Lake Erie Completion Tour
In the winter of 2017, I was looking over my sailing stats and I realized that I had been to 21 ports in Lake Erie. I’m a member of the Great Lakes Cruising Club so I read all their harbor reports again and I made a checklist of all the ports I wanted to visit in Lake Erie. There were 32. I checked off seven in 2018 and finished the last four in 2019. So, on this page, I’ve decided to share pictures of each port and my impressions. These are not really harbor reports. The Great Lakes Cruising Club does a much better job of that. I’m just going to share what I liked about each port. I’m going to list them in order of my first sail there.
First, a little background. In 2005, my friend Scot Adkins invited me to go sailing on his friend, John Blair’s boat. It turned out that it was a Wednesday night race in the Cleveland Yacht Racing Association. I had no idea what was going on. In fact, I was startled the first time the boat heeled over but I looked at everyone else and they were unconcerned so I figured it must be okay. To me, it felt like the boat was just about to capsize – in what I later learned was pretty mild conditions. I was 40 years old and it was literally the first time I had ever been on a sailboat – even though I had always wanted to sail. For some reason, I thought I’d like it and I did. When we got back to the dock, John graciously told me, “Come back any time.” I took him at his word and managed to come back two more times in 2005. In 2006, they let me be regular crew and they started training me to be the new bowman. Or, as one of the other crew called it, “The guy on the pointy end.”
I embraced it enthusiastically. Even though I lived an hour south of Lake Erie, I was making the 2-hour round trip two and three times a week to go sailing. They trained me on the foredeck and I ended up doing it by myself during the Bayweek regatta in 2006. I was sailing all I could and learning as much as I could. After 6-7 years of foredeck, I knew that the only way I was going to take the next step was to get my own boat.
In 2013, I contacted a broker and he agreed to show me some boats. I gave him my budget and explained that I wanted to learn to cruise; that I’d never been at the helm of a sailboat but I thought I’d like it. The first boat he showed me was 50% over my budget. When I reminded him of that, he said he understood but that was the boat I should buy. I looked at six other boats, but he was right. I ultimately bought the first boat I looked at and I can’t believe what good advice he gave me and how lucky I was that I listened. My boat is a 1985 Ericson 30+. It’s an excellently designed and built boat and I am truly delighted to have it.
So, there I was, 48 years old with my first boat, no idea how to get it away from – or more importantly – back to a dock. I knew how to run a foredeck well. I probably could do it blindfolded. But trimming a main or a genoa? No way. I was well-versed in the concepts but no practical experience. It was time to start converting the thousand and one questions I’ve been asking for the past 9 years into practice. John Blair and another sailing friend, Dan Kava helped me that first day on my boat making the 6 hour motorsail from Vermilion to Cleveland. It was a calm, gray, and rainy day but it was thrilling. That summer, many days consisted of what I call “Cleveland to Cleveland” but most people call daysailing. Of course, I’d only go out with “crew” and then, I’d constantly be worried that they weren’t having a good time. I told Kathleen that she didn’t have to like it; That “I liked it enough for both of us.” But, of course, I wanted her to like it and have fun. When fall came, I decided to keep my boat in Vermilion where the previous owner kept it in the winter. Parsons’ marina knew my boat better than I did. And, it made every sailing season begin and end with a 30nm sail.
In 2014, I knew that I needed to take a few more risks and go a little farther. I joined the Cleveland Yacht Racing Association and managed to tie for third in one of the Sunday season series in the slowest class. But, I didn’t want to race. I wanted to see new ports. In July, Kathleen and I made one sail to the next port east of Cleveland – the Chagrin River – and spent the night at the club there. That was our first cruise. In July, two buddies were helping me sail to Cedar Point when we sought safe harbor in Vermilion before we got hit by a storm. But I still had to get the boat to Cedar Point the next day – so I did it myself. That day, single-handing for the first time, changed everything.
I single-handed back to Cleveland from Cedar Point a couple days later – 9 hours. Then, in September, I sailed almost due north out of Cleveland and crossed Lake Erie arriving in Erieau, Ontario in just about 10 hours. It was my first time being completely out of sight of land, my first time sailing to Canada, and I was completely thrilled. From Erieau, I sailed to Leamington, Ontario and Pelee Island, Ontario before heading back to Cleveland. In 2014, I had been to five ports I had never been to before. And although, it was still moderately terrifying coming in to dock, I loved coming into a port for the first time and figuring out how to get docked and secured. And then, of course, even better, I’d get to explore the port. People love sailing for a lot of different reasons. And, I certainly do love the sailing part of it. But, for me, the best part is after a long sail, getting into port and tying up and preparing to see what that port has to offer is my favorite part.
