Adventure Bound: A Father and Daughter Circumnavigate the Greatest Lake in the World

By Carl Behrend


Canada CampingIt was a cold windy morning as we broke camp. We got ready to sail. The wind and waves were coming almost directly at us. The wind was funneled into the cove. This made it dangerous for us to launch the boat. With some effort, we shoved off and started the motor. The waves were huge as we made our way out of the cove. The motor nearly came out of the water as we were hit by one wave after another. The boat was barely making any forward progress. The motor made a loud moaning sound as it came out of the water after each wave. Slowly, we made our way out of the cove into the open lake. We were able to turn in an angle that allowed the sail to catch the wind. Once it did, we moved ahead more smoothly. But still, it was a wild ride toward Marathon. The town was some 10 miles in the distance.

We left Hattie’s Cove early. The water was very rough and it was misty and chilly. So by the time we got to Marathon we were thoroughly drenched and cold. We pulled up on a pebbly beach not far from the town.

By mid morning we were approaching the town. It sat high on a hill. As we neared the shore we could see someone coming down to the shore to meet us. Naomi and I began to pull the boat up. The visitor also helped us. Her name was Kathy Gagnon. She said she had seen us coming in off the lake. It was cold and we were wet. She asked us if we had eaten any breakfast yet. She invited us to her house. Naomi and I readily accepted her invitation.

Just as we pulled in, we saw someone watching from the lookout point above the beach. When we got there, she was standing on the shore. Her name was Kathy and she helped us pull our boat up and right after a few minutes talking, she invited us right over to her house for breakfast and to dry some clothes.

So first we stopped at the grocery store, then went to her house and she made us delicious pancakes, (which I got the recipe for) and dried our clothes. We sang her a couple of our songs.

Her husband came home for lunch so we got to meet him too. He was very nice too. I fell asleep on their couch while Dad and them talked in the kitchen.

On the way, we stopped at a store for a few supplies. We also refilled our gas can. The woman was obviously a saint. She washed our clothes and fed us without hesitation. Naomi and I rested after breakfast. We told Kathy of our adventures and how thankful we were that she had come along. She told us that she was heavy-hearted over the illness of a friend. So Naomi and I sang a couple of songs for her and had a word of prayer to encourage her. After giving us a ride back to the boat, our host watched us as we shoved off into the open lake. She waved goodbye as we sailed west.

We left Marathon around noonish and by that time it was calm and foggy. I mean really foggy-the kind of fog that’s so thick that it clings to everything and you can’t see the nose on your face. It was very slow and frustrating trying to get anywhere because you never knew what was an island and what was a bay. We were musing that if we hit a big enough island we could just circle it all day without knowing it.

Cooking fishThe fog made everything appear eerie. It was like we were floating along on a big white blob that drifted and twisted its fingers around everything and muffled all sounds except for the drip, drip, dripping of the trees. We had to be careful not lose sight of the shore or we could easily get disoriented and end up in the middle of the lake.

There was a large paper mill and a nice-sized harbor west of town. There were a few fishing boats circling at the mouth of the harbor as we sailed past in the fog. The fog grew thicker and thicker until it was difficult to see the shoreline. We groped our way along the shore, trying to make some progress. The difficulty of this method of travel was that when we came to a bay or an island, it was hard to tell if we were following the shoreline or a large island. We could have gone in circles for quite a while and not known it.

We stopped at an island for a while. It had a Pukaskwa pit, a stone cave and midget birch trees. It was cool, so we ghosted silently along the shores until we got to Port Coldwell.

By mid-afternoon we stopped on an island. The fog had lifted a little. We found a spot that looked interesting. There was a large field of stones covering half the island. We expected to find some Pukaskwa pits here and we did. There were some small birch trees that had grown out of these piles of stones that somehow were beautifully shaped by the wind and weather. They were spaced intermittently like someone had placed them there in this beautiful rock garden park.

There was one Pukaskwa pit overlooking the channel between the island and the mainland. No one knows for sure the purpose of these pits. But they were usually located in a place overlooking the lake where the beautiful surroundings turned ones thoughts to the Great Spirit. If they were made for some religious ceremonies, they were surely in good places.

Naomi and I shoved off and made our way along the shore. The fog settled back in again as we made our way past bays and islands. In one bay we found a fishing tug anchored. So we took a few photos. It made an interesting scene for us there in the fog.

Late in the day, as we followed the shore, I could tell that we were out of the wind a bit. Perhaps we were in the shelter of some island. As we made our way along, Naomi and I kept our eyes open for a campsite. Then we saw a large flat rock that might possibly work. But we kept going. After a while we came across what looked like an old shipwreck sticking up out of the water. Upon closer inspection it appeared to be some sort of mining barge. We later learned the barge was used for mining gravel when the Canadian-Pacific Railroad was built along the shore. The barge’s steam boiler and machine works were lying there half-submerged in the shallow water. A beaver hut built on top was the only sign of life that had used the barge in the recent past.

