TV shoot on Lake Superior

Summer comes late on Lake Superior. We had gathered in mid June to sail from Bayfield Wisconsin 100 miles NorthEast across Lake Superior to Isle Royale Michigan. Our mission was to film another Great Lakes episode for the Lats & Atts TV show and host yet another Latitudes & Attitudes Magazine's cruiser party

My job as the Captain was to plan and organize the small fleet’s adventure, making sure everyone returns in one piece and has a damn good time. My goal was to make a trip everyone along would be talking about for the rest of their lives. My cohort in this adventure was Sweet-n-Low Dave of Lats & Atts fame. This trip was his baby and he worked around the clock to put it together. All the logistics and details was meticulously handled by Dave leaving me free to handle the transportation issues for the two of us and concentrate on outfitting the boat and working out the navigation issues.

The run would all be over open water after quickly leaving the shelter of the Apostle Islands. Most of the 18 hour sail to the island would be 40 to 50 miles off shore and in 750 plus feet of water. The picture of me at the wheel fading into the fog used as the background of the "Tales from the Dockside" menu page was taken on this run.

Sweet-n-low Dave of Latitudes & Attitudes Magazine and I had driven 16 hours & 850 miles from Michigan to join up with TV producer Darren and his wife Lisa who were flying in from their island home in Washington State.

We would also be joining up with our old friends Pat and Suzanne who were flying in from Oklahoma to crew on a second boat along on the adventure. Pat and Suzanne have come along on other TV shoots and boat shows before, once hauling their 26 ft S2 in to sail the Apostle Islands with us. They would be crewing on a Morgan 462 with owner Dale, his daughter and Eugene, an old sailing friend of ours from Michigan.

We all met up at Superior Charters in Bayfield Wisconsin. Superior Charters is a magnificent operation owned by Dick & Cindy Kalow. The grounds and marina are world class and Dick and Cindy have become my good friends over the years. I highly recommend their charter services to everyone. They are at the base of the world famous Apostle Islands. The islands are renown as one of the best cruising grounds in the world, often rated at or above the Caribbean Islands. I spent a week cruising the islands the summer prior and was blown away at the natural beauty of the area. Look them up at and tell them Cap’t Ziggy sent you.

After settling in we were joined by our buddies, the Eric Stone band who drove all the way up from Florida and put together a wild ass Lats & Atts Cruiser party sponsored by Superior Charters, Pikes Bay Harbor, Pussers Rum and a long list of local businesses that pitched in.

The BBQ was catered in and the local sailors hauled in large trays and bowls of every kind of side dish imaginable. With a big ass professional BBQ rig churning out grilled meats as fast as the people could eat it we all waddled by the end of the night. The free beer and Pussers Rum Painkillers flowed and everyone had a great time. The marina rocked till late into the night and it was all caught live on the ZiggyCam.

The next day started off a little blurry. Eric and the band spent Sunday out on Madeline Island playing at Tom’s Burned Down Café before heading south doing the rock star thing. Dave and I threw my kayaks in to take a tour of the famous rocky Superior coastline. We spent much of the day and most of a case of beer and a bottle of wine exploring the beautiful coves and streams along the shoreline. It was a magnificent day and just a prelude to the adventure that lay before us.

We all woke up Monday morning like little kids on christmas morning! Eric and the crew opted out of sailing with us like they usually do because their tour dates interfered with the run. Darren and Lisa hit the mini grocery store and Dave and I hit the one liquor store in town and loaded up with supplies.

Dick and Cindy were gracious enough to lend us their personal sailboat for the week. A mint Pacific Seacraft 34 named "Golden Sun". The boat they cruised on before upgrading to an awesome 49 ft Valiant Yachts.

A note about the sailboats of Lake Superior, These people don’t fool around! There are an abundance of high end blue water boats on this lake. It is common to find out the owners bought their boat in Australia or somewhere exotic and sailed her home.

