Eldorado Takes a Plunge

Island Gazette, Madeline Island In Lake Superior
From: Vol. 47 No. 5 June 21 – August 3, 2010 (Reprint from April 1982)

Woody Petersen’s Eldorado Takes A Plunge

Frank Woods “Woody” Petersen of Omaha, Nebraska and the island has placed himself (involuntarily) in the Island “Ice crossing Hall of Fame”, and has done it in the grand manner.  He somehow managed to put his 1978 Custom Eldorado Cadillac Convertible, reportedly valued at about $30,000 through the ice and a long way down to the bottom of Lake Superior –about 170 ft.

On the 29th, the crossing was not at its best (and this year even the best was not good) although there had been some travel. Arnie Nelson and John Prittie had been over and back and then there was Woody, who went over, and “down”.

Woody left Bayfield about 1 A.M., heading for an unusually dark Island, as apparently the lights at both the O’Brien and the Griggs approaches were out. The Griggs approach, about ½ mile further North, had just been opened for use as the more commonly used O’Brien approach had deteriorated badly.

It was pretty much a “pick your own road” situation, and as Woody was traveling somewhat hurriedly and concentrating on evasive action where it became necessary, he veered quite a bit too far North, heading almost directly for Leona’s — which wouldn’t have been open if he’d have made it.

About half-way, the big Caddy met her match and became mired in the death grip of a Lake Superior slush hole.  As water began running in on the floor, Woody decided it was time to get out and call a taxi.  Unfortunately they are pretty scarce out there – so he had to walk about a mile and a half through slush to the Island, and then another quarter mile to his house.

It has been reported that before leaving Bayfield he told someone to send out the Marines if he hadn’t arrived by a certain time, which he hadn’t, and his first question was where were the marines.  His next, by telephone to Arnie Nelson, was what time in the morning could he get the car unstuck.

However, when Arnie and Tommy Nelson went out early next morning in the windsled, all they found was a set of tire tracks ending abruptly, and a very big hole.  They told Woody he was stuck a little deeper than he thought and they would need a very long rope.

Word spread quickly, and pretty much halted all car travel, even tho’ Woody had been North of the road.  He wasn’t quite the last car across, but he was the last one half-way across.

Roy “Cigar” Nelson had quickly marked the spot with an ice buoy, as recovery attempts would have to wait until the ice was gone.  However, it was hoped they could locate the car and get a line on it because the current and the murky bottom might make it more difficult later.

Divers were sent down, but at 130 ft. their regulators were freezing, and they hadn’t reached bottom.  It now appeared that the infamous Caddy was resting much deeper than it was first thought.  When Woody hits bottom he goes all the way.

Attempts were also made to locate the car by grappling, hoping to luck out and catch on some part of the vehicle, with no luck. Now that the ice has gone, they will try again from the Nelson Construction barge, and with the aid of divers, hopefully they will fish out the elusive Eldorado. Woody is not the first to drop a car through, although we try not to make a practice of it. He will, however, probably go down in the records as having sunk the most expensive the deepest.

Island Gazette, Madeline Island In Lake Superior
Evan Erickson, Publisher / Waggie Erickson, Editor
Subscription: $20/year
PO Box 400, La Pointe, WI 54850 or isg@cheqnet.net

Record Setting Cold Winter

Island Gazette, Madeline Island In Lake Superior
From: Vol. 51 No. 2 January 21 to March 11, 2014

