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Thread: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

  1. #1
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    Default The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    So, after finishing what is quite probably the slowest-ever build of a Don Kurylko-designed Alaska (a little over 7 years) last summer, but before going on THIS TRIP to Georgian Bay in September, I managed to sneak in a two-boat trip to the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage (that's Wisconsin-ish for "a sprawlingly interconnected lake system created by damming a river" (or two, as in this case)--apparently no one else calls them that).

    Turtle-Flambeau overview.jpg

    This is one of the first places I did any open boat camping and cruising, and it's still one of my favorite getaways. It's not big--the largest stretch of open water is probably less than 5 miles across--but it's pretty much undeveloped and feels wild. Bald eagles, black bears, ospreys--pretty neat. And there are dozens of islands scattered around, and plenty of winding channels--enough to make it feel much bigger than it is.

    small overview.jpg

    Even better, spread out all around the islands are about 60 free campsites. Free as in no registration, no fees, no reservations accepted--perfect for non-planners like me.

    I figured it would be a nice shake-down for my new Alaska, which proved to be true.

    My brother brought his Ross Lillistone Phoenix III on the trip, a boat that has shown up here on the Forum before in trips to Lake Superior (GRAND ISLAND and the APOSTLE ISLANDS), Lake Huron (the NORTH CHANNEL and GEORGIAN BAY), and even the remote reaches of LAKE NIPIGON 30 miles north of Lake Superior.

    I was looking forward to it--it was the first two-boat trip we'd done together since 2011, when I retired my Bolger Pirate Racer Jagular (which also made its cruising debut here on the Turtle-Flambeau ten years ago):

    IMG_4998.jpg

    I got there first, after a three-hour drive, and set out across the lake looking for an open campsite. I found one--an old favorite on an island near the center of the flowage--less than two miles away. A pleasant afternoon sail:

    Day 1.jpg
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 06-15-2018 at 12:20 AM.
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  2. #2
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    I sailed back to the ramp in the evening to meet my brother so he would know where we were camping:

    DSCN3113.jpg

    Light to no winds in the evening had us rowing. The sun was down. It got darker. We were in no hurry, just enjoying the stars and the easy glide over flat water. And then the mosquitoes found us--and we hurried!

    The next morning the boats were waiting for us on the beach--the best part about camping on an island. Elegant lapstrake:

    DSCN3116.jpg

    Versus smooth strip-planked:

    DSCN3118.jpg

    A difficult choice--but of course we had both and didn't have to choose.

    A beautiful windless morning, so we set out to explore the southern reaches of the Flowage under oars. I know from experience how easily the Phoenix III glides along with a solo rower and no pesky passenger to make the transom drag and shove the tiller off-center:

    DSCN3129.jpg

    The Alaska, with its traditional whitehall lines, was certainly no slouch under oar power, either:

    DSCN3121.jpg

    And I was learning to appreciate how all of the spars fit flat on the thwarts--a (very) minor advantage over the Phoenix III, where you have to arrange the mast sticking out over the sheerline to row.
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    As it started to breeze up, we pulled into another favorite stopover--an island wrapped around a sheltered bay--to rig up for sailing:

    day 2.jpg

    The last time I had been here, it was to lead a paddling trip with 6 teenage residents of a group home for substance abuse and mental health problems. This trip was proving to be much more relaxing--a good way to get to know my new boat.

    DSCN3133.jpg

    And then we were off sailing:

    DSCN3137.jpg

    As much as I was enjoying my new Alaska, I don't think there's anything that could be done to make the Phoenix III a better cruising boat. I was looking forward to seeing how the two would compare. For one thing, the balance lug (a boomed sail) could spread its sail much more efficiently downwind:

    DSCN3142.jpg

    I love balance lugs off the wind. We spent entire days broad reaching and running at 6+ knots during our Everglades Challenge run in 2013. And so simple--sheet and tiller and nothing else to worry about.
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    We sailed back to camp for lunch, then headed over to an island with a sandy beach so I could do some CAPSIZE TESTING on my new boat:

    Day 2.2.jpg

    From there, we kept sailing east into the farthest reaches of the Flowage, where the Flambeau River enters--about 6 miles of sailing through some tight channels with fluky winds and lots of short tacking in light airs:

    Day 2.3.jpg

    I finally dropped my rig and rowed, but the Phoenix III kept sailing (which was quite a bit slower than rowing, but who's in a hurry?)

