Out and About: Set Sail! Savor Sailing in Northern Michigan

WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL

As the point between two of the world’s largest bodies of fresh water, Northern Michigan is a natural hub for sailing enthusiasts. The diversity of its waterways makes sailing enjoyable for every level of sailor, and public boat launches are prevalent.

The most adventurous and experienced crews will delight in navigating the Big Lakes and the challenging Straits of Mackinac, with its stunning views of the Mackinac Bridge. These are easily accessible from the Mackinac City Municipal Marina located at the southern end of the bridge.

The bays of Traverse City offer a slightly warmer and calmer adventure, and the Inland Waterway — a chain of rivers and lakes offering approximately 38 miles of boating pleasure — is well suited to more relaxed day-sailors and learners.

Sailing lessons have been taking place at the Crooked Lake Yacht Club in Oden since the 1980s.  The nonprofit educational association is open to anyone who wants to learn to sail, offering youth and adult classes and private lessons. But beware, me salties, even Crooked Lake’s relatively calm waters can be battered by very changeable winds, making learning a challenge.

For information, locations, and amenities of Michigan’s many public harbors, visit the Department of Natural Resources’ website, Michigan.gov/dnr and click on Michigan Harbors Guide. This site provides an aerial photograph and short description of each harbor and insights into what to expect while traveling on Michigan’s waters. Or visit Michigan.gov/boating for the most up-to-date facility information.

Even those who can’t navigate their own vessels can experience the exhilaration of sailing through chartered boat tours offered by several local providers.

Traverse Tall Ship Company offers several unique options for getting out on the waters of Lake Michigan. Step into “the age of sail” aboard the 114-foot tall ship Manitou, a majestic replica of an 1800s coasting cargo schooner and one of the largest traditional sailing vessels on the Great Lakes.

Cruising options include two-hour sails, a floating bed and breakfast package with an overnight stay and breakfast included and multiday Windjammer cruises. Special theme cruises include wine tasting, musical entertainment, and more.

“The crew of the Manitou encourages passengers to get in on the action of sailing as much as they’d like,” stated Dave McGinnis, owner.

For a more intimate, luxurious experience, the 38-foot sailing yacht Scout will whisk up to six passengers away on a private day charter. Scout also offers an overnight bed and breakfast package as well as special cruises to Power Island in Grand Traverse Bay.

As a way of expressing thanks to the Grand Traverse community for their support, the nonprofit Maritime Heritage Alliance offers complimentary sails to individuals and groups on their Tall Ship Madeline on certain afternoons and evenings in late August and early September.

Alternatively, landlubbers can enjoy the craft of sail from the shore, by simply watching one of the many races or regattas.

On beautiful Lake Charlevoix, the Boyne City Yacht Club has one of the most active racing programs in the area for all skill levels. Races run every Tuesday from mid-May through September, with the summer racing series from June 26 – August 21. Two of their regattas are the Mark Madness Regatta June 23 – 24 and the Ironworks Regatta/Cruise August 18 – 19.

The Charlevoix Yacht Club is home to the Red Fox Regatta on Labor Day weekend each year and is a beloved event for sailors and their families. The two-day event takes sailors the full length of Lake Charlevoix on the first day and is followed on the second day by the race back and an award ceremony.

Mackinac Island Yacht Club hosts the annual Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race on July 14 and the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac on July 21 this year.

To find out more details about regattas in the area, the Lake Michigan Sail Racing Federation is a great resource. This not-for-profit charitable association covers races, regattas, and more from the waters of Point Betsie to Mackinac Island.

Boyne City Yacht Club (231) 492-7396 l BoyneCityYachtClub.com
Crooked Lake Yacht Club (231) 330-5849
Mackinaw City Municipal Marina (231) 436-5269
Mackinac Island Yacht Club MackinacIsland.org
Grand Traverse Yacht Club (231) 946-9779
Maritime Heritage Alliance (231) 946-2647 l MaritimeHeritageAlliance.org
Michigan Department of Natural Resources (800) 44-PARKS l Michigan.gov/dnr
Traverse Tall Ship Company (231) 941-2000
US Melges 24 Class Association (USMCA), USMelges24.com