Today We All Can Bask In The Warmth Of Hessel! Thats Right, Hessel Michigan!


hessel1We are going to do something different today, we actually have been waiting some time to do this. Alex prepared this story on the Hessel show last August, but we decided to wait until when it was cold out there to show it. We all could use a little summer today! Here ya go, just like it was going on today.  Or maybe it is?  Take it away Alex!


The 2013 Les Cheneaux Boat Show has come and gone. Thanks to gorgeous weather, attendance was strong, at 7,500. Of the 120 boats, a good 3/4 of these motored in from local cottages early that morning.


Beyond the dependable (though hardly pedestrian) fare of Gar, Hacker and Chris- triples, utilities, and smaller runabouts, we were privileged to have an uncommon, meticulously restored 1938 19’ Sportsman (purchased a few years back, in unrestored condition at the Todd Warner auction). Famous for its rear-facing seat, there are many other details that are unique to this model, including the elegant light green waterline.

Also present was a sleek 1929 25’ 6” Kramer / Hacker racer, with elegant hardware, and a pristine Scripps 202 in her bay, making a strong case for retaining original power.


Launches were well represented this year. In fact, the 1st and 2nd “Best of Show” prizes went to an extremely rare 1926 26’ Earl Barnes — truly, a work of art! — and a 1912 26’ Fay and Bowen — retaining her original (101 year old) topsides and deck planks!P1180690

How rare is the Barnes? Earl Barnes (an employee of the Minett factory) made only 20 boats in his own shop. Each one was custom. Only 7 remain.


All categories were nicely represented this year, including the still fledgling (in these parts) Classic Glass.

Here’s Peaches, an immaculate, locally-owned 1957 18’ Arena Craft.P1180734

We even had a 1974 Spectra, wrapped in its time warp color scheme and with its 572 blown Chevrolet motor, a boat that exceeded 132 mph in its day. In period-correct vernacular, this boat was “Bitchin’!


(If that picture doesn’t twist the knickers of the anti-Glass element, nothing will.)

We had a nice assortment of small wooden craft too. A personal favorite (and class winner) was this 1952 15’ Old Town. Gotta love the twin vintage outboards.


And last not but least, in a class of its own — literally and figuratively — we were privileged to host a 1964 Whiticar Boat Works 63’ cruiser, complete with its jump seat in the bow. Can you imagine how heavenly it would be to ride in that seat on the Great Lakes? I figure the large bell must be to ring for caviar and blinis at cocktail time.


I could go on for pages about the other wonderful boats this year, and include dozens more photos. But I’ve chosen not to.

After covering this Show the last two years, I struggled for days with what to write this year. In 2011, I covered… the Show. In 2012, I explained in a two-part story, why there is a culture of wooden boats in our area, and what makes our Show different from others. But something was missing. What could I write this year that would be of greater value to readers?

Then it hit me. While the Show is “THE” event in our area each year, even its dedicated organizers and crew of local volunteers would freely admit it is a small subset of what makes the area that hosts it special, and a place that should be high on the bucket list of classic boaters.


The story that begged to be told was how our Show, while a fun day for any attendee or exhibitor, is part of something far more wonderful and rare to discover — Les Cheneaux. The comments readers made after last year’s Show validated this. They were as much about the area (or more so) than about the Show itself.

Yes, I know this is a blog about classic boats. But let’s be honest here. The experience of owning and/or operating a classic boat is only as good as the memories one makes in it. Better memories are made in an area rich with ways to make them.


This summer, Matt Smith and Matt Byrne (of “Miss Lisa,” 1939 19’ Gar Wood fame) visited this area on separate occasions. Each toured it as it must be seen — by classic boat. And each reached the same conclusion: Les Cheneaux is not an area to see; it’s an area that needs to be experienced.


The experience of this area is why people of all means love to vacation here, and why they have congregated here in their cottages or rental cabins for generations.

It is priceless to those who understand how precious the simplest things in life are…

The sense of freedom one gets looking over the vast Lake Huron water, changing color with every passing cloud.


 The incredibly sweet air — an intoxicating perfume of Great Lakes water, cedar trees, sweetgrass, wildflowers, campfires, and hundreds of subtle, other ingredients (yes, including the occasional whiff of un-catalyzed exhaust from a passing boat).


The wild swans, eagles, loons, ducks and great blue herons. The miles of unspoiled beaches — sugar sand in some parts…


…a rock collector’s delight in others.


The rustic cottages — ranging from cozy cabins to compounds — the boat houses, and the aged cedar crib docks, with scores of flags, snapping in chorus to a stiff afternoon breeze.


