It seems strange to be working on a post on Friday, but I’m sure glad I didn’t try to come in last night and write! After a great afternoon on the water and dinner with Hilde and Bud, I fell into bed without – I confess – a single thought of turning on the laptop. When my eyes closed, my brain was still experiencing the up and down of the boat on a VERY blustery day on the Straits of Mackinac, so I kind of rocked myself to sleep, even though I was very much back on solid land. But – even with the rock and roll of the trip AND getting slightly “damp” – oh my goodness, what fun we had!
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
By Wednesday evening I was already beginning to worry that the Shepler’s Lighthouse Cruise would be cancelled. Forecasts were for gale force winds on Thursday, and I knew at least one cruise had been cancelled this summer because of winds. By mid-morning on Thursday, the announcement came from Shepler’s. The West-Bound Cruise (the one we were booked on) had been changed to an East-Bound cruise due to winds. Twenty-five to thirty-five mph winds – and higher gusts – were forecast only for Lake Michigan, so Lake Huron would be ok – bumpy, but ok. Yeahhh – we were going!
We met Hilde and Bud, who arrived on Mackinac on Sunday evening, at the Shepler dock on the Island at 1 p.m. for our trip over to Mac City (where the Lighthouse Cruise departed).
Our own private “Miss Paparazzi” was there to see us off . . .
. . . and we decided – since we were going to be wind-blown all afternoon anyway – to sit on the top deck going over.
In Mackinaw City, we met up with Chris Ann (whose husband Burton couldn’t make the trip at the last moment because of a commitment downstate) and boarded the Wyandot. Having booked the cruise during the winter, we held tickets #1-5 and got our choice of seats. Captain Billy Shepler warned we would get wet on top – maybe a little less wet up close to the pilot house – so that’s where we chose to sit.
Each Lighthouse Cruise is narrated by members of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association (GLLKA), and the two GLLKA gentlemen on board our cruise were Dick Moehl and Terry Pepper).
Even though we were heading east, our first turn was west so we could go under the Mackinac Bridge before leaving the area. Going toward the bridge took us by the Old Mackinac Point Light, opened in 1890 as a fog signal station.
After further appropriations by Congress, additional construction began at the lighthouse in 1892, and the tower and attached duplex keeper’s dwelling were constructed. The Fourth Order Fresnel lens began to flash red every ten seconds on October 25, 1892, when it was activated by Keeper George W. Marshall. When the Mackinac Bridge was constructed in 1957, it quickly became evident that the highly illuminated bridge was an excellent navigation aid, and the Old Mackinac Point light station was decommissioned and locked.
In 1960 the lighthouse property was transferred to Mackinac State Historic Parks and was operated as a maritime museum from 1972 through 1988, when it was again closed to the public. With the recent surge in interest in lighthouses, the Park began a complete restoration of the building and grounds in 2002, and now the station is open to the public during the summer season.
We were only under the bridge for a few minutes, but it was more than enough time for everyone on board to realize we did NOT want to go any further in that direction! We were all very glad when Captain Billy turned the boat east. In the distance, a freighter out of China can be seen making its way toward the bridge.
We loved that the second lighthouse on the tour was our own Round Island Light! We learned the lighthouse was commissioned to guide ships through what is now Round Island Passage. The Army Corps of Engineers began dredging between Mackinac and Bois Blanc Islands in early 1890, and the light was turned on for the first time on the evening of May 15, 1895, showing a steady white light, interrupted by a red flash every twenty seconds.
It was interesting to see the familiar lighthouse from a different angle!
When the Round Island Passage Light was established in 1947 (see below), the Round Island Light was deemed obsolete, and the station was boarded up and abandoned. In the 1970’s, donations from private citizens and an appropriation from the federal government provided a much-needed renovation of the outside of the deteriorating building. The renovation continues, with much of the labor being provided by the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association and Boy Scout Troop 323 from Freeland, Michigan.
Now the exterior of the building is as bright and clean as it was originally and again serves as an active private aid to navigation.
In 1939 the responsibility for the nation’s lighthouses transferred from the Lighthouse Service to the Coast Guard. At that time a major initiative was undertaken to reduce lighthouse operating costs, and by 1980 all Great Lake lighthouses were automated. The Round Island Passage Light – fully automated – was established in 1947. As homage to the area’s rich Native American heritage, large bronze medallions with the profile of a Native American Chief were installed on all four sides of the tower.
We always knew this was here, but we’d never seen it! This is the “cut” between Round Island and Bois Blanc Island. Looking toward these two islands from Mackinac, they appear to be one large body of land.
