I live in Traverse City, Michigan — a town that’s hundreds of miles from the ocean, deep in the heart of the northern Midwest. So people who visit us are always surprised by the sight of graceful schooners, sloops and other sailing vessels gliding majestically across our front yard: Grand Traverse Bay.
In spite of our landlocked location, Traverse City has always been a seafaring community. We’re the home of the Great Lakes Maritime Academy — the only school in the nation that certifies deck and engineering officers for both saltwater and freshwater vessels — but it’s the “tall ships” that enchant visitors and have become the community’s unofficial mascots.
You’ll have a chance to see, tour and sail in six of those stately vessels during the 2014 Michigan Schooner Festival, a three-day celebration of Great Lakes “tall ships” to be held Sept, 19-21.
Four of Traverse City’s own tall ships — Manitou, Inland Seas, Madeline and Champion — will be on hand for the festival, as well as two visiting ships: the three-masted schooner Denis Sullivan of Milwaukee and the replica sloop Friends Good Will from South Haven.
All six will sail down West Grand Traverse Bay to the city’s waterfront Friday afternoon in the traditional “Grand Parade of Sail” that opens the festival. That’s one of my favorite local events: sitting on the breakwater watching those beautiful big ships tacking back and forth in the light of early evening as they make their way into port.
From then on, it’s a steady two days of deck tours, sailing cruises, performances, films, lectures and exhibits related to the maritime history of the area, including…
- A unique multimedia performance called STORM on Saturday evening that blends video, narration and music to dramatize the weather that made Great Lakes sailing some of the world’s most perilous
- Late-morning “Pirate Chases” for children between the cutter Champion and the sloop Friends Good Will, on all three days of the festival
- Pirate Pancake Breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday mornings
- A “Soup, Suds and Sail” pub crawl through downtown Traverse City
- Talks by such experts as Loyola University historian Ted Karamanski (on the role of tall ships in Great Lakes history), Northwestern Michigan College archeologist Mark Holley (on underwater archeology) and journalist/diver Ric Mixter (on diving on Great Lakes shipwrecks).
- A nautical concert (featuring Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman” overture) by the Traverse Symphony Orchestra, and an original performance of “The Myth of November” at the Old Town Playhouse.
- Maritime music by singer/singwriter Tom Kastle at Clinch Park
- Downtown Pirate Treasure Hunts on Friday and Saturday mornings
It’s a great way to finish up the sailing season here! If you want ticket and schedule information about the 2014 Michigan Schooner Festival go to http://www.maritimeheritagealliance.org/calendar/35 or call (231) 946-2647.
The most easily recognized vessel in the Traverse City fleet is the Tall Ship Manitou, a 114-foot, 62-passenger schooner. Manitou offers three two-hour cruises across the bay each day of the week, as well as a number of specialty cruises. In the fall, Manitou becomes a floating bed and breakfast, and is available for charter sailing.
Just as recognizable are the dark red tanbark sails of the Inland Seas, a 77-foot schooner operated by the Inland Seas Education Association, which operates “floating classroom” programs where students of all ages learn about the ecology of the Great Lakes by spending a half-day sailing and studying science on Grand Traverse Bay.
You’re also likely to spot some of the many sailing vessels operated by the Maritime Heritage Alliance or see them docked at Heritage Harbor along M-22 just north of the city. Their best known vessel is 92-foot Madeline, the twin-masted replica of an 1840’s commercial ship that served as Traverse City’s first schoolhouse during the winter of 1850-51. The Alliance also sails the 39-foot cutter Champion.
For over ten years, Mike has been the Media Relations Director for Traverse City Tourism. Mike is an avid outdoorsman and has recently returned from a camping trip in Wyoming. We’re all jealous!! For additional information and calendar for Traverse City, visit their website at http://www.traversecity.com