June 2000 - Isle Royale by Power Boat (with photos)

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Midwest Ed
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June 2000 - Isle Royale by Power Boat (with photos)

Post by Midwest Ed »

I know there are at least a couple of boaters here. This trip occurred 10 years ago right after I became a “boater.” Well not really, I’m only an honorary boater. I think one must be born into boating. They are really a different breed of people. Being a backpacker (which is a sub classification of campers) makes us attached to the species of boater via one of those dotted line relationships. My one an only complaint about boaters is they are far too laid back, even for the likes of this back packer. Now I’m no Type A personality but when you start out with a boater at Point A with the intentions of arriving at Point B, you cannot have a definite schedule or itinerary. They will make so many extra stops along the way that a 20 minute task will inevitably require all day to complete.

A good friend of mine, Robin, had just bought new boat and he wanted to get it out of the Mississippi River into some REAL water. He thought Lake Michigan maybe…tour the many light houses…stay at Bed and Breakfasts. Now his boat is no ordinary boat. It’s a 24 foot inflatable with a rigid aluminum hull, designed for very heavy seas, virtually unsinkable, twin 175 HP outboard motors, GPS with a chart plotter, two VHF marine radios, forward looking sonar, radio direction finder, and 30 mile radar. He normally uses it on the Mississippi to pull stranded boats off the rocks and tow people out of danger when they run out of fuel, all as part of his part time volunteer work in the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Right away I thought of the place for him to go, Isle Royale.

He invited his old friend John, who was a life long backpacker, to fly into Houghton from Italy. I planned on bringing my 11 year old son. This was to be my 7th trip to the Island. After experiencing IR by foot and canoe, I thought power boating would provide a unique perspective. The planning began. We decided June 1st would be our target date with a crossing from Houghton to Rock Harbor. We’d all have exposure suits and an EPIRB (Emergency Personal Radio Beacon for satellite search and rescue) for added safety.

Here’s where the real story begins. We spent 6 months of what seemed like meticulous preparation but as the departure date loomed, things started to go wrong. The following is a shortened version of all the things that went wrong during the subsequent two weeks. During our first dry run with all equipment on board, my friend was cleaning up some duck dung from the boat deck. Lacking a suitable garbage container he maneuvered the dung into his nearly empty bottle of soda. After several minutes of talking …yes you guessed it… he reached down for a drink! This was to be the predictor of things to come. Later that day while speeding along, I failed to secure his brand new collapsible water bucket and it was sent on its way to New Orleans before we realized it.

We were a bit concerned with the range of the boat should the weather be poor. While this boat’s top end is 60 miles per hour, it cruises at 40 miles per hour while getting 2 miles per gallon (on flat water). In rough water you might only go 20 mph and only achieve 1 mile per gallon. It’s about 80 miles from Houghton to Rock Harbor and the fuel tanks only hold 110 gallons. After doing the math there was a 50-gallon manual pump transfer tank strapped to deck of the boat

The eve before departure had arrived and we were pulling the boat from the water to power wash and decontaminate it before our several hundred mile towing trip. A seemingly perfectly good trailer winch strap broke and someone had stolen the clevis pin used to attach the strap to the boat bow. It rained something fierce that night and in the poor visibility my friend drove his towing vehicle into a telephone pole and smashed the heck out of the front bumper. Ten minutes later, in the down pour; the battery on my truck was dead. We had planned to hit the road early the next morning. At 3:30 PM the next day we were on our way…..without any oil for the 2 cycle engines.

The normal supplier was empty handed the day before when he went to pick it up. We were forced to find the special brand of synthetic oil “somewhere” along the way. After a 3 hour stop over in Madison, Wisconsin, we lucked out and we were back on the road. Other than the purchase of boat engine oil, the 550-mile drive from home to Lake Superior was without too many incidents (by comparison), although as we arrived in Houghton a tire went flat and could not be repaired.

Being in the Coast Guard Auxiliary has it advantages. Things started looking up when we arrived at the Coast Guard station in Dollar Bay, across the channel from Houghton. It was a really nice place with very nice people. They happily let us use their boat ramp and docks. They were very interested in the boat (even a little jealous maybe). That night there was a local community celebration with a lighted boat parade and fireworks. We were invited into the parade and helped patrol the fire works.

