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South Lake Michigan to the Apostle Islands

Nov 8, 2010
11,385
Beneteau First 36.7 & 260 Minneapolis MN & Bayfield WI
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!

I'll write more later, but some initial notes:

1) LAY DAYS. Plan 1 in 4 as a day you don't sail for any given reason, normally weather. A fixed schedule is a disaster waiting to happen.

2) 50 mile MAX for normal days. Thats still a LOT of sailing. And your 5.5 knot is not boatspeed, but needs to be actual VMG. When sailing into any breeze you will be a lot slower. On days more then 50, leave before dawn.

3) Skip Ontonagon. Too shoal. Figure on that being a big day to Bayfield. MAYBE Saxon Harbor, but you have to make sure depth is OK. Its been touch and go every year for 6+ draft.

4) The sail to Isle Royale from the upper entry is an amazing trip, and sailing Isle Royale is a bucket list deal.

5) You could easily spend 1/2 your trip in the Apostles and still think you left too soon.

6) You cannot plan for how cold nights on open Lake Superior are.

7) There is NOTHING in Washburn. You want Bayfield. Really.

8) At all cost, get a copy of 'The Superior Way'. AKA 'The Bonnie Book' AKA 'The Bonnie Bible'. Honestly, you cannot enter the lake without it. 40 years of Lake Superior sailing distilled into one cruising guide.

9) Houghton/Hancock are my home town and college town as well. Super fun and great places to dock and stop.
 
  • Like
Likes: jon hansen
May 25, 2012
3,785
john alden caravelle 42 sturgeon bay, wis
FOG! lake superior fog!

i hate fog! i hate fog horns!

yeah, i know how cold lake superior nights are in june. full on snowmobile garb:yikes:

warm great plains air slams into 38 deg june water temps up their, FOG
 
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  • Like
Likes: jssailem

duck21

.
Jul 17, 2020
68
Hunter 376 Washburn, WI on Lake Superior
I'll write more later, but some initial notes:

1) LAY DAYS. Plan 1 in 4 as a day you don't sail for any given reason, normally weather. A fixed schedule is a disaster waiting to happen.

2) 50 mile MAX for normal days. Thats still a LOT of sailing. And your 5.5 knot is not boatspeed, but needs to be actual VMG. When sailing into any breeze you will be a lot slower. On days more then 50, leave before dawn.

3) Skip Ontonagon. Too shoal. Figure on that being a big day to Bayfield. MAYBE Saxon Harbor, but you have to make sure depth is OK. Its been touch and go every year for 6+ draft.

4) The sail to Isle Royale from the upper entry is an amazing trip, and sailing Isle Royale is a bucket list deal.

5) You could easily spend 1/2 your trip in the Apostles and still think you left too soon.

6) You cannot plan for how cold nights on open Lake Superior are.

7) There is NOTHING in Washburn. You want Bayfield. Really.

8) At all cost, get a copy of 'The Superior Way'. AKA 'The Bonnie Book' AKA 'The Bonnie Bible'. Honestly, you cannot enter the lake without it. 40 years of Lake Superior sailing distilled into one cruising guide.

9) Houghton/Hancock are my home town and college town as well. Super fun and great places to dock and stop.
Hi Jack,

These are great notes--thank you!

Washburn is our home port, so it's the end point for our journey (the Apostles have been our stomping grounds for the past five years with our Catalina 30).

Good to know on Ontonagon--I thought it was a bit deeper there (my folks have stayed there with their Hunter 340 but they have a shoal draft). As of a couple of years ago Saxon Harbor was out of commission due to everything washing out in a big storm--I'm not sure on current status, though. I'll double check that.

The schedule above is very idealized--but the 1 to 4 ratio is good to keep in mind.

Looking forward to your additional thoughts!
 
  • Like
Likes: Jackdaw
Oct 26, 2008
4,961
Catalina 320 Barnegat, NJ
Knowing how cold it is on Lake Superior in June, I think I would take a whole month to explore Lake Michigan (even L.M. will be really cold) and not arrive on Lake Superior until July. Time is always a premium and hard to get! Or, delay starting the trip until mid-June. But, then, there are always those thunderstorms to think about, as well!
 

duck21

.
Jul 17, 2020
68
Hunter 376 Washburn, WI on Lake Superior
FOG! lake superior fog!

i hate fog! i hate fog horns!

yeah, i know how cold lake superior nights are in june. full on snowmobile garb:yikes:

warm great plains air slams into 38 deg june water temps up their, FOG

Fog is one of my biggest concerns. Cold sucks, but we're from Minnesota, we own lots of cold weather clothes and big blankets/comforters.

