Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Safe Harbor

Author: Stephen



It was sunny and breezy as I paddled east toward the Ontonagon breakwall. Three-foot waves were breaking over the left rear quarter of my canoe, and I had to pay close attention and correct my stroke for each one. About a half mile from the channel entrance, I noticed a large crowd on the beach. Most were looking in the direction of the lake, but a line of men in dark suits had their backs to me. I saw a white dress. A wedding. Now I really didn’t want to dump. Fifteen minutes later I was relieved to make it to the channel entrance and out of sight of the wedding without mishap, but it was very choppy between the channel’s rip-rap walls, and it was another quarter mile before things calmed down.




The wide Ontonagon River was chocolate brown. On the left was a massive light brown steel building I’d seen for miles as I made my way along the white sand and green dune grass coast. It didn’t look real old, but did look abandoned. On my right was an old, cream-colored brick lighthouse, in front of which a man fished from an open aluminum boat. We waved. Downtown was on the left.
My map indicated a marina ahead on the right. That’s where I headed.

I paddled between the red and green buoys marking the marina entrance. The rock-lined yacht basin had room for about 40 boats at its docks. I paddled toward the brick office set back about 30 feet from the water’s edge. A small wood ramp angled over the rocks into the water. I climbed out and dragged the canoe onto the ramp.

The office sign said “OPEN,” but no one was there. I was in my knee-high boots, and tromped over to the fish cleaning station, where a bunch of smiling guys were deftly cutting their catches, sipping beers, and laughing about the ones that got away. I asked if the harbormaster was around, and one said, “Yeah, his scooter’s there. Try calling the cell phone number that’s posted on the window.”
I went back, found the number with the harbormaster’s name – Tom Lee – and dialed it. A cell phone on the desk rang. I was in no rush, and was happy to drop into one of the white plastic chairs and wait.

It wasn’t long before a trim, white-mustached man in suspendered blue jeans, heavy green shirt and cap embroidered with “Ontonagon Harbormaster” pushed through the storm door. “Mr. Lee?” I asked. I’m always a bit trepidatious about the reception I’ll receive, but, as usual, I was greeted warmly.
“Yep. How can I help you?”
I explained I was attempting to paddle my canoe around the south shore of the lake, and wondered if I might be able to park my boat and pitch a tent for a couple of days.
“I’m sure we can figure something out,” he said, striding over to take a look at “Seaweed.”
“She’s a decked canoe,” I explained. “Made by Verlen Kruger. Ever heard of him?” He nodded. “It’s number 114,” I said. “The only all-green one he made.”
“I like that you know those details,” he said. “Means you’re a boat person.”

That he knew of Kruger told me he was a boat person, too. Even though Kruger was from Michigan, and has the Guinness Record for most miles paddled – more than 100,000 – I’ve encountered few people on these trips of mine who’ve heard of him.

“You can put your boat anywhere it’s convenient for you,” Tom said. I asked about tying it up at a dock, and he suggested next to his sailboat. He led me down the dock, and introduced me to “Viking,” a 30-foot Allied Seawind ketch, appropriately adorned with a figurehead of a Viking. As we walked back to the office, he pointed to a grassy area with picnic tables, and suggested I put my tent there.
“Well, I’ve got to charge you something, to put you in the books,” he said. “How’s five bucks sound?”
“Sounds steep,” I said, happily. At the office, he signed me in, gave me a key to the washroom, and we proceeded to become friends. I told him that over the past five years I’ve managed to circumnavigate lakes Huron, Michigan, Erie and Ontario, and that I started my current voyage in early July at Silver Bay, Minn. I’m hoping to make it to the St. Marys River by September. If that works out, I’d like to paddle between those two points along the north shore next summer.
It turns out Tom and I have visited a lot of the same Great Lakes ports, as he sailed another of his sailboats, “Windsong II,” a 27-foot C&C sloop, from Ontonagon to Ft. Pierce, Fla. Windsong is now the winter home of he and his wife, Margaret.
“Hey,” he said. “You don’t need to sleep in a tent tonight. You can sleep on Viking. How about that?”
How about that, indeed.




