Stop 1 South Manitou Island

~Newspaper ad announcing Sir Ernest Shackleton’s trans-Antarctic Expedition~

This was the newspaper ad for the Shackleton expedition to transect the Antarctic continent by dog sled and on foot if necessary. It has a ring of realism, sarcasm, and audacity that appeals to me. Because we set off in June of this year into the waiting arms of our beloved mother Lake Michigan, this is doubly poignant. We intend to tag no less than 10 Islands in the Beaver Island archipelago. It seems auspicious to mention that Shackleton brought all his men back alive. We hope to do the same.

In case you missed my other post, in the first week in June of 2007 myself and four other paddlers intend to paddle north from Good Harbor Bay and along the main islands of the Beaver Island archipelago.

I hope to outline each of the islands in the archipelago that we intend to at least touch _terra firma_ upon, their history and their special appeal for the trip.

The first island we will visit is actually one of the most visited islands, and oddly one of the most interesting. I first landed on South Manitou on a day trip with the crew that ended up in This is The Sea II in 2005. To me it is a mystical place apart from time. There are endless sand dunes, shipwrecks, and ancient giant white cedar trees. If you wanted to walk off the map forever this is the place to haunt as a ghost. Based on this tourists flock to this isle more than North Manitou Island.

??Indian legend, (Chippewa) tells us of a mother bear Mishe Mokwa, who fled a great forest fire in Wisconsin with her two cubs. Mishe Mokwa reached the Michigan shore and climbed a steep bluff to await her cubs. The cubs, exhausted by their long swim, never reached land. The mother bear waited day after day to no avail. Finally she died. The Great Spirit Manitou marked her resting place with the Sleeping Bear Dunes and raised North and South Manitou Islands from the spot where the cubs perished.??

Is this the ghost on South Manitou? Don’t know?

American colonists came in the 1830’s in the hopes of lucrative lumber trade with ships passing through the Manitou Passage. These colonists started farms on the island and traded with merchant vessels. South Manitou Island has the only natural deep water passage along the northerly route for 220 miles, making it a hot spot for vessels to weather the frequent storms of the Great Lakes. It was not uncommon in the heyday of the mid 19th century to find up to fifty vessels crowded into the harbor. The little homesteads now stand all abandoned and in decay adding to the mystique.

Congress approved budget for the first lighthouse in the passage in July of 1839. After many years of mismanagement and decay another lighthouse was erected upon the sight of the first in 1858. This light served little better than the first two and by 1872 a third light of 100 feet was planned and constructed that is now the light that stands with its various outbuildings on South Manitou Island. (Anyone getting a Monty Python and the Holy Grail vibe on this?) ??The first castle it sank into the swamp, the second castle caught on fire and then sank into the swamp, but the third, the third one stayed up!??

The history of Great Lakes light houses we will pass almost deserves several posts on their own, but I will bypass that in the sake of brevity.

Some of the more natural features of the island include a virgin stand of White Cedars that is eerily referred to as the Valley of the Giants. *Thuja occidentalis* is a massive white cedar not commonly found in Michigan anymore. They can grow to 34m tall and 175 cm at the base. Some trees have been known to live as long as 1500 years. The growth on South Manitou is dated around 5-600 years old. There is a story from the turn of the century where sailors in need of wood for a boiler tried to cut one down but due to either the large bulk of the trunk, or some divine intervention couldn’t cut through, thus saving the Valley of the Giants from extinction. I would like to think some spirit intervened on behalf of these amazing trees. It has a Hayo Miyazakish flair to the story. “See Princess Mononoke.”:

The other main attraction of the island is the shipwrecks. The main one that is visible above water is the Francisco Morazon. This package freighter ran aground in the shallows on the leeward side of the island. It is now commonly referred to as Cormorant hotel by the paddlers who come to look. You can paddle right into the engine room as long as you can take the smell.

We may not get to do much but stop overnight, but I would like to explore a little more on this island next time. Maybe walk a little more in the Valley of the Giants, snorkel a little on one of the other wrecks. And maybe see a ghost or two.

_Please note the pictures here are from Derrick Mayoleth when we went to the Island in 2005 before the WMCKA symposium with Justine Curgenven._


  1. Keith is having a midwinter case of cabin fever planning and dreaming about his summer adventure.

    Monty Python??

    Who the heck is Hayo M……?Dad

  2. I’m not sure that paddling the Beaver island chain is exactly the same as an antartica expedition—but it sounds good! And we better bring us all back alive. At least we would die warm! Jim

  3. Excellent blog entry Keith.

    Leave the shore and it’s all haunting to me.

    Being a dune pilot I believe that the venturi effect created by the gap in the ridge near that stand of trees saved them by increasing the velocity which carried sand up and imbeded it deep into the trees. This made them as hard to cut as sand paper. But I like what you wrote much better 😉