Up North Adventure - Sail Magazine

Up North Adventure

For years I’ve been sailing past the mouth of Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, both as a merchant sailor and in a number of Chicago-Mackinac races, without paying it much attention. It always struck me as little body of water of no great account. How wrong I was!
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For years I’ve been sailing past the mouth of Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, both as a merchant sailor and in a number of Chicago-Mackinac races, without paying it much attention. It always struck me as little body of water of no great account. How wrong I was!

Our first night anchored out in Suttons Bay, midway up the larger bay’s western shore, a front came blasting through, bringing with it a 90-degree wind shift, gusts in the upper 20s and cold. It also popped out our anchor, which meant having to re-set the thing at 0300 in a haze of blowing rain and spray.

The next morning, an hour or so after setting out for Northport at the mouth of the bay, we had to turn back in the face of a sustained 20-plus knots on the nose and a sharp chop. It didn’t take long for the prospect of another three hours of this kind of sailing to seem more trouble than it was worth.

This is all my way of saying: what a great sailing destination!

This past summer, my wife, Shelly, our 7-year-old daughter, Bridget, and I sailed for the better part of week right before the July Fourth weekend, courtesy of Bay Breeze Yacht Charters (BBYC) in Traverse City. Despite the impending holiday, the anchorages we visited were all nearly empty with plenty of spots to choose from. Night after night, relaxing aboard the magnificently well-maintained Catalina 350 Miss JoDi, I could hardly believe we had such a great spot all to ourselves.

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Grand Traverse Bay’s shores are covered with pines, and the area is far enough north that you get to enjoy the special crispness at dusk that is unique to that part of the world. Hawks and herons soar overhead. Deer and raccoon tracks dot the shore. This is the land of the buckskin-clad French voyageurs of old, and their heroic still seems to linger in the crisp air. The water is so clear it can be more than a little disconcerting at times to see the bottom in such detail, especially where it shelves at the edge of some of the area’s anchorages.

Although protected from the full wrath of Lake Michigan, Grand Traverse Bay still offers a vast area to explore, providing the perfect combination of wide open spaces and relatively protected waters. Stretching a good 32 miles from north to south, the bay is 10 miles across and divided into a pair of east and west arms by the Old Mission Peninsula, with a wealth of great harbors throughout.

Due north of Traverse City at the head of the bay, there is a community and anchorage at Suttons Bay, a laid-back, must-see destination with an excellent marina, shops, ice cream and a number of fine restaurants. Beyond that lies Omena Bay, if you don’t have the time to make it all the way to Northport. Midway up the Old Mission Peninsula are Bowers Harbor and Marion, or Power, Island, with plenty of sheltered water and a number of fine beaches—and these are just the spots within easy striking distance of Traverse City.

Alas, we had only five days on our charter, and could only scratch the surface of all this area has to offer. We never even had a chance to visit the east arm—what BBYC owner Dave Conrad described as the truly “quiet” part of Grand Traverse Bay. I can hardly wait for a chance to see if it’s true. I’ll probably have to visit the area at least a couple of more times after that, just to be sure…

For more on sailing and chartering on Grand Traverse Bay, visitbbyc.com.

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