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This Cabin is Off Grid, Over the Border

This cabin is so off the grid, this family crosses a border to get there! A small price to pay for paradise.

By Fran Sigurdsson
 
 
If there’s anything better than a home on a lake, it’s a second home on a lake.
 
Just ask Nanci Negaard and Franz Plattner. The two spend winters at their primary residence on Leech Lake, Minn. But come early May, Nanci and Franz make tracks for their off-grid retreat on Lake of the Woods, Ontario, or LOW for short. Getting there requires a 4½-hour drive, a border crossing, and a boat ride across Whitefish Bay, laden with provisions. To this couple, though, that’s a small price to pay for paradise. “We just enjoyed our tenth year, and love this place so much,” says Nanci. So do Abby and Bella, the couple’s wirehaired pointing griffons and constant companions.
 
When the bay is calm, Nanci kayaks along the shoreline, pausing to photograph rugged seascapes and resident wildlife. Loons, bald eagles, mink and otter are abundant. Franz, an avid sportsman, pulls northern and walleye pike from the glacial lake’s myriad inlets. Years ago, he co-owned one of the 15,000 islands in the lake. So when a site on the Aulneau Peninsula came on the market in 2004, they went to see.
 
Jutting into the east side of LOW, the Aulneau is effectively an island, with no roads connecting to the mainland. Mostly undeveloped Crown land, there are few cabins.   “At the time, we had a Cessna 185 on floats so we flew over to take a look at it,” recalls Nanci. “I immediately fell in love with the land elevation, the location of the old cabin, and the views.” 
 
The couple closed on the 2-acre property in January 2005. The cabin, alas, was on its last legs. Nanci, an artist and interior designer, drew plans for a replacement on the same site near the water. The couple purchased lumber, roofing components, and building supplies in Canada; windows and lighting were shipped in from the States.
 
“Everything was either brought out by barge, or hauled out in our 20-foot Lund Alaskan,” Nanci explains. That summer, she and Franz worked alongside a local building crew. “We built the wood walkways, screwed down deck and dock boards, and insulated the cabin,” says Nanci. She stained the interior custom pine walls, while Franz did most of the exterior. The two took turns sanding the red pine floor with a 4-inch palm sander, and stained and varnished the floors. Franz installed the plumbing and the propane.
 
The 1,400-square-foot cabin has two bedrooms and a sleeping loft. “We can sleep as many as 10,” say Nanci. “But usually we have two or three people at a time.” Both bedrooms open to the deck and around to a partially enclosed outside shower.
 
Installing a septic system would have cost $30,000, so Franz built an outhouse with a screen door and a large screened window and a view.  A friend who owned a solar business (Larry Stahn, now retired), helped Franz install the solar array and the electrical system. Six photovoltaic panels mounted to the top of a utility building are rated for 1,500 watts of power. Eight 6-volt batteries, each with 400 amp-hours capacity, offer a total of 3,200 amp hours of storage. Solar power runs the lighting, microwave and coffee maker, power tools, and a water pump. (The lake’s underlying bedrock makes it impossible to drill wells. Instead, water is pumped directly from the lake and filtered.)
 
On the rare occasions when the batteries run low, a 3,500-watt backup generator kicks in automatically. A barge comes every other year to fill the 500-gallon propane tank. Though the nearest neighbor is on an island a mile away, the couple enjoys more of a social life than they expected.
 
“We have many friends on other islands,” says Nanci. “We get together frequently for fishing, dinners, dominos, cocktails, art projects.” When Franz isn’t fishing, he’s prepping shore lunch for the gang. Still, there are days with nary another soul or boat in sight. At her covered outdoor studio, Nanci paints and crafts tables and benches from driftwood and old dock boards she finds floating. “What I really like is how quiet it is,” she reflects. “Many times we’re sitting on the deck and don’t hear any noise except nature. It’s so calm and peaceful.” No worries about development changing all that, either. “The Queen is our neighbor,” laughs Nanci, “and she’s not selling.”