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Old 03-06-2013, 18:19   #1
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Nighttime Sailing on Lake Michigan ??

I have just started sailing my 27' Island Packet out of New Buffalo, MI on daysails. Wonderful. But I am starting to think about longer trips north, overnights, etc.

Can anyone tell me how safe or unsafe it is to sail Lk Mich at nightime? And what I need to know in particular? I have the requisite lights in rigging, etc. but not much experience sailing at night since being a teenager.

Anyone have experience with this, especially on Lake Michigan? Advice? Many thanks.
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Old 03-06-2013, 19:29   #2
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Good chart plotter will make you feel good. Go out and back in a few time in the dark. Try it with no moon, you will be surprised how different your harbor will feel. Sailing is the easy part, as winds usually go light. Stay away from freighters and make sure you know the lights for towing. Northern end has fishing nets never had trouble with them, but never hit a pole either. The biggest deal would be coming into a harbor you have never been to when it as dark. Time your entrances for daylight. On the right night, good wind, full moon and warm it is magical...
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Old 03-06-2013, 19:36   #3
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Re: Nighttime Sailing on Lake Michigan ??

I sail out of South Haven, approx 40 miles north of New Buffalo. The suggestion to never come into a new harbor at night if it can be avoided is a good one. So, to limit anxiety, sail at night to a harbor that you have entered before and one that is pretty straight forward. Give South Haven a try. Like New Buffalo (and unlike St Joe) you can dock at either the South Side or North Side Municipal Marina and walk 1 block to down town. Come in on a Thursday and enjoy a concert at Riverside Park, a great dinner at the SHYC or any of the excellent downtown restaurants and easy access to the Marinas. The North Side Muni Marina has brand new facilities. Soon you will find night sailing on our great Lake as easy as day sailing. Enjoy!
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Old 03-06-2013, 19:56   #4
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Re: Nighttime Sailing on Lake Michigan ??

We sail at night quite a lot. We sail out of Milwaukee and when we cross the lake to Michigan, we usually leave at night so we arrive fairly early in the day. The biggest difference for me is it is harder to see the waves so it can be harder to steer and hold a steady course. It is usually really pretty at night especially if there is a moon.
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Old 03-06-2013, 20:03   #5
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At night it is especially important to pay close attention to the charts. Make sure you understand where the green, red and white flashing lights are and the interval on which they flash.

There will be a lot of lights in land that are not navigational aids (telecom towers, cars, houses etc). When you come in any harbor entry carefully identify and line up the navigational aids.

If you come into any harbor late at night and you are tired it is easy to make a fatal mistake. Consider going for your first night sail under a full moon.

That said, in my limited experience Great Lakes charts are extremely accuratenand the navigational aids are well maintained.
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Old 04-06-2013, 05:52   #6
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Re: Nighttime Sailing on Lake Michigan ??

Many thanks, everyone! Very helpful.
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Old 04-06-2013, 06:41   #7
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Re: Nighttime Sailing on Lake Michigan ??

I am surprised anyone is recommending a first timer to come into a harbor at night, even one they know. I didnt do that until I had more experience. But opinions differ, obviously
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Old 04-06-2013, 07:11   #8
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Re: Nighttime Sailing on Lake Michigan ??

I'm not recommending anything, rather providing information if the OP intends on entering a harbor at night. The reference to the ease of making a "fatal mistake" should get the smart sailor thinking.

The OP's post made me think of the entrance we made into an unfamiliar harbor at night last week. We had an unexpected beat upwind and arrived much later than expected to the Upper Entrance of the Keewenaw Waterway from Stockton Island (Lake Superior). It was a dark night and there were enough of non navigational lights on shore to confuse the situation. A fire on the breakwater, cell phone towers with flashing red lights. Wifey did not read the entry lights correctly and urged me to cut a corner which would have grounded us on a shoal near the lonely entrance, in 35 degree water, unpleasant conditions, a long way from help. It was a simple mistake but it could have been a fatal one.

Wifey and I work as a team and so if we are not seeing the same thing we take time to work out it out. We turned offshore, sacrificing some of our hard earned progress, reviewed the charts and the chart plotter, then lined up the lights correctly and made it through safely. Patience and attention to detail is key and they are both hard to maintain after a long, cold day on the Great Lakes.
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Old 16-06-2013, 18:23   #9
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Re: Nighttime Sailing on Lake Michigan ??

From a freighter's perspective, please make sure you've got nav lights that are in good working order. A radar reflector would also be a really great thing to have.

These radars can be unpredictable. I picked up a floating bleach bottle at 1.5 miles yesterday, but I've been on ships who's radar couldn't pick up the broad side of a barn. I nearly ran over a sailboat on Lake Erie a few years ago. He was running without any lights at all, and there was no moon. If he hadn't lit a cigarette at the exact moment that I happened to be looking directly at him, he'd have been splinters. He never did show up on the radar.

TL,DR: Make yourself as visible as possible!
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Old 24-06-2013, 11:21   #10
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Re: Nighttime Sailing on Lake Michigan ??

I sail out of Chicago and often come in at night. Even if you know that harbor, it is something I always take extra care in when coming back. Traffic lights on Lake Shore Drive and beyond are red and green and can be confused with other boats, lots of white lights from the city that might look like steaming lights, etc.

Once you get used to it a few times, it gets less stressful.

And in Chicago, on Weds and Sat nights, there are hundreds of boats out after dark because of the fireworks. Probably not the best approach to Chicago on these nights.

I have a 2M spotlight that I keep handy to shine as I get close, ID-ing edges of breakwall, etc. Never shine it much above the water line, another skipper might not be too happy to have it in his eyes.
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