The Aquatic Arts

What’s that big raft anchored at the blue line all about?raft far

That big raft belongs to 4077 Crystal Drive, Dan Kelly’s house. It’s anchored in deeper water than most swimming rafts because it’s also a diving platform – both scuba and high diving. The high dive tower is almost finished and should be up by the middle of August.

Dan has been a certified NAUI scuba diver since 1988 and was fascinated by free diving after seeing Luc Besson’s The Big Blue. Free divers can go as deep as scuba divers just by holding their breath, no air tanks. Free diving is definitely catching on in Northern Michigan. The depth of water where the raft is anchored is about 25′-30′, not very deep by either scuba diving or free diving standards, but deep enough to practice and train.

Everyone enjoys Crystal Lake in their own way. Dan’s friends and family are into swimming, sailing, diving, paddling… and the big raft is the stage for these aquatic arts.


As swimmers could be between the raft and shore at any time, we’d be grateful if motor craft could pass on the south side of the raft, in the deeper water. By Michigan law, boats making a wake only have to stay 100′ away from a swimming raft, but by passing the big raft on the deep side boaters insure swimmers are safe and feeling comfortable. Thank you so much for your courtesy and consideration!


Alpha – do not approach


Diver Down






If there are scuba or free divers in the water, the big raft will fly the diver down and alpha flags. If these flags are visible, please stay 200′ from the raft on all sides, even with no wake.

Please, no hooks

Making friends while setting and documenting anchors for the big raft, 08-12-15.

The big raft is also part an effort to create an underwater sanctuary for photographing (and hanging out with) fish. Along with being a movie maker, Dan is also vegetarian, which means he doesn’t eat meat, (no beef, pork, mutton, fowl nor fish). So when he asks  fisher folk to steer clear of the area immediately around the big raft and it’s anchors, it’s not because he’s greedy! He just wants a convenient place where he can take pictures and observe the fascinating behaviors of fish in the wild. There’s also the chance that fishing tackle and hooks could get snagged on the bottom lands and become a hazard to divers. Crystal Lake is huge, there are so many great spots for fisher folk – other than the big raft.

buoy buoy2

This industrial strength buoy was another salvage prize – found by Alex and Jordan Bates frozen in the winter ice of the Big Lake and donated to the cause. Without the diving tower attached, the big raft sits low in the water. The big buoy has been deployed to increase daytime visibility. A marine grade solar deck light has been added to keep the raft clearly visible at night, but not so bright that it’s a distraction or annoyance from shore.


The big raft is constructed of rolled steel hot dipped in zinc, and is a significant chunk of industrial or marina infrastructure, origin unknown. The big raft was found half buried high up on the shores of Point Betsie in 1990-1991. With the permission of the National Park Service, Dan and dry stone waller Mike Murphy salvaged the raft and brought it to Crystal Lake.

This raft was last seen on Crystal Lake about 10 years ago. This summer, our friendly welder Alex fabricated a clamp and reinforced support for the diving tower. Dan and helpers Ben Woody (Platte Lake) and Bri Mathias (Thompsonville) gave the raft a coat of paint and a new deck of black locust planks – harvested from the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore as part of the SEEDS program.


A rail system gently nudges the renovated big raft back into Crystal Lake on August 5. 2015.

Along with sprucing up the appearance of the big raft, safety has also been enhanced. There are now two dead weight anchors with 50′ of 1/4″ G70 chain to keep the raft secure. Underwater photos of the anchor hardware can be reviewed by the Sheriff and Water Patrol to provide peace of mind that the raft is not able to break loose – even in heavy weather.

Primary anchor Primary detail Secondary anchor Secondary detail
Primary connection Secondary connection

Dan Kelly is an artist and movie maker, a year round resident on Crystal Lake and active in community service / regional economic promotion. He usually swims to the blue line and free dives just about every day during the summer, rain or shine. He’ll wave if he can see you going by!

Special thanks to the following folks who helped make the big raft possible with their advice, materials and encouragement.

Anita Haugen (cedar tree for first tower)
Michael Murphy (salvage from Point Betsie and transport)
William Joslyn (consultation)
Gary Matthews (consultation)
Adam Burkes (consultation, beer)
Wonderland refugees (group push, first time in Crystal Lake)
Lou Penzie (recovery)
Thomas Hirsh (black locust lead)
Joseph and Robert Cissel (cement mixer, primary anchor)
Alex Brydges (primary anchor, secondary anchor, welding and fabrication)
Ben Woody (renovation and relaunch)
Bri Mathias (renovation and expediting)
Jason Lome, Claire and Christopher Morey (free diving inspiration)
Rose and Bob of Scuba North (tank fills and lollipops)
Neighbors of Glen Rhoda (patience and curiosity)
Michigan Conservation Officers, Benzie County Sheriff and Water Patrol (guidance and recommendations)


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