"Sailors plan for safety. For escape. For survival. Sailors rely on plans, on strategies that have worked before. Trust me, most mariners are conservative. We stick to the tried and true." Randall Peffer, "Listen to the Dead"

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Journey Across the Water

     I never paid attention to the Great Lakes. I'm not even sure I could name all five of them. Can you?

     I spent most of my life in New York state, which borders Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and I now live in Pennsylvania which also touches Lake Erie. But I have always lived downstate so the waters I see are not the Great Lakes, but Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean, the Hudson and Delaware rivers.

     To be sure, I have spied Lake Michigan a few times, when I was in Chicago, and once I glimpsed Lake Erie from Buffalo. I've also seen Niagara Falls -- does that count? But the Great Lakes simply do not loom large in my mind.

     Until a couple of weeks ago. That's when we boarded a ferry to cross Lake Michigan. It turns out . . . those lakes are big!

Harbor in Muskegon, Mich.
   We left Muskegon, Mich. at 10:15 a.m., heading west, due to arrive in Milwaukee, Wis. at 11:45 a.m.. An hour-and-a-half voyage, I thought. But no, it's actually a 2-1/2-hour journey because of the time change, from Eastern time to Central time. And that's the high-speed ferry. The regular ferry takes four hours to make the crossing.

Ship docked in Muskegon

     It's about 90 miles across the lake, and you're out of sight of land for half the trip. It's a lot of water, which is why the Great Lakes are called an inland sea -- the largest group of freshwater lakes on earth, according to one source, containing 21% of the fresh water on the surface of the globe.

Michigan fishing boat

     The Great Lakes are subject to storms and rolling waves. But when we made the crossing the waters were calm. In case you're wondering, masks were required inside the rather spacious cabin, but not outside since the speed of the boat created a 30-40-mph wind in our face. 

Goodbye Muskegon

     But we knew we couldn't let complacency overtake us. After all, we were headed to Door County for a week's vacation. This region of Wisconsin is like a finger sticking out into Lake Michigan, with the lake to the east and Green Bay on the other side.

Open water

     The county is named from the French Porte des Morts, or Death's Door. The name refers back to a deadly raid in the 1600s by a group of Native Americans against a rival tribe. But later the name proved providential for Europeans since the passage became the site of scores of deadly shipwrecks suffered by French explorers and others who dared make the turn around the northern tip of the peninsula into the safety of Green Bay.

Land ho!

     According to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, in all at least 6,000 ships and 30,000 lives have been lost on the Great Lakes. Some historians say the numbers are even higher, as many as 25,000 ships in the course of the past 300 years.

Milwaukee skyline

     But as I said, the day we were on the lake the waters were calm, the sailing smooth, the trip offering a safe and pleasant morning. And so we continued on . . . to tempt the fates of Door County.


Miss Merry said...

We live 20 minutes from Lake Erie, but used to travel along all the lakes. Isn't Lake Michigan unbelievably clear!

ApacheDug said...

I recently watched something about the history of those lakes and the shipwrecks, I had no idea they were that big either. Wow, a 90 mile crossing! Well, your pics look great Tom, I sure hope I can see those for myself someday. :^)

DJan said...

I would have to look up the names of all the lakes, but when I lived in Michigan, we had a cabin on Lake Superior long ago. It was so beautiful! Thanks for spurring the memory, Tom. :-)

jono said...

I live on Lake Superior and it is a big, cold, and amazing body of water. Having grown up on the Delaware shore I know the ocean, but I think this lake is more dangerous on a day to day basis. Although there aren't any sharks.

Olga said...

HOMES -- I still remember that from elementary school. But can I remember how to turn off my phone?

Juhli said...

Thanks for sharing such great photos. I’ve always loved the Chicago skyline being from downstate Illinois. Didn’t know there are ferries on Lake Michigan but it makes sense.

Tabor said...

My son's inlaws live in Erie and thus that was the first time I saw a Great Lake. You make me appreciate the area even more and maybe in the future a vacation to that area is in order.

Wisewebwoman said...

Tom - tip - I was taught at school - HOMES.

I've been on them all, sailed on some, they are magnificent. Thanks for the photos and I'm glad it was a calm day.

I have a passion for ferry boats.


Linda Myers said...

I've never been to any of the Great Lakes, I don't think, but I have read about the Door country. I think it might make a good road trip from Seattle or Tucson.

Kay said...

I'm so glad you had such a great time. When we moved to Chicago from Hawaii in 1974, I kept calling Lake Michigan the ocean. It really is like an ocean.

Barbara said...

I had no idea Lake Michigan was 2-4 hours across and not seeing land for so long. Amazing what you see when you really travel across America.