Tag Archives: Cruising

Great Lakes Cruising of Yesterday


I’ll admit that I’ve taken a liking to cruising. It must be the influence of having a sailboat that we have taken from port to port on Lake Huron. Recently several cruise ships have announced routes and stops throughout the Great Lakes region. Currently there are three curse lines that cover the Great Lakes. Victory Cruise Lines, Great Lakes Cruise Company and Blount Small Ship Adventures. The Great Lakes Cruise Company has four ships that cover a wide range of ports and destinations. One ship, the Pearl Mist is small enough to tackle the famous cruising grounds of Georgian Bay and the beautiful North Channel.


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In the days before the highway and autos the only way to travel the vast distances for the Great Lakes was by sail and steamer. In the mid 1800’s until well into the 1950’s one could travel most of the lakes in style and comfort. One of the most famous and beloved ships was the SS South American. The SS South American was a Great Lakes overnight passage steamboat built by the Great Lakes Engineering Works at Ecorse, Michigan. It was built in 1913 for the Chicago, Duluth & Georgian Bay Transit Company. The vessel was launched on February 21, 1914 and was the newer of two sister ships, the older one being the SS North American.


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Along with its sister ship, SS North American carried passengers between Chicago, Mackinac Island, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Duluth, Georgian Bay, Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo. These were they heydays of the industry. A business man could board a ship in Chicago for an overnight trip to northern Michigan. Spend the weekend with the family in the cool northern cabin in the woods and take the ship back to the city on Sunday night for work on Monday. It was noted that Hemingway’s father did just that early in the 1900’s.


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Only the South American visited Lake Superior, and made a short weekly stop in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula town of Houghton/Hancock. She carried over 450 passengers. The rare picture below hangs in the Rock Harbor lodge on Isle Royal. It shows tourists being dropped off at the American Dock which still stands today. 


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The South American was well known for its High School trips in the 1950’s. Southeast Michigan high school seniors would take a small cruise from Detroit to Chicago. The last season for the South American was in 1967. Her final route was to offer trips to the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal.


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Sadly, both ships are now part of history. The SS North American sunk on the Atlantic coast while being towed and the SS South American rotted away and was finally scraped in 1992. However, with the rapid popularity of cruising now taking place I expect to see more of these small cruising ships ply their way among the Great Lakes.


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Port of Call – Harbor Beach Michigan


As the world’s largest man made harbor, the port of Harbor Beach is an ideal stopping point for sailors making their way up the shore of Lake Huron. With its protected port and town that’s steps away from the Marina, Harbor Beach offers sailors and boaters a  welcome break and an ideal provisioning point. If you find yourself with a few extra hours there are some great little site seeing trips that are close and interesting. Some are walking distance while some will require an Uber ride from dockside.

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Harbor Beach Light House – If you’re in the harbor on a Saturday and have $20 you can get a small 10 minute boat ride and guided tour of this Spark-plug light located at the tip of the break wall.  You can access four of the six levels of this working light and get a taste of local history. Figure taking about one hour for the entire tour. If the weather is ideal the best advice is to take your best pictures on the ride back with the sun higher in the sky. The fee covers the lighthouse trip and entry to the museum.


Grice House – The home is a prime example of a mid-19th century working home in thegrice-house-museum days before electricity. With its period kitchen, parlor, sewing room and bedroom you can imagine what life was like in the late 1800’s  There are collections and artifacts of local maritime history, history of the Great Lakes, and of early lumbering in Harbor Beach. This home was constructed in 1874 by James G. Grice, and is listed in the national Registry of Historical Places.

On the grounds there is a one room school house from the early 1900’s The school is furnished with desks, books and the stove typically found in one room country schools of that era.

The GriceHouse is a short walk from the Harbor Beach Marina on the north end of town.  Tours for the museum are available from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Hours: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – 1-4 pm, Saturday – 10 am-4 pm, Sunday – 1-4 pm, and by appointment by calling 989-479-3363. Admission is $5.


murphy-museum-smallFrank Murphy Museum – Frank Murphy is listed as one of Michigan’s most notable and accomplished politicians. He was the Mayor of Detroit, Governor of Michigan, Governor-General/U.S. High Commissioner of the Philippine Islands, Attorney General of the United States and finally a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Born in Harbor Beach in 1890, he graduated from the University of Michigan Law School and returned to Harbor Beach to practice law early in his career. Frank Murphy was a national defender of civil rights. His was author to the dissent position of the Supreme Court in the Korematsu vs. the US case, which upheld the legality of Japanese internment camps during WWII. Murphy called the decision “legalization of racism.” A plaque highlighting his famous position is outside the museum.

The Frank Murphy Memorial Museum south of the Marina on Huron Street next to the Visitor’s Center at 142 S. Huron Avenue.  Tours for the museum are available from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Hours: Tues-Fri: Noon-4pm, Sat-Sun: 10am-4pm, and by appointment.  Admission: Adult: $2 / Child: $1


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Pointe Aux Barques Light House – This is well north of Harbor Beach but worth the drive.  The Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse ranks among the ten oldest lighthouses in Michigan. It is an active lighthouse maintained by the US Coast Guard remotely, located in Lighthouse County Park on Lake Huron near Port Hope, Michigan in Huron County. “Pointe aux Barques” Francois for  ‘Point of Little Boats’, a descriptor of the shallow shoals and reefs that lurk beneath these waves, presenting a hazard to boats as they round Michigan’s Thumb. This historic landmark marks the opening of Saginaw Bay. You can climb to the top of the lighthouse only on Memorial and Labor Day weekends.


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Great Lakes Cruising Coming Summer 2015


Now you can cruise along the Great Lakes in style without unloading tons of iron ore at the end of your excursion.  The Great Lakes Cruise exterior-perspective-4Company announced that starting summer of 2015 that the 105-stateroom  ship M.S. Saint Laurent  will begin a full itinerary of sailing adventures along the highlighted larger ports of the Great Lakes. The Saint Laurent is is an ocean-going coastal vessel with a draft and  waterline that makes her an ideal craft for exploring destinations larger vessels cannot reach on the ports along the Great Lakes.

Cruising the highlights of  of the Great Lakes over 10 days offers Saint Laurenttravelers a unique opportunity to see the best of the lakes.  The cruise ports or call includes embarking in Montreal or Chicago and includes stops in Welland Canal, Port Colbourne, Windsor, Little Current (in the famous Georgian Bay) Manitoulin Island,  Sault Saint Marie and Mackinaw Island.

chicago-montreal_mapTom Markwell, Managing Partner of Haimark Line states that: “operating a ship that was especially constructed for the Great Lakes, Saint Lawrence Seaway and coastal New England along with a more ‘esoteric’ Central and South America cruise program will give our guests the experience of ports and destinations that can only be enjoyed by small cruise ship. These itineraries are for discerning travelers who care about the distinctive aspects of unique ports we visit.”

Itinerary – Montreal to Chicago
DAY 1: Montréal, Québec, Canada (Embarkation)
DAY 2: Sailing the St. Lawrence Seaway, 1000 Islands
& Lake Ontario
DAY 3: Niagara Falls (Welland Canal)
DAY 4: Detroit, Michigan & Windsor, Ontario
DAY 5: Scenic Sailing of Lake Huron
DAY 6: Little Current, Manitoulin Island (Georgian Bay)
DAY 7: Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan(Whitefish Bay & Lake Superior)
DAY 8: Mackinac Island (Lake Michigan)
DAY 9: Scenic Sailing of Lake Michigan
DAY 10: Chicago, Illinois, USA (Disembarkation)