Boaters come in all forms, but are linked by their love of Michigan’s lakes. Whether they live on it or work on it, three die-hards tell the Express why they’ll never leave it.
Ron Dwelle and his wife JoEllen Schneider don’t just like to boat – they live to boat.
Come summer, they move on board and stay there through thick and thin.
“When we got married we moved to Newport, R.I.,” Schneider said. “Rentals there were so high in the summer, we’d live on our boat.”
They continued that routine when they returned to Michigan – much to the chagrin of their children.
“We took the kids away from everything every summer,” she said. “Once they got to be teenagers they weren’t crazy about it.
“But now they say it’s the best thing we could have done.”
Schneider says the lifestyle is really conducive to building relationships. There’s not much else to do on the water.
“There’s no TV, not much light onboard [after dark]. There’s not a lot of outside stuff,” she said. “So it’s great time to spend with family.”
Dwelle, now a retired professor from Grand Valley State University, was always able to take off for the entire summer. Prior to her retirement, Schneider would work during the week and meet them at their port for long weekends.
“We’ve both been sailing for a long, long time,” Schneider said. “Before I met Ron he was taking off, cruising the coast of Lake Michigan.”
Why sailing? “I’ve never liked powerboats [for environmental reasons] and won’t own one,” said Dwelle, a committed sailor since 1967.
Schneider says sailing offers another advantage.
“It’s a cheap way to live,” she said. “It’s not a power boat, so there’s not much fuel cost.”
The Grand Rapids couple is based out of Duncan Bay Marina in Cheboygan, but they spend most of their summer anywhere and everywhere on the Great Lakes. They often visit ports along the eastern portion of Lake Huron and northern coastline of Lake Superior in Canada.
One of the challenges of living on a boat is the lack of storage space for food. Schneider says she keeps staples on board, but things like fresh produce used to be much more difficult to find, particularly in Canada.
While they can now get fresh food much easier, the shops they frequent need to be within walking distance of the boat.
“Life becomes much more simple,” she said. “You realize you don’t need so much.”
Of course, weather plays a huge role in the day-to-day life aboard their sailboat. They pay close attention to weather forecasts and know the harbors of refuge.
“The top speed is about seven miles per hour, so we don’t get places very fast,” she said. “We have to be very attuned to what the weather’s going to do.”
While they are often alone on the water, they see friends frequently along the way, as part of the boating community they’ve become a part of.
How long do they think they’ll continue this alternative lifestyle?
“As long as we’re able to,” Schneider said with a laugh.
From ski bum to water rat, Australian native and Sunset Watersports owner Brett Campbell has done it all.
After first moving to Canada to live and ski, Campbell visited New Orleans during Mardi Gras and happened to meet someone from Elk Rapids. They hit it off, and Campbell decided to come visit.
And he never left. A mechanic by trade, he soon landed the contract for the jet skis at Grand Traverse Resort, where he was working as a waiter and bellman.
Not too long afterward, he opened Sunset Watersports, a boat and watercraft rental business across Benzie, Leelanau, Grand Traverse, and Antrim counties, as far north as Charlevoix.
His fleet of 90 watercraft includes three-person jet skis, runabout ski boats, deckboats, and even inflatable rafts.
So whether it’s East Bay or West Bay, Crystal Lake, Glen Lake, Suttons Bay, Torch Lake, Elk Rapids, anywhere there’s water, it’s likely Campbell and his boats will be there.
Campbell enlists agents across the region that can supply the smaller boats from their locale to wherever they are needed. The bigger boats come from his central location, and all the requests come in to a central office via voice or email.
Campbell says things are running behind this year - since the winter weather hung on so long it made it more of a challenge to get the boats ready and launch them.
Yet he says he sees only better times ahead, with plans to build storage sheds this fall for storage and boat prep.
To supplement his summertime business, Campbell rents out snowmobiles in the winter and rental houses year-round.
Campbell says he doesn’t spend that much time on the water, though he hopes that will change.
“I don’t boat that much – I’m always working,” he said. “I’m trying to get a yearround manager. That will allow me to spend time with my family on Elk Lake.”
Bill Winowiecki has been hooked on fishing since he hooked his first salmon as a youngster. He grew up in Cedar and runs his boat service out of Glen Arbor, one of the few to still do so.
“I hung around there as a kid,” he said. “It’s more work, but it’s a good market.”
More work because there’s not much space at the launch – he estimates about 10 parking spaces.
And because there isn’t a marina, he isn’t able to leave his boat in the water.
“We have to launch the boat every time, not like Frankfort or Leland or Traverse City,” he said.
Winowiecki started out on the small side, with a 14-foot Starcraft more than 25 years ago. Now he’s one of the busiest charter captains working in Northern Michigan.
His dryland work is equally extensive. He is the northwest Michigan director for the Michigan Charter Boat Association, covering Manistee north to the Mackinac Bridge.
He sits on the Lake Michigan Citizen’s Advisory Board and is a member of the Grand Traverse Area Sport Fishing Association.
Winowiecki says the Glen Arbor area offers some advantages to offset the lack of parking and marina.
“There are a loft of reefs, dropoffs, the islands,” he said. “There are a lot of places that hold fish.”
And where there are places for small fish to hide, there will be larger fish that feed upon them.
Winowiecki says a drop in alewives, the silvery scourge of beachgoers, has meant less bigger fish.
“The DNR is really concerned about the imbalance,” he says. “The salmon were planted to eat the alewives. Now the salmon have eaten them, and if they’re gone, the lake will crash.
“It’s a balancing act.” Over the years Winowiecki has seen the length of the summer season diminish. Even though public schools now can’t start until after Labor Day, downstate kids’ camps have shortened the amount of time families can spend up north.
That translates to less time for recreational fishing, which Winowiecki says is a “joy.”
“You get the joy of fishing, get to see the beauty of the area. You have fresh, homecooked fish,” he said.
Watta Bite offers five-hour trips for up to four people May 1-October.
Although the cold spring put him behind a bit, warmer temperatures mean there’s plenty of fishing ahead.