Summer Sailing is Here: The “Champion” is Rigged

"This is a great start to the sailing season. It’s been beautiful weather to get her in." - Heather Jankens, Maritime Heritage Alliance

After a “down” year due to COVID – they’re ready to lift the sails at a northern Michigan nonprofit. “We are really excited to have a full summer of youth programming on the boat again after last year,” says Heather Jankens. She’s the Executive Coordinator with the Maritime Heritage Alliance.

The Maritime Heritage Alliance aims to preserve the heritage of the Great Lakes. They’re getting ready for another summer season by setting sail in Grand Traverse Bay. Champion Rigging

Meet the “Champion” of the Grand Traverse Bay. Jankens says, “Champion is a 38 foot Concordia.  Cutters were originally designed to be fast boats, first one back to the fish market would get the best prices. So for her time she was super-fast and super slick.”

Built in 1968, the 38-foot ship is now used mostly for the youth sailing program for at-risk kids. “I’ve always believed that the youth program is just an awesome way to teach people self-confidence, because sailing is such a tactile thing and you immediately see the results of what you are doing.

“There’s just something really awesome about getting the guys out there and having them learn basic skills, to have them out on the water to be safe out on the water,” Jankens says.

MHA Board Member Jay Ruzak says, “All you’ve gotta do is get a bunch of kids around, a tall ship or a traditionally rigged ship like this one. And you can see them light up. You can see they want to learn all there is to know about it. Get ‘em on board and it changes their lives. I’ve seen it. It’s well worth all the effort we put into it.”

Champion ShipThis week the Champion is back in the water – and volunteers are playing a huge part in getting her ready. Jankens says, “As an organization we want to preserve and promote all of this maritime history. Some of these skills will be lost over time, because now we have big fiberglass boats and much faster boats. But all of the rigging and everything, there’s something enchanting about seeing them all out on the water.”

On West Grand Traverse Bay they’re getting the rigging in place. With help from a crane they’re lifting the mast into place. Volunteer Maoly Molinos says, “I’ve wanted to learn how to sail for a really long time. You volunteer and you learn how to sail, you learn all the things about the boats. I’m a total geek so I love learning how things work.”

Volunteers like Molinos say it’s a great way to have fun with what otherwise would be a very expensive hobby. “These boats are so old and they’re a throwback to the old time history of this area. It just fascinates me. The information is here, all you have to do is volunteer. Maritime Heritage Alliance

“This way you get to learn and you get to connect to the roots of the area. And it’s accessible,” Molinos says. “There’s no heavy commitment and heavy pressure. You come and go as you want, and everyone is so willing to teach you. You don’t have to know anything. You just show up and everyone will take time out of what they’re doing to show you… and the history of how these boats came to be. For people here what better way to connect to the area – and the water- than to get involved.”

Jankens agrees. “It’s just a great way to connect to this beautiful area we live in.”

The traditional tall ship that you see out in the bay each summer is the Schooner Madeline. She’s out of commission this year for repairs. So you’ll see the Champion setting sail for all those who want to climb aboard. Jankens says, “Our schooner Madeline is being worked on. We’re doing some really hardcore maintenance this year, we’re re-decking her completely and a new mast. So she won’t be able to sail out and won’t be accessible to the community until next year.”

Meanwhile: this “lady” is ready. They’ll hoist the sails on the Champion at an Open House this weekend. Jankens says, “We are going to be taking her out a few times on a limited basis. It’ll only be a quick tool around the bay, but it gets you out there for a minute and kind of gets you the experience to see what it’s about and how everything works. And what a taste of traditional sailing and rigging.”Discovery Pier

Champion is available for Charter throughout the summer and for the youth sailing program.

The weekend open house is on Saturday from 10-2pm. Visitors should check in at MHA next to the Great Lakes Children’s Museum, on M-22 in Greilickville.

For more information, click here.