Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More crap in the Great Lakes

Even though this is ostensibly a Lake Superior oriented site, I thought I'd pass on some Lake Michigan news. Looks like the big BP refinery in Indiana got a permit to discharge a total of 1,584 pounds of ammonia and 4,925 pounds of 'suspended solids' into Lake Michigan each and every DAY. Indiana Gov Mitch "Jobs, jobs, jobs" Daniels claims that lots of new jobs will be created and that the discharge amount is stricter than federal EPA requirements. The refinery was built in 1889 by Standard Oil and old John D. Rockefeller himself.

Here is the link to the New York Times story.

Even the US Congress, a body not renowned for its proactive zeal and common sense, has approved a resolution urging Indiana to reconsider the permit. That is a permit to dump 3 plus tons of crap into Lake Michigan every day. Hmmmmm........I remember the battle a few decades back with Reserve Mining and dumping taconite tailings into Lake Superior. Jobs was the big issue there also. Pretty short sighted in my opinion. I wonder how far we've progressed on issues like this since 1975? And what is the EPA standard for how many tons of crap a manufacturer can dump into the lakes, if indeed the Indiana permit for "only" 6 tons is more restrictive?? I can only hope that Illinios, Michigan, the Feds, the Great Lakes Commission, and other interested parties (this thing smells like a lawsuit) are able to persuade Indiana to rescind this crazy permit. The other thing, of course, would be to reduce the demand for gas. Number One son's company, Planet Bike, just accepted an award from Mayor Daley in Chicago for bicycle advocacy and its accompanying green philosophy. Grassroots work like this can help alleviate the need for more refineries (and iron ore processors) dumping more crap into the Great Lakes. Lets try to paddle smart as well as live smart.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Deja Vu all over again

This morning we gathered a foursome at Bush Lake for some tuneups. The Voice of Reason is heading up to the Apostles with a group of her women friends, including her sister, The Mayor, and the Bessemer Convivialist. GalwayGuy just wants to nail his roll and RonO and I are attempting to add some new crazy rolls to our repitoire. We worked on wet exits, T-rescues, paddle float rescues, cowboy reentries, high braces, low braces......in other words a kayak smorgasbord. All went well with the usual mix of successes and failures, perfect and not so perfect, but it was all good on an absolutely perfect summer day. We pulled into the shallows and Ron and I got out and started working with GG on his roll. His layback was very nice but the paddle sweep kept diving. On about the third attempt I heard a familiar snap.

The last time I heard that snap was last April. I was test paddling my soon to be purchased Valley Aquanaut HV about a half mile off the Duluth ship canal in Lake Superior. Lucas from Midnight Sun and I were out on a beautiful spring day putting my potential new boat through its paces and watching a 'thousand footer' leave the harbor, downbound for Cleveland or some other downlake port. Air temp was 60F, water about 38F. I'd just done my second high brace when I heard the snap. I was almost instantly upside down with half a paddle in my hand. This was my favorite Sitka spruce Greenland stick, made by Peter Pestalozzi up in Ely, MN. I managed to roll up with the larger half of the paddle. This was also the first time I'd worn my new Kokotat semi dry suit so I guess that got a good test too.

GalwayGuy was bummed about his paddle, which we had repaired and he had painted in the colors of the Irish flag. It will be repaired once again. In the interim he grabbed my Viking War Club, a stout Greenland stick that I'd carved from Basswood up at the North House Folk School and painted in the colors of the Norwegian flag. I lent him some goggles and RonO suggested he watch his paddle postition and that he would tap on his hull when it was set up correctly. Ron tapped and up GG came. We were all pretty fired up about it and he managed to hit the next dozen rolls in 3 different boats (Ron's Romany, the VOR's Avocet, and his own Skerry). Add one more roller to the skinny stick rolling fraternity! Major thanks to RonO and his superb diagnosis of what needed to be done to get the boat up. He also took the picture at right and at bottom with his high tech waterproof camera. It was a good day on the water.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A bear box on every island

