Stockton Island by Sail

The “Neverland” anchored in Presque Isle Bay, Stockton Island.

Russ and I meandered east a few hours to the Bayfield Peninsula in Wisconsin last week. We met our sailing friend, Captain Dave, at the Port Superior Marina for a trip to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior.

We hadn’t been sailing since before the pandemic. We were apprehensive because we were sure we’d forgotten what skills we had gained, but we were more than ready for an adventure. Our plan was to sail around Stockton Island and Madeline Island over the course of four days.

Although I’d been to both places many times, this would be the first time I’d be doing it by sail, and the first time in the off-season: appealing prospects.

We met in the evening at the marina. After loading our gear onto the “Neverland” (a 32-foot Westsail), we headed down the long pier dock to our car in the parking lot so we could go into Bayfield and find an open restaurant – not an easy task on a Sunday evening after tourist season is over.

Ominous clouds had filled the sky. They chose the “perfect” time to unload their watery burden once we were too far down the pier to seek shelter back on the Neverland. We did not have our rain gear on and got soaked before we reached the car. We were immersed in nature immediately, whether we wanted to be or not.

The Port of Superior Marina near Bayfield, WI.

The squall passed by the time we reached Bayfield. Our goal was to eat at the Pickled Herring. We heard they made an awesome whitefish liver appetizer. Captain Dave had eaten there and raved about it. Alas, they were closed, so we chose to eat at Greunke’s Restaurant instead. This would also be a new experience.

We were seated at a table that featured John F. Kennedy Junior memorabilia on the wall. I was not aware that he had visited Bayfield, much less dined at Greunke’s. The restaurant had saved his receipt; he spent $104 on his meal. I hope he didn’t eat all that food by himself!

We noticed that they also offered whitefish livers on the menu. We decided to order them so that Capn Dave could tell us if they measured up to the Pickled Herring’s dish. They come either fried or sautéed with green peppers and onions. We ordered the latter version.

I thought they were passable fare, but Dave said they weren’t as good as their competitor’s. He said the Pickled Herring put some sort of extra spice on theirs that made all the difference. The rest of our food was excellent. In keeping with the theme, I ordered broiled whitefish, which was prepared just right – not too dry/overdone.

Our whitefish liver appetizer. Yum!

We, on the other hand, were not quite dry by the time we returned to the marina. We changed out of our rain-soaked clothes and spent the night in the belly of Neverland, lulled asleep by the creak of dock lines. In the morning, we awoke to the xylophone of sail lines banging on masts in the stiff wind. It was gusting to 25 knots and the sky was overcast — an exciting day to sail!

It only took us a few hours to get to Stockton Island. The Neverland reached its top speed, which is a little over 9 knots. That isn’t as fast as most sailboats go – Capn Dave explained that Westsails are considered “Wet Snails” when it comes to speed, but they are a very safe, heavy boat.

Black bear tracks on Julian Bay Beach, Stockton Island.

We anchored in Presque Isle Bay on the island and rowed ashore in the dinghy, appropriately named “Tinkerbell.” We beached at the end of the park service campground. I was used to seeing people in the campground, so walking past the deserted sites was strange, a little unnerving. We continued onto Julian Bay where we hiked down the beach of the singing sands to the lagoon. We saw a long trail of black bear tracks on that beach as well as the one where we landed Tinkerbell. The island bears were probably roaming far and wide to find enough food to fatten up for winter. A bald eagle flew overhead. A partial rainbow seemed to end over the neighboring island across the lake.

The rainbow ends on Michigan Island.

Back on the Neverland that night, the sky was painfully clear and cold. The Milky Way was easy to see, split by the occasional falling star. Capn Dave fired up the small wood stove inside Neverland, which kept us cozy for an evening of gin rummy and reading.

Fortified in the morning by a breakfast of haggis and eggs, we rowed back ashore and hiked the Quarry Trail, which eventually leads to an old brownstone quarry (no longer in service). We stopped before the quarry and spent and pleasant time on a sandstone ledge, enjoying sun on the lakeshore. Hundreds of colorful mushrooms piqued our interest during the 6-1/2-mile stroll – purples, oranges, reds, yellows, browns. It’s a good fall for mushrooms around here.

A fly agaric mushroom, toxic but not lethal if ingested. Found along the Quarry Trail, Stockton Island.

After another chilly night, we left the following day for Madeline Island. More on that in my next post.

The Neverland anchored in Presque Isle Bay, Stockton Island.

Outer Island Sunset

Russ and I meandered to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore last month. We had the privilege of camping on Outer Island for two glorious, warm nights. Lake Superior was so calm, we could hear ore boat engines quietly throbbing even though they were dozens of miles away as they passed the island.

I took this shot from the beach near the lighthouse. You can just see the lighthouse over the tops of the trees by the dock. A wave-worn rock provided a perfect foreground. Can you feel the peace?

End of Season Sail


Basswood Island dock, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin.

I had the privilege of another sailing trip on Lake Superior this year. The season is ending — the wind cold, the sky gray, and the leaves turning.

We sailed from a marina outside of Bayfield, Wisconsin, and went to Oak Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. We anchored off its shore and hiked a long loop on the island among giant hemlocks and oaks, and then spent the night offshore. The next day we traveled to Basswood Island for a hike to the quarry there before sailing back to the mainland.

