Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Kiyi in Grand Marais

GalwayGuy, the VoiceOfReason, and I arrived in Grand Marais, MN early afternoon on Thursday and GG wanted to challenge the beautiful Superior National Golf Course. Mom wanted some quality time with No 1 son and I'd rather have outpatient hemorrhoid surgery than play golf so they left me on my own in Grand Marais for four ours. After exhausting the galleries, antique, and other cultural opportunities (and I can hear the GurneyGranny going "uh huh!" at this point) I found myself on my favorite comfortable stool at the Gunflint Tavern, deciding amongst dozen beers on tap. No Bud, Miller, Heineken, or light beer at the Gunflint which is not only refreshing but entertaining when the tourists stroll in and attempt to order one. I struck up a conversation with friendly neighbors at either elbow and discovered that the guys on my starboard side were county commissioners from Koochiching County up near International Falls, on their way to Grand Portage for a state conference. One of our favorite paddle spots, Voyageurs National Park is in their jurisdiction and they recounted some of the legendary battles between former superintendent Barbara West. I briefly stuck my nose in one of them and then retreated but the two succeeding superintendents have had excellent relationships with the locals, according to these two commissioners.

The fellow on my port side looked like a guy I could relate to, with a beard nearly as scraggly as mine and a penchant for some of the more interesting tap handles. He ordered a Summit Maibock, known as Mindblock by some of us, and I told him that might get him where he was going quicker than he wanted to get there. He replied he only had to walk back to the ship and pointed out the window to the large commercial ship tied up on the jetty. As it turned out, he was a USGS fisheries guy and the ship, the Kiyi, had been researching the Lake Superior fishery for the last 10 years out of the port of Ashland. He knew many of my buddies including RawhidePhil, noted front man for the Big Top Chautauqua and Tent Show Radio. Gary told me that the Kiyi circumnavigates the lake every summer with a trawl that can reach all the way to the bottom of the lake, 1300'down. There is plenty of life down there and lots of the big, fat siscowet lake trout, the most abundant species in the lake. These guys will apparently eat anything that will fit in their mouths and heard about finding some bird remains in some deep water trout. Apparently a spring storm during migration caused some birds to become disoriented and wind up splashing on the lake surface. The opportunistic lake trout ate 'em. The birds were pretty well digested but they were able to be identified by an expert at the Smithsonian who could tell from the leg scales what species they were. We chatted over a fine malted barley product or two and I was invited back to take a tour of the ship. It's basically a three story vessel, 107' long, with twin Cummins diesels and all the state of the art navigation, sonar, and communication gear. Working area on the main deck, ward room and some bunks in the middle, and the bridge on top. They sail on their annual trip around the lake the week after Memorial Day, going counter clockwise from Ontonagon, MI to Thunder Bay and back to Ashland. That would be a fun trip to take sometime and I understand they need a volunteer or two from time to time.

Friday found us up in the Susie Islands and the Grand Portage area and today was R&R and a bit of rolling in the harbor. Paddle making at the North House Folk School and then the IDW/ICE begins on Monday. It will be hectic but I'm just glad that the vacation started out in the Gunflint. I always seem to meet the most interesting characters there.

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