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.