Favorite Weekend Cruise: Beaver Island

We left the hustle and bustle of Charlevoix, Michigan, just in time to make the second drawbridge opening of the morning as we pointed our bow toward Beaver Island, an isolated destination about 32 miles offshore in the middle of northern Lake Michigan. There was a thick fog, and a light drizzle fell from the sky. Thanks to our chartplotter, I knew our position and the proper heading to the island, but having no radar I remained wary.
Author:
Publish date:
Beaver%20Island%20Harbor

We left the hustle and bustle of Charlevoix, Michigan, just in time to make the second drawbridge opening of the morning as we pointed our bow toward Beaver Island, an isolated destination about 32 miles offshore in the middle of northern Lake Michigan.

There was a thick fog, and a light drizzle fell from the sky. Thanks to our chartplotter, I knew our position and the proper heading to the island, but having no radar I remained wary. I knew we were following the approximate route of the Beaver Island ferry, so I raised the ferry captain on the VHF. He confirmed he had us on radar and would give us room when he passed us to port about 30 minutes later.

Between the Beaver Island archipelago and the mainland of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula there’s a large area of shoal water known broadly as Gray’s Reef. It’s an eerie feeling sailing several miles from land and watching boulders and sand patches glide by beneath your hull in the crystal-clear water.

BeaverIslandSunset

The underwater view is best between Beaver Island and the Straits of Mackinac, where depths run 20 feet or less for miles. As an added bonus, you get to see several unique mid-lake lighthouses. The most striking may be the abandoned Waugoshance Lighthouse, which looks like something from the a set of a Hitchcock movie with its rusted metal and crumbling concrete.

Arriving safely in St. James Harbor, we set our anchor and prepared to go ashore and explore. The island is the most remote inhabited island on all the Great Lakes and has a year-round population of 650. Although it is a nature-lover’s paradise, I find its social history even more compelling.

Following the murder in 1844 of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, James Strang became the leader of his own Mormon sect. Strang and his followers, known as “Strangites,” moved out to Beaver Island in 1848, where they founded the town of St. James, named after James Strang. Shortly thereafter, Strang declared himself a polygamist and in an elaborate ceremony featuring a crown, a royal robe, a shield and a wooden scepter had himself anointed king of the church and the island.

Strang and his disciples fought frequently with the island’s other residents. But the fighting came to an end in 1856 when Strang was murdered by two former disciples he’d had flogged when their wives refused to abide by his dress code. Soon after, residents from the other nearby islands drove the remaining Strangites off Beaver Island and confiscated their property. Strang’s strange kingdom was no more.

Walk the streets of St. James, and you’ll find pieces of history on every corner. A print shop built by Strang’s disciples is the only remaining building from the era of his rule and is now a museum. The Irish immigrants who populated the island after Strang’s death turned it into the largest supplier of freshwater fish in the country, and names like Gallagher and Boyle still dominate the phonebook and are prominent on street signs. 

The surrounding archipelago also has lots to explore, either by dinghy or mothership, like the gull rookery on High Island or the Native American spirit houses on Garden Island. No matter what your itinerary, the Beaver Island archipelago is full of interesting nature and history, and should be at the top of your list when cruising Lake Michigan. 


Photos by Charles Scott

Related

MHS-GMR_3549

New Multihulls 2018

Farrier F-22 New Zealander Ian Farrier ushered in a new genre of sailing with his folding-ama trailerable trimarans, the best-known of which are the Corsair designs. Farrier’s last project before he passed away last year was this sweet little tri. Available in three versions, ...read more

shutterstock_373701682

Cruising: Island Comeback

The U.S. Virgins Islands have surged back from the devastation of the 2017 hurricanes, with new infrastructure plans that will benefit charterers and cruisers alike. After hurricanes Irma and Maria roared through the Leeward Islands in September 2017, it was impossible to ...read more

albintoilet

Gear: Albin Pump Marine Toilet

Head Start Is there room for a new marine toilet? Albin Pump Marine thinks so, having just introduced its line of Swedish-built heads—ranging from compact to full-size models—to the American market. The toilets feature vitreous porcelain bowls and either wooden or thermoplastic ...read more

07n_45R2699

Multihull Sailor: Classic Cats

If you’re looking for a decent sub-40ft cruising cat, you have few choices when it comes to new-boat offerings. It is a well-known fact that the multihull market has taken off in a way very few could have predicted. Despite Hurricane Irma’s recent destruction of a large part of ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Thanks a bunch  This scene is very calm and seamanlike. No frantic rope throwing or shouting. As he passes the line to the gent on the dock, the crew on the boat says, quietly and clearly, “Would you ...read more

mcarthy-and-mouse

Experience: McCarthy and the Mouse

Sitting at the helm in a light breeze, my arms crusted with a fine rime of salt, my skin so dry I’d lost my fingerprints, I heard a clatter and a curse from below. There were only three of us a thousand miles from shore and only one on watch at a time. Usually, the off watch lay ...read more