The never-redundant sunsets — worth attending, even on nights when the sun barely appears.


And the night sky full of stars, so bright and clear, one sees the reflection of the Milky Way on the calm water, like the softest blanket.


These are universal joys one finds here, in a place devoid of pretense, loved by folks who are blessed with innate, or infused, or acquired perspective.


Recently, I had the privilege of meeting a remarkable lady and an 80-year summer resident of our area, Bonnie Mikkelsen. She had this to say about the area.

“Les Cheneaux has been the passion and glue of generations of my family. I’ve been fortunate to travel the world. There are very few places like this one. This area isn’t just beautiful. It’s enchanting. I believe a place like this makes people who come here, better.”

I was struck by her last sentence. After coming to these Islands since 1964 (at age 2), I had never stopped to add-up its contribution to whom I have become.

To understand this, I’ve spent the last couple weeks observing how my own children interacted with the area. I realized no one gets more out of Les Cheneaux than kids and, by extension, adults who experienced part of their childhoods here.


With some parental and/or self-discipline children here learn, or re-discover, that life has more meaning when the TV, smart phones, and video games are put away. Year over year, they discover nature. And year over year, this helps them discover who they are. When kids are infused in the outdoors, then respecting, valuing, and caring for their surroundings comes naturally.

They learn to spot, distinguish between, and prize wild strawberries, thimbleberries, and raspberries, so abundant, most remain unpicked.


They catch and examine grasshoppers, lightening bugs, mayflies, dragonflies, daddy longlegs, crayfish, minnows, spiders, frogs, and toads.


 They make elaborate sand castles, and collect fossils and other cool rocks.


They become stronger swimmers.24

They learn the different bird calls. They learn to fish. They see deer, mink, fox, porcupine, raccoon, and other wildlife. They learn how to build and respect a fire. They roast hotdogs and s’mores. And they stay up way past bedtime, watching glorious Michigan sunsets turn into a dark skies planetarium.


As their senses of nature develop, they learn to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell all the ways spring turns to summer turns to fall. They learn that all days, even disappointingly cold, gray, and rainy ones, have beauty too.


Watching my kids, I realized children don’t just make memories in Les Cheneaux. They make indelible, lifelong treasures. And, as they make them in this wholesome environment, they build healthy character. They learn what beauty and nature does for them. How this makes them feel. How they can count on these to bring a lift, remain balanced, or rediscover perspective.


Children learn about more than nature here. They learn and embrace family traditions and rituals. They accept the responsibilities of maintaining family cottages. And they acquire the maturity and skills to safely operate watercraft — many of those, classic boats.

Photo Texx

Photo Texx

But the area is by no means exclusively appealing to children.

For adults — cottagers or visitors — there’s rejuvenation in these Islands. After a few days here, they leave the pressures, anxieties, and responsibilities of the world behind. Slowly they let go. The office, matters less. E-mail, both business and personal, matters less. The news, matters less. Time disappears. The world becomes a simpler, kinder place.

They bond with their families and friends, laugh heartier, live healthier, sleep deeper, and relax down to their souls.

For active adults and kids alike, this area offers so many summertime activities. Sailing, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, canoeing, birding (150 species), hiking, golf… The list goes on. Notice how none of these is costly or complicated.


Then, there’s classic boating. When you come here, you must bring yours! You’ll be in great company.


Total strangers will wave at you on the water. You’ll happily reciprocate.


The many other classic boats you pass or peek at in boathouses or at docks will offer you what is essentially a different boat show every day.


To avoid incident, stay in the well-marked channel. But you won’t feel constrained. Boating at a good clip from one end of the Islands to the other will take you about 45 minutes, each way.

Want even more space? Venture through the East, Middle, or West Entrance onto open Lake Huron.


There, you’ll appreciate how neat it is that Les Cheneaux is in protected waters, yet is part of an enormous, powerful inland sea, with eventual access to the oceans.

There are 36 Islands in Les Cheneaux. That means there are approximately 19,964 left to explore in Lake Huron alone!


As you gaze over the Lake, you’ll feel humbled. The waters you are in have taken thousands of lives from storms, fog, collisions, shoals, fires, explosions, and other maritime accidents, many of these, with all hands.

You’ll also feel blessed to be here, savoring the freedom only big water can offer.

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This article began with a summary of our Boat Show for 2013. I hope I have conveyed in some small way how Les Cheneaux Islands is so much more than our Show. The Islands, and the classic boats tucked among them, are inextricably intertwined.

