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Tall Ship 'Manitou'
A Great Lady
of the
Great Lakes
Tall Ship Manitou under full sail on West Grand Traverse Bay
Tall Ship Manitou under full sail on West
Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse City,
Capt. Dave McGinnis at helm of Tall Ship Manitou
Capt. Dave McGinnis at the helm
of the Tall Ship Manitou
Tall Ship Manitou – Respite from Our Hectic Life
By: Jerry Kunnath

Manitou – A Balance between Nature/Life – A Spirit

We left the dock mid-evening, with a brisk breeze blowing from the south-east as it laid its amphoral hand
onto the waters of the bay. The wind rippled the water in sun sparkled crystalline capped waves, making a
light gurgling splash as it kissed past the sleek hull of the schooner. The crew members, followed their
Captains orders, which he shouted masterfully from his place at the cherry wood spooked helm. They
unfurled the sails from their resting spot on the jibs hanging off of the two giant spruce masts. Two crews of
‘volunteer’ crew members, those of us that wanted to participate, started to pull lines together in a measured
cadence of ‘Heave To’ set by the crew, and watched in land-lubber amazement as the sail rings rose on the
masts and the wind parsed into the rising massive white sails, emitting an audible thump as they filled. As the
crew set the sails and adjusted lines, the Manitou caught her stride and coursed into the waters of the west
arm of Grand Traverse Bay, just as so many vessels of wind power have for over a century of the areas
history. With the wind stretching the sails and loading the lines, this beautiful and graceful ship coursed its
way across the waters of the bay; while we sat on deck and enjoyed another spectacular evening sunset as
can only be truly experienced in the climes of Northern Michigan. All on board knew that we were in for an
exciting and memorable experience on the tall ship Manitou.

A New Experience

My wife Cecilia and I are not sailors. We are pretty much land lubbers. While we have enjoyed many of
Michigan’s outdoor sporting opportunities together now for over forty years, especially days spent near the
Great Lakes; we have never experienced a day under sail on her waters. That’s why we were particularly
excited when our son Steve presented us with a B&B stay and sail on the schooner Manitou as a Christmas
present. The accompanying brochure, with full color pics of the ship, really got our hearts racing with
anticipation of the trip. We called the office of the Traverse Tall Ship Company and secured our reservations
on the Manitou to fall during one of my wife’s vacation weeks in the second week of June. Now all we had to
do was to wait for the date and to visit their website [  ] to sample what was in store
for us on
Grand Traverse Bay in June.

Tall Ship Manitou

The Manitou is a two mast schooner of 114 feet in length, with a beam [width] of over 21 feet and a
displacement [weight] of over 100 tons. She can hang over 3000 square feet of sail on her two massive
spruce masts, can carry 62 passengers on day trips, and has overnight accommodations for 24 people in 12
beautifully outfitted cabins. The vessel has two immaculately maintained heads [bathrooms] located on the
main deck and a spacious galley with a unique wood cooking stove, where scrumptious breakfasts are
created by the cook and served to the ships overnight guests. The Manitou also has an auxiliary diesel engine
and is fully equipped with all the most modern electronic safety and navigational equipment; such as
GPS/mapping sonar, ships emergency radio and radar.   She is a strongly built, modern replica of the
‘coasting’ type cargo
schooners of 1800’s vintage that coursed the waters of the Great Lakes and the eastern
seaboard till just past the beginning of the last century [till around 1900 or so]. Sail ships/schooners just like
the Manitou, carried loads of timber, coal, iron ore, Christmas trees, grain; just about anything that the people
of the Great Lakes could need or make, between the ports of this area of America.

The Manitou’s hull was laid in 1983 in Portsmouth New Hampshire and then she was finished by master
marine carpenters on
Lake Champlain. She was built and fitted as a modern passenger carrier. She then
spent her first years of life plying the waters of the north-eastern seaboard of the United States. In 1991 the
Manitou began sailing the waters of Grand Traverse Bay in northwestern Michigan, where she serves to this

Besides offering three daily sailings [noon, afternoon, evening] to guests, the Manitou also has ‘Windjammer
Cruises’, taking lucky travelers on 3 to 4 day trips, such as their ‘Fall Color Tour’ where the ship sails out into
Lake Michigan and stays at a different port each night. Some of their daily evening sails are ‘Specialty
Cruises’ with themes such as wine and chocolate tasting trips, entertainment nights, and
Moomers Ice
Cream nights. My wife and I were to enjoy their ‘Floating Bed & Breakfast’ package, where we would take and
evening sail and then stay on board the ship at the dock for the night; waking to the smell of fresh coffee and
an on-board, wood stove cooked breakfast. We almost couldn’t wait.

