View Full Version : Great Lakes Sailors'Heads Up

Gary Bergman
11-05-2002, 10:25 AM
I'm looking for some input here from any forumites who sail the Great Lakes on a regular basis. Here goes. I'm in the process of purchasing a gaff-rigged square topsail ketch thats a replica 18th century gunboat doing reenactments on the lakes primarily.ASTA is putting on Great Lakes 2003 and the vessel is invited along with its existing contracts. My original interest was in relocating the vessel to the left coast as I need a larger vessel, but it is already 'working' where it is at. Do I leave it on the Lakes and 'do the season', or put it on the truck and head west? What is the average season sailing like? I need to do extensive refit of the interior and the Great Lakes are a bit more favorable than the S.F. Bay for that, so that is one plus. My heavy power tools (table and radial arm saws,etc} are in the upper midwest, halfway there. On the other hand, my income primarily revolves around my location in the west. Pros and cons, lets hear it. Gary

11-05-2002, 11:04 AM
Short "season," weather rather like war - Interminable boredom spiked with occasional fits of panic.

11-05-2002, 11:17 AM
I bought ALITA in Duluth, MN, debated with myself as to how I should get her home to the East Coast and, as sailing home was an option, I sailed and had an exceptional adventure that I will never forget.

I am not a regular Great Lakes sailor, but I think a lot depends on what lake you're thinking of. The sailing season on Lake Superior, North Channel and Georgian Bay would be nearly two months shorter than the season on Lake Erie or Lake Ontario.

I strongly, Strongly, STRONGLY recommend that you have the work done on the North side of either Lake Superior, Lake Huron or the Northeast shore of Lake Ontario. In other words, have the work done in Canada, as far away from the population concentrations as possible. Here's my example: I had to have a new engine installed and I was in Nova Scotia at the time. 100 hours of skilled labor to install the engine amounted to CA $3,500. Added to that were a new fuel system, tank, indoor winter storage, launch, new thru-hulls, etc. for a grand total of CA$8,800. Most of the time, the exchange rate was $.65-$.68 to CA$1.00. Skilled labor at less than $25.00 an hour? An added bonus is that when I crossed back into the States I learned that after NAFTA there were no US duties to be paid on repairs. (I may have gotten away with some skipped duties that would have applied to replacement parts, but it would not have amounted to much.) The same work in nearly any region of the States would have amounted to well over $10,000-more likely $15,000. Nova Scotia was fairly close so I could afford to make a number of trips up there, stay in hotels and still save well over $5,000.

Another thing to consider is that those areas of Canada really need the work and there was no part of Canada that I did not love.

If your problem were mine, I'd find someone in Thunder Bay to do the work over the winter, sail to Duluth in the following June and put the boat on a truck to California.

11-05-2002, 11:39 AM
Another idea dawned on me while I was considering the awesome cost of trucking a big boat from Duluth to San Francisco. Why not organize an 'educational' cruise from Western Lake Superior to the northwestern shore of the Gulf of Mexico, either down the Mississippi, or out the St. Lawrence and down the east coat. There have to be some parents in your area that would love to give you $10,000 to take their good-for-nothing teenager or college drop-out on a 4 or 5 month cruise...and an awesome cruise it would be, too. Six strong kids at $10,000 less food, insurance, fuel, repairs and other sundries might leave enough over to pay the truck from Texas. You might even find someone with a six-pack license that would do it for you if you have to stay home to work. I recommend you go, though.

Gary Bergman
11-05-2002, 11:51 AM
Rod, a couple of comebacks. Most of the work on the vessel is within my own scope, although the labor in Canada is a good idea. I'm about two weeks away form the end of 'hauling season' this year, thus the quandry of doing next season then moving the boat. I've shipped a few boats and also do heavy hauling as part of my living. Already have all shipping and hauling quotes. The vessel is currently at the area where the St. Lawrance meets Lake Ontario, but the ASTA thing ends up on Lake Michigan, almost 800-1000 miles closer in regard to shipping.As far as the Mississippi, the Illinois river has some 25 foot bridge restrictions, and further along there are 55 foot restrictions. Main is 45 feet of the water plus 22 foot topmast. The 'problem of 'going around' is a time constraint compared to shipping, although I'd love it. Good input, keep it coming.More curious as to the sailing and 'feel' of the season being a plus or minus. The reenactments could be a kick... rather found of black powder. She's used to men with boots and cutlasses on deck, not kids with boating in mind. After refitting the interior, I don't know if packing her full of strangers below is a good plan. Most of the sail training/reenactment venues seem to be 'above deck'

[ 11-05-2002, 12:41 PM: Message edited by: Gary Bergman ]

The Schooner Etain
11-06-2002, 01:49 AM
Well, in terms of the sailing season, Lake Ontario normally starts around April, and ends in October. If you want really comfortable sailing, make that May to September, so 5 to 7 months depending.

