon on your way across the open expanse of Rhode Island Sound to Block Island. The farthest island from land on the entire Eastern seaboard, Block Island is even more remote than Monhegan in Maine (10 miles out by comparison).

Block Island - weekend warrior - marinalife
Block Island, RI | Greg Burke

Block Island has a vacation vibe, and everything is relaxed, truly on island-time with their moniker of Bermuda of the North. The 1,500 happy humble Block Island residents claim they've been social distancing since 1661, so they've got humor to carry them through the long off-season. Block's pear-shaped 7 x 3-mile island is cool, casual and fun to explore for a few days, yet not so stuffy-chic or celebrity-crushed as Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard.Getting around by bike or moped is the best way to explore Block's entire 16 miles of perimeter roads. Along the undulating country lanes, you may feel transported to Ireland with the lush rolling fields, stone walls, dramatic Mohegan Bluffs and the contrasting blue sea. Passing dozens of unique beaches, you may plan to return later. Highlight sights are Block Island's two impressive lighthouses – North and South East – with the busier main village of Old Harbor in between.Block Island has two boating harbors: the more protected New Harbor in Great Salt Pond, which is preferred by pleasure boaters, and Old Harbor with its primary ferry landing and bustling downtown of shops and grand seaside hotels. Staying at Great Salt Pond overlooking your mooring or dock slip, you should enjoy sunsets, pub fare and a boaters' block party atmosphere at The Oar or Dead Eye Dick's (opens in May). While in the Old Harbor after browsing boutiques, find a perfect chair and cocktail at either grand seaside hotel: Spring House or Atlantic House.For a delicious local dinner, Kimberly's serves littlenecks or calamari followed by lobster mac n' cheese as a beautiful ending to a day of exploring. Live music may be piping out from next door Poor People's Pub to lure you over for a nightcap.Block Island's public moorings in New Harbor are assigned daily by the Harbormaster. Private slips can be reserved at Champlin's Marina, the Boat Basin and Oar House. They book up quickly in prime summer season, which results in boats rafting-up with strangers (friends you haven't yet met!).

Day 3: Newport

Block Island to Newport 25 NMDeparting Block Island, perhaps after fresh coffee and pastries delivered to your boat by enterprising locals, you will be in the company of power boaters and sailing vessels, plus the occasional charging ferry heading to Newport. It's a direct course northeast to the Sailing Capital of Newport.

Bannisters Wharf - weekened warrior - marinalife
Bannisters Wharf, Newport | Greg Burke

No boater worth his Sperry's can miss out on the yachty harbor of Newport, established in 1639. As a visiting boater, contact the Harbormaster or Newport Yachting Center for an affordable mooring or a much pricier dock space in this prime harbor. Water taxis ply the harbor frequently to take you to the town docks.Newport is full of magnificent vessels, lively waterfront pubs lining Bowens and Bannisters Wharfs, and scads of inviting seaside shops on cobblestone streets. Getting off your boat, stretch your sea legs with a scenic 3.5-mile cliff walk by the Gilded Age mansions of our fine affluent families (Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Dupont, Astor and Morgan). Before sunset, head for Newport rooftop drinks overlooking the harbor at The Vanderbilt or the Hotel Viking to toast your good fortunate in this big little state.

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The Florida Keys
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Day 1: IslamoradaKey Largo to Islamorada 15 NM

It's a short leg from the diving hub to the Sport Fishing Capital of the World, which boasts the largest charter fishing fleet per square mile on Earth. At dawn, captains head out on deep-sea excursions or idle through mangrove islands and shallow seagrass flats of the backcountry. The silver flashes in the sunlight at Robbie's Marina dock are enormous tarpon, 50 to 100 feet long, doing daily water acrobatics for snacks thrown by visitors into the clear, shallow water.

Islamorada - weekend warrior - marinalife
Islamorada | romrodinka on Canvas

The Keys have a motley past: shipwrecks, pirates, buried treasure, movie stars and especially luscious Key Lime pie. History reaching back to Native American life is outlined at the Keys History & Discovery Center at the Islander Resort.Downtown Islamorada's patchwork of boutiques and galleries is overflowing with original creations of artists, sculptors and jewelers inspired by life on the islands. The Morada Way Arts & Cultural District is a bustling six-block corridor of shops, restaurants and studio spaces. Thirsty shoppers can duck into the welcoming back garden of Florida Keys Brewing Company. Beside the seasonal beer on tap, they serve a Key Lime cocktail so delectable that it could be counted as dessert.Transient dockage to 100 feet is available at Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina, a premier facility with 15 sprawling acres of white sand beach. Plantation Yacht Harbor Marina, located in the fabulous Founders Park, is ranked among the top marinas in the world and is a designated Clean Marina.

