A Review of Two Books by Marlin Bree

Reviewed by Joel "NoBucks" Fleischer
Marquette, Michigan

The Great Lakes are the largest reservoir of freshwater in the world. But when people think of the Great Lakes the majority probably think of Lake Superior, if, for no other reason than that haunting song by Gordon Lightfoot. Of the five lakes that make up this depository, Lake Superior is, well, superior to the others in that it holds as much water as the Lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario combined. Likewise, the weather on the Great Lakes is legendary, with Superior the most fickle and fierce of the five. Even sailors with experienced crews in boats equipped for bluewater think twice before they venture too far off of Superior's rugged shore.

Which makes Marlin Bree one of a special breed of sailors willing to take on Lake Superior not only in a twenty-foot, homebuilt wooden sailboat, but singlehanded as well. So far he's written three books on his Superior cruising experiences, of which we'll review the first two here.

In The Teeth Of The Northeaster
$17.95 on Amazon.com

In our day of "instant classics," In The Teeth Of The Northeaster is an enduring classic of Great Lakes cruising. Published in 1988, Marlin Bree's home built sailboat, Persistence, was already eleven years old when he began an extended solo voyage from the Apostle Islands in northern Wisconsin, along the coast to Duluth, Minnesota, and up to Silver Bay, Minnesota. Along the way Marlin meets a number of interesting characters, from lighthouse keepers to ultralight pilots; from commercial fishermen to lakeshore preachers.

His goal, stated at the beginning of the book was to circumnavigate the 2,900 miles of inland shoreline, and on his first trip he got a good start, putting approximately 200 miles under his keel. It's easy to see why he entitled the book as he did. Almost everyone he meets warns him against the dangers of the Northeaster on the Big Lake. When he's not battling a Northeaster, he's recounting stories of other boats who had succumbed to the Northeaster. There are hundreds of wrecks on the big lake that back up the warnings and his concerns, and Bree gives the reader a hair raising account of the demise of quite a few boats, including the Edmund Fitzgerald.

In addition to being a great sailing adventure, this book is a treasure trove of history for anyone interested in the Big Lake.

Call Of The North Wind
$16.95 on Amazon.com

Marlin Bree's second Lake Superior cruising journal covers much of the same ground, er, water, as the first book, except that the reader must fast forward ten years. He reexamines the wreck of the Fitzgerald, delving even deeper into the mystery of the big laker's disappearance.

The author also covers much new territory as well. In his first book he sailed Persistence from the Apostle Islands westward past Duluth, Minnesota. In Call of the North Wind Marlin takes the opportunity to head east as a crew member on a big cruising catamaran. As one who lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I particularly enjoyed this section. The cat sails past Houghton and the Copper Country, makes a stop in Marquette to visit the Bingham Boat Works, a local boat builder, and sets a course toward Sault Saint Marie for the rendezvous of the Great Lakes Cruising Club, passing the Pictured Rocks National Shoreline on the way.

The U.P. shoreline is littered with shipwrecks and heroic stories of rescue at sea and Marlin takes every opportunity along the way to recount the daring, oftentimes tragic, stories of many of these boats.

The sailing itself, of course, is also interesting, as Bree illustrates the differences between his little monohull and the large cat. Fast and beamy, the catamaran takes on some heavy weather, blows out a sail, and demonstrates the art of twin engine docking. It was also interesting in that, in Persistence, Bree is sailing singlehanded, while on the catamaran he had the added company of friends. The contrasts of the two halves of the book are striking.

These two cruising journals were the first that I had read on the topic of cruising the Great Lakes. More than any others, these books really piqued my interest in sailing. Before I read them it had never occurred to me that a person could actually go cruising in something that you could build yourself in your garage or backyard. While Bree's tales may discourage some from putting out on the inland seas of the Great Lakes, this book is sure to awaken a sense of adventure in others, and may even lead you to pull out the Lake Superior charts and begin to plan your voyage. Either way, many of us dream of cruising Superior but never get around to it, for whatever reason. If you fall into this category, Marlin Bree provides an ample breeze to fill the sails of your dreams, maybe even enough of a breeze to push your boat onto the Big Lake.

Visit Marlin's website:

Reviewed by
Joel "NoBucks" Fleischer
Marquette, Michigan