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Bee Weems Lake Superior and the End of the Journey - Entry 8

By BeeWeems - Published September 03, 2008 - Viewed 2270 times

The big news is that we have arrived at our final destination with time to spare so that we can enjoy the nearby Apostle Islands for a few days! We have learned over the years that when the weather is right its best to go the distance, and in this case, we're glad  we did.  Lake Superior is a force to be reckoned with.  We have been on her waters for 11 days now and we have seen the wind blow from every direction imaginable. Many days the wind changes direction two or three times a day.  Only one day have we seen the water lay flat. Anyway, we proceed on days when the forecast is favorable.  Sometimes that means that we skip the small jaunts to cool places and go the long distances over open waters when we know conditions are good.  Other times we stay put in a place we would rather leave, but that's all part of boating.

We left Houghton, Michigan for Isle Royale on a breezy day, but the seas were manageable for the 4 hour trip across the open water to this remote island which is the largest island on the largest lake in the world (so I'm told). Isle Royale is forty miles long and 10 miles wide.  There are no permanent residents on the island since it became a National Park in the early 1930's - just seasonal park rangers and campers who come in private boats or via the Ranger III which is a 250 foot boat owned by the National Park Service that takes people twice weekly from Houghton to the island.  We were docked just a few yards from her while in Houghton.  There's also a smaller ferry boat that comes daily from Minnesota to the two park stations at both ends of the island.

Ranger III in Houghton, MI

 We stayed three nights at the island.  Originally, we planned to move every day to a new location and stay for 4 nights, but the weather had a hand in changing our plans.  We stayed two nights at a small dock in Hay Bay that gave us some protection from the wind but was so remote that there wasn't  any place to hike unless we blazed our own trail. There was a picnic table, a dock and an outhouse all close to the lake, but there was nowhere else to go.  Its a place that fisherman come to after a day's fishing.  A fishing boat did share the dock with us the first night to take refuge from the wind and a sailboat arrived the second night. 

When the wind switched we left Hay Bay in the early morning for Windigo, the southern location of the Park Headquarters. At the dock we met  Laura, the Ranger on duty who was putting together a contraption that was an antenna that picks up radio signals from the three Alpha wolves on the island that have radio collars .  I found out that there are 4 wolf packs on the island, but people rarely see them. Laura tries to pick up their signal by standing at the end of the dock and rotating the antennae.  She told me that she rarely picks up on any signals, but she checks daily just the same. There are also moose on the island, and we did have a chance to see a mother (cow) and her calf in the waters not far from the dock. Both these wild animals (moose and wolves) originally came from the mainland a hundred years ago. The moose swam and the wolves came during the winter on the iced over lake.  The moose are, of course, fair game for the wolves at mealtime. The park rangers don't interfere in any way with the activities of the animals but they do try to keep track of them from a distance.

Those two dots in the water are the mother and baby moose.

Pete and I took a six mile hike up to a ridge that had an expansive view of the lake and the mountaneous coastline of Minnesota while docked at Windigo.  The lush vegetation was incredible, and I was thrilled to have another chance to pick wild blueberries plus wild raspberries and thimbleberries too!  We were able to purchase a tasty packed lunch at the Park store to eat on our hike.

The next day we decided to go back to mainland because the lake water was flat!  NO wind, and because we had had no cell service for three days on the island. This is the first time we had been out of cell range for more than a day, and we wanted to make contact with the office.  We cruised to Grand Marais, Minnesota, a charming lakeshore community of a few hundred permanent residents that doubles in size in the summers and has a sizeable tourist trade.  Pete and I were very impressed with the quality of the restaurants, art galleries and shops in this small town.  We loved Sydney's custard (creamy icecream) and the World's Best Donut Shop!!

Once in Minnesota we were on Central Daylight time.  Michigan, including Isle Royale, are on Eastern time which was confusing when we were listening to weather reports on the VHF coming from Wisconsin or Minnesota.

The next day, the wind was again favorable in the afternoon to move on to the Apostle islands off the coast of Wisconsin in the southwest of Lake Superior.  It was a long cruise - over 4 hours to the islands.  There are 22 islands in this group that are the most popular cruising grounds for lake cruisers from Minneapolis and Duluth.  We thought we would find a quiet anchorage in a cove of one of the islands, but we found that there was nowhere we could go that would protect us from the southerly wind.  We had read that its difficult to find places to anchor overnight in the islands, so we pressed on to Bayfield, WI which is the jumping off place for the Apostle islands and is where the National Park Headquarters is located.  Most of the islands are part of the National Park system, but a few have private residences. There is a ferry that travels from Bayfield to Madeline Island, one of the biggest islands, multiple times daily. 

The Apostle Island Marina in Bayfield was closed when we arrived, so we stayed the night at the Fuel dock. Here was the first marina we've stayed in that is filled with mostly sailboats.  Bayfield is a fun town to explore.  Again, another lakeshore town with wonderful restaurants and artsy shops.  We observed a lot of vehicles with kayaks or bicycles secured to their tops.  Pete and I are excited about doing some kayaking in the islands if the wind settles down.  Unfortunately, we haven't used our kayak at all this trip.

While checking out the town of Bayfield we found out about the Big Top Chatauqua.  I had heard the phrase from a cruiser who had told me not to miss it when visiting Wisconsin, but I had no idea what it was.  Come to find out, the Big Top Chatauqua is a venue for daily summer concerts at a local ski resort.  The concerts take place under a Big TopTent which sits below the ski lift.  What a concept!!  We visited the kiosk in downtown Bayfield and bought tickets for the show that evening.  A free shuttle bus picked us up at 7:15pm stopping at  several campgrounds along the way.  What was really cool is that there was a mix of young college students along with greyhairs like us on the bus.  The concert was great fun.  We were told by a couple of college students sitting behind us under the tent that the group playing was a "jamming" band.  They were talented and played jump up fast music.  Strange because the name of the band was called "Trampled by Turtles"!

Big Top Chautauqua!

Bayfield is the town where we will turn the boat over to Steve Zimmerman's use for a week. Steve and his son, Ian, will then ready her for portage to Anacortes, Washington.   Pete and I plan to cruise around the Apostle Islands this coming week when the weather improves and then we will meet up with Steve and drive to Duluth to fly back to Baltimore.

One of the fun things on this trip is that so many people really appreciate the beauty of this boat. When asked about the builder, Pete always patiently explains that the lobster hull was built in Maine and then shipped to Virginia to be finished out at the Zimmerman yard.  But what's really fun is that a handful of times a person will come marching up to us and say, wow, I've always wanted to see a Zimmerman in real life but never thought I'd see one here.  Right away we know that those are the people that read PassageMaker Magazine!  We always reward these people with a tour of the boat if they want one.

It's also fun when people figure out that Bee Weems belongs to Weems & Plath. We've had some fun discussions with Coast Guard officers and sailors who are ardent Weems & Plath supporters.




Apostle Islands - pink sandy beach of Madeline Island


Views of the Sea Caves at Devils Island on Lake Superior

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