Out of the Blue

Visit Port Huron

No trip to Sarnia would be complete without crossing over to Port Huron, Michigan.

Port Huron’s historic downtown borders the Black River and is easily accessible by foot. You’ll find inviting shops, appetizing restaurants and interesting museums.

The Blue Water Trolley offers one-hour sightseeing tours, which take you through the heart of Port Huron and along the riverfront for a panoramic glimpse of the Blue Water Bridge and the Thomas Edison Depot Museum. Best of all is the fare: 10 cents.

The Thomas Edison Depot Museum — located in the beautifully restored Grand Trunk Railway Station directly under the Blue Water Bridge — tells Edison’s inspiring story, including his days spent working on the rail line between Port Huron and Detroit, and displays memorabilia from his boyhood home.

The Huron Light Ship Museum, located on the water about a half-mile downstream from the Edison Museum, offers tours of the preserved 1918 light ship, which was still in active use in the area as late as the 1970s.

The Fort Gratiot Light Station is a 5-acre campus with seven buildings and boasts the oldest lighthouse tower built in 1829. It offers a 45 minute guided tour, which ends with the “94 steps to the top” tower.

Originally the 1904 Port Huron Public Library, the Carnegie Center is now Port Huron Museum’s main building, and is home to local and regional artifacts depicting the area’s rich history. The center is scheduled to reopen this May after an extensive renovation.

For current exhibits, activities and hours of operation, visit www.phmuseum.org.

Fans of commercial shipping and Great Lakes history should visit the Great Lakes Maritime Center at the mouth of the Black River on Vantage Point. Apart from displaying a range of Great Lakes artifacts, the center is also the home of the www.boatnerd.com website, with substantial libraries of information and Great Lakes lore.

Dockage/Marine Services

Sarnia, Ontario
Most marina facilities are found south of the Blue Water Bridge, just off the river channel. Bridgeview Yachting Centre is about three-quarters of a mile south of the bridge, tucked into a sheltered harbor called the North Slip. The entrance is located just downstream of the prominent OLG Casino. Be sure to keep downstream of the unlit red spar buoy marking the shallows at the tip of Bay Point. Allow the spit at least 100 yards if you can’t quickly locate the buoy. Bridgeview Yachting Centre’s umbrella of marina operations recently undertook major capital improvements. Bridgeview has replaced an additional 20 slips with upgraded docks and services, along with new fuel station decking.

Sarnia Bay Marina, three-quarters of a mile to the south, sits in Sarnia Bay where a green flashing light at the end of the stone breakwall marks the entrance. The marina has upgraded its Wi-Fi amenity and added a leisure deck facility.

There are a number of companies offering a wide variety of marine services in Sarnia, should you need to re-provision, make a repair or just feel like shopping. Needham’s Marine, located on London Line about a 10-minute drive from the marinas, is a full-service boat dealership offering both new and used boats for sale. Their certified MerCruiser technicians service and repair engines, boats and trailers. Needham’s also has a ship’s store where you are sure to find everything you need for a day on the water. Bluewater Padded Accents, on Water Street near the Sarnia Bay Marina, makes boat tops and upholstery. Bridgeview Marine Services, located at Bridgeview Yachting Centre, offers both on-site and mobile engine repairs, along with propeller and electrical repairs. T&M Marine, also located at Bridgeview Yachting Centre, offers hull repair for both wood and fiberglass boats.

Port Huron, Michigan
Port Huron lies south of Sarnia Bay on the Michigan side of the St. Clair River at its confluence with the Black River. It’s easily identified by the permanently raised railway lift bridge at the Black River mouth.

Desmond Marine is located on the Black River just beyond the raised bridge, and offers overnight docking along its 200-foot seawall for boats up to 120 feet. They have replaced their entire fueling station with new high-speed dispensers and have significantly increased their fuel tank capacity. A new pavilion has been constructed as an amenity for existing members and an added feature for tourist boat clubs and social events. They also offer engine repairs.

