2006-07-15 / Top News

Kites Brighten Mackinac Skies

By Bernie Nguyen

Ben Nye, left, owner of Great Turtle Toys, and kite flier Ian Smithers prepare to launch the dragon, a 150-footlong kite, on Windermere Point. Ben Nye, left, owner of Great Turtle Toys, and kite flier Ian Smithers prepare to launch the dragon, a 150-footlong kite, on Windermere Point. Most visitors who glance at the sky above Windermere Point notice the banners of colorful kites fluttering in the air, sometimes several hundred feet high, but not many know about Ben Nye and Ian Smithers, the secret duo behind Great Turtle Toys' kite expertise.

"I think when we put up the kites, it's like a welcome to the Island," Mr. Nye said. As the owner of Great Turtle Toys, which he opened in 1997, Mr. Nye believes that by offering products and toys that get children outdoors, he is helping to spread his love of kite-flying and of good, old-fashioned fun.

"It's a great outdoor activity," he said. "I really think that's what we're about."

Mr. Nye has brought friends and experts to the Island to help him create what he sees as a unique display to help foster interest in the idea of kites as a fun, lively way to have a good time, including professional kite flier Ian Smithers of Yorkshire, England. Mr. Smithers' interest in kites stems simply from a personal passion.

"I just love it, he said. "I just love looking at it. Every day is different."

Mr. Smithers, who also flies stunt kites, is usually responsible for the setting up and taking down of the kites that fly over Windermere Point, which may range from five to 10 smaller kites all the way up to the 150foot long dragon, a large kite with a colorful tail that takes a strong wind to stay aloft.

"The hardest part is that the wind is not always as you would want it," Mr. Smithers said, adding that strong winds can also make it very difficult to bring kites down.

"Wind condition and the quality of the kite are the two most important things," Mr. Nye explained. Mr. Nye also said that he feels Mackinac is such a great location for this particular activity because of its position in the Straits, which allows a prevailing westerly wind to help keep the kites flying. They are especially beautiful, he added, when they fly over the water to greet visitors to the Island, and Mackinac's winds are often well suited to a large display.

In addition to their role as a display of skill, Mr. Nye feels that the kite demonstrations serve a more important purpose.

"Our concern was that we would be selling kites to inexperienced fliers," he said. "Safety is a big issue."

With the logistics of safe flying in mind, Mr. Nye explained that he always directs visitors to the safest places on the Island to fly kites, including Windermere Point, Great Turtle Park, Mission Point, and Mackinac Island Public School, away from the road. By providing an example of safe kite-flying, Mr. Nye hopes to keep visitors and would-be fliers aware of the risks of flying kites in the street around horses and other people.

Avoid crowded places and buildings, Mr. Nye said, and look for open spaces with plenty of room. His best piece of advice for beginners, however, is to buy a kite that is easy to manage.

"Start simple," he said. "You'll gain confidence as it becomes a hobby for you."

The kites at Windermere Point may be seen on days when the wind is high, usually from about 11 a.m. to dusk.

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