Clients Can Hoist a Few--Sails, That Is--on the Manitou

Travel writer Cynthia Boal Janssens sailed Lake Michigan and Lake Huron on a three-night cruise offered by Traverse Tall Ship Co. Her report follows:

ABOARD THE MANITOU -- "This is what a vacation is all about . watching someone else work." That observation was made as we were all lolling about the decks of the tall ship, Manitou, on a recent afternoon, watching 22-year-old crew member Sarah Carr scraping, sanding and oiling the teak in a rowboat that hung out over the side. But actually, that is not the most accurate description of this Great Lakes trip.

As anyone who has sailed on a genuine "tall ship" -- in this case, a 114-foot gaff-rigged schooner built in 1983 -- can tell you , there is plenty of work for all, particularly when it is time to raise anchor or to hoist and lower sails. There are no power windlasses, so it is up to the three-member crew to do the work, with as much help from passengers as they can muster. Fortunately, the 12 passengers on this trip were more than willing to pitch in. They even helped wash dishes.

My husband and I were on a four-night trip aboard the Manitou, which took us to three very different places on the Great Lakes: the upscale village of Harbor Springs, Mich.; sleepy Beaver Island, and tranquil Catshead Bay. Traverse Tall Ship Co. has been offering overnight sailing trips on the Manitou in the Great Lakes since 1991. The ship is based in Northport, Mich., a little village on the Leelanau Peninsula, just 45 minutes north of Traverse City. Trips vary in length from three to six nights.

Our trip began the weekend after Labor Day. Because of the date, we knew weather would be iffy. But we were prepared. We had packed the foul-weather gear, boots, sweatshirts, T-shirts, shorts and tennies. We would need them all before our voyage was over.

The trip began in Traverse City. We checked in at the offices of the Traverse Tall Ship Co., drove to Northport, had dinner in town and boarded the ship between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. We would stay overnight on the ship before setting sail the next morning.

That first night was all about adapting to tight quarters. The Manitou can accommodate 24 people in 12 double, very sparse cabins. Each cabin has a pair of built-in bunks, a few pegs on the wall and a dishpan to be used for shaving, washing your face and such. Wool blankets keep you cozy. The heads (the nautical term for toilets) are up on deck . meaning that if you have to use the bathroom during the night, you have to find a light, then climb up eight stairs to the deck, navigate your way to one of the two heads and then remember how to flush those weird marine toilets.

When we woke the first morning, we found coffee and hot banana muffins on deck and we were beginning to feel at home . except for the issue of showers. The showers are in the heads, and we were warned by Capt. Dave McGinnis not to use them before breakfast because of the heavy demand for the toilets and the fact that there isn't much hot water available. All of the water is heated by the wood stove, which also is used for cooking.

Our first meal aboard was a lavish breakfast cooked and served by Kathleen Brennan and Adele Arlitt. It featured French toast, cherry-pecan sausage (a Leelanau speciality), melon and juice. Cereals, homemade granola and fresh fruit also were available. We were to discover that Brennan was able to work miracles on that wood stove. Everything was homemade, including all the baked goods, and the food was very healthy, bordering on vegetarian.

We left Northport at 9:30 a.m. and headed out into Grand Traverse Bay. Soon the deck crew were organizing us into teams to hoist the sails. This ship has six sails -- the topsail, the foresail, the mainsail, two jibs and a stay sail --and each requires a different set of tasks. The first time we all stumbled a bit, but the sails did get raised, and we were on our way. We soon discovered that once asail, there would be little to do other than to chat, snooze or read, and this took some attitude adjustment. Most of us left busy jobs, and we had to learn to kick back.

"That first morning, I felt like I was a gerbil who needed a wheel," said Kim Lyne, 42, of Okemos, Mich. "I felt rather confined and that I needed something to do." We spent the morning getting to know our fellow passengers, the age span of which was 42 to 70. For everyone but my husband and me, it was their first windjammer experience.

At noon, lunch was served on deck: succotash soup, apple/broccoli salad, melt-in- your-mouth baguettes and velvety brownies. We got used to this great food real fast. The day passed quickly. In late afternoon we approached Harbor Springs, a yachting town with many upscale shops. After about seven tacks to get us in just the right position, we dropped anchor . 90 feet of chain in 25 feet of water. We learned the work involved in taking down sails and furling them properly. However, by the time we reached town -- transported by the ship's inflatable dinghy -- the shops were closed. Dinner aboard was at 6 p.m., and several people went back to town for walks after the meal. The ship does not serve or sell alcoholic beverages; however, passengers are free to bring their own liquor, beer, wine or soda and keep it in large coolers on deck.

The next day the pattern was similar, and we had become familiar with the deck routines and could participate to whatever extent we wished. On our second night, we anchored at Beaver Island, where we had a good time poking around the small town and tipping a few longnecks at its renowned Shamrock Bar. The next night we anchored in Catshead Bay, where we were able to stroll the deserted beaches of Leelanau State Park and hunt for petoskey stones (the state stone of Michigan). Also at Catshead Bay, several passengers ventured out in the ship's two kayaks and in its wooden rowing dinghy.

Itineraries are not preset on the Manitou. Each morning, the captain decides where he is heading based on which way the wind is blowing. In fact, on our third day out, McGinnis did not decide our destination until after noon. Ports of call might include Drummond Island, Mackinac Island, Power Island (a state park in Grand Traverse Bay) and the undeveloped Manitou islands. "We usually sail six to 10 hours a day," McGinnis explained. "This is what it's all about, so if we can sail, we do."

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