    DSCN3162.jpg

    The entire eastern half of the Flowage is a voluntary no-wake zone to encourage a wilderness feel for paddlers. It was our first time sailing all the way to the end. We stopped at a few islands to explore, but then it was time to sail back. In light winds, with lots of fluky shifts and short tacking through winding channels. But some good sailing, too:

    DSCN3173.jpg
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    Delightful! I always enjoy reading of your trips. One aspect that I particularly like is that your boating/sailing confidence increases with each outing. This is, of course, as it should be. But then I wonder if Jagular ever calls you mid-trip via satellite phone to cuss you out? Just out of pure jealousy and longing for the old days.

    Jeff

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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    That's part of the reason I don't carry a phone on my trips...

    Yes, I've come a long way in what I feel comfortable doing in small boats. The Turtle-Flambeau used to seem like an adventure. Now it seems like a pleasant getaway--enjoyable, but no stress or "excitement." I have a much better sense of what kind of conditions I can manage, and it now seems pretty casual to hop in a boat and sail for hundreds of miles on the Great Lakes or semi-protected coasts, camping along the way.

    I have some neat ideas for multi-month trips that I hope to do in the next few years with my Alaska.

    Tom
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  7. #7
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    We got back to camp, leaving the boats drawn up on the beach for the night. Early the next morning, well before breakfast, when everything was still covered with dew, I decided to go for a light-air sail in the stillness of the day. There's a special kind of magic to sailing early in the morning, when birdsong and the quiet ripping of the sail overhead, and the gentle splashing of water along the hull, are the only sounds.

    Then, too, I had left my sandals on an island in the eastern reaches of the flowage the day before, and I hoped that by sneaking off to retrieve them before breakfast, I might avoid some of the mockery I'd otherwise have to suffer.

    "What'd you forget?" is a question my brother likes to ask when I return to his house minutes after leaving.

    "I didn't forget anything--I remembered it," I say. After all, if I hadn't remembered it, I wouldn't be coming back, would I?

    But if I made it back by breakfast, there's no reason the missing sandals would need to be mentioned...

    DSCN3176.jpg

    I've since concluded that booming the sail out with an oar doesn't really do much for boat speed, but in light airs it does at least hold the sail steady, eliminating the annoying shifting around as the wind dies and trickles back. Not much wind, but it was a beautiful morning on the Flowage:



    Tacking in light winds, especially in tight channels with lots of wind bends and shifts, is not the fastest way to travel. But eventually I made it to the island, a trip of about 5 miles as the boat tacks:

    Day 3.jpg

    Pulled into shore:

    DSCN3184.jpg

    Found the shoes right where I'd left them, and headed back to camp. Got about this far:

    Day 3.1.jpg

    Before realizing that the sandals were still sitting there back on the island, right where I'd left them...
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 06-14-2018 at 04:59 PM.
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    I did eventually make it back to camp in time for lunch, with the no-longer-missing sandals. The nice thing about camping like this, with the boats ready to use at a moment's notice, is that there's never much reason to be in a hurry.

    DSCN3187.jpg

    But we did finally decide to set out south again and explore farther--the first day, we had sailed back to camp from the sheltered bay. Doing that, we had missed lots of possibilities in the biggest stretch of open water in the flowage. So, off we went.

    DSCN3199.jpg

    I either didn't have my camera with me, or just couldn't be bothered to use it. I was too busy enjoying sailing my new boat, trying to figure out what adjustments to the rigging I'd need to make. For one thing, I hadn't managed to get the mainsail hoisted high enough, which made seeing under the sail a bit difficult. That's mostly because I was using the alternate center mast step with mainsail alone. Don's real sailplan is a lugsail ketch, with the main stepped much farther forward and higher up:

    Sailplan.jpg

    But I figured I didn't need 134 sq ft of sail on a boat with a 4' 8" beam. And I didn't want to mess with a double-sided mainsheet. And the mizzen looked like it would significantly limit cockpit seating options for the helmsman. And I couldn't afford both the mizzen and the mainsail, anyway. But the real honest reason is that I am a minimalist single-sheet-and-tiller kind of sailor. And the Alaska was moving along well even without te 49 sq ft mizzen.

    DSCN3212.jpg

    Winds were light at times, and I found that standing to leeward to heel the boat and keep the sails filled worked well.

    DSCN3202.jpg
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 06-14-2018 at 05:08 PM.
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  9. #9
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    Your pix and tales help me understand my brother-in-law, who is a Boundary Waters guy. He's actually gotten my sister to go where the water's not salt. Remarkable.

    Thank you for sharing.

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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    Following along, with pleasure.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    WI Tom , you've been and continue to be, inspiraional to the sailing I want to do.
    to anyone who finds themselves headed to the boundry waters (sadly no sailing allowed in the bwcaw) please look me up before you go
    editor sought , untill found i apologize for the grammer and spelling

  12. #12
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    Hey, thanks for the comments, everyone. I'll post a bit more. The Turtle-Flambeau really is a nifty place, especially for smaller, less-capable boats. The Alaska and the Phoenix III were overkill as far as how much boat you need here. But hey, they're great boats, here or anywhere.

