A Review of Two Books by Marlin Bree
Reviewed by Joel "NoBucks"
The Great Lakes are the largest reservoir of freshwater
in the world. But when people think of the Great Lakes the majority
probably think of Lake Superior, if, for no other reason than
that haunting song by Gordon Lightfoot. Of the five lakes that
make up this depository, Lake Superior is, well, superior to
the others in that it holds as much water as the Lakes Michigan,
Huron, Erie, and Ontario combined. Likewise, the weather on
the Great Lakes is legendary, with Superior the most fickle
and fierce of the five. Even sailors with experienced crews
in boats equipped for bluewater think twice before they venture
too far off of Superior's rugged shore.
Which makes Marlin Bree one of a special breed
of sailors willing to take on Lake Superior not only in a twenty-foot,
homebuilt wooden sailboat, but singlehanded as well. So far
he's written three books on his Superior cruising experiences,
of which we'll review the first two here.
The Teeth Of The Northeaster
$17.95 on Amazon.com
In our day of "instant classics," In
The Teeth Of The Northeaster is an enduring classic of Great
Lakes cruising. Published in 1988, Marlin Bree's home built
sailboat, Persistence, was already eleven years old when he
began an extended solo voyage from the Apostle Islands in northern
Wisconsin, along the coast to Duluth, Minnesota, and up to Silver
Bay, Minnesota. Along the way Marlin meets a number of interesting
characters, from lighthouse keepers to ultralight pilots; from
commercial fishermen to lakeshore preachers.
His goal, stated at the beginning of the book
was to circumnavigate the 2,900 miles of inland shoreline, and
on his first trip he got a good start, putting approximately
200 miles under his keel. It's easy to see why he entitled the
book as he did. Almost everyone he meets warns him against the
dangers of the Northeaster on the Big Lake. When he's not battling
a Northeaster, he's recounting stories of other boats who had
succumbed to the Northeaster. There are hundreds of wrecks on
the big lake that back up the warnings and his concerns, and
Bree gives the reader a hair raising account of the demise of
quite a few boats, including the Edmund Fitzgerald.
In addition to being a great sailing adventure,
this book is a treasure trove of history for anyone interested
in the Big Lake.
Of The North Wind
$16.95 on Amazon.com
Marlin Bree's second Lake Superior cruising journal
covers much of the same ground, er, water, as the first book,
except that the reader must fast forward ten years. He reexamines
the wreck of the Fitzgerald, delving even deeper into the mystery
of the big laker's disappearance.
The author also covers much new territory as well.
In his first book he sailed Persistence from the Apostle Islands
westward past Duluth, Minnesota. In Call of the North Wind Marlin
takes the opportunity to head east as a crew member on a big
cruising catamaran. As one who lives in the Upper Peninsula
of Michigan, I particularly enjoyed this section. The cat sails
past Houghton and the Copper Country, makes a stop in Marquette
to visit the Bingham Boat Works, a local boat builder, and sets
a course toward Sault Saint Marie for the rendezvous of the
Great Lakes Cruising Club, passing the Pictured Rocks National
Shoreline on the way.
The U.P. shoreline is littered with shipwrecks
and heroic stories of rescue at sea and Marlin takes every opportunity
along the way to recount the daring, oftentimes tragic, stories
of many of these boats.
The sailing itself, of course, is also interesting,
as Bree illustrates the differences between his little monohull
and the large cat. Fast and beamy, the catamaran takes on some
heavy weather, blows out a sail, and demonstrates the art of
twin engine docking. It was also interesting in that, in Persistence,
Bree is sailing singlehanded, while on the catamaran he had
the added company of friends. The contrasts of the two halves
of the book are striking.
These two cruising journals were the first that
I had read on the topic of cruising the Great Lakes. More than
any others, these books really piqued my interest in sailing.
Before I read them it had never occurred to me that a person
could actually go cruising in something that you could build
yourself in your garage or backyard. While Bree's tales may
discourage some from putting out on the inland seas of the Great
Lakes, this book is sure to awaken a sense of adventure in others,
and may even lead you to pull out the Lake Superior charts and
begin to plan your voyage. Either way, many of us dream of cruising
Superior but never get around to it, for whatever reason. If
you fall into this category, Marlin Bree provides an ample breeze
to fill the sails of your dreams, maybe even enough of a breeze
to push your boat onto the Big Lake.
Visit Marlin's website:
Joel "NoBucks" Fleischer