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Sweet sailing on sweet water

2015 April 15

A Lake Michigan charter cruise visits the nooks and crannies of Grand Traverse Bay

The sun sets on the calm anchorage of Omena Bay in Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay
Marianne Lee

When to reef? Honestly, I wasn’t sure. The wind was now up to a solid 13 knots, tickling 15 with every indication of getting stronger. Yet the 35-foot boat with a full-batten, square-top main seemed to be handling everything fine. In fact, as we galloped past Old Mission Light in Grand Traverse Bay, my sister and her daughter, both nonsailors, were below in the galley, happily making grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup without a hint of seasickness. Not bad for a sailboat I was originally reluctant to take on a four-day cruise on Lake Michigan.

My reluctance came from a long-since-past experience with a cruising cat that was similar to watching an old VW bus trying to crest a hill—she just wouldn’t tack or sail upwind. But on this boat, I was going to have to rethink my whole cruising philosophy concerning catamarans. 


Dave Conrad, at Great Lakes Sailing Co. in Traverse City, Michigan, was persistent about having us take the company’s new Gemini Legacy 35 for the cruise. Initially I resisted, but the last time we sailed Grand Traverse Bay, we discovered the best anchorages were three feet deep with sandy bottoms. With a monohull’s deeper keel, we always had to anchor far from these potentially very cool areas. With a cruising cat, we could sneak right into the shallows and have a great swim off the back of the boat. Yes, the Gemini would suit us just fine.

With a 35-foot catamaran there was more than enough room for myself, my wife Marianne and our 2-year-old daughter Maddy, so we also invited my sister Becky and her 16-year-old daughter Kaitlyn. They might not be sailors, but they love spending time on the water. They had never visited that part of Michigan and knew little of the area, so I knew they were going to be in for a surprise when they saw Traverse Bay. Every time I visit, I’m always amazed at the beauty of the region and a bit curious as to why there aren’t more people taking advantage of such a place—a freshwater ocean with every type of cruising imaginable right in the heart of the U.S. In the middle of the lake, there’s open bluewater sailing, closer to shore there is turquoise green water with a sandy bottom, and scattered about so many islands and bays one would need all summer to explore them. I was excited to be able to share this with my sister and niece.

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