MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Following the tall ships

Sloops and schooners still sail on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

The armed sloop Welcome.

© Maritime Alliance

The Welcome, a replica of a Revolutionary War sloop, sails out of Traverse City.

On the Great Lakes, everyone loves to see a multi-masted schooner, white sails flapping in the breeze.

They're always the favorite guests at festivals, especially on Lake Superior, which usually sees only freighters.

On Lake Michigan, these magnificent replicas of 19th-century schooners and sloops are more common, offering tours and day sails from their homes when they're not appearing at festivals.

Most of the tall ships are non-profit and devoted to teaching early American history and training future sailors. Many offer passage between ports as they sail to festivals.

Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City is home to four tall ships, two of them owned by the non-profit Maritime Heritage Alliance.

People are used to seeing them, says the alliance's Kelly Roberts-Curtis — although its sloop the Welcome always causes a stir.

"She looks like a pirate ship,'' she says. "The kids love her.''

The 55-foot Welcome, which carries four cannons, is a replica of a vessel that was built in 1774 by a merchant at Fort Michilimackinac, purchased by the British military in 1778 and lost in a 1781 storm.

Day sails and tours

MHA volunteers also sail the Madeline, a 92-foot twin-masted wooden replica of an 1840s commercial schooner. Both make frequent appearances at summer festivals.

The Madeline was built to be authentic to the era, so she doesn't meet Coast Guard requirements to sell tours or cruises.

However, if she happens to be in port and tourists call the Maritime Heritage Alliance, says Roberts-Curtis, they may be invited to tour or even sail for free. The boats dock next to Elmwood Township Park, on the west edge of Traverse City.

A sure thing in Traverse City, however, is the 114-foot Manitou, a replica of a 19th-century cargo schooner that offers public sails and also is a floating bed-and-breakfast. It's operated by the Traverse Tall Ship Co., which gives two-hour day sails and evening sails with picnic.

It also offers ice-cream, wine-tasting and entertainment cruises and four-day theme sails. Overnight guests pay $220-$250 per couple, including a full breakfast and the evening sail.

Tall ship Friends Good Will.


The Friends Good Will, a replica of an 1810 square-topsail sloop, sails out of South Haven, Mich.

Just up the bay in Suttons Bay, the Inland Seas Education Association includes the 31-foot sloop Liberty, a replica of a 1905 Maine fishing vessel, and the 77-foot schooner Inland Seas, which offer public programs that include a birding cruise to Gull Island June 2 and 3 and a maritime-history cruise June 26 and 28.

On Lake Superior, the Superior Odyssey Coaster II, a 58-foot topsail schooner built in 1933, sails out of Marquette. It offers scheduled cruises as well as two-, four- or eight-hour charter sails for groups of up to six.

The Coaster also offers overnight sails along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore east of Marquette.

Across the strait from Mackinac Island, the 65-foot two-masted schooner Appledore V give day and sunset sails from Mackinaw City

On Lake Huron, the 85-foot, two-masted schooner Appledore IV, offers a variety of day and dinner sails from its base in Bay City on Saginaw Bay in Lower Michigan.

The two boats, owned and operated by the nonprofit BaySail, also offer overnight voyages that teach seamanship to youths.

In the southwest Michigan town of South Haven, the 101-foot Friends Good Will, a replica of an 1810 square-topsail sloop, sails Lake Michigan from the Michigan Maritime Museum.

It offers afternoon and sunset cruises from late May through September.

In Chicago, the 148-foot four-masted topsail schooner Windy offers six or more sailings a day with themes, including pirates, maritime history and fireworks.

Also in Chicago, the 77-foot two-masted topsail schooner Red Witch is moored in Burnham Harbor, near Soldier Field, and gives fireworks, cocktail and moonlight cruises.

In Milwaukee, the Denis Sullivan is part of Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin. It's a 137-foot replica of a three-masted 19th-century schooner, inspired by the Moonlight, a schooner that was known as the fastest on the Great Lakes between 1874 and 1885, when it was under command of Capt. Denis Sullivan. 

The schooner Windy in Chicago.

© Beth Gauper

In Chicago, the Windy heads back to Navy Pier after a day sail.

Grandson Jere Sullivan sits on board of Pier Wisconsin, which built it for educational purposes.

Deck tours and day sails are given in summer. It also offers overnight sailings up the coast, during which passengers help the crew. 

Some tall ships make frequent appearances in the Great Lakes, including the 198-foot U.S. Brig Niagara of Erie, Pa., and 157-foot privateer Pride of Baltimore II, replicas of War of 1812 battleships; and the privateer Lynx, a replica of a Maryland schooner that fought on America's behalf in the War of 1812.

The 65-foot Niña, a replica of the Portuguese caravel that Columbus sailed to the New World, and its sister ship, the 85-foot Pinta, often make appearances in the Upper Midwest.

They're operated by the Columbus Foundation of the British Virgin Islands. Check their schedule. They visit not just the Great Lakes, but rivers, too.

In 2014, they're making an appearance on Lake Michigan: Aug. 21-25 in Frankfort, Mich.; Aug. 27-Sept. 1 in Muskegon, Mich.; and Sept. 3-7 in Michigan City, Ind.

Tall ships festivals

The year 2013 was a big year for tall ships, with Tall Ships America bringing a fleet of schooners to the Great Lakes for War of 1812 commemorations and maritime festivals in Sault Ste. Marie, Bay City, Marquette, Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay, Chicago and Duluth.

This non-profit organization, which promotes sail training for youths and adults, is taking its annual Tall Ships Challenge to the Pacific Coast in 2014. Its Tall Ships Races will be in Europe, with a giant tall-ship festival July 24-27 in Bergen, Norway. The North Sea port is hosting 70 to 100 sailing ships.

Watch for a return to the western Great Lakes by 2016.

Planning a Great Lakes trip

Be sure to catch a festival if you're planning a Circle Tour of Lake Michigan; for more, see Circling Lake Michigan.

For a Circle Tour of Lake Superior, see Circling Superior.

Last updated on May 20, 2014
sign up for our free newsletter

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter

Get our weekly stories, tips and updates delivered a day early — directly to your Inbox. Wondering what you'll get? Take a look at our newsletter archive.