Birch Lake Weekend, September 2017

Here’s to remembering the joys of summer as we are pulling out of another long Minnesota winter.  Early last summer, I had the chance to meet a few other small boat sailor, and someone mentioned Birch lake as a great destination.  As it is a four hour drive, I didn’t give it too much thought, but as I thought about doing a full weekend trip it seemed worth checking.

The lake is in north-eastern MN, on the edge of the great Boundary Waters (another place I want to get to).  It is plenty long for a small sailboat (30 miles?), yet it is never very wide making it feel safe for a smaller boat and has tons of small nooks and crannies to tuck into for the night for any wind conditions.  It is also supposed to have great fishing, though that didn’t help me much.  With the forecast of a warm and windy later summer weekend, it was time to give it a shot.  When almost at the lake, I stopped by the local bait shop, who had a nice sign, but were not especially helpful.  Then after so many weekends juggling for a spot on the dock at any local lake, here on a Friday afternoon I had the whole place to myself.

Once partway into the main channel there was plenty of wind. After a full afternoon of sailing, ended the day by motoring up a long narrow south-facing channel to escape the expected strong northerly winds.  When pulled in close to shore, barely felt a breeze.   Amid the quiet twilight I started hearing a loud “thwack!!” every few minutes, which is somewhat alarming when you’re the only one around and you don’t know what its from.  I prairie dog out the hatch, eventually seeing a faint dark shape swimming around (a disgruntled beaver it turns out).  Despite his sporadic thumping lasting for hours, slept better than any other night on the boat with no current or wind to speak of.

With all the channels, islands, and bays, its a fun lake for navigating around with map, compass and binoculars.  Tried my luck with fishing, catching a single northern pike for my efforts.

For the second night, found another cove to escape similar overnight winds.  This time no beaver, but loon calls and a handful of pesky mosquitoes instead.  Appreciated the hard top with the evening showers.  Recommendation for any PocketShip sailors- I had always been annoyed with the slap of the rudder back and forth, as I had fixed the tiller centered.  For a much quieter night, pulled out the tiller letting the rudder float to the side (pad as needed to prevent any rubbing).

Woke up to another beautiful morning, with the water and surrounding mix of birch, pine and various hardwoods all blended together.  To top it off, spotted a couple soaring bald eagles on the return leg.  If you happen to be in the area, certainly recommend it – easily my favorite overnight sailing lake I’ve been on.  A perfect combination of sailing and camping/backpacking.


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Summer Sailing 2017

With the sailing and kayak building (more on that in another post) season long past here in Minnesota, time to reminiscence on warmer times.  Took some photos from the water level, kinda fun to see PocketShip from a new perspective.


Another lesson learned after finding the boat in storage after the winter – make sure all corners are securely tied down!  Amazing the tarp didn’t tear or leak any water.


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Lake Pepin Sleigh Rides

Despite a slow start to summer sailing, had some fun time on the water to close out the season.  For the first time, having my own garage made boat repair much easier and more enjoyable, but it still takes time.  After several years of outdoor storage, the exposed wood got a few fresh coats of varnish to make her look new again.

After only sailing at only one nearby lake, I decided to try a larger sampling of Minnesota’s 10,000+ lakes.  First to Lake Beebe, after some fishermen kindly recommended me not put my “beautiful” boat in the lake I had planned to visit as it looked great from google maps.  Apparently the shallow lake had been further drained the last couple years, and there are “trackers” just below the water and plenty of others debris for the unwary boater to crash into.  Beebe provided some deep waters, the rare fish allowing themselves to be caught from the boat, and quiet waters for reading at anchor behind an island.


Having a free weekend ahead, I had planned for a while for a weekend cruise to Lake Pepin.  After much time checking out the area on the internet and getting the boat and gear ready, I drove to Lake City to launch in the city marina.  Plenty of friendly fellow sailors there to help launch “Garage Sail”, something I am certainly not used to in any other lake in the area.  Headed out on the water with some solid tailwinds of 13-20+ kts, which I had sailed in before, but never single handed.  After a bit of trial and error, realized despite the reefed main, it was certainly challenging to keep a steady course while providing spirited sailing (surfing at up to 7 kts).  A lot of rudder was needed to keep straight – so much that I was afraid the tiller might snap.  What was much easier, was sailing with the jib alone, with only a small loss in speed of 1-2 kts.  Along the way, saw a variety of boats including a long and short river barge charging upstream.

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The forecast held true, resulting in a calm night despite the windy days.  With the heavy rains in the past weeks, the Chippewa River delta was plenty deep to allow the shallow sailboat to tuck into a side channel with ~270 degree tree coverage blocking the winds.  The two bow anchors set apart from each other,  a steady river current, and light winds made for a very quiet and still boat all night.  Like others, I have have found that the boat sways considerably in any moderate wind when at anchor (perhaps due to the large cabin and offset anchor due to bowsprit?) – would love to hear if anyone has found a better anchor/sail/etc arrangement when at anchor. Nice to sleep with the sounds of the river, insects and birds.  Tried adding a tarp over the boom/gaff to add a bit more darkness in the morning and keeping the dew in check for half the cockpit.  Also tried a bungee cord to the tiller, which wasn’t a problem this time, but is typically is a bit noisy if locked or if let free allow it to bang side to side.

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After a slow morning, time to head back.  Luckily, once again, the weather forecast held true and the winds shifted allowing for a easy beam reach for all of the 10+ miles back once I got back into the main lake.  Tried a bit more fishing, but in my time in MN so far, the Mississippi River is never cooperative in providing fish.  So just as well, as the winds were to increase in ferocity as the afternoon progressed.  For the return ride, a reefed main + jib was again a bit much, so processed with main alone.  I had always thought that the jib was important to windward progress, and perhaps this is so, but with main alone I had no trouble keeping to windward without the need to tack once.    The wind was enough for the “angle-o-meter” to hit up to 45 degrees allowing for a nice quad workout keeping myself in place with one hand on the side rail and the other on the tiller. There was also a bit of wind swell/chop on the lake giving just enough spray to add to the fun, but was glad for the significant bow volume to ride over much of the waves.  Once out of the water, walked out the small downtown of Lake City which was full of stalls of some sort street festival battling the blowing wind.




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