Friday, August 6, 2010

We Pass Through Death's Door . . . and Live to Tell the Tale

Port des Mortes:  Doesn't look so deadly, does it?
On Monday we entered Wisconsin!  Here's a note from Captain's Log, Stardate August 2, 2010:

The famous cobbles of Schoolhouse Beach
"Today we crossed our last long stretch of open water until the Gulf of Mexico. Now, “long stretch of open water”  means that, at some point, you can see neither the shore you left nor the shore where you’re headed.  Captain's log continues:  "Crossing open water must have required real courage in the days before GPS and chart plotters. Less courage is required with a color video screen; still, we’re making this crossing in a boat designed for dead calm and water five feet deep, so perhaps a little glory is warranted."  Anyway, we crossed to Washington Island, Wisconsin, and headed down the Door Peninsula, the first leg of a run ever southward towards the Gulf of Mexico, which means that, for months to come, we’ll constantly be in sight of land and able to holler for help when necessary.  (All mothers reading this blog may now breathe a sigh of relief.)

A friend of the crew writes:  "Are you able to use your bicycle much?"  Answer: Yes! My cute folding bike may live in the shower stall, but it gets out a good bit. Washington Island is about four miles long and four miles wide and criss-crossed with quaint, rolling country roads, and after dinner I biked ALL-the-heck over it, including Schoolhouse Beach, famous for being covered not with sand but with cobblestones. 

Barn swallows at the marina enjoyed bouncing on our lines
We stayed at the Shipyard Marina, where the owner told us, the tourist season is short, so (like a family farm) they've diversified and now have an international mail-order business in boat parts.  This requires good internet service, which rural areas like this don't always have.  But Washington Island has Wisconsin's first known example of “broadband over power line” communications, technology that transmits high-speed Internet service over electrical power lines to a full range of customers--installed through a deal between IBM (the worldwide provider of information technology), and the tiny Washington Island Electric Co-op. 

Also in the name of diversification, the marina has a restaurant, where your seat at the bar faces a wall of glass and (the night we were there) a magnificent sunset--jagged red spikes of light shooting up from a dramatic dark purple bank of clouds.  We sampled the local microbrew, produced from wheat products grown sustainably right there on the Island.   And speaking of sustainably farmed wheat products, the island's crop is also used to make Death's Door Spirits: gin, vodka, and something called "white whiskey."

Run aground in perilous seas!
The guy down at the end of the bar explained the name comes from how you feel the morning after you sample some.  But the cute blond barmaid (after she was done chatting with another guy about bass fishing--she loves it--and water snakes--she hates them)  told us the name really comes from the dangerous passage we would have to traverse the next morning, Port des Mortes.

According to local legend, the name comes from an episode deep in the past where one Indian tribe set a duplicitous signal fire on a bluff to lure their rivals (in canoes) to their death on the rocks.  The passage IS very rocky and rough--in 1872 (the height of the sailing ship era) 100 vessels either stranded or were damaged in the passage.

The next morning dawned sunny and clear.  Clanking sounds interrupted our breakfast.  A sailboat, leaving the marina, had turned just slightly out of the channel and run aground--and that was just in the harbor, not even at Death's Door! Kedging her off failed, but a powerboat from the marina gave her a tow and that did the trick.  

When we made OUR passages--first, out of the marina, then, through Death's Door--we had GPS on deck and the latest updates from the robo-weather grrrrll--and it was smooth sailing.


  1. Oh I love Washington Island and I'm so glad you guys have had a chance to experience it. We had a blast biking there many years ago when we were visiting. I'm interested to hear what you think of Door County - which bills itself as the "Cape Cod of New England".

  2. Door County!! Be sure to get some Cherry Perserves from Bea's Ho-Made in Ellison Bay! It's to die for!!!