Monday, July 20, 2015

Shepler's Lighthouse Cruise

Last Thursday, I went on a lighthouse cruise with my mom and sister.  Shepler's, one of the three ferry companies that ferries passengers and parcels to Mackinac Island, offers a few different options for lighthouse cruises around Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and we went on the westbound cruise leaving from Mackinaw City, Michigan.

We set sail on The Hope, an 83-foot twin engine built in 1975. It was a picture perfect day with low waves, temperatures in the mid-70s, a clear sky, and since I purchased our tickets in May, I have been super pumped about this trip, so you better believe I was itching to get started.
Our tour guide was Terry Pepper, a historian who is the Executive Director of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association (GLLKA).  He was quite knowledgeable, although I wish he had shared fewer of his political views during the tours.  (I was particularly struck by the idea that Japanese kamikaze pilots were only insane if you weren't Japanese, but perhaps I'm a bit more sensitive to the idea that there might be a Japanese person on the ship than he was. Moving on.)  (There's an opportunity to "volunteer" to stay at two of the lighthouses owned by the GLLKA for $125 a night if you're interested in that kind of thing. I'm not sure I'm into roughing it that much.)

Our tour started by taking a look at the Old Mackinac Point Light. Honestly, we couldn't get very close on the boat. It looked like this:
But after the tour we actually drove there and took some photos.
Okay, so back to the tour. Then we went under the Mackinac Bridge, completed in 1957, which is the third longest suspension bridge in the world. I'm going to spare you the details about the Mighty Mac, but it's possible that I'm a bit obsessed with it.
You have to pay a toll to drive over the bridge and the bridge is, as far as I can tell, constantly under construction, so it was kind of fun to go under the bridge this time!
 I just can't resist one more shot.
Then we sailed over to St. Helena Island Light, a lighthouse restored and maintained by GLLKA. We actually were able to watch as The Hope met up with skiffs that contained folks who were volunteering at the lighthouse and were coming home. We actually didn't get a very good view of the lighthouse, but I guess that's why sailors needed these navigational aides.
The we went on to White Shoal Light, which apparently used to be covered in white terra cotta bricks, but now has a candy cane stripe as its daymark.  I think it's probably one of the most recognizable of the Great Lakes lighthouses, although I think the red Holland Harbor Light can give it a run for its money.  The barest of maintenance is done on the light now, just making sure the light itself and the foghorn run.
Then we tripped on over to the Waugashaunce Lighthouse, which was used as a target for military bombing practice during World War II after it was declared redundant with the building of the above White Shoal Lighthouse. It looks like nothing more than a black eye amongst all the other beautiful lighthouses. I mean, nothing is left of it - no light, no tower, no nothing.  We also had to stay really, really far away from it because DANGEROUS ROCKS WILL SINK YOUR BOAT, YO, so this is the best photo I have.
Next we went to Grays Reef, which is one of the more uninteresting looking lighthouses I've ever seen in my life and I have seen a great many, my friends.  However, it did have an interesting story about how it's construction was hampered by crappy weather and illness and it led the builder to begin referring to it as "Grays Grief."
And then we went back to the dock, passing a couple of freighters and going back under the Mackinac Bridge once more.  It turns out that freighters are painted to match what their normal cargo is because they will get stained that color anyway, so freighters that carry coal are painted black, those that carry limestone are cream, and this red one?  It's probably carrying iron ore.
The tour was $49.50 per ticket, lasted three hours, and was plenty worth the cost of admission in my mind. Of course, if you're not particularly familiar with Fresnel lenses, timber cribs, and tower designs, you might not find it as riveting to listen to the tour guide as I did, but I still think the time on Lake Michigan and the coolness of seeing the lighthouses you can't see from shore is absolutely worth your time.

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