Desmond Marine manages all River Street Marinas, farther upstream. Consisting of the Fort Street Dock, Quay Street Dock, Southside Dock and River Street Marina. Tie up at the harbormaster’s office at the River Street Marina for a slip assignment.

Bridge Harbour Marina, a little farther upstream, accommodates about 40 transient boats with a maximum length of 80 feet and a maximum draft of 10 feet. There’s a Bob Evans restaurant right at the marina.

Resources

Out of the Blue

by Craig Ritchie
01-Mar-2017
With impossibly blue water and a long history as a welcoming safe harbor, the city of Sarnia, Ontario — along with the neighboring city of Port Huron, Michigan — continues to delight boaters from across the Great Lakes.
Although its sapphire blue water looks far more Caribbean than Canadian, the elegant city of Sarnia enjoys a long and colorful history as one of Ontario’s most inviting Great Lakes ports. The city’s heritage dates back to the 17th century, when Father Louis Hennepin and several other members of La Salle’s entourage found shelter there during a powerful autumn storm, befriended the native people and eventually established a settlement. That settlement, strategically located where Lake Huron feeds into the St. Clair River, grew to become one of the largest and most prosperous cities in southwestern Ontario.

The unique coloration off Sarnia’s shore results from a combination of clear water, a natural limestone lakebed and just the right water depth. These factors allow reflected sunlight to project an extended range of blue rays, giving the local area one of its most endearing natural landmarks.

“Every time we set up an exhibit at a travel show people always ask why we Photoshop the water to look like the Bahamas,” says Tourism Sarnia-Lambton’s Beverley Horodyski. “We tell them we don’t do anything — that’s just how it naturally looks — yet they never believe us.”

Given its location at the junction of Lake Huron and the St. Clair River, Sarnia is one of those rare communities that is both a lake port and river town. The lake port sense is unmistakable, with prominent commercial docks that usually see a few commercial freighters in town at any given time. The river town atmosphere comes from its close association and proximity to the community of Port Huron, Michigan, located directly across the St. Clair River. This dual personality of lake port and river town not only gives Sarnia its unmistakable character, but it also provides the city with an unusually wide range of leisure opportunities that draw boaters from all over the Great Lakes.

The area’s defining landmark — the aptly-named Blue Water Bridge, which spans the St. Clair River to connect Ontario and Michigan — can be seen from at least 15 miles out into Lake Huron on a clear day, and even farther at night when its appropriately blue lights shine like a welcoming home beacon. Opened in 1938, the bridge gained a second span in 1997 and today remains among the busiest border crossings between Canada and the United States. When you approach Sarnia by boat from Lake Huron, steer straight for the bridge and you can’t go wrong. The ship channel lies a bit closer to the Michigan side of the lake, and by 5 miles out you’ll begin to pick up the green and red channel buoys. Stick between them and, as they say, you can’t miss it.

Getting to Sarnia from the south is even easier: Navigate upstream on the St. Clair River and you have no choice but to drive straight through town.  

Regardless of which direction you approach from, boaters must remember that the St. Clair River is one of busiest areas on the Great Lakes for freighter traffic, with thousands of the big boats passing through each year. Always keep an eye out and give them plenty of space.

Events and more

Being part lake port and part river town gives Sarnia a natural energy; it’s one of those places that seems to always have something going on.

On Thursday nights from late May though October, the Moonlight Farmers Market is held under the bridge and presents an exquisite opportunity to re-provision with fresh local meat, cheese and produce. Twenty vendors typically participate, with things kicking off around 4 p.m. and lasting until around 8 p.m.

From early June through the end of August, the bandstand in Cantara Park on the Lake Huron shore hosts the Sarnia Waterfront Concert Series, where you can enjoy a wide variety of live music and performances. All events offer free admission. For a schedule of upcoming events, check in with city hall or visit the city website at sarnia.ca.

Each July, boaters flock to the Sarnia-Port Huron area for the start of the annual Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Island Yacht Race. Organized by the Bayview Yacht Club, this event has run continuously since 1925 and remains among the longest freshwater races in the world. Each year it attracts more than 200 boats and kicks off with a grand parade of sailing vessels as they move out to the starting line. Participants who have completed 25 Port Huron to Mackinac Island races are officially referred to as Old Goats, while those who have completed 50 are known as Grand Rams.

