Crossing Death's Door

Gills Rock Travel Blog

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The old U.S. Lifesaving Station on Plum Island

It was 7:30 when I eased out of Detroit Harbor. The morning breeze was still out of the north and waters just slightly choppy. I steered for a bulky white structure on Plum Island, paddling quickly to get beyond a harbor entry marker before the Washington Island Ferry Service began its hourly runs to and from the mainland. Only two small outboards bobbed on the water, each with a pair of fishermen. Beyond nearby Detroit Island, to the east, I could see Pilot Island and its lighthouse. 


The white structure on Plum turned out to be an old U.S. Lifesaving Station that was built in 1896. The main wooden building once housed the lifesavers as well as light-keepers and later served as a U.S.

One of the Plum Island Range Lights
Coast Guard Station. A tall square watch tower adjoined the building. Three huge doors of a massive boathouse faced the channel. The historic site has deteriorated badly since being abandoned in 1991 but with ownership of both Plum and Pilot Islands recently transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, locals and enthusiasts have hope for the station's restoration as well as that of the lighthouse.


From off its southern shore, I photographed one of the Plum Island Range Lights. Though this one was reconstructed and automated in 1964, Plum Island Range Lights have guided mariners on Lake Michigan to the eastern entrance of the Porte des Morts Passage since 1897. Now, on this holiday weekend in 2008, it was time to make my own dreaded run across that passage known as Death's Door.

The Klepper at Gills Rock


The white-knuckled grip on my paddle ascertained a fear within that gripped my soul. I aimed slightly south of west for the point of land that shelters a small harbor at Gills Rock. The countless sunken ships in darkened depths below me and the horror stories of violent seas and rogue waves haunted my thoughts. But chop remained light and tensions eased by the time I approached mid-crossing. One ferry had already passed my bow at about a hundred yards and I barely felt its wake. My concern shifted to another - slowly swinging wide out of Northport Pier, the terminus of Wisconsin Highway 42, about a mile away. Not knowing its intentions, I slowed my speed and steered toward it with left rudder. The boat finally found its course for Detroit Harbor and I resumed my own speed and heading. I passed behind it at about fifty yards and met its two-foot wake head-on. I realized then that I was home free and made my way into Gills Rock.


Jopin says:
Love the pics! I would love to go kayaking.
Posted on: Sep 10, 2008
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The old U.S. Lifesaving Station on…
The old U.S. Lifesaving Station o…
One of the Plum Island Range Lights
One of the Plum Island Range Lights
The Klepper at Gills Rock
The Klepper at Gills Rock
Gills Rock
photo by: rotorhead85