The sailing season is short, but oh so worth it!


Oak Island sandspit, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore


Guess which island we found these on?


Basswood Island brownstone quarry pond.

The Lighthouse Tour That Wasn’t


Michigan Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior. Note the waves crashing on the dock.

This weekend I revisited the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, in hopes of getting a look inside one of the lighthouses.


The gunmetal grey sweetwater sea that is Lake Superior.

I awoke at 5 a.m. (which for me, who likes to sleep late, is not as easy as it sounds), drove two hours in the rain to meet my friends and catch a boat, and spent an hour or so staving off seasickness on a roiling Lake Superior, only to hear the boat’s captain say they couldn’t dock at the lighthouse because it was too wavy.

But we could take distant pictures of the lighthouse. So that’s all I’ve got for you!

As our consolation prize, the captain ferried us to nearby Stockton Island, where we romped for a while before returning to Bayfield on the boat. I’ve been to Stockton Island three times now (see story from last year), so some of its magic has dimmed with repetition. But I confess that wandering around on Julian Bay (on the non-windy side of the island) was like experiencing a break in the space-time-weather continuum. The water was warm, the sky blue, and eagles coasted lazily on the calm breeze.


A bear track? Or a bare track? Julian Bay Beach on Stockton Island.

Afterwards, we walked to the boat dock to catch our ride back, not caring that we missed a lighthouse tour.


Gale-Force Winds and Gear Thieves – A Trip to the Apostle Islands

Julian Bay on Stockton Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Julian Bay on Stockton Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

I recently meandered to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior. The Apostles are a group of islands scattered off the end of the Bayfield Peninsula in Wisconsin. Unlike the name would suggest, there are more than twelve.

No roads or stores exist on the islands. They offer a primitive camping experience – not quite as primitive as the boundary waters, but close to it. Madeline Island, where I also travelled recently, is part of the formation, but it’s not part of the lakeshore because it’s so developed.

My friend and I had reservations to camp for four nights on Stockton Island, the largest in the park. The weather forecast couldn’t get much better – 75 degrees and sunny every day, so I Ieft my hat, gloves, and warm jacket at home even though I knew better.

Pretty nice campsite view, eh?

Pretty nice campsite view, eh?

Our first day was gorgeous – sunny and warm. Setting up a tent in such calm conditions was a novelty. I should back up and mention that although people can reserve a campsite on Stockton, they can’t reserve a specific site. Instead, after the boat drops campers off, a free-for-all sprint is required to beat others and snag your desired site.

Such athletic prowess is not required every day – just the more popular ones for travel, such as Friday. Nineteen sites are scattered along about a mile of shoreline, so the sprint (okay, perhaps it was more like a jog) can get a bit long. I don’t recommend carrying anything heavy during this process!

Another friend told me which sites had the best beaches, and of course, these were the ones farthest from the boat dock. While my camping friend stayed on the dock with our gear, I successfully staved off a woman about my age who was carrying a backpack to bag a site that offered a view and private beach. It’s dog-eat-dog in the wilderness, you know.

Brownstone quarry, Stockton Island.

Brownstone quarry, Stockton Island.

The next day was a little windy, but still sunny. We chose to hike to an abandoned brownstone quarry on the island. Once we returned to our campsite, the wind picked up to gale intensity and stayed that way until our last evening. In the ensuing days, to escape the wind we crossed the island to Julian Bay and Anderson Point. Julian Bay boasts a protected, beautiful beach, and Anderson Point features a mossy primeval forest.

Thankfully, the temperatures stayed in the 60s, so although the wind was a nuisance, it was not bone-chilling. But having a hat and warm jacket along would have made for more comfortable camping. Lesson learned? Don’t believe the weather report. As the park people like to say, “The Lake is the Boss.” It (and its weather) will do what it wants. Bring warm clothes, even in August.

Another lesson we learned was to guard your gear on the dock. We had piled ours there in anticipation of the cruise boat back to the mainland. Unbeknownst to us, several families had just arrived and were all camping together. They had a few kayaks left on the dock that they came back to move. But because their group had so many people, they weren’t sure what gear was whose, and they started to grab our packs to float them back to their campsite in their kayaks. Luckily, I happened to be watching. I ran to the end of the dock and let them know they were taking our stuff.

Anderson Point rocks, Stockton Island.

Anderson Point rocks, Stockton Island.

The same thing happened about an hour later when other members of the group made their way to the dock. This time, I was distracted. I was talking to my friend about how I had saved our stuff from being carted away. We walked back toward the dock and looked at the spot where our stuff should be. It wasn’t there!

As we approached, we ran into several people carrying our gear off the dock. Again, we explained that it was our stuff. They were appropriately sheepish and apologetic, and probably secretly thankful they didn’t have anything more to carry.

Despite the would-be gear thieves and gale-force winds, the island worked its magic. I was able to exchange my everyday worries for worries about basic survival, which was somehow refreshing. I read a book, hiked a lot, swam (well, almost) in chilly Lake Superior, breathed in the scent of pines and cedar, stretched out on the beach, attended evening ranger talks, and learned more about a new place and a new person.

Lake Superior thrill ride.

Lake Superior thrill ride.