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.