As you enter Lake Superior from the southeast, leaving the large area known as Whitefish Bay, an object appears on the horizon that at first looks like the stern of a freighter. When closer, it becomes apparent that the object is not moving.
Well, it is shaped somewhat like a freighter, only very short. It is the Gros Point Light, a lighthouse sitting about a mile offshore. The deck on the back, much like a roof structure on a sundeck boat, is a helicopter landing pad so that the lighthouse can be serviced in the winter when only icebreakers and large freighter ply these waters.
It is constructed with a bow to cut through the waves. Now, it is sitting still, not moving through the waves as a ship would, but the waves come to it. The bow points northwest, the direction of the most fetch and the highest of the probable waves.
The Gros Point Light lies just north of the Canada/US border. It was being serviced by a Canadian Coast Guard ship during one of Last Dance's passes by this point.
Navigation can be a challenge on Lake Superior. The Last Dance crew prefers to have paper charts for planning and redundancy. Paper charts normally have more detail and can be scanned in detail over a large area quickly. Not so in Superior. The above chart, from the Richardson's Chartbook, regarded as the best in the Lakes, is the most detailed view of the northern shore west of the corner at Wawa. There are a number of harbors along this stretch suitable for anchoring, four visited by Last Dance - Pilot Harbor, Pointe la Canadienne, Otter Cove, and Old Dave's Harbor. It is difficult to even find these harbors on the chart, much less find your way into one without winding up on the rocks. The chart does have a detailed view of the Michipicoten River, not much help to Last Dance as the river is only 3 feet deep and Last Dance draws 4.5 feet in fresh water.
Fortunately, two other paper resources were obtained for navigation help. One is the Great Lakes Cruising Club, which publishes Harbor Reports, detailing harbors throughout the Great Lakes. The Harbor Reports often include hand-drawn charts, photos, detailed descriptions, and personal experiences. The Harbor Report for Old Dave's Harbor had a description of a rock that lies in the entrance, described by some cruisers who found it by running hard aground on top of it. The other resource is Bonnie Dahl's book, Superior Way. It is the cruising bible for Lake Superior. Bonnie and her husband, both teachers, spent many a summer cruising Lake Superior, taking their experiences, and those of their friends, to create a detailed guide to these treacherous waters.
The hand-drawn charts have the necessary detail to navigate into the harbors and suggest possible places to anchor. But, even Bonnie is not so bold as to actually indicate depths on the chart. The guides also list the interesting aspects of each harbor.
Weather is an important factor in cruising on Lake Superior. One does not want to be out on the Lake in a storm or high winds. Waves can become huge on this inland sea; large enough to sink ships, such as the 728 foot long Edmund Fitzgerald. A 40 foot boat would not stand much of a chance. Gordon Lightfoot reminds us of that fact in his song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Lake Gitche Gumee can become very angry.
Gordon Lightfoot Song
To ensure that accurate weather was available in Lake Superior, most of which has no communications, a subscription to XM Weather was made. An expensive subscription. XM Weather is a satellite-based weather system provided by Sirius/XM radio. A satellite antenna wired to the chart plotter is required to receive the signal and display the information. The information includes weather radar and forecasts for 36 hours, not very sophisticated in this era, but helpful information. Helpful, this is, if it actually worked. Once in Canada, it was obvious that the weather reports are not available for Canadian waters. Money spent to provide security and safety which, in the end, only provided frustration. Above is the weather report shown when Last Dance was near Hattie's Cove. It is for Nantucket, over 1000 miles away, not much help when you need to determine the safety of heading out into the Big Lake.