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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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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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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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Doesn't sail enough
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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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Bristol 45.5 - AiniA
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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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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 soul
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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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Broad Reachin'
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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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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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I've only been sailing a few years and don't know much about brands of boats, but I did do a sail like what you're talking about. We crossed Lake Superior, 350 nm, in three segments on a fifteen-year-old Hunter 340.

Our second segment was about 24 hours and towards the end of it we got sustained 30 knot winds and some very steep waves. We repeatedly dove the bow under and we took a lot of water into the cockpit.

And stuff leaked. I'm not sure what all leaked, but the cushions in the v-berth were downright soggy and the aft cabin needed a bit of drying out too. The owner only had the boat a year and had never had it out in weather like that and had no idea that he had leaky ports or whatever. I have to imagine that would be a disaster on an ocean-going boat, the saltwater would be wreaking everything and having to spend days sleeping on soggy cushions would be terrible.

But for us it was no big deal. Pulled into the next marina and dried our clothes in a clothes dryer. Propped up the cushions and pointed an electric heater at them and dried them out.

Again, I'm a novice so take my advice for what it's worth, but I think some things that might be deal breakers for a "blue water" boat just aren't issues when you're in fresh water and never more than a half day from a marina.
 

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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.
I think that Kwaltersmith described it well. We don't have swells that round things off. I have been in 10-12' ocean swells and actually liked the rythmn. The bigger ours get the more active you are at the wheel.
 

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Dirt Free
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I think that Kwaltersmith described it well. We don't have swells that round things off. I have been in 10-12' ocean swells and actually liked the rythmn. The bigger ours get the more active you are at the wheel.
A 10' wave on the ocean can have a 10- 12sec. period. The same size wave on the Great Lakes can have a 1.5sec. period.
 

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I only have one summer's experience on the Great Lakes, on an 80' corporate motorsailor. To be perfectly honest, I was shocked at how nasty those lakes were (in the summer, no less) and how difficult it was to get from point A to point B without getting our asses kicked.
Therefor, without naming names, I certainly would suggest that you choose a boat you will feel secure on, in any weather, and not purchase one of those the mass produced boats you say are readily available in your area.
If you have the time, you could probably find a great boat, at a great price, in the Caribbean (St Martin lagoon, Grenada or Trinidad), where many a dream has died and the "dream boat" put up for sale.
 

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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!
The Admiral and I have a 35' Beneteau, sail out of Milwaukee and routinely do over 1,000 nm per season on Lake Michigan. We do a couple lake crossings each season. Most were during the day but have done a few at night.

I find it interesting that your need for a "blue water" boat is driven by future passages that may be 18-24 hours long. Where are you going that you would need or want to stay out there that long?

Last time I checked, sailing was supposed to be a relaxing recreational activity. Do you really believe your wife is going to let you do a 150 mile passage when there is a quaint tourist town with an anchorage or full service marina every 20-30 miles? My wife loves to be out on the water but it starts to get real old around hour 11 or 12.

You need to shop for a boat that will have ALL the space and creature comforts your wife and small child will need, have the ability to sail reasonably well in light winds and be nimble enough to maneuver in the tight marinas that are typical of the Great Lakes. And more importantly, your wife will have to have the skill set that makes her an equal partner, not just a passenger.

As for boat size . . . We have found the 34-38 foot range to be a good size for short handed sailing on the great lakes. A dodger and full overhead sun protection for the cockpit is a must. Fog is a common occurrence so you will want to have AIS receive capability at a minimum (there is heavy freighter traffic).
If you really plan on duration passages, you will want an autopilot that is over rated for the boat. A below deck linear drive unit is much better than a wheel unit (due to the type waves we experience on the great lakes).

I don't know what you think a "blue water" boat is. The best way to survive a big storm on the great lakes is to not go out into one. Stay in port. Get a boat that meets the needs of your family for 95% of you typical use.

Good Luck!
 

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Over Hill Sailing Club
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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.
That's an interesting question. The descriptions given above are accurate but I have always wondered why some places develop this nasty, uncomfortable condition more than others. It does not seem to happen out in the ocean swell but can happen in fairly deep water. Opposing current? One particular spot that seems to develop steep, slamming waves almost daily is Gardiner's Bay, Delaware Bay also, especially around the Atlantic entrance. The Great Lakes, one would think are deep enough and have enough fetch to be more ocean-like.
 

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That's an interesting question. The descriptions given above are accurate but I have always wondered why some places develop this nasty, uncomfortable condition more than others. It does not seem to happen out in the ocean swell but can happen in fairly deep water. Opposing current? One particular spot that seems to develop steep, slamming waves almost daily is Gardiner's Bay, Delaware Bay also, especially around the Atlantic entrance. The Great Lakes, one would think are deep enough and have enough fetch to be more ocean-like.
Lake Michigan has very little current to deal with, unlike many parts of the ocean. We also have relatively little room to spread things out as we are couple hundred miles N-S, and 30-100 miles across. Small by ocean standards. We are deep in spots (600' +), with superior having 1200' holes.

I have always been taught that the difference in waves is because ours our purely wind waves, whereas the ocean is wind, current, swell, etc. spread over 1000's of miles. Certainly the oceans bays can be much like the GL's dependent on their geography, but still have swell and current to deal with wihich changes the wave shape. I have always heard, but not experienced, that the Gulf Stream with wind against current is not a pretty place to be.

I have been on both the ocean and Lake Michigan with sustained winds over 20kts lasting a couple of days. I found the ocean waves nasty, but not bad. Two days of 20+ kts from the N or S on open LM, you just do not want to be out there. It is done all the time, but unless you are racing I would stay in port.
 

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Bristol 45.5 - AiniA
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In addition to the lakes having wind waves you tend to get multiple changes in wind direction and strength. It seems in my foggy memory that there are three variables for wave size: wind direction, fetch, and how long the wind has been blowing. We had days of waves in the Indian Ocean that were 20'+/- but they were entirely comfortable because they were so well formed with 25 to 30 knots of wind always from the same direction and with basically unlimited fetch. On the lakes you get 30 knots for four hours, the waves build up but do not have the fetch or duration to become the 12-13 second waves you get on the ocean.
 
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Old soul
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Sailing on the Great Lakes is all about managing the seas. As others have said, Great Lakes waves tend to have much shorter wavelengths than out on the salty seas. But b/c we can have fairly large fetches (especially here on Superior), we still generate large waves. This makes them steep and tight together. A 20knot wind blowing over a 100 nm fetch for a 1/2 day will produce pretty nasty sea conditions.

BTW, on Superior we routinely do 2+ day crossings.
 

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Having raced countless Mac's, both sides, and super Mac's I think it's fair to say the lakes can get more then a bit rough. It's not uncommon to be in 8 footers with 3.5 second periods, those conditions can develop very quickly when fronts roll through. Sailing upwind in 8 footers is a bit jarring, sailing downwind in 8 footers provides a "corkscrew" motion that is uncomfortable. I find sailing the Great Lakes to be very similar to sailing the Mona Passage, the "Caribbean two step".

Buy a boat that can handle it or pick your days carefully.
 
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