Anyone who has camped the in the Apostles knows which islands have bear boxes. For the uninitiated, these are large metal boxes where you put your food, soap, toothpaste, etc to prevent Mr. Bear from entering your camp and consuming them noisily during the night. As a young Boy Scout at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, I watched a very experienced bear knock down a bear bag and eat 2 dozen pop tarts, including unwrapping them, in 2 minutes flat. He also consumed a box of Tetrox soap which made trailing him very simple the next morning. A bear box is very handy because most people have no clue on how to properly hang a bear bag. Also, there are usually few suitable trees to hang hang them in 'perfectly'. If there is a good tree near a campsite, the bark is worn off on the branch that is being used constantly which does the tree no good at all. The other problem with bear bags is that they are usually strung up at dusk or after dark, well past Happy Hour, by tying a large rock to a line while everyone stands around and watches the rock sail up into the air and then come down, with any luck not on someones head. My friend RangerMark, warns against overhand throwing to protect the shoulder but we guys are genetically unable to toss the damn things underhand. Wouldn't want to be accused of throwing like a girl.....

The bottom line is that the designated camping areas on the islands need bear boxes and they don't all have them. Last year the Park Service had to close Basswood to camping due to bear issues and this year they closed Hermit indefinitely after it was reported that a 250# bear ran off with a campers sleeping bag. Hermit, being a wilderness zone island, has no designated campsites so the point is moot. Basswood however, has many more sites than bear boxes. Oak Island has had its share of bear problems and Stockton has one of the highest bear densities in North America. It would appear there is a some correlation between no bear boxes and bear problems. Even the islands that allegedly have no bears aren't really bear free. They can and do easily swim between islands and also cross the ice in the winter.

A few of us want to try to get a project going to add more bear boxes where needed. NPS funding, as we all know, is at a low level. No one wants to have islands closed, their food scavenged, to get hit in the head with a rock, or see bears shot for doing what comes naturally. According to information gleaned by Gurney Granny (shown anchoring the line in the bear bag raising photo) at a 'Climate Friendly Parks' workshop, an installed bear box costs $500. The Friends group funds needed projects and we were hoping that some of the paddle clubs whose members use the park regularly might want to ante up also. If you are interested, please circulate this post. More concrete info will follow in the next couple weeks.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

'Ghost gill net' with rotten fish found in Lake Superior bay

I am sure that most of you who paddle or boat the Apostles have come across net sets in various parts of the archipelago. Some of them are marked with commercial type buoys with orange flags on top of them and others just have old Clorox bottles and 2.5 gallon plastic oil jugs marking each end of the net. Given the fragility of the fish population in our cold water sea, wouldn't you think that all groups fishing the lake might agree to put their ID on the nets they are using? Or maybe use floats that won't tear loose or sink in a big blow, like the one that occurred two weeks ago on Tuesday? That sure as hell is my opinion but read the article below and judge for yourself. What a waste of fish. This story appeared in the StarTribune via AP.

Last update: July 20, 2007 – 8:02 AM

ASHLAND, Wis. — A "ghost gill net" found in Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay gave state game managers the smelly job of disposing of the hundreds of dead and rotting lake trout and whitefish ensnared in it.

A boater tipped the DNR after discovering the net east of Madeline Island in the Apostle Islands chain and provided global positioning coordinates for the location.

A gill net has mesh openings that snare fish by the gills as they swim into it, and prevents them from backing out.

Steve Schram, fisheries team supervisor with the Department of Natural Resources, said the commercial fishing net in some 70 feet of water was 600 to 800 feet long and had no markings to identify the owner.

"You just can't imagine the smell. It's absolutely horrible," said Schram.

"You've got to wear gloves and make sure it doesn't get anywhere in the boat or even on your skin, because once that smell is there, you never get rid of it."

DNR research technician Scott Hulse was on the boat with Schram when they went to retrieve the net Monday.

For the past few years the state's commercial fishery program has required gill nets to have identification numbers, Hulse said. The DNR has urged that the Bad River and Red Cliff Chippewa tribes require the same, but that hasn't happened so far, he said.

