Thursday, December 27, 2007

Paddling partners


I had a comment on my kayak fishing post a couple weeks back by a fellow who was aggravated by people who join a kayak tour and then proceed to slow things down by meandering back and forth in search of fish. I also read a Danish blog about a fellow who joined a tour organized for 'intermediate' paddlers. He had apparently just picked up his boat and hadn't really even had it on the ocean yet. The guy who posted said he withdrew from the tour after one day because of it.

My dad always used to say, "I'll go fishing with anyone but I'm damn particular about who I'll hunt with". The implication is that the greater risk of being around a bunch of guys with guns makes it imperative that you know their abilities and, maybe even more importantly, their mindset and how they will react in stressful situations. I have a similar attitude toward kayaking on Lake Superior. I want to know who I'm paddling with, their abilities and experience, and how they will react "when the waves turn the minutes to hours". Similar goals for the tour is imperative also. Fish vs sightseeing and a relaxing tour vs hammering it are things that need to be worked out before launching. I am relatively notorious for avoiding the 'come one come all' club or symposium events involving crossings on Gitchee Gumee. While the motto on the masthead of my blog is "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment", I would prefer that folks gain the experience in a more controlled environment and not when the lake turns from calm to 2' to 3' chop in a half hour. The success and enjoyment of a multi day tour is dependent upon everyone having a relatively similar level of competence or at least a rough understanding of when we paddle and when we decide that we're windbound. We have all had the agreeable paddling partner who agrees to launch when conditions are marginal and then, when you paddle next to them and ask how its going, give you the "OK" but are unable to turn their head to look at you because their shoulder and neck muscles are too tense to do so. So how do you evaluate the skill of your paddle buddies? Hell I don't know. Paddle with them, see if they are interested in practicing skills with you, listen to stories about other trips they have been on, and trust your gut reaction. This spring, on our way to the prestigious Bark Bay Fishing Invitational, RonO and I paddled out of the mouth of the Bark River and into Lake Superior. We were in a wind shadow and when we came around a small point (in the background of the photo) we were exposed to a nasty northeast wind and some 3' to 4' closely spaced waves that were getting their tops blown off by the wind. After about 5 minutes I thought, "This sucks. We should probably turn around before we get too much farther into it". As I turned my head to communicate this profound thought to Ron he said, "This sucks. We should maybe think about turning around". Great minds don't always think this much alike but I guess its a level of mutual awareness that you can aspire to when you choose your paddling partners.

4 comments:

Ron said...

That was an good day on the lake last Spring. I hope to do many more! The fishing thing really isn't an issue because for the most part, its just draging a lure behind as you travel. A nice benefit is a decent meal after a long paddle.

Silbs said...

Excellent thinking and well put. This is a big concern of instructors since we often find oursleves out for a "fun" paddle with people who think we are there to take care of them.

Bobbi said...

I think I may have resembled that remark about not being able to turn my head while telling you I'm fine. Doesn't mean I'm not having fun--just that my entire focus is required front and center :) GG

DaveO said...

I was actually referring to memories of a couple, in a double of all things, that were attempting a crossing to Sand Island in 2' chop. It was an illuminating moment for me. I remembered myself on my first Lake S training paddle and the VOR's brother in Grand Marais. But now that you mention it, I do recall some intense focus on your part between York and Cat last 4th of July......;)