Two paddling buddies and I have always wanted to paddle the Lake Erie Islands. I've paddle the coast between Marblehead and Port Clinton for years, but for safety reasons, wouldn't make the trip to the islands without a buddy or two.
Our game plan was to use South Bass Island as our starting point, paddle around South Bass, Middle Bass and possibly Green Island. We selected South Bass as our hub, because we could easily get the ferry back to the mainland if the weather kicked up and turned bad. For those who don't know, Lake Erie has a nasty reputation for turning ugly in a heartbeat. I've seen bright sunny days turn back as Hades in a matter of hours. Its shallow constitution also makes for very rough seas.
Starting from Port Clinton, we headed three miles to the tip of Catawba Point. From Catawba Point, it was another three-mile crossing due North to South Bass Island (Put-in-Bay). You can cut out the first three miles of this trip by launching at Catawba Point State park. We choose to launch where we did, because it was from my parents summer home. Conditions were moderate, temps in the 80's, wind from the northeast, 2-foot chop, no small craft advisories.
In planning this trip, we purposely planned our departure time for early on a Sunday morning. We figured less boat traffic. The partiers from Put-in-Bay would still be asleep and we wouldn't have to worry about getting run down on the 3-mile open crossing to South Bass Island (SBI). Our intuition was correct and we didn't encounter much boat traffic on this portion of open water.
The State Park where we planned to camp is on the South West end of the island. I put my compass on the South Bass Light House and our small brigade of three headed out to sea. I really enjoy lake paddling, the swells, rolling seas and having the opportunity to see what my Perception Eclipse can do. After arriving at the Southern most shore of SBI we paddled around the western end of the island to the state park. The campground offers no reservations, first come, first serve. Since we arrived on a Sunday, most of the parks visitors had headed for home and we had our choice of campsites. If I remember right it was $8 per site. While we elected to camp on the cliffs overlooking the lake, it didn't make for easy carrying of our boats and equipment. With a little carrying and some sweat, we were squared away and had set camp.
We swam at the small beach at the park and planed an evening paddle into downtown Put-in-Bay. Being late on a Sunday, most the party crowd had vacated for the weekend. If you don't what to camp cook, there are plenty of bars and restaurants in downtown. SBI is noted for it's tall limestone bluffs, shoreline homes and history of wine making, The Perrys Monument and for having a huge weekend party crowd. If you plan to circumvent SBI, be prepared to paddle most of it's parameter, it's shoreline isn't made for landing, it's mostly hard rock cliffs.
We had our campfire dinner at a now mostly vacant campground, visited with other campers and reviewed our plotted our courses for the next day. Before drifting off to sleep we witnessed a spectacular sunsetting firework display. (our camp sites pointed west).
To our dismay Mother Lake Erie decided to turn mean on us. at about 5 am in the morning I heard the first pitter-pat of rain on my rain-fly. Our weather report called for minimal chance of rain for the weekend. The same sounds awoke my camp-mates. We agreed to regroup at 7 am to check the weather. It didn't take long to drift off to sleep again, with natures music serenading me. At 7 am the weather didn't look like it was going to cooperate. We had a cold breakfast of PB&J, Granola and fruit. By noon, we decided our crossing back to the mainland was our most important decision we would make all day. The weather situation made it ugly for fishing boats, let alone our kayaks. The night before we made friends with a nice couple a few camps sites over from ours. They were more than happy to load our gear and boats into their truck and take us to the ferry. By mid-day the rain had stopped but the wind and now overcast skies would prevent us from making our crossing. Our Ferry ride back to the mainland cost $4 per person and boat. The ride was interesting as the swells showered the front of the boat and the cars underneath the captain's house. We made the crossing by ferry to Catawba Island with the open water behind us, we agreed to follow the coast back to my parents home. Hugging the coast we plugged away in a pretty good crosswind back to Port Clinton.
While I hope to complete this report in the future with a more detailed report of the islands. It should be noted that we had a plan, a safety plan, and the intuition to make sure everyone felt safe with the decisions at hand. We prepared properly and ended up having to use our pre-planned escape route. It also goes to show that you can plan until you're blue in the face and Mother Nature can alter your plans in a heartbeat.
South Bass Island: The family campground features 125 non-electric sites, and 10 full service sites with electric, water and sewer hook-ups. The campground offers flush toilets, showers, and a dump station. Pet camping is permitted on designated sites. A youth group camp is available by reservation for organized groups. Four "cabents," combining the best features of a cabin and tent, are available through a lottery system for weekly rental from Memorial Day to the last weekend in September. A separate lottery is held for rental of the rustic cabin located near the park office. Contact the Catawba Island park office for lottery details. A picnic shelter, picnic areas, launch ramp, fishing pier and small stone beach area are also available. First come, first serve $8 per site for primitive tent camping. I'd provide a phone number, but it won't do any good. They won't reserve you a site. Friday and Saturday nights are the toughest nights to get a spot. There are plenty of campsites and hotels on the Mainland if you stay in Port Clinton.
Ohio Boater Registration Tags. Ferry trip was $4 one way.
Route 2 to Port Clinton. Follow Sand Road if you want to launch at Catawba Island State Park.
Lake Erie Islands State Parks
4049 E. Moores Dock Road
Port Clinton, OH 43452
Coast Guard Charts for the Western End of Lake Erie