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South Lake Michigan to the Apostle Islands

duck21

.
Jul 17, 2020
68
Hunter 376 Washburn, WI on Lake Superior
Hello!

We just purchased a new (to us) Hunter 376. The boat is currently in Benton Harbor on the south east side of Lake Michigan. Our sailing grounds are in/around the Apostle Islands near Bayfield, WI (we have a slip in Washburn). We're planning on sailing/motoring the boat around late spring/early summer (maybe leaving around Memorial day). We have a few months, but no time like a cold February to plan a sailing adventure!

Most of our sailing experience has been on a Catalina 30 around southern Lake Superior. We're comfortable with anchoring out a few nights at a time, but will plan on staying in some marinas as well. We hope to make the trip over the course of a couple of weeks (we'll have to balance remote work on the boat with the travel, although we have some flexibility), but we're open to some exploring as well.

My questions: what should we know about sailing up the east side of Lake Michigan, through the North Channel/Saint Mary's River, and along the south side of Superior between Sault Ste Marie and he Keweenaw peninsula? Any "can't miss" places? Any places we should avoid? Any tips/tricks about late May/early June sailing conditions on Lake Michigan/south Lake Superior (aside from the need to bundle up--we're very familiar with the chilly Spring conditions on the Great Lakes)?

The boat does have a full draft (draws 6.5 feet, according to the official documentation). Will we have any issues in the various harbors/marinas along the way?

Look forward to hearing recommendations!
 
May 9, 2020
51
Hunter Legend 37 Harrison Twp, MI
Congrats on the new boat!

We were in similar situation last year, we bought a Legend 37 in Sturgeon Bay, WI and brought it back to metro-Detroit.

With COVID, we were impacted with delayed openings of the MI State Harbors. They opened in mid-June last year, so we timed the trip to start the day they opened.

As for the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, if you aren’t familiar, MI has a great network of State Harbors along its entire shoreline. There’s one basically every 20-30 miles. You can find information/reservations on the MI DNR website, and see the amenities at each. You can use that to plan your fuel stops/etc.

As mentioned, in 2020 they opened the Harbors late, but I think most open normally in late-April. For the more northern Harbors, you’ll want to confirm their intended 2021 dates. And prepare to be flexible, it might not be set yet.

MI is usually doing projects and upgrades at the Harbors in May/June, so be prepared fuel/pump-outs/electricity may be temporarily unavailable at some places. Ask this when you call each to confirm opening dates as you get closer to your trip.

I’m sure you are used to it based on your northerly location, but as you mention, plan on it being cold, not just chilly! Especially at night. We underestimated this for mid-June, and had a night at Beaver Island with air temps in the upper 30’s. Made for a cold night! Mid/late May will have potential for colder.

We made our trip in a sprint, so no sight-seeing stops, but I regret we didn’t take a walk on Beaver Island and explore the town a little. But with COVID last year, wasn’t the time for it. We arrived after dark, and left at daylight.

Going under the bridge is always a great experience. Stopping at Mackinac Island would be a good place to spend a little time off the boat, but in 2020 they didn’t have power at the docks due to water levels, so check that. Mack City has a great State Harbor as well, but that’s turning south a bit for you.

Can’t speak to stops from there as you’ll turn north.

Enjoy you’re trip, and for now, enjoy planning it. My best advise is be prepared to be flexible. That and pack extra sleeping bags/blankets/soup/coffee!

Also, consider what spares are on the boat, and what you should bring along to supplement. My previous owner was great about confirming if there were spare impellers/fuel filters/oil/etc. If not, plan to get the right ones and have them just-in-case. (We didn’t need them, but I like to think that is because we had them)!

Same goes for safety gear, dock-lines, fenders, etc.
 

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Last edited:
Oct 22, 2014
15,678
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
Congrats on your new to you boat. Sounds like you are in for a great adventure.

I have mot sailed those waters. I started a little exploration. Roughly it is 650 miles in distance. More if you hug the coast lines. Figuring you are not doing a rush deliver, you should plan for at least a month of cruising. This would be sailing about 6 hours a day, aiming to travel 30 to 35 miles a day. There are about 10 days allotted for sightseeing, bad weather, and “I just got to get off this boat, I can’t take it anymore” events.

I look forward to following your adventure.
Fair Winds and good times.
 
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Likes: Parsons
Oct 29, 2016
1,743
Hunter 41 DS Port Huron
Congrats on the new boat and I am sure you will have a great trip.

My wife and I did something similar in Sept of 2016 from Muskegon to Port Huron. Plenty of great stops along the way up the coast of Lake Michigan, my favorite was Leland MI, the town has a super harbor and the village itself is like stepping back a 100 years, they kept many of the building original, its a beautiful place, but so is Frankfort, Petoskey, Holland, Grand Haven, Saugatuck, as stated there are plenty of beautiful places to stop and stretch your legs.

