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Lots of Islands, Trees, and Lighthouses

By Steve Krakauer, with additional reporting by Mary Ann Gordon and Joel Mack

The Apostle Islands are inconveniently located off the northern tip of Wisconsin, at the western end of Lake Superior. The twenty-one rugged islands, floating in Lake Superior, are a state highlight. Forested and windblown, trimmed with cliffs and caves, they have no facilities. Luckily, we will have a sailboat packed with our comforts

The charter base is in the town of Bayfield, and the nearest airport is in Duluth, about ninety miles away. However, Gary Brubaker, Mary Ann Gordon, Joel Mack, Bob Rainey, and Eleanor Popolizio found it more economical to get a direct flight to Minneapolis and drive the extra three hours. Steve Krakauer (having arrived a few days earlier) and Martha Haines found the Duluth option more suitable. Either way, rental cars were needed for the entire week, as that would be the only way to get back to the airports at the end of the trip, as well as a mid-week re-provisioning in town. Unfortunately, the full-size car that Gary had reserved was not available, so the group was forced into a not-so-full-size SUV. But by practicing a little human origami, passengers and luggage were folded into place with only minor discomforts.

Along one of the back roads in Wisconsin they came across a very homey, family run restaurant called the Bear Paw Café. If you go, be careful when using the toilet paper.

Upon arriving in Bayfield, the fearsome fivesome extracted themselves and their gear from the car. Bob and Joel then headed out to Ashland, about a half hour away, to do the provisioning, as the prices there are far more reasonable than the small market in Bayfield. The others lounged about, enjoying the sunny weather and unseasonably warm temperatures. Shortly after, Steve and Martha arrived.

Although pre-board was to officially be available after 7 pm, the boat became available at about 3, at which point Steve and Gary began the usual Club check-out. By the time the check-out was completed, Joel and Bob arrived with the provisioning. Timing is everything. As this point everyone was quite hungry, so everything was quickly stowed and it was off to the Portside Bar and Restaurant, right at the marina. Mary Ann felt the bartender was “kick-ass,” as he offered to make any drink any way anyone wanted it. The food was pretty good too.

The first thing Monday morning, Captain Mike from Superior Charters stopped by for the official charter briefing on GiddyUp, a 40 foot Jeanneau. Steve and Gary were prepared with questions from their checkout, which were all satisfactorily answered. After a few suggestions from Captain Mike regarding our float plan he was gone. Of course, there was some last minute provisioning to do, so Mary Ann, Joel, and Steve headed into town to do that, and to see the exhibits at the National Park Service’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Visitor Center, and for any last minute advice and warnings from the rangers (and a few souvenirs).

Even after all that, we departed the dock at 10:40 am. Initially heading on a north-easterly course, the northwest breezes provided for some very enjoyable sailing, and some relief from the heat. However, about ten miles out, a turn to the northwest was needed to turn the corner and head towards Sand Island, the evening’s destination. Motor-sailing the rest of the way, we arrived at around 3:30 and anchored in East Bay off the south tip of the island. It was the only area on the island where it was still possible to get ashore. The other landing areas had wooden steps from the beach to the tops of the bluffs, but were all washed out the previous year during heavy storms.

To cap off a perfect day, we enjoyed cocktails and music while marveling at the spectacular sunset. We had planned to enjoy Bob-Tai’s – rum mixed with pog (passion fruit, orange, and guava juices). Alas, juice selection in the market was limited, mango juice substituted for the guava, and pineapple for the passion fruit. With enough rum, everything tasted just fine. After a dinner of barbequed chicken with asparagus, we settled in for a fierce game of Farkle. Eleanor claimed she had never heard of the game, yet somehow managed to trounce the rest of us. Exhausted from this drubbing, we all turned in, looking forward to exploring the island in the morning.

Saturday morning saw us surrounded by fog so thick we could barely make out the island a few hundred yards off. However, this did not deter us from having a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage, with avocado and cantaloupe on the side. By the time the dishes were cleaned and stowed, the fog had lifted. We shuttled in two shifts to the dinghy dock in our tiny dinghy, which could safely only hold four or five. From there, it was a two mile walk on relatively flat trails to the lighthouse on the north end.

All of the lighthouses in the Apostles are automated, but, given their historical value, they are staffed by volunteers (often retired park rangers) who conduct very informative tours. We were given an excellent historical overview of the Apostle Islands, and the background to this lighthouse. There were also many period artifacts of the type the lighthouse keeper would have head while on station. We then climbed the 45 steps to the top for an excellent view of the lake and several of the other islands. Returning to the boat about mid-day, our appetites were peaking; not surprising after a four mile walk! The cold cuts and chips tasted like the best a gourmet café could produce.

Our destination for Tuesday night was Rocky Island, about fifteen miles to the east-northeast. However, as there were other islands in between, our course was not a direct one. Being somewhat in the lee of these islands, we motored for about the first hour. Once in more open surroundings we had a perfect sail for the rest of the afternoon. Upon arriving at Rocky Island the decision was made to anchor off of neighboring South Twin Island, which provided better protection for the easterly breeze. Again, once the anchor was down, the cocktail flag went up, and we toasted to another Superior day of sailing

Bob grilled the steaks, while the potatoes and salad were prepared below. All this was washed down with some fine red wine. Mary Ann gave the meal four stars. Our evening’s entertainment started with a dice game Gary taught us, called Three’s Away, where the object is to get as low a score as possible by continually rolling the dice, and where threes count as zero. It’s complicated. After one game, we regressed to our comfort zone of Farkle.

