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post #1 of 46 Old 09-26-2010 Thread Starter
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Best Route: Great Lakes to East Coast?

The 2010 sailing season isn't quite complete yet here in the Great Lakes and I'm already scheming about next year's adventures. I've got a wild hair and think it might be fun to start moving the boat toward Florida and the Bahamas over the next several seasons. In so doing, I'm confused about the best route for a sailboat to take from the Great Lakes (Lake Michigan) to the east coast of the U.S.

The options I'm finding online seem to include some of the following:

a) St. Lawrence out of Lake Ontario and then over to the Hudson River, south to New York and the ICW.

b) St. Lawrence Seaway all the way from Lake Ontario to Nova Scotia and around the Gaspe Peninsula then south along Maine to the ICW.

c) Trent-Severn Waterway out of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron to the St. Lawrence (see b above).

d) Any number of other options including some of the Champlain Canal and Erie Canal.

What's the best route for keeping the mast up?

Is it realistic to think we can go from Lake Michigan to Maine and/or New York during the first summer, then down the ICW the next summer to Florida and finally the Bahamas for the 3rd summer, storing the boat from say September-May along the way? Or maybe add a fourth year by spending the second year exploring Maine?

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post #2 of 46 Old 09-26-2010
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Like a lot of things ... it depends

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Originally Posted by kwaltersmi View Post
The 2010 sailing season isn't quite complete yet here in the Great Lakes and I'm already scheming about next year's adventures. I've got a wild hair and think it might be fun to start moving the boat toward Florida and the Bahamas over the next several seasons. In so doing, I'm confused about the best route for a sailboat to take from the Great Lakes (Lake Michigan) to the east coast of the U.S.

The options I'm finding online seem to include some of the following:

a) St. Lawrence out of Lake Ontario and then over to the Hudson River, south to New York and the ICW.

b) St. Lawrence Seaway all the way from Lake Ontario to Nova Scotia and around the Gaspe Peninsula then south along Maine to the ICW.

c) Trent-Severn Waterway out of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron to the St. Lawrence (see b above).

d) Any number of other options including some of the Champlain Canal and Erie Canal.

What's the best route for keeping the mast up?

Is it realistic to think we can go from Lake Michigan to Maine and/or New York during the first summer, then down the ICW the next summer to Florida and finally the Bahamas for the 3rd summer, storing the boat from say September-May along the way? Or maybe add a fourth year by spending the second year exploring Maine?
I have tried pretty much all of the above. To start, if you want to keep your mast up there is only one way and that is down the St Lawrence. All of the other routes require your mast to be down.

From your description it is not clear what your primary purpose is - to get to Florida or to explore things along the way. From Lake Michigan you could get to Florida in some season, say July to November. From New York City onward it is pretty much the same route so the question is how to get to NYC.

Comments on the route:
a) St Lawrence - pluses: some fabulous places to visit: Quebec City, lower St Lawrence River (whales, scenery), Magdalen Islands, Bras d'Or Lakes, Newfoundland (only a short overnight away and amazing), Nova Scotia/Maine, Long Island Sound are all worth your time
- minuses: it is a very long way and from Quebec City to Nova Scotia you need to be self-sufficient; weather can be cool even in mid-summer and fog can be an issue for much of the trip (radar is almost a necessity)
b) Trent Canal - pretty countryside
- water depth can be an issue; they say 5' is ok but can be a problem with that depth, lots of rocks to hit; long way to motor; lots of motorboat traffic along the way
c) Erie Canal - you can either take your mast down in Buffalo and go the entire distance in the canal or go through the Welland Canal (mast up) and do Lake Ontario (Toronto, Bay of Quinte, Thousand Islands) then take your mast down in Oswego, NY and take the Oswego Canal a short distance to join the Erie Canal; you still get to do the nicest part of the Erie Canal; mast goes up just south of Albany and you go down the Hudson to NYC; the canal and river are both pretty and pleasant trips but still a lot of motoring to do
d) Lake Champlain - you would do the Welland Canal (or Trent Canal) to Lake Ontario and then go down the St Lawrence River (8 very large ship locks) to just past Montreal where you take your mast down. Go through canals due south to Albany where you meet the Erie Canal coming from the west; mast up here and away you go. It is very pretty on Lake Champlain and you get to do the entire Thousand Islands going downstream. Distance from near Toronto to Albany via the Champlain Canal is exactly twice as far as via the Oswego Canal (don't ask me how I know); there are the same number of locks going either way.

