The Great Migration

Published in the October 2018 Issue September 2019 Feature Tim McKenna

As I put fingers to the computer to create this missive, the temperatures have mellowed somewhat throughout the Great Lakes, when sailing on our beautiful waters is—in my humble opinion—possibly the best time of year to do so.

When Labor Day comes and goes it seems that a lot of people think the sailing season is coming to an end. In reality, it is the start of the Autumn Sailing Season. The skies are blue, the air a little cooler and the leaves are beginning to change color. Yes, sailing in the fall is definitely some of the best Great Lakes sailing there can be. For one reason, our favorite anchorages and places to visit are certainly less crowded. Also, the days have gotten shorter and the nights cooler, but for some reason the stars seem to be brighter and crisper in the sky this time of year.

All that being said, I have sailed Lake Erie in October in shorts and t-shirt as well as full, foul-weather gear. There have been days made for a nice cold iced tea (or something...) as well as days when a good steaming cup of hot chocolate is in order. One needs to be prepared for whatever sort of weather is sent our way.

This time of year Great Lakes sailing is at its best, although I do wonder what it is like on Lake Superior and the upper parts of Lakes Michigan and Huron this time of the year. I suspect it is somewhat colder than here on Lake Erie and the season ends a little sooner. But there are those who figure out a way to sail on Thanksgiving Day, even if it means breaking up some ice to get away from the dock. This is usually followed up with a “warm” beverage and some hot turkey.

Then, of course, there are the snowbirds, those who love the Great Lakes from the late spring through early autumn but head to warmer climes in the so-called off season. The great migration begins in September as all sorts of boats make their way through the New York canals headed to various points south. The trip through Erie Canal is truly a wonderful experience. The scenery crossing New York from near Buffalo to the Hudson River is spectacular. Traveling down the Hudson River from Troy to New York is an outstanding passage as well.

Once on the Hudson you will experience something that we do not deal with on the Great Lakes...tides. The Hudson is tidal from NYC to the Federal Lock at Troy. It can be an experience on the river with tides flowing upstream at a couple knots and an opposing strong north wind. The Hudson, though, is gorgeous and well worth the trouble. Among many, my two favorite memories of my first trip down the river are passing West Point and later the Statue of Liberty. If you get the chance, take the trip.

Autumn on the Great Lakes is also the time for getting the boats out and prepared for the season the snowbirds are fleeing. Yes, it is time to winterize the water systems, engine, air conditioning and all those systems averse to temperatures below freezing. Most insurance companies want the boats out of the water by early to mid-November.

The decisions we need to make are plentiful and varied. Do we store inside or out? If inside, is there an option for heated storage? (Not in my budget!) To cover or not to cover? Mast up or mast down? Where to store the sails? There are lists upon lists of what to do to a sailboat for the winter and I am certain that everyone has one. Sometimes I think the most important question is: How long is it until spring launch? Or, can I get to the Caribbean sometime this winter?

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