A Watery Death on Lake Pepin Narrowly Averted

In all the memoir I’ve read of people taking shantyboats down the Mississippi (Jonk’s River Journey, Lightly’s Shanty-boat, Speakman’s Mostly Mississippi — see our River Reading List) every one of them approached Lake Pepin with trepidation. And rightfully so — in 1890, a storm capsized the Sea Wing killing 98 people on Lake Pepin in one of the worst maritime disasters on the Mississippi River.

So we had some worries, but the sun was shining and the waters were calm and so at cocktail hour we started drinking White Russians. Then it was clearly time to swim so we stripped down to our skivvies and leapt into the lake.

On such a nice day, there is no way that a storm could come up on Lake Pepin.

On such a nice day, there is no way that a storm could come up on Lake Pepin.

Never mind, that we were kinda drunk. Never mind, that we’d never tried to climb from the water back into the boat. They say the first thing to go when you drink is your judgement.

We noticed that the skies were getting interesting and dramatic to the south and thought maybe it would be a good time to struggle back into the boat and be on our way.

Within a short time, the waves kicked up and the wind was blowing us sideways. Kai noted that whitecaps were forming on the waves. Should we run downriver into the storm, or should we head to the shore? Finally, the intensity of the waves made that decision clear.

We had to make a run to the Winconsin shore.

When we hit the beach, there were two teenage lifeguards marveling at our craft, but soon the thunder and rain drove them inside running and screaming. The rain pounded on the tin roof. Kai and I decided it was time for another swim in the rain.


And after it all, the sun came out and even a rainbow.


And then miraculously, we caught a rare glimpse of Pepin’s legendary sea monster Pepe. I was able to snap this quick picture.


We camped near the confluence with the Chippewa River in a peaceful marshy place.


In the morning, I was able to take some shanyboat money shots.



Then beyond Lake Pepin to deal with flying predators, some of them out for our blood.


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