The Sound of the Sea and Wind in Your Hair

Cecilia and I arrived at the Traverse Tall Ship Company office, located just up the west side of the west arm of
West Grand Traverse Bay; at 5:30pm as requested. After signing in and receiving a ’pass’ or ticket, we
proceeded across the street to the dock for boarding the ship. To say that we were impressed at the sight of
this large sailing ship sitting at the end of the dock would be an understatement to say the least. Her graceful
lines and symmetrical beauty were something to behold. I couldn’t help imagining that this was the
excitement travelers in the 1800’s must have felt as they boarded a similar ship, in perhaps Detroit or
Cleveland, on a bustling and crowded dock. The Manitou sat at the dock, tied to the piers with huge lines,
rocking gently with the waves, despite her large presence. The crew immediately greeted us with smiling
faces and directed us to sit with the other passengers for a quick but informational basic safety talk. We
were instructed how to board, where to sit and how to move around the boat while underway. We were also
told that if we would like to help raise the sails at the beginning of the trip, that we would be welcome and
encouraged to do so. Cecilia and I immediately agreed. After that brief talk, we were helped aboard the
Manitou, assigned a cabin and introduced to the Captain of the ship, Capt. Dave McGinnis. After everyone was
on board and comfortable, the Captain and crew prepared to ‘shove off’; undoing lines, tweaking others and
removing the gang plank to the dock. Soon you could sense movement as the wind took us slowly into the
bay. Within a few moments the Captain ordered the crew to make preparations to hoist sail. They loosened
ties and bags that held the sails to the jibs and soon had those passengers who wanted to help assigned into
two crews of about five persons each. Each team would pull on large lines that were tracked to the top of the
masts and these would pull/hoist the sails towards the top of the masts where the wind would fill their bodies.
I was given a rope to hold, kind of to take up slack [either mine or the ropes, I’m not sure]. This was fine with
me though, as it gave me an opportunity to take pictures of my wife’s team hoisting sail. After getting in line
holding the ropes, each team was told to pull their ropes together in cadence as the crew gave out with a
hearty ‘heave ho’! Soon the sails were up and thumped with the wind as the tensioned masts pulled the
vessel through the waters of the bay with an almost silent power. The only sound on board, besides the jovial
chatter of the passengers, was the gentle creaking of the masts and ropes and the lisping sound of the wind
slipping over the sails. We were underway.

As Captain Dave guided the ship northeastward over the clear blue water, he told us of how he spent years
working on her crew while she plied the northeastern shore of the United States. He told of how much he
loved the vessel and how he came to be able to feel her ‘spirit’, something that all sailors tell of feeling for
boats they love. When an opportunity came for him to become her owner, he jumped at the chance and now
he has the honor of guiding her through some of the most beautiful waters on our blue planet, Grand Traverse
Bay. As the Manitou’s hull sliced through the waters of the bay Capt. Dave pointed out some of the Bays points
of interest. We were headed north towards Power Island, named after its last private owner; who donated the
island to the county as a public park. The 202 acre island was owned by Henry Ford from 1917 to 1944. Now it
is a favored destination for day trips by both locals and visitors. The island can only be reached by boat and
has picnic and some limited camping facilities. On the southern horizon we could see the ten story tower of
the famous and historic
Park Place Hotel. This hotel started serving the area tourists in 1873 and is still in
operation today as one of the premier hotels in Michigan. Along the eastern shore of the bay is the Old
Mission Peninsula. This area has been one of the most visited places in Michigan for more than a century.
There were many beautiful and grand mansions visible from the water, places were families have been
coming to the area for generations.