Thunderstorms make me nervous, but are somewhat predictable and storm mitigation (watching/predicting/avoiding) has been a normal part of my sailing experience.

Fog, on the other hand feels both unpredictable (or predictably omnipresent) and like it could present a sudden nerve wracking situation--especially if we're anywhere near a shipping channel.
 
  • Like
Likes: jssailem
Nov 8, 2010
11,385
Beneteau First 36.7 & 260 Minneapolis MN & Bayfield WI
Hi Jack,

These are great notes--thank you!

Washburn is our home port, so it's the end point for our journey (the Apostles have been our stomping grounds for the past five years with our Catalina 30).

Good to know on Ontonagon--I thought it was a bit deeper there (my folks have stayed there with their Hunter 340 but they have a shoal draft). As of a couple of years ago Saxon Harbor was out of commission due to everything washing out in a big storm--I'm not sure on current status, though. I'll double check that.

The schedule above is very idealized--but the 1 to 4 ratio is good to keep in mind.

Looking forward to your additional thoughts!
OMG sorry, didn't know that!

I LOVE the Washburn marina, those guys are pros. And I have recommended the stick-up storage there to many. And the town?? Please lets not forget the TimeOut for (HUGE) breakfast. Or the burgers at Patsys for dinner! CoCos for lunch sandwiches?

Yes Saxon got wiped out. We used to have a there-and-back race there for years. Until it started to shoal, and then the flooding.

Ontonagon is a no-go, I don't know anybody that has stay there in years. On the Houghton to Bayfield run, we would always leave pre-dawn and kick-ass to get across before sundown. The speed of the 36.7 helped a lot.
 

duck21

.
Jul 17, 2020
68
Hunter 376 Washburn, WI on Lake Superior
OMG sorry, didn't know that!

I LOVE the Washburn marina, those guys are pros. And I have recommended the stick-up storage there to many. And the town?? Please lets not forget the TimeOut for (HUGE) breakfast. Or the burgers at Patsys for dinner! CoCos for lunch sandwiches?

Yes Saxon got wiped out. We used to have a there-and-back race there for years. Until it started to shoal, and then the flooding.

Ontonagon is a no-go, I don't know anybody that has stay there in years. On the Houghton to Bayfield run, we would always leave pre-dawn and kick-ass to get across before sundown. The speed of the 36.7 helped a lot.
No offense taken about Washburn. I totally agree it's not a destination from a cruising standpoint (Bayfield/La Pointe and north are for sure).

That said, you're spot-on with the Time Out, Coco's, and Patsy's. Dalou's Bistro is pretty good too!

Houghton to the Apostles" I'll have to see how the boat performs (and look at weather too)--I'm not sure if 90 miles would be a 14 hour day or a 20 hour day. Allegedly the boat performs quite well, but that tidbit came from the guy trying to sell me the boat, so I'm taking it with a big grain of salt...
 

duck21

.
Jul 17, 2020
68
Hunter 376 Washburn, WI on Lake Superior
Hello! I've been meaning to write an update, but things got busy when we got home and I haven't made the time...until now! (edit: Sorry that this is long, feel free to stop reading at any point).

The trip went great! We had a few hiccups (as would be expected with a new to us boat), but nothing that wasn't manageable. We were generally well prepared.

Ultimately, the trip was about 850 miles. We left on June 4th and arrived in Washburn on June 24th--so 20 days. We probably averaged about 6 knots over the ground. With the wind (sailing and/or motoring) we ran about 6.5-7kts, into the wind we were typically 5.5-6. With no wind we were about 6.2-6.5kts, running the motor at 3000rpm.

We stayed in marinas all except one night. This did give us a chance to explore some cities, eat out, and enjoy our selves. We traveled with our two dogs and, while we are used to dinghying them in to shore, being on a dock after a long day was just easier. We stayed at Michigan State Harbors and municipal marinas through out the entire trip.

The final schedule included a diversion to Mackinaw City from Mackinac Island to deal with a fuel system issue (probably a clogged pickup tube, although the issue was solved after I blew out the pick up tube and ran a fuel polisher for a number of hours), an extra day in Marquette (predicted thunderstorms between Marquette and Houghton, although they never materialized), and 4 days in Houghton (the Jabsco head failed, I had to drop ship a replacement).