There's alot of good challenging sailing to be done in the Lakes. Alot of sailors fear the Great Lakes more than the oceans. I'd like to hear alot more about the boat too. She sounds great. If you plan to keep her around for the Tall Ships race let me know, I'd be interested in doing a portion of that with you. I live in Toronto, which happens to be the tentative starting point for them in 2003.

If you keep her up this way for re-enactment let me know as well, I used to do re-enactment, through from and earlier period, but my brother was an 1812 re-enactor for several years, I know my way around a musket and a cannon. smile.gif


[ 11-06-2002, 01:51 AM: Message edited by: The Schooner Etain ]

Gary Bergman
11-06-2002, 10:17 AM
Ah, the big 'if'..If I decide to do the season, she will be doing Tall Ships 2003. Royaliste's usual season as far as reenactments, starts in June and as far as I know ASTA's event starts in July, ending in Sept.on Lake Michigan. As far as the reenactments, she has been doing them in your area for 12 years.My interest in that aspect would depend entirely on the enjoyment level and'feel' of next years season. The seller would passionately like me to continue the period work, but I was after all looking for a larger liveaboard vessel here on the left coast.One never knows, but your input is the type I'm looking for. There is always the possibility of keeping Royaliste at war in the 18th century on the lakes and still leave Orca in her slip here. here's a link to what the vessel has been doing http://historicsailing.com/menu.html (http://historicsailing.tripod.com/menu.html) The reenactment group on this page is who is competing with me on the vessels sale as they don't wanna stop fighting, but the owner wants out and their offer would keep him 'in'. Thanks for the input, let's keep it coming...Gary P.S. The mostly ochre topside pics are French Indian War and the current black with ochre stripe is War of 1812

[ 11-07-2002, 12:15 PM: Message edited by: Gary Bergman ]

Mr. Know It All
11-06-2002, 07:45 PM
If you come to Lake Erie with your Tall Ship, I'll show ya My backyard. :D

Kevin in Ohio

Gary Bergman
11-06-2002, 08:32 PM
Ah, a nice midwestern lake picture. I think Erie is on the list, but will find out more upon sending in a couple o' hundred yankee frogskins

11-06-2002, 08:52 PM
Hey Gary,

Put that boat in Lake Huron and I'm there.

Gary Bergman
11-06-2002, 09:11 PM
Gotta go thru Huron to get to Lake Michigan. She presently home berths in Kingston, On. homeport Halifax

Dave Hadfield
11-07-2002, 12:37 AM
Gary, I'd recommend it. Those are our home waters. I talked to a Maryland boater last year who gave up on the Chesapeake and keeps his sloop up near St. Joseph's Island. I asked him why and he said something like:

Unlimited fresh, clean water -- cold until the middle of July, but then diving off your boat into it's gorgeous purity makes it worth the wait.

Wilderness. The North Channel and the Georgian Bay shore north of Byng Inlet are full of beautiful anchorages with nobody living on the shore. Help yourself. Tie to a tree. Stay as long as you like.

Big Water. Don't underestimate it. There are many places in the lakes where the fetch is over 100 miles, and the NW gales can blow for 3 days. It ain't the Atlantic, but it's plenty of water for most.

Challenge. Reefs, lots of them. Hard Rock Canadian Shield. Careful navigation in Georgian Bay is a must.

Variety. The shores of these lake vary wildly. Big cities (Toronto, Chicago, Detroit), small towns, farms, bush, beaches cliffs and eveything in between.

I've got a square topsail ketch too, kept in Penetanguishene, in the SE corner of Georgian Bay. We should get together!

The Schooner Etain
11-07-2002, 12:50 AM
Geez, she's only 7 feet longer on deck then my boat. The only other difference, of coarse, being that she floats and mine doesn't right now. smile.gif I might have to think about revamping my boat and getting into historic re-enactment, maybe there's some money there.


