Page 1 of 1

Lake Michigan: South Manitou Island

Posted: Wed Aug 17, 2016 10:30 am
by jimh
We recently visited South Manitou Island in Lake Michigan. It is part of the U.S. Park Service National Lakeshore. The island is about 17 miles from the port of Leland, Michigan. We have visited it several times. The weather forecast this day was quite discouraging. For northern Lake Michigan the NOAA meteorologists were calling for winds of 10 to 20 knots and wave heights of two to four feet in the afternoon. I called the harbormaster at Leland and asked him for a first-hand report of what he was seeing. He said the lake was quite calm and winds were very light at the harbor at ten o'clock. We decided to go, despite the dismal forecast.

Getting to Leland was a bit of a problem There was an enormous sidewalk sale or other event taking place in Leland that morning and cars were parked everywhere. We had a hard time just turning off M-22 into the marina due to a swarm of cars looking for parking places, double-parked delivery trucks, and illegally parked cars. We were lucky to get to the ramp without a collision. I don't know if that happens every Thursday or if some special event was schedule that day. [Turns out to be a one-day-only special sidewalk-sale, Chris informs me.]

Once at the ramp and thanks to the good policing of the trailer parking lot by the harbormaster and his staff, there were many open trailer parking spots--not a single one taken up with some yuppie's expensive German sports car come to buy some fudge or a tee-shirt.

The weather was quite iffy. When we left Northport, on the eastern side of the peninsula, the weather was just partly cloudy. When we got to Leland, on the western side, the weather looked much more ominous. The sky was completely gray and showed no distinct clouds, and the western horizon was darker. I checked weather RADAR with my smartphone; there was a line of thunderstorms over Green Bay, Wisconsin, and they were moving northeast. It looked like they were about two hours away. I figured we had time to get out to South Manitou, and once there we could reassess the weather.

The imperative to go though the weather was less than ideal came from having four extended-family members aboard. We wanted to show them South Manitou, even if we could only spend a short time out there. We launched from Leland about 11 a.m. on a cloudy Thursday morning.

After launching we took on 20-gallons of fuel, which was REC 90 pure gasoline at $3.50-per-gallon. That is a decent price at a fuel dock on the Great Lakes. You pay about that on the highway for similar non-ethanol premium. We cleared the shoaling inlet, with depths of at least 6-feet indicated all the way out to open water. Then we got on plane and ran at about 28-MPH into one-foot head seas with an occasionally larger wave or boat wake mixed in. On the way we stopped to observe the North Manitou Shoal Light, which is presently being auctioned off by the government. See ... _up_f.html


We arrived at the beautiful natural harbor of South Manitou Island and approached the National Park Service (NPS) Dock. The dock has been much improved since our last visit there. The original dock had a long pier with a L-dock at the end for the ferry boat to lay against while embarking or disembarking passengers. The deck height of the old dock was much too high for a small boat. I remember we had to ascend from the boats to the dock by using one of the boats' radar arch as a ladder to climb up onto the old dock. I don't believe that visit was in a particularly low-water year. This year Lake Michigan is almost three-feet above chart datum, which is a typical water level. The dock height was perfectly suited for a very easy step up from the gunwale of our Boston Whaler to the dock, which was less that a foot higher. The dock has also been extended a further 100-feet into the harbor, and a new L-dock built at the end. The result is there is about 150-feet of usable dock space on the east side of the dock and about the same on the west side. A small sign announces "Private boats 30-minute limit" for docking. However, on this day (and probably due to the weather approaching) we were the only private boat at the dock. When greeted by a park ranger we did not get any lecture about only staying 30-minutes. We told him we planned to take a short hike around the immediate area.

This reception was quite different from our last visit. Unable to get to the dock the last time we were there, we picked up a mooring buoy in the harbor. The NPS brochure had informed us that there were mooring buoys in the park that should be used in preference to anchoring due to the presence of wrecks on the bottom. We put our painter on the park service buoy and tried to eat lunch. A few minutes later a young 20-something woman in Park Service uniform and carrying a holstered pistol approached us on the bow of a massive 45-foot Park Service boat. She hailed us and informed us we must get off that mooring as it was for "her boat." The mooring was much too small to hold the giant 45-foot just-build gleaming aluminum ship on whose foredeck she stood adamantly, so I think "her boat" must have been something much smaller for local use in the harbor. It was apparent that "her boat" was not there at this time, so I asked her if it would be okay if we just loitered on "her mooring" for a few minutes while we ate our lunch. She insisted we must immediately cease use of "her mooring." Standing on the bow pulpit of that big 45-foot aluminum hull, with body language that showed a lot of resolve, in her creased and pressed Park Service uniform--and also that automatic pistol on her hip--conveyed to me a notion that she was not going to be dissuaded about use of that mooring for another twenty minutes. We left without ever getting ashore.

On this visit, the Park Service rangers we encountered were a bunch of old white guys with beards who seemed quite laid back and more interested in providing information about the historical nature of the buildings and lighthouse than enforcing mooring ownership or limits on time to tie to a completely empty dock whose ferry had just departed and would not return for several hours.

Before discharging our crew I was able to get updated weather RADAR. The thunderstorm line was now just reaching the western shore of Lake Michigan, 60-miles away. I told everyone we had to be back to the dock in one hour. Our crew spread out to explore the grounds. There are an old lifeboat service building with an old lifeboat, some old cottages, and the old lighthouse itself. They are quite interesting to visit. There are hiking trails for longer treks around the island, which I believe can take you to the dune bluff.

