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At Stafford‘s Pier

Kristi Kates - August 31st, 2009
At Stafford’s Pier:
The Pointer Boat Offers a Taste of Harbor Springs History

By Kristi Kates 8/31/09

The image of the Pointer Boat is one that is iconic to Harbor Springs residents and visitors alike. Most often seen either docked next to Stafford’s Pier restaurant on Little Traverse Bay, or puttering around in the town’s natural harbor, the Pointer Boat is both a little piece of town history... and also the subject of plenty of misconceptions.
“People have a hard time understanding that the boat is not for rent or does not charge,” Stafford’s Dudley Marvin says, “I tell many folks that we operate much like a hotel shuttle that might take folks to area attractions, area transportation hubs or do a complimentary city tour.”
He adds that all guests are invited on the boat free of charge, and are thoroughly briefed on small boat life safety procedures. The Pointer Boat complies with Coast Guard safety regulations and its volunteer pilots are experienced in small boat operations and the waters and weather of Little Traverse Bay.
Rides on the Pointer Boat are offered as an “historical courtesy” to the Harbor Springs community, and a fun activity for visitors. The Pointer Boat is limited to 12 guests plus the pilot, with most rides lasting an hour or more and including an area history spiel, if requested; guests can also pre-order take out food and beverages from The Pier to bring along, or dine at the restaurant itself before or after their boat ride.
But the really interesting thing about the Pointer Boat is its colorful history.

“The Pointer Boat was constructed in Chassell, Michigan for use as a harbor work boat in the waters around Keweenaw Bay,” Marvin explains, “We believe that the boat was purchased and donated to the Harbor Point Association some time in the 1950s, and is actually the third ‘Pointer Boat’ that was used to transfer Harbor Point residents, guests and employees to and from the Harbor Point Hotel and various docks on the Point.”
The Harbor Springs’ community known as Harbor Point does not allow motorized vehicles in its neighborhood during the summer months; so walking, biking, carriages, and boats are the traditional ways to get to and around the Point.
The Pointer Boat remained in continuous summer operation until the Harbor Point Hotel was razed in 1962; the boat was then sold and re-sold several times to private owners, with each owner modifiying the boat to reflect their decorating choices and boating uses.
“The last owner was a Nathaniel Brown who left the boat to his estate, and the boat languished in a storage building for several years until Mr. Brown’s estate allowed for the sale of the boat to cover its storage and ownership transfer costs,” Marvin says. “In 1987, Tom Graham approached Stafford (Smith) and I to convince us that we should be the logical owners of the boat, and that the boat should be restored as an active part of Harbor’s history and traditions.”

Today’s beautifully-restored Pointer Boat is 34 feet long, with a hull constructed of oak and cypress wood; much of the renovation work used mahogany wood and brass hardware, with Steve Van Dam of Van Dam Boat Works using old photos to make the restoration as original as possible while still bringing the boat to modern seaworthy conditions. A Westerbeke 70 HP diesel engine runs the Pointer Boat (“it’s very easy on fuel, and quite reliable,” Marvin says), which is kept primarily in the harbor or nearby, where the waters are sheltered from the area’s predominantly Westerly weather patterns.
“Our route and the shallow draft of the Pointer Boat allows us to hug the shoreline of the harbor from Wequetonsing, Roaring Brook, Ramona Park and Harbor Point,” Marvin points out.
So how did the boat find itself in service to The Pier restaurant?
“Well, when the restoration was complete in 1989, Stafford and I used the boat sparingly, for our employees and a few guests,” Marvin explains. “As time went on, many residents would ask us for ‘rides down memory lane,’ so I would usually stop what I was doing as Stafford’s general manager and take them for a ride on the Bay. Of course, many of these residents then told other residents, who asked for rides - and pretty soon, I was having a difficult time with time management.”
“I then asked my friend and harbor historian Ed Meyer if he would be interested in piloting the boat and adding to the story telling. Ed is an expert boat handler, and a well known figure within the community, so this combination enhanced the historical significance of the boat, and from then on the phone just kept on ringing with each summer.”
Meyer, now retired, is still the primary weekend pilot of the Pointer Boat; additional pilots are Jim Sutherland, Tom Lacy, David Marvin, and Dudley Marvin.
“Jim Sutherland had a remarkable service with the Coast Guard,” Marvin says, “Tom Lacy is also an accomplished boat handler and a great yarn teller; and David and I have operated the boat from the beginning and are happy to add our inside look at Stafford’s. Most of all, we hope that we complement the history, beauty and natural charm of this special resort area.”

The Pier schedules open seating reservations on the Pointer Boat for individuals, hotel and restaurant guests, and small groups at 11:00 a.m. daily (and again at 12:15pm if the boat is filled at 11:00). Larger groups are asked to call Darlene Marvin at 231-439-0169 to make special arrangements.

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