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CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES

3rd in a Series

LAKE HURON

As profiled in the last issue two issues (first as an overview and then with specific coverage of Lake Michigan), there may be no better freshwater boating in the world than in the Great Lakes region. This incredibly varied part of North America features great cruising and a wide range of options on and off the water. Both veteran and beginner boaters may be surprised to learn that, taken together, the Great Lakes comprise the largest body of freshwater in the world.

Lake Huron (along with Georgian Bay and the North Channel, which will be covered in the next issue), offers some of the most varied boating opportunities in the Great Lakes region. From the charms of Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City to the quiet coves of Georgian Bay and the North Channel, this is Great Lakes boating at its best. In fact, Mackinaw City and Mackinaw Island are great places to start a tour of this region, with the big bridge that crosses the Straits of Mackinac separating northern Lake Michigan from Lake Huron.

Mackinac Island is the main Lake Huron destination for many boaters (and lots of tourists). The island is only eight miles in circumference and is circled by an extension of Huron Street (great for a bike tour). Highlights include the famed and sprawling Grand Hotel, a quaint downtown area, shopping, and historic Fort Mackinac. Bustling Mackinac Island State Dock is especially popular so book dockage early.

Mackinaw City recently underwent a $25 million renovation, with more than 200 shops, an 850-seat entertainment complex, a five-screen cinema, the restored Colonial Michilimackinac State Park, Mackinac Bridge Museum, and trolley service (everything is also generally within walking distance of the marina). Mackinaw City Municipal Marina also has more than $400,000 worth of work, with new restrooms, showers, a chart room, and office (they’re typically open 24 hours a day in July and August).

To the south, Cheboygan is a another popular destination or boating base. This gateway to the Straits of Mackinac features the 100-year-old tower of the Crib Light lighthouse, the 1877 Opera House, great golf, and Mackinaw a Coast Guard ice breaker often available for tours. The 40-mile Inland Waterway connects Cheboygan with Petoskey and lake Michigan.

Further south, the western shore of Lake Huron includes many small towns and marinas ideal for daytrips and more. Some top picks are: Rogers City (with a centerpiece rehabbed marina); Presque Isle (featuring the only natural harbor on the Michigan shore of Lake Huron); Harrisville (home to one of the few one-room schools still standing in Michigan); Oscoda/Au Sable (where the Paul Bunyan tales started); Tawas City (be sure to visit nearby and quaint East Tawas); Bay City (a revived music mecca); Caseville (a resort town with many festivals); Port Austin (near interesting Grindstone City and Port Hope); Harbor Beach (the nation’s largest manmade harbor); Port Sanilac (great wreck diving); Lexington; and Port Huron (sister city with Sarnia, Ontario, Canada to the east).

On the Ontario, Canada, side of Lake Huron, there are many more scenic stopovers. Some of the best include: Port Franks (great cruising along a sandy shoreline); Grand Bend (a rustic and tranquil town of about 1,000); Bayfield (an artsy little stopover); Goderich (featuring Victorian homes); Kincardine (be sure to visit the historic Kincardine Lighthouse Museum); Port Elgin (with sugar maples and great sunsets); historic Southampton (including the Bruce County Museum & Archives); the west coast of the Bruce Peninsula; the old fishing village of South Baymouth; and, back in Michigan, Cedarville, Hessel, and St. Ignace.

With the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), customs generally isn’t an issue for boaters. The general rule is that you have up to 24 hours upon entering the country to check in with customs. Canada has made it easy for boaters entering the country with the Canpass-Private boats system (for details, call 888/CANPASS or the U.S. INS office at 800/375-5283).

Climatologists refer to the Great Lakes basin as a climatological battlefield for three specific reasons: the Great Lakes feature huge bodies of water surrounded by large land masses; the air masses that tend to flow in from other regions; and the influences on the weather by the lakes themselves. This means weather systems change frequently between cyclonic low-pressure cells and anticyclonic highs.

But GPS, loran, and radar, as well as the Weather Channel and expanded local TV weather coverage, have all made boating easier when it comes to weather changes. Thus, Great Lakes boaters can plan to make time when the weather is calm and predicted to stay calm, why staying close to shore or laying over when the weather turns nasty or is predicted to do so.

Along with charts (see below), the best way to stay safe and happy while boating in the Great Lakes is with Lakeland Boating’s Ports O’ Call cruising guides. They remain the most comprehensive full-color resources on the market. The Ports O’ Call series includes Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and Lake Superior. Buying their Lake Huron (including Georgian Bay and the North Channel) or other appropriate guide provides the perfect introduction to Great Lakes boating.

DETAILS

As mentioned in the last issue, Lakeland Boating magazine (800/827-0289, www.lakelandboating.com, regularly $21.95, but just $11.00 for ABA members) is a great resource for Great Lakes cruising. Their Ports O’ Call cruising guides (800/892-9342 or directly through the website, regularly $44.95, but 10% off for ABA members) are ‘must-haves’ for the area (their updated Lake Huron guide is hugely popular). Marine Navigation (708/352-0606) in La Grange, Illinois offers a huge selection of up-to-date charts, as well as information, advice, and charts for practically everywhere else in the world.

Upcoming Issues: Georgian Bay and the North Channel; AMY--ANOTHER GREAT LAKE (Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are left)??; the Gulf of Mexico

Phone Numbers for Some Select Ports/Marinas Mentioned:

Mackinac Island State Dock-906/847-3561

Mackinaw City Municipal Marina-231 or 616(CALL?)/436-5269

Cheboygan-NOTE--FIVE MARINAS

Rogers City Marina- 517/734-3808

Presque Isle Marina-517/595-3069

Harrisville Harbor of Refuge-517/724-5242

Oscoda/Au Sable-NOTE--FOUR MARINAS

Tawas City- NOTE--THREE MARINAS

Bay City- NOTE--FIVE MARINAS

Caseville-NOTE--SIX MARINAS

Port Austin-NOTE--THREE MARINAS

Harbor Beach- NOTE--TWO MARINAS

Port Sanilac- NOTE--TWO MARINAS

Lexington-NOTE--TWO MARINAS

Port Huron/Sarnia-NOTE--EIGHT MARINAS

Port Franks-NOTE--FOUR MARINAS

Grand Bend-NOTE--TWO MARINAS

Bayfield-NOTE--THREE MARINAS

Goderich-NOTE--THREE MARINAS

Kincardine Yacht Club Marina-519/396-4336

Port Elgin Harbour-519/832-6535

Southampton Marine Motel Lodge-519/797-2817

West coast of the Bruce Peninsula-NOTE--SIX MARINAS

South Bay Marina (South Baymouth)-705/859-3656

Cedarville-NOTE--TWO MARINAS

Hessel-NOTE--TWO MARINAS

St. Ignace Public Dock-906/643-8131