About an hour later everyone was back aboard. We ate our lunch at the dock. I again checked the weather RADAR. (It is nice to have cell coverage this far offshore and be able to get almost-real-time RADAR.) The storm front had split into two segments, and the worst of it was now passing north of our position. We were sitting in a little clear spot. The wind had died down to almost nothing. We got back into the open water of Lake Michigan and found the wave height was down to about six-inches. We ran on plane over to Pyramid Point.

We rounded Pyramid Point and got into its lee. The western sky was now much lighter and some individual clouds were beginning to appear overhead instead of a blank sheet of gray sky. The temperature was about 85-degrees and the humidity about a match, 85-percent. The water temperature was an inviting 75-degrees. We were in about 10-feet of crystal clear water with no wind, no waves, no current, and the clear and sandy bottom in view. I deployed the swim ladder and everyone jumped in for a refreshing twenty minutes as we let the boat just drift.

After that we headed back to Leland. The ladies mentioned they might want to take a look at that sidewalk sale, so we got on plane and made the harbor by about 3 p.m. The sun actually came out from the clouds for about ten minutes, then disappeared again. The ladies went off shopping and I hauled the boat onto the trailer.

Quite unexpectedly, I was soon hailed by Jim Dunlap (aka JIMD), an old Boston Whaler boating friend from the east coast who often vacations in Michigan in the summer. We had not seen each other since the Boston Whaler factory-sponsored rendezvous event in Dewitt on Torch Lake in 2007. He was staying nearby and had his newly refurbished OUTRAGE 22 CUDDY WHALER DRIVE boat in the marina. We had a very pleasant gam and took a quick look at his new boat. It is a beauty, with lots of brightwork varnish touches added everywhere. A pair of classic OMC 150-HP V6 engines are on the Whaler Drive, and some custom-fitted Wm. J. Mills & Co. canvas--done at their facility on Long Island--looked really nice. Seat and console risers and high-gloss varnish on the RPS and stern deck hatches gave the boat a yachty look.

All in all, quite a nice four hours of boating, even with the weather threatening. The new dock at South Manitou and a more relaxed attitude from the Park Service made for a most enjoyable visit. And running into an old Whaler pal is always fun. A good day on the water, indeed.

jimdAtLelandAug2016.jpg (52.43 KiB) Viewed 8163 times

Jim Dunlap and his very nicely restored Boston Whaler OUTRAGE 22 CUDDY WHALER DRIVE boat, seen here at the Leland Marina, August 2016.

Because of the iffy weather and some time constraints, on this trip we did not get a chance to visit the western shore of South Manitou Island, but I will offer this photograph of what you will find out there on a beautiful sunny day, which we did in September 2005:


Also, I must mention that we were carrying a National Park Service Senior Pass, which I think permits all occupants of a vehicle to enter a National Park. However, no rangers or anyone on the island ever asked us for any sort of verification of having paid any fee for admittance. (This was also quite a change from some other boater's earlier experience with the NPS and this island.)

Re: Lake Michigan: South Manitou Island

Posted: Wed Aug 17, 2016 12:13 pm
by jimh
Crossing the Manitou Passage to South Manitou Island from Leland should not be undertaken lightly. The winds tend to funnel through that slot and wave heights can become quite high. As we were heading out for South Manitou in relatively moderate conditions, I commented to my firstmate Chris, "I would not want to be out here in a boat any smaller than this one," our Boston Whaler REVENGE 22 Walk-Through Whaler Drive.

Not long before our August trip, a fleet of sailboats participating in the Chicago-to-Mackinaw sailboat race were making high speeds in stormy conditions through the passage. The One-design-48 sailboat WhoDo was surfing along at about 15-knots when it buried its bow into a wave and was knocked down. The boat's rudder and part of the hull broke off, and the boat soon down-flooded and sank. A good account is given at ... again.html

There are also two short recordings made just before and during the knockdown linked in the above article.

This incident was reported in local television news broadcasts in rather amusing fashion, giving a good illustration of just how little television news presenters actually know about the events they report. One broadcast journalist stated the boat sank in 200-feet of water but its mast was still above water by about 25-feet, projecting "like a spear" and creating a hazard to other boats. Another wag claimed that since the hull was made of carbon fiber it was buoyant and would not sink, perhaps ignoring the 8,820 pounds of lead cast to the bottom of the fin keel. The article linked above says the boat sank quickly in about 30-feet of water, no doubt leaving some of its mast exposed.

No harm came to anyone from the the sinking of the WhoDo except perhaps to the owner's checkbook, but tragic stories from the Manitou Passage are unfortunately not rare. In July of 2013 a 48-year-old father and his 8-year-old son were attempting to cross in a canoe with water temperature at 55-degrees, departing from North Manitou Island. They capsized the canoe about a mile offshore from Sleeping Bear Point (about ten miles from the southern tip of North Manitou) and spent five hours in the water before being rescued. The eight-year-old died later from hypothermia, despite being airlifted to hospital.

Re: Lake Michigan: South Manitou Island

Posted: Wed Aug 17, 2016 1:14 pm
by porthole
Twenty-somethings with a gun--I find that to be more of a concern when they are federals. Municipal and State LEO's, no matter how young, usually are much easier to deal with.