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.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Good Gear

There is nothing more satisfying than researching an outdoor product, purchasing it, and being rewarded by it performing up to and beyond your expectations. My Cooke Custom Sewing mosquito tarp, the Lean 3 Plus, is definitely in that category. Up on the sandy south shore of Lake Superior there are times when you simply can't be outside due to the insects. An offshore breeze in June can bring a biblical style plague of black flies, cluster flies, fish flies, whatever you want to refer to this pestilent insects as. I once had a guy on Isle Royale offer me $40 for my headnet (and this was in 1975 dollars!). He said he would go higher but that was all the money he had on him. I kept the headnet. This adirondack style tarp can be used as a regular shelter tarp, rigged as a screen porch, or even used in place of a tent. It has lots of sturdy tie down loops and no worthless grommets. And they are made in Lino Lakes, MN which is where I picked mine up. Like most of my gear, this was openly ridiculed when I pulled it out of the bag. My spice and utensil kit became "Martha Stewart", my Valley Aquanaut is referred to as the "ore freighter", and other items have names unprintable in a family blog. I anxiously awaited the christening of my new tarp and was not disappointed. The black flies had not reached an insanity causing level yet and were still focused on ankle biting when the tarp first went up. GurneyGranny, the same woman who had christened the small counter in the porch addition of our deer camp "the Go*damned Bar", took one look at it and remarked, "I'm sitting on the beach, you guys can crawl in the Bat Cave". This name instantly stuck (see RonO's blog and photo).
Shortly all seven intrepid kayakers were lounging in the bat cave, watching the flies buzz around outside. This well thought unit also has a foot wide sod cloth around the bottom that can be used to seal it up using sand, rocks, etc. And it stuffs down real small. I have to agree with Cliff Jacobsen, who says camping should not be about roughing it but smoothing it. The Cooke Custom tarp, heretofore known as the Bat Cave, does that job nicely.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Paddling and Art

After a fine Saturday AM breakfast of venison sausage and french toast the kayaking trio of myself, the Voice of Reason, and her sister the De facto Mayor of Turtle River (henceforth referred to as The Mayor) were shuttled up to Horseshoe Bay for a leisurely 7 mile paddle down to Paradise beach which is about 13 miles northeast of Grand Marais. Its a rugged shoreline as is much of the north shore of Lake Superior. We landed on a rock ledge to visit the old family cabin and The Mayor took a very brief, very cold, and very unexpected dip in Gitchee Gumee. 46F in mid July. If those on the South Shore and Apostles are wondering where the cold water went I can tell you we found it. More on that later. We visited the cabin neighbors and the 97 year old matriarch of what used to be a small mom and pop resort, the kind that dotted the shore when I was a kid. Past the classic Naniboujou Lodge and the mouth of the Brule river and we were at Paradise Beach and on our way back to Grand Marais.

When we arrived the art was at a fever pitch. Male members of the family camping group said that they had made it through in 5 minutes. It wouldn't take me that long. The photo below is of the art fair from the Gunflint Tavern Bar.

They have a dozen fine micro's on tap, a very eclectic and interesting menu, the only draft Guiness on the North Shore (I've checked!) and a ban on cell phones. Its the perfect place to savor art. As I was savoring away I noticed a long time acquaintance had a booth right outside the bar. Rudi Hargesheimer had a number of his photos for sale and we picked up a couple gems, Spray Falls in Pictured Rocks and Grand Marais in the fog. The photo below is the VOR with her trophies. The temperature was 58F with a breeze from the northwest. Almost perfect conditions in my book.
As I mentioned before, the water was cold, mid to high 40's even in the harbor. I rolled a half dozen times with my tuliq and my face and hands were a bit numb when I got done. As I was playing, an outfitter (I'm not sure from where; no markings on van or trailer) pulled up with 4 bright yellow CD rotomolded doubles. Eight tourists, clad in shorts, sandals, and identical bulky life jackets trickled out of a van. After roughly 5 minutes of instruction from the 'guide' they were loaded up and shoved into the harbor. No paddle floats, bilge pumps, wetsuits, and not even a guide on the water with them. "Have fun kids, and be careful!". I heard her say that if they wanted to go beyond the harbor mouth to probably go right and paddle into the wind because then it would be easier to get back. The wind was northwest at about 10 knots, offshore, with a bit of a swell. This was not an athletic group and it took some bumper car antics before they figured out that you needed to be moving forward in order for the rudder to work. The VOR suggested that I put my boat back into the water in case they needed to be hauled out but it was apparent that they were not going beyond the harbor. I'll leave the comments on this scenario to the readers. I think you already get the drift of my opinion. Like the guy renting sit on top kayaks on Madeline Island, I find this sort of thing to be bordering on crimminal.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Grand Marais, MN not MI

