Wednesday, August 16th, 2006
Sailing in fresh water at 600 feet above sea level is not normal for the Picton Castle. Dropping in, unannounced, on small out-of-the-way islands is. After a summer full of strictly scheduled port calls in big cities we were glad to return, if only for a short while, to standard Picton Castle operating procedure where we find a cool little island with a decent anchorage—sail in, drop the hook, go ashore to meet local people, explore and have a good time. Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan was just the right place for us to get back to normal. In fact, Beaver Island was awesome. The Picton Castle approached under full sail making good time. As this harbour was new to the Captain, we took in sail just outside the small bay entrance. As soon as we were inside, locals were coming out in their boats inviting us ashore. Just like the South Pacific!
We arrived in St. James Harbor on Monday evening and, after a conversation with the helpful harbourmaster, let go the anchor. Even anchoring is a bit of a novelty these days as we have been alongside in every festival port so we can do deck tours. When we got ashore we found a beautiful small town filled with very friendly and engaging people. Many of the year-round residents of Beaver Island are of Irish heritage (and Native American), apparently they all arrived independently and then realized once they had settled on the island that they were all from the same county in Ireland. The island also has an interesting Mormon aspect to its history—a breakaway group with their own King lived on the island for a while. People from Beaver Island are all very proud of their island, commenting frequently on how it feels like a community and that people on the island care for each other.
The crew found lots of things to do on Beaver Island, and it was quicker to see and do them all by renting a bicycle. Most of the bikes were bright colours, and many featured big wire baskets on the front. All that they were missing were bells, but we took care of that by shouting hellos and waving madly as our shipmates zipped by. The toy store and museum was not to be missed. It was a small house whose main floor was filled with every kind of old-fashioned novelty you could think of—lots of stickers, beads, foam airplane kits, whistles, harmonicas, toy cars, plastic animals, marbles and other fun stuff. Just down the road was Skip, the guy who catches and smokes fish and carves totem poles. David, our cook, bought several pounds of smoked whitefish for us to eat on board this week. Ice cream is always a popular treat ashore for the crew, and it was particularly good on Beaver Island with a kiddie-size sundae being bigger than an average adult needs.
We also checked out the huge hardware store, a museum with a trade-in bookshelf outside, and the playground at the beach. Kornel was smart enough to bring his bathing suit. Many of the rest of us looked at him with envy as he went for a swim in the cool, shallow water. In the evenings the crew gathered at the Shamrock Restaurant & Bar, which one night featured a live band playing popular country cover tunes. The two bars in town are owned by the same folks. Picnics and hanging around with local fishermen and then dancing to Patsy Cline in the night time adds up to a whole lot of fun!
The folks of Beaver Island are very hospitable and friendly, and we thank them for making our short stay relaxing and memorable. Should the Picton Castle ever find her way into Lake Michigan I am sure that another stop at Beaver Island will be in the plan.