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Magnetic North - July 6, 2018

Vicki Biggs-Anderson
Vicki Biggs-Anderson

Magnetic North 7/1/18
Isle Royale Saga Part 2
 
Welcome back to Magnetic North and the follow-up to my sailing saga of forty years ago. As I said before, time spent tied up to the wall by the Coast Guard Station in Grand Marais was all too short. My husband, our daughter, Gretchen and our young medical intern and friend, Pam, were on a quest, not a looky-loo sightseeing excursion. We’d crossed Lake Superior from the Apostle Islands in a dense cloud of fog, motoring most of the way until we made land and slipped through the narrow slot into the town harbor. It was merely a pit stop - ice, grub, and shuteye - before the Big Push to Isle Royale’s Washington Harbor. And the July morning brought the clearest skies of the summer, a gift from a major high-pressure system tied in a bow with 30-plus mile per hour winds.

And that was just at 8 o’clock in the morning.

Landlubbers will look out at the big lake dancing to the music of winds like that and crow, “What a great day for a sail, eh?” 
But anyone who has ever hoisted a sail in such conditions might well differ. Sure, you wouldn’t have to touch the motor, but you also would have to seriously consider attaching your lifejacket to the rigging during the voyage. Sailboats keel to one side under much lesser wind power, and that day, we would be sailing parallel to the waves which were growing taller with every passing hour.

After a brief, too brief for this kid, conference with our sailing friends in a 33-footer, we opted to set out well before noon for the island, sticking as close together as possible. And so we did.

I am guessing that before we’d even passed Five Mile Rock, our friend, Pam, Gretchen and I had consumed the maximum dose of Dramamine, as much to settle our nerves as our stomachs.

That sideways wind was the kind we had that day going to Isle Royale; One side rail of the boat just about even with the water and stomach lurching drops from the top of wave thoughts to their bottoms... Up. Down. Up. Down. And never a letup in the wind.
Not that it was boring. Anything but.

At one point, I looked up at the cabin door to see Gretchen holding her knitting needles in one little hand -they were of course aimed at her eyeballs. Soon after that, I looked across at our sailing friends in their much bigger boat, only to see their mast disappear in the troughs of the waves separating our crafts.

I will say this. There were no biting flies that day.

Thanks to the ferocious wind, we made Isle Royale just a bit after noon, coming up alongside Rock of Ages Lighthouse, still in huge waves. I was instructed to keep my eye on the depth finder and report if we were about to see the wreck of the America closer than planned. 

“Ten feet,” I croaked as the famed lighthouse loomed off our bow. That’s ten feet from the tip of the keel, mind you.
“Eight feet....seven feet....five!” I squawked, “Will you for the love of Pete put he blasted sails DOWN?!” It was less a question than a command. I tend to get bossy when death nears.

“Well, cheated death again,” my husband cried over the roar of the motor, as we tied up to the dock. 

A gaggle of teenage campers stood ogling our two sailboats, oblivious to the conditions beyond the harbor mouth…“Wow, what a great day for a sail,” one yelled enthusiastically.  My reply was -mercifully - muffled by the shouts of my husband and our young physician friend who had just seen Gretchen and the pug fall off the bow into the lake.

Both dog and child wore life jackets. It was not the first - or last - time for such drama.

It was three more years before I refused to sail on Superior ever again and another 14 before I got my heart’s desire and moved to the North Shore, at long last, happily aground at the end of a gravel road. Aside from a few humbling experiences with goats and geese and assorted critters, I have not once since ended my days here with the phrase, “Well, cheated death again,”
As for the young woman who gamely made the trip with us to the Isle, her experience seemed to have forced her to question where her life was going, at least now that it was not ending on the rocks of Superior. Within months of returning to the cities, she quit medicine and became a Buddhist monk. I kid you not.

It is ironic that having endured forced marches into the BWCA and near death experiences on the big lake, I still felt drawn to this place. And over the years I’ve come to find enough to fill my cup in just being here. Not covering kilometers in the wilderness. Not circling the lake on the highway or crossing it on water. Just being in a place where I can look out the window and see a doe licking her newborn fawn clean, or ride a kicksled at midnight down my snowy driveway under Northern Lights, or know who is related to who and where to find help when a newcomer needs a plumber, electrician or even get a skunk out from under one’s porch.

It’s not high adventure - nothing Robert W. Service would have written poems about. But for me and for Paul, it was and is more, much, much, more than enough.

For WTIP this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North.
 

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