Port of Call: Suttons Bay

Sail to one of the Top Ten Islands in the U.S.
Power Island – Henry Ford’s Playground

This small and quaint Leelanau County town is nestled against the tall hills that surround the Grand Traverse Bay region. It features several great restaurants and bars as well as many historic buildings. Even the towns movie theater is historic and open all year long. Only 17 nautical miles from our base in Traverse City, Suttons Bay offers one of the top ranked anchorages within the bay region. In this sailors opinion, one of the best on Lake Michigan. With a large basin to anchor in, the roadstead features a semi flat bottom, variable depths that accommodate the maximum rode length outfitted on most of our our charter boats and plenty of room to swing. It’s also a very protected anchorage on nearly all wind directions with the exception of a strong North by Northeast breeze. The bottom is a sand / mud mix, and many times the bow man has to haul up piles of seaweed with the anchor and clear it off before stowing the device. It makes great sushi for the sailor on the run.


“It makes great sushi for the sailor on the run”


The city is currently raising funds to update the marina. The fairway is long, wide and can accommodate many yachts at one time. It was dredged in 2013 and can now take deep draft vessels deep into the fairway. Downtown is a short walk to the marina and the small shower house. It still is one of the prettiest marina’s and bay fronts I’ve seen in my travels on the water. A beautiful wet land marsh lies between the city docks and the old coal dock to the south. The marsh is lush with reed’s & rushes, and has been proven a bird watchers delight. The marina lies next to the public beach with shallow water for the kids, and the adjacent park offers playground equipment and features several yearly functions like the art fair. No diesel is sold there, but gasoline and pump outs are offered.

The small town also has a library, gas station and several art galleries as well. Many fine shops found no where else are found in Suttons Bay. One of my fave’s is Unedyne, where the parent can shop for rarity items for the youngster like professional telescopes and rocks from all over the world. I also love the shop with all the garden novelties in the yard. Lots of ice cream & gelato shops can be found, and some great food is served up at places like The Village Inn, or “Eddie’s” to us old sailors. Northwoods also have some tasty food as well. Of course there’s Boone’s Prime Time, the steakhouse chain operated by the late Barry Boone, and the old Firehouse which is now a cafe & bakery. The old Silvertree Deli has been closed for a couple of years now. I miss it. It was a great place to give my students a sailing test, while I sat in a comfy chair drinking coffee and listening to Frank Sinatra. Oh how I miss those mornings. The building’s owners are planning a new business in the old Silvertree that I hope may be open soon.

This wonderful little town is just a short jaunt from Traverse City. It can be made in around three hours by motor or if you have the opportunity to sail on a west wind. I’ve literally sailed from harbor to harbor without the engine in less then 3 hours and with only one tack. The port is a great place for the novice sailor just getting started because of the proximity of land confluence surrounding the course taken. Some of the idiosyncrasies of the smaller bay within a bay that a sailor new to town might incur  includes a freshening breeze as they enter Suttons Bay, and also a wind shifting to the southwest, making it difficult to sail to windward towards the city. I have sailed the 15 miles to Stoney Point quicker then the 2 1/2 mile sail southward to town after rounding the can. So even this little town can be a fun challenge to try and sail to. But take your time. Suttons Bay is close enough to make in the long days of summer. If the marina is full, as it was many times this past summer, just move over to the anchorage and spend the night. Remember to get up early to witness the beautiful sunrise that accompanies the mornings and brings the day to life in Suttons Bay.


“Remember to get up early to witness the beautiful sunrise that accompanies the mornings and brings the day to life in Suttons Bay.”


By Captain Dirk Wissbaum






Leave a Reply