History comes to life in the Apostle Islands: The maiden voyage of the Don A

Visitors who made the trip to Raspberry Island Lighthouse at noon on Friday, July 30th may be excused for thinking they had journeyed back in time. That’s when the 16 foot lighthouse skiff “Don A” pulled up to the Raspberry Island dock on its maiden voyage in the Apostle Islands.

The Don A is a replica of the skiffs historically used by the lighthouse keepers in the Apostle Islands. The brainchild of former Bayfield Maritime Museum president Don Albrecht, the skiff was constructed by museum volunteers. Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and other donors supported the project financially. The boat will be on loan to the National Park Service for display at the Raspberry Island Light Station.

Museum members and volunteers chose July 30 as the date for the Don A’s shakedown cruise from Little Sand Bay to Raspberry Island. Bob Durfey trailered the wooden skiff from Bayfield to the Little Sand Bay boat launch.

Terry and Heidi Anderson, Bill and Tudy Bland, Jim Bryan and Dee Johnson offered their three boats to transport rowers in support of the endeavor. Volunteer rowers Bob Durfey, Bill Bland, Wally Milbrath, Bill Bussey, Neil Howk, and Larry Fentress took turns on the oars. Only one pair of oars was available, so there was only one rower at a time.

The Don A left Little Sand Bay at 10 a.m. and arrived at Raspberry Island at noon. The return trip also took two hours. Clear skies and light winds aided the passage, but the skiff proved itself to be quite seaworthy.

Neil Howk photographed the adventure and represented the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on the trip. Howk said, “It was an amazing event. I jumped at the opportunity to row the Don A.”

“The skiff handled like a dream and helped me feel a kinship not only with generations of lighthouse keepers who used this method to travel to and from their stations, but with my dear friend Don Albrecht who loved rowing his skiff the J Emily in the Apostles.”

neil howk

Fellow rower Wally Milbrath said of the adventure, “I felt honored. I felt like it was living history actually rowing an exact replica of a boat on the same part of lake Superior that they were used.”

The Don A will be christened and officially presented to the National Park Service on August 11th at 7 p.m. at the Bayfield Maritime Museum.

The beautiful lighthouse skiff will later be available for public viewing in the Raspberry Island fog signal building.