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South Fox Island Lighthouses

Debbie and Justin Potts from Chicago had begun their quest on instinct. She knew where a lighthouse should be in a given port, and, usually, there it was. As they continued discovering new lights, she honed her skill, until they found the lighthouse guidebooks and took their coast to coast journey to a new level of calculation and dedication.

As we made our way to the middle, the lake kicked up to a more Lake-Michigan-like chop. With a little refreshing spray on the bow I made my way to the cockpit to keep the cameras dry. There I commandeered a free seat on the stern next to Janelle Thompson, a watercolor artist from Ladysmith Wisconsin. The weight of the cameras aboard exceeded the anchors on this day, but the trip also included artists like Janelle who were along to see and experience the lights for themselves, to then take the vision and sense of each place home and commit to canvas over the coming year.

Clearing North Fox, an island which outwardly looked similar to the Beaver archipelago, South Fox came into view, with its enormous sand dunes and impressive topography. Most of South Fox is now private. Seeing the modern stables, houses, road, and runway out here seemed opposite to but as surreal as the automated Lansing Shoal Light.

As we proceeded down South Fox’s hospitable coast, we came to a large sandblow separating a tree-covered lighthouse point from the rest of the island. The newer tower peaked above the foliage, but the older lighthouse remained tightly nestled in the greenery. Unsure of the rocks near the wrecked breakwater, Jon anchored his boat in a sandy spot one bay away, and ferried us in two dinghy trips to shore. On our side of the point white shells were a foot thick and many feet across. Crinkling them underfoot, we came to the breakwater. What I had thought was a large rock turned out to be remnants of the former abutment. The sidewalk crossing the beach was now a civilized road to nowhere.

Seeing the steel exposed, metal structures strewn on the beach, and the concrete cross-sectioned and eroded by the massive strength of the ice, it was an odd juxtaposition following the sidewalk up past the partially restored boathouse and on past a neatly arranged ring of firewood to the red-capped oil house and original schoolhouse light with its adjacent large brick keepers quarters now having iron grates across its windows for fear of vandals. The sidewalks, as perfect as when this was active, led us to the new tower light, which soared above the re-cleared path. Through breaks in the trees we could see its bolted structure and two windows, which gave this industrial-age marvel a human scale.

The layers of paint and rust on the corrugated steel fog station and its outside tanks told a story of years of solitude and isolation. We could have spent days imagining life here, walking the sidewalks from building to building, old light and new light, once so vital to navigation—such an idyllic if also harsh, lonely, and courageous way of life. But it was time to start for home—even now, we would be out for the sunset and to watch the moon rise over the water. We passed a few Island fisherman enjoying the night as we motored up the east side of Beaver and returned to the harbor, with reflections of St. James illuminating our way.

Skillagalee Island LighthouseNext Page

South Fox Island Lighthouses
South Fox Island Lighthouses