Sailing Western Lake Superior
by Sam Huonder

Part 2 - Follow Emmanuel to Silver Bay and Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Sam and Jim in the garden at Northern Lights restaurantThursday morning, I am somewhat sleep deprived and don’t make an appearance for breakfast until 8 AM. John and Jim feel strongly that an accomplishment of some sort is needed. After listening to NOAA, we decide to try Silver Bay again since the wind sounds promising. It is just a short while later that we are taking Emmanuel past Oak and then Bear Island. As we leave the shelter of the islands the wind is now mostly to the north and is blowing steady. With a reefed main and jib rolled out, Emmanuel slides powerfully through the 2 and 3 foot chop on a close reach. I am drinking a cup of delicious French press coffee and we are all eating my homemade molasses cookies. While the air is cool the sun is warm and we are away. It is a beautiful day and soon my disgruntlement of the night before eases and the magic that is sailing starts to work on me once again.

The time passes quickly and by early afternoon Silver Bay marina is in sight. A call on the VHF to the marina manager gets us a slip assignment and we are soon docked and tied up. Lunch that day for the three of us is my homemade vegetable beef soup and my home baked bread. I have to tell you something about my friend John. John has eaten many meals that I have prepared over the years and he has never gotten over his amazement that a fluff head like me can turn out an edible meal. So he quizzes me on how I made the soup. He wants me to think he does this because he is interested. I know he does it because he still thinks I buy this stuff somewhere.

Split Rock LighthouseAfter a nap and showers and some exploring it is time for dinner. We have all been dreaming about dinner at the Northern Lights Restaurant in Beaver Bay. They do a fabulous job with walleye on a plank and we can hardly wait. When you check in at Silver Bay Marina, if you let them know that you want to have dinner at Northern Lights they’ll call the restaurant and arrange for your pickup at the marina (and your return, of course). We have a great dinner and spend some time in the lovely garden in back of the restaurant that overlooks the lake. Back on the boat that night we play cards and then turn in.

Friday morning dawns bright and clear with winds out of the southwest about 10 knots. The wind direction presents a bit of a quandary for exiting our slip since the wind will be right on our beam as we try to back out of the slip and we are at the end of the fairway with a seawall on our starboard beam. We don’t have a lot of room. However, Jim figures out a way for us to exit gracefully. Since no one is in the slip next to us we can bring the bow over and push the stern to the seawall. John walks the bow down the slip and jumps on. Not exactly gracefully, I might add. Now I know why guys wear belts. It is not just to keep their pants up. It gives you something to grab and haul them aboard with when their foot slips off the bow anchor roller. A dunking averted, Jim brings the helm over and puts us in forward gear and we motor out, enjoying (we imagine) the admiring glances of the other marina dwellers.

Emmanuel’s Dinghy ashore at Sand IslandWe motor southward along the shore and in a short time are in sight of Split Rock Lighthouse. The north shore is majestic and breathtaking and we take a lot of pictures. When we reach Split Rock we spend a bit more time gawking before hoisting sail and falling off. We are heading back to the islands but are in no great hurry which is a good thing, because the wind lightens up as the day warms. Pretty soon, Jim and John are both dozing on deck in the warmth of the sun and I am at the helm. Emmanuel makes almost no sound as she glides through the water. The wind is light and is off the starboard quarter. There is no chop on the lake and the deep blue of it melts into the far off horizon. The bread we’ll be having with dinner is tucked under the dodger where it is out of the wind while it raises in the warm sun. I am surprised at how beautiful this kind of quiet can be. The only sounds are those of wind and water and boat.

After we arrive at Sand Island Jim and John quickly get the anchor down and the dinghy off the davits and are calling for me. We are the only boat in the bay and it is like watered green silk and is clear as glass. After exploring the rocky shoreline in Lighthouse Bay we make our way around the point and arrive at the Sand Island Lighthouse landing. We pull the dingy well up on the rocky flats before making our way to the lighthouse. No one is manning the lighthouse but we wander all over the grounds and walk along the piled up boulders and completely lose track of time. Finally, hunger demands that we return to the boat where dinner preparations are quickly under way.

Freighter passing astern as we leave the islandsLater that night after we have had a fabulous steak dinner, that includes bread baked in Emmanuel’s oven, the three of us sit on deck watching a perfect sunset over a perfectly calm Lake Superior and an equally spectacular moon rise. The next morning it is time for us to head back to Pike’s Bay. The wind comes up early and starts to push some chop into the bay. As we leave Lighthouse Bay we feel the full force of the wind and we decide to go with a double reefed main and we roll out about half the jib. After hoisting, we turn to a close reach and Emmanuel leans into the wind and water and muscles through them. We get a good ride around this northwestern tip of Sand Island and Emmanuel easily handles the 18 knots of wind blowing out of the northwest as we sail past Raspberry and then Oak Island. Our course allows us to pass close enough to shore that we get a really good look at the fantastic rock formations that make up so much of these islands.

I let my mind wander and I start my inventory again. The batteries, the broken shackle, the mangled sail slide, the broken reef point and the uncooperative autopilot seem like small matters now. With a little surprise and a little bit of pride, I realize that Jim and I have fixed, repaired or overcome all the issues we had to start with and managed to have a good deal of fun while we were at it. For a moment, it’s a heady feeling tempered with the knowledge that it will always be something since that seems to be the nature of boats. But for now, this feels good and I ask myself again, who wouldn’t want to own a sailboat?

Jim and John on the shore of Sand IslandAnd at that moment I am able to answer my own question. This is why I do it; this particular moment. We had made the turn toward home and were powering down the western channel. With the wind behind us Emmanuel picks up her skirts and flies before the wind, practically surfing down the waves. The lake is a deep, throat-tightening blue and the sky overhead is clear. I have the wind in my hair, the sun on my face and ratty old sailing gloves on my hands. I am with my two best friends in the whole world and the cockpit is full of laughter and talk. Jim’s smile as he helms Emmanuel confidentially through the big waves is priceless.

Times like this are so sublime I could never put words to them. Precious moments like these are what keep me hooked and keep me coming back and putting up with the constant upgrade, upkeep, repair and replacement and the constant drain on my budget that is big boat ownership. Will I ever come out ahead? If I consider it in terms of my retirement planning, I am sure I lag behind the goals my financial planner has set for me. In terms of life experiences and memories that will last forever, I am so far ahead I can’t even see me.

Sam Hounder is former Commodore of Black Bear Yacht Club and Rear Commodore of Sailfest. She and husband Jim have been sailing together for about 15 years. They keep Emmanuel in Pike’s Bay Marina in Bayfield, WI.



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