Kayaking off the Coast of the Red Cliff Indian Reservation, Wisconsin
We had such an amazing experience kayaking the sea caves and coastline of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore with Living Adventures that we came back to do it again. I forget which one of us brought up the suggestion of kayaking the caves again but once we realized that backtracking would also mean that we’d be able to visit Teri and Grey again, it was a no-brainer.
And so we made the drive back to Bayfield, Wisconsin where we found out that we’d have Liz as one of our awesome guides again – which was great – but that because the wind was so strong on out on the water, the caves would be inaccessible. We were initially a bit disappointed but we adjusted our expectations and realized that we’d be seeing something new – and something that included shipwrecks – we regained our enthusiasm.
Instead of kayaking the stretch of coast designated as the National Lakeshore, we launched directly from Living Adventure and paddled north along the coast of the Red Cliff Indian Reservation. As we started crossing the first bay we realized how strong the wind actually was, both of us remarking that we were thankful we weren’t paddling in a more exposed section of coast. We reached a protected section fairly shortly however, and began a leisurely tour of the fractured sandstone ledges, arches, and shallow caves that predominate this stretch of coast. The bluffs were not nearly as high or dramatic as many of the sections of the national lakeshore, but the smaller bluffs felt more intimate and still despite the presence of the occasional house perched overhead on the rocks.
We emerged from the safety of the cliffs to cross our second bay and were immediately confronted with the wind. It seemed to take forever to make it to the other side of the open water, but the opposite coast contained more alcoves and sandstone to gawk at, making it (of course) totally worth it. After turning back we paddled into an inlet and right up to the partially submerged wooden skeleton of a an old tug boat, The Ottawa.
Shipwrecks such as The Ottawa tell an all too familiar story of the frightful power of Lake Superior and the potential for ocean-grade waves. The tug – the largest and most powerful on Lake Superior at the time – had been dispatched to aid The Hoyt, a steamboat that had become stranded in the shallows near Outer Island during a storm. Although she was able to assist the steamer, the tug herself succumbed when a fire broke out, burning the boat to the waterline. With assistance from the other boats already in the area to help The Hoyt, she made it to the mainland coast where all crew members made it safely off. Having the opportunity to not only see but touch the wooden ribs and rusted bolts was really neat, and the condition of the remains were impressive despite having sat in that spot for over a century.
We had one last stop on our way back, kayaking over the remnants of The Fedora, a sunken freighter that was carrying a load of iron ore at the time of her demise. It was a fire from a spilled kerosene lamp that downed the 282 foot ship rather than a storm; fires from overturned lighting implements and malfunctioning engines were an extremely common hazard in sailing before the mid-twentieth century and the great lakes were no exception. After the fire was deemed to be out of control, the captain ran her aground, successfully saving the lives of all 17 crew. Portions of The Fedora below the waterline have remained intact and now sit in 10 feet of water.
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