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08/25/02

Permalink 11:00:12 pm, Categories: Adventures, 1323 words   English (US)

August 25-30, 2002 -- Isle Royale

Posted by Karen A. Brown


We arrived early Sunday morning in Grand Portage to a harbor shrouded in mist and fog. There was a light breeze blowing, the sun was starting to break out, the air held the scent of anticipation. This would be our longest vacation on our sailboat yet.


The destination, Isle Royale, is said to be somewhat wild and considerably more secluded than any of our previous destinations. Both Troy and I were looking forward to the quiet majesty of the area. We hoisted our sails and headed for the island.

As we exited the harbor at Grand Portage, the mist that had been hanging about closed in on us, obscuring from view the land we had just left, refusing to disclose our destination, some fifteen miles out in the lake. We could only set our compass course and allow the GPS to track us across the lake and hope the mist would lift. What we didn't know was this was a precursor to the week to come.

Eventually, the mist lifted and we found ourselves with clear sailing to Isle Royale and into the Washington Harbor to the National Park Service dock at Windigo where we were to check in and provide our anticipated itinerary. For those unfamiliar with Lake Superior, the map on the right (courtesy of the National Park Service) provides a reference. Grand Portage is on the Canadian border in Minnesota.

As it had been a long day already we decided to spend our first night at the Windigo dock and were rewarded for this decision by a visit from the local wildlife in the form of a moose. She was eating and swimming in the bay not far from where we were docked, completely at ease with her surroundings, uncaring that we were watching.

The next morning we would awake early eager to be on with our circumnavigation of Isle Royale. We had set up an aggressive schedule hoping to round the island and return to Windigo on September 1 prior to checking out. We had a lot of water to cover and wanted to be underway quickly. As Troy was readying things above decks he called to me to come up as there were two cows having their morning breakfast in the bay with us. Watching these huge beasts eat was amazing. As we were watching the sunlight shone across the bay and the forest opened up to reveal a large bull moose, intent on breakfast, and hoping for a little more from the cows. His calls could be heard quite distinctly as he questioned the cows about their availability. (The moose, we would come to learn, were entering their rutting period). We watched until all but one cow had left before heading out for that days sail. Destination Hay Bay some thirty miles away (across water).

We raised sails in Grace Harbor putting a reef in the main and lifting the Genoa and headed out. The weather forecast was for a nice wind that would allow us to reach our destination (Hay Bay) with time to spare. As we rounded Cumberland Point the wind and the waves began to pick up. By the time we reached halfway across Rainbow Cove some of the waves were reaching the twelve foot high mark. We had dropped the Genoa and were riding the reefed main alone. The waves were lifting us up one side, slowing our progress to near zero before shooting us down the other side. We soon realized we were heading nowhere in a hurry. With the current wind we would have to tack back and forth along long point (which reaches from The Head to Houghton Ridge) and at our current speed it would take about 60 hours to accomplish unless we decided to drop the sail completely and motor. Even if we motored, the wind direction provided for few shelters once we would arrive. The best course of action seemed to be to turn around and head for the shelter of Grace Harbor.


As it would turn out we would spend the next couple of days in Grace Harbor resting and relaxing. The anchorage was secure for the winds that would pick up after we arrived. We were visited by a number of ducks, including one that was determined to make sure (up close and personal) that we had no food to provide her.

We spent the rest of Monday and all of Tuesday in this harbor. Tuesday night was especially spectacular as that evening the sky was clear of any cloud cover and the number of stars was phenomenal. Ours was the only man made light within miles. The only sounds you could hear were those of feeding moose and the waves lapping the shore. It completely took our breath away.

Wednesday morning we were determined to try and tackle the route once again. Though there was little wind and some mist it appeared that the mist would burn off and the forecast indicated the wind would pick up, if at least marginally.

Once again we rounded Cumberland Point with sails aloft. This time we also had the motor going as the wind wasn't light enough to even fill our canvas. The waves were moderate, though confused, coming at us from multiple directions making it difficult to keep a steady course. This attempt would find us rounding the head before determining that the fog was not lifting, the wind was not increasing and once again we were forced to choose to turn back or press on. As our destination would include a somewhat tricky passage near Houghton Point we forced to turn back once again, this time heading for the Windigo dock for an overnight stay.

We passed the time Wednesday visiting the Windigo park service area, joining in a moose talk and enjoying a much needed shower. We watched the fog roll in around Beaver Island and wondered what Thursday would bring.


