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Hit the water for safe summer fun
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Hit the water for safe summer fun

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Challenging times and social distancing require creativity when looking for fun activities. But one way to get outdoors with friends and family is to navigate the waterways of Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan, an area dotted with both large and small inland lakes, rivers and, of course, over 100 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline stretching from the Illinois/Indiana state line to Saugatuck, Michigan.

The types of boating options also run the gamut, with businesses renting pontoons, personal watercraft such as Jet Skis, as well as do-it-yourself type crafts like stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and canoes. Just want to sit back and let someone else do the navigating? Take a cruise.

Pack a lunch, grab your bathing suits and rent a pontoon boat (maximum capacity 10 people, though with social distancing you might want to cut it to half) at North Point Marina on Cedar lake, find a place to drop anchor to swim and enjoy the sun.

Try a triton (think pontoon with three tubes instead of two) at Pine Lake Marina in LaPorte. Why three? The extra tube distributes the craft’s weight on the water, allowing it to handle more horsepower — in other words, you can go much faster than a typical pokey pontoon. They can be rented by the hour, half day (four hours), full day (eight hours) and even all week.

“We also rent ski boats,” said Jessie Hay at Pine Lake Marina, adding that the 564-acre Pine Lake offers plenty of areas to explore. For beaching it, check out Ski Beach on the lake’s southern shore, a place for swimming, and because there are grills and picnic tables, cooking out.

And, added Hay, they also take extra precautions against COVID-19, completely sanitizing after each use.

So does Harbor Country Adventures, operating out of Michigan City and New Buffalo, cleaning after each cruise or rental return, plus conducting an extra deep cleaning each night following CDC guidelines. Other ways they mitigate spreading the virus are by outfitting each restroom onboard each vessel with running water and soap and setting up hand sanitizer stations.

"We continue to follow the recommendations of public health officials and are monitoring the evolving situation," owner Victor Tieri said.

Harbor Country Adventures features a plethora of Lake Michigan water fun. Though they’ve discontinued their Stem & Stein Wine Tours until Sept. 1 and downsized the amount of people who can cruise aboard the Emita II because of social distancing, the Classic Cruise still journeys past Washington Beach in Michigan City, past the historic lighthouse and into Lake Michigan. There are also sunset cruises, kayak rentals, WaveRunners and guided tours.

In charming St. Joseph, Michigan, a port city atop a bluff overlooking the St. Joseph River as it flows into Lake Michigan, Scooter Joe’s in the city’s downtown rents single and tandem kayaks for trips along both the St. Joseph and Paw Paw rivers.

Livery service is provided and there’s a boat launch from behind The Inn at Harbor Shores. After your paddle, consider stopping for a drink and enjoying the view from the inn’s patio overlooking the St. Joseph River.

Also in St. Joseph, Blue Water Rentals offer pontoon, speed boats, jet skis, and dinghy boats ready to go for traveling upriver toward the east, or down river into Lake Michigan.

In past years, Sailing South Haven offered two-hour charters along the Black River and into Lake Michigan aboard the Margaret Ann, a six-passenger Gulfstar 37 sloop, but this year they’re doing only four passenger excursions because of the coronavirus.

Their other charter business, Sailing Saugatuck, is still offering daily trips, sunset cruises and private charters aboard Schooner Serenity, a 65-foot two-masted gaff-rigged schooner that sails out of Saugatuck.

“We’re taking precautions such as a health check where we call everyone before each tour to make sure they’re healthy and symptom-free,” says Tim Mason, father of the clan who own and operate both businesses. “We make it easy to cancel if something comes up with out having to pay a cancelation fee.”

You can pick up your rental paddle board or kayak from one of three SoHa Surf Shop launching areas — Black River Park, North Beach or South Beach, all in South Haven.

Once ashore, go exploring — each town has its own unique charms, its streets lined with boutiques, galleries and restaurants with outdoor dining options to explore. 

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