MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Following the tall ships

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

Denis Sullivan in Milwaukee.

© Discovery World

Milwaukee's Denis Sullivan is a frequent visitor at festivals on Lake Michigan.

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 several tall ships, two of them owned by the non-profit Maritime Heritage Alliance.

Its workhorse is the Madeline, a 92-foot twin-masted wooden replica of an 1840s commercial schooner.

Day sails and tours

The Madeline was built to be authentic to the era, so she doesn't meet Coast Guard requirements to sell tours or cruises. But she makes frequent appearances at festivals, sailed by Maritime Heritage Alliance volunteers.

They also offer complementary heritage and community sails of Grand Traverse Bay on both the Madeline and the 39-foot Champion, an 1870s-style single-masted cutter. The boats dock on the west edge of Traverse City.

For many years, the alliance also sailed the 55-foot armed sloop Welcome, 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.

But the well-loved ship is in bad condition and headed for retirement in Mackinaw City.

Also at the alliance's Traverse City dock: 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.

The schooner Windy in Chicago.

© Beth Gauper

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

It also offers ice-cream, wine-tasting and entertainment cruises and four-day theme sails. For overnight guests, the evening sail is included.

Just up the shore 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 offers public sails in Grand Traverse Bay and around northern Lake Michigan.

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 the Door County town of Sister Bay, the 65-foot two-masted schooner Edith M. Becker, the former Appledore III, offers cruises on Lake Michigan's Green Bay. 

For more, see At sea in Door County.

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.

Grandson Jere Sullivan sits on the 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. 

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.

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.

Tall ships in Green Bay.

© Torsten Muller

Tall ships line the Fox River during a visit to Green Bay.

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

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

Frequent guests

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 in late spring. They visit not just the Great Lakes, but rivers, too.

Tall ship Friends Good Will.


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

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, will bring the bigger tall ships back to the Great Lakes in 2016.

There are two annual festivals on the western Great Lakes: Port Washington's Maritime Festival, on the Lake Michigan coast of Wisconsin, and Schooner Fest in Suttons Bay and Traverse City, on Michigan's Lake Michigan coast.

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 December 19, 2014

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