We sailed a little bit on Lake Michigan as we had winds from the south for the first couple of days, but after that it was either calm or had wind on the nose, both on Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior. It was definitely more of a "Motoring Trip" than a sailing trip. Our shortest day was about 35 miles (Munising to Marquette), our longest was about 110 (Houghton to Stockton Island). We had a couple of 60-70 mile days, otherwise, most days were in the 40-50 mile range.

The weather diversity was interesting. We did not run into any thunderstorms, nor did we have any rain while out on the lake. Both lakes were cold, as was anticipated. Most days involved leaving the marina in shorts (temps in the 60's or 70's), changing to winter clothes on the lake (temps in the 40's + wind--ski jackets, long pants/wind pants, ear muffs and gloves), then back to shorts when we pulled into the marina (70's or 80's). We were glad we installed a diesel heater, as it did get used to keep the cabin warm when we were on the water.

Over all it was a fun trip. It would be fun to do to it again, but next time with a boat that's been "ours" for a bit longer. It was a lot of work doing the "beginning of season" boat prep AND preparing for a long trip AND commissioning the boat to be "ours" all in 5 days, then leaving for 20 day journey. Still, it was an experience none of us will forget.

That's the (sort of quick) update. For those interested in lots of trip details, keep reading below....otherwise, thanks for reading this far!

__________________________________________________________

The first couple of days we ran down wind (wind from the south) from Benton Harbor to Holland, Holland to Whitehall, then Whitehall to Ludington. We made good time, the days were pretty short (5-6 hours). We really liked Whitehall--we liked the community (really good dinner at Pekadills), the folks at the marina were very nice (both staff and other boaters).

The wind was calm between Ludington and Frankfort, and we had patchy fog along the way. Coming into Frankfort reminded me of a European mountain town.

The next day we traveled from Frankfort to Charlevoix, the water was dead calm the entire trip with more patchy fog. While we were never really in dense fog we did have a moment where we heard a large ships horn. Checked AIS and radar, while we were never close it made me glad that I had invested in both of those tools, even if just for peace of mind.

We liked Charlevoix. Very quaint, it was nice to walk around.

The next day we ran from Charlevoix to Mackinac Island, a 70ish mile trip. It started quite calm for the first few hours, but the wind started blowing from the north east. We started seeing quite a bit of chop around the Ile Aux Galets light, building as we moved toward the straits of Mackinac. We ended up in 3 foot chop with a 15-20kt wind. It made for a pretty uncomfortable ride for a couple of hours. We bore further north and approach the Mackinac Bridge from the north side of St. Helena Island to get a little protection and to avoid motoring straight into the waves. Things calmed as we went through the straight. Right as everyone came up into the cockpit...the motor surged a few times and died. I found I was able to run at around 2000rpm, so we puttered the last few miles to Mackinac Island.

We spent an extra day at Mackinac. Touristy, not my thing, but my wife and granddaughter enjoyed it (granddaughter is 17--shopping is important). I really didn't care for the Mackinac Island marina.

I changed fuel filters at the island, we left the next day. As soon as I increased throttle the motor sputtered and died again. We put up sail, called the Mackinaw City marina, and sailed in. Again, I was able to run up to 2000rpm, so we had no issue docking. I spoke to the local repair shop (Shepler's) about looking at the fuel system, they said they wouldn't have any time available until mid-July. They recommended my calling WW Williams repair to see if they could assist more immediately. I called WW Williams, I spoke with Joe. Lots and lots of credit to Joe. He said he could make a trip out the next week, but stayed on the phone with me for about 30 minutes and walked through some diagnoses and troubleshooting steps. He came to the conclusion that our fuel pickup line was clogged. I disassembled and blew out the line. I had also brought along a rudimentary fuel polishing system, so I ran that for a few hours.

Mackinaw City was probably nice, but apparently this was the motorcycle convention weekend. It was us and 3000 motorcyclists, which made it a bit crowded.

We left the next morning, the fuel pickup fix seemed to have worked. We motored (into a 10kt wind) up to DeTour, the entry to the St. Mary's river. DeTour has a nice marina, and the area really felt like the first "Up North" part of the trip.

The next day we motored 45 miles up the river to Sault Ste Marie, where we stayed at the George Kemp Marina. Early the next morning we locked through to Lake Superior!

Our first day on Superior was cold--50 degree air temperature on land, 40ish and windy (wind from the Northwest) on the water. We motored the rest of the way through the St. Mary's (passing a number of big freighters), then across Whitefish Bay to the Whitefish Point harbor of refuge. There was some question as to whether our 6.5 foot draft would fit in the harbor, but they dredged the area in 2018, so we had no issue. After an overnight we left early the next day and motored into a light west wind all the way to Munising (we were originally going to stop in Grand Marais, but since we were up early and the wind was light we decided to push on and make up the day we lost in Mackinaw City).

