Monday, August 17, 2009

Isle Royale, Day 2: Chippewa Harbor—Schooner Island—Siskiwit Bay—Houghton Point—Fishermen’s Home Cove—Atwood Beach

Total Distance=24 miles; Time=9.5 hours.

Up at the break of dawn the next morning—it sure would have been nice to explore Chippewa Harbor for a day or two. As it was, we headed straight out of the harbor gates. It took over 3 hours to cook and eat the breakfast, break down camp, and pack our boats. We took off at 10:20am. There was some confusion about time zones among other people on the island. A ranger later told us that Windigo people prefer CST while on the Rock Harbor side they use EST. The ferry from MN probably runs on CST schedule, the ones from Michigan use EST.

When we exited Chippewa Harbor, a familiar scene of head wind, white caps and 1-3' waves greeted us from the Lady. We paddled for 2.5 hours in these lively conditions checking out various inlets and doing some mild rock hopping on our way to the SW. In full sunshine and the temperature crawling into the 70s we took our lunch break in an unnamed bay just north of the Schooner Island. The water temperature in the bay measured in the low to mid 50s but bare feet felt tingly in just a minute of immersion. Had I consulted the bigger charts, we would have probably taken a short side-hike to an abandoned mine about a quarter mile from our lunch spot. No worries, it'll still be there. We thoroughly enjoyed two hours of sun and drying out on a pebble beach.

From here we decided to forego a scheduled stop at Malone Bay and paddled a straight line course across the Siskiwit Bay to the Houghton point. The plan was to make good time at the beginning of the trip so that we could play in the multitude of bays and islands on the NE side of the island if there was time left over. With the brisk 15 knot wind from the SW we had to work hard to keep reasonable pace. The crossing ahead of us was 9 miles—no joke paddling directly into the wind. The few times that we stopped paddling, GPS showed that in less than a minute we were drifting in the opposite direction at over 1MPH.

We decided against paddling to the chain of islands starting with the Isle Royale Lighthouse on Menagerie Island. This chain separates Siskiwit Bay from Lake Superior and extends straight northeast for almost the entire 9-mile stretch from Point Houghton. That detour wouldn't have barely added a mile to the crossing; however, the rocks and bays and who knows what other wonders that lie there may have delayed an excited paddler for longer than we could afford. If our paddling in the first part of the day was any indication, we may have even camped on one of those miniature islands or big rocks.

In retrospect, following the b-line was a mistake. The crossing was arduous, long and boring. Lulled into complacency by the beauty of the shoreline so far, we skipped on interesting sights and exploration to make time. And what did we get? Three hours of paddling into 15 knot head wind fully exposed. Had we taken the detour to the south, we probably would have been able to hide from the wind somewhat and paddle faster overall. Not to mention the sights we missed out on. The only distraction during the crossing was a NPS service boat that steamed to the south of us and appeared to dock at Senter Point. NPS maintains a full fleet of service boats on the island. We never found out what kind of construction was taking place.

In the end, reach Point Houghton we did without much to tell about the crossing. The day was beautiful, the water was alive, and we were happy to reach land for variety's sake. We didn't even get hot with the cool wind from the head.

Following the shore from Point Houghton we soon reached the Fisherman's Home Cove. A small residence can be found there with some of last private landowners who still live on the island. When Island Royale was declared a National Park, those who had property there had an option to retain their rights until death. The shrewd ones registered their properties to their newborns so it will be 80 years and more until the entire island becomes public land. The Fisherman's Home Cove is a short and very shallow bay with several buildings on the south shore. Signs tell the paddler to, pretty much, get out of there—a clever attempt to be funny but it did not get me to smile. This sarcasm just seemed out of place at a national park.

Our destination for the day was Atwood beach. We haven't really seen any beaches so far but this stretch was advertised as a pristine location. We still had a couple of hours of daylight and about 6 miles to go. We did not know the distance exactly since Atwood was not on our charts. Realistically speaking, we could have stopped anywhere along this shore. There were many red sand beaches and we had our cross-country permit. We decided to push on for the goal and see if Atwood Beach was really as special as they say. For some reason, they named that place while dozens of other beaches on this stretch are unnamed. There's gotta be something to it, right?

As we moved west, there were fewer and fewer rocks and sandy beaches grew bigger and closer together. After a short while, each one of them looked pretty enough to be the Atwood Beach. We finally reached the biggest one of them all and called it a day. Upon closer examination, GPS revealed that the location was, in fact, Atwood. A small headland on the west end distinguished it from the other ones. There was also a small welcoming committee in the person of one otter that was playing in the water just off shore. While walking on the beach to stretch the legs, we also spotted plentiful interwoven moose and wolf tracks. The imagination had to do the rest as the animals themselves were gone. The forest bordering the beach was pretty much impenetrable and no marked trails lead to this beach from the island interior. I am sure there are some moose trails but we did not look.

The beach we picked for the night was quite long. It seemed like a half of a mile so it took us some time to pick the perfect spot to pitch our tents. As soon as we did that and hung up all the paddling clothes to dry, it started to pour. It was getting dark by then so we cancelled our dinner reservations and retired to our tents to rest. Granola was my dinner for the night. Outside, it felt like it rained all night long and pretty hard at that. The forecast for the following day was not encouraging: 25 knot winds from the west backing to southwest, 3-5' waves in the morning building to 5-8' by the afternoon. We could see the distinct front approach from the NW for the good part of the afternoon as another one passed to the south.

Overall, a great day of paddling! Perfect weather, just enough excitement in the water, beautiful scenery, good company and bodies still fresh.

Go to: Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7 Reflections


  1. I've kayaked the island multiple times and found fishermans home cove to be one of the friendliest on the island. Don't know if your familiar with the history there, but you probably found it sarcastic or unfriendly because the signs showing "private dock" are actually posted by the park service, not the landowner. Furthermore, the other signs you'll find that say " R U D E " on them....well, that's the owners last name! Going back to when Sam Rude used to have his fishery there. It's still operated by his son Mark Rude who worked there as a boy in the 1940's.

  2. Oh, and I know many other kayakers who have paddled into the cove and were greeted very warmly there. I don't think anything is telling paddlers to "get out of there."

  3. RazorFlight, thanks for the update on the owner's name.

    And to set the record straight--we did not actually meet anyone in the Fisherman's Cove, nor did we experience any unfriendly behavior while there. Signs with "Rude" were conspicuously posted in several places. There was also a sign about an "Unsafe Dock." I gathered that it was all an attempt to be clever, a joke. I just did not like the style. That's all.