Retrospective: the boats of Bill Bellinger

Did you know that at one time small boats were built in Charlevoix in the downtown business district, far from Lac Rond?

A hundred years ago, Bill Bellinger, a dealer in souvenirs, photos, postcards, musical instruments and other items primarily for the summer trade, was on its way to becoming a fixture on Bridge Street. Bill also built boats in the small space behind his shop near the Channel Bridge. His father, the jeweler Charles Bellinger, built the buildings there that now house Scovie’s restaurant. The family lived upstairs.

Bill has become a jack-of-all-trades, fairly self-taught, and building a boat of any type came to him as naturally as a bee picks up a flower, right down its driveway. Literally, since the space he worked in was in the small alley on Park Avenue next to the Smoke on the Water restaurant.

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The attached photo shows Bill, his son Jim, and his grandson Bill Jr. standing beside the hull of a recently completed sailboat in the mid-1940s. The truss structure on the right is the aft porch of the Alhambra hotel, formerly the Lewis Grand Opera House built in 1883, which was removed in 1947 to make way for the current Memorial Bridge canal. How did Bill get his job out of there and into the water?

Courrier de Charlevoix, Oct. 11, 1922: “NEW ARTISANAL DIVERSION BUILDING. Auxiliary type of Bellinger’s boat. Same design as the famous “Typhoon” which crossed the Atlantic in 1920. Will Bellinger builds an auxiliary cruising ketch in the backyard of his shop on Bridge Street. This craft will be 35 feet long and 12 feet wide. It is equipped with a daggerboard and will pull either three feet of water or ten to twelve feet, depending on whether the board is raised or lowered. (Does anyone know what the term “table” refers to?)

“The keel and the frame are in white oak, as well as the planking, all to be creosoted. The cabin will be of the regulatory hunting type, equipped with four berths, toilets and kitchen. The engine has not yet been chosen, but Mr. Bellinger indicates that it will be of the robust type to deliver ten horsepower.

“Mr. Bellinger builds his boat for his own use to a design by William Atkins, naval architect of Montclair, NJ She is of the same type (but ten feet shorter) as the ‘Typhoon’, also designed by Mr. Atkins, which crossed the Atlantic from New York to Liverpool in 1920.

“The owner expects to launch this boat next June. In order to accomplish this feat, it will be necessary to construct a slipway at the rear of the Mussalem property (Mr. Mussalem owned the Alhambra Hotel), down the bank and on the promenade leading to the lifeboat station (the Coast Guard once near the old Lake Michigan Beach Hatchery) and in the channel. Mr. Bellinger says he threw a thirty footer from the same spot some time ago and foresees no problem with the next one.

The lifeboat station had a ship’s slipway in the channel wide enough to accommodate two lifeboats.

Imagine today drinking a cocktail on the deck of the Weathervane Inn and seeing, across the canal, the hull of a 35-footer carefully descending the embankment beside the steps of Hoffman Park, turning 90 degrees west, then progressing along the canal embankment almost exhausted from view. On dry land. What’s in that cocktail, by the way?

Fifty years later, during a time when the waters of the lake were very high, Courier editor Bob Clock wrote an editorial about the high winds we had experienced, which “drives me absolutely insane “. October 11, 1972: “An evil wind. Of all the nasty weather phenomena encountered in northern Michigan, I think the wind is the worst. Sunday afternoon we descended Fish Hatchery Hill to get a closer look at this great boiling cauldron called Lake Michigan. The waves were breaking over the heads and there was not a fisherman in sight. Last Sunday, they were neck and neck.

“All the beach playground equipment was underwater from time to time as waves driven by a strong westerly wind crashed against the retaining wall that separates the beach from the causeway. .

“On Pine River Channel, the waves came just over the revetments, soaking the grassy fairways on both sides. (Charlevoix didn’t yet have the cement sidewalks we enjoy now) From time to time, spray sprayed pedestrians and cars crossing the bridge.

“Of course, the first big hit of the season would come on the day of the Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Colour Cruise’. The Beaver Islander never left the island, and 200 ticket holders waited at the town dock. Ironically, Round Lake and the shoreline of Lake Charlevoix downwind of the storm remained calm and unfazed throughout the day. A gale on Lake Michigan can be catastrophic, as evidenced by the hundreds of ships that sank off our coasts in winds like the one we had on Sunday. When 60 and 70 mph winds blow 20-foot seas over the northern lakes, landlocked Kansas looks very inviting.

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