Thursday morning dawned, once again, with mist hanging in the air. Feeling restless at dock, we decided that with a fair wind blowing, the efforts of the sun, and the wonders of modern technology, we would make it to Hay Bay if we had to motor the whole way and use the GPS for guidance. We headed out of Grace Harbor past Grace and Washington Islands towards Cumberland Point. The fog was beginning to come in again, but we had the GPs to guide our way.


Just past the Cumberland Point buoy the GPs lost us the fog had become so thick. We were now blind and lost in the fog. We had to turn back and make our way using the compass only and hope we didn't miss the entrance to the cove. We found the Cumberland Point marker and turned in to the Harbor. The fog lifted enough for us to anchor in Grace.


The picture above shows the fog closing in by Grace island and obscuring the sun. We spent the rest of the day with the fog closing in and receding periodically. It would take only 10 minutes and the visibility would close to a block around the boat. As the picture to the right shows, the whole world would become blurry.

When the sun went down it looked as though the whole sky was on fire. The way the sun lit on the fog was impressive.

We spent the night Thursday in Grace Harbor, again, waking to a freshening wind and light fog again. Weather forecasts indicated that the fog would only lift when the wind picked up dramatically creating waves of up to seven feet. Knowing the crossing back to the mainland would only get harder with stronger winds we decided to cross then as the opportunity might not present itself in the near future.

We crossed without a problem, the GPS holding out the entire way. Pulled her from the water and headed home.

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07/04/02

Permalink 10:45:19 pm, Categories: Adventures, 1076 words   English (US)

July 4-6, 2002 -- Apostle Islands

Posted by Karen A. Brown


We visited the big water for the first time of the 2002 season over the Independence holiday. We couldn't have paid for a better weekend. We got up on the fourth on our usual time, not wanting to get up super early and wear ourselves out. We hit the road shortly after seven a.m. and arrived in the Little Sand Bay harbor before lunchtime. As we're getting better and better at setup, we had her packed, the mast up and the boat in the water before an hour was out.

[Our Cabin on the Lake] Since we had been on the road and working hard for hours, our only interest was in feeling the wind in our hair. We put the motor down and took a ride for Rocky Island. The weather forecast called for easterly winds that night, so we thought Rocky a perfect location for dinner, a relaxing evening on the beach and a comfortable night's anchorage.


It's about a fourteen mile trip depending on the route you take and how much sight seeing you do. We left Little Sand Bay and headed towards the neck on Rocky Island, passing by York, the York Island Shoals and rounding the north end of Bear before finally rounding Rocky. We found a place to beach her where there would be a natural screen of trees separating us from the campers at the other end of the beach. We pulled down drinks and chairs and sat back and breathed a collective sigh of contentment. We watched as other sailboats rounded Devil's, playing in the lake and felt the cooling air of the water off the lake.

After relaxing for a while we built a small fire and made dinner, which we further enjoyed alongside the water. During dinner the wind picked up and shifted slightly to the north, making us wonder about our decision to anchor there for the night. The island is a great one for an anchorage if you're looking for protection from the wind from the east, southeast, south or southwest, but if the wind shifts to much to the north, the island's protection is lost. Because of this shift in wind and the need for a good night's sleep, we decided to return to the protection of the Little Sand Bay dockage if there was space available. We got lucky and found a spot to tie up and got ready for bed.

We had a very restful night, despite being anchored next to a full campground of kids, and started Friday ready for sail.

Since it's always best to have a destination in mind, we chose to visit an island we hadn't seen before and try and get some good pictures along the way. We decided on Stockton Island, hoping for a look at the balancing rocks. An extra bonus, there should be a good anchorage or two on the island for the east, northeast windows expected that evening.

I could not believe the winds that day! We really couldn't have asked for anything better. Additionally, we both felt so much better about our sailing abilities after that sail. We threw out the Genoa and left the main full sending out all the canvas we had. We had winds that were sending out whitecaps and blowing other boats about. But we set the sails and rode the wind. At one point we were heeled over enough that I was standing in my seat instead of sitting.