Single-handing improved my sailing education in a way I never anticipated. Since I wasn’t worried about other people’s comfort, I was free to make mistakes. I was free to try something that I read about or watched on a video without showing my ignorance. And, it allowed me to go out any time I wanted. I didn’t have to wait for other’s schedules or for the weather to be just right to go sailing. And, I kept managing to get to more and more ports in Lake Erie.
1. Vermilion, Ohio
Since I keep my boat in Vermilion in the winter, I visit Vermilion at least twice each year. It’s by far my second most visited port behind my home port of Cleveland. It also happens to be one of the best. Besides docking at Parsons where my boat is stored, I’ve also docked at the Port Authority docks and the Vermilion Yacht Club. I could see when I’m no longer working in Cleveland, becoming a member at the Vermilion Yacht Club. It’s a friendly place – and much closer to the islands than Cleveland. I highly recommend Parsons if you need work done. Chez Francois is a practically perfect dining experience but be prepared emotionally for the bill. Kathleen and I have gone twice and it’s certainly worth it. But, my go to place is Rudy’s. They have great wings.
2. Cleveland, Ohio
My boat home. Cleveland is the biggest city on Lake Erie, the best skyline, and certainly has the most things to do. (Sorry Buffalo) It’s also the port with the most traffic and the most complicated entry. It’s absolutely not a port you want to enter for the first time at night.
3. Chagrin River, Ohio
In 2014, Kathleen and I set out on our first cruise. We had visions of Fairport – about 25 miles east of Cleveland. It was a hot July day and there wasn’t much wind. But I was determined to sail there. After about five and a half hours, we were almost even with the Chagrin River – the next port east of Cleveland. We stopped there instead. We got a slip at the Chagrin Lagoons Yacht Club and prepared to walk to the only restaurant – about a mile away. A member in the Clubhouse stopped us and invited us to their cookout that night. What a cookout it was: Pork Loins, Fruit de Mar, fresh caught Walleye, Ribs and enough food for 20 people – about 10 more than were there. All we had on board to contribute was a couple bottles of wine. It was a wonderful night with terrifically friendly people. We sailed back to Cleveland the next day. Our first cruise was a complete success.
4. Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
Kathleen, Meredith and Madeline were staying at Lakeside and planning on going to Cedar Point in July of 2014. I decided to get the boat over there as a base of operations for the day at the park. I planned on sailing over there on Wednesday and enlisted a couple buddies to help as crew. As often happens on Lake Erie in July, a big storm rolled up and we ducked into Vermilion to avoid the storm. Kathleen came and picked us up but now the boat was in Vermilion and it needed to be in Cedar Point. And, on a Thursday with no notice, I couldn’t get crew. It was a flat calm day. So, I moved it myself. It was a three-and-a-half-hour trip and I still wasn’t very good at docking with crew – let alone singlehanded. My heart raced as I approached the dock, but I managed to not embarrass myself. On Sunday, I moved the boat back to Cleveland by myself – nine hours. Those two single-handed trips opened my eyes to something I literally hadn’t imagined. Everything changed. My confidence leaped. The possibilities of where I could sail just increased dramatically.
5. Erieau, Ontario
An example of how much more I was willing to do now that I was experimenting with single handing was I decided to sail north out of Cleveland directly to Erieau, Ontario. Kathleen was back in school so she couldn’t go. I had to go by myself. I left before sunrise and motored into a north wind. The forecast was to shift to the west later in the day, but it was a bumpy start. Eventually, Cleveland dropped over the horizon and I was completely alone – and it was a dream come true. It took me 10 hours to sail across the lake but hoisting my Canadian courtesy flag was exhilarating. I spent a couple nights in Erieau before sailing to Leamington. I’ve been back to Erieau a couple times. It’s a small town with only a couple restaurants – including a brewpub – but it’s one of my favorite ports on Lake Erie.
6. Leamington, Ontario
It was another 10-hour sail to get from Erieau to Leamington. The Municipal Marina is among the nicest on Lake Erie. It’s about a 3km walk into town but I did it every day. It’s a great town with plenty to do. It’s also the tomato capital of Canada. I was only planning on staying two nights, but a big storm rolled in with gale force winds for two days. It was a great place to stay. I didn’t mind.
7. Pelee Island, Ontario
I’ve sailed to Pelee a couple times. The first time was a lovely two-and-a-half-hour sail from Leamington. It was a Monday in September. Tourist season was over and there was nothing to do. I cooked Indian food on the boat and went to sleep. The water on the island is frightful. I smelled worse after my shower than before. My second trip to Pelee – while also in September – was on a Sunday and things were open. I got a cab into a winery and had a perch sandwich at a bar before heading back to the boat. This time, I skipped the shower.
