Tall Ship Cruising
Traveling by schooner provides a unique way to enjoy a big lake vacation. By Chuck Warren



Traditional sailing vessels, also known as tall ships, were common on the Great Lakes until they were displaced by steam-powered vessels in the late 1800s. An estimated 25,000 schooners ferried passengers and cargo between Midwestern freshwater ports. Although the last operational schooners were decommissioned in the 1930s, quite a few Michigan tall ship sailing opportunities still exist.

Replicas of the original vessels, such as the 114-foot schooner Manitou, sail from many Michigan ports. Aside from auxiliary engines, navigation equipment and Coast Guard safety gear, the ships have largely remained true to their roots and many accurately represent Great Lakes maritime history. 

“It’s a passion,” said Traverse City Tall Ship Company owner and Captain Dave McGinnis. “We are the latest link in a long chain of people who want to keep the history in play.”

For Ashley Deming, director of education and administration at South Haven’s Michigan Maritime Museum, the best part of her involvement with the organization’s 101-foot sloop Friends Good Will is the ability to bring history to life for the passengers and for the crew.

Friends Good Will


“With Friends Good Will,” Deming said, “we can step aboard history and really know what it was like to live, sail and work on a tall ship operating on the Great Lakes.”

Many tall ship companies, including those listed below, offer two- or three-hour day sails, sightseeing cruises and sunset sailing trips. However, visitors also will find a variety of specialty sailing adventures such as wine tasting trips, ice cream cruises and rides with local musicians playing on the deck. Tall ships also can be chartered for weddings, conferences and other activities.

Today’s tall ship captains are willing to share their experiences with curious kids and interested adults alike. Below are the tall ships that ply the waters on the Lake Michigan, Superior and Huron coasts. — See the current issue for the full story.