Thursday, August 30, 2007

Beaver Island, Michigan

On Sunday (August 26, 2007) we cruised out to Beaver Island from Charlevoix.

Beaver Island is the largest and most isolated of the inhabited islands on Lake Michigan. Saint James Harbor, which is at the northern end of the island, is over 30 miles out from Charlevoix.

When we left Charlevoix, the lake was kind of rough. But the waves were coming from the northwest, so we hoped it would become calmer as we neared the island. And it did.

Bernie got to be the captain for a while during this portion of the trip. Here's a picture of her transporting the herb garden out to Beaver Island.

During the trip out, we passed the Beaver Island Ferry (The "Emerald Isle") heading back to Charlevoix. As you can see, she's a pretty good size, built to take some rough seas. It's a nice looking ferry.

When arriving at St. James Harbor, there's the St. James Harbor Lighthouse out at the point.

And here it is at night with an almost-full moon.

Much of St. James Harbor is very shallow, and there's a channel running from the southern to the northern part of the harbor that's marked with buoys. But even when you get to the northern part, there are shallows to watch out for. One of them, marked as four feet on the charts, is right off of the Beaver Island Marina, which is where we stayed. We kept away from the shallowest part, but as we were approaching the slip our depth sounder (which has an alarm set at five feet) started chirping like crazy. At one point, it read 3.6 feet - which was worrisome, as Meridian has a draft of about 3.5. But with the transponder about 1 1/2 feet under water, that still gave us plenty of clearance.

When we arrived in the marina, the harbor was perfectly calm and it was a sunny day. The water was crystal clear. Here's a view of the harbor bottom from the bridge of Meridian. The water there is about six feet deep.

In keeping with the rest of Beaver Island, the Beaver Island Marina is pretty basic. No luxuries here, but all you really need. And they have a garage where they do mechanical work, so when Phil changed the oil on Tuesday - and used up his supply - he was able to buy a couple of spare quarts of synthetic (they carry Amsoil) from them. They also recycle and ask that you separate paper, glass, plastic, cans, and other - which we happily did.

What we immediately noticed about Beaver Island was just how quiet it was. Very different from the busy resort atmosphere of Charlevoix. There are very few cars and those you encounter tend to travel slowly. That first day, the loudest spot on the island seemed to be our boat, with a few ripples lapping against Meridian's hull creating the only sounds. Once on the island, there was this incredible silence that lulls you into a sense of total relaxation. We found ourselves talking in whispers much of the time!

Here's the view of the harbor during sunset. It was as peaceful as the photo appears.

Beaver Island has a very interesting and unique history. During the mid 1800's, a group of Mormons settled on the island. They eventually drove all non-Mormons away and started building a community. They were led by James Strang who pronounced himself King. Yes, Beaver Island was actually (sort of) a Kingdom for a while. King Strang was assassinated by two of his "subjects" (who were quickly whisked away to safety on the mainland by a ship that just happened to be there at the time) in 1856. Land speculators from the mainland - who wanted to get their hands on the improved land the Mormons had cleared and cultivated - then instigated an angry mob who came over from the mainland and drove the Mormons away.

After the Mormons left - here's the great part - a boatload (literally) of Irish arrived on the island. They came from Arranmore Island in County Donegal, after having been kicked off of their land there. They settled the island and, to this day, there is a huge Irish influence with many of their descendants still on the island. Many of the roads and bays are named for the early Irish settlers, and Gaelic signs abound. Unfortunately, one of the ancestral McCauleys was apparently wanted for excessive noisemaking. When the marina reported a "McCauley" had checked in, well ... it seems the descendents have to pay the dues of the previous generations.

Here's a photo of


We interrupt this blog to bring you this special report

As I (Phil) write this in Harbor Springs, Bernie has suddenly taken it upon herself to begin washing the outside of Meridian. Yes, Bernie is literally swabbing the deck as I type!!!

It's taken over four years to get to this point.



We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog

Ok, back to the blog . . . .

Here's a photo of one of the Irish street names. Did you really think we wouldn't capture this one on film???

And here's Bernie, at the entrance to the Donegal Bay bike path. Note the shamrock.

This bike path is interesting because it's paved. Almost all of the island's roads are dirt or gravel. But they do have their priorities - the Donegal Bay Bike Path is paved (left), while Donegal Bay Road (right), for cars, next to it is still a gravel road! They are planning more paved bike paths on the island.

It's about 35 miles to go completely around the island by bicycle - which we did. The views along the way are worth the variations in gravel roads. (One of the museums mentioned that they had a greyhound bus on the island once. It came over on the ferry, met a car on West Side Drive, a very narrow gravel road, left on the ferry and never came back.) OK, there's a short section that is very sandy - the price you pay for the view of the sand dunes. Besides, it wouldn't be a bike ride if we didn't have to walk the bikes through some sand for a portion of it ;)

Here's a photo of Donegal Bay . . . one of the more popular beaches on the island . . .

The old brick Beaver Island Head Light, which is at the southern end of the island, was restored by a Charlevoix school youth employment program. They purchased it for $1 and have worked on restoring it - it had been vandalized since it wasn't being used nor maintained. They've done a great job - the "before" pictures showed some grafitti and holes in walls. You are now able to climb the stairs to the tower (which is 103 feet above the water surface - according to the signs.)

From the top of the lighthouse you can see the chimneys from the house. Someone has placed stones on the corners of the chimney. It apparently wasn't Monk as the fourth one is missing.

And of course a McCauley Point ... to go along with the Road and the Bay ...

And here's a home we happened upon . . . with a close-up of the signs by the door. Click on the photos to read the detail.

The island boasts 2 museums - the historical museum and the maritime museum. The maritime museum is in an old fish shack and has some great pieces including this life boat from the Carl Bradley -a large freighter that sunk in Lake Michigan, an old WPA mural from the 1930s that was rescued from a building being demolished, and an old fishing boat that is being restored but is open to the public.

One thing we have to mention about Beaver Island is how friendly everyone is. Most people in cars wave at you as they pass by. There was even a newsclipping on the marina wall about a cruiser who, upon spending several days on Beaver Island, thought he must look like someone living there because "everyone waved at me".

Well, ok, they don't wave if you are limping ...

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