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Setting Sail on Lake Superior

Sailing boat called Frodo

Lake Superior and our boat, Frodo

Our Canadian adventure had brought us over to Thunder Bay; where we had just stuffed ourselves with Finnish pancakes in anticipation of our next endeavor. It seemed apt that our boat was called Frodo, a small, but sea-worthy sailing boat. We were about to embark on a quest on the world’s biggest fresh water lake, Lake Superior.

The lake even has to mention in the name that it is a lake, otherwise it would get mistaken for an ocean, and for all intents and purposes it might as well be an ocean. It’s big enough for you to loose whole warships in with out a trace.

No seriously, the French Minesweepers Inkerman and Cerisoles set sail from Thunder Bay after they had been built in 1918 with 78 sailors on board; they were never seen since and nobody knows what happened to them. Usually when I think of a lake, it’s the kind of places were you can’t really loose a warship in.

So yes, it’s pretty big as lakes go.

Our captain Greg loaded the ship as we used the last of the Internets. We were about to leave civilization and all that came with it behind us, we were about to go off-grid. We made a last minute dash to change car reservations and cancel hotel bookings. You know, the normal travel stuff.

With the boat stocked, we pulled up the anchor and set course to the open water. Soon the biggest grain lifts in North America were sliding past us as we aimed for the harbour entrance. It seemed like and odd place for them, but when the captain explained us the history of Thunder Bay, it started to make sense.

We set sail from the safety of the harbour

We set sail from the safety of the harbour

Structures used to transport iron with trains to ships

Structures used to transport iron with trains to ships

The way out of the harbour

The way out of the harbour

Thunder Bay wasn’t always called Thunder Bay, the city owns it history to a fur trading outpost called Fort William that was set up in the seventeenth century. It was a place were fur trading canoes coming north and south would meet, exchange cargoes and conduct business. The outpost thrived because of its location. Yes, location. While this might not be obvious from looking at a map, Thunder Bay actually is in an optimal location to transport fur, grain and other things from west Canada to the east coast.

Our captain explained this to us as we sailed past the, now mostly, abandoned structures. Soon however the winds caught our sails and we were speeding along; quickly leaving behind us the last remnants of civilization. Now it was just us and the sea… err, well, the lake. There weren’t even any other boats as far as we could see.

It was time to sit back, relax and enjoy the views. We sailed past islands with sleeping giants, old structures and abandoned mine shafts hiding who knows what; it really was like the Middle Earth. The islands also had cool names like the Moonshine Island, Sucker Island and Pie Island.

Speaking of islands, Lake Superior actually has islands which have lakes, and some of those lakes on those islands even have islands of their own. An island within an island, sounds like the kind of place you’d built a an evil lair in.

It was time to relax and enjoy the views

It was time to relax and enjoy the views

So our captain decided to raise the sails

Our captain decided to raise the sails

The sleeping giant

The sleeping giant

We passed islands with old abandoned mines

Islands with old abandoned mines

The winds pushed as along and the sun was still high as we reached our destination, Thompson Island. An uninhabited little island where people had built a sauna and a pier. So there’s an island, nobody owns it, and people have decided to build a sauna and a pier there, set up some solar powered lights for the paths and even dragged a bench to the view point. Not to mention there is a nice toilet with toilet paper. And people did this, not because it was their island, but because, well, it would be nice if there was a sauna there. Seriously Canada, you’re pretty awesome!

We saw an another boat already tied to the pier as we approached. The sailors greeted us cheerfully as they came to help moor our boat to the pier. They had already thrown a few more logs into the fire to keep the sauna warm for us since they had seen us approach. Canadian friendliness really isn’t a myth.

The sauna was tempting, but we were too excited by the uninhabited island, so we decided to go for a hike first. It was unbelievably tranquil, we were the only people for miles. It’s a realization that there still is plenty of empty space available on this planet.

Finally it was time to get into the sauna, and it was awesome; wood burning sauna with water we had to carry from the lake. Although the lake itself was still too cold for us to even consider having a swim. It felt almost like being back home, a sauna without any electricity by the water. A simpler kind of life; Thunder Bay definitely has a lot of Finnish history.

We arrived at Thompson Island

We arrived at Thompson Island

Where the sauna was waiting for us

Where the sauna was waiting for us

It was such a tranquil place

It really is remote

The other side of the island was also peaceful

And such a beautiful spot

Next morning, it was with heavy hearts we set sail from, what was by now known to us as, “our island” and on back towards civilization and Thunder Bay.

Disclaimer: We were hosted by the Thunder Bay Tourism board and Sail Superior but all opinions are my own. And if you are in Ontario and you’re interested in sailing, I’d definitely recommend them!

Have you ever been sailing?


  1. Beautiful shots! Looks like a great day!
    Ayngelina recently posted..Stenciled CuencaMy Profile

  2. What an adventure! I tried sailing for the first time in Auckland on an America’s Cup Yacht recently. It was a lot more exciting than I’d expected!
    Arianwen recently posted..Flying High at Happy Valley AdventuresMy Profile

  3. Great photos. I’m just wondering what were they mining at those mines. How do they get through the mines when it is so steep? well, here goes my curiosity.

    • Jane – they were probably looking for silver. It was commonly mined in the 19th century up here. There are many mine sites in the area, most of them not too successful but enough to keep them at it. One was remarkable at a place called Silver Islet only 15 miles away. Check out this video.

  4. what fantastic photos!

  5. Hi Jarmo
    Glad to see you posted this piece – I just checked today after meeting you on Thompson Island last May when you arrived on Frodo. Great photos and commentary. Nice to hear the compliments about our back yard. Let me know when you’re returning and we’ll heat up the sauna and build up a good “löyly” again.

  6. Amazing place nice pics thanks for sharing it.

  7. Nice photos. You should totally write one again this year. :)
    Alex recently posted..60 Minimalist Gift IdeasMy Profile

  8. Woah, islands within lakes within islands within a lake? Sign me up! haha Great post and pictures
    Craig recently posted..Smith Farm Reserve and Knowles Beach in Dartmouth, MAMy Profile