    We kept on into the southern part of the flowage. I've done a lot of my sailing solo, so it was nice to be on a two-boat trip again. The Phoenix III and the Alaska seemed pretty evenly matched:

    DSCN3219.jpg

    I'm definitely looking forward to doing more, and longer, trips with both boats. Luckily all the photos from that day make it look like the Alaska is always ahead!

    DSCN3226.jpg

    Funny, thinking back to this trip, since then I've figured out a lot of little routines for this boat that makes everything feel right. My perceptions have really shifted now that I have a feel for what the Alaska can do.

    Alaska.jpg

    Then we sailed back in a rip-roaring southwesterly wind on a broad reach. My brother reefed, and I didn't. Really windy, but we did fine--although I found myself wanting a ratchet block for the sheet (which I did add later--it's great). And another quiet evening at camp:

    DSCN3237.jpg
    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    But after the winds died down, I just couldn't let my boat sit there on the beach. So I went out for a quiet evening, thinking that I'd try sailing, and if the winds died completely, I'd do some exploring under oars instead. I wanted to try setting up the rig on the water, so I rowed out for a little sea room.

    DSCN3245.jpg

    Then stepped the mast:

    DSCN3247.jpg

    And hoisted the sail.

    DSCN3250.jpg

    The winds weren't much, but we ghosted along downwind ok--here's where the mizzen and its extra 49 sq ft of sail area would've helped. After a while I dropped the rig and explored some tight swampy backwaters under oars. Only a couple of miles, but that's the beauty of this place--it feels much bigger and more remote than it is.

    Day 3.2.jpg

    The mosquitoes found me a mile from camp, and I rowed back slapping and swearing. Summer days are long in northern Wisconsin, but you have to head for the tents long before it's dark. Another great day.
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    THANKS AGAIN, Tom

    i enjoy tripping vicariously with you

    sw
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    steve

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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    All right, sitting in an airport so I might as well post more. Thanks again for the comments.

    The last day of our trip came with the kind of cool foggy morning that I really enjoy. I wandered the shore taking a few photos:

    DSCN3271.jpg

    But of course the boats were right there waiting on the beach.

    DSCN3256.jpg

    So we went out for a "short sail" before breakfast.

    DSCN3275.jpg

    Not a lot of wind, but slowly increasing. Eventually we started heading north along the west side of our island.

    DSCN3299.jpg

    And the wind kept getting stronger. Not a reefing breeze, but strong enough for some good sailing.

    cropped photo.jpg
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    We headed up to the north end of the flowage and looped around a couple of islands:

    Day 4.jpg

    It had taken me a while to get the hang of tacking my Alaska, but by now I couldn't remember why it had ever seemed tricky. Beating to windward up a narrow channel was simple, with the boat never missing a tack.

    DSCN3335.jpg

    I jibed around to sneak through a narrow passage for a bit of a shortcut back to camp:

    DSCN3345.jpg

    A beautiful morning, and a very northwoodsy feel to the day.

    DSCN3351.jpg

    But finally, two and a half hours into our "short sail," we headed back to pack up camp.

    DSCN3358.jpg
    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    And on the way back to the ramp, my brother invented (discovered?) a foolproof simple self-steering system that I like so much I'll never have a small boat without it. All you need is an athwartships line under your tiller:

    self steering.jpg

    I've found that it's important to get this line as tight as you can get it, but that's less important if you use bigger diameter line. I like to use small stuff and crank it tight with a quick-release tension knot. At first, the line will be tight to the deck--until you rig the bungee loop, which is the next step.

    The bungee loop (a small loop with a plastic ball) gets wrapped around the tiller AND the athwartships line. The bungee loop in the photo is black--not the hair tie that holds my tiller extension, but the other black loop around the tiller. You want this bungee loop good and tight, so wrap it as many times as you can, then finish by putting the plastic ball through the loop to lock it off.

    Your self-steering system is now complete. You can steer normally, but the friction of the line/bungee combination will hold the tiller rock steady at whatever point you release it. There is no need to engage or disengage the system, or to adjust the tension. Just rig and go. Steer when you want to, hand off to the $.59 autopilot whenever you feel like it, by just letting go.

    Later, on my Georgian Bay trip, I used this system to great effect. Here's a short video of it in action:



    This may be the single best simple improvement a cruising sailor can make for his boat. If you don't already have this set up on your boat, you should go do it right now. It's that good.

    Nowadays I steer only when I want to. And I'm free to have some food, a drink, shoot a compass bearing, pull on a raincoat, or just lounge around--at any time.

