Apostle Islands National Lakeshore,
August 2002 by Gregory Vitale
We left before the sun rose and headed north, trailer
in tow with our four boats, napping and visiting on
the way, and finally ending at lunch in Bayfield. By
then, it was now early afternoon and we headed to our
departure point at Little Sand Bay. There we did our
first magic trick and somehow got all of the gear that
was in the car into our now fully loaded kayaks. By
then a storm was moving in from the southwest.
With mixed feelings, we headed out of the harbor at
Little Sand Bay for the far side of Sand Island. The
wind immediately took Dave to the left, me to
the right with Rick just to my left. Steve, Matt
and Bob were scattered between us. So much for our
plan to stick together in the waves and wind. Matt
volunteered to paddle with Dave and headed
out that way. He seemed best able to control where
his boat went. It rained some, making visibility
tougher, adding to our challenge. It was good that
Rick had taken the time before we left Iowa to plot
headings and mileage and not just in the storms when
visibility wasn’t so good.
The three miles to East Bay on Sand Island took
longer than the distance would suggest
under the circumstances. We came to shore to stretch
and take stock of each other. Steve did a temporary
fix on his new fiberglass boat, the foot peg had come
off just as we got under way.
The storm had passed for now and East Bay was well
protected from the winds, so we had a quiet stretch.
This allowed us to enjoy the sea caves we passed at
our leisure. Soon enough though, the wind and waves
were again a challenge as we rounded the bend near the
lighthouse, another wave of the storm approaching. It
started to rain.
We paddled on.
Once past the lighthouse & in Lighthouse Bay, there was no choice but to push on, despite driving rain and lightening, seeking our campsite on the beach somewhere across the bay.
Before long, we were all safely ashore, and split into
two groups to search the beach for our campsite.
Matt, Rick and I found the site and jogged back to our
boats. Matt and I paddle out again in the waves to
cross the bay to our campsite. I was not encouraged.
The site was wooded, suggesting we were next going to
be feeding the mosquitoes,
which it turns out, never happened. Worse, the
campsite was quite a mess with water pooling in
Rick, Dave, Bob and Steve paddled in after the storm
passed and the waters in the bay quieted down. By
then Matt had water boiling and I had found my rain
tarp and was well on my way to setting it up. In
short order, the tarp was up, the kayaks unloaded, the
tents set up, a fire started and dinner was getting
organized. Dave was fixing chicken kabob over
charcoals for the Ames paddlers and were destined for
a great camping treat. By then, our late afternoon
departure from Little Sand Bay on the mainland was
turning into night.
That night, the sky cleared. The stars were stunning,
numerous and bright in the surrounding darkness. We
could even see the lights of Silver Bay about 25 miles
across the lake on Minnesota's shore. Having gotten
up early, made the long drive up north, paddled in
some challenging weather, our long day ended. We were
surrounded by the smell of the north woods full of
Hemlock, Beech, Birch, Spruce, White Pine, mixed with
the smell of the water, the sound of wind and waves,
and the sight of falling stars as the northern lights
danced in the night.
Paddling and Hiking
Friday came warm and sunny, though the water outside
of the protected bay was turbulent and grew more so
as the sun rose and we all ate breakfast. We headed
out and after a bit, split into two groups. Dave and
Steve paddled the caves and to East Bay. Rick, Matt,
Bob and I headed to York Island. Fools luck, near York the wind and water calmed down.
There we visited with a paddler from Montana.
Among other things he told us about York and the
"newlyweds" on the island, who we met shortly
thereafter. We visited with the young lovers and then
headed out, enjoying the outline of a heart made out
of rocks they must have put on the beach in front of
And the water kept getting calmer. So it was off to
the next island- Raspberry. I had wanted to get to
Raspberry and see its lighthouse since my first trip
to the Apostle Islands four years ago. We again ate a
bite, visited with the ranger and other visitors,
toured the lighthouse, and ate wild raspberries. I
also managed to pick up some batteries for my
flashlight and play a bit of croquet while we were
there. Be sure to ask Dave about his descriptive
paraphrase for this kind of game.
But, we had a long way to go, so we headed off, back
to York Island. Again, the water was calm and we made
good time. Bob, as usual, hung back in his fast
Seaword kayak and kept to the pace we set in our
plastic kayaks. After a brief rest on the beach we
shared with the gulls, we headed for Sand Island.
Still the water was calm. But, we were starting to
slow down now, as our long paddle was taking a toll.