With many sea kayakers heading for the Great Lakes Symposium in Grand Marais, Michigan next weekend, we have to be different and head for Grand Marais, MN. Its the family campout weekend for the Voice of Reason's family. Good times, outdoor fun of all kinds, campfires and beer, and of course some kayaking. Its always good to get back to GM, walk out on the jetty to the light, and savor the sun set over the Sawtooth Mountains. You are reminded that the lake is indeed the boss when you see the cable handline on the jetty to keep you from getting washed off when the waves are crashing in.

The VOR's sister (whom I will have a blog name for before the weekend is over.....trust me) picked up a new CD Scirocco and will want to put it through its paces. I had a Scirocco on one of my trips up to the Canadian shield area and I must say for landing on cobble and rock ledges it was wonderful. No delicate balancing to protect gel coat, just accelerate to ramming speed and hit the beach. Its been a couple of years since we went around Hat Point near Grand Portage. the route takes you past the Witches Tree (Spirit Tree if you prefer) to the Susie Islands which are owned by the Nature Conservancy. This tree, Hat Point, and the fur trading depot at Grand Portage were well known by the voyageurs. In fact at one point, more people in Europe had heard of Grand Portage than had heard of New York due to its spot in the epicenter of the fur trade.

Hat Point seems to be the Point Detour of the North Shore. There always seems to be wind, waves, shoal action, and lots of rebound waves when you go around it. The reward of reaching the Susies is well worth the bouncing however. Its a wonderful little island group and is very secluded. The photo is from near Mt Josephine with just the tops of the islands sticking out of the fog.

I'll have to be subtle and persuasive to pull this off however because this is also the weekend of the Grand Marais Art Festival. The VOR, along with mom, sisters, sisters-in-law, et al will have that thing covered like a blanket and I need to get the paddle set up before the fever sets in and can't be controlled. Wish me luck.......

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More Meyers beach issues........

It would appear that another kayaker capsized and needed to be rescued off the Meyers beach sea caves last Sunday. In this case the fellow had his wet suit and gear in place and there was an experienced guide, leading a group from Living Adventures, in the area to assist. We were coming off the water that day and it was a bit breezy but manageable. Our group split up into a four and three boat component ("when at sea, the number's three".) with the three who wanted to feel the wind in our teeth heading around Point Detour to Little Sand Bay and the others cruising down to the Red Cliff marina with mostly following seas. This incident points out that a sober and subjective assessment of your own abilities and those of your paddling companions is essential for safe paddling also. Fortunately it turned out OK this time.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hypothermia death followup

After a great week on Lake Superior its tough to go back and revisit the tragedy that occurred in June. I've talked to a lot of folks since then including the couple that notified the authorities, the Superintendent of the park, and the Coast Guard at Great Lakes HQ in Cleveland. I hope I can help fill in some of the blanks and answer some questions in peoples minds. Here is the story as I understand it.

