A Superior Sail


This cruising account was written by Robin Golding, a UK sailor who lives in Surry, England.  Robin flew over last year to join Dick Harrington for a two week Wayfaring adventure along the rough and rugged northeast shore of Lake Superior.  Robin is a very able and highly experienced Wayfarer sailor.  Since retiring from his business last year he has been traveling around the world visiting Wayfarer sailors.  Prior to this trip he had been in Karachi, Pakistan sailing on the coast of the Arabian Sea.


As a further installment of my International Wayfarer cruising project I contacted Dick Harrington, an experienced American Wayfarer, who had previously organized some interesting cruises in North America.


Dick was keen to repeat his cruise on Lake Superior which he described as “challenging”.


I was initially cautious as living in close proximity on a Wayfarer with a guy I had never met could be difficult.  Also the waters of Lake Superior were completely unknown to me.  Those waters were cold, vast and empty, with little or no rescue backup.


However, having met and sailed with Dick my doubts quickly evaporated.  Dick was an excellent helm and his boat, on older woodie, was in excellent shape and well equipped with well thought out gear.


The plan was to trail Dick’s boat from Toronto to the N. E. shore of the lake – about two days drive – launch and then sail N. W. along the coast for approximately 150 miles, visiting various islands and harbors en-route.  We would sleep on the boat and park overnight on any available beach.  Upon reaching our destination, Rossport, a small township (population 120), Dick would then ‘bus back to the start and return with the trailer.


The lake is surrounded by large land masses and that together with its northerly situation can give changeable conditions.  It is far enough north to enable me to witness the Northern Light display.


The prevailing winds meant that we would be sailing continuously along a lee shore.


The shore consisted of very serious granite cliffs with numerous rocky outcrops and islets topped with an unending mantle of tress.  Definitely not a shore to be caught off of in a blow!


The winds were generally light.  The pattern tended to be a foggy start, dispersed by a light wind which gradually dispersed and then out would come the oars.  The lack of any tide made the rowing option more viable, but I still regard rowing as a much overrated activity!


Navigation, sometimes in foggy conditions, was not a problem – thanks to Dick’s expertise with the invaluable G.P.S.  We were able to locate entrances to harbors, coves and inlets which were sometimes only meters wide.  We were also able to plot and thus avoid those nasty offshore rocks.  Without the G.P.S. and Dick’s previous experience of that shore I doubt if we would have located them.


The overnight stops were truly idyllic – sandy beaches, complete isolation and utter silence.  The water was crystal clear down to several meters and being fresh meant that washing and drinking were not problems.


We had two or three occasions where we had to reef  very smartly.  Being completely alone on a very large lump of water with a dark squall line racing towards you ensured rapid reefing!


The last reefing occasion happened on the last day.  We had lain in our sleeping bags listening to a very noisy thunderstorm overhead accompanied by the fiercest rain I’ve encountered.  Our boat tent was a simple over the boom type which admittedly reduced the headroom but withstood the onslaught admirably.


The storm eventually passed but we were left with weather forecasts which consistently predicted more thunderstorms and accompanied with 50-knot winds.


Unfortunately we down to our last Mars bar so we had to go.  We discussed and formed an action plan should we encounter those gusts.


Initially the wind was favorable and we made good progress which was encouraging as we had twenty odd miles to go and half of it over open sea.


Our favorable wind soon faded and we were left flopping about watching anxiously for any thunderstorm build up and feeling very exposed.


Inevitably a thunderstorm came our way but in the gathering gloom we had managed to reach the lee of an island which successfully took the sting out of the vicious gust which, although spectacular, was short lived.  All wind now quickly faded and we were left to row the last five miles into Rossport.


Boy was I glad to step ashore – I would have kissed the ground but I felt too stiff!


There was a small reception commitee awaiting us who had been watching our progress.  One of the guys owned a very, very large luxury cruiser and he offered us one of his many carpeted cabins for the night.  We immediately accepted.  The mattresses were at least six inches thick and having survived one and a half inches for a fortnight the feeling of sinking down and down to its depths was utter bliss!


Our last piece of excitement happened when we were driving back to Toronto at night doing about 60 mph when we hit a moose.  Fortunately the moose was female and therefore hornless so it did not puncture the windscreen.  We (all three) survived.


The highs?  Yes – too many to mention but we did have a reasonably amiable encounter with a black bear who was after our grub.


The most heart warming show of real hospitality was when we arrived at a beach after a bumpy wet ride and reading a notice on the door of a beach house which said “Welcome traveler – help yourself”.  The house was fully equipped and we slept on their beds!


But way, way above all else is the enduring memory of the solitude and the complete and utter silence.  Unforgettable.


The lows?  None really – although I did get exasperated when we were windless and I would have killed for an engine, spinnaker…


Well done Dick – it was great!


Now about that engine/spinnaker……………..and a six inch mattress?


Rob Golding W8498