The Les Cheneaux Island’s 36th Annual Antique Wooden Boat Show takes place this year on August 10, 2013. Brimming with beauty and a storied maritime history, the Les Cheneaux islands in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are a boater’s dream. A long the north shore of Lake Huron in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula lies an archipelago of 36 islands called Les Cheneaux. The Ojibwa (Chippewa) and Ottawa Indians were the original residents of the Les Cheneaux region, followed by European explorers, missionaries and fur traders, who realized the region’s value as a central location in the Straits of Mackinac, between the St. It wasn't until the 1880s that the timber and land of the Upper Peninsula became seriously attractive and available for acquisition.
Once across the bridge, an easy and scenic drive north on I-75 and east along M-134 brings you into Les Cheneaux. The Hessel Grocery and Deli has take-out and sit-down service, plus an ice cream shop and take-out window, making the sweet treat handy for everyone. Cedarville is just 3 miles east of Hessel by road, or an interesting boat ride through the channels to the public dock or one of the many marinas in town. Tassier Sugar Bush, just north of Cedarville, is a family-owned maker of maple syrup and a line of delicious maple confections, including sugar, candied nuts, cream and more. One of the most significant results of the devotion to and passion for boating in Les Cheneaux is the Great Lakes Boat Building School. The students are quite diverse in background and age, varying from 18 to 80, bringing to the school a wide array of education and skills.
This summer, along with artisan workshops in woodworking and metal casting, students are teaming up with Chesapeake Light Craft for a variety of one-week workshops in building your own boat.
More than 300 volunteers devote time and effort to the Les Cheneaux Boat Show’s success. Les Cheneaux is a place full of stories, and the wooden boat show has an unusually rich collection of them.
Cruise past the area’s scores of colorful, sometimes-weathered and charming boathouses and rustic cedar crib docks. If your travels involve an overnight stay in Les Cheneaux and the weather cooperates, you’ll be treated to an extraordinary natural planetarium. On an especially cool, clear, moonless night, you’ll wonder at the reflections of these galaxies and constellations in the glassy smooth waters of the bays and harbors. There are many hiking trails that are beautiful in all seasons, and less than a mile or two from the docks in Cedarville or Hessel. Sailing races are an important summer tradition, and watching the races is a wonderful way to spend a summer day on the water.
The Les Cheneaux Library, located a mere 100 yards from the Cedarville marina, can be your salvation should the weather interrupt your outdoor plans. There are more than 20 different lodging options available in the Les Cheneaux area, offering a range of experiences from bed and breakfast to waterfront cottages complete with sandy beach and bonfire. Although summer is Les Cheneaux’s busiest time, vacationers who miss the quieter season really miss what this community is all about.
Terrific scenery, a crafty Festival of Arts, delectable food, and, best of all, hundreds of beautifully restored wooden boats join forces in Hessel, Michigan for a day of fun for all ages.The festival is accessible by way of land, air or sea.
This area became important not only in the development of Great Lakes commerce, but also in the development of summer tourism. These lodging options emerged as tourists increasingly drove to Les Cheneaux, taking advantage of the 1957 opening of the Mackinac Bridge over the Straits of Mackinac.
Hessel has several boat-friendly businesses, including the Hessel Public Marina, which is open Memorial Day through Labor Day and sometimes later in the fall if weather permits. Founded and operated by Mertaugh family members with 80-plus years of wooden boat experience, the company maintains and restores around 250 boats, of which half are the area’s classic wooden ones. Hessel Bay Inn restaurant’s outdoor deck lets you eat and watch the boats coming and going on Hessel Bay.


Downtown Cedarville offers a public dock with a park and gazebo, where events like Art in the Park are held Labor Day weekend. In just six remarkable years, the Great Lakes Boat Building School has contributed much to the Les Cheneaux community and Great Lakes region in the preservation of maritime heritage. One of this year’s students has studied maritime archaeology and theoretical reconstructions of ancient ships.
It has been held in Hessel since 1978, always on the second Saturday of August, and is sponsored by the Les Cheneaux Historical Association.
Built to tether, protect and store the area’s 400 or so classic wooden boats (making Les Cheneaux Islands a top old boat haven in the nation), they dispel the notion that such structures clutter a shoreline.
Because the islands are in a rural setting, far from any urban sprawl, there is little light pollution. Government Island is reachable only by boat and offers rustic camping with fabulous views of Lake Huron.
The Les Cheneaux Yacht Club was incorporated in 1940 to promote sailing and boating in Les Cheneaux and hosts the competitive Ensign sailboat races in July and August.
The Les Cheneaux Golf Club in Cedarville was started in 1898 on Snows Channel, and is the oldest continuously-played course in Michigan.
Winter and fall offer hunting and ice fishing beyond compare, drawing sportsmen from all over the region. Watching them race is like seeing a flock of beautiful birds with the most balletic speed and agility. The clean air and abundant fishing coaxed thousands of visitors from big cities, who came to escape pollution and heat by spending their summer in the dozen or so hotels and boarding houses that sprung up around the islands. More than 5 miles long, the bridge connects the Lower Peninsula of Michigan to the Upper Peninsula, ending a lengthy ferry ride tourists used to take across the Straits to reach the UP. It offers 24 slips with water hook-up and electricity, showers, pump-out service, laundry, and public launch ramp.
An important fixture on the waterfront since 1925, Mertaugh’s was the first Chris-Craft boat franchise.
As word of their award-winning restorations spreads, Classic and Antique Boats are in demand to restore some of the finest antique boats in the country, including those of clients in neighboring states and Canada.
Up the street is The Islander, a historic pub, which still has some of the old furnishings from its former life as an ice cream and confection shop more than 100 years ago. Full-service marinas in Cedarville include Cedarville Marine, Tassier Boat Works and Viking Boat Harbor. The former is based in a vintage log structure, while the latter is in a large, vintage boathouse. Mahon’s assistant, Kee Prins, heads up the second-year program and also is an accomplished boatbuilder, having had his own shop in the Netherlands.
In addition to studying in Wales, she assisted in Norway building a Viking burial ship using only Viking-period tools. You can watch the Milky Way swirl past, Orion hunt his prey, and Ursa Major forever inching north. Government Bay is a popular mooring spot for yachts and cruisers, especially during the summer.
The north shore of Lake Huron provides important habitat and food for a host of migrating birds. The club’s Ensign fleet is the largest in the country, and in 2010 it held the National Ensign Regatta. Snowmobiles have more than 100 miles of trails through the woods and several more miles over the icy channels.
The application can be downloaded from the Historical Association’s website, www.lchistorical.orgNeed to fulfill your nagging pang for whitefish? Today, Mertaugh’s is a full-service marina and boatyard, with heated storage for boats up to 60 feet.