Munising had a nice marina, we enjoyed Pasty's and Dairy Queen. The Painted Rocks were quite the sight. I would like to go back and spend more time there on a future trip.

The next day was calm (no wind), we motored from Munising to Marquette, where we stayed in the Cinder Pond Marina. We were going to just stay one night, but there were storms predicted for the next day, so we extended our stay.

The next day we left early for Houghton, a longer trip of about 85 miles. The first few hours were nice, but a west wind began building in the late morning. It eventually ended up around 20-25kts, gusting to 30kts with a significant chop building. Of course, we were straight into the wind. We made it to Huron Point, but decided it was too rough and windy. We backtracked about 5 miles and anchored in a small bay for a few hours until the wind and chop died down in the late afternoon. We then were able to motor past Huron point and past the Huron Islands in calm water.

Unfortunately, this meant that we arrived at the portage river around 2300. The channel is well marked, so I navigated the 15 mile river by chart plotter, radar, and visual aids to the Houghton marina. It was a bit stressful, but ultimately a good test of navigational skills.

We planned on spending an extra day in Houghton for some good food and to sight see a little bit. However, we noticed the head wasn't flushing properly. We assumed maybe our holding tank was full, so the next day we pumped out before heading toward Ontonagon. However....it still didn't flush, even after the pump out. We returned to the slip, I manually emptied the head (eww), and found that part of the gasket system had torn and failed. The previous owner had poorly re-assembled the unit at some point in the past (evidenced by all of the silicon sealant I found around the rubber gaskets and the mis-matched screws holding the pump assembly to the toilet).

I attempted to remedy the issue, but was unable to get things back together with out leaking. This was on a Sunday, so I made some calls and was able to order a new head overnight (actually, some friends in the Twin Cities picked the unit up from West Marine and delivered it to my parents who overnight shipped it to Houghton). The head left Minnesota on Monday, arrived, Tuesday afternoon, and was installed within an hour.

The next day we decided to skip Ontonagon and travel directly to the Apostles as there was a potential for storms the next day and we didn't want to be out on the open lake in a storm. We left early, finished the last 5 miles of the portage, and entered the open lake into a 15kt south west wind (again, straight on the nose). It was pretty choppy, but the wind was predicted to die. Sure enough, by late morning we were motoring over flat water. This was the longest leg, at about 110 miles. We arrived at the Apostles just before dusk. About 2 miles out from Stockton, where we planned on anchoring....the motor sputtered, surged, and died. There was a bit of a breeze, so we put up sail and tacked our way into the bay where we anchored, ran the dogs ashore, and had a quick dinner. There were storms predicted for that night, so we battened down and rode out the storm (we had good protection, so no issues there).

The next day I changed fuel filters and blew-out the fuel pick up line. The motor started up and ran to power with no issues. We left around 10 in the morning and were home in Washburn by mid-afternoon.

Over all it was a really fun adventure. We definitely got to know the boat, we made some memories that we will never forget, and it was a really fun way to connect both as a family AND to re-affirm how happy we are that we purchased this boat. It took a lot of planning, but I think was worth the time and investment.

I put in a lot of detail...but if others are thinking of a similar trip (or portions there-of) I'd be happy to answer any questions or offer any thoughts/opinions!
 

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duck21

.
Jul 17, 2020
68
Hunter 376 Washburn, WI on Lake Superior
I'll edit up some pics and post those soon. I need to downsize them a bit as the SBO site doesn't like the larger mega-pixel images.
 
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duck21

.
Jul 17, 2020
68
Hunter 376 Washburn, WI on Lake Superior
Here are some pics from the first half of our trip.
 

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duck21

.
Jul 17, 2020
68
Hunter 376 Washburn, WI on Lake Superior
Some pics from the second half
 

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May 9, 2020
51
Hunter Legend 37 Harrison Twp, MI
Thanks for the great write-up! Glad your journey was safe, and enjoy the new boat! I’ll definitely mark this thread for future reference!
 
Jun 8, 2020
68
Hunter 34 White Portland, OR
@duck21... how was/is your trip? Sorry to not see this sooner, bit I have a lot of experience in the north end of lakes Michigan and Huron, the North Channel, the St Mary's River and into Lake Superior. Let me know if your still looking for advice. I know that you can sail into the municipal marine and into the ducks there in the Soo...I did so on a 26ft. Thunderbird when I was 17. Glad to hear from someone in your neck of the woods!