Northeast Lake Michigan Heritage, Part 1

The shore of the northeast part of Lake Michigan, from Traverse City north to Mackinaw, is my favorite part of the lower peninsular of Michigan.

It’s home to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, where monstrous sand dunes a few hundred feet high rise out of the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

It’s where many of my Mom’s side of the family were raised or still live.

The towns along the way have American Indian names, like Petoskey, Onaway, Kewadin and more.

It’s one of my favorite places in the US.

There are great (and sometimes challenging) waters from Waugoschance Point out to Beaver Island and south down to the Fox Islands.

This area of the Great Lakes is one of the prettiest and most challenging areas to sail in. The area from Mackinaw City to Beaver Island to the Fox Islands just above Glen Arbor mark the southern portion of some of the most difficult areas to be in bad weather, and the site of a lot of shipwrecks from the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The latest ship to founder there was an ocean-going freighter in the 1960’s.

There are a lot of shipwrecks in this area, most from the 1800’s and early 1900’s, and all caused by some kind of issue due to weather. A wreck could have been a bad storm, or a collision in the fog. Many sailors lost their lives in this area.

Some wrecks are nothing more than shattered wood on beaches, while others are almost perfectly preserved sailing ships in deep water.

Photo Credit: Chris Roxburgh The Westmorland shipwreck located in a 200’ deep unpublished location in Lake Michigan. She used a prop instead of sails. She hauled many tons of grain and meat across the Great Lakes.

Libbie and I decided to go from Mackinaw City to Beaver Island. It was our first time to go to the island, even though I’d grown up in the area.

If you’re familiar with the British Virgin Islands, Mackinac Island is more like Jost Van Dyck, where you have the Pink Pony on Mackinac and the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyck, while Beaver Island is like Anegada, remote and with not a ton of services.

Beaver Island is serviced with two to three daily trips by the car ferry from Charlevoix. There’s a small town at the north end of the island where the harbor is, and a higher end resort on the west side of the island.

Beaver Island has a strong Irish heritage. The Ferry is called Emerald Isle, and there are shamrock flags all over the place. Of course we had to have dinner at the local pub where I enjoyed my first Guinness in a while.

We spent the night at anchor.

We had a “major incident” that night.

About 2am, Libbie woke me up as she came back to bed. That doesn’t happen unless she hears strange noises coming from our garage in Tahoe. That means I need to investigate.

In this case, there was a light, very annoying tapping coming from outside our hull at the waterline. It started in one location but soon spread all around the hull.

I got out of bed after I couldn’t stand it anymore to see what was happening.

It was a herd of about 2 dozen ducks pecking insects off our hull.

I grabbed a boat hook and started going around the boat splashing the water and knocking against the hull. I’m glad it was 2:00AM as I was not dressed for being outside at that hour, so no one saw me.

The ducks realized their peril and left.

We slept better after that.

The next morning was a great forecast for light winds and smooth water.

We headed to more familiar territory in the Lake Charlevoix area. It was a six hour trip.

At the head of Lake Charlevoix is the town of Charlevoix, one of the nicer ports on the east side of Lake Michigan.

It’s a fun place to visit in the summer.

It’s also my birthplace.

I remember family trips as a kid coming to Charlevoix to shop and have lunch at the Weathervane, one of my grandmother’s favorite restaurants.

As we entered the harbor, there was the Weathervane, updated with a new sundeck.

The harbor is called Round Lake. You enter coming in the inlet, and going under a Bascule Bridge that opens every 30 minutes for pleasure craft.

The entrance to Round Lake and Charlevoix’s harbor. The Weathervane Restaurant is just to the left of the bridge.

Anchoring is a little difficult as the average depth is 50 feet, which is about four times deeper than we like to anchor. The harbor was full, so we had to continue on, but I made reservations for our return trip north back to Mackinaw City.

Earnest Hemingway grew up on Lake Charlevoix, and some of his short stories reflect that with his typically gloomy writing style.

A couple of family connections exist with Hemingway.

My grandparents had met Hemingway and were friends with his brother.

