Posts Tagged ‘Seawind canoe’

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…


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.






‘Round the Camp Fire

Author: Stephen

Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant just west of Sandusky, Ohio. And you thought you had NIMBY issues...


It’s almost 8 PM on July 7 and I’m waiting for the sun to go down. It’s hot, hot, hot, here on the banks of the muddy Cuyahoga. “95 degrees, feels like 112.” Feels more like 300 to me.


Been on the water, or trying to be, for two weeks. It’s been hotter than heater, with some amazing thunderstorms, but the trip’s been cool. Lots of people out on Lake Erie. Kayaks, jet skis, freighters, ferries, yachts, sailboats, and swimmers. Sport fishing boats everywhere, and they come in with coolers full. Wally Walleye is the lake mascot.


I’ve passed two nuke plants, one in Michigan and one in Ohio, and Ruth tells me that’s all of them. I’m thankful for that, as there is a restricted zone of at least a mile around them, and the wind and waves seem to be in your face at least two out of the three legs of the maneuver. The Davis-Besse plant had the added inconvenience of being located within the Camp Perry National Guard’s  “impact area,” a six-by-eight mile or so area of the lake closed down while the camp conducts target practice. The camp, near Port Clinton, claims to have the largest outdoor rifle firing range in the world. They don’t do this all the time, just when old guys in canoes are in the area. I can handle the mile-out, mile parallel to the shore, and the mile-back-in slog around the nuke buoys, but going six miles out, then eight miles, then six back? No thanks.  They block this section of the lake off from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. So I hung out a nearby marina until about 4:30 p.m., then headed out and arrived at the Impact Area buoy right at 5 p.m., and I started my trip around the nuke plant buoys. It took me a couple of hours to get around, but toward the end I had a great talk with my sister, Pamela, on the cell phone (it’s in a waterproof pouch, in my PFD, and I turn it on speaker so I can paddle and talk at the same time. Twenty-first century canoe, oh yeah.) As I neared a sandy shore shaded by tall cottonwoods, I saw an eagle lift from a limb, and herons and egrets strolled the water’s edge. I waxed poetic as I said good-bye to Pamela, and began scouting  the beach for a place to set camp. I landed, looked around, got back in the canoe and went up the beach a bit more. Then I spotted a sign that ordered “No Trespassing,” and something to the effect that unexploded ammunition might be under the sand somewhere, and you better get your ass out of there unless you wanted to lose it.


Danger on the beach


So, gingerly placing my paddle, I continued on my way, finally finding a spot a few more miles along the coast.


Tarptent's "Notch" set up on Seawind canoe, a go-anywhere shelter, on a beach composed primarily of mussel shells.


Eeek! I just surfed the net, and discovered there is  yet another nuke plant, this one about 45 miles northeast of Cleveland. Oh well, three nukes and bunch of live ammo can’t come close to the fun I had over the Fourth of July with the regulars at the Copper Kettle Marina in Beaver Park. Now those guys know how to have a blast…

Mylar balloon message on the shore of Lake Erie

On June 23rd, 2012, Stephen Brede embarked from the mouth of the Detroit River onto the warm, brown waters of western Lake Erie. Once again, a bald eagle soared overhead, how could one not think of that as a good omen, as well as the free breakfast our charming waiter, Brady, arranged for us at the Monroe Street Grill! Long-time friend Perry Clark met us at the launch site with camera in hand. We watched Stephen pack a summer’s worth of gear into his Seawind canoe at a DNR boat ramp that was doing brisk business. Fishing and pleasure boats were launching every few minutes. Dragonflies, herons, gulls, and terns outnumbered the fisher folk.  I would think twice about eating fish that came out of that water, but Lake Erie has the biggest fishery of the Great Lakes.

Stephen getting his feet wet on first day of attempt to paddle the circumference of Lake Erie. June 23, 2012

He’s been paddling for four days and hit the groove more quickly than the on the trips around Lake Huron (2009) and Lake Michigan (2010). There is a problem with the Spot GPS tracking device which stopped functioning in the middle of Maumee Bay. He is on the edge of a live fire zone in Lake Erie, (that’s right, artillery shooting live ammunition out into the lake,) and we wonder if there is some kind of interference with the GPS signal. We’ll know soon and will continue to try and get the link to the map (“Where’s Stephen Now?”) working again. The day of this post is Stephen’s 61st birthday. Happy Birthday, paddle man!

Dragonfly at the boat ramp.