The Great Lakes have long gotten a bad rap for everything from cleanliness to the quality of the sailing there. But the days of burning rivers are ancient history, and while it’s true the lakes are not dotted with the same abundance of islands and bays as, say, the Eastern Seaboard, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of charter of opportunities for those in search of a quick getaway.
Imagine it: no air travel, no taking off your damn shoes or being groped by the TSA, no waiting for checked luggage. Just throw your flip flops, some food, a case of beer and some sunblock in the trunk, go for a drive that takes little more time than a long layover in Miami, and the next thing you know you’re going through the checkout in preparation for casting off lines.
The western end of Lake Erie, for example, not only boasts clear, bathtub-warm waters in late summer, but it’s a scarcely an hour’s drive from Cleveland, two hours from Detroit, and only four hours from Chicago and Indianapolis. Similarly, while Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay is a little over five hours from Chicago and four hours from Detroit, you’re getting the wide-open spaces of the Northern Great Lakes and all they have to offer as part of the bargain.
Then there are those more far-flung destinations on fabled Lake Superior and Lake Huron—Canada’s North Channel and the Apostle Islands just off the Wisconsin Shore (although the latter is still only a seven-hour drive, only six from Milwaukee). While the “black water” of the greatest of the Great Lakes is admittedly bitterly cold (Grand Traverse Bay can be pretty chilly as well!) the magnificence of “God Country,” as it’s locally known, not to mention the storied lake itself has to be seen to be believed.
As for anyone who thinks chartering on America’s inland seas is in any way settling for second best, watch it! Remember what happened to the Mouth of the South, Ted Turner, when he tried casting aspersions on good-old Lake Michigan in anticipation of the 1970 Chicago to Mackinac Race!
In fact, the cruising there can’t be beat, with great towns to visit, gorgeous scenery and all the wide-open spaces you could ever hope for. I’ll never forget the time my wife, Shelly, and I had a front-seat view of the fireworks at Cedar Point Amusement park while spending the night in a comfy little marina in Sandusky, Ohio. Same thing with an especially spirited sail we once had along the western shore of South Bass Island or going swimming in the crystal-clear water of Bowers Harbor in Grand Traverse Bay.And in each case, when the fun was over all we had to do was jump back in the car for a quick and easy drive back home. It doesn’t get much easier, or much better, than that.—AC
AT A GLANCE
Getting there: Though somewhat far flung, the Great Lakes’ major cruising areas are all within driving distance of a major metropolitan airport. Regional airports, like the well-served Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Michigan, also abound.
When to go: The standard Great Lakes June through September sailing season also applies to chartering. While Western Lake Erie can get a bit crowded in mid-summer, farther north there’s always room. Find a way to get out in the early fall and the powerboat crowd, in particular, will have become so scarce it will feel like you’ve stepped back through time.
Where to go: Those in search of great restaurants and plenty of company will love Ohio’s Put-in-Bay at the western end of Lake Erie. Head north for greater solitude, but also plan on having to also exercise great self-sufficiency.
Canadian Yachts Charters (North Channel) cycnorth.com
Great Lakes Sailing Co. (Northern Michigan) greatlakessailingco.com
Erie Sailing eriesailingschool.com/charters
Port Clinton Yacht Charter portclintonyachts.com/charters.htm