Part 2: Keewatin’s a nautical labor of love and a must-see.
By Ben Ellison - October 2003
My real “who knew?” moment came the next morning as we closed with the Michigan coast. We’d easily crossed the big lake, the hot-blooded and well-engineered Ferretti making 26 knots even while we chatted at normal volumes in the saloon and at the enclosed helm. Now I was on the wide-open flying bridge taking in endless sugar-sand beaches backed by dunes sometimes surging up to 300 feet high, long stretches without a house in sight. It’s a gorgeous environ comparable to the outer arm of Cape Cod, except for the garnish of hardwoods and evergreens...and the fact that in fair summer conditions like these we could anchor off any of the numerous public areas and dinghy ashore. We postponed that pleasure until evening and proceeded on to Lake Macatawa, a good representative of the nifty harbors which ever so conveniently punctuate this seductive shoreline every ten to 20 miles.
The simple entrance to Macatawa is flanked by beaches, protected by breakwaters, and marked with a classy century-old lighthouse known as Big Red. Immediately inside are bustling yacht clubs and marinas followed by fine lakeside homes, many dating back—at least in style—to this coast’s lumber-based industrial heyday in the late 1800’s. At the head of the lake lies Holland, one of the shore region’s largest towns at 35,000 souls and famous for its Dutch heritage, particularly its (six million!) tulip festival. That festival is unique, but it seems that each of the ports hereabouts—South Haven, Grand Haven, and Lake Muskegon, to name a few—is rich in natural assets, history, and sightseeing opportunities.
We focused our attentions on the twin villages of Saugatuck and Douglas, which really are a single enchanting town with the Kalamazoo River and little Lake Kalamazoo running up the middle. The Art Institute of Chicago has held summer sessions here for decades, and you’ll come across galleries, public art, working artists, and artistic quirkiness everywhere. Even the concrete-block comfort station in the riverside park is completely muraled in faux Georges Seurat. Beyond art there’s shopping for many tastes, as well as a full and lively range of restaurants and bars. My personal favorite was the Red Dock, as funky and high-spirited as any beach bar you’ll find in the tropics. It only added to the charm that it was not on a beach but instead incongruously paired on a pier with the 350-foot museum ship Keewatin.
Keewatin’s a nautical labor of love and a must-see. Scotch built of riveted iron in 1907 and sporting a three-story-high, 3,300-hp steam engine, she carried passengers and freight across Lakes Huron and Superior right up until 1965, when Saugatuck marina developer Roland Peterson saved her from the scrap yard. Surely the summertime fees don’t cover the expenses, but he’s keeping her in good, near-original condition. The elegant interior details of woodworking, furnishings, and crockery will take you back to the Titanic era. And standing way, way up on Keewatin’s bridge—only enclosed in 1946, and only then to protect her first electronics—you’ll be awed to imagine men piloting her through fall gales and snowstorms.
Next page > Part 3: But—geek that I am—I fell for the lighting system. > Page 1, 2, 3, 4
This article originally appeared in the September 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.