Chippewa Harbor, Isle Royale National Park, MI


48° 02’ 68” N, 88° 65’ 92” W  (published September 2012)

Many sailors dream of voyages to tropical shores and swaying palms, but Great Lakes boaters need look no further than their backyard for some of the world’s best cruising. Vast inland seas, the five lakes hold one of the world’s largest reserves of fresh water. Stretching 1000 miles from Lake Ontario to western Lake Superior, the lakes are pristine and pure, knowing neither tide, nor salt, nor corrosion—just sweet water that stretches into blue infinity.

Northernmost Superior is the largest and coldest Great Lake. At 350 miles long, it has a Jekyll and Hyde personality. At sunrise, it can be friendly as a puppy; by afternoon it’s a snarling pit bull. Superior is not to be trifled with, but it is a superb cruising destination and home to some of America’s most spectacular scenery. Its crown jewel is Isle Royale National Park in the lake’s northwest corner, 50 miles from the Michigan mainland.

It took 10 days aboard my Westsail 32 to reach Isle Royale from Detroit, a distance of about 600 miles. Once across Lake Huron, at Sault Ste Marie, giant locks raised me 22 feet to the level of Superior. At Isle Royale I stopped at Windigo Harbor on the western end, one of two check-in points (the other being Rock Harbor on the eastern end). Boaters must register with park rangers, pay a small daily fee and file a float plan.

Isle Royale is the least visited of the national parks, its pace a world apart from the busy mainland. With no cell phones and virtually no electricity, running water or roads, the island is accessible only by boat or seaplane. Its only year-round residents are moose and wolves. It is a rugged place of untouched wilderness and all-enveloping quiet.

There are dozens of beautiful anchorages on the island, but the best is Chippewa Harbor. On the south shore, its two long connected fjords lead back to a secluded pond surrounded by tall pines growing thick to the water’s edge. The approach to Chippewa is through a narrow cut in the rocky coast that reveals itself only at the last moment.

I took great care threading my way between two small islands that obstruct the tight, boulder-strewn entrance, continued into the inner harbor, and passed down the long fjords to the private pool at the far end. I had the entire anchorage to myself. This is what cruising is all about—seclusion, peace and beauty.

I spent a few magical days in Chippewa Harbor, hiking the dense pine forests by day and gazing at a million stars in the black sky above each night. There are few places in the American Midwest more secluded and few anchorages more protected.

Too soon I had to start for home. My GPS track took me back out the narrow entrance, the seas breaking on the rocky shore just a boat length away. I set sail in the morning breeze and watched until the little entrance to Chippewa blended into the forested hills and Isle Royale dropped slowly below the horizon.

Author: Charles Scott