He walked me back to his boat, gave me a tour, and I as far as I was concerned, I was checked into the best room in Ontonagon.




I’m being especially cautious on Superior, and thanks to Tom and the marina, I was able to comfortably take shelter from 3 days of wind and rain. Throughout my stay, I occasionally stopped into his office, and one of many things we discussed was the value of a marina to sailors, and to the host community.

Marinas have been a major help to me as I’ve made my way around the lakes. In addition to the sanctuary they’ve provided from the roiling lakes, they’ve been a place to fill my water bottles, take a shower, and obtain information about the coastline. Most have been a short walk into downtown, where I restock groceries and any supplies I might need, and enjoy a meal of something other than dehydrated beans.





During my time in Ontonagon, friends Nancy and Joe Kowalski caught up with me while they were on a long weekend road trip. They parked their trailer at the township park, and in the morning we joined Tom and another sailor, Dale, for breakfast at Syl’s Cafe. Then Nancy, Joe and I spent the afternoon exploring Porcupine Mountains State Park. We finished the day hitting a couple of bars in town.




Ontonagon’s economy, like many around the Great Lakes, has gone through a series of booms and busts over the past couple of hundred years. So-called “growth” industries extracted the copper, and cut down the trees for lumber and pulp. A shifting global economy, and unwillingness to mitigate their environmental impacts, brought those industries to a halt. The once-thriving commercial fishery was decimated by the introduction of the sea lamprey. A government subsidized shipbuilding business – the shuttered building I passed on my way in – folded due to corrupt management.
This area hasn’t lost it’s awesome beauty, though, and tourism keeps a variety of businesses going.

I said to Tom that marinas like Ontonagon’s could be a valuable link of the proposed Great Lakes Water Trail. The goal is to create a paddling and cycling trail route around the 7,000 miles of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River shoreline that stretches across eight U.S. states and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Tom agreed.




There’s a lot to see and do here, and if every visitor receives a welcome like the one I got, they’ll return. I’m hoping to. Maybe I’ll ride my bike next time…


Lake slippery as silk. Gentle tailwind puffing me along. The biggest quiet I’ve been in in a long, long time.




The day started with a walk around sleepy Cornucopia with Lucas Will, who let me stay on his sailboat, Si Como No, last night, which was one of many kindnesses he extended over the brief time we were together. He also cooked up some brats, filled me with fine Wisconsin beer, and passed on a boatload of insights he has about getting around Superior, based on a kayak circumnavigation he and a friend completed four years ago. He also unhesitatingly offered to loan me a battery for my solar charger, as mine isn’t holding a charge like it used to.


Lucas Will and Tisha

Lucas Will and Tisha


Lucas had emailed me a few months ago, after finding He wants to paddle around the other Great Lakes, too, and wanted to talk with me about my experience. I wrote back to tell him I was going to attempt the south shore of Superior, and he said I should look him up when I made it to Corny. He and his girlfriend, Natalie, recently bought the sailboat, and he’s living on it this summer while he leads kayak trips to the Apostle Islands for the local outfitter, and Natalie’s off leading a small group of high school girls on a 45-day backpacking trek through the Brooks Range. At least that was the original plan.

The morning I arrived, Lucas found out he’d been selected for a job running an outdoor education program at Northland College, in Ashland. The job starts in early August, and he said he was pretty sure he was going to take it. A regular paycheck, a chance to pay off his student loans, insurance, and it’s actually in his field of study.

