Tips From The Great Lakes Cruising Club: The Detroit River To Saginaw Bay

By Mark Lifter, GLCC Rear Commodore for Region 47

For our April/May 2013 issue, focusing on the Great Lakes region, we asked our friends at the Great Lakes Cruising Club what their top picks were for things to see and do in their area. Here's what they recommended.

Photo of a man in a small boat fishing in the Detroit RiverPhoto: FWS.gov

Entering the 51 mile-long Detroit River from Lake Erie, you navigate in shallower waters that are well marked with buoys to guide you. Most boaters heading north will take the up-bound Amhurstburg Channel on the east (Canadian) side. The down-bound Livingston Channel is an option, but it is relatively narrow. In this channel, don't be surprised if you'll need to move over near the rocky channel side to leave room for a large lake freighter heading south. These man-made channels are great examples of waterway engineering, with early work dating back to the 1800s.

As you proceed up the Detroit River, you'll soon see evidence of the industrial might of the Detroit area. The Zug Island area is an example with its steel plants, fuel depots, and other heavy industry in evidence. After passing under the Ambassador Bridge, you'll see the Detroit skyline dominated by the Renaissance Center, home of General Motors Corporation.

This winter, the 55th Annual Detroit Boat Show is scheduled from February 16 to 24, 2013.

Boaters navigating this area have several options for a short or overnight stay near downtown, which is enjoying resurgence with new businesses and younger employees relocating to the area. This has led to the opening of many new restaurant and bars. The William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor can be booked by calling (313) 396-0217 or online at www.midnrreservations.com/HarborIndex.aspx. This pleasant small harbor is within a stone's throw of downtown and its many attractions. You can walk to, to dine at gourmet restaurants such as Joe Muers, Andiamo or the London Chop House. Ethnic cuisine is available in Greektown and Mexican Town. If you feel lucky, three casinos will welcome you and your wallet. The harbor borders the Detroit Riverwalk, a pleasant place to walk or rent a bike. For more information, go to www.detroitriverfront.org.

If you're lucky enough to be in town for a Detroit Tigers home game, get tickets at Comerica Park or online at detroit.tigers.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=det. Comerica Park is one of baseball's great stadiums. You also can walk the Dequindre Cut, a railroad track transformed into a walkway that will take to Eastern Market, an amazing place to visit and pick up fresh foods of all kinds after breakfast at one of the local restaurants in the Market. Saturday mornings are crowded and fun, and an historic tour of the area can be booked.

The Detroit Institute of Arts houses a renowned collection of masterworks, including the compelling mural of an assembly line by the Mexican artist, Diego Rivera. A taxi ride away is the world class historical attraction, Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum. Take an extra day to see this amazing portrayal of American history.

Another option for transient boaters is a stay at the historic Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle, an island park in the Detroit River. Recently named to the National Register of Historic Places, the DYC's 1923 clubhouse is the largest yacht club building in the U.S. Fine dining, swimming pools, tennis and other activities are available at this "resort in the city". Belle Isle also houses the Dossin Great Lakes Museum.

A special event in the Detroit River is the annual Gold Cup Hydroplane Races scheduled for July 12–14, 2013. You'll see these powerful boats approaching 200 mph in the straightaways. From August 23–25, 2012, the Great Lakes Cruising Club will host a regional rally for members at the DYC. Call the club's Harbormaster at 313-824-1200 for more information.

Leaving the Detroit River, you'll enter Lake St. Clair, not a Great Lake, but a sizeable one nonetheless. Bearing to the east, you pass the stately mansions of the Grosse Pointe communities, and come upon another great place for boating, the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club. GPYC will host the Great Lakes Cruising Club's annual regional dinner and meeting on April 26, 2013. The topic is scheduled to be water levels in the Great Lakes, a growing concern for boaters and home owners alongside the lakeshores.

After 15 miles across Lake St. Clair, you'll enter the St. Clair delta (also known as the St. Clair Flats), the only major river delta in the Great Lakes. Over the millennia, dirt and silt have been carried downstream to form a large delta with multiple channels and islands, such as Harsen's Island. During warm summer weekends, hundreds of boats anchor near these islands and in accessible shallow bays and coves.

Coming out of the delta, you arrive at Algonac, MI, once the home of the Christopher Smith's legendary Chris Craft boat factory. The factory is now converted to a boat storage building the Algonac Harbor Club Marina, which welcomes transient boaters. From there, you enter one of the most beautiful rivers on the Great Lakes. The very blue 40 mile-long St. Clair River rolls past numerous small towns on both the U.S. and Canadian sides. A particularly pleasant harbor is located in the city of St. Clair. A golf course and several good restaurants and stores are with an easy walk of the harbor. The St. Clair Boat Harbor can be contacted at 810 329-4125 or can be reserved online at www.midnrreservations.com/HarborIndex.aspx.

Approaching the northern end of the St. Clair River, you'll cruise to the twin cities of Port Huron and Sarnia. Both have much to offer both sailors and power boaters with numerous harbors and yacht clubs. Port Huron provides the starting line for long-standing Bayview Yacht Club Port Huron to Mackinac Island sailing race. A night in Port Huron on the eve of the race is always a festive time, but book a spot early for this year's race starting on July 20, 2013.

Port Huron hosts one of the region's many Antique & Classic Boat Show on September 6–7, 2013. The city is also the home of the Great Lakes Cruising Club's office. Stop in to learn more about this unique club of sailors and power boaters whose members span a wide range of U.S. states and Canadian Provinces. The GLCC's office overlooks Port Huron's Black River at 405 Water Street, Suite 101.

Passing under the impressive twin-spanned Blue Water Bridge takes you into the big waters of Lake Huron. On the Michigan side, the towns of Lexington, Port Sanilac, Harbor Beach and, at the tip of Michigan's Thumb, Port Austin. All offer dockage and variety of summertime amenities and festivals. They are part of Michigan's Harbors of Refuge system, providing safe harbor when lake waters kick up a bit too much.

Rounding the tip of the Thumb, Saginaw Bay opens up to the southwest. At the bottom of the bay, a few miles up the Saginaw River, lies Bay City. Bay City is home to several marinas and yacht clubs, a good place to visit. A highlight will be the city's Tall Ship Celebration starting July 11, a four day festival of ships, music, art and fun along the riverfront. This will be the only Michigan port hosting the tall ships in 2013. 

— Published: April/May 2013


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