GLEN ARBOR — A kayak voyage through the Manitou Passage turned treacherous for five teens after they grew tired in choppy Lake Michigan waters and had to be rescued.
"These five, they're lucky to be alive," said Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich.
The kayakers -- a New York woman, two Grand Rapids men, an Ada man, and a West Bloomfield man, all ages 18 and 19 -- set off Friday for a camping trip to South Manitou Island from Glen Haven. They stayed until Sunday when they ran out of food and decided to brave stiff winds back to the mainland.
Borkovich said the teens' kayaks ranged from 6 to 10 feet long and weren't suitable for an open water trek through the Manitou Passage, a stretch of water where slight winds shifts can cause big changes in surface conditions.
"It's beyond the point of being foolish," he said. "There are lot of professional mariners who have drowned in the last couple hundreds years in the Manitou Passage."
The teens pushed off Sunday about 2 p.m. and apparently decided to split up. Three chose to ride the winds south while the other two made a push for Glen Haven. Borkovich didn't have information as to which teens were in which group.
Borkovich said three Indiana men in a sail boat cruised past the group of three kayakers about 6 p.m. not far from the island. He said they managed to turn their 32-foot sail boat around in the rough waters and pluck them from the waves.
The sailors called Leelanau County authorities to report the rescue and that two kayakers remained missing somewhere between the island and Sleeping Bear Dunes. Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Levi Read said a rescue helicopter crew spotted the missing teens about 7 p.m.
"From what I understand, the swells were about 4 to 5 feet and the winds were blowing about 25 mph," he said. "I imagine it looks pretty choppy."
Read said one teen floated in the swells alongside an overturned kayak. He said a rescue swimmer went down and decided that the teens were in bad enough shape to warrant a basket rescue.
Coast Guard rescuers flew the teens to a boat ramp where local emergency personnel waited. Borkovich said all the teens wore life preservers, which helped those in overturned kayaks, but they still suffered varying degrees of hypothermia from the 55-degree water.
"Some were vomiting. Some were shivering so bad they couldn't talk," he said.
Emergency personnel treated the teens and didn't transport them to the hospital. Borkovich credits the work by his deputies, Glen Lake and Leland firefighters and EMS and the Coast Guard with saving lives.