Lake Michigan is a surprising delight, especially
By Ben Ellison - October 2003
Ask me about places I’d like to explore by boat, and I can always rattle off a dozen without pause, and the names will vary according to the weather at home and my latest nautical reading. But, until this summer, the list never included the Great Lakes. What a silly saltwater snob I was! How thoroughly a few days chartering Lake Michigan demolished my prejudices!
It didn’t hurt that my virgin voyage was aboard the 72-foot Ferretti Lysandra—nicely suited to the task and bodaciously beautiful to boot—and the weather was completely copacetic. I’d learned beforehand that Lake Michigan is really a freshwater sea, about 300 miles long and averaging 75 miles across, whose smooth coastline lacks inside passages; the waters can get right rough, and a boat is exposed the moment it leaves the harbor. Harder to envision from research was just how pleasant it might be to hole up in any of the ports we visited, even downtown Chicago.
I joined Lysandra at Montrose Harbor, just a half-hour by cab from O’Hare airport and within sight of the city’s striking skyline. Considering the location, this marina is amazingly clean and quiet, surrounded by parkland and adjacent to both a fine beach and a golf course. Had the lake been kicking up, the opulent Ferretti, ensconced here, could have served as a haven from which to explore this world-class city. But the Lake was flat and the air dry, clear and in the 70’s (and it’s worth noting that tropical cyclones making up in the Caribbean were at a very safe distance—a real plus of chartering in the Great Lakes during hurricane season). Capt. Roger Sardina suggested that we take a sunset spin, then cross the lake the next morning.
Wow! I’ve always enjoyed putting around urban waterfronts, feeling the wild pulse of a city from the orderly self containment of a yacht, but Chicago is exceptional, its stunning high-rise heart concentrated right on the open lakeshore, where a boater can admire it freely. We watched the lights twinkle in one famous work of architecture after another, and then glided in close to bustling Navy Pier with its giant Ferris wheel and blaring blues clubs. Sardina pointed out the Chicago River locks from which Lysandra emerged after her spring trip across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River system, a reminder that we were at the epicenter of our big country’s extraordinary transportation network. We saw more large and well-appointed municipal marinas like Montrose, and many of their habitués were out enjoying an evening afloat with us. Who knew that Chicago was such a boaty town (besides, ahem, all those happy Midwestern boaters)?
Next page > Part 2: Keewatin’s a nautical labor of love and a must-see. > Page 1, 2, 3, 4
This article originally appeared in the September 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.