The Manitou Passage of northern Lake Michigan was a short cut to sail from Chicago to other Great Lakes ports. Although more sheltered, it had many shoals and boats had to sail closer to shore. The bottom of Lake Michigan rises suddenly to within 20 feet of the surface nearly halfway between South Manitou Island and Leland, known as the Manitou Shoal. Captains looked at the weather, the boat's speed, condition and cargo and then decided which way to go. The passage meant about six more trips per season and more money.
To mark the Manitou Shoals, the government build a wooden light tower on the southern point of North Manitou Island in 1898. When this did not provide enough safety for passing boats, a lightship was anchored right on the shoals from 1910 until 1935 when the present cement 75 foot light tower was built (called "the crib").
A three man Coast Guard crew lived in the light tower building, working two weeks and then going ashore for one week's break. Off duty they would read, talk on the radio, play board games, and looked-forward to the mail boat visits. When the light was automated in 1980, its crew left. Still automated today, it can be seen as the ferry passes on its way to South Manitou Island.
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The Lightship Manitou near North Manitou Island.
The Crib Light, located near the North Manitou Shoals.
©1999 Thomas Kachadurian