Tall Ship Manitou – Life in Michigan’s Sailing Adventure

by | Oct 19, 2021 | Michigan, Travel

Our 4-day sailing adventure aboard the Tall Ship Manitou included ghost stories, a fairy village, sleeping under the stars, plus much more. The ghost stories were the real deal too! Dianna Stampfler, the author of Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses shared stories from the book and her years of research. 


Tall Ship Manitou – Life in Michigan’s Sailing Adventure 

Like everything in 2020, our 4-day windjammer cruise on the Tall Ship Manitou was canceled. We waited for 711 days to set sail. It was a long wait. On September 28, 2021, we arrived at the dock, signed our contracts, and submitted our proof of vaccinations and negative covid test. New requirements for life in 2021. With the paperwork done, we stood near the dock shyly watching the crew preparing the Tall Ship Manitou for our 4-day windjammer cruise. 


I’m sure we looked like wide-eyed kindergarteners, anxiously waiting for the teacher to ring the bell for the first day of school. We were very aware that we didn’t know the difference between the port side and starboard. It’s questionable if we figured it out during our 4 days on Manitou. It wasn’t the crew’s fault they tried.


Someone asked which cabin was ours. “Seven and nine,” we sang out. This prompted another crew member who was leaving to say, “I just stocked your cabin with your beverages. You are going to have fun. I wish I was joining you.” We laughed, a little embarrassed. 

We’d perseverated over the alcohol list. You are asked to bring your own snacks and non-alcoholic beverages onboard but the ship’s liquor license prevented us from bringing our own beer and wine onboard. Before arriving, we submitted an order form and the crew put our beverages in our cabin. Yes, we ordered too much but it is better to be safe than sorry.  

First Look  

Our first look at where we’d spend the next four nights was how shall I say, “Exciting.” 


We also found our copy of Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses!

The crew hoovered, instructing us to hand our gear to them and how to use the ladders. “Always backward and both hands on the rails.” The ladders surprised me and somehow the cabins looked bigger in the website picture. That shows how naïve I was going into this adventure. 


Since returning home, we’ve been asked a lot, “how many passengers does the ship accommodate?” There are twelve 2-person cabins for the passengers but on our trip, there were a total of 22 passengers plus the crew. 


I hadn’t thought about the other passengers or my cabin before stashing my gear in our cabin.  Now it was all I could think about. I nervously scanned the crowd, could they tell this was my first time?

Captain Jamie Trost introduced himself and the crew: Jack, Sam, and Nikka. Plus the fabulous cook, Lexie, and her assistant Rita. Then it was time for the passengers to share their favorite tree (the ice breaker) and previous sailing experience. (Pro-tip: You don’t need any previous sailing experience which I didn’t dwell on during my introduction.) Almost everyone besides us had previous experience. 

With the introductions over, I was now obsessing about my nightly pilgrimage to the bathroom and how those damn ladders could make it interesting. (Pro-tip: Do not drink anything after 6 pm if you don’t want to be climbing the ladders in the middle of the night!) 


Where are we headed, Captain Jamie? 

Captain Jamie said were headed to Northport on Wednesday morning. Where we’d dock for the night and you could use the marina’s showers and bathrooms. Chuck used the shower on board the Manitou and reported afterward it was “refreshing”.


Captain Jamie fielded lots of questions regarding our itinerary. Would we go to Beaver Island? Will we venture out onto Lake Michigan? He said something like, ”The weather has the final say as to where we are headed. No Beaver Island is not a possibility. We’d need nearly perfect weather conditions to sail to Beaver Island. Yes, there is a motor and we will use it if necessary.” I was sensing a reluctance to set an itinerary. 


So what about the Weather?

On previous vacations, I’ve prayed for the beautiful weather we experienced during our windjammer adventure. The sky was clear. There was a light, gentle breeze. At times it didn’t even create a ripple, the water was smooth as glass. Perfect for floating around on a swim raft drinking beer near the sand bar. Not so perfect for sailing on a schooner on the Great Lakes. “We need way more carpet and less linoleum,” said Captain Jamie. That is captain speak for more waves today, please. There was talk of the youngest person on board kissing the mast which was an old sailor superstition thought to create wind. Sam regaled us with other sailing superstitions.