I said goodbye to Lucas at the outfitter, and headed back to the sailboat to collect my gear. Seaweed was also tied up at the dock, so I went through my ritual of laying prone on the dock, reaching down to pull off the cover, stepping down into the seat, reaching back up for the drybags, camera box, water containers and the rest of the flotsam, and smushing it all into the bow and stern. Then I pulled the cover back over, zipping open the space around the cockpit for yours truly.
An Army Corps of Engineers’ pickup truck arrived at the launch ramp near me as I was wrapping up, dropping a big aluminum work boat into the marina basin. A smiling guy in an ample blue work shirt walked along the dock, looked down and asked, “Travelin’ light?” “Trying to,” I said. “What a beautiful day, eh?”
“Yes sir, sure is. We’re just gonna do some survey work in the channel. It’s my last day, and it’s her first day,” he said, nodding toward the young woman in an orange life vest at the boat’s wheel, as she backed the boat into the steel sheeting lining the ramp. “You retiring?” Big smile. “Yes sir, sure am.”
They motored out, she at the wheel, he leaning back in a seat at the stern. I unmoored Seaweed, and floated away, snapping a couple of photos of Si Como No as I glided past her. The work boat was banging into the channel rip rap as I left, and the man who wasn’t coming to work tomorrow gave me a big wave.



Si Como No (Why Not?)


I crossed a two-mile bay and entered the Apostle Islands National Seashore. Tall, red sandstone bluffs jut up from the lake 50 feet. Countless waves have carved smooth caves into the base. I paddled through a 20 foot wide fissure 40 feet into the bluff. High above, a massive slab of rock spans the chasm. I ogled, the lake gurgled.






Over the next couple of hours I encountered three groups of kayakers, their bright colored boats brilliant against the dark water and burnt red rock. I considered heading out to one of the islands, but saw a lovely stretch of sand beach on the mainland, and was lured in. It was still early afternoon, but the beer last night and the heat today had tired me out. And it was so quiet, I just wanted to stop and listen.



A Superior Week

Author: Stephen
Rain Day

Rain Day


On each of my previous trips, the first week was the most challenging. So far, Superior has been no different in that regard. Worries about whether I have the right clothing, enough or too little food, where I will stay, if I’m prepared for an emergency, unknown wind and waves… The list is endless. Then I push off, and what will be, is.
The cold water is scary. Water temps were in low 40’s where I started, which ruled out my daily bath. It’s in the low 50’s now, where I’m taking a rain day off on the Wisconsin coast, about 20 miles from Duluth. The mosquitoes have been happy to see me, but they’ve been manageable so far. The marshy island I stayed on in Superior, Wisc., two nights ago was loaded with American dog ticks. I’d encountered them a couple of days prior at a river mouth where I camped, and got a couple of bites, and had become very biased against them. As I got out of the canoe on the island, I said to myself, looks like this could be Ticksville. I was wrong, it was Ticktropolis. I survived without a bite, though, by stomping the grass flat around my hammock, tucking my pant legs into my socks, pulling my bug shirt on tight, compulsively brushing my hands across my shirt every few minutes, and dumb luck.


Thick with ticks.

Thick with ticks.


Thankfully, I haven’t encountered any on this beach I’m staying now. The rocky Minnesota coast was beautiful, though intimidating with its lack of landing spots.


Splitrock Lighthouse, seen on the first day of paddling in Minnesota.

Splitrock Lighthouse, July 7


The sandy stretches along this stretch of Wisconsin are a welcome change. The sun is setting over the lingering rain clouds, so I’m off to bed. Thanks to everyone for the warm wishes. If I have one regret, it’s not having said enough how much your support of my going around in watery circles means to me.



At the mouth of the Bois Brule, Tuesday, July 15.




Stephen ready to embark from a beach at Tettegouche State Park.


“My previous four trips have been wonderful, but I’m especially excited about this one. People for years have been asking me, ‘When are you going to do the Big One?’ Well, here I go.”


And go we did. Stephen and I drove 10 hours to the rugged coast 50 miles north of Duluth, Minnesota. We spent a day sightseeing around Silver Bay, which included an unplanned return trip to Duluth to pick up a replacement for the VHF weather radio that had made it around four great lakes, but gave up the ghost just before the launch into Lake Superior.




The breakdown: 138 pounds of gear, 65 pounds of boat, 50 pounds of food, 20 pounds of water, and the engine, 145 pounds of paddler.