I spent the afternoon studying charts, listening to any and all local knowledge I could come by from anyone that would share and rigging my charting GPS to the helm. The boat wasn’t set up with a GPS as the Apostle Islands are close enough together you really don’t need one. Just follow the map and you're good. They don’t charter the boats out to Isle Royale due to the advance level of sailing skills necessary to safely make the run. We would need my GPS to hit the island after sailing 100 miles of open water through the night without land in sight the whole way. Dale’s boat was also rigged with GPS and radar so all was good.

We had the boat provisioned and ready to go by dinner time and hit the water about 5PM. Isle Royale is a huge island surrounded by 400 little islands and countless nasty reefs waiting to ruin your day if you're not careful. Spirits were high as we lost sight of Bayfield and cracked a celebratory beer to toast the beginning of a caper to remember. It felt good sailing again with our old friends from all corners of the country brought together by the common love of the water, adventure and made possible by the nucleus of the group, Bob & Jody Bitchin, our close friends and the publishers and owners of Latitudes and Attitudes Magazine.

I wanted to sail out around 5PM so that we would arrive at the island in the daylight shortly after sunrise. We all waved goodbye and both our boats headed out of the marina and headed North into the islands. We sailed our way through the shelter of the outer islands before picking a direct coarse to the West end of the Isle Royale where we had to check in with the ranger station upon arrival. The wind was light and fickle so we were on the motor for the whole 15 hours across with a little help from the jib once in a while. We didn’t know what the fuel range was on the boat. When I asked Dick he just stated there was plenty of diesel in the tank for the trip so “don’t worry”. As with most older sail boats there was no fuel gage so we crossed our fingers and ran the motor through the night.

Knowing that it gets cool at night we all brought heavy jackets and I brought enough foul weather gear for all. Lake Superior is a big deep clear lake. It never gets warm enough to swim in even in August. Yes, we all have a crazy cousin that allegedly got drunk and jumped in years ago...It borderlines on urban legend. But sane people don't swim in Lake Superior. The water isn’t just cold, It’s painfully cold. Having sailed the islands of Superior before we knew to bring warm clothes. We soon found out that we had still underestimated the effect the icy waters would have on the air temperature 50 miles off shore at night!!!

After a couple of hours of shelter between the islands we broke loose out into a ruthlessly cold dark lake. It quickly dropped into the low 30s before getting below freezing once the sun went down. To make matters worse the lake was covered almost the whole trip in a wet, heavy fog bank.

We pulled out sleeping bags and blankets to wrap up in but still froze our butts off. A cold wind blew off our bow all night relentlessly. Lisa took shelter below in the V berth sleeping most of the way while us boys stayed on deck and froze. I had to man the wheel while Darren manned the camera. Dave stayed up top out of pity (read he didn't want to be called a pussy). I was at the wheel at the mercy of the wind much of the time while the guys were able to hide under the canvas Dodger from the wind.

When I finally took shelter under the canvas I was amazed at the difference breaking the breeze made. We sailed the night wrapped up in sleeping bags shivering with only enough of an opening left to allow us to peek out once in a while.

During the night when passing over the freighter routes we would hear, or more accurately feel the low rumble of the huge 1000 foot long freighter's engines in the night as they passed us steaming in and out of Duluth Minnesota. We couldn’t tell which way the rumble came from or how far away they were. I just kept our heading through the fog and we all crossed our fingers hoping we showed up on their radar.

Sunrise was a welcome sight. We didn’t think the torture of the dripping wet cold would ever end. It was the longest night I had ever had in my life... We had not anticipated freezing temps and knowing we had to cross it again to get home hung over everyone. Dale and his crew faired a little better as his boat is set up with full canvas and windows enclosure that covers his large center cockpit. No wind chill or wet everything for them. Dale’s boat would vanish in just a few boat lengths in the thick fog. His radar was a life saver through the night as it let him stay with us even though visibility was near zero much of the night and we couldn't see each other.

We knew land was getting close because the sun was rising and the water depth was coming up from the 800 ft mark it hovered around all night. In Lake Superior a depth of 200 to 300 feet means you could run into a reef or aground at anytime. As the sun warmed us up into the 40s we got Darren to put down the TV camera long enough for he and Lisa to make breakfast while I adjusted our course for the last 10 miles before we slip up along the West end of the island.