Our good fortune held and we made it back to camp in
good time because of the calm conditions. I guess we
paddled about 15 miles or so in all.
When we got back to camp on the north side of Sand
Island, Dave F had had joined us by then and we had a
good evening visiting by the fire and on the beach.
Steve and three others hiked out to the rocky point
near camp to better enjoy the mirror smooth waters
during sunset. It the kind of sight that makes a
magical impression. Exhilarated, but tired, we soon
gave into the darkness and headed to bed. Sometime
during the night it rained.
Hiking & Playing the Waves
It looked like two or so inches fell judging by the
water in my coffee cup in the morning. And a soggy
bunch it was too. Matt's sleeping bag looked more
like a very large saturated sponge. Rick and Dave's
were better only because of their longer pads. Bob and I also had some damp
gear too. Only Dave F was high and dry. He had
thoughtfully made a little trench from under his tent
to drain any water that might pool there. The rest of
us, however, spent quite a bit of time this morning
fussing with our wet gear as we fixed breakfast.
While we were doing that, the calm waters again were
growing turbulent. Gale force winds that we had
expected were building. So we hiked to the lighthouse
and visited with the new retired volunteers that had
just started their six-week tour today. We also
listened to the weather radio that they had. The wind
on the hill overlooking the water by the lighthouse
was strong and growing stronger. From there we hiked
to the bay just north of the sea caves past several
very old White Pines and then on to East Bay. On our
way back to camp, we picked up driftwood for our fire
Back at camp, Matt, Rick and Dave successively suited
up to play in the big waves near our shore in our
somewhat protected bay. Matt was amazing. He cut
right through the waves, rode some in, braced against
the waves when he inadvertently got turned side ways
and managed a roll when he didn't get his brace just
right. Once again, Matt made paddling in these
conditions seem easy. It was telling though, that he
didn't stay out too long.
Rick headed out next and took a couple tries to break
through the waves. He did, then surfed and rode them back in
nicely. Rick was soon back on shore again and was
willing to lend his paddling jacket to Dave F.
Dave headed out in his collapsible Feathercraft kayak
and worked his way through the waves and found a
relatively quiet spot. He then took a spill, though
it was hard to say what happened. The good news was
his cockpit sock which separated his cockpit from the
rest of his boat, let him slip out. He jumped on the
back of his kayak and considered reentry, but gave it
a second thought and worked his way back to shore in a
That behind us, we all turned to our fire, supper, and
a relaxing night in camp.
Sunday Morning, we all ate a simple breakfast as we
broke camp. Amazingly we were on the water by about
8:15. By then, the waters were again getting
turbulent after the calm of the morning as we paddled
out of our somewhat protected bay. But this time, all
of us controlled our boats much better than even a few
days ago in the swells, waves, and wind and were able
to stay much closer together.
Nevertheless, some of us were still carried by the
waves, wind and swells when and where we didn't plan
or want to be. Rick, just behind me caught a big
swell and yelled out over the wind that he was coming
through, riding a wave. I ducked out of the way. A
moment later, A swell caught me and I surfed it
sideways. That's not exactly what I was trying to do,
but it did keep me from spilling. Rick asked how I
like my ride. I told him it wasn't bad after I got
through the bejesus moments.
There were other breathless moments before we all
rounded the lighthouse bend and Sand Island was again
protecting us from the wind and waves. We all enjoyed
the respite of the quiet water to relax and visit. We
headed to the sea caves and enjoyed them yet again.
Rick and I came across a sea cave that had two
openings to the sky, letting light into the darker
reaches. Somehow we both had missed this several
The sea caves behind us once again, we decided to stop
at East Bay before we crossed the last open water back
to the mainland. After a brief rest and yet another
temporary fix to Steve's kayak, we continued on. An
eagle flew off of the sandstone cliffs and we paddled
pass, a family of Mergansers. And then the wind and
waves were on us again. It was great to see that we
could stay together the way we wanted and controlled
our boats better than just a few days ago. Still, it
was pay attention time and watch the wind catching
that upper blade or a swell slipping up on you
There it was; we made it- the protected harbor of
Little Sand Bay. Wow. The shore was busy with folks
packing up and heading out for their own adventures as
we loaded up our boats, changed clothes, and set out
to eat a good sit down meal in Duluth at the Black
Forest restaurant. Tall mugs were had by all in
cheers to Bob for putting this trip together. Having
eaten and said our good byes for now, we broke into
smaller groups to head back to Iowa.