The Menu


The Tall Ship Manitou crew may be reluctant to set an itinerary, they are not reluctant to feed you. Do you remember the scene from the Fellowship Of The Ring where it is explained they have seven meals daily: breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper? Manitou’s menu was similar:   

  • Coffee and baked goods on deck 
  • Breakfast in the galley in shifts 
  • Lunch on the deck – soup, salad, peanut butter sandwiches, tea, and lemonade
  • First dessert – homemade cookies
  • Fruit O’clock 
  • Dinner 
  • Second dessert 

My God, no wonder I look a bit like a Hobbit since coming home – short and kind of round. I put on 5 pounds and I was only on the ship for 4 nights.

The Galley


Lexie (aka the cook) said her recipes weren’t a secret and if you want any or all of them to just ask. So I did. She was also willing to entertain me and answered my silly questions even though she was busy cooking yet another fabulous meal. 

Before meeting Lexie I’d overheard two passengers talking. “Lexie is a ballerina,” one said to the other. I was eavesdropping, which I’d like to say is really hard not to do on a 114-foot schooner. In my head, I agreed with them. Lexie looks like a ballerina – willowy and muscled. She moves like a dancer. I wanted to ask her if it was true but I didn’t. Later I found her bio and it says, “What do you get when you cross a classically trained ballerina with a culinary trained chef focused on farm-to-table? You get Alexis “Lexie” Nelson, Manitou’s talented and easy-going cook.”  

Lexie is in-deed easy going but when she was looking straight at me, willing to answer my questions and talk about her recipes, I was completely tongue-tied. 

So my first question was a bit of a fumble, “Why did you move from a traditional kitchen?” Her answer was simple, “Fellowship.” I was wondering if it was another Hobbit reference but it wasn’t. She likes the intimacy of a galley, to spend time with the guests. 

The Woodstove 


I found myself looking behind her at the menacing fire-breathing stove. It looked hot and like it might bite you if you got too close. My second question sounded stupid even to me. I nodded towards the stove as I said it, “Is it hotter cooking with that than cooking in a traditional kitchen?” Her answer was quick and she was smiling. Relief washed over me, it wasn’t a stupid question. “No, and I get to wear tank tops and stand under the vent.”

I couldn’t imagine cooking a meal on the iron beast Lexie called a stove. She looked at the beast and said “Cooking on a wood stove is a lot of multitasking. Is my coffee percolating? How hot is my cast iron? What is happing with the fire?” Her insight didn’t make me want to buy my own. In case you are curious, the stove’s name is Margot.

The Recipes

I didn’t want her woodfire stove but I wanted her recipes. Most of the recipes on this week’s menu were from Francis Mallmann’s cookbooks: “Seven Fires Grilling the Argentine Way” or “Mallmann on Fire: 100 Inspired Recipes to Grill Anytime”. 


She plunked the first cookbook on the tiny counter and tapped the cover and mentioned he was on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. She was really intrigued by him and his approach. Then thumbed through looking for the Chimichurri recipe. I swear to God, I could put it on everything I eat. The charred carrots and arugula salad with Salsa Criolla were divine. So I requested those recipes too.





Lexie said she tweaks her recipes based upon what she has on hand and it’s all farm to table. My shyness had evaporated, now I was gushing, “I LOVE your brussels sprouts! I noticed they appeared several times. What is your secret?”  She said, “A really HOT pan.” The brussels sprouts are tossed in oil and seasonings before being added to the REALLY hot pan. (Pro-tip – She uses coconut oil.) She continued, “Don’t crowd the brussels sprouts or mess with them, let them blacken, and then turn them once.” Finally, bake them in the oven at a low temp.

Sailors and their Stories  

I loved Captain Jamie’s stories. He had hundreds. My favorite was his Isle Royale hiking story. Seriously, who doesn’t love a story with a hatchet and Hawkeye’s famous line from the movie The Last of Mohican’s? Captain Jamie demonstrated how before he ran off to find help, he put his hands on his wife’s shoulders and said, “You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you.” The hatchet he left with his wife to protect herself.  There was also a creepy person lurking around their shelter. She’d hurt her ankle and they needed a Park Ranger. The obvious solution was for Jamie to run over 20 miles to the Ranger Station. They both made it off the island safe by the way. 