There were many wrecked ships along the shore. The most interesting was a huge old barge that loomed up out of the mist like the twisted skeleton of some ancient leviathan. We found a really cool rock to camp upon in Port Coldwell. It was a big rock out in the channel. Wow. I haven’t written in a couple of days. A lot has happened since I last wrote. We left Port Coldwell around 8 a.m. and headed for Terrace Bay. I have to start writing in this more I’m starting to forget stuff.

Feeling our way through the fog, we continued along the shore not finding a good camping spot. We came to a large rock cliff. Following the cliff at the water’s edge, we felt the temperature drop and the wind pick up a little. I told Naomi that we must be back into the open lake.

“Let’s turn around and go back to that flat rock and camp,” I said.

“Okay, dad. That looked like the best spot.”

We would find the nearest spot to camp and set up the tent for the night. So we backtracked for about a half hour, past the old barge again and finally we made it back to the large flat rock we had seen earlier. We pulled the boat up and began to set up camp. A flat rock doesn’t sound like a very comfortable place to pitch a tent. But compared to the cobblestones we had camped on before, this was great.

During the night, a severe thunderstorm rolled through the area. But we stayed warm and dry in our little tent. The only other sound during the night was from the Canadian-Pacific Railroad train that went by in the distance.

In the morning the fog had lifted. Although it was a bit hazy, we could see much better. The rock cliff that was a half-hour’s traveling through the fog was now visible and only 75 yards from our campsite. Our perception was much better without the fog.

Naomi and I now decided we must be in Port Coldwell. Years ago, there had been a small town here in 1910. The family of Henry Gerow and his six sons were commercial fishermen here. There was a little store near the Canadian-Pacific Railway Line. But now, the only signs of human activity were the old barge and a couple of old hulks that had once been wooden boats lying along the shore.

Naomi and I broke camp early again and headed west. The winds were still very light, causing us to use our motor a lot and use up our small supply of gasoline. Just about the time we ran out completely, the sun came out and the breeze picked up. The wind filled our sails. Studying our map we figured we could stop at Jackfish Bay and get some gasoline. We pulled up at the mouth of the river. But after looking around we decided we needed to be on the other side.

We headed for Jackfish Cove. It was a bad day for sailing-foggy, no wind and almost out of gas. We prayed and God really blessed. We pulled into Jackfish Bay on our last bit of gas. Just as we approached the bay, the fog lifted, the air brightened and the sun came out. A nice breeze in the sails pushed us into the bay. It was then we discovered from reading Bonnie Dahl’s cruising guide that the town of Jackfish no longer existed.

GunildaA strong current kept us from going up the river and with no gas we couldn’t use the motor. So we launched the boat into what were now big breakers. We tacked out far enough to reach a point across the mouth of the river. We found a path heading toward some cabins. At one of the cabins we found three guys building an addition. Naomi and I talked with them. They said there was no longer a town at Jackfish Bay. But they did give us enough gasoline to fill our can. They told us about the Slate Islands. There were caribou on the island and also some cabins that the owners left open to whoever wanted to use them.

But there were some cabins there with people working on them-two old people with heavy accents-a middle-aged guy and a big old guy who looked like Santa Claus. They were very nice and gave us some gas. We headed off towards Terrace Bay, bypassing the Slate Islands (which I hear are crawling with caribou). They say there are nice cabins out there open to boaters. I will have to go over there sometime.

Naomi and I thanked them and made our way back to the beach, which stretched for several miles. In the distance were the Slate Islands, looking very beautiful in the midday sun some 10 miles away. Naomi and I would sure like to explore them. But we decided to keep going. We again swore we would make our “Island Tour” another season.


We sailed west under fair skies. The winds were favorable that day until we got close to Terrace Bay. A thunderstorm was quickly moving in with great bolts of lightning and thunder crashing loudly. We headed for the nearest spot to pull in. We got the boat pulled up. It was beginning to rain. So we took the rain fly for the tent and bent down a little tree. We threw the rain fly over it, making a little shelter. Then Naomi and I built a fire to make a hot cup of mocha. We also wanted to use the fire to warm ourselves.

Just before Terrace Bay, a thunderstorm overtook us and we had to pull up on a pebbly beach and throw the rain fly over a tree. We quickly built a little fire and made some hot mocha and passed the time not unpleasantly. Thus the mocha tent was born. It was the first of many. After the storm broke, we set out for Terrace Bay again.

Fortunately, the storm didn’t last long. Soon we were on our way again. After sailing a while, we pulled up on a beach near Terrace Bay. We were near the mouth of a river that had a large waterfall.