To experience this area at its best, take a whole week. Bring your family. Bring your boat. This is a destination.

But don’t be disappointed if your visit can’t encompass Boat Show (always the 2nd Saturday of August).

With all I’ve described above to experience, how could you be.


34 replies
  1. Troy
    Troy says:

    I sure feel warmer after reading this wonderful article!

    It feels like a very special place and yet I think all who have grown up or raised kids around a camp have similar feelings about life in these slower paced locations.

    As I finished reading I looked outside to see an unexpected snow squall. I think I will return to Hessel for a bit.

    Thanks you have not only warmed my body but also my heart.

  2. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    Very well written piece. I have thought about it in the past, but you may have convinced me to get a few of us “Down South” WoodyBoaters together, and bring our boats to the U P. If we do, I may give you the opportounity to be our tour guide by water around the islands.

  3. Sean
    Sean says:

    Well, it’s -23C (-10F) outside today and this story is more than heartwarming; It is inspirational…
    So, I thought I’d take a walk and see what was goin’ on.

    who said boating was not a 4 season activity?

  4. Chris B.
    Chris B. says:

    Great timing for this one. Brrrr its cold outside. We are already planning to come to the UP. 2 boats confirmed and 2more who need a push so I will make sure they see this posting. I was there in 05 and became friends with many of the wonderful members of the water land chapter and look forward to coming back.

  5. Wilson Wright
    Wilson Wright says:

    Brrr… it even froze here in N. Florida last night…but not like the sub zero thal Al Benton got in St. Louis.

    When at Hessel one year I marveled at the number of U-22’s..A local pointed out, ” They are like Ford F 150s up here…We haul the groceries, kids, furniture, lumber, etc. to the islands with them.” I think he was right.

    Yours was a good story…enjoyed reliving my trip there.

    Oh!…Did I mention FSU won the ball game ?

    • Al Benton
      Al Benton says:

      Wilson, thanks for honorable mention here in St. Louis. It didn’t get as cold in the city as predicted but surrounding towns were much colder than us.

      Les Cheneaux is definitely on my bucket list, especially following Alex’s great story. Although its still cold outside, I feel warm within after enjoying this.

  6. Jim Staib
    Jim Staib says:

    You’re right! I visited the show the last 2 years. Didn’t bring my boat but rode up on the Harley. Tons to explore by land also, and a beautiful ride up. Weather permitting I’ll ride up again this year. In the land that time forgot there is always something new to see and places like this to stop for lunch.

  7. Jack Schneiberg
    Jack Schneiberg says:


    Great story. Well written and illustrated with pictures. I’ve been telling myself for years I need to get to Hessel. I’m only in southern Wisconsin (south artic this AM) after all. I think I need a classic boat tour.

  8. Tommyholm
    Tommyholm says:

    The less you know, the more you,ll want to go, to the U.P. and see the yuppers, but first you have to pay the toll to the trolls at the bridge, the Big Mac, not a whopper, always painting and then just pass the Mac Isle, once upon a time , whence you arrive, boating is a pleasure.

    • Alex
      Alex says:

      Tommy, I’ve read your comment over and over and am getting closer to breaking the code. Meanwhile, suggest a little better ventilation in your varnish room. 🙂

  9. Chuck Crosby
    Chuck Crosby says:

    My brother-in-law just purchased a small inn, soon to be known as Elvyn Lea Lodge, near Wallon Lake about 50 miles to the south of the Makinaw Bridge. So, about an hour and half from the town of Hessel, the Islander, & Les Cheneaux.

    In late spring,my wife and I will visit before the summer tourist season. I certianly plan to visit- Les Cheneaux region and enjoy the areas magic. Unfortunately, I will not be bringing my boat…But I’m sure I will find a way to get on the water….plastic, wooden canoe, kayak….whatever.

  10. Kentucky Wonder
    Kentucky Wonder says:

    Thanks, Alex, for the great article and photos. My family is planning a trip up to your area this coming July. We intend to bring our ’49 Greavette. Will definitely want to meet up with you, get an expert tour of the area, and maybe let our nephew(age 10) and niece(7) make some new friends!

    We have some friends in Cedarville who may have a place for us, but are looking for options in case that does not pan out. Please drop me a line if you have any suggestions.

    leaz3553 (at)

  11. John Baas
    John Baas says:

    Alex, one of the best written and photographed stories I’ve seen on this site. The pix alone tell the story…awesome photographs! Thank you for sharing.