Training with Coast Guard in Kewenaw's Portage Lake
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Our gear before we left Houghton
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The next day’s weather was nice, so with full fuel tanks, including the extra transfer tank, we headed out into Superior for some trials. It was great, except for the 2 hours we spent trying to figure out how the new memory chips worked that included the Lake Superior nautical charts for the GPS plotter. We’d cleared the breakers in the west channel and were bouncing along the great expanse of the Big Lake. It was a bright sunny June morning although there was still a light fog. The water was cold and clear. The air was crisp (actually damn cold at 40 mph but we were in our exposure suits). We were almost at the point where the land disappears into the horizon when all at once…we smelled gasoline. It was leaking from the transfer tank and the anti-skid deck paint was melting and bubbling up. We had forgotten to put teflon tape joint compound in the threads of the filler cap. We repaired the problem and headed back to the Coast Guard station to clean up.

The next day arrived, the weather was nice and the lake was like glass. We took off for Rock Harbor. We made great time traversing the 73 miles in 1 hour and 44 minutes (it takes the Ranger III about 6.5 hours).

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We refueled straight way at Rock Harbor and headed for Daisy Farm for a planned 3 day stay. The next trouble that sought us out could have affected nearly everyone at Daisy Farm. Robin had brought his CPAP air pump and mask that to control sleep apnea. Without this breathing aid, he snores like a hog rutting for truffles. He had the pump, the mask, the 12 volt car battery to run it…but no cable to connect the pump to the battery; it was still in his vehicle. That first night he kept everyone awake. The camp ground was not nearly full so he went off by himself to the most remote shelter. I wonder if anyone mistook him for strange wildlife. Before the next night we tore apart the $1300 pump and used a set of jumper cables from the boat. It worked, thank God.

Daisy Farm dock
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The second day, the only mishap was my son’s fishing reel bounced once on the dock and into the water. Robin was amazed after life on the Mississippi that he could actually see and retrieve the reel from well over 10 feet down. John spent the day making the round trip to Three mile, Mt. Franklin, Lane Cove, Mt Ojibway and back (about 15.5 miles). I had a great time spending a leisurely day hike and trail lunch with my young son on the Mt. Ojibway triangle (see photos). You used to be able to climb all the way to the top of the tower there. I remember when it was manned and the resident fire lookout might invite you in for a rest and conversation. It was quite windy that day so Robin happily spent all day in is boat, soloing in 6 to 8 footers. He had a blast as he and his boat were in the middle of their element. At dinner that night I was distracted long enough for the campground fox to steal my dinner, not 18 inches from my son’s nose. All he did was watch and then laugh. The wiring job for the anti-snoring air pump held up which everyone was thankful for, but the 12-volt car battery had to be lugged back and forth to the boat daily so it could be charged.

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Boat in 6 footers (Note the spare fuel tank strapped to the deck)
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Mt. Ojibway
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The third day was rainy. We stuck around camp all morning until everyone was so board we donned our exposure suits and did some exploring on the south shores. My son tried some fishing with no success.

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Good weather resumed on the fourth day and we made a day long exploration of the north shore. After a fuel stop at Rock Harbor we rounded Blake Point. We headed towards Canada to get a better look at a passing freighter (see photo). Belle Isle has a great deep water dock with a wonderful camp ground. We all were wishing we’d made this our base instead of Daisy Farm. We explored the Amygdaloid Channel, Birch Island and McCargoe Cove. I’d hoped to get all the way to Todd Harbor but it was getting dark. We headed back to Daisy Farm which only took about 45 minutes while staying far from shore for both reasons of safety and wake.

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Belle Isle Harbor
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Belle Isle Campsite
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Belle Isle Dock
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John’s return to Italy had been moved up so we had to leave the Island early. The ride back to Houghton the fifth day was almost uneventful, except for the brief moment we were all thrown into the air as an unseen 3 foot wake of an ore boat launched our boat.

It wasn’t until our road trip home that our land troubles resumed. Only three hours from home, at dusk one of the boat trailer’s axle bearings decided to start smoking. With no foreseeable help for that night, we slept in the van at an interstate 90 rest area just north of Janesville. Sometime during the 14-hour sleep-over in the van I considered activating the EPIRB. We did get home the next day after getting a tow for the double traillered boat (see photo).

I’ve outlined just a few of the things that went wrong but we still had a great time. One thing I learned when it comes to a trip like this (or maybe it’s just boats), every little thing is a project!