Careful under the Mac bridge, we underestimated the effect on the winds in the narrows and ending up rounding, this was actually caused more by inexperience that anything else though, but an experience it was certainly a memorable one.

I have never sailed Superior, but in looking at a map safe harbor is few and far between.

Lake Michigan can really get rocking especially when the wind blows from either the North or South for an extended period of time, as stated above allow for some time to sit

As with any adventure weather is a determining factor, pay attention and have fun, fair winds and calm seas......
 
May 9, 2020
51
Hunter Legend 37 Harrison Twp, MI
Roughly it is 650 miles in distance. More if you hug the coast lines. Figuring you are not doing a rush deliver, you should plan for at least a month of cruising.
I like JSSAILEM’s style... a month cruise would be awesome! And should give lots of chances for exploring the coast the entire way.

For comparison, we didn’t ~400NM on our trip across Lake Michigan, under the bridge, down Lake Huron to Lake St Clair... 5-days/4-nights... lots of motor sailing. The first 4-days were longer, 90-100NM each, only underway during daylight hours. The last day was just to navigate down the St Clair River, could have pushed and shortened a night, but we use the North Channel into Lake St Clair, and wanted good daylight for that.

Maybe we were crazy, but my Father-in-Law and 11yr old son had a good time, and were still talking to each other at the end!

If the boat doesn’t already have an autopilot... get one installed before you leave! It’s a new boat, letting “Einstein” drive on calm sections will give you a chance to explore your new boat.
 
Jan 5, 2017
2,166
Beneteau First 38 Lyall Harbour Saturna Island
Nice write-ups. As @jssailem says it’s better to take your time and smell the flowers. The first time I circumnavigated Vancouver Island took 3 weeks (still working).The last time we went around took 5 1/2 months. Distance is about the same but it’s much nicer to go slow and enjoy.
 
Oct 29, 2016
1,743
Hunter 41 DS Port Huron
The first time I circumnavigated Vancouver Island
Now that has to be an amazing voyage! When I was a much younger man I stayed on the island for about 5 months, Campbell River, Gold River and then Tahsis on a floating logging camp. I saw for the first time in my life then, the Arora Borealis, I thought someone had slipped me some of those mushrooms, it was an amazing experience, I just can't image what that would be like on a sailboat, for me a dream come true.
 
Jan 5, 2017
2,166
Beneteau First 38 Lyall Harbour Saturna Island
@jssailem and I keep planning a SBO circumnavigation. When COVID is over and we’re still young enough! Tahsis is getting pretty small now that the sawmill is gone but the marina and restaurant is pretty good.
 
Oct 22, 2014
15,678
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
Well I am wondering.. If I sailed into Victoria and survived the 14day quarantine, would the rest of Vancouver Island treat me as a welcomed guest, or would I still be "pariah on a boat"?:yikes:

I'd consider the 14day sacrifice if we could have 60 days of cruising while we are still young. :biggrin:
 
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Likes: Ward H
Jan 5, 2017
2,166
Beneteau First 38 Lyall Harbour Saturna Island
Well I am wondering.. If I sailed into Victoria and survived the 14day quarantine, would the rest of Vancouver Island treat me as a welcomed guest, or would I still be "pariah on a boat"?:yikes:

I'd consider the 14day sacrifice if we could have 60 days of cruising while we are still young. :biggrin:
John, the last info. I have is that 300 km. Of the west coast of the island are still closed. We didn’t have any trouble getting supplies last summer on the inside ( just up as far as Port McNeil). So looking forward to everyone getting this vaccine and things getting back to normal.
 

ShawnL

.
Jul 29, 2020
52
Catalina 22 3603 Calumet Mi
In Lake Superior, Munising, Marquette, and Houghton / Hancock all have nice harbors and docks. Not sure about Grand Marais or Ontonagon. I had look at bringing a smaller boat from Duluth to Houghton at one point, but the deal fell through. You're already aware that a lot of our wind is from the West, or NW so you're going to be tacking or close hauled a lot of the way across.
 
Oct 26, 2008
4,961
Catalina 320 Barnegat, NJ
Hello! Very adventurous trip! As others have said, there would be numerous places to stop along the Lake Michigan shoreline. But there are a lot of empty spaces along the Lake Superior shoreline. I would add Munising as a can't miss stop. Sue and I have been there and we think it is a really nice town. It would be worth spending some time to see the Pictured Rocks. Of course, you've probably seen much of the same from Bayfield and Apostle Islands, I'm sure. If you plan on stopping at an anchorage or marina at the end of every day, it seems to me that you don't have any alternatives from Whitefish Bay to the Portage Entry. It seems that it would be Whitefish Point, Grand Marais, Munising, Marquette, and finally Portage Entry. I wouldn't go all the way around the end of the peninsula.