A couple from the Twin Cities had arrived at Meyers Beach that Friday mid morning to paddle out to the sea caves. They took a look at the lake and decided it was too rough and that seas were building and that they would hike instead. They walked up the cliff top trail approximately two miles, just past the deep cleft in the rocks about 50 yards east of the start of the caves. The time was about 12:40pm. They noticed an inflated paddle float in the water and weren't too alarmed since the husband often used his paddle float under his thighs to keep his legs from falling asleep in his boat. Then they noticed an empty blue and white kayak and a floating life jacket. It was at that point that they spotted an arm through the life jacket and panic set in. They began to yell and scream to get someones attention but no one was around. Cell phone service is non existent in that area and the husband decided to run back the two miles to the ranger at Meyers Beach. At this point they noticed the second empty kayak. The wife stayed on the cliff to keep an eye on the boats and the body and also to attempt to locate the second kayaker. As luck would have it, the Coast Guard was at the Cornucopia marina and had just gotten underway when they received the call from the NPS. They arrived at the sea caves at roughly 1:15 pm and picked up the first victim. They asked the wife if she could see anything from the cliff and she told them she thought she heard something down below among the rocks. The Coast Guard then located and picked up the second victim using a line because the reflection waves made conditions too rough to get close to the cliffs. The first victim, who had been face down in the water for approximately an hour, was airlifted to Duluth. The second victim, who was conscious but incoherent, was taken to the Ashland hospital. The first man, a fellow from Brule, WI and an experienced canoeist, was pronounced dead at the Duluth hospital. The second man, also from Brule and a guy with some kayak experience, was released from the Ashland hospital.

An accident like this tends to bring out lots of emotions and opinons. Check out Adam Bolonsky's blog which has an excellent description and analysis of a similar accident on the east coast. Especially poignant is the letter from the guy who survived when his buddy didn't make it. I spoke with Bob Krumenaker, the Superintendent of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore to get his thoughts and find out some of the comments he has heard about kayakers since the accident. First of all there is the power boaters perception of kayakers. They tend to think we are responsible for most of the campsite and dockside litter, that we try to be invisible with dark colored boats, pfd's, and jackets, and that kayakers have a holier than thou attitude about both our camping ethic and especially our mode of propulsion. There is also a not undeserved perception among the locals that we show up in the area with a twenty dollar bill and one pair of underwear and don't change either the whole time we are there. He also told me that even though there have been two fatalities in the past 3 years (pleasure boaters pointed out that there had been none in the park until the 'kayaking craze' began) there has been no move to regulate kayaking any further. He did say however, in response to my regulation question that, "We are not contemplating anything like that at this time but your instincts are good. People tend to not blame the person whose actions caused the accident but to blame us for allowing them to perform the activity in the first place". I also talked to CPO Matt Schofield, the Coast Guard PR officer at the Great Lakes HQ in Cleveland. He told me that the Commandant of the Coast Guard is lobbying for testing and licensing of ALL watercraft operators. Chief Schofield's comment was,"Learn to operate your boat. The 'it will never happen to me' burns more people every year. And wear the life jacket! You can't set foot on a USCG vessel without a life jacket on". Nothing new or earth shattering but lots of people haven't figured it out.

So, as VI Lenin asked in 1902, "What is To Be Done?". Keeping the sport safe without stupid and arbitrary regulations, coexisting with other folks using the waters, and generally behaving like reasonable human beings are all admirable goals. I think one of the keys is dialogue. I plan on talking with Mr Krumenaker again as well as the USCG guys in Bayfield to get their opinions on kayak safety. Then maybe the area clubs and outfitters can pull something together collectively. Also, when you land on an island with a dock, stroll over and talk to the power boaters and sailors. We all love the water. Don't just ignore them and look superior as thoughts of carbon footprints swirl through your politically correct brain. And pull that wallet out when you're in town. I can highly recommend a gin and tonic followed by a South Shore Brown Ale and a fresh whitefish basket at Morty's Pub in Bayfield when you come off the water. And there are lots of good supplies and eats at Ehlers Store in Cornie. You might even learn something chatting with the staff and other customers.

We not only need to paddle safe but paddle smart. Being a good ambassador of our sport can only bring postive results in the long term. Lets go for it!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Wild Islands

After taking endless shots of people paddling on the water, panoramic views of island vistas, and sunset shots, I realized that I was very weak on the wildlife photos. As the header on my blog says, "Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement". After missing countless ducks, eagles, deer, etc, I decided to just screw on the telephoto when paddling. Here are the results of that slowly learned lesson.

