Rescuers honored for saving capsized kayakers at mainland sea caves


When five to eight-foot waves swamped kayakers near the mainland sea caves late this summer, life-saving help arrived in the form of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Rangers Karl Carlson, Mark McCool, and Tam Hofman as well as Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians Warden Zach Peterson.

Last week, all four received Certificates of Merit from the United States Coast Guard Station Bayfield . These certificates are the highest public service award that can be given at the local level.

Eleven kayakers were overtaken by sudden worsening conditions on August 21st. The big waves caused some of the paddlers to capsize. They were forced to take shelter on a sandstone ledge at the mainland caves. The Park Service says three kayakers complained of being very cold and needed medical attention. To transport the kayakers to safety, the rescuers battled the rough conditions, making two separate trips between the caves and Little Sand Bay. Without the rescuers quick actions, things could have taken a major turn for the worse.

NPS Map

Captain Anthony Jones, Commander of the Sector Sault Sainte Marie USCG, presented the awards. Karl Carlson, owner of the vessel used to rescue the kayakers, was also recognized and presented with an award.

Zach Peterson – RCBLSC photo

Red Cliff Chairman Christopher Boyd said, “This is a tremendous honor bestowed upon Zach as he answered the call to duty. You just never know what you may encounter in your daily job. Congratulations and well deserved to Mr. Peterson. It brings great pride in knowing our younger generations are stepping up and willing to serve for the protection of not only our natural resources, but community also.”

The rescued kayakers are forever grateful to the people who came to their aid when they needed it most. Angela and Ryan Antony felt so moved that they made a donation to Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore to thank the rescuers. They said, “In honor of NPS Rangers and staff who bravely responded to the 8/21/2021 kayak water rescue. We are so grateful for their skill, compassion, and acknowledge the risks they took that day.”

Boatswains Mate Chief Petty Officer Daniel Clouse, Officer in Charge of USCG Station in Bayfield, said this rescue highlights the need for continued cooperation between the Coast Guard and local partners like the Red Cliff Wardens and National Parks Service Rangers. The Park Service agrees, saying “We value our partnerships with the USCG and Red Cliff Wardens and their commitment to keeping people safe on the Lake.”

This rescue is a reminder of how quickly conditions can change on the inland sea of Lake Superior. Anyone planning to travel on the Lake should make sure to regularly check marine weather reports throughout the trip and watch for changing conditions.

Safety resources:
Current wind and wave conditions (Buoys have been pulled for the winter.)
National Park Service Plan your visit page
Friends Sense of Adventure: Paddling the Apostles video program
Explorers Guide the Apostles paddling book by John Frank
Information on new National Weather Service Island Zone Forecast

The National Park Service and Red Cliff Band of the Chippewa contributed to this story. Ceremony photo by Justin Olson, National Park Service