8. Put-in-Bay, South Bass Island, Ohio
First visit April 29, 2015
In 2015, instead of heading straight to Cleveland from Vermilion in the Spring, I went to Put-in-Bay first. To say that it was pre-season was an understatement. I was literally the only boat on a dock that is normally tied off 3-4 boats deep. I spent a few nights there – by myself. Most of the bars and restaurants weren’t open – or their seasonal liquor license was not valid until May 1. It’s been on my list to return during the actual season and stay on a mooring ball. Hopefully, this summer.
9. Lorain, Ohio
Kathleen and I had an island cruise planned for June 2015. I was moving the boat from Cleveland to Vermilion where she was going to meet me. The wind was coming from the west so I decided to start the engine and do a little motorsailing to get to Vermilion sooner. Within a minute of starting my engine, smoke was billowing out of the companionway. I turned off the engine and hustled down into the cabin and pulled out my extinguisher before opening the engine compartment. Luckily, killing power to the engine stopped the electrical fire but the boat was still full of smoke. I was just past Lorain. I sailed in the lee of the Lorain breakwall, dropped anchor and called for a tow into Lorain. To say it was exciting was an understatement. After being safely at dock – but stranded – I heard a large crowd and live music. I walked into town where Michael Stanley was playing for Lorain’s Rocking on the River. Fun. I was stranded in Lorain for a week while the brand new parts that had just failed were replaced under warranty. Of course, this made us postpone our cruise.
10. Geneva, Ohio
The first stop of my September cruise of 2015 was Geneva. It was a Thursday and out of season. Nothing in Geneva-on-the-lake was open so I had a burger in the State Lodge there and went to bed. It’s nice there. I’ll go back.
11. Erie, Pennsylvania
After a 9.5-hour sail from Geneva, I was exhausted when I docked at the Commodore Perry Yacht Club in Erie. I was in bed by 8. The next morning, I went to the Erie Maritime Museum – one of the best maritime museums on Lake Erie. There are a bunch of maritime museums on the lake – and I try not to miss them.
My second trip to Erie was at the finish of the Great Lakes Singlehanded Society’s Lake Erie Solo Challenge in 2019. So far, that’s the highlight of my sailing career.
12. Port Stanley, Ontario
The first time I sailed to Port Stanley was after completing an overnight sail from Erie. is one my favorite ports on Lake Erie. I’ve only been there in September. There’s a theater company there where I’d love to see a show so I need to go back in the summer.
13. Huron, Ohio
Huron is the southernmost port on the Great Lakes. It’s a nice little town. The municipal marina is one of nicest around.
14. Sawmill Creek, Huron, Ohio
Sawmill Creek is a resort between Huron and Sandusky. It has a very narrow and shallow entry that is hard to spot from the lake. It would a nice place to keep your boat if you lived nearby. The marina is near the golf course. Unfortunately, they use one of the bathrooms for the golf course for the marina showers and bathrooms. It’s far from the docks and it’s not nice. We made the long walk through the golf course to the resort for dinner one night. It felt a little dated but we actually had a terrific meal and the shops at the Sawmill Creek Shops were eclectic and fun.
15. Port Dover, Ontario
Another of my Lake Erie favorites, Port Dover has a lot to do. It’s almost due north of Erie, PA but you must get around Long Point to get there. The marina is a decent walk to downtown but there is so much to do there, it’s worth a visit. It would be great to spend a week or more here.
16. Port Colborne, Ontario
Port Colborne is at the southern end of the Welland Canal – which boats use to get between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Shipping traffic near here can get busy. Every salt water ship that is going to the internal Great Lakes, passes through here. It’s fascinating to see the massive ships up close as they pass through the locks. Downtown is a decent hike from the marina, but the marina is a nice one.
17. Buffalo, New York
Buffalo is the third largest city on Lake Erie. (1. Cleveland, 2. Toledo, 4. Erie) I stayed at the Buffalo Yacht Club – which I had stayed at in 2007 for the Beneteau 36.7 North American Championships. The Buffalo Yacht club is old school – really old school. It was founded in 1860 and is one of the oldest continuously operating yacht clubs in the U.S.. I spent a great boozy evening in the lounge there with two old sailors who were incredulous that I had sailed there from Cleveland by myself.
18. Dunkirk, New York
I only spent one night in Dunkirk on my way back home from Buffalo. Lawrence has never had a good experience in Dunkirk, but I found it to be nice. I stayed at the Yacht Club – which is actually built on the dock over the water.
19. Colchester, Ontario
Colchester is the southernmost port in mainland Canada. (Pelee Island is further south.) It’s a nice quiet little town – not as touristy as Port Dover or Port Stanley.
20. Kelleys Island North, Ohio
I’ve counted Kelleys Island twice in my list of 32 ports because the town is on the southern side of the island, but the north side of the island is one of the few good anchorages on Lake Erie. They’re vastly different experiences. The first time I anchored at Kelleys, was after a 15 hour sail from Detroit. I arrived about 3 am on a gorgeous night, set my anchor and had a glass of bourbon in the cockpit before going to bed. It was one of the greatest sailing days ever.
21. Kelleys Island, Ohio
Like Put-In-Bay, I’ve been to Kelleys Island many times – just not on my own boat. After motoring around from the anchorage on the north side of the island, I spent a couple days working and sight seeing on the island. As is common for my cruises, it was in September, so things were a little quieter than they would have been during the summer. But, I still rented a golf cart and covered all the roads on the island.
22. Sandusky, Ohio
I’ve docked at Cedar Point before. And although Cedar Point is “in” Sandusky, it’s really not the same as being in Sandusky. I really like Sandusky. Some nice restaurants, several marinas, a nice park, the Merry-Go-Round museum, a West Marine store… What more could you want? I saw the highest windspeed ever on my anemometer one afternoon tied up at the Sandusky Yacht Club – 67 knots (77 mph). That’s hurricane force. Luckily, it only lasted about 10 minutes and my boat didn’t sustain any damage. Pretty exciting.
23. Middle Bass Island, Ohio
This was my first ever trip to Middle Bass Island. It’s just north of all the craziness of Put-In-Bay and totally calm by comparison.
24. Catawba Island, Ohio
The Great Lakes Cruising Club has had their spring Lake Erie Picnic here the last few years. I always heard it would be too shallow for my 6’ draft boat. People who actually dock there assured me I’d be fine. I could see Herl’s Harbor Marina being my home marina when we’re retired and spending more time up at Lakeside. This is probably the closest marina that my boat can get into comfortably. There’s not much within walking distance though.
25. Port Clinton, Ohio
Another of my favorite ports. Good little tourist town without being gaudy. Brands marina is another contender for me to dock at when I’m no longer working in Cleveland.
26. Toledo, Ohio
Technically, Toledo is not a Lake Erie port. It’s on the Maumee River. But, this is my checklist so I’m making the rules. Detroit didn’t make the list – it’s too far from Lake Erie – and way closer to Lake St. Clair. I was surprised to find out that Toledo is actually a bigger city than Buffalo. The National Museum of the Great Lakes is fantastic and it’s a toss-up for me whether it, or the Erie Maritime Museum is the best maritime museum on Lake Erie. Docking at the marina at the museum was very nice. The showers for the marina are in the museum. Kind of weird but fine. Wikipedia lists Lake Erie as 241 miles long.
When I docked in Toledo, I was 250 (statute) miles from where I docked in Buffalo. That’s certainly end to end.
27. Toledo Beach, Michigan
Toledo Beach is in LaSalle, Michigan – not Ohio. I’ve been here three times. Once on Lawrence’s boat, once on a cruise on my Toledo trip in 2018, and for the start of the Lake Erie Solo Challenge in 2019. Both the marina and the North Cape Yacht Club are exceptional facilities. But there’s nothing nearby.
28. Rocky River, Ohio
Home of the Cleveland Yachting Club, Rocky River is a nice port. It’s too close to Cleveland to be much more than an afternoon sail destination.
29. Conneaut, Ohio
This one is an admitted cheat. I’ve been to Conneaut on land. It’s perfectly fine. But the day that I sailed inside the Conneaut breakwall, I was itching to get home. I sailed in and sailed right back out to head to Ashtabula, where a buddy was already docked. I’ll go back some day.
30. Ashtabula, Ohio
I love Ashtabula. I’ve been several times on land and it’s a great little town. Unfortunately, the one time I was there on my boat, I could only stay one night. Ashtabula has one of my favorite coffee shops, Harbor Perk Coffeehouse. And, there are several cool restaurants.
31. Fairport, Ohio
It is ironic that the last five ports on the list are five of the seven closest ports to Cleveland. Fairport is another cheat – but better than Conneaut. I motored up the Grand River to Pickle Bills. But my real destination that day was Mentor. So, I turned around and headed to Mentor.
32. Mentor, Ohio
The final port on my Lake Erie checklist, Mentor also happens to be the port I represent for the Great Lakes Cruising Club. The Mentor Harbor Yachting Club is another old-school yacht club and a great place to visit.
I know this was long. I hope you enjoyed it. Fair winds.