We flew with the wind as long as we could until we were on the lee side of Oak Island and the winds deserted us. We ghosted along on what wind we could find for as long as we could before we finally gave up and started the motor. I'll never cease to be amazed by the power the wind has as well as how choosey she is. At one part of the islands we're flying along like the four horsemen were upon us. Another we couldn't scare a breath to keep the genny in shape. As we came out of the lee of Oak and began across the open water towards Stockton the winds picked up again and began to show signs of confusion. Also, looking across towards Presque Isle we could count a good dozen boats playing between Madeline and Stockton. In the past we'd been vigilant about avoiding the more popular parts of the area, preferring the peace and solitude of the outer islands to the cacophony that comes from the popular spots. Seeing al those boats, in addition to the increased confusion of the waves, made us decide to find a place to anchor for dinner and maybe for the night. As exhilarating as sailing can be, it's also tiring and we both could use a bit of a break.

We took a look at the maps and listened to the forecast and determined we needed an anchorage suitable for north to northeasterly windows. We decided to head for Cat Island to take a look at the sandspit at the tail of the island or further north to the core in the neck.

Deciding on the neck we searched for suitable anchorage. The map makes the neck of the cat look like an excellent anchorage, however, the clear water quickly belies that idea. The bottom of this bay is strewn with rocks and boulders with the occasional patch of sand. After a while we finally found a good spot and set her down, though not as close in as we would like. Since we were a little uncertain of our anchorage, Troy was a little concerned so he threw out a stern anchor. It turned out to be a very wise decision as the wind shifted in the night waking him up. He reset the stern and we both went back to sleep. It's amazing how well we sleep on the water, the sound of the waves against the land, the gentle rocking, the birds calling to each other. You feel like you're alone in the world. It's amazing.

After a good night's sleep we woke early to a slightly overcast and significantly diminished wind day. We reviewed the map, plotted our course and set of in search of the wind. We knew we had to be off the lake that day so a nice, lazy cruise back to Little Sand Bay was just what the doctor ordered.

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09/29/01

Permalink 10:26:59 pm, Categories: Adventures, 1044 words   English (US)

September 29-30, 2001 -- Apostle Islands

Posted by Karen A. Brown


Our next trip to the Big Lake took place at the end of September. We were lucky to have such nice weather this late in the season and were looking forward to seeing the wonderful colors along the way.

We packed up on Friday evening and set the alarm for an early morning wake up call. We were on the road way before first light Saturday morning. Because the temperature was starting to drop quite a bit at night, but the water in the area was still somewhat warm, there was a wonderful fog all the way to the lake. As we got closer to our destination and the sun became to come up, we would catch glimpses of bright yellows, reds and oranges through the fog. It was like a fairy tale.

We arrived at the launch site and started setting up the mast. (Boy doesn't the Jeep look funny next to the sailboat?) As you can see we had a couple of things left to load onto the boat, finished putting up the mast and away we could go.


We launched the boat and were off to sail for the day. It was a beautiful day and wonderful sailing weather. We had quite a breeze and spent a lot of time sailing around the islands.

As you can see, Troy is having a great time with this wonderful sailing weather. We spent the day on Saturday sailing around the islands and avoiding fishing nets (there were quite a few out!) Since it was so late in the season there weren't many other boats out on the water, including sailboats. (Most are taken out of the water by labor day).

After a wonderfully full of day sailing (and driving) we were pretty tired and decided to avoid having to do anchor watches by tying up to the dock at the launch site. We tied up and walked around the camping area, spent some time relaxing on the board walk and pier and watched the sunset.


After a restful, albeit cold, night at dock, we got up to an early breakfast and were off for more sailing. We headed out for open water to raise the sails. Once out in the water, we quickly discovered that the wind was variable and indecisive that day. We tried for quite some time to catch the wind, unfortunately she was bouncing off Sand Island and coming from all sorts of odd directions.


We decided instead to use up some of our gas and motor out to look at the lighthouse on Sand. This is a picture of the lighthouse from the water. You can just make out the waves crashing at the rocks at the base of the cliff. The water was coming right off the big water and hitting that side of the island. When we started to come out of the protection of the island we started feeling the effects of this wind. We had thought we would motor around the island, but after feeling that wind, turned around and started heading along the shore on the lee side instead.

Sand island is one of the most interesting islands (in my opinion -- but then again maybe it's because it is the one we've seen most often). Here is a good picture of the caves along the island. The water has really eaten into the side of the cliffs. The sound of the water against the rock is pretty amazing.