The Bois Blanc Island light – as it stands today – is the third structure to bear that name. The original light was built in 1829 and came crashing to the ground during a fierce storm in 1837. Two years later, an identical tower was built, and by 1866 that second station was found to be severely deteriorated. This third station was built in 1867, and the old station buildings were torn down.
In 1924, after the erection of permanent lights at Poe Reef and Fourteen Foot Shoal, an automatic light was installed on top of a 35-foot iron tower on Bois Blanc, and the old station was boarded up and abandoned. The station buildings were sold into private hands in 1925, and are now owned by a family from Chicago who have restored the station for use as their summer home.
The Bois Blanc Light became solar-powered in the 1980’s.
Chris Ann – posting photos to Facebook as we toured.
Poe Reef Lighthouse began operation in 1929 and was built to guide ships away from the reef on which it stands (lying just 8′ below the surface of the water) in the South Channel of the Straits of Mackinac.
Construction for the light began on Government Island near Cedarville, where a huge timber crib was built on shore then towed out to the reef and sunk, with the addition of gravel, into pockets in the crib. Wood forms were erected on the crib and filled with concrete, creating the massive concrete pier on which the lighthouse itself was built. The lighthouse became fully automated by solar power in 1974 and still serves as a guide to mariners today.
Ted’s photo of the appropriately named Fourteen Foot Shoal Lighthouse (only 14′ of water covers the shoal). This danger to ships lurked near the main course of entry into Cheboygan Harbor. The foundation crib was built on shore, towed to the shoal, and sunk on the prepared surface of the shoal. When construction was finished in 1930, both the light and fog signals were operated remotely via radio control by the keepers at Poe Reef. The light is now powered automatically by batteries and solar-power and is still an active navigation aid.
The last lights on our tour were those on the Cheboygan River. We entered the channel, rode past the Crib Light . . .
. . . and the new Coast Guard cutter Mackinac.
As we approached the bridge over the Cheboygan River (which I cross whenever I go with Bear to the groomers in Cheboygan), we could see the Front Range Light (light is shining above two vertical red stripes). The light is owned by the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, and they are working to restore the building to its 1920’s appearance, with live-in volunteers opening the building to the public on summer weekends. The original Front Range Light was activated in 1880.
As we turned around at the bridge, I could see Bark, Bath and Beyond, Bear’s doggie spa!
Still in the river, we all noticed the U.S. flag at half-staff in honor of U.S. Navy SEAL Petty Officer David J. Warsen from Kentwood, MI, killed recently with six other Americans in a Black Hawk helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
The final light we passed on our way out of the channel and back into Lake Huron was the Crib Light, rescued from demolition by the City of Cheboygan and moved to its present location (from the end of the peninsula) in 1984.
In 2001 GLLKA members provided the labor and the City of Cheboygan provided the materials to restore the light to its historically accurate appearance.
I haven’t mentioned it so far, but I must tell you that Captain Billy did a most excellent job of piloting our boat on this trip, ensuring the least number of totally soaked passengers. But – with dancing waves and blowing winds – all the perfect maneuvering in the world couldn’t keep some of us dry. The first half of the 3-hour cruise was relatively calm because we were traveling with the wind. But when we turned around to head back to Mackinaw City . . . . well, let’s just say, it got a little more exciting!
I shot this photo of myself by holding the camera over my head and pointing down. Notice hair blowing straight back and the “face-lift” affect of having wrinkles disappear when your skin is being blown backwards! Oh – and yes! My hair is VERY wet! Also notice Bud behind me – yes, that’s him shielding his head with his sweatshirt hood.
Ted, bless his heart, brought his rain jacket. On the way back, he planted himself in front of me and tried to shield me from some of the wind and water.
. . . which resulted in him being VERY wind-blown and VERY wet! What a guy!
Even with the wind and spray, we had a blast on the cruise, and next summer we already have plans to try the West-Bound Cruise and maybe the Extended East-Bound Cruise, which would take us all the way to the Les Cheneaux Islands.
We had dinner at the Chippewa with Hilde and Bud, then said good-bye to them for another year as we boarded a taxi home last evening. Hilde and Bud love this magical island almost – almost – as much as I do, and they try to come every year.
Come back soon, you two! Love ya’ll!
Hoping everyone has a wonderful and safe Labor Day weekend. It’s going to be a busy one for us, and I’m going to take a little time off from my usual schedule. I’ll be back right here next Wednesday (or Tuesday evening) with all the Labor Day fun and whatever else is happening on the Island.
See you then! God bless.
NOTE: Some historical information for this blog was taken from Terry Pepper’s book, “Lighting the Straits – Lighthouses of the Straits of Mackinac”.