Rocky Taconite and Ruth


Silver Bay is a town built by a mining company and is the self proclaimed taconite capital of the world. They have a mascot; imagine our surprise at meeting Rocky Taconite a block away from our hotel. The giant processing plant on the lake shore rumbled night and day through our window. There, the iron containing rock of the Mesabi Range, delivered by train, is pulverized, heated and formed into small pellets of iron ore that are shipped to steel mills by great lake freighters. The Edmund Fitzgerald specialized in taconite shipping and was carrying a full load from the iron ranges of Minnesota in November, 1975.



Moon and fireworks over the Mariner Hotel on the 4th of July.


The wind was up and the water rough, preventing his planned weekend departure, and I had to return to Petoskey. As we were saying a reluctant goodbye on Sunday, we saw our first monarch butterfly of the year. Monarchs were Verlen Kruger’s talisman, and as he was the canoeist who designed and built Stephen’s boat, this was clearly a good omen. On Monday, July 7, Stephen launched Seaweed into Lake Superior and began to head south to Duluth. From there he will make his way across northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the mouth of the St. Mary’s River near Sault Ste. Marie, roughly half the distance around this largest lake in the world. He hopes to complete his paddle around Superior in the summer of 2015.






Self portrait at the end of Lake Ontario circumnavigation. (Plenty of time for photography since he had to wait three days for a ride home!)

Self portrait at the end of the 2013 Lake Ontario circumnavigation. (Plenty of time for photography since he had to wait three days for a ride home!)


I know it’s hard to tell if Stephen finished or not, since we left him somewhere west of Toronto last summer. After embarking on July 14, 2013, he completed the trip around Lake Ontario on August 29, 2013. It was the fastest trip yet, the shortest coastline to paddle, but this lake took a toll. The paddler was quite sick when I arrived three days after he landed at the campground that he had started from 46 days earlier. He began to get sick during the second week of August, and paddled through serious pain and fatigue during the last week of his trip.


Ghostly scene from last paddling day on Lake Ontario.

Ghostly scene from last paddling day on Lake Ontario.


Stowing the gear.

Stowing the gear.


His condition worsened over the next six weeks while we saw doctors, had tests and tried several antibiotics for a serious leg infection. Finally, he tested positive for Lyme disease, and within a week of the right treatment was began to feel better. It took months for his strength and energy to return to pre-illness levels, but apparently it happened, because he is days away from launching his well-traveled Kruger canoe onto the frigid waters of Lake Superior!


Canoe People

Author: Stephen

The Murray Canal ends at Presqu’ile Bay. I paddled south through the bay to the tip of the Presqu’ile Peninsula, on the other side of which is Lake Ontario. It had been another long day into the wind, and I was glad to find a spot on the lake side of the peninsula to beach the boat and set up camp. I had gotten an early start, and stopped early since the wind was even stronger on the big lake. So I had to time to fix a more complex dinner: instant rice mixed with instant curry. I was just finishing my dinner when a handsome guy carrying a sail bag came sauntering down the beach. He said hi, asked me what I was up to, and then wanted to know all about my trip. “Hey,” he said, “you want to go sailing with me? My boat’s beached on the other side of the peninsula, and I’m just going out for a bit.” I said sure. I put my cooking stuff away while he rigged his boat, and we were on the water 15 minutes later. “Want a beer?” he asked. Same answer I gave him concerning sailing. His name was Andy, and we hit it off immediately. He’s a building designer and carpenter from Toronto, here at the family cottage on Presqu’ile with his mother and two sons for the weekend. In his 40s, he’s traveled throughout North America and Asia, He’s divorced, but he and the kids’ mom share custody, and he has a partner, Sue, that he’s crazy about, The 15-foot Albacore was slowly filling with water — “Must be a bit of a leak somewhere” — the tiller was splinted with tape and a scrap of wood, and the bottom corner of the jib was attached with bit of nylon twine, but it was clear he knew what he was doing, and we had a fine time. We returned to the beach, and he told me he had to cook dinner for his mum and the kids, but did I want to come down in an hour for a drink? I gave him the usual answer. About an hour later, he called my cell and said his boys, James and Jasper, and their friend, William, were on the way to get me. Ten minutes later, a couple of Japanese-Canadian boys and a curly blond boy were leading me to the cottage. When I entered, I was greeted by his appropriately-named mother, Grace, and a table filled with food; they had waited for me to have dinner with them. Salad, wine, and the first chicken I’ve had in 20 years. They all were so interested in my trip! After dinner, Andy took me down the street to a party of his friends. They had all Googled me and knew more about me than I did. It was well past midnight before they led me back to Seaweed. On the way back, Andy’s friend, Pete, stopped at his cottage. He came back out and presented me with a small canoe paddle he’d carved, etched with a pair of loons.