~Ed

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Last edited by Midwest Ed on Thu Jul 22, 2010 12:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
8 trips, 1975 x 2, 1976 x 2, 1978, 1985, 2000, 2013
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Re: June 2000 - Isle Royale by Power Boat (with photos)

Post by johnhens »

Nice trip in spite of the setbacks. Nice boat, how was it going across the lake? Good thing the seas were agreeable.
The NPS has gone to RHIB's, better gas mileage than the Bertrams.
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Re: June 2000 - Isle Royale by Power Boat (with photos)

Post by Tom »

Ahhhh.. The adventure. Funny that most of the issues happened on the mainland, and your time on the Isle was mostly safe and secure. I've often thought I'd love to 'base by boat' for a trip - The luxury of bringing some extra gear/weight, but still hopping off everywhere and hiking. Someday...

Thanks for telling the story!
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Re: June 2000 - Isle Royale by Power Boat (with photos)

Post by Tampico »

Both my ISRO trips have been aboard my 23' Boston Whaler, Tampico.

It truly is a luxury to bring nearly anything I may want or need, sleep aboard (with a fan), and still be able to wander the trails.
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Re: June 2000 - Isle Royale by Power Boat (with photos)

Post by Midwest Ed »

johnhens:

I remember when the first Bertrams were delivered. It was the summer of 1975 I think. My college friend from Michigan Tech was the Ranger stationed on Amygdaloid Island and received one of the two 26 foot fiberglass Bertrams. I think they had one 31 footer in the fleet. It sounds like these boats were in service for over 3 decades.

RIBs are highly versatile. My friend’s was custom made on Vancouver Island, Canada by the same folks that make larger ones used in whale watching. It is most definitely a utility boat. It’s not made for comfort but handles extremely well. During sea trials, with a speed prop, it was pushing 70 mph in 4 foot seas! He opted for the slower power prop, better suited for towing. More than once he’s towed large yachts (40+ feet) that set a speed record for the boat being towed. His boat is a warm weather set up. For Lake Superior operations a Cutty Cabin is almost certainly needed (IMO). I’ve been looking for pictures of the NPS boats you mentioned. The Coast Guard has also switched to RIBs for their high speed patrol action (twin 225 HP Honda outboards, very quiet)

It’s interesting that the exposure suits we were wearing were standard fair back then, Now they are no longer authorized by the Coast Guard for Superior water temperatures. A dry suit is now mandated. The “wet” exposure suit is still OK for water temps above about 60-65 degrees (or thereabouts).

Our biggest concern was possibility of rough seas and resultant low fuel efficiency, hence the spare fuel tank, but traversing the 73 miles from Houghton to Rock Harbor was like glass, both coming and going (except for the 3 foot ore boat wake I mentioned). This was in June though. Quite a difference from the 6 to 8 foot seas very common any day of the year. I remember well the November day the Edmond Fitzgerald sank. They say there were 25 foot seas that day, mostly likely higher on the east end near Whitefish bay. The large brick chimney on our apartment building in Houghton blew over and crashed through the ceiling of the unit above ours (75 mph continuous winds in Houghton).

~Ed
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Re: June 2000 - Isle Royale by Power Boat (with photos)

Post by Tampico »

All four of my crossings from Grand Portage have been in ideal conditions.

However, I was up there in Aug 2005 when the remnants of what was Katrina blew through. All the boats servicing the island stayed where they were caught by the wind. I heard stories of honest 12 footers on the big lake.

We had to hole up at the Tobin Harbor Seaplane dock for two days.
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Re: June 2000 - Isle Royale by Power Boat (with photos)

Post by johnhens »

Tampico wrote:Both my ISRO trips have been aboard my 23' Boston Whaler, Tampico.

It truly is a luxury to bring nearly anything I may want or need, sleep aboard (with a fan), and still be able to wander the trails.
In the 80's, I was in charge of the beaches and water safety patrol for the City of Evanston on Lake Michigan. Went out in many a storm for SAR in a 17' Whaler that always brought me back to Port safely. Always wanted either an Outrage 22' or an Offshore 27'.

It is interesting that so many Agencies (USCG, Municipal ect) that used to use Whalers now use RHIB's.

Grady Whites are nice too.
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Re: June 2000 - Isle Royale by Power Boat (with photos)

Post by Midwest Ed »

.
.
I snapped this picture from Navy Pier of a Whaler (slightly modified for effect) heading into Lake Michigan from the Chicago River during the most recent Tall Ships display. :shock:


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