In August, the Sarnia-Port Huron International Powerboat Festival attracts some of the fastest race boats on the continent as they compete for prizes and bragging rights while raising more than $100,000 for local charities. Each year, more than 30,000 people come out to enjoy the spectacle, which includes a variety of on-land activities, children’s activities and a wakeboard competition. Sanctioned by the Offshore Powerboat Association, the festival is sponsored in part by the massive OLG Casino, located right on the river.

In mid-September, Sarnia’s Jazz and Blues in the Village festival takes over McGibbon Park in the heart of the city, attracting big-name entertainers in a casual, intimate setting. Apart from great music and tasty food, it’s a feel-good event with all the proceeds supporting the Sarnia Organ Donor’s Awareness Group.

Gastronomic Sarnia

For a town of 75,000 people, Sarnia has an remarkably large number of exceptional restaurants. Many of the best are within walking distance of the marinas, and a few even offer shuttle service. Sarnia Bay Marina has its own courtesy shuttle fleet, which it uses to take visiting boaters just about anywhere in town.

Downtown Sarnia is where you’ll find everything from fine dining to brewpubs and more. Try Sitara Indian Cuisine for tempting Eastern treats, Giresi’s for pizza, Wagg’s for steak, Lola’s for seafood or John’s Restaurant for classic family fare. Afterward, wash it down with a trip to the Refined Fool Brewing Company, which offers a variety of craft beers brewed on-site, with whimsical names like Brouhaha and Antique Peep Show.

One of the more popular summertime meals is “street meat,” available near the chip trucks and other mobile concessionaires parked under the Blue Water Bridge. Grab something to go, then take a stroll along the river and enjoy a fine view to pair with your meal.

The other alternative is to cook your own meal; Purdy Fisheries, about a five-minute walk from Bridgeview Yachting Centre, sells a wide variety of fresh local fish, the majority of which are caught just a short distance offshore in Lake Huron. They also make awesome fish and chips, which you can enjoy on the outdoor, waterfront patio or take back to the boat.

Entertainment galore

Once you’re well fed and hydrated, evenings are a prime time to explore Sarnia’s countless entertainment options.

The delightful Imperial Theatre on Christina Street North presents a wide range of world-class performers every week, including live music from classical to rock, live theater from comedies to drama, as well as a range of dance and children’s programs. For an update on what’s playing, visit the theatre website at imperialtheatre.net.

Many visiting boaters don’t consider a trip to Sarnia complete without a visit to the OLG Casino. With more than 450 slot machines, 27 games tables and an excellent on-site restaurant, there’s always something happening at this hub.

If you visit Sarnia on the first Friday of each month, you’ll definitely want to make your way downtown for an unrivalled “cultural walkabout” of food, art and fun that lasts long into the evenings. The so-called First Fridays are a local hit and a great way to combine sightseeing, culture and tasty food in a fun-filled evening.

If your idea of entertainment leans more toward outdoor recreation, then you’ll really love all that Sarnia has to offer. If you just want to stretch your legs after a few days on the boat, follow the waterfront path that runs all along the face of the St. Clair River. Whether you’re walking, running or biking, you’ll find plenty of rewarding views and interesting diversions.  

Given its position where lake meets river, Sarnia has always been an angler’s Mecca. Drop a line just about anywhere and you never know what you’ll catch: From bass and perch to walleye, muskie and pike.

Golfers will find several courses in and around Sarnia. The closest one to the marinas is the 9-hole, par 3 course at the Holiday Inn Golf Course. Call 519- 336-4111 for tee times.

Whether you visit for a few days or a few weeks, Sarnia and Port Huron never fail to delight with great food, plenty of things to do and a warm, welcoming charm. The beautiful cities rising out of the blue at the end of Lake Huron offer myriad attractions and genuine warmth, making them ideal destinations for Great Lakes boaters. 

 

 

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