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Apostle Islands National Lakeshore,
August 2002 by Gregory Vitale

Getting Going

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 several areas.

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 their camp.

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 that night.

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 controlled way.

That behind us, we all turned to our fire, supper, and a relaxing night in camp.

Heading Home

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 times before.

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 unaware.

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.