On the Hunt for Beer, Brats & Bears
Tonight, we're dining native, and Mike heads below to soak a load of bratwursts in beer. As we all sample variations of the marinade with cheese and crackers around the cockpit table, he fires up the grill, and soon we're chowing down in style on sausages, wild rice, and salad. These Midwestern delicacies cast a spell on us, and we sit contented in the cockpit and watch the Milky Way appear overhead. By 10, I'm ready for sleep, and still there's a hint of daylight in the far western sky.
Marianne and I are up early again Wednesday and wake the others as the anchor comes up. This morning, high clouds keep us cool as we motor on flat water to explore the caves on Devils Island. Like Sand Island, Devils sits at the edge of the Apostles but farther out in the lake, where the wind has stunted the trees. The terrain here is low and flat, the water deep right up to the cliffs. We hug the shore, maybe 30 yards off, and gaze into the openings carved in the rock. As we round the point, a pair of bald eagles eye us from a tall pine.
I go below to rustle up some breakfast and discover Twilight's Achilles' heel: The 13-gallon holding tank is full, and Lake Superior has strict no-discharge rules. I put it to the crew: Hold it till Friday, or make a dash for Bayfield, 22 miles south. The dash will take us past many of the islands we've not yet seen, and since there's no wind blowing, it's not like we'll miss much sailing, so it's unanimous. We head for town.
By noon, our tank empty and our icebox full, we strike out for Stockton Island, reported to be the most visited in the national park. When the breeze comes up in early afternoon, still out of the northeast, we kill the engine and beat our way up North Channel. Sue and Paula duck the sun and nap below, and Mike and Marianne do most of the sailing. Starboard tacks take us along the forested shores of Basswood Island; port tacks give us a view of stunning summer homes on Madeline. Just as we reach the head of the channel and have the anchorage at Presque Isle Bay in our sights, we're hit square in the face with a freshening midafternoon breeze, so we drop sails and motor for the cove, anxious to get ashore and visit the long sandy beach at Julian Bay. Depending on which local you talk to, it was named among the top 10 best beaches of the Great Lakes, the Unites States, or the world by some publication or another.
It is divine. After stopping at the visitors center, where we see what will end up being the only bear of the trip-the pesky critter was shot and stuffed after visiting campers one too many times-we take the short trail through the woods to the half moon of sand that's wide open to all that Lake Superior can serve up. The surf pounds ashore as we swim, and then Sue and I walk along to where we can climb 30-foot-high dunes overlooking a sprawling inshore marsh.
By dinnertime, a dozen or so sailboats are anchored around us, and the powerboaters who'd tied up the island's concrete pier are long gone. After a spaghetti dinner, we watch the sun sink, painting the clouds off to the west in hues of deep red and purple.
Thursday, our last full day on the lake, we're up with the sun and eager to visit Outer Island, the most remote in the National Lakeshore. Fully exposed to the lake, its eastern and northern shores are scrubbed clean of dirt and vegetation. Along the shore, gigantic square-cornered stone blocks look as though they've been woven together by a mason. When we finally reach the northern point and anchor, the water is so transparent that we can see clearly the boulders and sand patches 20 to 25 feet below.
We pull the dinghy up to the concrete pier and climb the steep stairs up the bluff to the lighthouse and its outbuilding, which houses an industrial-size compressor that powers the foghorn. One step into the grass beside the path sounds the dinner bell for swarms of voracious mosquitoes. We're obviously their first meal in some time. We watch as a smudge of smoke on the horizon turns into a lake steamer headed for Duluth, then retreat to the boat and motor to the island's southern tip. On the way, we pass a fishing boat hauling a gill net and watch as an eagle dives out of nowhere to steal a fishy breakfast. On shore once more, Paula leads the search for an abandoned rail bed that will take us to an inland cranberry bog. Apparently, the northern bugs told their cousins that brunch was on the way. Just yards into the woods, we're covered by swarms that make Mike, Marianne, Sue, and I run frantically for the beach. Paula presses on, though only briefly.