Wednesday morning’s breakfast consisted of French toast, sausage, and cherry preserves. Nobody ever goes hungry on a Sailing Club trip. Today we visited one of the signature spots in the Apostles, the sea caves at Devil’s Island. Sea caves are formed by centuries of wave action, freezing and thawing of the sandstone bluffs. This natural action has carved honeycombed passages, vaulted chambers, and delicate arches into the cliffs. We explored these fascinating and colorful formations with two dinghy shifts, bobbing and weaving through the area. Then it was off to Raspberry Island for our night’s anchorage.


Upon arriving at Raspberry Island, we noticed a small red-hulled sailboat on the beach. As it was late in the afternoon, and we would be going ashore in the morning anyway for a hike to the lighthouse, we suppressed our curiosity, but not our speculations. The cocktail du jour was a new creation, Raspberry Island Rum Punch. Mmmm

Thursday morning, after breakfast, the Raspberry Island Expeditionary Force (RIEF) departed for shore under clear skies and calm seas. The RIEF learned that the red boat is owned by a man from Lawrence, Kansas, who built it in his garage. It has no motor, and he uses a winch system to drag it onto shore. He didn’t say how he got it back into the water, but it was gone when we returned from our explorations. It was about a mile hike to the lighthouse, mostly flat, but with a few humps to scale. The lighthouse is undergoing a major restoration and rehabilitation to its 1920’s condition. We had another excellent docent-led tour, patrolled the grounds a bit, admiring the beautiful flowers, then headed back to the boat for lunch

Our destination for Thursday night was back to the charter base for showers, pump-out, refilling of water tanks, re-provisioning, and a nice dinner ashore. The trip back was devoid of wind, making the three-hours motoring very boring. Our dinner at the Bayfield Inn was delicious, the service was excellent, and there were great views of the harbor and the lake. After dinner, we strolled about town, popping into shops looking for deals on souvenirs. Finding none, we all felt the pull of the Bayfield Candy Shoppe, which we were told had the best ice cream in town. No arguments from this crowd

 On Friday morning, Gary, Mary Ann, Joel and Steve headed into town to do the re-provisioning. Although the list of items needed was short, it was clear that additional sustenance was needed, so the foursome stopped for breakfast at The Fat Radish. The server seemed new, so it took a while, but the food was very good. Nevertheless, we were able to depart the dock at 10 am, headed to Michigan Island. This is the only island in the Apostles with two lighthouses! Apparently, the original lighthouse, the first in the Apostles, built in 1857 was supposed to be on another island. But the Lighthouse Commissioner in charge of project decided on his own to build it on Michigan Island. It took until 1929 for the replacement to be placed, having been relocated from Schooner’s Ledge on the Delaware River just outside of Philadelphia. This light is still in operation. It was also the last to be built in the Apostles.

The sail to Michigan Island took a while, as the winds were light and variable. However, we did get in a good hour of steady sailing. When we got there, Joel, Martha, and Mary Ann went ashore to reconnoiter. Walking up the beach they came on several campgrounds, a very popular activity in the Apostles, despite all the bugs and skeeters. A little later in the afternoon, several went for a swim off the stern, as the relatively shallow water we anchored in (ten feet), allowed for a water temperature of about 68F.

Saturday morning’s breakfast was eggs, any style, with a rasher of bacon, and English muffins. The hearty breakfast was needed as there are 123 steps from the Park Service dock to the top of the hill and the lighthouses. We then learned that there were another 133 steps to the top of the taller lighthouse. Huffing and puffing a bit, Bob, Mary Ann, Joel, Martha, and Steve made it, and were rewarded with excellent views. Returning to the boat, Eleanor had set out the fixings for the usual make-your-own sandwiches.

It’s only a few miles from here to Stockton Island, our last stop in the Apostles. We weighed anchor and motored over, anchoring in Presque Isle Bay on the west side of Presque Isle Point. Eleanor decided to stay on board and guard against any bear attacks, but the rest of us shuttled ashore for some walking/hiking. The island is lush with ripe raspberries, a bear favorite, but none were to be seen this day. We did spot a blue heron and some sandpipers, however.

The island had several trail options. Martha and Gary chose the shorter Julian Bay Trail, a loop trail that went around the point. Mary Ann, Joel, Bob and Steve chose to do the four-miler, walking across dunes, bogs, beach walking, and an enchanted pine forest. After a brief swim by Joel, it was on to the traditional evening fare – cocktails, dinner, Farkle. Dinner consisted of hamburgers grilled to perfection, accompanied by green beans and rice pilaf. This was followed by another nail-biting game of Farkle, which Eleanor won (again).

 In the morning, lacking any wind, we motored back to the charter base, showered, packed, and said our goodbyes to Bayfield, and made our respective drives back to the airports in Minnesota.


Photos by Krakauer, Mack