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Old 06-25-2014
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Blue water boat for the Great Lakes?

Hey all, long time lurker here finally getting closer to buying my first boat. Have 3 years of experience now sailing with a club out of Chicago on Lake Mchigan on various production boats from 30-36'. So far, I have found the bigger the better from a comfort standpoint, especially since the waves on Lake Michigan tend to be so short and choppy. I have done a charter in the BVI for a couple weeks on a 42' Jeanneau as well and felt really comfortable, but think that's too big for me to actually own.

That said, I imagine my next few years to be spent taking a month or so at a time to cruise the lakes. First Lake Michigan, then perhaps Lakes Huron and Superior (not all in one season, but over the course of a few years, always returning to my home port of Chicago). Luckily my job allows me to take long stretches of time off to do that. The rest of my time in summer (about 5 month season here) would be spent on short day sails when I have a day or two off here and there. Racing does not interest me. More interested in family time (I have a wife and a 5 year old daughter) voyaging.

Now.... I am looking for a boat in the 34-38' range. Don't want to go much below 34' since higher wind days really toss you around here, and don't want to go too much bigger since we would just be a couple trying to handle the boat and dock on our own, etc.

My main question is... Since 95% of boats for sale on the southern end of the lake seem to be Hunters, Catalina's, C&C's, and the occasional Beneteau and the like, would it be worthwhile to wait for a true blue water boat to come up for sale so I wouldn't have to worry about some of the 18-24 hour passages I plan on making in the future? On the one hand it would seem that if most of those boats are what people own around here they're good enough for our purpose, but on the other, most people probably don't do lake crossings which can take a whole day offshore when storms could pop up unexpectedly.

Now I have no problem buying a boat more heavily built than I actually need, but my initial impression is that since Hunters, Catalina's and so on are so looked down upon for world cruising, they might not do well in the Great Lakes for longer passages or a month away from my home port either. Curious what others think and if you have any other recommendations that would do well for me. Thanks!
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Old 06-25-2014
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Re: Blue water boat for the Great Lakes?

I always say one should buy the boat they need 90% of the time. Just figure out how to deal with the other 10%, which is always possible. Despite the debate of what a blue water boat really is, you will be coastal cruising the vast majority of the time. I would not worry about the boat, but pay more attention to outfitting her properly for your passages and having the skills, sail inventory, quick reefing, etc, to keep her safe.

In your position, I would be more focused on other things, like how she sails, whether I need short handed set up, creature comforts for long cruises, etc. I might even be more concerned with resale in that market than having a blue water boat. Obviously, there is greater demand for coastal crusiers.

Good luck in the search.
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Old 06-25-2014
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Re: Blue water boat for the Great Lakes?

My wife and I had the same criteria as you when looking for our boat. In our two year search, we found plenty of ocean going boats in the Great Lakes area on Yacht World. As far as finding an ocean going boat in your area we saw quite a few in Muskegan Mi Waukegan Ill. Toledo Oh. etc Larsen Marine has a Hans Christian 38 for sail in Racine Wi. You could almost walk there from Chicago. Contact Ed Jirsa there, he like all other boat brokers has a large network of brokers to help you find what you are interested in. While my wife and I didn't end up with a boat from Captain Ed, we found him to be very helpful as well as knowledgeable about boats. Most importantly he always returned phone calls "promptly" and spent as much time as "we wanted" explaining options to us. Good luck with your search.
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Old 06-25-2014
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Re: Blue water boat for the Great Lakes?

It's true the lakes can be nasty. But they're also limited in size, with lots of places to duck into for shelter and excellent forecasting. Upshot: if you end up in the middle of the lake in a big one, it's your own fault.

I sailed with a friend on Lake Ontario for a few years before getting my own boat, a production 26'. Sure things got short and steep sometimes - but guests were generally getting green and begging off long before we faced anything that would have challenged the boat.

When I did get my own, I kept it on a smaller, calmer lake
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Old 06-25-2014
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Re: Blue water boat for the Great Lakes?

On the Great Lakes you also want a boat that had decent sailing performance or you will be motoring all of the time. Sailing on the Great Lakes can be nasty at times, but not remotely like nasty in many parts of the ocean unless you are sailing in November. Pick a boat that can actually sail (check our PHRF numbers to at least give you an idea) and one that has appropriate comfort and storage levels. A Hans Christian is very pretty but unfortunately a slug.

Ask around and find a buyer's broker, someone who really knows their stuff. You say what you want to do and (s)he suggests and finds good boats for the purpose. The fee is paid for by the seller (like a house the broker's fee gets split). If the first thing the broker does is suggest a boat in their listings be very leery - they are looking to get both halves of the fee. The broker is already representing the seller and really can't do both.
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Re: Blue water boat for the Great Lakes?

The Great Lakes are a wonderful sailing venue. There can be big square waves that will beat you up. The reality is that weather forecasting should keep you out of 95% of that bad weather. The real secret of the GL's is that the iron jenny is extremely important because light air is also a reality!

