Boy gets wish as ‘Captain of the Day’

ALPENA – A month long reading challenge was held at East Elementary School in Cheboygan for the opportunity to win a trip including making fudge on Mackinaw Island and a Detroit Tigers baseball game in an effort to give new experiences to students. On Saturday, 10-year-old Christopher Charboneau collected his prize for reading the most books in his fourth grade classroom when he became “Captain for the Day” aboard the Lady Michigan of the Alpena Shipwreck Tours.

The goal of the teachers at East Elementary School, including Eric Hall who helped set up the sanctuary trip, was to give the students experiences to choose from rather than material items. According to Hall many of the students have never left Cheboygan which is why the school wanted to find experiences for the students instead.

“He had a number of choices including he could have gone to a (Detroit) Tigers game or the Grand Hotel and he picked this. He wanted to come be captain for the day. We also gave them prize packets including jackets from the sanctuary,” Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary Representative Stephanie Gandulla said.

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is the only freshwater marine sanctuary in the U.S.

“It’s a pretty special place and we are designated to protect the hundreds of years of shipwrecks out there,” Gandulla said.

Over 80,000 people per year visit the exhibition spaces which are open year round and include a lifesize schooner. While there are sometimes special exhibits that have fees, most of the exhibition spaces are free admission including the schooner.

“Inside kids, and adults, can go through these tubes that simulate what it’s like being a scuba diver,” Gandulla said.

Charboneau sat waiting in anticipation with his grandfather, Jack Kitchen.

“I’m a little nervous and excited,” he said.

Kitchen said that his grandson did not sleep much the night before.

Charboneau read 20 books and said that the Percy Jackson book series was his favorite.

While some may be surprised at Charboneau’s choice of prize when his choice included tickets to a Detroit Tigers game or even tickets to the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, sailing on Lake Huron runs in his family.

“This is the first time I’ve been here. It’s really something, I like it. I’m an old sailor. I used to sail on the Chief Owada, the car ferry out of Mackinaw City. It was the last steamship on the lake,” Kitchen said.

Not only was Kitchen a sailor but Charboneau’s great-grandfather also sailed on the same ferry as Kitchen.

Charboneau explored the exhibits before becoming captain of the 65 foot long Lady Michigan. His favorite was the schooner.

“It was wild,” he said.

Before boarding the ship, Charboneau helped Captain Paul LaBrecque collect tickets. Capt. LaBrecque told Charboneau that he was hired because of how great a job he was doing.

“I’ll get a summer job here when I’m older,” Charboneau said.

Capt. LaBrecque was equally impressed with Charboneau’s choice of prizes for the reading program. When he introduced Charboneau as the day’s captain, those on board cheered and clapped.

Charboneau was able to experience not only sitting in the captain’s seat but steering the ship as well.

“It was pretty cool. I felt like I was in charge and I got to tell everyone what to do,” he said.

He also spoke with the bridge commander on the radio before Lady Michigan returned to shore.

“I was talking to the gate commander and I said, ‘Bridge Commander, Lady Michigan is coming,'” Charboneau said.

Charboneau smiled from ear to ear as he discussed his experience and he plans on returning soon.

“Someday I want to bring my grandma and my mom on her day off. I can have my grandpa, my grandma, my mom, my brother and hopefully my step-dad can come and we can take a trip,” he said.

This was the first time that Alpena Shipwreck Tours in conjunction with the partnership at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary has had a “Captain for the Day.”

Paige Edwards can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Paige on Twitter @pt_alpenanews.