Naomi and I caught a ride into town with an older couple from Rossport, Ont. The woman said that her son had a large trimaran (meaning three hulls) sailboat at Rossport. She was meeting him there the next day. Naomi and I had a meal at a restaurant and picked up a few supplies. We also found some maps at the visitors’ center. One of the boys working there gave us a ride back down to the boat. We thanked him and we were on our way again.

Soon, we pulled up on the beach near a waterfall. It was the biggest Canadian city we had been to yet, about 6,000 people. So they had just about everything we needed. We went out and ate Chinese food. Then we went to a tourist info place to get a map. A young Canadian guy took us back to the beach. We hitched a ride to town with an elderly couple who own a trimaran in Rossport.

By evening we were somewhere near the Schreiber Channel. The islands offered us some protection from the open waters of Lake Superior. As we entered the channel and began to look for a place to camp for the night, the sun was setting. As we were setting up camp, the red and gold of the sunset gave us a spectacular view, making us feel welcome on this rugged Canadian shore.

We sailed for Rossport again that evening, but only made it to a little channel outside of town. We camped on a rock island that had little bluebells growing all over it. It was a very pretty spot.

Our camp was overlooking the place of another interesting shipwreck. But this was no ordinary shipwreck. The 185-foot, 385-ton luxury yacht Gunilda was owned by one of the richest men in the world-William Lamont Harkness. He was the heir of his father-in-law’s Standard Oil Company fortune. Harkness and his family were enjoying a leisurely trip along the Canadian shore. It was 1911. Harkness had a professional captain and crew of considerable size. But there is a saying that says, “Pride goeth before destruction.” And it certainly was true in this case.

Days before at Coldwell Harbor, Harkness had made it known to locals that he was headed for Rossport and then on into Nipigon Bay. A thoroughly experienced local man named Donald Murray offered to pilot the Gunilda into Nipigon Bay. He would do this for the sum of $15. Despite his wealth, Harkness brusquely rejected the offer saying it was too much. The next day, while Harkness was loading coal at Jackfish Bay, similar inquiries brought an offer from Harry Legault to pilot the boat to Rossport. He wanted $25 and train fare back. Although Captain Corkum and his crew thought this was a reasonable offer, Harkness was outraged at the preposterous fee and dismissed the whole idea. Entering Schrieber Channel, the captain saw no shoals marked on their U.S. navigational charts. If they would have had Canadian charts, McGarvey’s Shoal would have been marked. But with 300 feet of water showing on his chart, he confidently shoved the engine telegraph to “full ahead.”

The Gunilda cruising ahead at full speed was a thing of beauty. With the same arrogance surrounding the ocean liner Titanic, which would sink a year later, the Gunilda was blindly racing ahead in the pride of wealth and security. Harkness and his family were enjoying the scenery. Suddenly, there was a tremendous shock, which threw the passengers and crew into disarray. The shelves onboard were cleared of the yacht’s prized china.

The force of the collision caused the ship to be carried 85 feet up onto McGarvey Shoal. There she sat with her bow breaching out of the water. One of the grandest yachts the world had ever seen was now helpless. The captain and crew were able to take the lifeboats into Rossport where the owner was able to telegraph for a wrecking tug from Fort William, which was over on Thunder Bay.

When the tug James Whalen arrived, Harkness was eager to re-float his yacht. But the experienced Capt. Whalen suggested there was a danger of the boat “misbehaving.” He suggested that he return to Thunder Bay to retrieve two barges to support the aft end of the yacht.

“Never mind that,” Harkness snapped. “Just pull her off.”

“But suppose she lists or twists?” Whalen said. “I still think we should have a couple of scows lashed to her.”

“Pull! Just pull,” Harkness yelled.Shipwreck

The tug captain did just that. After several attempts, the Gunilda began to move. But instead of sliding evenly into the water, she took a starboard list. Her aft rail went under, causing her to gulp in large amounts of the cold water of Nipigon Bay. So simple had the salvage operation appeared that no one had closed the portholes or secured the companion way doors. In a few minutes it was all over. The Gunilda slid backwards and disappeared into 300 feet of water. And there the mighty yacht rests to this day. What had once been one of the finest ships in the world was now silent in the icy depths of Lake Superior.

The red and gold of the sunset over the wild and lonely wave-lapped shores of Nipigon Bay made it even more unbelievable that just outside our tent door in the Canadian wilderness lie this once beautiful ship. This was indeed silent testimony to the pride and arrogance of wealth. Naomi and I slept peacefully that night. Our 16-foot sailboat was pulled safely onto shore next to the tent. The lapping of the waves on the shore was the only sound.

This is the ninth of a series of excerpts from Carl Behrend’s book Adventure Bound. For more information on how to purchase books, CD’s or to arrange bookings call 906-387-2331 or visit