More Military Aid

Author: Stephen

A couple of day after I left Belleville, I beat my way through a heavy headwind into the Trenton Air Force Base Yacht Club. Set on an island in the Bay of Quinte, it’s accessible to the base via a short causeway to the mainland. It was about 1 pm when I arrived, and I had hoped to make it the five miles or so more to the Murray Canal, a route back to the big lake. The wind was only picking up though. I broached the idea of camping there, but the marina supervisor told me that camping was prohibited on military property. I walked around the island, which has a big hill in the middle, and looked at the waves getting bigger and bigger, and came to the conclusion my options were slim. I went back to Seaweed listen to the weather radio, and passed a man talking to some young people at the dock. He asked me where I was traveling. I answered, and he asked if I was staying at the marina that night. I said I had hoped to, but it wasn’t allowed. Without a hesitation, he said that I could stay on his sailboat, which he docked there. He said it would be empty, and I was welcome. He told me his name, Fletch, and gave me his card. He runs the SailAbility program at the marina, which is part of an international program that uses customized sailboats to teach sailing to disabled. He was there that day to prepare a couple of their boats for transport to a big regatta coming up in Halifax. I really hit the big time: a generous person, and a mattress!


Pulled into Belleville Harbour, where the Moira River enters Quinte Bay, about two weeks ago. I only paddled about five miles, after camping near Pointe Anne the night before. I was tired, and the wind was picking up, and I needed a short day. Paddled along the public marina in Victoria Park, which is on a peninsula in the harbor, and saw a couple of men wheeling a power washer out of a shed next to a two story building on the mainland. There were a bunch of small sailboats in the yard which said “Sea Cadets.” I turned a the end of the marina docks, and as I passed the building again, the men were on the dock. I stopped, said hello, told them what I was up to, and asked if I might pitch a tent for the night in their yard. “I don’t know,” the younger of them said, adding something like such decisions were above his pay grade. “We don’t usually do that,” the older man said, “but, that will be ok.” I have found there are two kinds of people in the world, those who say, “We don’t usually do that, so, no,” and those who aren’t afraid to do the unusual.
Turns out the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets are an organization that offers 12-18 year olds, according to the poster in the mess hall, “five phases of training, that involve aspects of sailing, seamanship, marksmanship, drill and music.” The free program Royal Canadian Sea Cadets (RCSC) is a sponsored by the Canadian Forces and the civilian Navy League of Canada. Administered by the Canadian Forces, it’s funded through the Department of National Defence (they spell things funny here), with the civilian partner providing support in the local community. Cadets are civilians, they are not members of the Canadian Forces. Turns out, though, that it is an excellent recruiting tool for the navy, as are similar programs sponsored by the army and Air Force. Half or more of the participants are young women. Anyhow, it’s kind of an usual spot for a peacenik to land, but I’ve enjoyed my time talking with Sheldon, a college student who will be enlisting in the Navy soon, and especially Bill, who retired from the Navy Reserve after 40 years. Bill spends a lot of time now volunteering with the Sea Cadets, riding his bike here from his apartment in town. While I was there, he spent an afternoon, with mixed success, trying to get a power washer up and running so Sheldon could wash the deck. He described himself as “a dyed in the wool conservative,” but, like many Canadians I’ve met who consider themselves conservatives, they are quite supportive of what people in the states consider progressive, such as national healthcare and social welfare programs.




Author: Ruth
Bouchette Point and a rare phenomenon: calm waters.

Bouchette Point and a rare phenomenon: calm waters.

