Promote Michigan Blog

Celebrating Michigan’s Boating Heritage

Dianna Stampfler SailingBoating is big business in Michigan! We currently rank 4th in the nation for the number of registered watercraft with 898,289 (as of February, 2015), according to the Michigan Secretary of State. Michigan registered boaters spent $873 million on trips during the relatively short boating season. Overall, the industry contributes about $2 billion to the state’s economy.

There are also about 1,400 boating businesses that create 16,670 direct boating industry jobs in Michigan. That’s everything from sales and marinas, to the countless companies that build boats here—including Manitou, Four Winns, Tiara and many others.

Of course, with our 3,126 miles of Great Lake Shoreline (more freshwater coastline than any other state) and 38,575 square miles of Great Lakes Water area, not to mention the 11,000 inland lakes (more than Minnesota—the “Land of 10,000 lakes) and 36,000 miles of rivers and streams, means we’re ideally situated to be a top boating state.

Michigan’s boating history is extensive as well. First, with birchbark canoes, then with schooners, riverboats, freighters, commercial fishing tugs, sailboats, pontoons, speed boats, yachts and expansive cruisers. Just about any type of boat can be found on the waters of Pure Michigan.

Not being an active boater myself, I’ve had the pleasure of a few unique experiences this summer. First, I was invited to cover the historic Bayview to Mackinac Yacht Race back in July (read about that here). From there, it was out on The Pointer, then a planned sail aboard Bernida in South Haven (to be rescheduled for September 9; specific details to come)

The PointerThe Pointer, Harbor Springs

The area which is now The Pointer Room at Stafford’s Pier Restaurant in downtown Harbor Springs is literally “on the water” on the shores of Little Traverse Bay.

From the 1930s until 1962, the space was the boat house for the Harbor Point Association’s water taxi, The Pointer, which ran between Harbor Point and the Village of Harbor Springs. As there were no cars allowed on Harbor Point at the time, The Pointer provided a vital link for the residents of the association during the summer months. There were a total of three different vessels, all named The Pointer, which ran from 1930 until 1962.

Originally built in 1934, the current boat was restored by Van Dam Wood Craft in 1989 for Stafford Smith and Dudley Marvin of Stafford’s Hospitality. Using vintage photographs by Virgil Haynes, Harbor Springs boat builder Steve Van Dam spent seven months creating an authentic restoration of The Pointer, including the green upholstered interior seating and side curtains. He added a beautifully designed compass rose table, ice storage area and sink to make the vessel a bit more yacht like. As close as Van Dam can figure, The Pointer was a work boat built in Chassell, Michigan, with painted wood construction typical of Scandinavian design.

In May of 1990, Stafford’s Hospitality relaunched The Pointer, and this completely restored boat is now on display in the water outside Stafford’s Pier Restaurant, in the exact location where residents and visitors formerly caught the boat for service to the Harbor Point Hotel. For the 25 years that followed, courtesy rides were offered throughout the summer.

Over the last year and a half, The Pointer has again been extensively upgraded by crews at Irish Boat Shop to meet today’s United States Coast Guard standards for a passenger vessel for hire. After two summers of rest, she is once again available for harbor cruises.

The 75-minute tour departs from Dudley’s Deck several times per day (weather permitting). The tour hugs the shoreline of historic associations including Harbor Point and Wequetonsing. The cost is $20 per person, with a 12 person maximum capacity. Tours will run into the autumn season, as long as water conditions allow. For tour departure dates and times, call (231) 881-8048 or visit

For pictures from my excursion on The Pointer, click here.

BernidaBernida, South Haven

I became fascinated with this 1920s-era sailboat while researching the centennial of the Bayview Yacht Club in Detroit last fall. This quickly led me to a book by Al Declercq and Tom Ervin called Bernida: A True Story that Can’t Be True. From the first page, I was hooked on her story.

Below is my account of Bernida, as it appeared in the summer issue of Michigan BLUE Magazine (reprinted on on July 1, 2015):

It is said Bernida does not replicate history…she IS history. And she has quite a story to share.

Considered a thoroughbred racing yacht, the 32-foot sloop Bernida (originally named Ruweida III) was launched in 1921 in New England and made her way to the Great Lakes in time for the inaugural Bayview to Mackinac Yacht Race in 1925. With Russ Pouliot at the helm, Bernida made her presence known as she sailed into victory with a time of 49 hours, 50 minutes. She won again in 1927.