When you get to the other end of the portage to Lily Pond, you would have an interesting choice. Do you go across Lake Superior twice (to Minnesota and back) to get to some accessible harbors in Minnesota or do you go 115 miles directly to Washburn, with absolutely no safe harbor in between? It seems to me, that with prevailing SW wind, you would be beating into wind and steep seas all the way. The other choice would be to go 70 miles across to Grand Portage Minnesota and then hop down the coast to Grand Marais (MN), Beaver Bay and then jump across again to Apostle Islands and Washburn. The total route going that way would be twice as long (220 miles) but possibly safer and more comfortable. A NW wind could make the crossing to Grand Portage very uncomfortable, though.

I think I'd be inclined to go across to Minnesota, especially if I looked at it as an opportunity to see Isle Royale. I think this is a solid month journey and it could be 2 months if you take time to see the sights. It would be 3 solid weeks of daily trips covering anywhere from 35 to 70 miles per day. That wouldn't be as easy as it sounds, I think. Of course, if you stay offshore for several days at a time, you might make the trip in about 2 weeks. You've got over 800 miles of water to cover. Good luck with the planning and the journey! It would be a trip that I would love to make!
 
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Likes: jssailem
Jul 1, 2010
856
Seaward 25, Catalina 350 Erie, Pa
Ditto. Especially for Lake Michigan. No current plans to venture into Superior, but you never know.
 

duck21

.
Jul 17, 2020
68
Hunter 376 Washburn, WI on Lake Superior
Hi all! I'm still here, and definitely interested in any advice/tidbits/local knowledge.

We just got back from a weekend in Michigan getting things ready on the boat. We're still planning on June for the actual sail. The trip as I've laid it out (if everything went perfectly):

StartFinishMilesHours @ 5.5ktsOvernight TypeServicesNight
St. Joseph, MIHolland, MI507.9Marina1
Holland, MIWhite Lake, MI507.9Marina2
White Lake, MILudington, MI507.9Marina3
Ludington, MIFrankfort, MI528.2Marina4
Frankfort, MICharlevoix, MI7311.5Marina5
Charlevoix, MIMackinac Island609.5Marina6
Mackinac IslandMackinac Island00.0Marina7
Mackinac IslandDeTour Harbor406.3Marina8
DeTour HarborSault Ste Marie457.1Marina9
Sault Ste MarieWhitefish Point State Dock457.1Anchor10
Whitefish Point State DockGrand Marais, MI507.9Anchor11
Grand Marais, MIMunising, MI406.3Anchor12
Munising, MIMarquette, MI406.3Marina13
Marquette, MIPequaming Point7011.1Anchor14
Pequaming PointHoughton, MI223.5Marina15
Houghton, MIOntonagon, MI528.2Marina16
Ontonagon, MIWashburn, WI8012.6Marina
TOTAL MILES:819


I'm hoping to average 5.5 knots or greater. Mostly Marinas as we make our way through Michigan, with the idea that we can work some in the evenings and not use up all our vacation time. As was noted, once we get to Superior Marinas are few and far between and, with the 6.5+ foot draft of our boat some of the marinas may not have docking available. That said, ideally our anchoring will be in harbors or refuge or with in dinghy distance of the various marina's/cities.

From what I can see Ontonagon should be a viable option Houghton and Washburn--so my plan is to stay there (vs. across the lake to Isle Royale or ports in Minnesota). I realize we may be into the wind, but feels on par for much of the Superior leg of the journey.

Of course, all of this is subject to change due to weather, wind, boat issues, people issues, or just because we feel like staying an extra day somewhere.

Part of my choice in mostly 8 hour days is to arrive at the Marinas before they close. If we're feeling like pushing things we MAY choose to pursue some longer days on Lake Michigan and anchor instead. Much of that will depend upon weather and how we feel.

Regardless, we're excited! It should be a big adventure!
 
Oct 26, 2008
4,961
Catalina 320 Barnegat, NJ
Your plan looks quite good! I marked you down for slightly smaller jumps between Benton Harbor & Charlevoix. You could opt for Saugatuck, Muskegon, Pentwater, Portage Lake, & Leland as alternatives. Lots of good options, I think. I also marked St. James on Beaver Island as an interesting stop after Charlevoix and before Mackinac. I figured you might need 3 days to get from DeTour to Whitefish Point, but your plan to do it in 2 with a stop in SSM looks like a good bet and an interesting place to overnight in SSM.

The only one that seems sketchy to me is Ontonagon but I'm probably influenced by how bad the water looks from Google Maps. There does appear to be a decent marina just up the river. I suppose that heavy staining could be from natural tannins, heavy mining & logging?

I'd still think about making 2 jumps across the lake, just to visit Minnesota! You could shorten it some by making a crossing to Grand Marais before going back across to Bayfield/Washburn. I lived in Grand Marais, Mn in 1977 and have not been back since. Would love to go back.