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Do you think of "port" as a sweet wine, "bow" as what actors do on stage, "knots" as those things that kept shoes on your feet b.V. (before Velcro), "head" as what you find on top of a glass of beer, and "stern" as a description of your fourth-grade teacher's face? Aye? Then please read on.
Clearly you have no concept of watercraft, and it's likely the pleasures of boating have somehow escaped you even though Wisconsin has a couple thousand inland lakes and is bordered by two Great Ones. (And there's the small matter of that very large river at our western boundary.)
If you've somehow never had the chance to enjoy Wisconsin's waters from the water, fear not (unless you're hydrophobic). Landlubbers do have options. Rides and tours on paddlewheelers, pontoon boats, sailboats, excursion yachts, canoes and even tall ships await new sailors and old salts alike. Here are a few.
At the Milwaukee Municipal Pier, Pier Wisconsin's 138-foot, three-masted schooner S/V Denis Sullivan stands ready to take you on a voyage of discovery into the world of 19th century Great Lakes sailing. The good ship Sullivan, named after a captain prominent in the early Great Lakes cargo shipping industry, offers three-hour day and evening sails in Lake Michigan. While aboard you can conduct water quality sampling and analysis; study Lake Michigan biological systems, including a zooplankton tow; or receive tips on general seamanship – like knot tying or handling block-and-tackle systems. If you have only an hour to spare, take the dockside deck tour for a quick dip into Wisconsin's maritime history. Pier Wisconsin also offers longer overnight sailing adventures for adults and youth. Visit Pier Wisconsin for more details or call (414) 276-7700.
Lake Superior's spindrift draws many first-time sailors to the marinas of Bayfield. Several companies offer sailboat rides and charters that weave through the coves of the Apostle Islands. Animaashi Sailing Company, call (715) 779-5468, welcomes you aboard the 34-foot sloop Sarah's Joy for half-day, all-day or evening sails. On the 35-foot Sandpiper owned by Sandpiper Classic Wooden Ketch, you can take the helm yourself with expert guidance from U.S. Coast Guard-trained Captain Craig Locey. Call 1-800-881-5903. Dreamcatcher Sailing Charters offers recreational cruises and instructional sails for all skill levels, beginning to advanced. Call (715) 779-5561.
Trade sails for pontoons and journey into the heart of Horicon – the nation's largest cattail marsh – on daily tours offered by Blue Heron Landing. On Blue Heron's two-hour pontoon birding tour, you'll learn about wetland habitat and get pointers on how to identify bird species by sight and sound. A bird list is provided. Those who prefer to go under their own power can take a guided and narrated canoe or kayak tour – or rent a canoe or kayak for private exploration. Tours depart from the bridge on Highway 33 in downtown Horicon. See Blue Heron Landing or call (920) 485-4663.
Put away the pontoons and stoke up the boiler for a ride on the Great River Steamboat Company's Julia Belle Swain, one of only five steamboats still plying the Mississippi River.
Although the main structure of the boat was built in 1971, its steam propulsion system with authentic vintage reciprocating engines hails from 1915. The steamboat's pilot guides the craft through the Big River's shoals and sandbars with a 7-foot antique teak pilotwheel, and passengers take their ease at a hand-carved wooden back bar. The Julia Belle sidles through the reaches of the Upper Mississippi for one- and two-day excursions, Sunday morning brunch and evening dinner cruises; the steamboat departs from its dock at the levee in Riverside Park in downtown La Crosse. Visit Julia Belle Swain or call (608) 784-4882.