Captain Jamie is also a musician and played us some sea shanties on his Mandola

Haunted Lighthouse Presentation

Captain Jamie wasn’t the only storyteller onboard. Our cruise had a bonus, Dianna Stampfler, the author of Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses onboard. During the trip, she shared her knowledge about Michigan’s lighthouses and hauntings. After dark, she “rigged” up the projector to shine her presentation on the ship’s canopy. A novel way to share some ghost stories.



Grand Traverse Lighthouse

Our first full day was topped off with a tour of Grand Traverse Lighthouse. We boarded buses after docking in the Northport marina for the short ride to the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula


Suttons Bay

We got some shore leave in Suttons Bay. All right, I know we weren’t technically sailors but it sounded better than Captain Jamie taking us ashore so we could explore Suttons Bay. It is a cute little town and home to one of our favorite breweries, Hop Lot



Power Island 

On our last night, we anchored off the north end of Power Island. Captain Jamie took us in pods of 6 to the shore to explore.


Our group found a fairy village and saw Bigfoot! Not something you see every day.



The sisters, Janet and Diane, were hoping to find the geocaches that are on the island. They returned with several treasures. 


Dianna is also a historian! She shared with us a bit of history about Power Island she published in 2017

In 1917, Henry Ford purchased a 200-acre island located three miles off Bowers Harbor in West Grand Traverse Bay north of downtown Traverse City. There was speculation that he’d develop a major summer resort or game preserve there. Yet, it remained a rustic island where he, Edison and Firestone were known to explore the shoreline and trails (while their wives stayed in town at the Park Place Hotel), according to local historian Kathleen Firestone, author of “An Island in Grand Traverse Bay.”

The property was sold in 1944, when Ford was 81 years old. Known today as Power Island, it’s occasionally referred to as Ford Island (or Marion Island), is open to the public and maintained by the Grand Traverse County Parks & Recreation Department.

Deck Hands

Chuck read on the Tall Ship’s website, you could get involved with the working of the ship.


He desperately wanted to climb to the top of the mast and shout sailor things like, “Ahoy Matey!”


No, they didn’t let him. That is Jack the first mate.


I cobbled a few of my videos together for a taste of sailing life on the Manitou. 

Gull Island Preserve

We passed Gull Island Preserve on our way to Northport. It is a nature preserve for nesting herring gulls. Captain Jamie shared that the creepy foundation on the island use to be an old house with a few trees making it even more creepy. Recent storms blew down the trees and left just the chimneys standing. 


Arts & Crafts 

There is always something for the crew to do. One project was making Baggywrinkles from the leftover rope. These shaggy covers are used to protect the sails from the cables. I joked it looked like we were doing macramé. 


Sleeping under the Stars 

We slept on the deck, under a blanket of stars when we were anchored in the bay. The stargazing was phenomenal! Unfortunately, our air mattresses were not phenomenal. We bought them because the reviews on REI said they were quiet. They were not. It sounded like a squeaking balloon every time we moved. Over the squeak of the air mattresses, we heard loons and an occasional splash in the water. 



We did a wee bit of relaxing too.




How the Manitou Arrived in Grand Traverse Bay

From MLive Article – June 1, 2021

Built in 1983, the Manitou was originally outfitted to offer multi-day cruises on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont.

In 1990, Dave McGinnis, a New Jersey native, was working on the Manitou as a first mate. His then-girlfriend, Mary, was a deckhand. When the Traverse Tall Ship Company’s owner made an offer to buy the boat and invited McGinnis to come run here in Michigan, the Easterner in him balked, he told MLive in a 2018 interview.


The 4-day windjammer cruise on the Tall Ship Manitou is a great way to explore Northern Michigan and reset your battery. The crew of the Manitou are amazing! Thank you for a wonderful experience. Check out the gallery for a few more pictures. If you attended, leave us a comment. We’d love to hear your story.


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