Great Lakes Boatbuilding Company
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
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
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
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
take my 28' powerboat or my 18' powerboat when it is calm. Sue and I cruise
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
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.