Archive for April, 2009

John’s Island Channel

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

I start dodging ice again just past Rock of Ages Lighthouse as I make my way to John’s Island at the southern end of Isle Royale.  There’s this cove calling me.  But, once again ice proves the master and I have to anchor in the shallow channel between Thompson Island and John’s Island.  It’s fast ice from island to island and up the Washington channel. No going any farther in side Isle Royale today.

 The snow and ice make this one of the quietest places I’ve ever been.  The only sounds at all are the ones I make.  The anchor chain going out.  The creaking of the trampoline as I walk across from aka to aka.  The hiss of the fireplace flame.  The peace settles over the boat and over me.  I am bathed in quiet again and it cleans the spirit.

The evening is a parade of colors in the sky and water and the ever present ice.  Look down to write, look up again, it’s changed.  The ice cakes are returning to the harbor channel.  Something unforeseen moves them.  Maybe it’s current or a wind so light I can’t see or feel it.  Maybe the fast ice is a magnet to its own kind.  I don’t know, but here they come, slowly, like tired sheep to the manger.   The blue and pink of sunset give way to gray and black.  It’s night between the islands and among the ice and onboard the Cap’n Lem at Lat 47®53.3’N~Long 089® 14.27’W.Fast Ice Isle Royale


On to Isle Royale

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009
Horseshoe Bay Sunrise

Horseshoe Bay morning

11th day of April, I’m making preparations to get underway even though the harbor is covered in new ice.  Sure must have been cold last night, but I stay pretty warm and toasty down below with the little fireplace going.  1030: The lines are cast and we’re breaking ice again!  It’s strange how familiar that sound is from my days so long ago aboard the Polar Sea.  It must be the relative size, The Polar Sea, 400’ breaking ice 4 feet thick and the Cap’n Lem breaking ice 1 inch thick. 

The Saturday tourist to Grand Marais seem to enjoy seeing the crazy guy come to a stop mid harbor in the ice…then I raised the sails and off we went again.  Crunch, bang, pop! With a little help from the motor of course.  Clearing the harbor and still in ice I headed North North East toward Isla Royale. 

The farther north I went the less ice.  I found my home for the night in Horseshoe Bay having traveled 24 nautical miles to Latitude 47 degrees  50.9minutes N ~ Longitude 089 degrees  56.1 minutes W.  A quiet little harbor all to myself.   Quiet until midnight. 

12th of April, I’m awaken by the ice again as it forms then is broken by the swing of the vessel in the light wind.  It’s a sound that demands attention, like the sound of bones breaking.  So up and out I go in my long johns, and then back down again.  “Don’t take me long to look at ice!” I shout to no one.  Not in that cold it didn’t.   Not much I could do about it anyway.   An hour later, up again.  This time the ice is bigger, blown in from outside.  I check the anchor and the position of the vessel.  All is well.  Back to sleep. 

Only up two more times, before daybreak.   I notice an exceptionally beautiful star right above the horizon at the first light of day.  I suspect it’s not a star at all but the planet Mercury.  It’s the third time I’ve seen it so I add it to my list of “friends” that remind me of the wonders of this world we live.

Getting underway I had to motor around the anchor to break the ice.  I couldn’t pull the boat through it to get up the anchor.  I did sail out of the bay by a North wind just strong enough to push me through the new ice and then it was a one tack sail to Isle Royale, (finally I got the name right.  Some geographer I am.)

I sail close aboard to Rock of Ages Lighthouse.  My, what a cold and lonely place.  There are three wrecks gone to the bottom here; The Cumberland, 1877; The Henry Chisholm, 1898; The George M. Cox, 1933.  The chill up my back, this time, is not from the cold.




Rock of Ages Lighthouse

Grand Marais

Friday, April 10th, 2009


 I’m spending one more night in Grand Marais.  (Lat. 47 degrees 44.9 minutes N ~ Long 090 degrees 20.3W) The little harbor is one of the prettiest I’ve ever visited.  The people are kind and make me feel so welcome. Special thanks to Harley for letting me tie up to his boat dock.  It’s the only ice free one in the harbor.   Even a gentleman from the radio station came by for a chat, then came back and ask me to do an interview at the station to be aired sometime later.  The station was WTIP “Your source for News, Weather, Sports and Local Happenings.”  Guess I’m a “local happening”  … man, that was great fun!  Many of you know how I love to talk about boats and about Capt. Lem.

(May I take a moment to explain something?  When I talk about Capt. Lem it is the man.  When I say “the Cap’n Lem” it’s the boat.  I just don’t want to be confusing.)