It’s been two weeks and 174 miles of westward paddling since Stephen left the St. Lawrence River. The usual headwinds and waves interfere with photography, but he texted me a few shots from a recent calm day.

The Lake Ontario coast just east of Toronto.

The Lake Ontario coast just east of Toronto.

In a stroke of great good fortune, Stephen met some kind and generous folks at their weekend cottage last week. One of them, Andy Trotter, lives in Toronto and offered to house Stephen when he paddled into town. Andy also located a spot to dock Seaweed; the Argonaut Rowing Club in West Toronto. It was Stephen’s longest day of paddling on Lake Ontario so far, 24 miles.

Whew! The end of a long paddle.

Whew! The end of a long paddle. (On Argonaut Rowing Club dock)

River Rats

Author: Stephen

Sitting in an old farmhouse at Hidden Harbor, on Point Peninsula, in Jefferson County, New York. A creek through the property was widened at the mouth years ago to make a small harbor, which is where Seaweed has been tied up for the past week. I’m just 10 miles from the St. Lawrence River, but the wind is blowing, and I’m playing the waiting game.

Stephen and Seaweed at Hidden Harbor

Stephen and Seaweed at Hidden Harbor

It’s been a good game so far: There’s coffee in the morning at Judy and Tom’s trailer, and they invited me to join them at a pub for dinner one night last week. Jim, from Pennsylvania, gave me some of the smoked salmon his buddy sent him from Alaska, and there was a pancake breakfast, cooked by marina manager George, at the farmhouse Sunday. A shower and laundry are icing on the cake.

George, Stephen's host and pancake chef.

The sunset strip at Hidden Harbor

Ruth managed to collect five days off from work, and last Friday night hopped in the car and ventured to meet me. With two-hour delays at customs, and creeping Canada Civic Day holiday traffic, she didn’t arrive until around 10 pm Saturday. I don’t know how she found the place. It’s 17 miles from the main road, only connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, and pitch black at night. On Sunday, we met her brother, Andy, and his wife, Tina. They drove up from New York City, and it was a one-year reprise, to the day, of when they came to see me in Pt. Abino, on my Lake Erie trip. We stayed a couple of nights in Clayton, a small town on the river, at the Calumet Motel and Decoy Shop.

Tina, Andy and Ruth

On the river.

This is a great location from which to explore what’s known as the Thousand Islands. There are actually 1864 islands in the river, and almost all of them are privately owned. Several companies offer boat tours of the river, and we took a two-hour cruise on a pontoon boat from Clayton to Rock Island. Now a state park, it has a beautifully restored lighthouse and keeper’s house. Along the way, we saw homes ranging from humble to huge, on islands big and small. The river was filled freighters, fishing boats, float planes, yachts and jetskies. Our tour guide kept telling us how lucky we were to have such a rare calm day. Oh well…

Rock Island Light

Rock Island Light

View from above

View from above


After the tour from Clayton, we drove farther downriver to Alexandria Bay, and hopped on a short ferry to Heart Island, home to the ill-fated Boldt Castle. In 1900, George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York and the manager of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, commissioned what was designed to be one of the largest homes in the country. Four years into construction of the six-story castle, as well as four other masonry buildings on the island and a massive boathouse on a nearby island, Boldt’s wife, Louise, suddenly died, and he immediately stopped construction. For more than 70 years the project crumbled. In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired Bolt’s islands for $1, with the stipulation that proceeds from visitors go toward restoration of the grounds and buildings. Initially, the concept was to restore the project to the point at which Boldt quit building. The site has since become a major attraction for tourists from both sides of the river, though, and new construction has surpassed the original, and continues.

Before she left Tuesday, Ruth and I visited the Clayton Antique Boat Museum. They have a large collection of glossy runabouts, racers and yachts of the rich and famous.


But there’s also a variety of canoes, small rowboats and day sailors, and an exhibit featuring small boats that have carried intrepid sailors on some amazing long-distance trips, some dating back more than 100 years. Hard to understand why anyone would want to take a trip like that…