I think your choices are St Lawrence route for some serious cruising if you feel confident in yourself and your boat or going into Lake Ontario and down the Oswego/Erie canals for a quicker and easier trip.
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Back home on Lake Ontario after something over 36,000 nm circumnavigator. Not surprisingly there is a lot of stuff I want to get done on Ainia both cosmetically and functionally. Getting an early start so it will be ready to go for next summer (Lake Superior?).
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post #3 of 46 Old 09-27-2010 Thread Starter
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Excellent information...thank you!

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Originally Posted by killarney_sailor View Post
From your description it is not clear what your primary purpose is - to get to Florida or to explore things along the way.
We're definately not in a hurry to get south. We're thinking something like a 3-4 year plan, cruising just from June-August, getting to the Bahamas and then selling the boat in Florida when we're done. The boat would be stored in the off-seasons along the way and we'd come back to work in Michigan. The idea is to explore along the way and see as much as we can, so visiting Maine would be a bonus (see below).

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I think your choices are St Lawrence route for some serious cruising if you feel confident in yourself and your boat or going into Lake Ontario and down the Oswego/Erie canals for a quicker and easier trip.
We're confident in our cruising ability, but our boat is small (28') and definately NOT a bluewater cruiser. I'm thinking taking the St. Lawrence all the way out and then coming around the Gaspe Peninsula and Nova Scotia might be too much ocean for our little boat, unless there is plenty of stops along the way to ensure safe coastal cruising. I'm unfamiliar with the area at this point so I don't know. Still, it would be great to do some cruising in Maine.

I like the Oswego/Erie canal option, though we'd miss out on Maine. I'm sure that would still give us plenty to see and do.

So as I refine this fuzzy plan a bit, I'm thinking:

Season 1: Lake Michigan to Lake Ontario (store on Lake Ontario during offseason)

Season 2: Lake Ontario to New York and ICW via Oswego/Erie canals (store somewhere in NY/NJ during offseason)

Season 3: New York to Florida via the ICW (store in Florida during offseason)

Season 4: Florida to the Bahamas & back to Florida for storage and put the boat up for sale.

Any other feedback from anyone as I flush this all out?

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post #4 of 46 Old 09-27-2010
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I wouldn't take a 28' boat across the Gulf of St. Lawrence (willingly).
If you took the channel between PEI and NS the water will be flatter but you'll be dodging lobster pots.
The gulf out to the Straits of Canso includes some pretty open water sailing.

You may want to take the Canal.

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post #5 of 46 Old 09-27-2010
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For those that have done it, assuming ideal conditions and no extended stops along the way, how long is the trip down the St. Lawrence to the coast from Lake Ontario?

IIRC, the Oswego canal route to NYC takes 4-5 days right?

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post #6 of 46 Old 09-27-2010 Thread Starter
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I wouldn't take a 28' boat across the Gulf of St. Lawrence (willingly).

You may want to take the Canal.
Thanks for the input. As stated above, I agree that the Oswego Canal/Erie Canal/Hudson River route seems the most logical at this point. The Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Nova Scotia coast don't look too inviting to me and my little Irwin. Oh well, Maine may have to wait, but it looks like NY to FL/Bahamas might be doable via the ICW.

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post #7 of 46 Old 09-27-2010
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I agree that the Oswego Canal/Erie Canal/Hudson River route seems the most logical at this point.
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post #8 of 46 Old 09-27-2010
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As long as you're traveling might as well take the C&D canal into the Chesapeake Bay and sail south from there. Hit the Bay at the end of a season and there's plenty of places for winter storage.

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post #9 of 46 Old 09-27-2010
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We're thinking something like a 3-4 year plan, cruising just from June-August,
Your off season/boat storage is very long


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post #10 of 46 Old 09-27-2010
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For those that have done it, assuming ideal conditions and no extended stops along the way, how long is the trip down the St. Lawrence to the coast from Lake Ontario?

IIRC, the Oswego canal route to NYC takes 4-5 days right?
About a week, taking it easy. (Ontario to Gaspe)

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