The singing wilderness: A magical night in the islands alone on a sailboat

Northern Lights over the Apostle Islands - Jon Okerstrom photo

On a clear September afternoon with a seven-knot breeze out of the southwest, I sailed our Cape Dory on a broad reach up the West Channel of the Apostle Islands.  I called my wife to say that I would be out of cell phone range for a few days, then rounded Red Cliff Point to a strange, greenish-yellow sky across the open lake to the north.

If a storm was brewing, it looked nothing like I had ever seen.

I anchored in Frog Bay and started preparing dinner.  As the sun set, the images turned into huge green ‘spikes’ of light, spurting and swirling up from the horizon many thousands of feet into the sky.  I was witnessing an eruption of the Northern Lights, the first time I had seen such a display in over 30 years.  

I sat eating my dinner in the cockpit overwhelmed by this surreal vision when suddenly from the shore came the distinct song of a Native American flute.  I could not see the player, but the long melodies arrived clear and eerily across the water.

Ten minutes later, a solitary loon joined the concert.  I sat listening and watching until I could no longer stay awake.  Then I went down below and fell asleep to the murmur of the flute and the cry of the loon and the lapping of water against the hull. 

— David Dorle


A slightly modified version of this piece appeared originally in the April/May 2021 issue of The BoatUS Magazine.

Northern lights over the Apostle Islands photograph by Jon Okerstrom