Cormorants. The reviled double crested cormorant. Their population has exploded recently and they are everywhere. Whether I've been on the Chippewa Flowage, Lake Superior, or even the uber urban Lake of the Isles in downtown Minneapolis there are cormorants all over. There was big controversy a couple years back over shooting the cormorants on Leech Lake. Simple arithmetic....8 years ago 50 nests. Two years ago, 2500 nests. One pound of fish per bird per day. Might this impact the fishery?? This shot is taken on the Manitou rock off Manitou island. You simply can't imagine the stench as you approach the area. Normally baby animals of any species, even rats, are kinda cute. This does not apply to cormorants. There are theories about the population explosion but, as you can likely deduce, I'm against it. Kinda like I'm against the Whitetail deer explosion but thats another tirade.

This shot is of a merganser mom and her brood scurrying out of the way of a threatening 17' long red fish shaped thing. My bird expert, GurneyGranny, said its either a common or red breasted merganser. I count an even dozen offspring. They 'ran' for about 25 yards and then mom turned around and gave me "The Look". We men know The Look. Its unexplainable but we know exactly what is being communicated. Photo credits to to GG for cropping this merganser shot.

Gulls. The shallow area between the Manitou Rock and the fish camp had become even shallower with the 18" drop in lake level. As you pick your way through you see lots of native deposits of the mineral 'gel coat' on many of the rocks. The gulls have picked out the rocks just under the surface to hang out and look cool. The duo in the photo are looking very cool. They must have no olfactory senses because they hang with the cormorants out on Manitou Rock also.

Eagles. Taken off the Endangered Species list but maybe thats OK. I've never seen less than 4 or 5 different eagles on any Apostles trip and this trip was no exception. We even saw two immature eagle that appeared to be heading toward Devils Island for god knows what purpose. A couple years ago we were snowshoeing at our deer camp near Oulu, WI and found an eagle that some redneck moron had shot. We called the DNR who did a necropsy to confirm and that was the all we heard of the story. I'd like to catch one of those redneck SOB's while in posession of a good testicle pliers but that has yet to happen. This eagle was perched in a large white pine on the northwest end of Manitou Island as we headed toward our camp. Kayakers didn't upset him a bit but then he didn't have offspring in the water like Ma Merganser.

Most of us enjoy large mammals. On this trip we found two campsites with bear boxes (York and Manitou) and two without (Cat and Outer Islands). Last year we spent the last night on Basswood before they closed it down due to bear problems. I think there are 3 or 4 sites on the south tip of Basswood. One has a bear box. I know this because we paddled out late from Bayfield and arrived at dusk. I had to inform the squatters on our site at Basswood 1 that they had to move to their 'real' site. They whined that "there was no bear box there!". Being the cruel Libertarian that I am, I explained responsibilities and consequences. The NPS closed Basswood to camping the very next day. This handsome guy was found strolling down the beach. Our group had become strung out when returning from the fish camp (remember: I had to paddle out to Manitou Rock to get visual and olfactory evidence of the cormorant community). When I heard the Bessemer Convivialist pounding on her boat I turned to GalwayGuy and said, "Bear in camp!". Correct once again. Our thought was a yearling but opinions are welcome. He just strolled down the beach and paid no attention to we paddlers.

The Apostles are a special place and even though I've been there countless times it is never the same and I never get tired of it. Wind, weather, waves, and wildlife are constantly changing and making it a new experience each time you launch.

Do I really have to go home?

