Day One: Windigo to Huginnin Cove
Months before our departure, we booked passage on the Voyageur II, from Grand Portage, Minnesota, and landed in Windigo at 10:30 A.M.. on July 31, 2021. Having to orient, permit, and pack our boats, we left the harbor into Washington Creek at noon.
At the north gap of Washington Harbor, we paddled out over and past the America shipwreck, having gone down on July 7, 1928. It rested near in the passage where we would return in 12 days. The America, a packet boat, lies on the bottom beneath the buoy, eerie and strangely present in the clear water, victim of having ventured to close to an underwater reef. Captain Ben of the Voyageur shared the story as he drew near the submerged vessel on one of our many trips to the Island.
At a length of 183 feet, America rests only two feet at the foredeck and 85 feet at the aft under the clear waters past which we paddled on our way out of the sheltered waters of Washington Harbor and into the open water of Lake Superior. We had to make Hugginin Cove before dark.
Paddle in the Open Lake
The distance from Windigo to Huginnin Cove is 8.2 miles along a cliff-lined shore, with a few rocky beaches along the way. Our destination was the cove where we could be reasonably assured that we would locate a tent site where we would make our camp. The waves were choppy, about a foot or so as we made our way north.
Given it was our first experience with circumnavigation of this island and having heard the tales about the dangers and even drownings that had happened in the last decades, we were not particularly comfortable setting out, but we paddled forth, determined to succeed with our plan. With each half hour, though, the waves became larger, causing us to second-guess our plan.
At one’s core, though, is the need to persevere, if for no other reason, than to say you did it, that you are indeed capable. Bolstered with that bravado, we headed toward the northwest corner of the island to make our way east along the north coast, brisk wind at our backs.
“ROCK!” Duane yelled! A huge plume of water erupted in front of us, a geyser spraying up from a rock the size of a dump truck, just under the surface.
“Go around!” I yelled, oblivious to the fact that Duane did not need advice at the moment. We maneuvered around and on our way, hearts pounding and paddling with vigor. Necessarily, we kept vigilant for underwater impediments, as we would for the rest of our trip, when we encountered our first experience with mild clapotis waves.
The clapotis waves create a washing machine effect in the water pattern, which can be disorienting, at least, and dangerous when they are of significant size. Our first experience with them on this first leg of the journey was mild, just a slightly irritating buffeting that made us feel as through we weren’t making forward progress.
Still, the waves added to my discomfort as a novice traversing the much-hyped waters of Isle Royale. You can see me here in an ungraceful dump into the shore. Little humility at the outset.
Once I got myself righted and my dignity reassembled, we sat on the rocky beach for a little while. The sun soothed my bruised ego.
On to Huginnin Cove
We paddled the last few miles at our normal brisk pace, somehow over the myths of danger and unpredictability, bolstered with our success of overcoming the first trials, and ready for whatever else we would face.
And there we were, after a couple dehydrated meals and water, we looked out over the water.
There was a bit of rustling in the forest. First there was one. Then two. They stood for several minutes, looking about the campground before nosing the water and drinking their fill.
As quietly as they arrived, the two cows disappeared into the swampy cedar and evergreen woods surrounding the Huginnin Cove campground.
The evening sun dropped down into the water, and the cool of the evening settled upon us.
We sat in the evening, glad for the quiet lap of the waves on the rocks, reflecting on what the new day would hold for us as we started in the longest, second most dangerous leg of our trek, second only to the treacherous rounding of Blake Point.
The accompanying video is here: https://youtu.be/hhB83pCTerM