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Great Lakes Boat building Company

Famous Buildings / November 1, 2020

About Mike Kiefer
Growing up in Detroit, Michigan it is hard to not love the Great Lakes and boats. Early explorers like La Salle, Brule and Father Marquette explored Michigan by canoe and bateau. Wars between the English, French, Iroquois, Huron and other tribes were fought on the Lakes for control of the western territories. Settlers and cargo came by sail and steam and today recreational boating is one of the top outdoor activities. Fishing, sailing, power boating, rowing and paddling or simply floating around on an inner tube are perfect ways to while away lazy summer days. My uncles were all boaters who owned Chris Crafts, Lymans, Cruisers Inc., sailboats, and canoes.

We fished, water skied, and cruised Lake Huron on Uncle Tom's 42' Chris Craft Constellation. My family attended the Gold Cup speedboat races on the Detroit River where I heard Gar Wood speak about his pioneering career in setting world speedboat records.

Michigan is a cottage culture and the extended family had many. I spent summer days at Port Sanilac or Alpena on Lake Huron, Leamington on Lake Erie or Burt Lake in northern Michigan. Every cottage has a boat or two or three. Pontoon boats, mahogany runabouts and 12 fishing boats were standard fare. Summers in Michigan are magical and memorable and having a boat to explore the watery world that literally surrounds us has always seemed more necessary than optional. Detroit in the 1960's was a booming city where everyone I met was either a car builder, road or bridge builder, tool and die man or construction worker. So the idea of building boats seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

I owned my first boat at 14. It was a used fiberglass Sunfish that I raced it in the Detroit Sunfish club. I built my first sailboat from Popular Mechanics plans when I was 16 in the basement to take to the cottage on family vacation. I bought a book on sailing at the local drugstore and taught myself to sail. I built boats in college during breaks for summer vacations. I kept building small boats for myself after college as I got into the building trades as a carpenter and contractor. I started cruising solo in a 12' sailboat in the North Channel of Lake Huron, camping on the boat among the wilderness islands. I was at the first wooden boat show in Hessel, MI in 1978 and am a charter subscriber to Woodenboat Magazine. I have always loved woodworking, boating and exploring so building and sailing boats came naturally to me.

I have been a lifeguard, swimming instructor, scuba diver and ocean sailor so water has been a big part of my adult life. In college I worked as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at the Grand Rapids YMCA and became a scuba diver there as well. Later I spent many months in the Caribbean diving and sailing the Windward and Leeward Islands on a private yacht. I sailed my own boat from Bay City, Michigan to Chicago down the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, across the Gulf of Mexico to Florida where I lived aboard for two years. I have spent summers sailing he Great Lakes since I was in high school. I have sailed all over Lake Huron, Lake Michigan as well as parts of Lake Superior and Lake Erie.

After college (BA in English/ BS in Industrial Arts) I worked in the building trades as a carpenter and later earned my builders license and went into business for myself. I did building and remodeling for 12 years and learned to work accurately and efficiently as well as hold my own on any construction crew. I started building boats for myself as a hobby, necessity being the mother of invention. As my reputation as a craftsman grew several men approached me to build their boats early in my career. These boatbuilding projects were successful and enjoyable so I actively pursued building boats. One thing led to another and after building or restoring about 300 vessels I think I know a thing or two about wood boats. Interestingly, I enjoy it as much or more as when I started.

Today, I am an active boater. I sail my 20' Caledonia Yawl when there is wind and take my 28' powerboat or my 18' powerboat when it is calm. Sue and I cruise most summers somewhere on the Great Lakes. It is still our passion and the Lakes are our playground. We paddle our kayaks and canoe in the spring and fall on the Kalamazoo River and row for exercise on the Black River in our home town of South Haven, Michigan. South Haven is a resort, beach town on the eastern shore of southern Lake Michigan two hours from Chicago. We have lived the maritime life for many years and continue to enjoy boating with friends and family.

Source: www.greatwoodboats.com