A Fresh Perspective on the Great Lakes
Published: Monday, July 31, 2017
Last fall, my wife and I were just about to leave for Barbados for a quick sailing vacation when our friend Karen called us to say she had just been laid off. Given the fact that she had some unexpected time on her hands and we were leaving in just a couple of days, we suggested she join us. So, at the last minute, she bought a plane ticket and the three of us took off for the island.
Our plan in Barbados was to stay with some world-cruising friends, Lisa and Russ, onboard their boat for the week. They had just arrived at the island from Tobago after spending hurricane season below 12 degrees north latitude to appease their insurance policy requirements. During their passage, they had a solo-sailing South African cruising friend sail along with them aboard his 46-foot catamaran for safety sake. A semi-retired business owner, Chris is just enjoying life by sailing the Caribbean.
Exactly to plan, we all met up in Barbados and enjoyed a fun week of sailing and exploring the island along with Chris. During that time, Karen and Chris hit it off pretty-well, and since he had a lot of extra room on his boat and she had time, he asked her if she’d like to stay onboard for a while. After some understandable consternation, she finally agreed and cancelled her return flight and ended up spending most of the winter sailing the Caribbean enjoying an unexpected adventure of a lifetime. When Karen finally returned home in mid-May she brought Chris with her for his first trip to the Great Lakes.
From the perspective of this world-sailing South African, the Great Lakes were just some inland lakes that were nothing more than a few small water irregularities in the middle of the North American map. He’d obviously heard of them, but that was about all. As his plane came across Lake Michigan for its landing in Milwaukee, he quickly started to appreciate the size of the lakes as he looked down on the vast sea below. Upon arrival, we met him at our yacht club that evening for a drink. After the usual hugs and greetings, his first comments to me were, “This is a bloody big lake, buddy. From here it looks every bit like the ocean, but it’s all fresh water. This is incredible.”
For the next several days, Chris was wined and dined by us locals as we paraded him around the area showing him the sights. Since most of our group of friends are sailors, he commonly ended up around boats and near the shore, so despite the mid-May chill he quickly grew to appreciate the size of the lake. After that first trip, he flew to South Africa for his mother’s 90th birthday, but once again returned to Wisconsin in the beginning of June. This time, Karen and Chris decided to go for an extended road trip up to Mackinac Island to get a better feel for the area outside the city.
After a 7-hour road trip up the rustic western and northern shore of Lake Michigan to Mackinac Island, Chris was even more impressed. When I caught up with him again after they returned, he had nothing but good things to say about how beautiful the lake is and the simple fact that it is all fresh water.
“You people just don’t know how lucky you are to have all this fresh water. People all over the world are struggling for water, yet, around here, you don’t even give it a second thought. You should appreciate what you have here, buddy,” he told me that day.
I, for one, do appreciate this incredible resource. I just hope that our leaders can also see the benefit of preserving and improving the water quality going forward as well. Several recent developments in Washington make me seriously question how well the precious nature of these amazing lakes is understood outside our shores. As Chris said to me after his two Great Lakes excursions, “If it was just a bit warmer up here, everyone would be living here.” Let’s hope that never happens!