All provide seasonal and transient slip rentals and storage, fuel, maintenance, and restoration services.
The Historical Museum houses American Indian historic crafts, quilts, and artifacts and other pieces of the area’s colorful native, logging, and summer hotel and cottage history.
Shmoo, a 1950 Ray Green sailboat, won the sailing class after having been rescued from being a flower container in someone’s yard. As you cruise past, you’ll see kids fishing and swimming off them, Retrievers wagging their tails beside them, and the shiny transoms of vintage boat after vintage boat peeking out from under them.
The warbler migration is an important draw for birders, and by early summer more than 15 species of warblers can been seen, and heard — singing like a colorful mixed choir. Hessel Ridge Golf Course is an 18-hole course north of Hessel, gently carved into the hardwood hills. Snowshoers and cross-country skiers have just under a dozen trail options throughout Les Cheneaux. Most would recommend starting at the Cedarville Trojan Booster Club’s whitefish and chicken dinner in downtown Hessel, at Mertaugh Boat Works’ storage building on Friday night before the boat show.
Mertaugh’s, which is open year round for seasonal access, sells and services a wide range of boats, from classic wood to contemporary aluminum, and also carries clothes and cruising provisions. The Maritime Museum is totally devoted to Les Cheneaux’s rich boating history, displaying classic and antique boats, a wide range of marine artifacts, photos, and exhibits, and a maritime library.
The community also stages several winter events, from ice fishing contests to vintage snowmobile races. The fish is hand-breaded, fresh and local — and a great way to kick off your boat show weekend.Saturday morning, vendors are putting up their tents and the boat show spirit is palpable. Captains Mark and Donna Randall bring her to Les Cheneaux for personal cruises and the boat show. For drivers, the course is conveniently located on Three-Mile Road, which also leads to Hessel’s quaint Kewadin Casino and the rustic Runway Bar, a little further north.
The annual Snowsfest, held each President’s Day weekend in February, offers more than 20 activities, including a fabulous chili cook-off, art show, games, ice fishing, poker run, pub crawl, and much more. Looking out over the foggy bay, cruisers and sailboats filled with eager antique boat lovers await their shuttle to the shores. They also share their love of Les Cheneaux through their cruise business, Classic Yacht Charters, giving everyone the rare opportunity to ride a luxurious wooden yacht through the channels — an adventure not to be missed. Saturday, leaving time to buy a boat show t-shirt or sweatshirt and scope out your favorite boat before the main event starts.
Sorry, no dogs allowed, but Doggy Styles Pet Resort in nearby Cedarville will take great care of your furry friends for the day. There are exponential amounts of exploring to be had up and down the harbor between Mertaugh Boat Works and the Hessel Public Marina, where approximately 70 artists show off their goods.
Jewelry, wooden toys, photography, blown glass, furniture, pottery, sail cloth bags, maple syrup goods, and anything in between is on display and provides a multitude of original gift ideas for friends and loved ones.For the self-efficient boatbuilder and restorer, Dockside Traders offer a great service by supplying antique wooden boat gadgets — like that missing steering wheel you’ve been searching for — and other miscellaneous materials. These vendors are located behind Mertaugh Boat Works.To best check out the boats on display, access the docks next to the launch ramp behind Mertaugh Boat Works, as well as at Hessel Marina.
More than 130 boats are docked in and around the harbor, elegantly displayed, shiny and restored to the perfection achieved at the factory years ago.
Many have stories to tell and are complete with photographic documentation of the restoration process.If you’ve made it to the show for the weekend without a boat of your own, don’t fret; you don’t have to miss out on the channels!
You can purchase tickets and board at the Hessel Marina pier for one of two leisurely tours of the scenic Les Cheneaux Islands. Winners are awarded a plaque and, of course, bragging rights.For more information about the show, contact the Les Cheneaux Historical Association at 906-484-2821 or the Les Cheneaux Islands Area Tourist Association at 906-484-3935.



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