  12. Dick Dow
    Dick Dow says:

    Thank you Alex – A truly great description of the area and the real reasons that we enjoy and encourage family boating. Your family is going to love the Red & White on that water. We won’t make it up there for a few years yet, but it’s definately on the list of destinations!

  13. Gerry VandeVusse
    Gerry VandeVusse says:

    Great article Alex, even though it was 10 below this morning, the sun is out now, the deer are eating hay in the front of the boat house, and it’s another beautiful day in the Les Cheneaux Islands.

  14. Alex
    Alex says:

    Thank you all for the positive feedback.

    I believe there is an opportunity in WoodyBoater to write about experiences certain classic boating areas offer. Perhaps in tandem with their boat shows, perhaps not. That’s what I wanted to do for Les Cheneaux in today’s story. Give readers a feel for what it’s like to just be there.

    Forgive me if I wear my affliction for the place a bit too sentimentally. It’s hard to contain it. I’m sure those of you who summer in your own special havens can identify with how it feels to truly love an area.

    As a few WoodyBoaters have discovered, if schedules permit, it is my pleasure to boat people who come up here through the Islands.

    • dreed
      dreed says:

      Puppies Alex! All feel good stories have to include puppies. Other than that you did a great job. Maybe Troy can fix that for you.

  15. Matt B
    Matt B says:

    Well done Alex!

    I’m hoping to make it back again this year but this time I’ll bring the family with.

  16. TomH
    TomH says:

    Not to be as elequint, “my sentiments exactly”. Our family spent most of our weekends and a few weeks in the summer on the water from the Columbia River to the Gulf Islands. I like to think I am the richer for the experance and I have instilled some of this passion in our boys.
    One day in the near future (after rretirement) I would like to pack up the boat and see some of the rest of this country and your beautiful area.

  17. Angela M.
    Angela M. says:

    Thank you so much for the beautifully written article about The Snows…especially Hessel, that beautiful little village where I grew up.

  18. Bill Loomis
    Bill Loomis says:

    Alex: What a wonderful article on the islands. We look at our calendar and our time spent there is pure joy. The Cheneaux is like nothing else we have experienced. Not only is it beautiful but the people are warm and are loyal to the gift that god has bestowed upon them. It is well preserved by people who care and the sense of community is unmistakeable. If you love boats it’s close to heaven and if you enjoy good people it’s full of great souls! Don’t miss Hessel, she is the grand lady of what we all love in life!

  19. red dog
    red dog says:

    i was reading that story with the TIM ALLEN voice. i think only michigan people will understand. visted Hessel a few times beautiful area grew up going to traverse city area many great memories there too. VERY NICE STORY THANKS.

  20. Brenda (Nye) Hamel
    Brenda (Nye) Hamel says:

    Informative and inspirational from the heart, thank you for making me want to be at home in Hessel where I was born and raised. Feeling homesick here in the lower mitt!

  21. Curt Vaught
    Curt Vaught says:

    Thanks Alex.

    Great article and photos!

    Your insights have really hit the nail on the head as to why the Les Cheneaux Islands are a special place to so many, and will continue to be for many in the years to come.

    In particular, thanks for capturing the beauty as seen through the eyes of children as they grow, learn and come to appreciate the wonder and natural beauty of the area.


  22. Robert Lyle
    Robert Lyle says:

    Your remarkable Les Cheneaux photo-story and message about how the Snows affects people, especially children, is spot on. Spending my childhood summers during the 1950-60’s at our family’s Big LaSalle cabin led to, after 40 years, my 5-book, Mackinac Passage series of young adult novels. As a pharmacist and drugstore owner–not a professional writer–the books became a labor of love generated by my youthful experiences and fond memories of this fabulous area.

  23. Laura
    Laura says:

    This article was sent to me by a fellow “paradise” lover. We travel to this area every Labor Day weekend, and as a child was introduced to it by my father who was introduced to it by his father and grandfather. The memories made as a child were worth sharing with my children and I am sure they will share with their children some day. The sights, sounds, and smells are nothing like you experience in your daily life. They subdue you and embrace you and your whole body feels like it is in total relaxation, something people pay for at a Spa! It is so hard to explain that is why it has to be experienced. The night time sky is so brilliant and bold with stars and constellations, making a wish on a falling star is a nightly ritual. The calm of the morning lake , (Snow’s Channel)and the desire to go out and water ski on the “glass” is overwhelming. A visit to “rock island” is a tradition for us as well, collecting rocks to take back to reality and a reminder of a trip that felt like a “slice of heaven”. People from all over the country vacation in this area, and just like the television show “Cheers” everyone seems to know your name….or your family name that is…..

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