August 12, 2012
When the winds finally seemed calm enough to leave Mackinac Island, we headed for Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, a place we had heard of for years, but never visited.
First we said a final good-bye to Mackinac, and the really enjoyable four days we had spent there. As we left the harbor, we passed the Grand Hotel and the picturesque Round Island lighthouse just outside Mackinac's harbor.
After fueling at St. Ignace on the mainland, we headed through the Straits of Mackinac and under the beautiful Mackinac Bridge. We had cruised under the bridge several years ago in our 26’ Bayliner, and it was no less impressive this time. You seem to approach the bridge forever, and as you get closer, the cars and trucks driving over it look like tiny toys.
Passing under the bridge, we left Lake Huron and entered Lake Michigan.
Out cruise to Beaver Island was a bit choppy but nothing like the lake had delivered the previous few days. Nonetheless, it was breezy when we pulled into St. James harbor, and we were happy to dock. Marc’s Ark was already there, and helped direct us in, as the marina staff seemed pretty clueless.
Beaver Island, the largest island in Lake Michigan, has an interesting history. In the mid-1800s, after the death of Joseph Smith, a faction of Mormans who followed church leader James Strang rather than Brigham Young formed a settlement on Beaver Island. Eventually Strang declared himself king of the Mormons and Beaver Island became a de facto kingdom. After Strang was assassinated by two of his former followers, the Mormons left and the island was repopulated with Irish immigrants, the descendants of whom form a large part of the current population. Today Beaver Island is primarily a tourist destination and fishing haven.
Marc arranged for us to use the marina car for the afternoon and the four of us drove around the entire island in a couple of hours. The rough map we had defined the roads as “paved” (very few of those), “gravel,” “good dirt road,” and “poor dirt road.” We tried all four and couldn't tell much difference. After the tourist hubbub of Mackinac, this was a very quiet place.
We visited and climbed to the top of the Beaver Island lighthouse, which now belongs to the local school district.
Towards the end of our tour, we ran across the tiny little fish market where we had heard the fish was caught and sold fresh each day. We went in and found they were selling whitefish and lake trout. When we asked for lake trout, we were told it would be a couple of minutes, as he was still filleting it in the back room. We took home 1.5 pounds of the very freshest trout for $11.
The fisherman is also a well-known carver of totems, one of which was in progress in back of the fish market.
That evening we had wine time with Marc and Michele on their boat and later I cooked the trout for dinner. We’ve been eating fish nonstop for weeks, but this was maybe the best we’ve had. We had enough left to warm up for lunch the next day, and it was so fresh it was even wonderful reheated.
Beaver Island was a quiet stop, but oh that fish made it memorable!
Next, Harbor Springs and Charlevoix.
(Real time update: On September 7 we are at Hoppie’s Marina in Kimmswick, MO on the Mississippi River. We have been here for two days riding out some severe afternoon thunderstorms. Tomorrow we will head downriver and will try to get as far as we can in this pretty unpleasant stretch of the trip.)