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Old 09-10-2017, 14:45   #1
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Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

Hello all. I would like to get some local knowledge from boaters familiar with Lake Michigan. My wife and I recently purchased a sailboat which, for the next few years, will be based in Manitowoc, WI. Our plan is to take two three-week vacations near the Memorial and Labor Day weekends each year to travel on the boat. Our springtime vacation is our primary concern as we know the lake will be cool at best and it's more likely that conditions will be unsettled. Is there typically a significant difference in temperatures or conditions from one end of the lake to the other and are some sections preferable or others to be avoided altogether at this time of the year? Also, we don't mind a few closures or missing some attractions if we can avoid the crowds by visiting during the shoulder seasons. If you were trying to strike a balance between pleasant sailing and completing your vacation before things get crowded, when and where might you go?

Thanks!
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Old 09-10-2017, 14:55   #2
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Re: Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

I grew up sailing Lake Michigan, a wonderful and little known gem.

Things do remain cool due to the water temperature until late June and even early July at the Northern end. The crowds aren't really a problem at any time of the year but the winds get iffy during August and early September.

Keep an eye to the weather, I have been in 20'+ waves, short interval, in some blows from the North when we were out in the middle. Crossings to the MI shore where many great harbors are 20 miles apart will become a favorite!

Please DO NOT tell anyone how great it is to have a freshwater "ocean" in the middle of the country.
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Old 09-10-2017, 17:20   #3
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Re: Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

Keep in mind that winds around 30-35 knots for several days at a time are common around Memorial Day. Crowds definitely is not a problem except maybe for the 4th of July in places like Petoskey or Traverse City.
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Old 09-10-2017, 18:58   #4
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Re: Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

The lake is user friendly Memorial Day to Early October if common sense is used. Weather forecast are fairly accurate and there is no reason to be caught in the middle of the lake in 20' waves unless you are racing or attempting to challenge the sea gods. It is only 50 to 65 miles across. If you were silly enough to want to find 20' waves you would have to be very patient as I think it has only happened a few times in the last ten years. Superior yes, L. Michigan rare.

Seriously, with the exception of cold water for swimming and cool nights, go when it works for you. When you need a shower or heat for a cold night in June, pull into one of our fine marinas on either coast. Great sailing grounds and most areas are open for business mid My to mid October. Early and late layers are your friend.

Good luck.
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Old 10-10-2017, 09:50   #5
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Re: Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

I use windfinder or call 734-418-7299 and push send text. Then hit email link and you will get current conditions on all the Great Lakes from buoys to weather stations. Generally if the buoy near us says over 4 feet we donít go out and very few boats do. Highest I saw it this year was 8 feet. You donít want to be out in that and as previously stated there is no reason to be with all the safe harbors. Mid May to Mid Oct is the season. Before or after you will have trouble getting a slip with water or electricity. I watch windfinder often and look at future dates to generally plan my departure date when going on a trip. Itís interesting to watch the wind pattern and velocity on Lake Michigan. It can get quite high often. Good thing is waves die down within hours of wind going down. It can be 6 foot waves at night and almost flat in the morning.
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Old 10-10-2017, 10:33   #6
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Re: Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

Tom,

We were heading south from Pentwater and it was actually a pretty nice sail. The radio indicated that others were not having such fun.....the CG asked us four times if we wanted help. We poo-poo'd them and they all came out on the dock when we got to Michigan City and saluted us. Really made our day!
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Old 10-10-2017, 12:32   #7
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Re: Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

Lake Michigan subject to midwest weather patterns. That means it can be beautiful and calm and two hours later blowing like crazy. You'll start off and have 15 kts, an hour later it will be dead calm, and you'll have 8 kts half an hour later. Yes, we have some crazy weather later in the summer and early fall, but that stuff is mostly predictable.

The water temp influences the weather patterns. In the early spring, it's cold. Over the summer it heats up, and accounts for some instability in the late summer and early fall.

