Cruising Isle Royale
By Nick Scheuer
|A Dream Come True
When I was a Boy Scout in Indiana, fifty years ago, a group of older Explorer Scouts returned from a two-week adventure hiking the high ridges of Isle Royale overlooking Lake Superior. From the tales they told of this wilderness paradise, I was determined to one day go there too.
Well, on August 8, 2003, the long grey shape lying across the horizon ahead of True North was indeed Isle Royale. Moby Nick was on his way.
Plans began to take hold when we moved from Indiana to Minnesota in the mid 1980's, towing a Dovekie rowing-sailing cruiser behind one of the family cars. But a 21-ft Dovekie lacked features considered essential on Lake Superior, like an engine, and a self-bailing cockpit, so we contented ourselves cruising less formidable waters, like Lake Vermillion, Rainy Lake, and the BWCA. Ten years later, after following a job from Duluth to Illinois, we traded up to Dovekie’s “Big Sister”, a 28-ft Shearwater Yawl. Shearwater had everything Dovekie lacked for cruising waters lapping the rocks of Isle Royale, a more weatherly rig, a hearty engine, a self-bailing cockpit, a companionway bulkhead, more capacity for everything, crew, provisions, gear, and waste tank.
| Isle Royale is 45 miles long and nine miles wide, lying 18 miles
off Minnesota’s “North Shore”. If the shape of Lake Superior is
imagined as a wolf’s head, facing west, then Isle Royale would be the
eye of that wolf.
The nearest launch ramp to the south end of Isle Royale is at Grand Portage, Minnesota, near the U.S.-Canadian Border. It seems a modest place, featuring a marina and a small casino run by the Chippewa. But in the late 1700's it was the crossroads of civilization on the North American Continent, with just a few portages lying between there and the Pacific, the Arctic, the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Each July the North West Company would conduct a huge Rendezvous, a week of trading and celebration attracting thousands of people from as far as Montreal and Lake Athabaska.
Did Lake Superior seem to relish the prospect of welcoming a Newbie? Out on the lake, beyond the island centered in Grand Portage Bay where we launched, a fresh breeze kicked up three and four foot seas coming from five degrees left of our intended course to Washington Harbor at the south end of Isle Royale. Under reefed mains’l and jib, True North makes only three mph, and tacks through something like 130 degrees in these conditions. It might be a 14-hour sail out to Windigo, some 24 miles distant. On the other hand, True North can steam through choppy water at 7 mph with her ten-horse Yamaha-HT set at three-quarter throttle. Windigo should be just four hours away, if we left the sails furled. Easy decision.
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