2014 Has Been A Record Setting Cold Winter

  1. Dec. Jan. Feb. Total days that went above 32˚ were only 8. The  average is 29˚
  2. This year we had the most days in at least the past 24 years of 10˚ below or more with 35. The next most was in 95/96 with 28. The average minus -10˚ we get in a year is 9.
  3. This year we had the least amount of days in Dec. Jan, and Feb. when temperatures would get above 32˚ in at least the past 24 years with 8. The next closest was 2010/11 with 15.
  4. Islanders began crossing on the Ice Road Jan. 14th. In the past 27 years the next earliest date is Jan. 14th, 1991.
  5. The Ice Road has been open for 60 days. Since 1998 the average has been dropping from 50 days to 44 days. The longest open Ice Road was 85 days in 1990 and ended on March 23rd. The second longest open Ice Road was 67 days in 1997 that lasted until March 26th. The average end of an ice road is March 17th. The latest recorded “Open Ice Road” that I have recorded was April 3rd, 1996. (This was the last day Shelly Laska dared to drive herself across the ice to work at the Town Hall). The Ice Road this year will likely be at least the second longest on record if it goes to March 22nd.
  6. Ice thickness has been reported by Jeff Hood to be at 29 inches. The ice has been reported to be far thicker than that in some other areas. We are generally pleased to get 18” on an average year.
  7. The Ferry Boats shut down on Jan. 3rd. In past 50 years they have only shut down 14 times before this.
  8. The longest shut down was 113 days in 1965 when the Ferry boats the Nichevo and the GarHow made the first trip on April 22nd. The boats would have to not run until April 26th to tie that record. The average first trip for the Ferry Boats is now April 2nd. The latest first trip was in 1996 on April 25th. The ice is very thick, the snow on it is deep and if temperatures stay so far below normal as they have been all winter we might break yet another cold winter record, unless of course, the Duluth Ice Breaker the Alder has something to say about that as it did last year when it broke a trail to Bayfield on April 3rd.
  9. As for the snow. We have 90.8″ so far this year. The average is 78.95″ for an entire year. The most snow we have had was 155.80″ last year (42.90″ in April and another 14.20″ in May, far from normal). The next most snowfall was in 96/97 with 126.20″. What makes this year seem like there is a record amount of snow is that we have had very little of it melt. The blacktopped roads were snow-covered on Dec. 3rd and we have not seen bare blacktop since then. Again, far from normal, but, I guess this is the Island.
  10. Temperatures in Dec:  Average high: 17.8˚, Average low: 4.5˚, Jan: Average high 13.3˚, Average low – 6.1˚, Feb: Average high 17.8˚, Average low – 4.0˚
  11. Coldest Low: -21˚ Feb. 28th, March 1st, March 2nd, Coldest High: -12˚ Jan. 7th
  12. Lake Superior was reported to be 94% frozen over this year.
  13. Melting News! Spring has sprung. The March temperatures hit 34˚ on the 7th and into the 50’s by the 10th. The snow is melting, water is running and the Ice Road is very, very wet and sinking on both sides along the snow banks, though it is still open, but it is not for the faint of heart.

Island Gazette, Madeline Island In Lake Superior
Evan Erickson, Publisher / Waggie Erickson, Editor
Subscription: $20/year
PO Box 400, La Pointe, WI 54850 or isg@cheqnet.net

Row Around Madeline Island

Island Gazette, Madeline Island In Lake Superior
By Matt Collins, From: Vol. 46 No. 6 July 28 – October 6, 2009

Lost in Fog, Summer Visitor Finds Meaning in Row Around Madeline Island

A perfectly appropriate reaction to anyone who has rowed around Madeline Island would be to ask, “Why bother?” There is no sanctioned race, no charitable cause (at least for me) to support. It doesn’t match the distance or importance of Evan Erickson’s recent row to Duluth. I rowed around Madeline Island, and I didn’t really ask myself that question until about three hours into the journey. The answer proved to be at least as interesting to me as the row itself because of how unexpectedly challenging that row became on Thursday, July 23, 2009.

For days leading up to the planned morning of departure, the forecast indicated perfect conditions: light winds and calm water. Partially overcast skies, also predicted, made for a nice bonus. Secure in my knowledge that these variables were favorable, my attention turned to managing the mechanics and logistics of long distance rowing: keeping hands blister-free, hydrating and eating, preventing back and shoulder pain, and choosing between a clockwise or counterclockwise heading. Thanks to months of training and some great advice from Adventure Vacations and Boat Charters in La Pointe, I was prepared for these aspects as well. Everything pointed to an ideal day, except for one thing. I did not foresee what became a nearly insurmountable hurdle, and that was fog. Not a light fog, but one that would have been right at home in San Francisco or London.