We had to work ourselves through the fog, past Rock of Ages Reef, up and around Washington Island to get into a narrow fjord that takes us into the interior of the island to the Windigo Ranger Station. All completely blinded by the fog relying solely on the GPS to guide us around the rocks and up the chute. It was like a video game. We never saw land through the fog till we hit the dock.

Darren and Lisa whipped up some sort of nameless ancient family recipe breakfast concoction. We didn’t care what it was as long as it was hot. Other than some sandwiches Dave put together on a trip below to warm up and use the head in the middle of the night we hadn’t eaten in over 18 hours.

Shortly after finishing the grub the charts let me know we were nearing the outer reefs so it was time to batten down and get serious.

With Dale close behind I set a course around the Rock of Ages Lighthouse and reef. I radioed Dale suggesting that his being a local and is sailing his own boat equipped with radar showing him the shoreline and the channel buoys that he lead the way through the pea soup fog and rocks. He graciously declined stating that with our boat and the trip as a whole being “captained by the world famous Cap’t Ziggy”, that he felt we should lead the way… After a bit of laughter and some good natured ribbing from my friends I double checked my paper chart against the GPS screen and proceeded onward through the fog, with my fingers crossed for good luck.

After a quick crew meeting explaining the plan I spread everyone out across the boat on lookout. One on the bow and the other two flanking the boom facing out with instructions to keep the chatter down and no raised voices unless you see something looming in the fog in order to keep the false alarms to a minimum. As if the boat was mocking us the depth finder decided to stop working in the shallow water making our entrance even more blind than it already was.

With the crew acting as my eyes I concentrated on the small GPS screen driving the little icon on the screen through the video obstacle course like I was playing Play Station 2. We passed within a few feet of several buoys and never saw them through the fog.

Once we rounded the outer islands and entered the narrow fjord the pressure was on. I slowed down to a crawl prepared for any emergency stops or groundings. Twice we saw shadowy rock outcroppings looming over the water ten or twelve feet off our starboard side. Like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie we chugged up the jagged invisible pass for what seemed like hours.

At one point we had to pass the wreckage of a local ferry boat that hit the rocks one foggy day and sank. As it turned out it didn’t make a rat’s ass bit of difference if we arrived in the daylight or not as we couldn’t see a damn thing anyway.

Eventually we rounded a turn and saw a dip in the fog revealing the long anticipated dock of the ranger station. The basin at the end of the fjord was fog free. As we emerged from the wall of fog it was like we were entering a different world. The channel in and out remained cloaked in fog all day like a mythical gate to another dimension. Hours after our arrival you can still see the fog guarding the entrance in the picture.

The massive dock rests in crystal clear water showing the forty or fifty foot of water under us as we pulled along side to tie up. It gave the illusion that the boat was floating high in the air.

We worked together to make the Golden Sun fast to the dock before taking a much deserved stretch up and down the dock.

Once we were settled in we all walked up to the small museum/gift shop and registered. Dick and Cindy had prearranged to have our filming permit waiting for us and Dale and I handled the paper work for our respective boats as the captains. I bought the crew a handful of much needed shower tokens and turned them loose.

The initial plan was to do a hit and run after signing in and sail up the Southern coast of the island. After the marathon night across the lake it was unanimously voted that we spend all day and that night right there enjoying the paradise of Windigo.

Once refreshed Dave led Pat and Suzanne off for a short nature walk. Dave had brought along a new handheld GPS to play with but opted to leave it behind on the boat since they were just walking a short way on marked trails to the top of the hill. They tried to rally everyone into the hike before heading off with the trail map in hand. The rest of us had stayed up all night without a break and couldn't wait to crawl into our bunks for some much needed sleep.

Within 20 minutes Davey Crocket had the nature walk lost in the woods after deciding to leave the marked trail on a shortcut to another trail on the brochure's map …Upon running into the other side of the island they realized they were going the wrong way. After that hike Dave didn't so much as walk up to the bathrooms without that GPS hanging around his neck. This gave the rest of us a couple of extra hours of much needed peace and quite to snooze before the tattered castaways exhaustedly stumbled back down the hill to the boats waking us up... Perfect!!

Next Page

Pussers Rum party on the island!