    One caveat: if you manage to fall overboard with this system rigged (don't do that!), your boat will quite happily keep sailing away from you forever. I highly recommend staying aboard.

    Tom
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 06-15-2018 at 06:18 PM.
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  18. #18
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    Excellent tiller brake. You are certainly right that being able to let the boat sail herself frees things wonderfully and really opens the cruise. One of my favorite phases in the early days of a relationship with a boat is letter her teach me how she likes to sail herself.

    I always tow a 'Hail Mary Line'. Not much resistance and with a small boat like this your body on that line will stop the boat dead. And tiller fixed is not the only time the boat can get away from you. For example, you're stepping or striking the mast and make a mistake while standing. In any breeze the boat can blow away faster than you can readily swim. I favor yellow polypropolene because it's highly visible and floats.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    Ian,

    a trailing line is probably a good idea. I tend to rely on fear to keep myself from falling out. Certainly in any kind of wave conditions, there's no standing up, even to step/unstep the mast. You can be very very careful when you're chicken.

    That's also another advantage of the boomless rig--it lessens the chances (I'd say goes a long way toward eliminating the chance) of being struck in the head and knocked overboard. It's also convenient to brail up the sail for short stops on the beach. Yes, you do lose the ability to spread your sail out for downwind work; and you do lose some ability to control sail twist (but the sail twist itself depowers the rig automatically, a nice safety feature)--

    but for me, at least, the gains in simplicity outweigh the losses. I really like the boomless standing lug. The lack of a boom just doesn't seem to matter for the kind of sailing I do.

    Tom
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  20. #20
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    Wisconsin, truly God's country.

    Does this flowage have floating bog islands that you have to be concerned about, regarding your route and return ?

    Beautiful scenery.

  21. #21
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    Not this one, but the Chippewa Flowage a couple hours to the west does. Those floating bogs are amazing--some of them have mature pines, 40' tall, growing on them, but they (the floating bogs/islands) are completely detached from the bottom and float around the flowage pushed by the wind.

    But they move very slowly, and often get stuck in one location for the entire summer, jammed up against shore by the prevailing NW winds. The first time I visited, we had a little trouble figuring out the map. It showed two tiny islands a good distance apart, but we were seeing one big island. Turns out it was a floating bog that had gotten lodged between the islands.

    Tom
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 06-18-2018 at 04:07 PM.
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  22. #22
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    I would like very much to see a diagram of that system. The verbal description I find confusing, just me I guess.

  23. #23
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    Here's a photo that I think makes it clear--it's very simple to rig, and works great:

    self steering system.jpg

    That's all there is to it--a tight line from gunwale to gunwale (or cleat to cleat in my boat) under the tiller, and a bungee loop wrapped around that line AND around the tiller itself.

    When you first rig the line, it should be tight enough that it lies tightly on the deck. Then when you wrap the bungee loop around it AND around the tiller, the under-tiller line gets pulled up to the tiller as you see it in the photo.

    The bungee loop should be really tight, wrapped around as often as you can. The friction of the under-tiller line on the bungee is what holds the tiller in position.

    Tom
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  24. #24
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    What a great way to spend your time! My brother has a boat he never uses, but if we ever cruise together I could see the advantage of having separate boats!

    Thanks for sharing.
    F/V No Quarter
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  25. #25
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    Great trip. It almost makes me want to move back to Wisconsin if it wasn't for the winters.
    "I see!" said the blind man who picked up his hammer and saw.

  26. #26
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    You have floating islands with 40 ft trees? This staggers the mind...

  27. #27
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    Yep. It's pretty amazing. These floating bog islands are huge mats of vegetation, maybe 10-15' thick. And they do support mature white pines. I'll try to post some photos. Unless you sail rihgt up to the edge of the island and look closely, you wouldn't notice it's not dry land.

    But you could swim all the way under them and come up on the other side if you can hold your breath that long.

    Tom
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  28. #28
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    Default Re: The North Woods by Sail and Oar

    So, no photos handy, but here is a good Google Earth image that shows one of the floating bogs on the Chippewa Flowage near Hayward, Wisconsin:

    Chippewa Flowage bog.jpg

    You can see it has a fair number of mature tamarack trees growing on it. Pretty amazing. Here's a bit more information:

    When the Chippewa Flowage was created in 1923, much of the land that was flooded was swamp. Many of these swamp areas, actually peat bogs, floated to the surface. Over time seeds scattered by the winds and birds flying overhead germinated on the bogs. Plants from grasses to trees began to grow. The bog you see today can be quite developed including mature trees. Although the Flowage was created 80 years ago, new bogs can be created anytime.
    SOURCE

    Tom
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