Undaunted, at 7 am I dipped my oars into the water at Fir Cote dock, which points north to the mainland and is about a 12 minute row from the La Pointe town dock. It was then that I made the sort of foolish decision about navigating in fog that can get adventurers into serious trouble. Rather than maintain eye contact with the shoreline, which given the fog’s heavy cloak would have meant hugging the coast, I decided to execute my plan of rowing along a line that connects the many points that stick out into the lake, thereby cutting across its bays and inlets. My plan would save time and distance. The alternative would take much longer, so I oriented the bow of the Tonka 12’ rowboat toward the northern end of Sunset Bay, and within 15 minutes found myself completely enveloped in white. No sight of sun or shore, no sound of birds or boats. Only the Bayfield foghorn disturbed the silence, creating odd echoes and reverberations all around me. On a lake I thought I knew so well after over 30 years, I was lost.

While not immobilized by my disorientation, a series of “what if’s” registered in my mind as I stared out 35 yards in every direction into a solid wall of mist. What if I drift into the open channel? My left hand dominance would tend to steer me in that direction. What if the fog didn’t lift? That would surely end my journey. What if a boat, especially a motorboat, burst through the fog and hit me? I realized I’d be able to hear the boat coming, even if I couldn’t see it, but would have no way of waving or shouting off any on-comer. I realized I had to get to shore, but how?

My way out came courtesy of a technology that I had brought to measure my speed and distance. It’s an application called “Sports Tracker,” which runs on Nokia mobile phones. It works by communicating with a GPS satellite to constantly fix one’s position. It also provides relative heading. While pondering worst-case scenarios, I took out my phone and saw that I had been going relatively straight in a north-east heading up the channel. With a 90 degree turn to the left, I figured, the shore should become visible after only about five minutes working the oars.

But I didn’t execute a 90 degree turn. After making what I thought was the appropriate adjustment and 20 more minutes of rowing, I saw no sign of the island’s tree line. I checked Sports Tracker again, and this time saw that I had completely reversed course. I was still lost, though now had wasted about four kilometers, adding about 40 minutes to my already long day ahead. Quitting seemed to me an appropriate option.

Fortunately, nature then intervened in my favor. First, the sun burned a hazy hole in the fog, allowing me to orient my bow in its direction. I pulled hard until the sun disappeared. Then, the sound of song birds rose above the quiet from the same easterly direction. Shortly thereafter, I found the shore.  A quick assessment – still early in the day, provisions unused, hands and back feeling fine, a way of navigating now apparent – and I pressed on.

That decision meant I had to hug the shore, and this meant adding miles to my trip. I originally had estimated the row’s total distance to be about 25-30 miles, but that assumed a shortcut across every bay. Hugging the shore might add 20 percent or so to that total, which probably would put the family record out of reach. (My father, David Collins, circumnavigated Madeline Island in 9hr54min in 1991.)

The fog stayed with me until I reached Grant’s Point, a mere 30 minutes before my return to Fir Cote, which meant almost every tree, beach, cliff and cave was shrouded in a hazy gauze. The rest of the row was to me a blur of work interrupted by short breaks and the discernible milestones that indicate progress: Devil’s Cauldron, Big Bay’s beaches and lagoon, the South Shore Road, Grant’s Point, Town Dock, winter road, and home again. So this trip would not be about speed or enjoying the island’s varied and stunning views. With besting historical times and sightseeing off the table, the question remains: why bother?

I think the answer lies in what happens when everything but keeping the oars in the water is stripped away. I allowed myself no introspection, no probing life questions inspired by nature’s creation, and virtually no communication with any other person (though I did get a welcome visit from my family with about 90 minutes remaining, which lifted my spirits). Untethered from all the thoughts and routines that define the typical day, I felt liberated. The only thing that mattered was to keep going. I didn’t quit my row around Madeline Island because I wanted to see if I could pull it off despite getting lost, facing a much longer day than I expected, having a close call with a recklessly powered motorboat, and missing so much of the island’s glory. Even with all that, I still would rather have been out on Lake Superior than anywhere else in the world.

Think you can beat my time (9h24min, 36.25 miles traveled)?

Island Gazette, Madeline Island In Lake Superior
Evan Erickson, Publisher / Waggie Erickson, Editor
Subscription: $20/year
PO Box 400, La Pointe, WI 54850 or isg@cheqnet.net