Day 2: Duck KeyIslamorada to Duck Key 21 NM

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Day 3: Key WestDuck Key to Key West 52 NM

Before adventuring out in the heat to pet the famous six-toed cats at Hemingway House or view the spartan simplicity of the Truman Little White House, grab a Cuban Café con Leche and wander around town absorbing the laid-back, culturally diverse life of island time.Nightly pub crawls guide visitors along Duval Street's legion of barrooms. Much like the revelers doing the Duval Crawl, the Key West chickens strut the streets and crow at all hours. Colorful roosters and mother hens with tiny chicks weave in and out of traffic and through open cafés around town.

ocean reef club - weekend warrior - marinalife
Buccaneer Island, Ocean Reef Club | Ocean Reef Club

Much quieter winged creatures reside in the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, a tropical paradise home to hundreds of species of magical butterflies and birds. More of nature's birding and fishing wonders lie just off the western shore. Accessible only by boat, Key West National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 208,308 acres with only 2,019 acres above sea level. Wading birds, pelicans, shorebirds, sea turtles, manatees and dolphins all live within or visit the refuge.There's an eatery on nearly every corner from the quirky Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe to the beautiful Seaside Café at the Southernmost Mansion and Louie's Backyard for fine dining. It's best to experience Key West on a bike or a golf cart so you can catch the quirkiness of the island including the popular drag show at 801 Bourbon Bar and the famous cemetery. And at the end of the day, join the locals for live music at the Green Parrot Bar.Several marinas welcome boaters with a range of pleasant amenities and convenient locations: Conch Harbor Marina in historic Old Town, Stock Island Yacht Club and The Perry Hotel & Marina.

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Ready to go beyond the places in Maryland that grab the tourists, the headlines, the buzz? Spend a weekend in the quiet southwest corner of the state and explore the earliest beginnings of Maryland from the first colony on St. Clement's Island to the site of its first capital, St. Mary's City. Along with fascinating history, you'll discover friendly folks, serene landscapes and fresh bay-to-table dining.

Day 1: Solomons Island

Just a sliver of land measuring a mile and a half long, and in some spots it's just the width of a single road, yet Solomons is alive with eateries, shops, a tiki bar, marinas, a scenic sculpture garden and a world-class museum.

Drum Point Lighthouse - weekend warrior - marinalife
Drum Point Lighthouse at Calvert Marine Museum | Wikimedia Commons

Local residents seeking to preserve the maritime heritage of the area began the Calvert Marine Museum as a community project in 1970. It has evolved into a research museum, renowned for local history exploration while actively looking toward challenges of the future, especially environmental issues. Maritime history, estuarine biology and paleontology are brought to life through hands-on experiences. More than 500 artifacts include a 28-foot three-log canoe, a tobacco press and boats from Solomons' long-gone shipyards and oyster industry.

On the surrounding grounds, stroll the marsh walk home of great blue heron, osprey, hermit crabs and more. Nearby is the River Otter Habitat where residents Bubbles and Squeak frolic between naps.

A short distance away, the synergy of art and nature on the grounds of Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Art Center encourages creativity and reflection. Along the walking paths, tiny fairy gardens are dwarfed by rotating artworks on loan from the Smithsonian.

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Several marinas on Back Creek include the resort-style Solomons Harbor Marina close to the town's center, and the larger, 246-slip Spring Cove Marina that offers a courtesy shuttle to restaurants and shops.

Day 2: St. Mary's City

Solomons Island to St. Mary's City 36 NM

"Where's the city?" is a frequent question from arriving tourists who haven't yet realized they are standing on the archaeological site of Maryland's first capital. Tours of replica buildings bring that era back to life. Trails along this historic exhibit on the St. Mary's River wind past a replica of the Dove (one of the ships that carried Catholic settlers), the Godiah Spray Plantation and a fully excavated 17th century building at St. John's Site.

St. Clements Island - weekend warrior - marinalife
St. Clements Island | Susan Elnicki Wade

After a 90-year search, a fort-like formation the size of a football field was recently uncovered. Ground-penetrating radar scans revealed a brick cellar guardhouse and dwellings -- possibly Native American -- within the walls. Native communities in the area can be traced back 10,000 years, and a quartzite arrow dating back 4,500 years was unearthed.

Eating options are limited but tasty. Tiny Enso Kitchen has amazing breakfast sandwiches and lunch salads, but its fame comes from scrumptious bread and pastries. Although it's located in a gas station, St. James Deli & Spirits is known for excellent take-out pizza and subs.

Boats can dock for the day on site, and the closest full-service facility, Dennis Point Marina in Drayden, offers gas and diesel.

Day 3: Coltons Point

St. Mary's City to Coltons Point 26 NM

Off-season, the pace of life in this peaceful little community on the Potomac is lower than the speed limit. That all changes as warm weather tourists arrive at St. Clement's Island Museum to learn about the 1634 arrival of two ships, the Ark and Dove, whose English passengers sought to establish a new colony based on religious tolerance.

Bald eagle in flight - weekend warrior - marinalife
Bald Eagle in Flight | Frank Cone

A half-mile offshore is the 62-acre St. Clement's Island state park and federal nature preserve. A towering white cross marks where the first Catholic mass was held in the new colony. The park includes a hiking trail, beach, picnic pavilion, and fishing and hunting grounds.

In 1967, local preservation groups organized the annual Blessing of the Fleet, a time-honored traditional benediction for the boats and the St. Mary's County watermen. The event also raises awareness about the island's future, currently one-tenth its original size due to rising sea levels.

Visiting boaters can tie up to the piers for the day or take a weekend water shuttle from Coltons Point. Guest piers are on the north and south shores of St. Clement's Island. Overnight slips are available at Coltons Point Marina and Cather Marine just a few miles from the mouth of St. Patrick's Creek.

Before returning to the usual faster pace, mosey up to Morris Point Seafood on Canoe Neck Creek for just-off-the-boat homemade seafood (start with crab dip Florentine) or Sunday brunch featuring Chesapeake eggs and smoked trout platter.

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