I miss Ken and Tiny already.  Tiny will be going by to see Captain Bruce.  I told him, “Have fun chasing the goats”.  Tallship sailing makes for some of the best friends in life.  Our friendships are forged in shared hardship, seasickness and lofty dangers such that back on land the mutual respect and kinship endures.  It’s much the same with Coast Guard shipmates and Merchant shipmates.  Going to sea has been so very good to me all these years.

Today was spent, you guessed it, pulling more wires!  Maybe I’m done.  Well, now that I think of it, done just for now.  I still have the satellite internet up link to install.  But today was great because I now have “Betty” hooked up to charge all four of the ships batteries.  Who’s Betty?  Well, that’s the name I’ve given the Areo4gen windmill generator… in honor of my first love, Betty Page.   (Hay, I turned a teenager in the 50’s.  Of course my first love was Betty Page. )

Tomorrow I want to start out for Grand Royal Isl.  From the looks of it on the chart it will be spectacular.  I suspect I’ll still have to deal with ice.  But that’s not a bad thing considering where I plan to go.


Grand Marais Harbor Sunrise

Grand Marais Sunrise



First Anchorage

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

On the morning of the 8th of April, after a fitful night sleeping between the ice growling its way past the hull, I get out to survey the damage.  There is none.  Not a mark at all.  Just a lot of noise, and a kind of music sometime sounding like the beating of a drum made by the small waves slapping the ice against the hull.  In the early predawn darkness, I imaged it to be the spirit of an ancient Hiawatha letting me know I’m being watch as I sail his “Big Sea Water” and that I had best tread lightly and with deep respect as I glide over the watery graves of those who have perished here, for they are many.

And then the sun rises.  Daylight reveals ice all along the shore of Sand Island, though most of the floating ice has moved on its way to where ever ice goes to die in the spring time of the year.  It’s now I can see the wonderful sea caves carved in the cliff by many storms and winds of the past.  This was the perfect anchorage for the first night of my voyage.

I get underway by “sailing out” the anchor which means I don’t start the motor.  I just let the boat sail back and forth on its anchor line each time there is slack I take it up until the anchor comes free, then, its hurry back to the helm before the boat is caught “in irons”, or sails backward out of control.

Deeper into the Apostle Island is only more ice so it’s time again for change.  I set course for Grand Marais, Minnesota on the northwest shore.   Why?  Why not, that’s the way the winds want to blow me and I’ve never been to Grand Marais, Minnesota.  When one has cast fate to the wind, change comes easy and the freedom is delicious to go where one has never been, arrive at the wind’s good pleasure in a snug safe little harbor then sleep the succulent sleep only a sailor can know.

I make it into the harbor and tie up after having sailed 52.8. Nautical miles.  The GPS tells me I have sailed exactly 100 miles since departing.


A beautiful sight to end an amazing first day!

A beautiful sight to end an amazing first day!



Underway at last

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

On the 7th of April, 2009, I have departed Two Harbors, Minnesota, after months of preparations and 25 years of dreaming, en route to Nome Alaska over the top of the world through the Northwest Passage.  Of course Nature will have the last say in that. 

The sky is bright and clear with a 12 – 15 knot wind from the North West.  It couldn’t be better.  This day I’m bound for the Apostle Island group off Wisconsin.  I own the lake!  Not another vessel in sight once I clear the harbor.  To the North East the horizon is so clear and sharp a star sight could be taken were it twilight.  The Gitchee Gumee is big.  The boat is sailing well, fast and very stable.  The auto-pilot is now my best friend!  (Or my worst enemy should I fall overboard.  For that reason, I’m tied to the mast at all times.)

At day’s end, I’ve traveled 47.2 nautical miles including some downwind tacks and one false try to go between Sand Island and the mainland.  Ice!  Well, guess I best get use to it going to where I’m going.

I sailed past the site of the wreck Sevona, an ore carrier sunk in a storm in 1905 on my way to my anchorage for the night.  The sunset over the Lake is so beautiful it rivals those I’ve seen at sea.  I anchor at Latitude 46 degrees 59.07 minutes north, 090 degrees 55.49 minutes west.  Google Earth will show you exactly where I anchored at Sand Island.  You may even find the little cabin about to fall into the lake as the storms wash away the shore. 

During the night:  The ice has found me!  Startled is an understatement when woken from a dead sleep by ice crunched against the hull. What’s going on!  Up and out I go into the cold wind in my shorts, but not much to do.  The wind and ice will have their way.  Two large pancakes have lodged themselves between the main hull and the ammas (the name given to the outer hulls on a trimaran by the Polynesians).  I help them along the way with my trusty crowbar. 

Sailing out of Two Harbors, MN

Sailing out of Two Harbors, MN


Night Aboard

Monday, April 6th, 2009

It was a long fifty yards from the back of the trailer to the edge of the water.  A raising of the mast, leading of the lines, tying of the fenders, the boom in place, foresail raised, tie-downs removed.  Yes, a long fifty yards.