Around the corner from these caves are some old buildings from when the island was inhabited (there are still some private residences on this island, but not that many). These buildings look like they are about to fall right into the water. Just a couple more years and you might not know that they were even there.

Just past these houses are some docks put out by the National Parks Department for boats to tie up to. Since out boat needs only a few inches of water, we could motor right on up to the dock and tie up. This dock is right off a public campground on the island that includes a nice trail. Since the day was not amenable to sailing, we decided to tie up and go for a walk.


Here's a picture we took from the trail on Sand Island. The way the sunlight was filtering through the trees and hitting the lone tree showing off it's bright red color was a sight to behold!


At the end of the long trail, you're rewarded with the sight of an old lighthouse. This is the same lighthouse that we saw from the water (picture above) and really is amazing. Made from brick it has an outstanding view of the lake. Up until a little while ago it was an inhabited lighthouse. I just can't imagine being out on that island all by yourself with nothing but the sound of the wind and water to keep you company. You'd have an amazing view of all of the ships that pass by on their way to Duluth and back to Sault St. Marie.

That's me sitting at the door. Gives you an idea of the size of this building.

After our walk around Sand Island, we headed back to dock and pulled the boat out for what would end up being the last time this season. It was somewhat sad to think about, that we wouldn't be back for months.

On the way home we were treated to the sights and smells of the Lake Superior fall.

This last picture was snapped along the way home from the car window (believe it or not we were actually also moving at the time). I've never seen such a variety of colors as I saw that fall. The bright hues of orange, red, yellow and green were quite a contrast to the slate gray of Lake Superior. I would highly recommend going, even for a drive along the coast, if you get the opportunity.

I can hardly wait until this spring and the start of the season. The opportunity to get photos of the awakening of the trees, return of the birds and the flowers is something I heartily look forward to.

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08/31/01

Permalink 08:15:12 pm, Categories: Adventures, 1593 words   English (US)

August 31 - September 2, 2001 -- Apostle Islands

Posted by Karen A. Brown


As you can imagine, our first adventure on the Big Lake will be the one we'll always remember.

We set off for our vacation on a bright sunny Friday afternoon determined to get the jump on all others fleeing the city for what is traditionally the last summer weekend. Troy, myself, Troy's mom Judy, all the gear and all the food we accumulated were packed and on the road by 1:30 p.m.

Down the winding roads through central Minnesota and Wisconsin we cut through small towns, fields, and hills in good humor and companionship.

We arrived at the Little Sand Bay around 5:30 p.m. or so and quickly set about raising the mast. We wanted to get on the water and anchored for the night before the sun went down. By 7:30 p.m. we were on our way towards Justice Bay on the northeast side of Sand Island.


The nearby caves were a marvel both to see and to hear. The force of the waves pounding on the island carved out such intricate designs in the hard rock! The sound of the surf pounding against the rock and echoing within the caverns was unbelievable.

We anchored for the evening in Justice Bay, not far away, many sailors lost their lives after their ship, the Sevona, went down in the September storm of 1905. She struck the shoals off the island while seeking shelter from the storm.

We had a quick dinner of stew and set about watching the first sunset on board. It was spectacular. The colors, the sound of the surf along the caves, the glimpse of the moon rising over the nearby island. Words failed us. Within the blink of an eye the sun went down and darkness descended. It was as though someone flipped a switch and turned out the light.

Due to the possibility of a night time wind shift and the proximity of the sea caves, we decided an anchor watch was necessary. We broke the night into three hour chunks and each of us picked a watch. Judy took the first watch, Troy the middle and I had the last watch, so I climbed into bed for the night.

The gentle rocking, the pound of the surf and the total darkness quickly put me into a peaceful sleep.

The next morning, I was roused at 4:00 a.m. for my watch by Troy. He stayed up with me for a bit and gave me the report. We had swung somewhat in the night but our anchors were holding. Up in the cockpit I was struck by the sheer quiet. No other ships were anchored near us, no campers on shore. Only an occasion ship passing to or from Duluth could be seen way off in the distance.

After a short time, Troy went below and I was left with the quiet night. The moon was nearly full that weekend and it lit the shore and the caves with an eerily white glow. Too soon she dropped below the tree line and I was plunged into a darkness so complete I felt enveloped. After a while my eyes became accustomed and the stars began to come out. One by one they came until the night was filled with their glitter. So bright were they that they left light trails on the water.