Ron Williamson
11-07-2002, 06:30 AM
Bring semi-disposable fenders for the Welland canal.Grain sacks filled with straw or sawdust seem to be the favourite.
Lake Erie can blow up pretty quickly,and be pretty nasty,never mind the gas-rigs and shipping traffic.
The St.Clair River isn't any fun at night,because all of the big boats are going faster than you and the channel is pretty narrow.We ran,mark to mark,up the Canadian side.
The current under the Bluewater bridge is about 6kn.With dirty fuel filters our top speed was about 6.25kn.There is a major eddy on the Canadian side,that runs almost up to the bridge.When you ride it,it looks like you're going to dock at the CSL sheds(May have been replaced by a casino).
Be prepared for cool weather and cold water all the time,and you will be surprised with stinkin'hot weather and nice warm water,some of the time. tongue.gif
About 70% of the boats in northern Lake Huron and The North Channel are American,so you won't feel too far from home.If you can avoid it,don't buy anything in Killarney,but it is okay to stay at the George Island Marina.The peak season for boat traffic up there,is the last two weeks of July,mostly because of the weather.The two weeks either side of that are generally pretty nice too.
Have fun

11-07-2002, 08:19 AM
I recommend George Island Marina, as well. Its a little funky, but I loved it there-all three days sitting out a nasty NW blow. The only trouble with Killarney is there isn't a lot to do after the first day. Very nearly the best fish and chips I've ever had. Also, the first real sit down dinner with a bottle of wine since the Soo, at Killarney Mountain Lodge.

For some reason, Gary, I couldn't get to that web address, so I don't know how big your
prospective purchase is. If the masts go up and down fairly easily and you don't draw more than 5 feet (plus a few other critical dimensions), I'd motor through the Trent-Severn Waterway and go straight to Paradise- Georgian Bay and North Channel! and you're on your way to the Makinac Bridge. You're a day or so away from Trenton, the beginning of the waterway, the waterway takes a week, (ten days at leisure) or so, and you eliminate the entire length of Lake Ontario, Welland, Lake Erie and the southern lobe of Huron, most of which you'll be sailing with a contrary wind. Draft is critical, however, as is the height with the masts down on deck. The waterway, Killarney, Little Currant and a few other spots can be a little challenging as would the Welland and Detroit. You'll know how to handle that boat in tight places when you're done. Look up the waterway. If you could make it through, you'd save some distance and have a lot of fun at the same time.

Gary Bergman
11-07-2002, 11:42 AM
Wassup with the format? Everything got way big, and I am a temporarily one armed from a recent surgery and its hard to follow.Royaliste is 50' on deck,71' OA, draws 6',main is45' plus 22' topmast(mebbe 14' taller on the main) best to go around everything. Dave, what is the name of your vessel? This girl has been to Penetanguishene before. Just heard back from lender and it looks like a go! Part of this is a trade; my freshly rebuilt, completely stock 1951 Harley FL panhead; I think I need to go throw up on the reality of it all. Back later,Gary P.S. I think I fixed the link, left something out the first time. I sail dinks in the Dakotas, and am familiar with 3-4 day NW blows. Turtled enough to become a new species! http://historicsailing.tripod.com/menu.html

[ 11-07-2002, 12:42 PM: Message edited by: Gary Bergman ]

Gary Bergman
11-07-2002, 12:44 PM
Chris, I fired you an email, but came back failed. is your email in profile correct?.....Gary

The Schooner Etain
11-07-2002, 03:32 PM
Actually no. The e-mail in the profile is no longer correct, I'll go fix that. Here's an e-mail I can be reached on for now.


11-07-2002, 05:19 PM
I have an idea. Let's abandon this thread.

It was Kevin's picture that messed everything up.

Beautiful picture as it may be, and it is that beautiful, at times, you can't send a bullet when the recipient has to find the right arrow key to get to the point.

If you're not a great lakes sailor, treachery awaits you. The beauty of Kevin's
photograph may lull you into thinking the Lakes are no more difficult than
S.F. Bay, they are. Each lake has its own character; They are huge. Even the
smallest is gigantic and, perhaps, the most dangerous. Erie can have your decks
awash in 20 minutes. Have you ever met a 10' wave that is 6 seconds, peak to peak?
You do not want to find yourself on the wrong side of the lake...ever.

