A Brief History
The boating tradition of Les Cheneaux dates back at least 400 years. Native Americans used handmade vessels primarily constructed of wood, such as dugout and birch bark canoes; while French and British explorers and traders navigated the waters in similiar canoes, and wooden vessels like the Mackinaw boat. Examples of these historic vessels can be seen at our Les Cheneaux Historical and Maritime museums in Cedarville.
Long before the Mackinac Bridge was built, visitors would use the Arnold Line Ferry to travel from the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula. Here, summer residents, hunters and fisherman would be dropped off at island hotels and lakeside resorts. The villages of Hessel and Cedarville developed along the shore, and were once only accessible by water.
With the construction of highway M-134, the need for ferry service to the area faded away in the 1950s. However, the Arnold Transit Line still offers a taste of the past with its two island cruises scheduled on the second Saturday in August, during the Les Cheneaux Islands Antique Wooden Boat Show.
More than a century of boating, hunting, fishing, sailing and family vacation traditions persist in Les Cheneaux, and many families continue to vacation here in cottages built by their ancestors in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Les Cheneaux was the location of the first Chris Craft wooden boat franchise outside of Algonac, Michigan, established at the E.J. Mertaugh Boat Works in Hessel. The area is home to other boat shops and boat wrights, many of whom lend their talents in antique wooden boat restoration to a handful of local businesses including Classic and Antique Boats, Mertaugh Boat Works, Tassier Boat Works and Viking Boat Harbor.
The Great Lakes Boat Building School provides year round opportunities to learn the craft of boat building. Enroll for a one day workshop or a nine month curriculum.
The Les Cheneaux Islands’ natural harbors and sheltered channels are a safe haven for sailing vessels and pleasure crafts. We are centrally located among many popular Great Lakes sailing destinations, such as Mackinac Island, St. Mary’s River, Georgian Bay, Drummong Island, the North Channel and the Straits of Mackinac. Througout the summer months, sailors enjoy mooring in Government Bay, off Government Island, which is part of the Hiawatha National Forest and open to the public. Government Island offers fine swimming beaches, camping and hiking opportunities.
Sailing is a popular summer activity, and the Les Cheneaux Islands are home to the largest fleet of Ensign sailboats in the United States. Ensign Fleet 31 hosts a series of competitive sailing regattas throughout the boating season, and the sight of sails and boats racing on the waters of Les Cheneaux is always spectacular.
Check Fleet 31’s website for more information and the racing schedule.
Information on boating, docking, and sailing in the area can be obtained by visiting or calling the Clark Township Marina.
Les Cheneaux Islands Association annually provides boating safety instruction courses and boating tips. Check the Les Cheneaux Islands Association website for more information.
Visit the Calendar Page at lescheneaux.net for event dates and times!
All Year: Story & Craft Time at Les Cheneaux Community Library, 10:30 am, Cedarville
All Year: Les Cheneaux Farmers & Artisans Market, 10 am to 2 pm, Hessel School House, Hessel
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