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First SUP Crossing to and Circumnavigation of Isle Royale

SUP around Isle Royale

I ran into an interesting post on a friend’s Facebook page the other day. He posted this cut from the Cook County News Herald’s Cook County Law Enforcement briefs. It’s from a call placed at 6:57am on May 5th. It said:

Grand Portage: Caller said her husband paddleboarded out to Isle Royale and is now disorientated and can’t make it back.

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Now that’s interesting. My knee-jerk reaction was that some idiot on a SUP did something stupid, and at least it wasn’t a “kayaker” this time. Before I made a wise-ass crack on my friend’s wall, I decided to drop Rhonda Silence, the paper’s editor, an email to see if she knew anything more about it. She contacted law enforcement and got this back:

I don’t have a home town or age, just a name of Garrett Holmes and wife of Heather Holmes. Call came in at 18:56 and at 19:00, 2 deputies and SAR were paged out, they were cancelled at 19:10. While the dispatcher was on the phone with the wife she said that she “just got off the phone with her husband, he refuses any assistance. He is on a 16ft board, has a dry suit, and food for a few days, is paddling along the shore towards Grand Marais, sees a buoy and is not concerned. Wife was just upset because she hadn’t heard anything from him. Cook County told her if he does need assistance just call us back.” No further information was listed.

There are no buoys anywhere near Grand Marais, so I’m going to assume the buoy that was mentioned in the police report was the buoy off of Hat Point, which marks the entrance to Grand Portage bay. His wife was doing exactly the right thing as well. If she hadn’t heard from him at the agreed upon time, then calling the police is the right action to take.

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I did a little more Internet searching, and it turns out that Garrett Holmes is actually Garrett Russell and is part of North Shore SUP, a livery and tour company based out of Duluth, Minnesota. This was a planned trip with several sponsors. Here’s the trip announcement:

**ANNOUNCEMENT** Our very own, Garrett Russell will be heading out on a 16ft custom made GLIDE Stand Up Paddleboard this Saturday, May 2nd on an unsupported Expedition around Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park and World Heritage Site. He will be launching from Grand Portage, MN and paddling the 22-mile open water crossing of Lake Superior, out and back, naming him the 1st ever Stand Up Paddleboarder to Circumnavigate the Island, in what may turn out to be record-breaking time. He anticipates paddling approximately 200 miles in 5-10 days.

His Intention is to draw awareness to this amazingly unique ecosystem in hopes of continuing to protect and preserve the Lake Superior watershed from current threats, while showing the importance of protecting our Fresh Water, and encourage people to enjoy and respect this natural wonder.

 

His sponsors included GLIDE, Futures Fins, ENO hammocks, NEMO, Level Six, NRS, Bending Branches, Oneil, Garmin and Cobra Marine.

The post follow up note on North Shore SUP’s website says:

Our very own, Garrett Russell headed out on a 16ft custom made GLIDE Stand Up Paddleboard Saturday, May 2nd on an unsupported Expedition around Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park and World Heritage Site. He launched from Grand Portage, MN and paddled the 22-mile open water crossing of Lake Superior, out and back, naming him the 1st ever Stand Up Paddleboarder to complete this. His first day of paddling he put in over 50 miles. Stay in touch, we will be putting together a video with intention to draw awareness to this amazingly unique ecosystem in hopes of continuing to protect and preserve the Lake Superior watershed from current threats, while showing the importance of protecting our Fresh Water, and encourage people to enjoy and respect this natural wonder.

By my rough calculations, it’s about 100 miles to circumnavigate Isle Royale, plus 22 miles for the crossing. That’s about a 144+ miles for the trip.

The timeline for the trip went like this:

  • April 28th: Announcement
  • May 2nd:
    • 6am: Left Grand Portage
    • 11:30am: Finished 22-mile crossing to Isle Royale
    • Paddled 50 miles
  • May 3rd and 4th: On Isle Royale
  • May 5th:
    • 6:57am: Call from Heather Russell to Cook County Law Enforcement
  • May 6th:
    • Facebook post says, “Glad to hit land last night right before dark.”

Weather was as follows according to the Weather Underground. For temps, I used Grand Portages history and for wind speed I used the Rock of Ages Lighthouse weather records. As far as weather on Lake Superior, May and June are generally calmer than July and August, so while the lake’s surface temp is colder (it isn’t that much colder), May and June provide great weather windows for this type of trip. With climate change and global warming, this pattern is becoming less true than in the past. The Rock of Ages Lighthouse weather data doesn’t include wave height, so for the wave height data I used Marine Buoy 45006: W SUPERIOR 48NM North of Ironwood, MI. Wave height can vary locally, but while there were strong winds, it wasn’t sustained from the same direction for any length of time, so I suspect the reports from 45006 were close to those experienced on Isle Royale.

  • May 2nd: Min: 33°F, Max: 66°F (likely much colder on the island), light and variable until 6pm then ESE 14 to 24 knots, waves 1 foot or less
  • May 3rd: Min: 42, Max: 75, WSW 11 knots building to SW 24 knots by noon, waves 1 foot to 1.5 foot
  • May 4th: Min: 33, Max: 62, NNW at sunrise dropping to north 2 knots by 9am and then building WSW 20 knots by afternoon, waves 1 foot or less
  • May 5th: Min: 28, Max: 64, light and variable, waves less than 1 foot

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The weather looked perfect for the trip, especially for a clockwise attempt. While the message on North Shore SUP’s page doesn’t say he completed a full circumnavigation, the timeline and mileage looks like he could have done it.

I dropped an email to Garrett Russell to get the scoop. Will update when I know more.

Update: I talked to Garrett got the scoop on the trip. He made it to Isle Royale, started his circumnavigation clockwise. At about the halfway point, he stopped at the park headquarters on Mott Island, and because of the upcoming bad weather, they suggested that he stop his trip. If he would have continued the trip, he likely would have been stranded on the island for another week until the weather blew over. They ferried him back to Windigo. He crossed back to the mainland from there. What a great attempt!

One comment

  • Great stuff, sounds like a good attempt. Looks to me like the only thing missing was the DeLorme InReach to provide his wife with the peace of mind she needed.
    Cheers,
    Bryan

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