Boating On Lake Michigan

By Kevin Walters
Published: April/May 2013

They had a dream: to take the kids on a big boating adventure that would push them, connect them, and open them up to the world around them.

Photo of the Island Bounty
Photo: Kevin Walters
Island Bound, at anchor in Baie Fine.

During the summer of 2010, my wife Erin and I decided to leave our Lake Michigan homeport and take our two young daughters — Isabel, 5, and Hannah, 8 — out to explore the Great Lakes. I longed to live the cruising lifestyle for a summer, and expose the kids to an experience that I hoped would shape their dreams. Erin and I, a schoolteacher and a biologist, wanted to turn Lake Michigan into a giant open-air classroom.

Photo of the author's wife and baby daughter
Photo: Kevin Walters
Erin and our newest daughter Soleil (5 months) enjoy the peace at anchor.

Photo of Kevin Walters the author
Kevin Walters

We sailed our 28-foot Irwin Mark IV, Island Bound, more than 1,000 nautical miles during our three-month journey, and made it as far as Killarney, Ontario, in Lake Huron. We spent our days sailing, swimming, hiking, playing games, and singing, until buzzard-sized mosquitoes drove us down into the cabin for the evening. Most nights, we anchored alone in peaceful, natural harbors. There were rare moments when each one of us felt scared or bored, but they were far outweighed by the countless times we laughed, loved, and learned. There are enough islands to visit, sand dunes to climb, gunkholes to explore, and enough ports-of-call to keep even the most landlubberly crewmember happy. Here are some of our favorite spots, from our cruising adventure, and from our weekend explorations.

For a lesson in social history, we visited Beaver Island, population 650, and 32 miles offshore from Charlevoix, Michigan. The passage makes for a nice day of sailing in the right conditions. Being the most remote inhabited island on all the Great Lakes almost guarantees an interesting past, and Beaver Island didn't disappoint. The locals told us of James Strang, leader of a Mormon sect in the mid-1800s, who moved to the island with his followers and declared himself polygamist king in an elaborate ceremony. He was eventually murdered by disgruntled disciples, and the rest of his followers were run off Beaver. Strang left a colorful trail of history still fascinating people on the island today.

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