I've just returned from a wonderful, idyllic six day paddle in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore with 6 compadres'. I can't believe how the wind gods have favored us this paddle season. We arrived at YorkIsland on Tuesday night around 10pm with plenty of light and flat seas and surfed over to Cat Island the next morning with 2' trailing seas. On Thursday, after a rousing celebration of the 4th of July the day before, we had a short paddle to Outer Island, via Stockton for some of us, with negligible wind. GalwayGuy and I went around Outer on Friday, roughly 17 miles and change, and met the rest of the crew on the eastern edge and found one of the sweetest little beaches in the archipelago. Again, only breezes to deal with. Based on NOAA forecasts for 20-25 mph SW winds with waves 2-4' we got up early on Saturday and girded our loins so to speak, for an anticipated slog to Manitou. We were happy that once again, as they had been for the entire trip, NOAA was dead wrong. Bluebird weather and tropical breezes greeted us and we hit Manitou around 11am. On the last day the group split up and 4 of our folks headed down to Red Cliff with a following sea and the remaining 3 of us headed around Pt Detour for Little Sand Bay with a very manageable northwest wind in our teeth. I just felt like I had to have a little bit of wind and waves in my face, just to remember what it was like.

We heard about the 90F readings downstate and the accompanying storms but I don't think we got much over 75F or so. One little shower was all the precipitation and the mosquito's were no shows. The cluster flies (fish flies, black flies, whatever you want to call them) were a different story however. Manageable most of the time and unbearable at others they were pretty dependent upon wind direction.
The sunsets were outstanding and water temp almost bearable to go swimming.....for about 90 seconds. I'll have more on the trip later but now I need to work to switch my brain from the paddle mode to the work mode. It gets tougher with every trip.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Apostles, here we come!

After a grueling two or so hours of work this morning, I will head home and we are off to the Apostles to tour the outer (including Outer) islands. The VOR, GalwayGuy, RonO, a second esteemed SKOAC board member, and my two hunting camp friends from suburban Gurney, WI will depart Little Sand Bay after supper for York Island. This is roughly the 4th year in a row we've hit the Apostles and the second year for the core of this group. Last year was interesting when GalwayGuy was hauled off Oak Island by the Coast Guard after suffering severe dehydration from suspected food poisoning. Coast Guard Bayfield will be receiving a case of beer later this afternoon to commemorate the event. The photo is me in the water helping to get my boat off the power boat that kindly ferried me back to Otter Island after assisting in the rescue on Oak.
To avoid any whining, photo credits go to my buddy, the Bjorn Dahlie of Mahtomedi (BDM). Once again boats will be decorated on the 4th, toasts will be drunk, and the dutch ovens will get a workout producing food that is far from the usual dehydrated camping crap. I'm outta here, mentally days ago, physically in about 3 hours. Happy 4th of July!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

alternative water opportunities

I took a break from kayaking to attend the 35th Annual Eau Claire River Float trip yesterday. This summer tradition began when me and some high school buddies, returning Vietnam vets, relatives, etc. decided to get a quarter barrel of Walters beer, throw it in a canoe, and float down the river in inner tubes on a hot summer afternoon. The concept got legs and we haven't missed a year since. The group had shrunk, grown, aged, become more youthful, and changed personality. Remarkably it has held together for 35 years on the last weekend of June . Oh there have been incidents. Pickup trucks have been rolled, restaurants have been disrupted, bodily parts have been exposed, people have been over served, and other untoward behavior has been evident. Its all good fun however.
My oldest sister and her friend (we'll call her FUSue) are the unofficial 'moral arbitrators' of the trip. One year a group of 4 folks held back and shortly came floating around a bend in the river dressed in surgical scrubs carrying an organ transplant cooler full of Dr McGillicuttys schnapps miniatures. These were administered orally to the many patients and the trip tended to get a lot more fun at that point. This incident, combined with some mooning and unsafe diving at a small rock outcropping called Red Rocks, and the poorly thought out invitation of some ladies from a rather sketchy local bar caused my sister, the 'moral arbitrator' to take action. She admonished a group of us that, "All you a**holes need to remember is No Doctor, No Red Rocks, and No Sluts!" This succinct quotation, of course, needed to be immortalized with a T-Shirt. This year my sister had to attend a wedding and could not float. My younger sister was ordered to 'keep an eye on Rick', my brother in law. As you can see from the photo and the duct tape alteration of the T-Shirt, she did a damn poor job.
It was however, as beautiful an afternoon as you could expect of a Wisconsin summer day. The entire route on the river has one power line and only two visible homes along it so you can pretend you're in the wildereness. Can't wait for the 45th annual!