Monday, July 23, 2007
When the waves turn the minutes to hours....
The Apostles beckoned once again this weekend. The VOR joined a half dozen of her friends, including the GurneyGranny, for a 'Wild Womans' weekend in the Herbster area. This meant that we SO's and hubbies would be having a menly paddle to Ironwood Island, without benefit of female wisdom and of course, reason. I arrived on Thursday night and had a chance to play in Long Lake near Washburn with a couple members of the South Shore Paddlers, Herb and Mike. A little rolling, cowboy reentries, reenter and roll, braces, sculls, etc made for a fun night with beautiful weather. More on weather later. Its good to see folks out striving to become better paddlers. Kayaking is a lot like downhill skiing in the sense that the more you practice and test yourself, the better you get.
The next morning I needed to sleuth in the Bayfield Co Register of Deeds office and was done in time to meet Ranger Bob for lunch at the wonderful Good Thymes cafe in Washburn. We share some similar opinions on the state of the Apostle Islands NP and he is a wealth of historical knowledge of the area. We managed to solve none of the worlds problems and I was off to meet the rest of the paddling trio. PodMan (hubby of the GG), and Sam, King of Ironwood, met me right on time and we were off for the short crossing to Basswood around 7:30pm. We headed for Ironwood the next morning, roughly a 14 mile paddle. Being good, safe paddlers (even without the VOR present) we listened to the NOAA weather robot and planned our route accordingly. In doing so, one hopes the weather forecast will be marginally accurate. Wind direction within 90 degrees or so, velocity within 10mph or so, and the temp maybe within 10 degrees, wave height within a couple feet........
Which has NOT been the case in the Apostles at all this year. I'm sure that there are thermals, isobars, etc., etc., that are tough to predict, budget cuts that preclude state of the art doppler radar or whatever, a large geographic area, and so on and so forth. I'm sure the NOAA folks in Duluth try very hard and are very diligent in formulating their forecasts. The unfortunate fact is that so far this year their forecasts have created extreme suction, to use the polite phrase. I could tell you about surfing from York to Cat Island on "calm to 2' seas' which were really 3-4 footers, or getting up and launching at dawn to avoid the almost certain 'SW wind to 25 knots, seas 3' to 5', which turned out to be calm bluebird weather but I won't do that. I'll restrict my tirade to this weekend.
On Saturday we left Basswood with 'light and variable winds, seas calm to 2', and quickly found nice steady 10-15 knot northeast winds around Manitou Island. The fact that the reporting stations at Port Wing, Ashland, and Saxon Harbor also noticed these winds did not change the near shore forecast one bit throughout the day. Oh well, no trouble there. We arrived at Ironwood around 3pm which allowed for an extended Happy Hour as we set up camp. Bugs were non existent and the Bat Cave was not even needed. The 'light and variable' northeast 10 knot wind was raking the spit but the camp was in a sheltered area and we thanked the wind for knocking the bugs down. Before we stumbled off to bed we listened to NOAA who assured us of 'partly cloudy skies, south winds at 5 knots or less, waves calm to 2'. Upon rising at 6am it appeared that a 10 knot dead south wind had kicked up some 2-3 foot sets, even in the lee of Stockton. We passed on breakfast, ate some power bars, and headed for Red Cliff where we had stashed a car. Both the PodMan and the King are relatively new paddlers. If y0u remember from an earliler post, the King acquired his CD Storm in a complicated deal with the VOR involving VW Jettas, hot tubs, and an undisclosed amount of cash. We scurried across the mile and a half crossing from Ironwood to Manitou in decent shape and enjoyed the lee shore. We had a decent crossing to Oak, where we decided Canadian bacon and hash browns were in order to fuel us for what was sure to be an exciting crossing of the 'Basswood Triangle', a convuluted area of 3 high land masses and swirling winds and seas. We were not disappointed. Most of the sailboats we saw were sailing with jibs only or were motoring. The occasional powerboat wake added to the fun of what was now 15 knot south winds, with 'gusts to 25 knots'. This is what the Ashland reporting station turned in with similar reports from Saxon Harbor, Devils Island, and Port Wing, but the official NOAA forecast still insisted on their original forecast. The 'partly cloudy skies' rained on us while on Oak and the 'afternooon thundershowers' turned into clear blue skies, but on with the crossing. We landed on the north end of Basswood with a mutual agreement that it was by far the worse crossing of the year but that we only had 3 miles to go to Red Cliff Marina. We set out and found wind and waves had picked up and the gps said our group was making a whopping .6 mph into the 'calm to 2 foot seas' which by now has jumped up nicely and were close enough together so your bow slammed into the next wave, the wave broke around your cockpit, and forward progress slowed appreciabley. To end this aggravating crossing we aborted the Red Cliff goal and swung north for an emergency landing at Schooner Bay Marina, noted for banning kayakers and, it would appear from checking out the slips, motor boats as well. We were denied access - "the owners don't allow kayaks, sorry" - , landed on a unoccupied cabin beach, and hitchhiked to Red Cliff.
The moral of this story is trust your own eyes, ears, and gut and use the NOAA forecasts as a broad, brooaaad guideline. In hindsight we could have waited a bit on Basswood or snuck up the east shore to the dock and ferried across but we didn't. We weren't in any real danger at any point and the King did learn how to surf his boat on the downwind run to Schooner Bay. Both PodMan and the King realized that they could handle those types of conditions so all was good there and some skill and comfort levels were increased. They became better and more confident paddlers because of it but we could have been a bit smarter. Also, any insight on how these forecasts are created and modified as the day goes on would be useful. Its easy to rip the weather man, really easy this year so far, but I truly am ignorant on the science of it all. The bottom line once again - trust your instincts but keep that VHF two way weather radio handy.