Set in formidable isolation, a lighthouse complex was built on the island in 1867 for obvious reasons. But in early 2006,
John McKinney and I (FILA co-founders, along with H. Joerg Rothenberger), got an e-mail from two kayakers asking for assistance.
Steve Zimmerman and Jim Viviano from Kalamazoo were planning what they termed one of the most important journeys of their lifetime - a 150 mile kayaking sojourn that would take them from the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore through the Mackinaw Straits to Cheboygan.
As lay-person keepers of a lonely offshore light, we had to inform them that they were on their own on such a trip, but we sure would try to be there to greet them and help in any way we could.
With weather playing first fiddle in
the endeavor, and safety and equipment closely following, the pair spent the winter training, building up strength and endur-ance for the journey. Their starting point was to be the Cannery at Glen Haven in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The pair had to face several open water crossings that exceeded five miles - the most formidable of which was the
17-mile stretch between North Manitou and South Fox Island. They felt it crucial
to stay overnight on South Fox to both
lessen any risks and keep their mandatory mileage to a minimum.
One of the main reasons for their trip was an interest in lighthouses, especially the remote ones. They were granted permission to camp on Squaw Island, and they had friends to stay with on Beaver Island. There was no problem staying on the Manitou Islands because they are both part of the national lakeshore.
Zimmerman and Viviano had kayaked the Manitou Islands several times in the past. Mindful of Lake Michigans many moods, they coordinated departure and support for the first leg of the trip with the NPS rangers at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Viviano said the duo planned on reaching their destination in six days. We chose June as our time frame after researching past weather patterns in order to try and predict when we will have the most consistent mild weather, and we have three days for weather contingency built into our schedules.
In addition to the typical safety equipment carried while kayak touring, the pair carried a cell phone and a VHF radio, as well as visual signaling devices. The VHF radio gave access to 10 NOAA weather channels, as well as emergency frequencies. They left virtually nothing left to chance, logging a float-plan with Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and maintaining communication with them throughout the trip.
Zimmerman and Viviano did a practice run for the long crossing the day before their embarkment. They paddled the 18-mile stretch from South Haven to Saugatuck nonstop before driving north to begin their trip from Leelanau County.
With perfect weather in early June, it was around three in the afternoon when the pair approached the sandy western shore of South Fox Island. FILA board members John McKinney, George Carpenter and I eagerly greeted the pair as they landed.
Having the kayakers as our guests was fun, to say the least there was hardly a break in our conversation the rest of the day. After a leisurely breakfast cooked outdoors the next morning, it was all too soon for our kayakers to pack up and continue on their adventure.
Our trip went better than we could have ever imagined, Zimmerman wrote when they completed their trip. Except for Saturday and Sunday morning, the lake was like plate glass. We made such good time that we were able to continue on from our original recovery site and visit St. Ignace, Mackinaw Island, Round Island, Bois Blanc Island and still meet our families on time in Cheboygan!
Thanks to cooperative weather, we hauled butt wherever we went (except after shore leave at the Shamrock in St. James ). The final tally was 150+ miles in six days, Viviano added in an e-mail. One of the biggest things I came away with from this trip is a need to go back. I could spend a month out there and not see everything Id like to.
The miles paddled had more to do with sublime weather, but its still a nice accomplishment for a couple of 30-something, working-stiff, dads/husbands, Viviano added. I would have been just as happy with the original 115 to Wilderness State Park and been stranded on one of those gorgeous islands for a few days. You know, after a couple 20-30 mile days, the work starts to become irrelevant. Then time and effort just blur. We probably could have done 300, but our wives and bosses might have objected.