Our Northern Wilds has in its midst the world’s largest freshwater lake—Lake Superior—yet many northerners have never actually been ‘’on’’ the lake waters. Now thanks to Sail Superior, an afternoon day-tripping can take urban adventurers sailing past the breakwaters and out into the open waters of Lake Superior.
For our group of novice sailors it all started at Thunder Bay’s Marina Dock, Pier 3, near the orange train caboose. We were met and welcomed by Captain Greg Heroux (pronounced Her-ooh) and his wife, Captain Laura Ponka. And there was excitement in the air as we boarded Frodo, a one-mast Finnish-built sloop named after the Hobbit in Lord of the Rings. (This summer, the 38-foot DownEaster took over from Frodo for the afternoon sails. The DownEaster also became Thunder Bay’s first dockside B&B)
Once settled in our seats, Greg gave a safety talk (much appreciated by the group, particularly the four who had never been on a sailboat before). It is the fourth season for Sail Superior and only two guests had gotten seasick (they also had hangovers). Greg assured us, “If a person is uncomfortable, please let me know and I can do things – like change amount of sail or go downwind – to make you comfortable.”
We sailed out of the marina docks into the open inner harbour waters of Lake Superior. Our destination was the Welcome Islands, where the plan was to drop anchor and – just like they do on the charter yachts in the Caribbean — have a leisurely on-board lunch.
As we sailed toward the breakwater, I looked back to shore and had a ‘time travel’’ moment. These were historic waters; for over 200 years, ships from the small wooden schooners to supersize lake freighters and ocean salties, have plied these waters, and before that, it was part of the ancient water-highway used by the First Nations people. Today, 400-500 lakers and over 100 salties visit Thunder Bay during shipping season. We have an incredible amount of maritime history to see in our ‘’rear view’’ mirror.
Just before we passed Thunder Bay’s breakwater, Greg took Frodo up close to one of the Thunder Bay’s most famous landmarks: the red and white Thunder Bay main light. Established in 1937, the cylindrical 31-foot lantern is centered on the roof of a two-storey keeper’s house and is now fully-automated (the last keeper was Don Cameron 1965-1979).
Outside the breakwater, the wind picked up and soon we were sailing at seven knots. We tried to name the islands scattered ahead of us, but didn’t do too well (except for Pie Island). Close to the Welcome Islands, we were treated to wonderful nature sight — a mixed flock of black cormorants and white pelicans feeding together.
We anchored a short distance from one of the four Welcome Islands, lunched, and felt like we were visiting some faraway archipelago, yet were only miles from shore. On our sail back, we didn’t meet any lakers or salties but did wave to two sturdy tugboats headed out to an incoming saltie.
During the 2008 summer, in addition to launching the dockside B&B, Sail Superior is bringing sailing seminars to places like Nipigon and Red Lake.
“I am also putting together the lighthouse tour of North Shore: Welcome Islands, Trowbridge Island, Porphry, Lamb Island and back around Isle Royale to see Passage Island, Rock Harbour and Rock of Ages lighthouse” said Greg. “It will take five days and be a great sailing and lighthouse experience
…something quite unique.”