Living Large, Loving Life - On the Water
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Living Large, Loving Life - On the Water

A hobby is one thing. A lifestyle is another.

Fishing twice a year is a hobby; trolling for lake trout every morning at sunrise is a lifestyle. Crafting a wooden stool is a hobby; building your own dining room set is a lifestyle.

For Bill and Laurie Miggins, boating is no hobby. They boat for fun, boat to work, boat to the grocery store and boat to dinner. He teaches boating.

He’s a licensed captain, yet he claims Laurie is a better boater than he is. He collects vintage Johnson boat motors and memorabilia.

Their dog’s name is Popeye.

Bill and Laurie’s boating passion is definitely a lifestyle.

During the ice-free months of April through October, they boat on one of the United State’s northern-most lakes. The other months they boat on the Gulf of Mexico.

Their northwoods cabin is on Rainy Lake, 220,000-plus acres of water shouldering the border between Minnesota and Canada. There are two ways to travel to the Miggins’ cabin on Rainy Lake: boat and floatplane. Yes, they live on an island – of course.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

As you motor up to the Migginses’ docks, you’re greeted by his-and-her’s boats.

Her boat? Laurie captains a 23-foot C-Hawk that the couple salvaged from a pawn shop in Corpus Christi, Texas, and have rebuilt from scratch. It originally was built for navigating the Atlantic Ocean off the Outer Banks of North Carolina. “That boat’s good for Rainy Lake,” Bill says, adding “It will take anything the lake has to offer.”

Bill holds a U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s license. When Laurie met Bill, she didn’t know much about motorboats (although she did own a little sailboat). But if she was going to keep up with Captain Bill, she decided she needed to embrace life on the water. “Bill’s taught me everything I know about boating,” Laurie says.

“She’s now a better boater than I am,” Bill says. “She’s certainly better at landing,” he smiles, “but she doesn’t know knots.”

Bill and Laurie need two boats because they’re often traveling in opposite directions. Laurie commutes by boat from their island cabin to her part-time job at a women’s fitness center (two miles by boat, then 11 miles by car). Bill is out the door most summer mornings by 5:30 a.m. to motor 8 minutes across the lake to a nearby summer camp, where he teaches sailing to about 18 small children.

“I just love it,” he says.

Bill has a lot to teach, and his words carry weight and wisdom. When a 7-year-old child asks why he needs to learn a bowline knot, Bill explains to him, “Only survivors need to know bowlines.”

Socializing on the lake

The camp staff is like a big family, Bill says. Every year the Migginses host a party at their island cabin for the camp’s 20 to 25 counselors.

Bill and Laurie enjoy many friends on Rainy Lake. Every Friday night during the summer, their friends and all their visitors boat over to a local resort to catch up on the week’s events and to trade stories.

Aside from boating, Bill and Laurie seem to love nothing more than sharing their island home and Rainy Lake with visitors – and then showing off their guests on Friday nights. It seems there’s an unspoken competition at the TGIF gatherings. Those who bring guests with special talents – like playing a mean jazz harmonica – earn bragging rights for a week. And it’s all in good fun.

Going home

Bill’s and Laurie’s lives today revolve around Rainy Lake for much of the year. But it wasn’t always so.

After growing up in nearby International Falls, Minn., Bill moved away, making several stops in his adult years, from California to New York – plus a military stint overseas. During all those years, Bill says, “I’d dream about this place. You get this lake in your blood.”

Of course the couple met while boating. Laurie, who grew up in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., met Bill while sailing in Connecticut. When the two married in 1987, Laurie knew nothing of Rainy Lake. “She didn’t even know what a loon was,” Bill chuckled. But the first time she saw the lake during a visit with Bill, she fell in love.

Bill inherited one acre of property on the Rainy Lake island from his parents who bought the land in the 1960s, but never built on it. In 1997, Bill and Laurie built their own cabin on their island acre. Local builders framed the cabin, and Bill and Laurie finished off the floors, walls and furnishings.

The couple’s acre abuts five acres long owned by Bill’s maternal grandparents, who built a cabin during the 1940s. Today, the ownership of the small red cabin – still referred to by Bill, Laurie and Bill’s relatives as “Grandpa’s Cabin” – is shared by Bill, his brother, two cousins and many grandchildren.


Bill and Laurie wait well into autumn before they close up their cabin and head south for the winter, letting Mother Nature make the call. Traditionally, they wait for the first snowfall, then call it a season.

Their winter home is on north Padre Island on the Gulf of Mexico. Padre Island is a barrier island, and there’s plenty of exploring to do all winter long on the nearby Padre Island National Seashore, a 130,000-plus-acre national park.

Off of the couple’s dock they keep their ocean-going, island-hopping craft, a 19-foot Carolina skiff. The flat bottom profile of the boat enables Bill and Laurie to navigate the miles and miles of the Laguna Madre waters that are only about two feet deep.

Seventeen hundred miles to the north of Padre Island, spring is coming to Rainy Lake. The ice will soon loosen its grip on the Migginses’ island, and Bill and Laurie will be motoring across the lake for another season at the cabin. The initial weeks will be chilly, especially when the wind blows across that big lake. On inclement days this is no life for the faint-hearted. But that’s okay. This isn’t a hobby. It’s a lifestyle.

Editor Mark R. Johnson draws the tough assignments at Cabin Life.To interview Laurie and Bill on Rainy Lake, Mark caught a ride on a floatplane. He tried to convince the publisher that a trip to Padre Island was also necessary.
Mark R. Johnson
Bill and Laurie Miggins
Mark R. Johnson
Laurie Miggins, comfortable at the helm of her C-Hawk boat, navigates the waters of Rainy Lake. Next to her is Bill, her husband, who proudly claims Laurie is the better boater in the family.
Mark R. Johnson
The Miggins cabin rarely sees a summer week without guests. Bill and Laurie love to welcome family and friends into their island home and to show off Rainy Lake.
Mark R. Johnson
This is “Grandpa’s Cabin,” a much loved and often used cabin which sits on land next to that owned by Bill and Laurie. Bill’s relatives own shares of the cabin, and it’s often inhabited by Bill’s brother, cousins, other relatives and their guests.
Mark R. Johnson

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