From there, it was off to Holland and Pentwater before this fast and elegant boat went into hiding, lost for a considerable amount of time before being rediscovered by Toby Murray in a barn near Frankfort some 80 years later. She was later purchased by Bart Huthwaite, who hired Emory Barnwell to restore her to her glory.

By 2012, Bernida was ready to slice through the water again as a contender in the Bayview to Mackinac Yacht Race. She did not disappoint. Just like she had done 87 years prior, Bernida won the race with a corrected time of 41:34:42, with Al Declercq as skipper. Al recounts the entire saga in a book he wrote, with Tom Ervin, called Bernida: A True Story that Can’t Be True.

Within weeks of her triumph, Bernida was donated to the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven, where public sails are offered throughout the summer season. With a volunteer captain and crew aboard, Bernida can carry up to four passengers who wish to experience this swift and historic champion boat. The cost is $50 per person, for a two-hour sail, by appointment only.

Sailing on Bernida was one of the 15 things on my 2015 Bucket List, yet Mother Nature had different plans on the morning of August 29 when I was to set sail on her with my mother. The trip has been rescheduled for Wednesday, September 9—and will likely be her last excursion for the season before she is put to rest for the winter. My recount of that trip will be added following my trip.

The Michigan Maritime Museum also offers boating experiences aboard the Lindy Lou—an electric powered river launch, and the Friends Good Will tall ship—a replica of a sloop built in Michigan in 1810. For details on each of these boats, including sailing schedules and fares, visit

A handful of multi-day boating excursions are also offered this fall around Michigan.

ManitouTall Ship Manitou, Traverse City

Leave your busy schedules and the daily grind in the wind as you head out on the freshwaters of Grand Traverse Bay aboard the Schooner Manitou. The Traverse Tall Ship Company is once again offering a series of educational and entertaining multi-day cruises throughout the fall color tour months of September and October. During these trips, guests enjoy a relaxing, stress-free get-away, while visiting quaint coastal villages and soaking up the panoramic views of the northern Michigan shoreline. These are definitely Pure Michigan experiences.

Excursions with remaining availability for this fall include:

6-Day Explorer Cruise (September 9-15, 2015) – Cost $704: per person.

Join us on a longer cruise and fully embrace the rhythm of wind, wave, and shipboard life. This one books quickly!

4-Day Star Gazer Cruise (September 17-21, 2015) – Cost: $577 per person.

We’re excited to be joined by Mary Stewart Adams, director of the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, who will guide us through a journey of the night sky. Mary is a star lore historian, storyteller and author who has been immersed in the history of star knowledge for nearly 30 years. She led the initiative that resulted in International Dark Sky Park designation for the Headlands property in Emmet County, MI, which later resulted in the State of Michigan passing legislation to protect the night sky over an additional 23,000 acres of state park and forest land.

Mary writes and speaks extensively to local, national and international audiences on our relationship to the night sky and its cultural consequences, and has received numerous honors for her work. In addition, she is a member of the International Dark Sky Places Committee of the International Dark Sky Association, protecting and designating dark sky sites around the world. Mary’s weekly radio program “The Storyteller’s Guide to the Night Sky” airs during Morning Edition on Interlochen Public Radio every Monday. Mary makes her home under the starry skies of Harbor Springs, MI.

4-Day Michigan Craft Beer Cruise (September 24-28, 2015) – Cost: $577 per person.

In recent years, Michigan has made a name for itself as one of the premier craft brew states in the country. What better way to partake of these fine beverages than from the deck of a beautiful vessel resting in a peaceful harbor! Chef and craft beer aficionado Amy Sherman will serve as host and guide as we enjoy tastings with hors d’oeuvres, followed by specifically designed food pairings with dinner. After graduating from Aquinas College, Amy Sherman found her true calling in the kitchen.

A 20 year restaurant veteran, she’s held every job possible, from ravioli runner, prep chef, book keeper, waitress, to manager, sous chef and pastry chef.  She has taught cooking classes throughout West Michigan, runs a catering company called Two Chicks and an Oven, and with her husband runs the local food company, Farmlink. As the host of the Great American Brew Trail, she drank her way across Michigan, one pint at a time. She currently hosts a podcast called “Behind the Mitten” with MLive’s John Gonzalez, and leads culinary adventures here in the states and Europe.  Her main job, however, is being mom to three ruffians in Grand Rapids.


