Open Water Trips

Adventures in Open Water in Small Boats

South Manitou Island, MI

Trip Report: South Manitou Island, MI

On a recent mid-August Wednesday afternoon My wife Jeanie, Peg and Tom, and I set out on the 350 mile drive to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore northwest of Traverse City, MI. We had made no arrangements for wends night and had thought we might find a cheap roadside motel as we headed north. There is a tremendous amount of summer activity in this area and it was soon evident that we should follow the signs indicating a campground. After what seems like endless miles down dark country roads we happen upon an empty campground. A notice instructed us to take any empty site and check-in in the morning. Finding an empty site was not much of a challenge since we were the only people there! The sky was clear and there didn’t appear to be any insects so Tom and I rolled out our bags. Jean and Peg opted to sleep in the van. During the night I had an unshakable thought that I had forgotten to load my paddling gear bag. Not wanting to disturbed the women by rummaging through the van at 2:00AM I tossed and turned the night away trying to convince myself that I couldn’t have been so careless. Sunrise arrived and with great relief I found my bag with all its essentials in the van.

We still had approx. an hour or so to drive to Leyland were Jean and Peg had reservation on the South Manitou Island ferry. Tom And I dropped our wives and their kayaks at the dock and proceeded to drive the 22 miles south to Glen Haven.

In bygone days Glen Haven was an important lumber shipping point for the lumber industry. The village sits on a beautiful sandy beach and consists of a few well-preserved vacant buildings, a former cherry cannery that now houses a collection of vintage boats and a vacant inn. The village is within the boundaries of the national park.

Tom and I carried our boats to the beach and packed them up for the 8 mile crossing to South Manitou Island. It was around 9:00AM. The wind was south southwest at approx. 10mph, temp. was in the low 70’s and pretty much overcast. The visibility was unlimited and we could clearly see the old South Manitou lighthouse, which is next to landing dock. I had loaded the landing point into my gps and had taken a heading off my charts, both coincided with our current bearings (to my surprise). The water temp. felt rather chilly at the beach but seem to warm considerably as we got away from shore. We stated in the lee of the mainland and the lake was fairly calm for the first mile or so. As we got more to the middle of the passage the wind and waves built more toward the forecasted 10-15mph with 2-3 foot seas. Though there were some white caps we had mostly 2-3 rolling swells, which were just off our stern, not quite following. The wind and waves made for pretty much ideal conditions. During the final mile or so, being the most exposed, we encounter an occasional larger breaking wave presenting an opportunity to catch a few free rides. The crossing took about two hours and we arrived just after the ferry.

On arrival the ranger greeted the 40 or so ferry passengers and us and gave a quick does and don’ts talk. Then it was off to find a campsite. South Manitou has three campgrounds. We elected to stay at Bayside and found a nice site not far from the beach. After setting up camp we all head out for a pre dinner paddle. We found a shoal that had some small surf and play around for a while.

We all slept in a little Friday morning and then enjoyed a big breakfast. We had two paddle options for Friday. Plan one was two make the 4 mile crossing to North Manitou Island and plan two was to circulm navigate the 12 miles coast of S. Manitou. The fog was rolling in an out so we thought we would see more by staying close to shore. We took most of the day and had a leisurely day exploring the shore. This is truly a world-class kayak destination! We had lunch on a narrow sandy beach at the base of some of the largest sand dunes I’ve seen. The “perched” dunes stretch for 2 miles and are over 500’ tall. They are spectacular. After lunch we continued around the island to the site of a 1960’s shipwreck. This also is a pretty cool sight. The freighter run aground in the sixties and has been stuck there rusting away 200 yards off shore ever since. Much of the ship is above the water line.

Back at the camp we took a swim in the crystal clear and warm water before dinner. Then it was early to bed after a day in the sun and water.

Saturday morning Tom and I packed up our yaks for the crossing back and helped Jean and Peg get the rest of the gear to the ferry landing. The ferry leaves the island at 4:00PM which gave the women most of the afternoon to hike some of the islands numerous trails. Tom and I wanted to make the crossing before noon as the weather forecast called for increasing wind and waves after 3:00PM.

Fog had cut the visibility to about 2-3 miles; the wind was out of the south at 15 mph and the waves as we left the island were 3-4 foot with some chop. This was as rough as it got. As we made our way across the passage the wave lessened and visibility increased to 4 miles. We were a little surprised that we had actually made the crossing back into the wind in less than one hour, fast than the crossing with the wind.

Tom and I had a few hours to kill, as the women wouldn’t be back with the ferry until 6:00PM. We went to a very nice beach in Leland for a swim. The fog had cleared and we had a good view of the island and the crossing we had just made. Around 4:30 the waves had begun to pick up and by 5:00PM we were body surfing in 5’ers. By now the passage was pretty turned up. At this point the conditions were well above what I would have been comfortable in. We were both glad we had left early and now had the crossing behind us.

We meet up with Jean and Peg and made the long drive back to Chicago. This was a great trip but we really needed at least one more day!

Dave Kaknes

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