Mackinaw City Marina: Setting the Mark
by Bob Brintnall

If you cruise the tip-of-the-mitt in Michigan, you know that comfortable, well run marinas are plentiful. If you sail the Straits of Mackinac you know there is one marina that manages to stand out.
Kites flying over Mackinac Island Harbor.

With the beautiful Mackinac Bridge just over its shoulder, and only a short tack from popular Mackinac Island, location alone would keep Mackinaw Cityís marina busy. But there are many little touches that would make Mac City special no matter where it is located.
My buddy JD Dakosee sailing by the Mackinac bridge.

The facilities are very accommodating; the lounge, including a large map room, internet access, and local weather radar, rivals even Traverse Cityís new Clinch Park. The rest rooms arenít so fancy, but they are kept clean and well maintained, so while you may have to stand in line for a shower on a weekend, you wonít have to worry about running out of hot water, toilet paper, or soap. The laundry room is top notch. Having the proceeds go to local kidsí groups is a nice touch, and a full size clothes folding table is a plus. Use the white dryer; itíll run forever on those quarters. The pump out and gas dock is convenient, though diesel has to be bought at a separate tie up down the Sheplerís docking wall.

Still, the big difference in Mac City isnít the appliances or facilities, itís the way the place is run. Not just service, but service attitude. Many marinas wonít send dock help unless requested, the better ones always have someone at the transient slip. But Iíve never been to Mac City when they didnít have two blue shirts waiting to catch me. On a very busy weekend last season they ran out of ice. The dock folks were so sorry that they offered to shuttle to the local grocery to get ice for our day sail. A nice gesture as the store is several city blocks away. As we prepped to sail over to Mackinac Island I wondered how long weíd have to wait for them. But before we were ready to cast the last line our ice order was coming down the dock.
Cruisers have to keep in mind, however, that a marina this well run does everything well, including keeping track of you. Our last voyage to the straits was especially grand and one toast just wouldnít do, but before we poured the third the marina folks were by again just to pleasantly remind us that we hadnít yet signed in. The next day our power boating neighbor was getting ready for a trip. His plan was to leave at the crack of noon, but normal check out was 11:00, and before 11:30 they were by, not to hassle him but to see if he was leaving that day or wanted the slip for another night.
Round Island Light.

Provisioning takes a shuttle if youíre going after groceries, but the small store is eager to help you out and tries hard to fit your schedule. The shelves donít offer a great variety, but the basics are there, and a good portion of the floor space is given to alcohol. While you may need to ride to get groceries, a fantastic chandlery is just across the marinaís parking lot. There is also a full service yard, complete with pull out capabilities.

Day sailing around Mackinac Island and under the bridge is a great way to enjoy the area. For dining there are many upscale restaurants within easy walking distance, and thereís one bar and grill you wonít want to miss. The Key-Hole isnít fancy, but the food is excellent; they are especially known for their perch and ribs. When we were there a man on guitar was doing a great job with any Jimmy Buffet we requested, and the beer was icy cold.
A toast to Mackinaw City.

However, you donít have to go out for entertainment in Mac City. You can lounge in your cockpit and watch the marinaís famous nightly air show/insect control system. The dock swallows of Mackinaw are a bit shy by nature. When out of their nests they prefer to rest on your mooring lines than your rigging, and youíll hardly notice them till day turns to dusk. But as the sun begins to set the bugs begin to fly, and so do the delicate swallows. You can lounge in your cockpit and watch them dance through the air right over your head with grace and agility no fighter jet on earth can match.

As the night grows too dark for swallow watching the areaís great light show begins. Just over the brake wall the mighty Mackinac Bridge back drops the night with a stunning vista of lights that you can see in photo galleries and bookstores around the world. But, no glossy print can match the view from just being there.

There are many fine marinas where Huron and Michigan meet, but when Iím in the Straits, I head straight for Mackinaw City.

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Bob Brintnall is a freelance writer from Buckley, Michigan.