On the Hunt for Beer, Brats & Bears
I'm up early and find Marianne already in the cockpit, her camera in hand. It's going to take a while before morning light makes it over the ridge on Oak Island, the highest of the Apostles. Though the original plan was to go ashore and hike until we found a view, a bear, or both, the lure of the sea caves about five miles west on Sand Island is too enticing. The sounds of the engine and windlass bring the rest of the crew on deck, and by 6 a.m. we're off.
Breakfast is cereal and fruit, eaten under way. Out of the shadow of the island, we watch as the sun dances across the brownish-red sandstone along the mainland shore and we motor through glassy water. All week, we find morning is the time to charge the batteries; afternoons, once the breeze is up, are perfect for sailing. We pass between Raspberry Island, with its white lighthouse perched high upon a bluff, and long and narrow York Island, formed only a century and a half ago when a sandbar, or tombolo, filled the space between two separate mounds of land. By 7 a.m., we feel the warmth of the sun, and slowly, as we approach, we begin to distinguish details in the Swallow Point Cliffs, the wall of sandstone that lies at the midpoint of Sand Island. At first, we see only scattered dark splotches in the brown, red, and yellow horizontal layers, but as the light moves higher and we move closer, we gaze on intricate caves and towers carved out of the rock over the years by wind, ice, and water. We take turns riding into the caves in the dinghy, and Sue and Paula are quick to jump overboard and swim in the 55 F water through narrow openings and twirl around smooth pillars that disappear into the clear, green water below.
By midmorning, we're anchored at a long sand beach just to the south, where several kayaks are pulled up on shore. Their owners strike camp as we look for the trail that winds through the forest along a two-mile-long boardwalk path to the island's northern point and the sandstone lighthouse that's being restored. A ranger tells us tales of the island's past, when after the Civil War it was home to a bustling fishing village, but I find the view more intriguing. I can see Canada 25 miles to the north, Minnesota to the west, and the rolling hills of Michigan far to the east.
Sailing back toward the heart of the Apostles, we stop and climb the long, steep stairway to the Raspberry Island lighthouse and explore the buildings and vegetable gardens there. We'd like a tour, but the keeper is apparently occupied elsewhere, so we retrace our steps down the stairs, descending between rails set in either side on which a cart and supplies can be winched up and down. We sail along the high bluffs on the north shore of Oak Island this time, tempted to stop at Bear Island to look for critters, and along the side of Otter Island. With wind still forecast out of the northeast, we head for the protected lee of South Twin Island, where we anchor in shallows near a rocky beach. It almost seems crowded as we watch four other boats spread out along the same cove.