Our Journey

Navigating the Pandemic

We have been very busy this summer, even though the pandemic prevented us from running our kids’ programs or booking charters. We have sailed a few times with our families or our own small crew, conducted some training sails, and taken several groups of interested locals for sails to broaden our exposure. But the fact that the coronavirus cases have skyrocketed with the coming of summer and the influx of tourists has convinced us, reluctantly, to end our sails for the season.
We will soon sail to Mackinaw City, where we will put Perception “on the hard,” (out of the water) so we can paint her hull and wait for an inspection from the nearby Coast Guard station, saving them the trouble of coming all the way to Traverse City. Next spring we will be back in Traverse City providing programs for kids and enhancing our coffers with charters to pay for youth programs.

Gold Star Families Tour Perception In Bay City

Michigan Challenge volunteers and Perception crew members were excited to provide tours for Gold Star families during the Special Populations visitations an hour before the festival was opened to the general public.We were happy to see returning gold Star Teen Kenzie and her mom Katie, and Survivor Outreach Services Coordinator Melissa Alex helping to tell the families about our mission.
Michigan Challenge is thrilled to have been invited to bring Perception to Bay City for her very first Tall Ship Festival in the Northern Hemisphere. Although she appeared at Tall Ships Australia in 1988, this was a new experience for her crew. It’s an important one for nonprofits, too, as it gives us a chance to earn money to fund our programs.

2019 Gold Star Programs

This summer we provided tuition-free sailing adventures for new groups of Gold Star teens and two returning teens. This year we also included  Blue Star teens, as the separations they have experienced is something all the teens understood. We had perfect weather and enjoyed some exciting sails. One day we sailed from Northport to Charlevoix and the boys’ group enjoyed sailing under the drawbridge as it stopped traffic and opened up for us. On another sail we practiced a man overboard drill when the captain’s hat blew overboard. All the teens learned to raise sails, coil lines, tend sheets, and take a turn at the helm.

In the evenings Perception was docked at the beautiful G. Marsten Dame Marina in Northport, Michigan. The kids were free to enjoy the Boater’s Lounge, watch TV, charge their phones, or take a shower.  There was a beautiful beach nearby, and many unique shops that the girls group explored. Dinners were a cookout in the adjacent park, food and bowling at Tuckers, and a bonfire with pizza after a hike to the top of Braman Hill. Our teens had plenty of time to relax, get to know each other, and share feelings and experiences.

Here are a few of the comments we received from them after they returned home:

  • “The thing about this program I liked best was being able to share how your loss affects you and hear other people’s stories.  My new friends, the captains and the crew are all amazing people and I look forward to seeing them next year.”
  • “I enjoyed being a part of the program because I can connect with people who are in similar situations as I am.”
  • “I also that this program not only honors the Gold but also the Blue, both are affected by loss whether it’s a parent gone all the time due to service and tours or a parent who has passed . . .”
  • “What I liked best was knot tying–it was very soothing.”
  • “The captains and crew were great, they taught me a lot of stuff I didn’t know. They are great teachers and fun to be around.”

Teens and Grief

Although we have focused our efforts on Gold Star Teens (children of fallen military heroes), the effects of loss by death of a parent or other loved one by all youth are similar whether the death was military-related, or by accident, murder, or suicide.  All are considered “external” causes, rather than a less sudden and traumatic death by disease.  Youth who lose a loved one by external causes show a marked increase in depression over youth who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling, or friend from other causes.

The depression these youth experience manifests itself in many ways, with:

  • anxiety, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)
  • thoughts of or attempts at suicide
  • impulsive aggression (getting in arguments or fights)
  • negative coping (such as drug and alcohol abuse or cutting)
  • family discord
  • feelings of isolation

All of these have a great impact on social relationships and academic success.  Although we can’t provide professional grief counseling and therapy for these teens, what we can provide is a positive change:

  • an opportunity to spend time with other kids who have gone through similar loss
  • an atmosphere that devoid of access to drugs and alcohol
  • the pleasant distraction of learning something new and the satisfaction of being good at it
  • physical activity through raising sails, steering the boat, coiling lines, helping with meals, and swimming
  • a safe small town in Northern Michigan
  • and quietly sailing through the cool waters of Grand Traverse Bay as time slows down and nerves relax.

