Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands are a sailor’s playground – Chicago Tribune

In a voice that somehow evokes actor Michael Caine, Northern Breezes Sailing (www.northernbreezessailing.com) instructor Guy Wray helps me and his mate Dave Cushman plot a course from our marina near Bayfield, Wisconsin to Raspberry Island in the southwest corner of Lake Superior – a distance of about 16 aquatic miles.

“There’s a beautifully restored lighthouse there that’s worth a visit,” Wray tells us as we stand in front of a map of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. “And then we can sail to Stockton Island to find a sheltered anchorage for the night.”

The next morning, it’s raining as we depart from Pikes Bay Marina near Bayfield on Memories Maid, a 40.5ft Hunter sailboat that doubles as a classroom for a three-day American Sailing Association course. .

It starts to rain in earnest as the winds pick up to a vigorous 25 knots and our sloop heels over to the side as we turn towards our destination. An hour later, the sun breaks through, stains the lake and illuminates the archipelago.

We could hardly have chosen a nicer place to develop our sailing skills. The Apostles, made up of 22 rocky, forested islands (21 of which are part of the national park) is a sailor’s playground through September, often called a northern version of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.

And it’s not just the Mecca of sailing; the Apostles is also a great place for hiking, fishing, bird watching, wildlife viewing, sea kayaking through wind and wave carved caves, camping or just building sandcastles on the one of the many beaches of the archipelago.

Ashore, the village of Bayfield, which seems to have been transplanted from New England, is also a delight.

“The best thing about the Apostles is that it’s the only inland region of the United States that even remotely resembles the BVI,” says Wray, who says Northern Breezes attracts sailing students from all over the Midwest and beyond. of the.

“I came here 30 years ago from the Twin Cities with my family and thought Bayfield was a gem. Now I think I’ve been back there over 100 times,” says Wray, who raced internationally while living in Australia.

The Apostle Islands are a corner of the Midwest that sets me back every few years. The first time was nearly two decades ago when my eldest son, Matthew, now 33, and I went sailing for a day. Ten years later, a friend and I chartered a 44ft boat for four days with our young families. Two years ago I was back to learn some rudimentary skills.

And this month of June, I came back to get closer to my goal of one day renting a sailboat in the Caribbean, in Croatia, or maybe even in Greece or Tahiti. This time, my two youngest children, Maddie, 21; and Anders, 19, joined me, along with fellow student (and Cascade Mounain Ski Patrol buddy) Cushman and Marine friend from Madison, Laura Scandurra.

For the most part, my children nap and read during the three-day onboard course, while Wray teaches us about mooring, tacking, jibing and other ever-challenging sailing skills, including figured out how to recover an unlucky MOB, also known as a “man overboard”.

But one afternoon, while Cushman and I were taking a sailing test, Wray caught the attention of my descendants by letting them take turns steering the ship, “holding the helm” in nautical jargon.

Their favorite part of the trip is Raspberry Island, where we hike from a beach near where we anchored to the lighthouse, where we meet National Park Service ranger Fred Schlicting.

Dressed in a lighthouse keeper’s outfit from 100 years ago, he tells us about life on the island at the beginning of the 20th century. He also takes us on a tour of the manicured grounds and the lighthouse itself – which looked like it was painted yesterday.

On the last night of our adventure, we moor at a wooden wharf in Quarry Bay, a sheltered bay on Stockton Island, so named because it is near an old open pit mine where hundreds of tons of brownstones were cut in the late 1800s and shipped to cities such as Chicago and Detroit.

Stockton has a thriving bear population, although we didn’t see any on our walks along the island’s trails, which total 14 miles. On another visit to the island, Cushman and I had dropped anchor in the bay of Près Isle and walked over a tombolo, a sand bridge linking Près Isle Point to the rest of Stockton Island, dotted with flowers .

On the windward side of the spit, we had gazed at breezy Julian Bay, home to ‘singing sands’. The rounded grains of this beach are mostly quartz, and they really squeak or hiss when you walk on them barefoot or rub your hand in a circular motion.

On the last morning of our visit, I get up early and drink my coffee in the cockpit of Memories Maid. I see a loon floating on the water. Nearby, a small group of sea kayakers paddle along the shore as mist lifts from the lake.

Then we return to our berth in Pikes Bay, cruising and rolling along the other side of Madeline Island, the only Apostles Island that is not part of the National Lakeshore.

As I carefully guide our sailboat down its slide, I promise to return soon. Only next time I hope to be the captain, charting my own course.

For more information on the Apostles, see nps.gov/apis/index.htm. For more details on Bayfield, visit bayfield.org. And for Madeline Island, accessible by ferry and the largest island in the archipelago, see madelineisland.com.

The base cost of a three-day Northern Breezes Friends and Family sailing course, which can include two students and multiple travelers, is $2,099. Four and five day courses on sloops and catamarans are also offered. The school offers a variety of courses from beginner to advanced inshore cruising and offshore passage making.

Brian Clark is a freelance writer.

Harold B. McConnell