Ah, but the first night!  I spent the evening contemplating the sunset through the hatchway and miles traveled to get to this moment.  I didn’t spend too much time on the miles to go, not now.  That will come later.  I recalled  with deep gratitude the wonderful people so eager to help along the way.  I’m filled with joy at their helpfulness and well wishes.  Special thanks to the people of Two Harbors, MN for their hospitality while we readied the Cap’n Lem.

Dan, Mark, the Larrys, Forest and others all contributed to getting me in the water.  So we sail tomorrow toward the Apostil Islands.  Underway at last.


In the water at Two Harbors

In the water at Two Harbors


I Sail Tomorrow

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

 The ice has broken up in the bay. It’s time to launch the Cap’n Lem.  All the preparations that can be done have been done.  I sit here in my little home-on-wheels overlooking the harbor and city feeling very humbled by what is before me.  A dream becoming a reality should always be humbling.  I have been blessed beyond my ability to tell.  At 63 years old I’m still living the dreams of my childhood. 

Here in the deserted marina, not one boat is launched.   The sunny morning brought a few owners down to start checking things out before the yachting season, but the clouds and cold of the afternoon drove them all away.  My beautiful vessel will be the first in the water around here it seems.  There are some ice free launch ramps just to the north.  I’ll head up there until I find one suitable to slip the Cap’n Lem free from the land and start my “one mile journey”.  I like telling people “the trip is only one mile long, the mile that’s in front of me”.   

It won’t be hard to sleep tonight, though.  One of the great gifts of a day’s hard work is quick and easy sleep.  But tomorrow will come early and it will be a wonderful day. 

On The Winds Of Change

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

So the winds of change blow across the lake and there is open water where there was none before.  Open, but not quite enough to put the Cap’n Lem in the water yet.  Ships are coming and going now without the Icebreaker’s help.  That’s a good sign.  Late last night I heard one’s mournful call to the open the bridge.  One long blast followed by two short blasts on the ships whistle, answered in kind by the bridge to signal its readiness to lift up and out of the way.   It was as if it were calling me too, “Tommy, get ready, get ready…”   I could hear the ship’s bow crunch through ice then nothing then crunch again. 





Putting the Cap’n Lem in the water is only a milestone.  The trip began a long time ago, when I broke Arctic ice aboard the Coast Guard Icebreaker Polar Sea for the first time.  That was the beginning of my love affair with the Arctic, that wonderful land and sea so far away, so cold and so very beautiful.  Of course I don’t remember exactly when the idea that I could try the Northwest Passage first came to me.  It just seems it’s always been there since those days.  Does a voyage like this, a voyage of a lifetime, really need a beginning?  Perhaps all it needed was to be dreamed, really dreamed, with no clear beginning and no clear ending.   Then it needed me to get out of the way so it could happen in its time.  And it needed me to realize this is not my voyage but our voyage.  Going alone is not being alone.  You are coming too.  And that makes all the difference in the world.

The fireplace onboard keeps the cold out and makes for a very pleasant workplace.  I pulled wires and installed modems and inverters, GPSs and AISs, all kinds of weird and wonderful contraptions to make a sailors life safer at sea.    All things Captain Lem’s first shipmates could never have conceived.  “See through the fog?!! Never!”  “Know your position, speed and direction… at a glance?  How could it be!” they would say. (Oh, Captain James Cook, what would you have given for a chronometer like my little Timex, accurate to a second a year?  Accurate time is accurate latitude and longitude.  Accurate latitude and longitude is safety at sea.  How amazed you would have been to see the little timepiece on my wrist.)  But Captain Lem lived to understand the value of RADAR, LORAN, and even GPS,  all strange sounding names to the landsman but life’s blood to sailors like us.     They all need wires,  + wires, – wires, red wires, black wires, brown, white, blue, and yellow wires  They all needing to be pulled.  .  All that electricity my beautiful little windmill makes needs somewhere to flow!  So I pulled wires yesterday.  I’ll pull some more today.


The winds of change

The winds of change





April Fools Day

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

The plan was to sail away today. The plan has changed. Plan the day but accept the outcome.

The bay is still frozen though there are patches of open water where the ice breaker has churned it into slush. So I have to do what I’ve learned to to so well. Wait.

Yesterday brought snow and wind from the northeast and with it all the ice the lake still held. It jammed it hard against the harbor channel. So we wait. Time breaks ice and spring will come just not on my schedule.

But what a great opportunity to practice the patience I’ll need later on and farther north. I can not do what the ice will not allow me to do. I’m always a guest on this watery world, never its master. So I’ll wait and care for my little craft, study my charts and plan the next mile.