In the Teeth of the Northeaster
Bree and Persistence, dared greatly, struggled greatly and had a worthy run, told with tuching candor. Bree is at his best in telling of those times when the lake was at its worst. -- Evening Journal, Wilmington, DE
"Fulfilling his dream cruise, gingerly tiptoeing from Bayfield to Thunder Bay, Marlin Bree is often whumped back inside the infrequent breakwaters by almost daily thunderstorms. It's a lake whose square waves can flex thousand-footers--especially in a Northeaster. Up from the pages emerges an aura of distance, dispersion, absences; a cleanliness and poetry; and above all, a cold, windy presence determining all. Fascinating.
- Sail magazine.
For one summer, the author sailed alone on Lake Superior in a 20-foot wooden sailboat he built in his backyard. He writes about kind-hearted waterfront people, early voyageurs, shipwrecks, storms, gold, and an island of silver that was once the world's richest mine.
In the Teeth of the Northeaster has tales of seafaring on the world's largest freshwater lake, including the last hours of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Ultimately, Bree encounters a storm that gives Superior the reputation as being one of the world's most dangerous bodies of water.
His gripping adventure during a Northeaster will thrill readers.
ISBN 0-943400-72-4/ Color cover / 6 x 9 inch size, 228 pages, trade paperback, 28 photos, illustrations, and maps. Price $14.95 U.S. or $22.95 in Canada.
Storm over Superior
Excerpt from In the Teeth of the Northeaster
I rubbed my eyes with cold fingers and watched the lighthouse at the breakwater fade into the distance. My masthead light winked out its red, green, and white warning as I probed deeper into the lake. In the predawn darkness and fog patches, I could feel the waves more than see them. Something in my mind kept repeating, danger, danger, but I tried to ignore it. Sailing Lake Superior was as much a mental battle as a physical one.
"Hello..Security.." I called on my VHF radio. "This is the sailboat Persistence leaving Two Harbors on a northernly course of oh - four - oh. Over." I repeated my message several times, then flipped the switch to receive. There was only a white hiss.
I picked up my damp chart to double check my course and wrote dowhn my compass heading and estimated speed. It was 5:19 a.m. I had just passed the Two Harbors lighthouse. Finally, I was on my way up the north shore, from Minnesota to the Canadian border.
I had been warned that I could sail Superior's north shore from mid-July to mid-August, but after that, the lake couldn't be trusted. Now I had to hurry; I was behind schedule.
Superior's damp chill penetrated my heavy nylon parka, wool sweater and long underwear. I huddled down in the open cockpit. Through it was midsummer, the big sea has a way of draining a person of bodily warmth. I told myself that this was what solo sailing up north was all about -- getting up in predawn hours for a stretch of calm water before the lake began kicking up. High waves, or worse, inevitably came with fierce winds in late afternoon.
Persistence began to be lightly bucked by rolling swells of dark water. As if by magic, a glowing red ball appeared on the horizon. Dawn was approaching. The sun bored its way through the fog and cast blood-colored rays upon Superior's dark waves. I hoped it would burn off the fog, but I remembered the old sailor's warning: "Red sky at morning, sailor take warning."
Slowly the day brightened, and the big sea turned a brilliant blue flecked with whitecaps. In the distance, I could see the shore, edged by foaming surf. Beyond the reefs, the green shoreline climbed quickly into the Sawtooth Mountain range. Wisps of vapor hung over the pine forests. A dark, almost black, patch of land or fog -- I couldn't tell which it was -- lay on the horizon.
I began to sense something ominous in the air. I turned my face to the breeze, trying to find out what direction it was coming from. It seemed to lie just beyond the dark mass in front of me.
The wind was swinging around now, a bad sign. I had been warned repeatedly about the northeaster -- a storm that roars down from Canada, building up fierce winds and waves over hundreds of miles of open water.
I swallowed hard. If the wind shifted just a few more degrees, it would be from the northeast. And that meant not just any storm, but the one I dreaded.
The morning passed, and, I needed to eat. Securing the tiller to let Persistence hold the best course she could, I went below to the cabin to rummage about for a cookie. It would be my long-overdue breakfast.
When I climbed back to the cockpit, the fog bank had taken on a strange rolling motion, no longer just exending off the shore and onto the lake. It was now moving toward me in many dark shapes, like huge black bowling balls. Gusts of wind slapped my face.
I glanced up at Persistence's telltales. They flapped harshly. There was no longer any question.
I was in the direct path of a northeaster.
The Swedish saltie, Avafors, encounters a Superior storm
Excerpt from In the Teeth of the Northeaster
The ship's pilot, Captain Cedric Woodward, was growing concerned as the upbound Avafors entered Superior to the east.
He advised the Swedish captain beside him on the bridge: "We sure as hell have got no business out here."
A veteran sailor who had braved the North Atlantic, the captain could barely hold back his contempt.
"Pilot," he said, "it is only the lakes."
As night fell, the Avafors was taking a terrible pounding. The wind was screaming, blowing half of the wave tops right off. The sea was not just big rollers, but practically straight walls of water. The waves were slamming the ship so hard that the people on board could barely stand on their feet.
In 8 hours, the big Swedish freigher had managed to travel only an estimated 12 miles into the head seas. For 2 hours, she had not gained a ship's length. Her radar had gone out after two especially big pounders.
When the pilot house door was ripped off, the Swedish captain turned to Captain Woodard and gasped:
"We've got no business out here."
But by that time, Captain Woodard knew it was too late; there was no turning back.