Here is the worst thing you can say about high-performance boating off Michigan’s west coast: the season is short. Go-fast boat enthusiasts there typically have from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend to get it done. Sure, there’s the odd early spring or (more likely) late fall weekend that presents an opportunity. But for the most part you’re looking at 12 weekends, just 24 days to get on the water, at least for those with regular weekday jobs.
Here is the second worst thing you can say about high-performance boating off Michigan’s west coast: It happens on Lake Michigan. Yeah, sure, in rare moments this ocean of a lake is as flat as your favorite local pond. But most often, Lake Michigan ranges from rough — even when it looks calm — to rougher. In short order, Lake Michigan will change your thinking on the rigors of ocean versus lake boating.
So why bother? Because Michigan’s west coast offers some of the most breathtaking scenery you’ll ever find. Historic lighthouses, sugar-white sand dunes, pristine clear water, and plenty of great harbors with fine waterside dining spots from South Haven to Muskegon. Boating off Western Michigan is, like most great things that don’t come easy, worth the effort.
But don’t take my word for it. Just ask Chris Dekker, Jeff Tibbe, Kevin Alferink, Derek Powers, and Roger Zuidema, the board members of West Michigan Offshore, a nonprofit 501(c)(7) organization of high-performance powerboat enthusiasts, launched in April 2015. These guys, as well as the other 200-plus members of the still-growing club, knew how special their home waters were before they banded together. Forming West Michigan Offshore was a natural, social extension of their passion for their spectacular backyard waterway and coastline.
“Although it has always been common to see countless boats from the likes of Cigarette, Fountain, Powerquest and others, before we formed West Michigan Offshore boat owners here really didn’t know each other — and there was no way for them meet up,” said Dekker. “That gave us the idea of creating something more formal and more organized.
“The board has been completely overwhelmed with interest and support in the club, and we couldn’t be happier with how things are going,” he continued. “WMO really is for the boaters and not for us, and it’s been gratifying to see our hard work pay off in such a big way.”
Their commitment is paying off in other even more important ways. In 2016, WMO partnered with the Make-a-Wish Foundation and was able to donate nearly $20,000 — more than half the club’s first-year operating cost — to the charity. That enabled WMO to grant three wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses, which included taking Brooks Kingma, a youngster from Holland, Mich., who was fighting cancer, on a 38-foot Formula sportboat owned by club member Christopher Stevens.
Released late last week, WMO’s 2017 schedule (see the full list of events below) includes popular happenings such as the Rock the Coast Fun Run, which attracted more than 90 boats from all over the Midwest last year and included photographer Pete Boden of Shoot 2 Thrill Pix capturing the action from a helicopter. Also returning this year is the Muskegon Powerboat Weekend, which includes a street party and a 65-mile poker run.
Participation in all events is free. Annual membership in the club costs $95.
Though the club has plenty of members who own big-dollar twin engine V-bottoms and catamarans, it also has members with more modest single-engine rides. Dekker and the rest of the board of directors welcome small-boat owners into the club, where they are reportedly accepted as equals by the club members who own larger boats.
“I think the entry-level high-performance boaters have largely been overlooked during the last decade, and they’re the foundation of the industry,” said Dekker. “If we want go-fast boating to be strong in 20 years, clubs need to make sure all boaters—not just big catamarans and V-bottoms with No. 6 drives– have a place at events.
“Anyone who says offshore powerboating is on the decline should think twice before getting too nervous, because organizations such as WMO are aggressively working to raise the profile of powerboating in west Michigan with an eye on the greater good of charity,” he added. “With 2016 in the books, high performance boating organizations around the country are looking forward to 2017 with high hopes. West Michigan Offshore is no exception, and anticipates another safe and successful year of events and charitable giving.”
Grand Rapids Boat Show, Feb. 15-19
DeVos Place, Grand Rapids
WMO Annual Business and Kickoff Party, April 22
City Flats Hotel, Holland
Annual Charity Golf Outing, May 20
Winding Creek Golf Club
June Fun Run, June 3
Grand Haven to Saugatuck
Muskegon Powerboat Weekend, June 16-17
Rock The Coast Run, July 21-22
Grand Haven to Holland
August Fun Run, Aug. 26
Grand Haven to Whitehal
Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.