Buy a boat that 1) fits your needs 90% of the time, 2) that can sail well and be fun to be aboard, 3) one that will have decent resale potential when you are ready to trade up or out!

EVeryones idea of a great BW boat is different as evidenced by the many threads here and on other forums. If your idea is for a boat that will handle a trip down the middle of Lake Superior in a gale, there is not such animal that will also have your wife and daughter ever sailing with you again. Hell, ore boats get the stuff kicked out of them out there.

The Great Lakes have many options for ducking off the lake. There are big and small towns that have marinas. Most sailing is coastal to the max. Sure, you can cross Michigan from Washington Island to Leland and it is 68 NM's. That is a day sail or an overnight sail. The many times that I have done that trip we motored more than sailed. It is still coastal.

You say you have no interest in racing and that is fine. However, make sure that you buy a boat that will sail well. NO SLUGSS! If you end up with that 5% boat that is a slug you will not use it at home because it is BORING and still takes a lot of work to prep and shut down! Think about your daughter asking a friend to come out sailing with her and her parents. "My dad has a really nice boat that is fun,,,you can learn to sail!". Or, " Wanna go bob around on my dads really slow boat?" By the time she is 13 it better be fun or you will be sailing alone.
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Old 06-25-2014
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Re: Blue water boat for the Great Lakes?

I currently sail Lake Superior in what most people would call a classic "bluewater boat." We could discuss what that means ad nauseam, but I guess I appreciate what you're looking for Enrique100. We did buy our boat on Lake Superior at a yard near Bayfield, WI. I was impressed, and a bit surprised, to see the number of classic "bluewater" boats on the south shore of Superior; much more so that is found here in Thunder Bay. Not sure why that would be, b/c arguably the north shore of Superior is the more treacherous one ... but regardless, I think your ideal boat would be available in the area.

All that said, I lean towards Minnewaska & killarney_sailor's comments. Although the Great Lakes can be extremely treacherous at times, we deal with light airs far more than howling gale during the prime cruising season (June to Sept.). A boat that can sail well in light airs is important. I would also prioritize quick reefing very high, along with good handling in our rough and choppy seas.

Weather can change much faster here in the mid-continent than on the oceans. Our weather forecasts are not as reliable b/c weather is far more complex here. I can't count the number of times I've been in the middle of "all hell breaking loose", getting reefs in and sails down, and only THEN getting the weather alert. And while the vast majority of our travels are coastal cruising, this is a double-edged sword. Good anchorages or marinas are usually within 15nm, but as we all know, the shore is where most dangers exist for well-found sailboats.

The good news is there are many "bluewater" boats that are also good sailors, have good living space and would deal with almost anything the Great Lakes can toss at you. I don't know about Michigan, but take a drive along the south shore of Superior. You may find your perfect boat.

And take this for whatever it's worth: If my plans were to have us remain on the Great Lakes, I would likely not own the boat I have. I would look at something with a shorter draft, and a better light-air sailor: something like a Tartan 37.
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Old 06-25-2014
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Re: Blue water boat for the Great Lakes?

Indeed, the weather on the Great Lakes can produce some rough conditions, but my experience has shown that more times than not (in the summer) you'll be trying to figure out how to deal with the light air either by better sail trim or motoring.

From Chicago, you could do a non-stop passage of over 250 miles straight up the middle of the lake to someplace like Beaver Island, but one of the best features of cruising the Great Lakes is that you can also make that same journey into a coastal cruise by staying within a few miles of shore and have a port/harbor of refuge available to you just about every 10-20 miles along the shoreline. This is how many folks here cruise and for that, the Cat/Hunt/Bene boats work perfectly. I think you'll also generally find that they are a better value than true bluewater boats in the same condition.

I'm an old salt at heart and long for full keel, double-ended cruisers (think HC33t, Westsail 32, Baba 40, etc.), but until we're ready to leave the lakes for full-time saltier cruising, my practical side wins out and my family gets to enjoy the comfort, space, value and user-friendly nature of our Catalina 34.

Think about your long-term cruising goals. Do they include bluewater passages? Do you intend to leave the Great Lakes? Would you rather cruise up the middle of the Great Lakes with the commercial traffic and have long stretches between ports, or do you prefer to hop your way from harbor to harbor?

In the end, so long as you love your boat and your sailing is limited only by your own knowledge/skill/experience/time and not the boat's ability, there's absolutely nothing wrong having a bluewater boat when you don't "need" it's capabilities most of the time.
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Last edited by kwaltersmi; 06-25-2014 at 09:43 AM.
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Old 06-25-2014
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Re: Blue water boat for the Great Lakes?

Quote:
Originally Posted by tomandchris View Post
The Great Lakes are a wonderful sailing venue. There can be big square waves that will beat you up. ...
Can you explain the term "square wave," please? I looked in my Reeds Maritime Meteorology book and Googled and I can't seem to find a definition.

Thanks.
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Old 06-25-2014
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Re: Blue water boat for the Great Lakes?

square wave = short, choppy and steep waves with a short period. They seem to have "sharp" edges that pound a hull unlike the often more rounded swells on the ocean.
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