I suggest that somebody start a thread about sailing on the lakes. I was never so
frightened, yet, I'd go back tomorrow. Fate, a Sparkman & Stephens yawl, and
the fact that my father spent his summers on the north shore of Minnesota drew
me there. I'm still drawn there.

[ 11-07-2002, 05:44 PM: Message edited by: rodcross ]

Peter Malcolm Jardine
11-07-2002, 07:39 PM
Where is the boat precisely? sounds like Brockville... I have boated on the great lakes all my life.. done all except superior and southern part of lake michigan. Included are the St Lawrence Seaway, New York State Barge Canal Hudson River, Rideau Canal, Trent Canal, Lake Champlain, Lake Erie, Northern Shore Georgian Bay to Sault Ste Marie, Ottawa River, Bruce Peninsula etc etc. Certainly one of the diverse and charming small boat cruising areas in the world. The Thousand Islands area alone is a beautiful small boat destination. and yes, the season is roughly 15th April to end of October ...Max Extremes at either end require heating for sure. NO SALT means for the most part longer lives for wooden boats, and certainly for hardware and electrical systems more simplicity. Good Luck!!

Gary Bergman
11-07-2002, 08:18 PM
Rod,Appreciate the input, and concern.I've been around the Lakes throughout life, just never in a completely different 'suit'. The ASTA event would be a large commitment that takes a bit of thought. That said, surfing the left coast with a wooden ketch is thought to be insanity by many.Peter, the ship is in a little town by the name of Iroquois for the winter. The thousand Islands area are pretty much her territory. I would seem logical that the Tall Ships would allow themselves enough sailing time to be out of'the Lakes' before the fall turnaround.As far as the thread goes, I am enjoying the input immensely, we can bail or not, this present blow has me fairly trapped in the boat anyway.

Peter Malcolm Jardine
11-07-2002, 10:26 PM
Yep know it well Gary... Iroquois has the power dam and the seaway lock there.. got a picture of her? and if you need something done or checked, its a possibility.. My sister lives north of Brockville, and I drop down and see her fairly often.

Mr. Know It All
11-07-2002, 10:39 PM
What rodcross said is true. The Great Lakes aren't called the Great Lakes for nothing.

Gary Bergman
11-09-2002, 11:01 AM
No offense intended folks, but we had 100' waves at Mavericks last night, so you can save the small stuff!.....Power has been out for 38 hours,Back to onboard wood heat and kerosene cooking.........from the Graveyard of the Pacific, Gary

Dan McCosh
11-14-2002, 03:00 PM
Gordon Lightfoot did a pretty good job of describing the Great Lakes. Fall gales have broken and sunk three ore boats since WWII--all equipped with modern radar and such. A lakes ore boat is roughly the size of a supertanker. Only two members of any of their crews survived. In mid July, it's more likely you can use one of those stern-rail barbecues while afloat in mid-lake, waiting for the wind to come up. All in all, the northern lakes offer some of the best sailing on earth, if your taste runs to cliff-lined wilderness harbors, clear water, weather that changes hourly, and knowing the next couple of hundred miles of island-hopping will not be interrupted by any town larger than 500 people or so.
Then again, there's Cleveland...

Gary Bergman
11-14-2002, 04:31 PM
It was a fair description of Superior late in the year. I have no intention of owning an ore boat, and have my own grudge withU.S. Steel and the whole taconite business. That said, I'm still thinking of giving it a go. Still rides on whenever I close the deal.

[ 11-14-2002, 04:33 PM: Message edited by: Gary Bergman ]

Ron Williamson
11-14-2002, 06:55 PM
Did I read somewhere that you have a NY32?
Is it Night Heron?

Dan McCosh
11-15-2002, 03:11 PM
Yes. Or maybe Night Heron has me.

Ron Williamson
11-17-2002, 11:29 AM
We first admired that boat here in Southampton about ten years ago.We didn't see her again for a long while,then last year,there she was,in Tobermory.
If I'd had time when I was there I would have come by to say hi.

Dan McCosh
11-18-2002, 11:37 AM
Actually, we sailed to the North Channel this past summer for the first time in seven years. Reason for the long dry spell (until then, we'd made it north for some 20 seasons) was a combination of personal lack of time and a three-year restoration project that included a new deck, deck beams, transom, sheer strake, toerail, coamings.... We missed stopping in Southhampton this year, which is one or our favorite spots--maybe the last authentic fishing port on Lake Huron. Pulled the boat out three days ago. Maybe next year.