Libbie’s mom went to Sun Valley to go skiing around 1948 and danced with Hemingway while she was there.

We spent our first night in Oyster Bay, a little bay on Lake Charlevoix. It’s a very nice, quiet bay with plenty of shelter from prevailing winds. There were a lot of families on their boats playing in the water as we came in to anchor.

After dark on Oyster Bay

Oyster Bay was a happening place 100 years ago.

Hemingway was rumored to have frequented the place as a young man.

There was an old barge schooner, the Keuka, transformed into a gambling casino that was anchored there.

It was one of those legal gambling establishments that the authorities tried numerous times to shut down, to no avail. It was not until there was a shooting on the Keuka before things wound down.

Eventually the old barge mysteriously sank. The wreck of that barge is in Oyster Bay.

There’s a pretty interesting writeup about the Keuka at this site:

A 3d model of Kueka as she sits on the bottom. This is from a photo survey found on, a really cool site you can use to explore Great Lakes shipwrecks from your computer.

The next day we went down the South Arm of Lake Charlevoix to the small town of East Jordan.

My mom’s family is from East Jordan, where she grew up . Her dad was one of 13 children raised in the town, and so there were a bunch of relatives we always ran into when visiting.

Her grandfather, father and two of her uncles founded the East Jordan Iron Works. It is still a very successful business today, run by distant cousins of mine.

Selkie in front of the Iron Works. There’s a lot of family legacy here. My grandfather was CEO and Chairman before he retired. I spent a summer working there.

You can walk down a lot of streets in the US and find street gratings, manhole covers and fire hydrants that say East Jordan Iron Works, EJIW or EJ on them.

It’s a source of pride for our family, and why I’m always looking down at the pavement when walking through a new town.

When I find a manhole cover, I’ll touch it with my toe and think of my childhood and family in Northern Michigan.

Coming down the South Arm of Lake Charlevoix, we anchored outside of East Jordan. I dinghied into shore and went to shop at the local Family Mart. I bought provisions while Lib did Pilates on the boat.

We then walked through town a little to see the changes that have happened since I was there last. Lib wanted to see the Iron Works, so we walked up to the hill overlooking the foundry and I pointed out various parts of it to her.

We then weighed anchor and headed to an anchorage at the north end of the South Arm. We dinghied into The Landing in Ironton.

The view at the Landing

We had a great meal there. It’s known as a fun place to celebrate. My grandfather and two uncles took me there as a young man to celebrate my college graduation.

The Landing is right next to the Ironton Ferry, which is a cable-guided ferry that carries roughly six vehicles at a time. When we were kids, we begged our parents to use the Ironton Ferry to visit our grandparents. They often agreed to do so. Good memories.

The Ironton Ferry. We used to beg our parents to take the ferry to my grandparents house. It was a disappointing day when we couldn’t.

We went back to the boat and settled in for the night.

Selkie at anchorage with her anchor light on

The next day we planned on heading further south. I’ll talk about that in another post soon.

By Tad Sheldon

I'm a retired Silicon Valley Technologist and Director. I teach skiing as a 4th (5th? 6th?) career for fun, and am passionate about Boating. I'm even more passionate about my family and friends. I volunteer occasionally for non-profit Boards, and currently serve as the Secretary of the Board for Western Division of the Professional Ski Instructors of America / American Association of Snowboard Instructors.

One reply on “Northeast Lake Michigan Heritage, Part 1”

Enjoyed your latest blog post Tad. Thinking about it after reading the post for a minute, I was struck with this thought. In many ways we had similar summers, though mine much less grandiose in execution, it was comparable in that we both retraced our early history by returning to the hallowed ground of our families history.
How proud you must have been, a son of Michigan, of Macinaw, returning as an experienced waterman, seafarer, under your own power after such a journey to where it all started. I can only imagine. As well your family, most realizing the time, effort, planning, and execution it takes to undertake such a trip; how their pride must have washed over them as they welcomed you back to the shores of many generations of your family on Selkie.

Well done my friend, my happiness for you and Libby couldn’t be more fully realized.


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