A treasure in our own backyard.
I have had a lifelong love affair with the Great Lakes while growing up on Detroit’s east side. It started with Lake Saint Clair lying between Lake Huron and Lake Erie. This shallow “connector” lake was 16 blocks from my house – a long walk so I preferred to visit on my bike. I went often with friends to see the mansions built near the shore, the lake, and the boats, especially the mammoth ore carriers coming from as far away as Minnesota and headed for the steel mills in Pennsylvania. When I was 12 years old, I worked as a helper in a boat livery in Saint Clair Shores. This was my introduction to boats firsthand and my fascination for them and the water never left.
In 1959 Barbara and I were married. Her family owned a small cottage on Saginaw Bay. Later during the summer Barbara stayed there with our two daughters while I worked in Indianapolis. I spent weekends and a two-week vacation on the bay with the family for ten years. This is where we started Great Lakes family boating first with a canoe, then an 8-foot catamaran and a 15-foot ski boat for the girls.
There has been at least one boat in our family every season for fifty years. As our needs and interests changed, so did our boats. Our first serious cruising was in a 26-foot Sea Ray power boat. With this the family and poodle Jack visited the North Channel of Lake Huron in Canadian waters. We were boating on what some consider a freshwater ocean. We switched to cruising sailboats only to learn that in the Great Lakes it was usually necessary to motor to a destination. The wind was either too strong, too light or in the wrong direction.
To expand our cruising range, we went back to a motorboat big enough to accommodate our family and now two dogs Bobby and Jenny. The size and speed of a larger craft allowed us to increase our range and to manage heavier weather safely.
Around the State of Michigan there are 95 State and municipal docks or harbors of refuge. The docks offer tie up, fuel, power, and usually a small town with restaurants and stores. On our cruises or visits by land we have visited more than 50 including a dozen in the other 8 states and Canadian provinces that border lakes Michigan, Superior, Huron, Erie, and Ontario.
The Great Lakes offer what some consider a freshwater ocean with no sharks or tide. The winds can roar, and the waves can reach heights of 10 feet with a report as high as 28 feet in Lake Superior. These waves are more challenging to boaters because the distance between crests is much shorter than in the ocean. Round the clock NOAA weather reporting provides current condition and long and short-term forecasts to guide the prudent boater.
The scenery of the Great Lakes shores goes from the vibrant downtown of Chicago to the pristine wilderness of the Whalesback in the north Channel of Lake Huron’s Canadian waters. Traveling north from Chicago along Michigan’s west coast from lakeside you are treated to miles of scenic sand dues for two hundred miles from Saugatuck to Sleeping Bear point.
Where can you go from the Great Lakes? Anywhere!
The five Great Lakes are made continuous by the Welland canal with eight locks that connect eastern Lake Erie with Lake Ontario, bypassing the 161-foot drop of Niagara Falls. Then via the Erie canal for smaller boats and the St. Lawrence seaway for larger boats, it is possible to go from Minnesota to anywhere in the world on the water.
Our longest trip was from Harbor Springs Michigan to Long Boat Key Florida. This 2,500-mile trip mostly salt water was a memorable adventure but, in our hearts, we love the fresh water of the Great Lakes.
By Savvy Senior
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