Best advice is to spend time close to shore initially, get to know how to "read" the patterns. After a while you'll have an instinctive feel about conditions. That, along with a good weather and wind app will make you an expert.
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Old 10-10-2017, 12:43   #8
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Re: Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

The flies won't bite but they will drive you slowly insane during calms.
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Old 10-10-2017, 13:06   #9
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Re: Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

Oh, my, I forgot to mention the flies.... well, there is a negative to everything.
The ones that pester me DO bite. We have two fly-swatters on the boat at all times. At under 7 kts of wind, they will be there. Why they choose to be on the lake, I cannot figure out. When I sail in the bay, no flies. I go out on the "big lake" and they see me coming.

You will need to invest in an electric fly swatter ( so you don't have to smash them on the deck) ... available at Harbor Freight Tools... makes it much easier.
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Old 10-10-2017, 13:15   #10
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Re: Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

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Originally Posted by InTheDish View Post
The flies won't bite but they will drive you slowly insane during calms.
Yes indeed! We experienced that just south of Sheboygan on our way from Manitowoc to Port Washington this Sept. -it was our first time on Lake Michigan, or any of the Great Lakes for that matter. The wind started to die and the next thing we knew, the boat was covered with flies. I was afraid it was a maritime version of the Amityville Horror!

Thanks to all who have responded so far. It reaffirms much of what we were assuming but it's good to know we're not too wrong in our thinking.
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Old 10-10-2017, 13:19   #11
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Re: Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

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Originally Posted by carlheintz View Post
Oh, my, I forgot to mention the flies.... well, there is a negative to everything.
The ones that pester me DO bite. We have two fly-swatters on the boat at all times. At under 7 kts of wind, they will be there. Why they choose to be on the lake, I cannot figure out. When I sail in the bay, no flies. I go out on the "big lake" and they see me coming.

You will need to invest in an electric fly swatter ( so you don't have to smash them on the deck) ... available at Harbor Freight Tools... makes it much easier.
That's funny! As we were being descended upon, I was kidding my wife that I should have gotten one of these https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...A16KVJA5T2OOAW before we left.
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Old 10-10-2017, 13:48   #12
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Re: Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

Don't know much about the Wisconsin side, but the north-west shoulder of Michigan is some of the finest close-harbor sailing there is. Summer around the Traverse City / Manitou Islands / Charlevoix shoreline is almost as pretty as Canadian North Channel, and much better shore facilities. Michigan State Harbors are very nice - DNR - Harbors
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Old 10-10-2017, 14:01   #13
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Re: Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

So Why, why are those flies out in the middle of the lake? No problems with flies on shore, just off shore! Does anyone have an explanation for this weird phenomena?
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Old 10-10-2017, 15:23   #14
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Re: Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

The flies drove our crew so crazy they started using the sticky caramel on the rolls we had to glue the flies onto bottle rockets. It was the only way they could feel like they were getting revenge for the onslaught.
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Old 10-10-2017, 15:50   #15
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Re: Lake Michigan Seasonal Sailing Considerations?

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So Why, why are those flies out in the middle of the lake? No problems with flies on shore, just off shore! Does anyone have an explanation for this weird phenomena?
They ate from the Tree of Knowledge!

I have no idea why they are there just that they have been torturing people for many decades at least.

We have tried everything, do not walk into the hanging fly paper...don't ask!

We have put various things including week old salami at the end of a whisker pole in an attempt to draw them off. They don't care.

The electric fly-swatter does improve your backhand and allows a small sense of revenge.

Do check for local goings on. We sailed into Racine and were treated to a free Steve Miller Band concert and fireworks one Saturday night. I have forgotten the reason for the party but we had a blast.

(Racine you ask? Racine?!! It was part of an experiment to see if we could recreate the navigation skills of the ancient Polynesians on a very hazy day using no tools, not even a compass. We would have perished at sea....we were aiming for Milwaukee.)
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