Weekend Sailing the Great Lakes and Straits of Mackinac - a tale

Morgan 32 - ideal for the passage
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Bob Ortlieb's invitation to sail the Great Lakes on his fabulous teak-trimmed Morgan was also extended to Jared Berousek, 30, and Matt Howell, 47, both of Royal Oak, a little north of Detroit in Michigan.

They were to sail through Lake Huron before reaching the mighty Mackinac Bridge to pass into Lake Michigan,


A morning rain punctuated by distant thunder greeted the 32 Morgan as we set sail for Lake Michigan after docking for the night at Duncan Bay in Cheboygan, on the western side of Lake Huron.

Together it was anyone's guess who would be the first to see the Mackinac Bridge. A misty fog covered the outlining areas that prevented any quick sighting and it would be a couple hours before the Big Mac could be seen in its splendor.

Submitted photo The Straits of Mackinac provided perfect sailing on Saturday for Bob Ortlieb, right, owner of this 32 Morgan, and Matt Howell, at the helm, as they prepared to pass under the Mackinac Bridge.
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The Morgan is a 'stout boat,' Ortlieb, 53, proclaimed as we sailed northwest on the 5 ½-ton, 12-foot wide sloop. 'It's made to sail the coastal waters of the ocean, the Florida Keys,' he said.

And on this weekend the Great Lakes.

Ortlieb, public relations for Beaumont Hospital, put up the main sail and Berousek, a Ferndale fireman who was just let go because of budget cuts, took over as helmsman. Howell, 47, trimmed the sail.

The side jobs on a sailboat pretty much flip-flop throughout the day depending on the gusting high winds; and when the rain stopped, the labor of love started up again.

The Straits of Mackinac go under the Mackinac Bridge
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The Morgan had the the wind behind her and before long the spinnaker was hoisted into place as the mist burned off and the sun helped create an incredibly blue Mackinac Straits. Ortlieb constantly worked the lines as southwest winds moved at about 10 knots. We settled into a quiet sailing clip of 6 mph as fresh water waves were no more than 2 feet.

Mother Nature indeed was with us on this morning trip as we sailed with the wind to our back past Bois Blanc Island, Round Island and Mackinac Island.

All the while, the Mackinac Bridge seemed to be in reaching distance as the skies cleared to the west and gave way to a hot sun as we se our sights on Lake Michigan.

Sailing under the mighty Mackinac
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A para-sailor glided gracefully around the waters of famous Mackinac City and scuba divers explored sunken ship hulls in the Straits; the straits started to come alive.

The 32 Morgan, was now directly underneath the famous 5-mile expansion bridge. Even Ortlieb's late sailor father, for whom he learned the sport, must have appreciated this moment.

Sailing under the Mighty Mac in 124-foot deep water was both mysterious and exciting; the only sound you hear on a sailboat is the humming of the trucks and cars riding on the bridge high above, and the constant splash of water smashing into the Morgan.

St Ignace
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The offshore breeze gave us more reason to be proud as the beautiful bridge was now to the back of us and getting smaller before we turned around and headed back for Lake Huron.

'St. Ignace here we come,' someone yelled.

The Morgan sailed into one of the oldest cities in the United States. We found refuge in the public marina where we would dock for the night, and explore an Indian post that was once a stopover for adventurers, fur traders, and explorers.

Like those early explorers, our own sailing crews, plus some nice folks who docked next to us were discovering St. Ignace for the first time.

Like the explorers of 1671 who founded St. Ignace, a couple from Connecticut said they were 'doing the loop,' which essentially is a boat trip from the Atlantic Ocean up the St. Lawrence Seaway around the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, and eventually to the Caribbean where they plan on being for Christmas.

St Ignace fireworks
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In fact, the many people we met in town were from ports all across Michigan and the Great Lakes regions, including cruising vessels from Illinois, Wisconsin, and Canada.

The day gave way to night, which gave way to awesome fireworks on the Straits of Mackinac.

We had a great time in town, pretty much closed it, and departed for Cheboygan the next morning, But not before sailing the backside of Mackinac Island and past the Mackinac Lighthouse that conjured up memories of Michigan's maritime past.

With the wind at our backs, again, the trip home provided time to reflect on the upper Great Lakes region and the realization of how lucky we are to enjoy the sport of sailing on a summer weekend in Michigan.