Veterans’ Sails on Perception

We had the opportunity to host several sails with veterans and their families at the Elk Rapids Harbor Fest!  We were lucky enough to be joined by Greg McMaster and his crew from Eagle-Eye Drone Service, who made this awesome video of one of our voyages:



First Gold Star Program

Our first 4-day program was a wonderful success!  Our Gold Star Girls learned the parts of the boat, the names of the sails, how to throw dock lines and raise and lower sails.  They learned how to coil and hang halyards.  They got lessons on the physics of the block and tackle system, making an eye splice, tying knots, and steering.  They know a tack from a jibe, a staysail from a jib, and a sheet from a halyard.  They enjoyed leisure time having a cookout in Northport’s Marina park, swimming, playing badminton, playing cards, visiting the unique shops of Northport, having their portraits sketched, making new friends, and a campfire on beautiful Braman Hill overlooking the picturesque town of Northport, Michigan.

We wish to thank the folks at G. Marsten Dame Marina for their generosity, their excellent facilities from their air-conditioned lounge, excellent restrooms and showers, and their beautiful park and swimming beach.

Here are some cards we received from our participants:

“Thank you so much for all of the work and love you put into this project.  It means so much to me and my family to know that there are people out there that truly care and want to make a difference.  You guys are truly amazing people!”

“Thank you for having us here!  I loved driving the boat and the journey.”

“I had a great time and thanks”

“Thank you so much for this incredible opportunity!  I am so appreciative of what you are doing to suppo;rt our Gold Star families and honor our fallen heroes.  It has been a great week and to watch (name withheld) grow and experience this was amazing!  Your guidance and support means a lot to us.  We look forward to more sailing adventures with our Perception family!”

Click on the Arrows to see Photos of our Program:


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Rigged and Ready!

Thanks to many talented volunteers, Perception‘s running rigging is complete and sails are bent on.  On our maiden voyage Perception performed beautifully, and crew began learning the ropes.  Here she is in Grand Traverse Bay on a beautiful July day.  It’s been almost a year since the board of Michigan Challenge travelled to Martha’s Vineyard to purchase her.  After all the hard work and the help of many generous donors, sailing her is truly a dream come true.

Launch Day!

Launch Day!

On Monday, June 18, Perception touched fresh water for the first time!  The best way to share our excitement is to direct you to the link below, which will take you to reporter Savannah Fish’s coverage of the event.  We thank Savannah for her excellent coverage on a very damp day.


We would also like to thank Record-Eagle photographer Sarah Moore Kuschell for this photo of Perception being lowered into West Grand Traverse Bay. See more of her photos of the big day at:


We also are indebted to the following for their financial assistance:  Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, August A. Busch III Charitable Trust, Schmuckel Family Foundation, Rotary Club of Traverse City Good Works Fund, Dr. Susan Wainwright,William S. Harper, Nick and Susan Hansen, and Margaret Fogiorne.

We would also like to thank Dave Darga of Harbor West Yacht Club for providing winter storage and moving our masts and spars, Team Elmers for carefully hoisting Perception off the jackstands, onto the truck, off the truck, and into the water, and Premier Marine Services for hauling Perception across the street to Discovery Pier.

Ready For Launch!


President’s Comments

Captain Bryan Smith, President

Michigan Challenge Traditional Sail Training

It’s hard to believe that launch time is really here!  We have been extremely fortunate to have a dream team of volunteers who have appeared like a gift from heaven at the time we needed them and with the skills required to help with our restoration, upgrades, and repairs.  I will always be indebted to them for their valuable expertise and willingness to pitch in and get the job done. Our team is small now, but we will have need for more volunteers in the near future and welcome your participation. We are scheduled for launch on Monday,  June 18 when Perception will be loaded onto a truck and transported across the street to Discovery Pier.  There an Elmer’s crane will lift her off the truck and into Grand Traverse Bay just to the north of Manitou.  Then the masts will be set and rigging will begin!

Renovations and Repairs

Once Perception was settled in Dave Darga’s boatyard in Greilickville, Michigan, just north of Traverse City, volunteers began the tasks of bringing her up to code and making her look new and sparkling after her 1000+ mile journey from Massachusetts.  Perception got rust treatment, fresh paint inside and out, and a weak spot in her hull was repaired.  A cover was built to provide shelter for winter work. Talented volunteers made new decorative beak boards, a boom crutch, teak blocks, belaying pins, and deck boxes.  They refinished the teak cockpit and interior teak woodwork. Rot was discovered in her main mast and skillfully repaired.  Worn leather was replaced.  Her electrical and plumbing systems and engine were overhauled. The anchor chain was cleaned and repaired.  Finally, the winter cover came off!

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