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Old 24-10-2011, 13:03   #1
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Great Lakes to the Caribbean !

We have owned a sailboat since 1997.. from a 23ft paceship to a Hunter 31 and now are new owners of a 2000 Hunter 410 and are planning our retirement and escape from the cold Michigan winters to the Caribbean onboard our new retirement home.. estimated departure .. spring of 2013.

Now we are weighing the pros and cons of taking the northern route through the Great Lakes (we currently are located on Lake Michigan) and out the St Lawrence Seaway (avoiding stepping the mast and either carrying it or shipping it) or the Erie Canal and New York Canal system to the East Coast and South via the ICW.

We are looking for advice and input from those that have been there and hopefully learning from others experiences.. We are interested in what kind of time frame to transit either route and when to leave Lake MI in order to have the best weather heading south. We don't want to have to hurry, but don't want to get caught and not be able to finish the trip south either.

Our plan is to finish outfitting the boat ( ie: watermaker ) on our way. We purchased the boat in New Jersey in the spring of 2011 and had her shipped to Michigan and she is pretty well outfitted right now.. liferaft/radar/chartplotter/genset/.

We also would like input on the best cruising guides to obtain now.

We will have to finish upgrading our battery system and water filtration and ventilation on the boat next summer and get our house ready to either rent out or sell before we leave in the spring of 2013. What cruising guides are the most helpful??

Any and all input, advice and shared experiences are welcome.

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Old 24-10-2011, 15:04   #2
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Re: Great Lakes to the Caribbean!!

We faced the same choice leaving Toronto and decided to go the St Lawrence route. We, together with two more boats, left mid-July and were some of the last ones to leave. We were scheduling 5 weeks to 2 months to reach Long Island.

A lot of boats choose the canals and leave August or September. Most boats just carry the mast with them. Usually boats don't go south of Morehead, NC before mid- or end-November because of hurricanes and insurance. To go through canals you need about 10 days. Together with mast stepping, you need about 2 weeks at a leasurely pace to reach NYC.

If I remember correctly, St Lawrence route doubles your distance to Bahamas compared to going through canals. You will need to navigate locks, watch the weather, tides, shipping, etc. It will be more stressful.

You will gain much more experience. You will see much more: gorgeous nature, people, different culture, marine mammals, etc. In our opinion, some of the most splendid cruising grounds are up there, though a bit more remote than its US counterpart, northern ME.

This thread has more details about St Lawrence and Eastern Canada: Passage thru Port Hawksbury, Nova Scotia

P.S. Don't forget about AIS for your boat [especially if going through NYC], transceiver better than receiver.

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Old 25-10-2011, 20:05   #3
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Re: Great Lakes to the Caribbean!!

I would (and did) go the canal route. It's a lot shorter, even when you add in the time to step and unstep the mast However, if you've got time, going out the St. Lawrence and cruising Nova Scotia and New England can also be lovely.

Depending on your ultimate cruising destination, you may or may not need the watermaker. Everyone has an opinion on this, but I can tell you that you while you may choose to install one and ultimately love it, you don't NEED a watermaker in most parts of the Caribbean.

For cruising guides, you might want to wait until you're closer to departure to make sure you get the most recent ones, but the Doyle Guides for the Windwards and Leewards are pretty good in our view. The same publisher also has a pretty guide to the BVIs. As for the Western Caribbean, I'm not sure... never cruised there.

Have fun with the planning.

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Old 26-10-2011, 06:16   #4
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Re: Great Lakes to the Caribbean !


You should definitely get a copy of the "Down East Circle Route" cruising guide by Yacht Pilot Publishing. It is a must have if you are doing the St. Lawrence River. It covers the waterways from L. Ontario all the way to the Bay of Fundy. This guide also has cruising information on the Erie Canal portion too.

An updated second edition of the guide was just issued this year.

If you google Down East Circle Route you will find lots of information from many boaters who have taken the St. Lawrence route.

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Old 27-10-2011, 19:24   #5
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Re: Great Lakes to the Caribbean !

Did this trip in 2008. We left Chicago 9/1/2008 and made it to the Chesapeake by 10/1/2008, via the Erie Canal, Hudson River offshore to Deleware Bay and then the C&D canal. Much shorter and less of a hassle than the St. Lawrence, although this can be lovely if you dont mind the extra time and distance and extreme tides. If you do the St Lawrence, leave no later than July 1st. Erie Canal mast stepping is $4 to $6 per ft at each end and decent yards are available at both ends to make it easier. No problem with mast on deck, is preferred way to go in my opinion. New York State Canals: NYS Canal Corporation is the web site.

As far as a watermaker, I would not leave home without one. It was our best investment. You can get by without one, but having one allows you to really keep the salt out of the boat, a great advantage. We have never wanted for water and can always trust what is in the tank. Being able to wash down the boat whenever it needs it is a luxury we love.
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Old 29-10-2011, 14:13   #6
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Re: Great Lakes to the Caribbean !

