Basswood Island

Your on-line cruise of the Apostle Islands starts here!

It isn't common, but a few times each season a huge lake freighter will be seen churning up the West Channel toward the open lake after a stop in Ashland or Washburn at the south end of Chequamegon Bay.

That passage, along with six lighthouses, and names on our charts, are about the only reminders we have that the waters we play on were once a major hub of commercial shipping on the Great Lakes.


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It wasn't all that long ago, either.

In the fall of 1939 when my old schooner first visited Bayfield, she arrived by the South Channel, between Madeline Island and Long Island, because she was inbound to Chequamegon Bay from the Saint Lawrence Seaway and the locks Sault St. Marie.

Leaving Bayfield for Duluth, the tired crew of Huloa could have taken the North Channel, which runs between Basswood and Madeline Islands.

But my bet is that they sailed up the more direct West Channel, a one mile wide by under four mile long passage between the mainland and Basswood.

In 1939, there were still people living on Basswood. A dairy farmer was there, hauling his goods by boat to customers at Red Cliff.

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In a way, it's too bad Basswood is so close to Bayfield.

A boater goes past Bass to get anywhere else in the Apostle Islands - and they pass Bass when they return.

Above: Basswood Dock
Though the dock is 70 feet long, your draft will need to be under five feet in normal conditions to use the end of this dock.
And that's too bad. Because if one knows just a little about the history of the area, takes the time, and applies a small amount imagination, the human geography of the whole bay is right here near Basswood Island.

On the mainland to the west, on what our charts call Buffalo Bay, is the Red Cliff Reservation, established in 1855 for the Ojibwe who were Catholic. Protestant Ojibwe ended up in the Bad River Reservation.

Poke the bow of your boat into the Red Cliff Marina. See that huge concrete foundation? A lumber mill stood there once, back when there were virgin pine forests.

Over at Roys Point Marina was another lumber mill.

And on the south east corner of Basswood are the remains of the first sandstone quarry in the islands, opened in 1868 - closed 1903.

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The path from the dock will take you  past where the dairy farm stood, and right to the edge of the quarry.

Above: Two views of the standing rock at the north end of Basswood. Also called Honeymoon Rock.

In the late 1800's, the busy docks of Chequamegon Bay made it the second busiest seaport on all of the Great Lakes.

Lumber, iron ore, fish, grain, and sandstone filled the holds of ships.

In 1893 over 7,000 ships came and went in Chequamegon Bay. And more than a few were lost - shipwrecked.

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Above: A rather poor image of the steamer "Fedora" - 282 feet long, 41 feet wide, 20 feet draft and quite representative of the ships that came and went in Chequamegon Bay. The iron ribs of "Fedora" still poke above the surface just north of Red Cliff Campground, where she was run aground as an explosion and fire destroyed her in 1901.
The West Channel, well protected from most ill winds, is where my old schooner once spent a good amount of   time.

Schooner Bay  was home port for a few years.

And if I'm out for a short afternoon sail there is really no better place to do so than near Basswood Island.

Sailing around Basswood Island never gets old. And there is nothing quite like a lazy reach down one of her lee sides followed by roaring reach up the other - or the other way around - and a wing & wing into Bayfield for an ice cream cone.

There is good holding ground found not only near the dock at Basswood, but also in a number of  less crowded areas of the shore line.

The island is easy to hike, offers great views of boat traffic, several very nice camping areas, and its narrow sandy beaches are almost private swimming holes in late summer.

Look for a black bald-headed  gaff schooner anchored near the shore, guarded by a big white friendly dog - that's us.

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Feel free to jump ship at this point if you'd like. Just do the click thing to the link below.

But you are welcome to stay aboard.

We might just as well do lunch now. So if you take the tiller for a bit, I'll step down to the galley and slap some sandwichs together.

What we'll do now is sail past the south side of Hermit Island, slip past the north end of Madeline, and spend some time near Michigan Island.

We have about ten miles of sailing to do, and this south wind is just right for a quiet reach.

You want cheese with the cold cuts?


Return To Chequamegon Bay and the Apostle Islands


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