As one of the largest sailing ships on the Great Lakes, the Manitou is a replica of an 1800s “coasting” cargo schooner. A traditional two-masted, gaff rigged, topsail schooner, Manitou measures 114 feet in length with more than 3000 square feet of sail.

There is plenty of space for sitting and moving around the decks while under sail. While aboard the Manitou, passengers are free to leave the sailing to the experienced crew or lend a hand and learn the arts of the sailor. An excursion aboard the Manitou allows you to remove yourself from the trappings of modern life: no TV, phone (cell phones are discouraged), internet, email and definitely, no itinerary.

Trips are limited to 22 individuals, with accommodations provided in 11 double-bunk cabins. Fare includes lodging, all meals and sailing activities.

To make reservations for any of the 2015 Manitou sailing adventures, call toll free (800) 678-0383, ext. 2 or order tickets online. Gift certificates are also available. For additional information about the Manitou, including its corporate charters, log on to

Traverse Tall Ship Company is located at 13258 S.W. Bay Shore Drive (M22) in Traverse City and shares a dock with the fleet from the Maritime Heritage Alliance, creating a unique nautical experience for the area.

Keweenaw StarKeweenaw Star, Charlevoix

There’s no better way to soak up the fall colors of Pure Michigan than from the water. Keweenaw Excursions is offering a 3-day excursion that will take passengers up the St. Mary’s River, through the Soo Locks and into Lake Superior, aboard its 110-foot Keweenaw Star. The trip runs Monday, September 28* through Wednesday, September 30.

The trip begins Saturday morning at the State Docks in the village of DeTour, in the eastern Upper Peninsula. From there, the Star will travel north to explore the hundreds of tree-filled islands of Potagannissing Bay, through the North Channel of Georgian Bay and over to the Canadian town of Bruce Mines, to view the lighthouse at McKay Point.

From there, its west past Sister Rock lighthouse and through the narrows of the Wilson Channel, then over to the north side of St. Joseph Island, which should be ablaze in fall colors. Just past the Shoal Island Lighthouse, the Star enters the St. Mary’s River in the Middle Neebish Channel and heads north toward Sault Ste Marie.

The evening concludes with a trip through the Soo Locks and out into Lake Superior, before returning to Sault Ste Marie for the night.

Sunday offers options for passengers. The first is to board a bus for trip to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point in the town of Paradise, including a stop at Tahquamenon Falls State Park.+

Or, those wishing to stay and explore Sault Ste Marie can take in attractions such as the Museum Ship Valley Camp, Tower of History and the viewing platform for the Soo Locks, for up-closing viewing of the transiting freighters.

On Monday, the Star begins her voyage south down the St. Mary’s River, with passage through the famed Rock Cut and back to the dock in DeTour.

Cost for the excursion is $475 per person, based on double occupancy ($550 per person, single occupancy) and includes transportation, two night’s accommodations at the Kewadin Casino in Sault Ste Marie as well as a gaming package, and most meals. Space is limited and reservations are required by calling (231) 237-9365.

The Keweenaw Star offers a full cash bar with snacks, as well as a climate-controlled main cabin, full dining room, walk-around main deck and open-air top deck.

Operating since 2000 Keweenaw Excursions is owned and operated by brothers Jason and Kraig Funkey. The company originated in Houghton, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and moved to Charlevoix in 2009. With a capacity of 130 passengers, the Keweenaw Star offers a range of cruises from mid-May through mid-October, including sunset tours, sightseeing trips and multi-day lighthouse and ship-watching cruises. The boat is also available for private charters, for events such as corporate outings, weddings, rehearsal dinners and reunions.

*A block of rooms has been set up at the Cedarville Lodge in the town of Cedarville, just 20 minutes from the State Dock in Detour, for $79 for Friday and Monday evenings, for those needing additional accommodations. Be sure to ask for the Keweenaw Excursion block when making reservations.

+The bus tour option is an added $62 per person and includes transportation, admission to the museum and state park, as well as lunch. Space is limited to the first 57 passengers.

For additional boating options around Pure Michigan, visit Travel Michigan’s award-winning website at

Safe Travels!

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