As soon as I learned that the boat would be heading to Hessel, Michigan for three days in the UP to sail in Wilderness Bay and do our Great Lakes Discovery Program, I imagined Hessel as a quaint, one road town in Michigan’s upper peninsula with a spattering of storefronts and a few houses to round out the community. As I was driving into Hessel one week later, my prediction could not have been more accurate. Once crossing the Mackinac Bridge, I had followed a winding road for about 45 minutes until I reached one blinking, yellow traffic light. I hung a right at the light and I saw Wilderness Bay in Lake Huron about 300 yards away, with Hessel in between. I passed one bar, one restaurant, one general store and a post office that was easily over 100 years old as I drove through the town towards the marina where the boat was docked.
The amazing thing is that the six Discovery sails we were doing in Hessel had sold out months before. We had gotten countless calls to our office in Suttons Bay from hopeful customers asking if we would be adding more sails to our Hessel agenda; unfortunately, the ship’s tight schedule forbid us from doing so. Our Suttons Bay, Traverse City, and Charlevoix sails hardly ever even come close to selling out despite boasting population sizes that beat Hessel’s ten-fold. Driving through Hessel in all of its one-road charm, I was stunned by our organization’s popularity with this community and their interest in preserving and protecting the Great Lakes.
When I reached the boat, I was even more surprised to see a large group of locals gathered on the dock, chatting with the crew and the captain, and asking questions about the boat, Great Lakes ecology, and our organization and programs. The captain told me later that since the boat had arrived the day before, there was a constant crowd of interested passer-byers talking with our crew and asking to come aboard the ship for a dockside tour. And I saw more evidence of Hessel’s interest in Great Lakes ecology when our sail was underway, and we had the most inquisitive, passionate, and enthusiastic group of children, parents and grandparents on board. Even when we had to take cover below deck when we heard a crack of thunder and saw lightening strike across the sky, the group of 30 Hessel locals didn’t miss a beat and kept up their spirits and ours by singing Sea Shanties below deck accompanied by our second mate and his guitar until the storm passed. This instance was a perfect testament to their spirits and enthusiasm.
At the end of our three day stay in Hessel, I will be the first to admit that the crew and I were reluctant to leave. We had enjoyed our trip to this small town in the UP far more than we had anticipated, and I would go back and sail in Wilderness Bay in a heartbeat. Not only was I surrounded by breathtaking scenery in the Les Cheneaux Islands, but I became part of the Hessel community during our stay, thanks to the remarkable spirits and hospitality of the locals. So thank you Hessel – your marina and general store, your one restaurant and one bar, your vintage post office, and your single blinking-yellow traffic light – for opening your town and your hearts to us and everything our organization stands for. It truly was a pleasure.