How Great are the Great Lakes?

"Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Self Reliance

Few that know the Great Lakes question what makes them great, but I've come to realize there are many folks who know nothing about the Great Lakes, or totally misunderstand their significance. Once when I was visiting San Diego, a local at the bus stop asked me if the lakes ever completely thaw in the summer. Another time someone wanted to know if I was able to see Wisconsin across Lake Michigan while standing in Michigan. And like many Great Lakes sailors, I've heard multiple times from our salty brethren that we're just "pond sailors". I think I know what Emerson meant when he said; "To be great is to be misunderstood."

Words like "great" and "awesome" are totally overused in our society. "How was your day?" "It was great!"  "Did you see that new super hero movie?" "Yeah, it was awesome!" I know I'm biased, but I firmly believe the Great Lakes deserve the "Great" in their name.  Even so, they are a very underrated sailing and cruising destination. There are certainly better known cruising locales such as Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, the Bahamas, and the Sea of Cortez (Baja), but I'm not convinced they are ultimately any better than the Great Lakes. I'm pretty sure part of the reason those other places get more cruising love is because they all have salty water and so the freshwater in the Great Lakes gets unfairly stereotyped as less worthy. I'm also pretty sure that people who don't live near the Great Lakes or who haven't boated on them don't realize their enormity.

I realize there's much more to good cruising than simply lots of water, but take a moment to consider just how much water and cruise-able coastline exists in the Great Lakes. There is 6 quadrillion gallons of water, which amounts to one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water and is enough to spread evenly across the continental U.S. to a depth of 9.5 feet. The Great Lakes has 10,900 miles of coastline, equal to almost 44 percent of the circumference of the earth. Michigan's Great Lakes coastline alone totals 3,288 miles, more coastline than any other state except Alaska. So how do those numbers compare to the other better known cruising areas? See for yourself below. All maps were taken from Google Earth using the same scale.

Great Lakes
Coastline: 10,900 miles
Surface area: 94,000 square miles
Volume: 6 quadrillion gallons (5,449 cubic miles)
Chesapeake Bay
Coastline: 11,684 miles (including tributaries)
Surface area: 4,480 square miles (including tributaries)
Volume: 18 trillion gallons (16 cubic miles)
Puget Sound
Coastline: 2,500 miles
Surface area: 1,005 square miles
Volume: 26.5 cubic miles
Coastline: 2,201 miles
Surface area: 90,000 square miles
Volume: ???
Sea of Cortez (Baja, Mexico)
Coastline: 2,500 miles
Surface area: 62,000 square miles
Volume: 35,000 cubic miles


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