After some time, dawn broke. Slowly at first, just a tinge of light, barely enough to see the beach on shore. The the island started to come awake. First the birds, then the deer visited the shore. The deer came cautiously, one by one, each sniffing the air and testing the wind before they came out of the cover of the forest until the small beach was nearly full of them. There must have been six to eight deer wandering the beach for an early morning drink.

The experience was one I would repeat any day.

We were rewarded with a good blow that day and Bucephalus kept up a steady heel as we flew towards Devil’s Island. Never before have I experienced the sort of exhilaration that was ours on that Saturday. We’d been sailing Bucephalus on lakes throughout Minnesota, but never with the sustained blow that we had that Saturday morning. The experience would prove to ruin us for all small lakes from that point forward.

We made Devil’s Island in record time passing by the buoys off the shoals of Sand and Bear and rounding the lakeside of Devil’s. There were many boats moored near the island, giving testament to its popularity as a rest stop.


By this time, we were all feeling the lack of sleep that results from an anchor watch. As the skies were beginning to darken with an upcoming shower and lunch time was nearly upon us, we decided to find a place to hole up for lunch and a nap. After rounding Devil’s Island we came across the long neck of Rock Island where there lies a great stretch of beach and a good shelter from a southern blow. It was decided. This would be the place for a nap.

After lunch and a nap we all awoke much refreshed. We decided to try and dock at an island for some exploration and a chance to stretch our legs. Motoring around the islands we found the docks full as well as many inlets that we wished to explore. Apparently we weren't the only ones with the idea!

As luck would have it, the anchorage at Rock Island we were at was the best one. So, we returned to the neck.

When we had been their earlier, during our nap, we took a look at the beach and it looked fairly rocky. Hoping for an opportunity to beach Bucephalus (in other words, sandier shore), we decided to take a look up the beach and try and find a more amenable location. Traveling farther west along the beach, we found a spot that looked relatively clear of rocks and beached her.

We jumped off Bucephalus and touched land for the first time since boarding her yesterday afternoon. It felt somewhat surreal.

We had the beach mostly to ourselves. As it was nearing dinner time, we made a fire and had dinner on the beach. At one point during dinner, Troy looked over at the boat and the water and said. “Look, we have a cabin on Lake Superior!”

After some maneuvering, we finally got back on to the boat, (yes it was easier to get off then back on), backed her up a little bit and anchored for the night. It was relatively early but the wind was picking up and it was too late to find another safe harbor. Though we’d hoped to do some night sailing, it looked as though a storm was brewing so it wasn’t likely to happen that night.

Troy went to bed early with a slight headache and I took the first watch. We had some lightening and thunder off to the south, but it passed us by with nary a glance. The ship traffic that night was significant. The boats lit up and floating across the lake was impressive. Our anchorage had a great view of the shipping lane as it rounded Devils and headed towards Sault St. Marie. One minute there was nothing but you and the open water, the next a host of bright lights floating eerily quiet across the lake.


As Troy took the last watch, I woke Sunday morning to him moving around in the cabin, listening to the weather radio. There was a small craft warning and the winds were beginning to blow. (You can see the ominousness of the sky). We listened to the forecast and determined the best course of action for the day would be to head in to a safer harbor and try to wait it out. The wind was turning and our anchorage on the neck was becoming tenuous.

We raised anchor and headed towards Bear Island. As we rounded Rock Island Troy and I were in the cockpit with Judy in the cabin below. There was a bald eagle gliding the currents off the cliffs of the island. It coasted along the island with us a while, eventually returning to its nest along shore. It was a remarkable sight.

The water was becoming impressive on Sunday. With the wind blowing, the waves were reaching the 6-8 foot range. Though they wouldn't be much to a larger boat, Bucephalus, at 26 feet, wasn't up to the challenge. She did beat through the waves in quick time at motor, bringing us to a relatively safe and popular harbor along Bear for a short rest.

There were a number of other boats in the harbor, all of them larger than ours. You could almost feel the excitement as they readied for sail. This would be a good day for them. After listening to more news reports, we learned that the weather and the wind would not be lifting that day or the next. The small craft warnings would not be lifted. The weekend was over for us. We decided to head in.

After a long and somewhat wet run, we finally reached Little Sand Bay and pulled up along the dock for a brief rest before we pulled Bucephalus out of the water. Though the weekend was cut short we had a wonderful time and were anxious to return to the big water for our next adventure.

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