Sailing across Lake Superior to Grand Marais

(Last Updated On: December 27, 2020)

We are fortunate to have friends who invite us up to Bayfield, Wisconsin, to sail on their boat. Usually we spend that time sailing within the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, visiting the islands or hanging out in La Pointe or Bayfield.

This year we decide to do something different and leave the islands on a jaunt across the lake to Grand Marais, Minnesota.

Our journey begins with preparations in Bayfield

It is hot and humid when we arrive in Bayfield, Wisconsin.

At the marina outside Bayfield, our friends are still working on projects on the boat. (There are always projects on a boat, but this is an older boat and is still being renovated. Besides, it hasn’t been out of the marina yet this season and we are planning to take it across Lake Superior, so there are more projects than usual this time.) We have our own tasks, as we are in charge of food, so we begin by loading the boat with food and our gear.

interior of a sailboat

Once this is accomplished, we join our friends in completing various other projects before heading into Bayfield for dinner.

businesses along a road that leads to the lake and marina

storefront with a small table and chair outside

The next morning we awake to another hot, humid day. There are a few more boat chores to finish and then a final (quick) run into town for a few more groceries and supplies.

Finally we cast off . . . and make the short trip to the fuel dock.

But soon we really are headed out of the marina.

In the Apostle Islands

There isn’t a lot of wind out on the lake, but we enjoy it while we can.

sail in light wind

dog with a life jacket sitting at the wheel of a sailboat

(The dogs don’t seem to mind light winds.)

Unfortunately, the wind vanishes as we get farther into the islands. That leaves us motoring the rest of the way to Rocky Island.

panorama with distant forested islands

At Rocky we tie up at the dock for the evening. Our friends and their dogs take a quick dip in the lake (it was a really hot day) while I stay on board and relax with a pre-happy hour drink before dinner preparation begins (steaks on the grill).

man grilling on a sailboat

Dinner, drinks, and lots of talk and laughter close out the evening. We can’t stay up too late, because we have a long day ahead.

Motoring through open water on Lake Superior

It’s already dawn when the alarm goes off at 5 am the next morning.

pink and purple dawn reflected on water with islands on the horizon

We cast off as the sun rises in a molten red ball above the hazy horizon.

pastel reflections on the water with bright red sun just above the horizon

The water is as almost as smooth as glass.

Soon we leave the islands behind and head out into open water. With no land in sight, we are on auto pilot, making good speed (for a motoring sailboat) as the sails supplement the rumbling motor in the light breeze.

panorama of open water

Man reading while relaxing at the back of a sailboat

By lunchtime we can see land in the hazy distance.

open water with hazy hills in the distance

Our concerns about navigational accuracy (none of our navigational devices precisely agree, leaving us to wonder which is actually correct) come to an end as we identify Grand Marais directly ahead. Our captain’s navigation was perfect!

small lighthouse framed by part of a sailboat

White lighthouse with buildings in the background

Exploring Grand Marais

With no other spots available for guests, we tie up along the seawall near the forest service dock.

harbor with historic buildings and small sailboats

The seawall turns out to be a great spot: It’s an easy step to shore (vs using a dinghy to get to shore from an anchorage or mooring ball) and it’s close to downtown. Of course, the view of the harbor is pretty great here too.

two dogs looking at a harbor from a sailboat

We take a quick walk along Artist Point as the sun goes down.

people on a walkway to a lighthouse with the sun low in the sky

And then watch the sun vanish for the day.

boats and lighthouse at dusk

While I should sleep late the next morning, I instead set the alarm for 4:30 a.m. There is a lovely little beach on the other side of this spit of land and it looks like the perfect place to watch the sunrise.

shoreline with large boulders and pink and purple sky and water

Of course, a good sunrise needs to be followed by a visit to Artist Point.

rocks and still water

We chose this weekend to visit Grand Marais because the Grand Marais Art Colony is hosting their summer arts festival. I love seeing all the art on display (a few artists are even demonstrating their technique) and appreciate the chance to catch up with an old friend who has his work on display. (It’s been far too long since we have visited here.)

three pieces of pottery on display with a harbor visible in the background

woman weaving a basket

I’m busy enough going through the art that I don’t notice right away that the harbor is slowly developing a hazy layer of fog.

people on a beach with sailboats visible in the distance

sailboats and lighthouse in light fog

Hmm. . . fog might be interesting out on Artist Point.

concrete path leading to a green island with lake fog

concrete walkway above the lake leading to a lighthouse

walkways, and lighthouse with people and fog

We end the day watching the fog settle into the harbor as the sun sets.

sailboats in evening light with late fog

lighthouse and sailboats on a still evening with sea smoke

harbor with sailboat and sunset over distant hills

Is there a better place to be?

Unfortunately our time here is coming to an end.

The alarm goes off at 5 a.m. (I didn’t make plans to go to the beach for sunrise because I knew there wouldn’t be time.) The weather station has been warning of storms moving into the area – and into Bayfield – late in the day, so we again head back out onto the lake as the sun is rising.

foggy harbor view

sailboat and lighthouse in fog

boats in morning sunlight in a mostly empty and very still harbor

sunrise through fog behind a simple lighthouse

Good-bye, Grand Marais!

Back on Lake Superior

There is even less wind on the lake today than when we arrived – the water is like glass.

bow of a sailboat with sail cover on and still water

We are again “sailing” (motoring because there isn’t enough wind to even put up the sails) on auto-pilot, but this time we aren’t alone. We spot a laker (a type of ore ship that works the Great Lakes) as we cross the shipping lanes just outside the islands.

dinging with a large ship on the horizon in the background

(That’s the Carson J. Calloway crossing well behind us.)

Usually we would return to the islands for the night in anticipation of a day of sailing, but with storms on the way, we continue on to the marina for the night instead.

Our little sailing adventure ends where we began

After a long day on the water it feels good just to relax. There are leftovers to eat and games to play. (Despite the wonderful name, Fact or Crap would be a lot more fun if it provided some info about the answers.) The storm doesn’t arrive until midnight, but the whining wind and the lighting seen through he rigging are impressive. Still it is easy enough to fall asleep to the sound of the pounding rain.

The morning dawns calm, with blue sky in one direction and threatening clouds in the the other.

rows of sailboats in a marina

That’s the optimistic direction.

Despite the sun, there is no wind.

And thus we end our little sailing adventure.

Discover fine art photos of Lake Superior on 

sailboat in a harbor with text" Sailing Lake Superior - Bayfield, Wisconsin, to Grand Marais, Minnesota


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4 thoughts on “Sailing across Lake Superior to Grand Marais”

    1. Figure a full day (dawn almost to dusk) if there is little or no wind. Less if you have cooperative winds. And keep in mind that, once you leave the Apostle Islands, there’s no where to take shelter until you arrive in Grand Marais.

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