Shake Down Cruise Part 1: The Apostles
Ever since Kyle bought his first cruising boat 6 years ago he has dreamed of going to the Apostle Islands. Well on Thursday of last week, we made it in our home built boat. Things didn’t go exactly as we planned, but they were amazing all the same. We were hoping to spend a week island hopping and camping out of the boat but when we arrived and spoke to the park ranger we soon found out that would not be the case. Despite my research, guide book, and Internet reading I somehow completely missed that we needed to make reservations to camp on the islands- 30-60 days in advance! She also informed us that it is $15 a night to camp on the islands, plus a $10 reservation fee, plus $2 a day to park, plus $6 launch fee, etc. The fees just kept adding up. Our budget is always on the back of our minds and we decided it was just too much and made different plans. On Thursday night we camped on the mainland at Little Sand Bay Campground. It was a beautiful place, right on the water with a sand pebble beach right below it. To the left we could see Sand Island and to the right, York Island.
We set up camp and spent some time working on the boat and packing for the trip the following day. Even though we were only going to do a day trip we packed every piece of gear and equipment we will be taking on the Mississippi as to see how the boat handles. That night we walked the beach, found cool rocks, and watched the sun set. The following morning we woke up early and got ready for what would be the most wonderful and rewarding day we have had thus far.
At 8am I stood on the dock looking out of the break water walls to the open water of Lake Superior. I could hear sea gulls squawking their morning songs. There was not a ripple on the water, but something about the energy of the morning told me the wind would pick up exactly when we needed it to. We got Solvi off the trailer and put her oars in their locks. We had some company of the very kind people we had met the night before to see us off. Kyle pushed off the dock and we slowly drifted towards the harbor opening. Together we began to row, slowly as Solvi moves quickly through the water. Within minutes we were outside of the break water and into the open Superior.
The sun was shining through a couple of fading clouds, the water was calm, and we steadily got into the rhythm of rowing together in unison. First we counted to 4 as to stay in step with each other, but the counting faded just as the clouds and no words were needed. We rowed together towards Sand Island’s sea caves, almost as though communicating with each other through each stroke of the oar blades. It was a pretty magical morning. We rowed 2.5 miles in less than an hour and that included lots of stopping to quietly observe our surroundings and taking it very easy on our strokes. We arrived at Sand Island and coasted along the shore, ooing and aahhing about how absolutely magnificent it was. Steep cliffs of trees and sandstone that showed decades of erosion. It was almost as though each layer of sandstone told a different story from a time long ago. Soon we arrived at the sea caves- words nor pictures can begin to explain their shear beauty.
After rounding around the caves we came into a small bay with a sandy beach. We beached Solvi and spent a few hours exploring Sand Island on foot. The lighthouse was definitely the highlight of our hike.
When we arrived back to the beach the wind had picked up considerably and was in a perfect direction for us to sail across to York Island on a beam reach. We rowed out of the bay and while Kyle set up the sailing rig I kept our position so we didn’t get pushed back to the beach. And that was it- he set the sail with one reef and we were off. Again, words escape me as I try to describe the experience. It was our first real sail with the changes we had made: lower sail height, dagger board trunk installed, and a couple changes to the running rigging. We were like little kids on Christmas morning; laughing and high-fiving completely overwhelmed with excitement. There was 9 knots of wind and we were going 4.5 knots- with a reef! There we were, our tan bark lug sail full and happy, Solvi heeled just a bit, the warm sun on our back, and the wind in our faces. If someone could have seen us out there I swear our whole rig was glowing with joy. I think I personally repeated the statement, “I’m just so happy. This is just so great” over 10 times. We arrived at York Island and explored a bit before heading back to mainland. I discovered how obsessed I am with beach pebbles and spent our time on York Island collecting the smooth gray stones. I like to hold them between my palms and think of how long they have been on this earth and all the changes they have gone through- constantly reminding me how life is ever changing. Around 4pm we rowed away from York and set the sail to make a run right back into the harbor, this time the wind on our back. Just outside the entrance we dropped the sail and slowly rowed back in. I love how quiet we are as our slim hull glides through the water. When we arrived at the dock I had an older man say to me, “ You guys looked majestic out there- that red sail- like you are from another time.” It was a thoughtful compliment and really summed up how we felt about our day. The day was so quiet and isolated and the islands we visited have been preserved for centuries so it felt like a different time period when life was slower, not so busy. We hugged and high-fived as we got Solvi back on her trailer- thanking the universe for providing such a successful day.
That night we drove back to St. Croix Falls to continue our shake down cruise on the St. Croix River where we could actually camp out of the boat- for free 🙂 On the drive there we discussed how pleased we were with how Solvi handled the conditions. She was easy to use, really fast, comfortable, steady, and most importantly sea worthy. We had done it! Solvi is officially ready for her journey down the Mississippi.