But the real payoff for me was the ride aboard the Manitou herself. I can’t tell you just how relaxing and
calming sailing on this boat actually was. As she made her way over the waters she just kind of slowly rocked
with the waves. All you could hear was a bit of a hiss of the wind over the sails. The water traveling over the
hull swished a bit as if it was trying to overcome the flowing sound of the wind past our heads. Every once and
a while you heard a splash as the bow cut through a bit of a larger wave, sending a bit of spray up towards the
bowsprit. What was missing were the sounds of car horns, trucks, sirens, cell phones, walkmans, and the
steady, thumping boom of base speakers. All we could hear were the sounds of the sea as the wind pushed
through our hair. It was truly one of the most relaxing two hours in my life. My wife and a few other
passengers actually got a chance to man the helm, albeit under the watchful eye of Capt. Dave. He told Cec
how to pick a point on the horizon and how to make small adjustments to the wheel, as the 114 foot long
vessel took a few seconds to respond to any wheel changes you made. I am proud to say that she held a
pretty straight line, as witnessed by the straight wake we left behind us. After about two hours of peaceful
and relaxing sailing on the bay, the Captain and crew brought us back to her home pier.    

The Manitou B&B

After the Captain and crew guided the ship back to the dock and secured her to her berth, Cec and I stayed on
board as the day sailing passengers left for shore. We went below to our cabin and made our beds ready for
what I knew would be a very restful sleep. Fresh air, wind, any time on the water, and relaxation tend to make
me sleep like a baby. We shared a cabin with an upper and a lower bunk. Each bunk had an electric reading
lamp, warm woolen blankets, fresh and crisp linen sheets and cases, and just enough standing room to get in
bed. This arrangement might be considered ‘rustic’ by many, but Cecilia and I felt down right cozy in our cabin.
One more thing, this cabin, as with the rest of the boat, was the cleanest ‘room’ that I think I have ever seen.
Bar none. We then went up on deck and were met by two of the crew who would stay on the boat with us that
night in the crew quarters. We spent two pleasant hours talking with these young men about their
experiences on the Manitou, their college careers, and their wishes for the future. After gathering a few last
glimpses of the beauty of the night on the water, and the image of the boat in the moonlight, we retired to our
berths where the gentle rocking of the boat and the sound of the waves put us to sleep before our heads hit
the pillow.

We awoke right after first light to the wonderful smell of fresh brewed coffee and home baked pastry, made
in the ships wood fired stove. The scent of wood smoke, mingled with the aroma of the steaming coffee made
the view of the sun rising in an azure sky over the Old Mission Peninsula to the east even more breathtaking.
Gulls and other sea birds made their morning music as we smelled the rising wafts on the wind of fresh
bacon, sausage, eggs and pancakes, as it rose up the galley steps. Soon the cook was calling us to come
down to breakfast and to be seated before pitchers of fresh squeezed orange juice and large plates of
scrumptious vittles that she had cooked from scratch. I don’t know what looked nicer, the array of delicious
food or the polished and stained natural wood finishes of the galley?

A Nice, Relaxing Respite

Some of my most relaxing times in the outdoors over the course of my life have been either fly fishing or bow
hunting in our Great State of Michigan. However, I can now include my trip sailing on the waters of Grand
Traverse Bay on the Tall Ship Manitou on my list of my favorite ‘quiet’ outdoor sports. Both my wife and I
agreed as we walked down the dock upon leaving the Manitou that morn; that we would return to sail her
again in the future. The beauty and grace of this schooner was only trumped by the hospitality of the Captain
and the crew of the ship. If you are sometimes frustrated by the hectic nature of our modern lives I would
recommend a trip aboard the Manitou. If you look up
‘Manitou’ on the Wikepedia website, it is defined as ‘an
Algonquian [Ojibwa or Odawa] term for the balance between nature and life – similar to the Asian concept of
qi – sometimes a spirit.’ I think that the ship Manitou is more than living up to that description. We are lucky to
once again have a traditional wind powered schooner plying the waters of Michigan and bringing a welcome
respite to our lives from the noise, frustration and chaos of our modern day’s existence.  

Jerry Kunnath can be reached at:
Contact information:
Tall Ship Manitou
Captain Dave McGinnis
Traverse Tall Ship Company
13390 S. West-Bay Shore Drive
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
[231] 941-2000
Authors wife Cecilia at helm of Tall Ship Manitou
Authors wife Cecilia at helm of
Tall Ship Manitou
Crewman adjusting sails on Tall Ship Manitou
Crewman adjusting sails on the
Tall Ship Manitou
Crewman in the rigging on the Tall Ship Manitou
Crewman in the rigging of the
Tall Ship Manitou
Hauling up sail on the Tall Ship Manitou - 'Heave Ho'
      Hauling up sail on the
Tall Ship Manitou - 'Heave Ho'
The Tall Ship Manitou under way at full sail
The Tall Ship Manitou under way
at full sail
Tall Ship Manitou - Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan