TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. —It was a don't-worry, be-happy kind of cruise aboard the tall ship Manitou.
The 114-foot-long schooner exuded a laid-back Caribbean vibe, which was strangely appropriate because we were sailing on Grand Traverse Bay; its aquamarine waters look almost Caribbean because of its spring-fed streams and sand deposits.
The vibe was pretty obvious when Captain Cheyenne sat back on the two-hour cruise and steered the wheel with her feet.
We were in the slow lane, enjoying the lake breezes and the scenery. We were traveling 2 knots — at best.
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We also sat becalmed for 10 minutes in the center of the bay waiting for what had been a mild breeze to reappear.
The windjammer Manitou is one of the big attractions in Traverse City on Michigan's northwest coast.
The city sits at the southern end of Grand Traverse Bay that is part of Lake Michigan. The bay is 32 miles long, 10 miles wide and up to 620 feet deep. It is divided into West Bay and East Bay by the scenic Old Mission Peninsula.
The entire bay is an underwater preserve managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment. It is the state's 12th underwater preserve, with more than 30 wrecks, most from the 1840s to the 1920s. It covers 295 square miles and was established in 2008.
Traverse City is Up North, as Michiganders say. That means north of Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Flint and Bay City.
Traverse City with 15,000 residents is known for its sugar-sand beaches, cherries, vineyards, nearby sand dunes, restaurants, shopping, golf courses, ski areas, galleries, casinos and trails.
From Traverse City north 70 miles to Harbor Springs is Michigan's summer tourist destination. It is a water-and-beach playground, dominated by lodges, resorts, hotels and motels.
Traverse City gets 2 million visitors a year, most from June to August.
It has been hailed as one of America's top beach towns by AOL Travel and as one of America's most charming small towns by Tripadvisor.com.
It is also a sailing town with a long history. Sail-powered vessels played a key role in developing the Upper Great Lakes. Traverse City today has more sailing vessels than any other port in Michigan.
It is also home to the Maritime Heritage Alliance, a group of local sailing-history buffs who work to restore, preserve and sail the old ships.
Traverse City will host a three-day assemblage of schooners, cutters, sloops and other tall ships in the second annual Michigan Schooner Festival on Sept. 10-12. For information, call 231-996-3909 or check out http://www.michiganschoonerfestival.org.
The Manitou is a replica of an 1800s coasting cargo schooner and is one of the largest sailing ships on the Great Lakes.
It is a traditional two-masted, gaff-rigged, topsail schooner with more than 3,000 square feet of sail and a beam of 21 feet. It weighs 82 tons and sails with a captain and crew of four.
It features masts of western red cedar, decks of Douglas fir and a steering wheel of cherry.
The steel hull was built in 1982 in Portsmouth, N.H., and the ship was finished in Vermont on Lake Champlain. It sailed there from 1983 through 1990 as the Homer W. Dixon. It came to Traverse City in 1991.
The diesel-powered ship is owned and operated by Traverse Tall Ship Co. LLC. Its name comes from an American Indian word for great spirit or deity.
From June to September, the company offers two-hour day cruises for as many as 62 passengers on Grand Traverse Bay.
You can, if you desire, help the crew by raising the main sail, pulling on ropes at the beginning of the trek. Or you can just sit back and enjoy the cruise that is offered three times a day.
Tickets for a two-hour Manitou cruise range from $35 to $45 for adults and $18 to $26 for children 12 and younger.
The company also offers specialty cruises with ice cream, local wines, Great Lakes music and pizza and beer.
You can bring a boxed meal with you. Drinks are available on board.
You can also take the evening cruise and spend the night aboard the Manitou as it is docked at its Traverse City pier. You are fed breakfast aboard the ship the next morning before you depart. It's not for everyone, but it does have its appeal. The cabins are tiny and spare.
The overnight shipboard lodging is offered from mid-June to Labor Day. Prices are $209 to $239 per couple; $121 to $136 for individuals; and $61 to $95 for children 8 to 12.
In addition, the company offers four-day bed-and-breakfast cruises to Lake Michigan's islands, bays and coastal villages for up to 24 passengers. The Manitou becomes a floating bed and breakfast.
Passengers are housed in twin-bunk cabins. Windows provide ventilation. Family-style meals are served aboard with food prepared over the boat's wood-burning stove. Hot showers are provided. Passengers take care of their own cabins.
The mood is casual and relaxing.
The ship anchors for the night at nearby attractions, including Beaver Island and car-free North and South Manitou islands in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Other stops might include a general store dating to 1839 on the Old Mission Peninsula or a historic fishing village, St. James, on Beaver Island.
There's a very good chance of seeing historic lighthouses, doing some beachcombing and paddling sea kayaks.
The overnight itineraries are pretty much determined by the direction of the prevailing winds.
This year's overnight sailing schedule includes a women's wellness cruise Sept. 10-13; a wine-tasting cruise Sept. 17-20; a music cruise with singer-songwriter Lee Murdock Sept. 24-27; and an astronomy cruise Oct. 1-4.
The fee is $685 a person (double occupancy). The minimum age is 12.
The Manitou has no television and no Internet access. Passengers are asked not to bring cell phones aboard.
For information, contact the Traverse Tall Ship Co. at 13390 SW Bayshore Drive, Traverse City, Mich. 49684, 800-678-0383 or 231-941-2000. The Web site is http://www.tallshipsailing.com.
The Maritime Heritage Alliance has its own flotilla of tall ships on Grand Traverse Bay: the schooner Madeline, the cutter Champion and the Welcome, a replica of a 19th-century British armed sloop.
The Madeline is its biggest vessel: a 92-foot, twin-masted replica of an 1840s cargo ship. It is open to landlubbers and offers limited public sails.
For information, contact the alliance at 13268 SW Bayshore Drive, Traverse City, Mich. 49684, 231-946-2647, http://www.maritimeheritagealliance.org.
The Inland Seas Education Association in nearby Suttons Bay has its own floating classroom: the schooner Inland Seas with its trademark blood-red sails.
The 77-foot twin-masted schooner offers educational and stewardship programs on the ecology of the Great Lakes and Grand Traverse Bay for all ages. It gets 5,000 passengers a year. Prices start at $40 for half-day educational sail programs.
For information, contact the nonprofit association at P.O. Box 218, 100 Dame St., Suttons Bay, Mich. 49682, 231-271-3077, http://www.greatlakeseducation.org/schoolship.
For Traverse City tourist information, call 800-TRAVERSE or visit http://www.visittraversecity.com. You can write to 101 W. Grandview Parkway, Traverse City, Mich. 49684.