Having done each of the 3 routes multiple times here is my 2 cents worth: Spring is a great time to go out the St. Lawrence, if you get away on time. Boat should be ready before this route, very few services until you get down to Maine. Beautiful trip but requires the most seamanship and planning. Erie and out. Welland is a pain but easily dooable, pull your mast in Oswego. Better to carry it in crutches on deck than shipping it. Less hassel and you can restep it south of Troy. Very pretty trip. Erie,(IF Repaired) is interesting with easy stops. Annapolis would be a great place to finish outfitting the boat also many other good spots going south. Third is down the lake, pull the stick around Chicago and go down the river system. Requires a bit more seamanship than the Erie as you are dealing with heavy commercial traffic and very few marinas along the route. Mast back up in Ky Lake at either Green Turtle Bay or Aqua marina. No great places to finish outfitting other than the above and around Mobile. Offshore passage from Carabelle down to Tampa/Tarpon springs. Very interesting trip, beautiful in the fall. You could finish outfitting on Florida's west coast.
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Old 29-10-2011, 14:51   #7
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Re: Great Lakes to the Caribbean !

We left Lake Michigan May 3rd, 2010 and transited the St. Lawrence to arrive in Halifax. It was spectacular. Many marinas were not open so we stayed free. Yachting traffic was non existent. Stress was zero. Spent a week in Quebec City which was magic. Tides were barely a consideration. Watched a Minke whale feed for an hour. Can't say enough about it. It would probably be the highlight of your trip.
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Old 30-10-2011, 00:28   #8
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Re: Great Lakes to the Caribbean !

Regarding outfitting: we did it two times in Stonington, CT at the end of the season. The yard has good deals on moorings, wonderful craftsmen, and the Defender warehouse nearby.
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Old 03-11-2011, 13:28   #9
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Re: Great Lakes to the Caribbean !

If you haven't already, you should read the book "An Embarrassment of Mangoes" by Ann Vanderhoof. It is an autobiographical account of her trip with her husband from Toronto, through the Great Lakes and down to the Caribbean. I think it will give you great insight into planning your own escape to paradise. Best of luck! Don't chicken out.
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Old 03-11-2011, 14:03   #10
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Re: Great Lakes to the Caribbean !

Don't discount heading south through chicago, doing the west side of the "Great Loop" through the tenn-tom which puts you in the gulf at Mobile, AL... This would be a great option if you can't leave by July or August. It may seem a little out of the way but it's a lot of fun going through downtown Chicago and doing the rivers to Mobile. This route will also give you the opportunity to do two things not necessarily available to you by going East or Northeast... You'll get to see the Florida Keys/Dry Tortugas AND if you choose later, you can always return to Michigan via the seaway or the Erie Canal which would then give you the title of "looper" (one who has completed the great loop). I left Bayfield, WI on Sept 26th, 2010 and made it to Key West by Nov 7th. Made it as far down the thorny path as the BVI by March of this year and had enough time to smell the roses. Bruce's book was our bible. (Gentleman's Guide to Passages South).

Just my two cents. Departure timing will likely dictate your departure direction. We thought long and hard on which way to go as well. I have no regrets.
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Old 11-01-2012, 08:03   #11
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Re: Great Lakes to the Caribbean !

Best of luck with your planning. How wonderful to get all this advise from experienced cruisers. My husband and I are looking for opportunities to crew such a trip, would love to talk if you are interested. We are Canadians and from all we have heard the St Lawrence route is wonderful and the way to go.
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Old 11-01-2012, 09:27   #12
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Re: Great Lakes to the Caribbean !

So many great escape routes from the Great Lakes! They all have their charms and challenges. I'm not much for long days of motoring (particularly with the mast down!), so I might prefer the St. Lawrence with proper preparation (Check this blog to read about a family who also chose this route: Sailing Vessel Precipice::LOG)
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Old 13-02-2012, 06:21   #13
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We reluctantly did chi to mobile because the erie is closed. But we totally enjoyed the river system. It has its challenges but nothing over the top. A big yes for the river trip south.
And turner marine in mobile is an excellent, and cheap, place to stop to get work done.
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Old 02-03-2012, 19:51   #14
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Re: Great Lakes to the Caribbean !

Summer 2011 I sailed Lakes Erie and Ontario, down the St. Lawrence River, through the Maritimes then southwest to New England. Departed Erie, PA, end of May, arrived Newport, RI mid September. Great trip, lots of variety, and well worthwhile. When I did a rough measure going the St. Lawrence vs the Erie Canal it was about 2500nm further from Erie, PA to Annapolis via the SLR vs the Erie Canal. The people and places made the northern route well worth it IMHO. I've got a lot of details about how I prepared, charts & guides I used, boat details, etc. on my website: Captain Murph.

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Old 02-03-2012, 20:06   #15
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Re: Great Lakes to the Caribbean !

Originally Posted by gettinthere View Post
We reluctantly did chi to mobile because the erie is closed. But we totally enjoyed the river system. It has its challenges but nothing over the top. A big yes for the river trip south.
And turner marine in mobile is an excellent, and cheap, place to stop to get work done.
Could you highlight some of the challenges? How long did it take you? I may be making this trip with our Bayfield 29 in the not too distant future....year or so, and any info would sure help in making the decision to go that route or not.



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