Shake Down Cruise Part 2: The Upper St. Croix River
This part of our shake down cruise started with a guest aboard! Kyle’s parents live just a couple miles from Lion’s Park where we launched on the Upper St. Croix River, so Kyle’s mom, Patti, came along. We have only had one other guest aboard, my dad at the initial launch, so it was exciting to share Solvi with someone else as well.
Patti was such a great sport about the whole thing. We launched in the river (which is currently extremely low) and began to row before putting up the sail. The wind was a bit spotty and kept changing directions on us which made the sailing a little sporadic and not quite as controlled as we like, but we still had some good runs and enjoyed sharing it with Patti. Due to the river being so low we even ran aground with the dagger board. It was a quick fix as I just promptly removed the board, but it slowed us down a minute. Patti laughed and encouraged us all the while. On the way back Kyle and I sang one of our sea shanties and we all giggled and smiled as we approached the dock. We said our goodbyes to Patti and headed back out on the river to find a home for the evening. I was feeling excited because this was the first night we were actually going to camp out of the boat, on the same river that leads us to the Mississippi! We found a site on the Minnesota side of the river that we could beach Solvi, in what turned out to be lots of mud. But that’s okay, it was an awesome little site with a fire pit and a picnic table. After trudging through the mud to set up camp we enjoyed a fire and a cool beer as the sun set over the river.
The following morning we packed up camp and headed back out on the water. We were headed up river so we could ride the current back when we decided to return to Lion’s Park. It was a funny morning- we were going against the current, but had the wind behind us. We started rowing and then realized that the wind was pushing us along at a rather quick pace. The sail wasn’t even up! So we took full advantage of the odd conditions. I climbed up and laid out on the foredeck while Kyle climbed on the aft deck. He steered us with the tiller arm while his head was leaned back against a seat cushion. For a good 20 minutes or so we moved up river, against the current, at about a knot of speed with no rowing or sailing. It was quite entertaining and really relaxing. As all things do, it ended and we decided to row the rest of the way to our next camp site. The rest of the day was spent reading, writing, and swimming on the sandy beach below our campsite. That night Kyle’s parents and sister, Riley, drove and met us at our site and we played games and enjoyed each other’s company around the fire. It was delightful.
After our coffee the next morning I had something really exciting happen- I sailed the boat, by myself! I have never sailed a boat by myself before, and I must say it was rather invigorating. Also, I did a good job! I am proud of myself about the whole thing. I have been wanting to sail the boat on my own because I feel it is an important part of being comfortable in all conditions, we just hadn’t had the chance yet. But the conditions were just right- no one was around, the wind was mild, and we had the whole day. So Kyle and I went over the whole rig to make sure I knew how to take the sail down without his help and made a plan of action. He came with me for the first 30 minutes for support but didn’t help with anything. It definitely helped my confidence to have him on board at first. When I felt comfortable enough he hopped on the aft deck and jumped into the water in order to swim ashore. And just like that, I was on my own. It was such a freeing feeling! I sailed the boat up river for a few minutes before turning down into the wind. I made lots of short tacks back and forth across the narrow river. Learning how the boat likes to handle, how much sail I can have out, how much tension to have on the main sheet, where she likes to sit in terms of heel degree, and all the maneuvers necessary in order to sail her to weather and to run down wind. I was literally giddy sitting there with the tiller in one hand and the main sheet in the other. I made a couple mistakes but was able to recover from them on my own. In fact, I got so comfortable that at one point I was trying to see how far I could get the boat to heel before letting out the main sheet. Eventually I got tired and decided to head back to our beach. I turned into the wind and took the sail down before rowing back to Kyle. We hugged and he congratulated me on successfully sailing and maneuvering the boat on my own. I must say that I could have never done it without such a kind, patient, and thorough teacher that is Kyle. He has taught me so much about sailing and between him and the sailing courses I took 3 years ago, I am slowly becoming a skilled and confidant sailor. It’s been an amazing ride and I am grateful for all the people who have helped me along the way, particularly my handsome partner in crime 🙂
Later that day we began the row back to Lion’s Park where Kyle’s dad, Rick picked us up with the trailer in tow. When we arrived back at his parent’s house I found myself feeling a sense of relief. I truly feel ready for our journey coming up. I know for a fact there will be challenges, scary moments, difficulties, and hardship. But I also know that together we will have a tremendous experience. Our shake down cruise was a complete success and we can’t wait to see what the future will bring. Onward!
P.S. We made the paper! Check it out here: http://www.osceolasun.com/news/four-oars-and-a-sail-couple-journeys-to-florida/article_f2f0c87c-58b9-11e6-979b-27448743face.html