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Charity Island – Travel to a Saginaw Bay Oasis

Charity Island has been part of Great Lakes history for 1,000s of years. In 1819 the future governor of Michigan, Lewis Cass, asked geologist Henry Schoolcraft to accompany him on a voyage of discovery on on the Upper Great Lakes. Their quest was to seek the headwaters of the Mississippi and make geologic and resource observations of this new Michigan Territory. In May the expedition took approximately 40 men in five long voyageur canoes. Their route across Saginaw Bay took a route that went around the Upper Thumb’s Pointe Aux Barques to Point aux Chenes, ( today called Oak Point), then across the bay via island of Shawangunk. This route made a point heading to this green island in the middle of Saginaw Bay in case of a sudden storm that was and still is, a common occurrence. 200 years later one Great Lakes Captain, Tom Carriveau makes that voyage many times a week during the summer season. Here is how he started.

A Passion For Great Lakes Diving

Image by Romero Chaves from Pixabay

In the 1980s, a young and enthusiastic scuba diver named Tom Carriveau spent time travelling between Michigan and Florida diving top shipwreck sites in the Great Lakes and learning to cave dive in the crystal clear spring waters of northwest Florida. This type of diving is considered “technical”. This means that Tom had to train, and achieve certification at levels above what typical resort and sport divers train for. Soon he was spending time in dives in excess of 200 feet which requires special gear and utilizing a special blend of air in his tanks called Trimix.

Tom was fascinated at finding and diving the deep shipwrecks on the Great Lakes. These ships are found to be almost perfectly preserved due to the cold water, low oxygen levels, and ice does not affect the ships during the long winter months. Some of these ships are so intact that the stacks, super structure, and cargo are all like they were when the ship foundered in 1860s! One ship Tom dove was found with barrels of whiskey, copper ingots, and all kinds of assorted hardware and cookware still stacked in boxes below decks. Other ships were found to have grain and coal from the mid-1800s still in the cargo holds.

Carriveau become part of a unique fraternity of advanced technical scuba divers who sought to seek out and dive undiscovered Great Lakes ships. Tom purchased and equipped a dive boat with underwater surveying gear, including a powerful wide-angle sonar and a tow-behind magnetometer. With this ability, Tom surveyed many miles of Lake Huron bottom lands, and discovered and explored four large previously undiscovered shipwrecks.

Moving Beyond Diving for Fun

While wreck diving was Tom’s passion, it was also expensive. Any boat owner will tell you the maintenance and upkeep for boating is a financial challenge. Adding the nuance of upkeep for technical scuba diving on top takes the budget up several notches. If he was to keep going , he had to take it to the next level. In 1990 Tom decided to train and obtain his 100 ton U.S. Coast Guard Master’s license along with being a technical dive master.

A Career as A Great Lakes and Everglades Captain

The Northstar from Caseville to Charity Island

With his license, Tom was able to work with Towboat US helping fellow boaters and sailors on the water. This service can range from taking gas or batteries to boats with breakdowns, towing them to shore, or even conducting full-scale marine salvage operations for a sunken craft. Tom also become knowledgeable and conducted dredging operations around the country. He became proficient in with tug boats, barges, dredges, and related marine construction equipment.

Nesting Rookery on Little Charity Island

Tom noted that one of his more enjoyable captaining experiences in the winter months has been to be a tour guide for the Everglades National Park Service in Everglades City, Florida. He takes 50 passengers on tours through the 10,000 island area of Everglades National Park. He learned the area and gave folks a sense of the history and unique wildlife of one of America’s largest national parks.


Charity Island Becomes a Destination

Charity Island Lighthouse Courtesy of Explorer Charters

Since the 1860s the Charity Island lighthouse guarded the opening of Saginaw Bay. However in 1939 the Gravelly Shoals Lighthouse was put into operation to be more in line with the shipping lanes and the island lighthouse was abandoned. The lonely tower and lighthouse fell into disrepair until 1992 when Robert & Karen Wiltse bought the Charity Island light-keepers’ home, rebuilt it, and became the Island’s only “full time” residents.

Carriveau began taking visitors out to Charity island in 2012. In 2018 he purchased a passenger craft from Manitou Island Transport out of the famous Fishtown in Leland, Michigan. It took Tom 30 hours to bring his boat from Portage Lake off of Lake Michigan to Caseville where it’s tied up today.

Introducing The Lady of the Lake

The Lady of the Lake Courtesy of Explorer Charters

In 2018 Tom took possession of “The Lady of the Lake” . The craft is a U.S. Coast Guard inspected excursion boat that is licensed for 56 passengers plus crew. It has an upper deck for 20 passengers that offers spectacular views of the sunsets and evening stars. It also has an open deck with seating for 20 passengers and a forward enclosed area for 20 passengers. The “Lady of the Lake” was built in 1950 with a steel hull ¼” thick and Series 60-6 cylinder semi-truck type of diesel engine. She measures 50 feet and has a 14 foot beam and drafts only 4 feet. She has been totally outfitted with a new navigation system, new VHF radio with incorporated AIS (Automatic Identification System which displays real-time ship and marine traffic positions), GPS, DSC (digital selective calling for emitting distress signals), and intercom system. In addition, there is a new Bluetooth Stereo system!


A Season of Exploring

Capt Carriveau and the ” Lady of the Lake” is going to be operating out of Caseville Municipal Harbor and Port Austin. Visitors will be able to see the true tip of the Thumb and the outer Saginaw Bay by tour boat.

Sunset Cruises – On Monday and Tuesday the Lady of the Lake will take visitors on a 2 1/2 hour narrated sunset cruises out of Caseville. The trip departs at approximately 8:00 PM and returns 10:30 PM. A similar cruise will be taken from Port Austin Harbor on Wednesdays. From Port Austin Harbor passengers will see Port Austin Reef Light, Burnt Cabin Point and Turnip Rock.

Charity Island Dinner Cruises – Schedules on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday Memorial Day through September. The Lady of the Lake departs from the Caseville Municipal Harbor at approximately 3:30 PM (1:00 PM on Sundays) Departure times vary because of sunset times. They need a minimum of 25 passengers in order to schedule a cruise. This trip is between 5.5 and 6 hours in length. It takes about approximately one hour to travel to Charity Island.


Explorer Charters Logo

For more information about the Sunset and Charity Island Dinner Cruises call Capt. Tom at 989-550-1234 or visit Explorer Charters for details, schedules and costs. Explorer Charters offer company events, weddings, lighthouse tours, sunset tours, kayaking, scuba charters and many more commercial and charter services​.


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Mike Hardy

Author of a fun loving and event blog covering topics of the Upper Thumb of Michigan , the wind energy capital of the Great Lakes. Offering great trove of information on Wind Energy, Cheeseburger in Caseville, Saginaw Bay, Sailing.

3 Responses

  1. Tom Carriveau says:

    Looking good Mike! Just a couple of minor modifications needed. Replace “nitrox” with trimix (a blend of helium, oxygen, and nitrogen). Replace “in excess of 100 feet “to in excess of 200 feet. I will re-read to see if anything else.
    You do really nice work!

  1. June 14, 2019

    […] Traveling to a Saginaw Bay Oasis – Charity Island […]

  2. July 24, 2019

    […] Cruise to Charity Island, An Oasis in the Bay […]

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