Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
Put-in-Bay is in an area of Lake Erie made up of three islands close together," says TowBoatUS Captain Jake Dunfee, who has worked these Lake Erie waters for the past 17 years. "It's got a reputation for being a big party island but you'll find there are lots of family things to do."
There are five major islands that are reachable by trailer boat from Sandusky or Port Clinton. The closest to the mainland is also the most popular. Just three miles offshore, South Bass Island is home to Put-in-Bay and the Perry Monument honoring Commodore Oliver Perry who defeated British naval forces during the War of 1812. The 352-foot monument is one of the tallest in the United States (only the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the San Jacinto Monument on the Houston Channel and the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. are taller). The monument is undergoing a two-year renovation right now.
Put-in-Bay is packed with restaurants and bars, some of which provide waterfront docking: Axel & Harry's and the Boardwalk Restaurant are two popular places for boaters. "Put-in-Bay is my favorite place," notes Marine City Marina owner Dale Sanders. "I come here and have lunch or stay overnight and it's just a great place for relaxing." South Bass Island is also home to the Heineman Winery, which produces 21 different kinds of wines and grape juice. At one time, there were 17 wineries on the islands as a result of the extended growing season when the water kept the land warm. In 1897, winery workers were digging a well next to the vineyard and discovered an underground cave with quartz-lined walls. Named Crystal Cave, it is open to visitors. Perry's Cave is nearby and was discovered by troops digging a well for Commodore Perry around 1813. Located 52 feet below the surface, Perry's Cave provided naturally cool drinking water for the troops. Other interesting, and indeed "unique," sites on South Bass Island include an Antique Car Museum with more than 100 vehicles collected by a longtime resident and the Butterfly Museum with at least 100 different kinds of live butterflies, most not native to the area, that can be viewed in protective enclosures.
Both DeRivera Park and the Village of Put-in-Bay provide docking for overnight stays but arrangements can be made with each facility's dockmaster if you simply want to tie up for a few hours and space is available.
In the middle of Put-in-Bay is Gibraltar Island, which served as a lookout point for Commodore Oliver Perry's crew during their encounter with the British in 1813. Its rocky cliffs along the eastern shore reminded some of the famous rock in the Mediterranean, hence the name. The island was owned by railroad tycoon Jay Cooke who in 1864 built a 15-room Victorian mansion hosting presidents (Grover Cleveland, Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison) and numerous luminaries. The island was deeded to The Ohio State University to serve as a center of lake research and teaching. The mansion is undergoing renovations. Private boats can't dock here but tours are available through Ohio State.
Just north of Put-in-Bay and seven miles from the mainland is Middle Bass Island with 32 year-round residents and more than a thousand during the summer. The island was home to a number of vineyards around 1900 but when Prohibition began in 1920, all the wineries went out of business, despite attempts to continue growing grapes and fruit trees. Today, visitors enjoy the 750-acre Middle Bass State Park. One caveat, however, is that this is a new project and while open to the public, the marina is still being built. Middle Bass Island is good for the visitor in search of nature rather than bars and tee shirt shops.
Like the other islands in this small Lake Erie chain, North Bass Island was also a vineyard venue. The State of Ohio recently purchased more than half the island with plans to develop a massive "passive" state park. As of now, there's no public docking on the island that stretches just one mile shore-to-shore.
Kelleys Island is the largest (2,800 acres) of the Lake Erie islands and located four miles offshore of Marblehead, Ohio. This is an extremely popular fishing venue, especially early in the year. "I see bass boats pulled by trucks every April and there's license plates from Illinois and as far away as Minnesota, and they're all headed to Kelleys Island and the reefs around the other islands to catch perch or walleye," says Dale Sanders, owner of Marine City, a BoatUS Cooperating Marina in Marblehead. "They'll get on the ferry boat in April to early May and spend a few days at a hotel on the island and launch at the state park. That ferry is packed because lots of these folks, like the guys from Minnesota, are still dealing with frozen lakes back home."
Kelleys has a long beach and trailer boaters can pull into a harbor along its northern shore. There are also some 500-plus-year-old etchings carved into limestone by Indians and a state park, Glacial Grooves, that has the largest amount of glacial scoring (glaciers sliced into rocks creating long grooves) in the world.
At 22 miles offshore, Pelee Island is the farthest of the islands. It's also part of Ontario so a boater must clear customs when entering the harbor. TowBoatUS's Captain Jake Dunfee says it's a doable trip for a small boat but he advises paying close attention to the marine forecast. There are three marinas on Pelee and if you decide not to make the trip in your boat, the MV Jiimaan ferry makes the 1-hour, 45-minute trip from Sandusky to Pelee. Boat trailers no longer than 18 feet are permitted onboard.
While many of the area's 750,000 annual visitors arrive for a few days of boating and beaches, there's another sure attraction: Cedar Point Amusement Park in nearby Sandusky has 17 roller coasters-more than any other park in the world.
Boaters can rent a slip at Cedar Point Marina or Castaway Bay Marina, both within walking distance of Cedar Point. This is the place for roller coaster aficionados and historians to experience the Blue Streak, a 45-year-old "woodie" that is still in operation. Trailering Club Members who have ridden a Cedar Point roller coaster or two remark about the great view of Lake Erie at the top of a loop-albeit a very quick view-before the ride descends at 50-plus miles an hour.
Captain Jake Dunfee of TowBoatUS Catawba Island says Put-In-Bay has a history of being a destination for families with boats. Looking back at his 17 years here, Dunfee offers this bit of advice to first-timers: "Make sure you've got an up-to-date chart," he advises, "and while everyone likes to just look at a GPS screen with waypoints, make sure you keep an eye on exactly where you're headed. A lot of people come to the Great Lakes with the idea this is just a bigger lake than the last one they were on. There are freighters, ferryboats, it's an international waterway and you need to pay attention to the weather forecast. The Great Lakes are a fabulous resource and you'll find no better fishing and great boating experiences than here in Put-in-Bay."
Lake Erie Tourismwww.shoresandislands.com
Perry's Cave Family Fun Centerwww.perryscave.com
Miller Ferry- Accepts boats and trailerswww.millerferry.com
One-way prices as follows:
Put-in-Bay vehicles are $15 one way in addition to the cost of passengers (one way: adults $6.50, ages 6-11 $1.50, under 6 is free). Trailers are an additional fee based on length.
One Way Prices are:
Over 35-feet add $2/foot
Jet Express-Passengers only
TowBoatUS-Catawba Island www.rescuemarine.com
BoatUS Cooperating Marinas
Marine City Marina
Marble Head, Ohio
25% discount transient slips
10¢ discount/gallon of fuel
Put-in-Bay Area Launch RampsBulan's Boatyard
710 Vermilion Rd., Vermilion
Catawba Island State Park
off W. Catawba Rd., Catawba
CR 135 (Bayshore Rd) at CR 140
(Hartshorn Rd), Marblehead
East Harbor State Park Marina
2188 N. Buck Rd. (off SR 269), Marblehead
Kelleys Island State Park
Division St., Kelleys Island
Little Portage Access
Darr Hopfinger Rd., Port Clinton
(off SR 163), Marblehead
Portage River Fishing Access
SR 163, Port Clinton
Put-in-Bay Village Public Launch
Sandusky Bay Bridge Fishing Access
E. Bay View Rd., Bay View
Shelby Street Boat Launch
101 Shelby St., Sandusky
South Bass Island State Park
419-285-2112 or 419-797-4530
Turtle Creek Fishing Access
SR 2, Oak Harbor
Public Boat Launch
1955 NE. Catawba Rd.,