Monday, June 15, 2009

Oak Island SKOAC weekend

We found ourselves paddling to Oak Island on Friday night for a large SKOAC group event. Over the years I've studiously avoided such group events and still can't figure out what lured me on this one, but there we were, hitting the water at 8pm for the six mile crossing. Five of us had met at Morty's Pub for the traditional Wisconsin Friday fish and were joined by WaltK, the fellow from the University of Vermont who is working on the long running (1975) study on recreational users in the Apostle Islands. More on that in another post but suffice to say a couple positions are still open for my dream job, paddling around for a couple hours a day interviewing boaters. I haven't let go of that idea quite yet.

The crossing was both uneventful and beautiful. I was a lovely night, the stars were out, and we turned on our head lamps at the Red Cliff Point nav buoy. I reminded the group that RonO and the BessemerConvivialist had barely avoided a hefty ticket from the Coast Guard last year for having inadequate (eg. not turned on all the time) lights. We also learned that you can see those little head lamps for a couple miles easily. The folks that had already reached camp could see our lights easily two miles out and we, in turn, could see their lights in camp. We landed and set up in the dark, a task that seems to get easier with repetition. It seems that disengaging from work on Friday gets tougher and tougher, another problem that would be solved were I the official boater census taker on Rocky or Stockton Island. We were not the last group to arrive however, as three women, including KleanDeckKate, ground ashore on the sandy beach of Oak at just about 11pm.

Saturday dawned with perfect weather and a minimal insect activity. There was a bit of complaining but once again I noticed it was gender specific. As a fairly low brow, neanderthal, basic representative of my gender, I avoid moisturizers, aloe based creams, perfumes, jasmine soaps, and other scented product which seem to attract insects like bees to honey or flies to....well, you get my drift. It was a pretty nice morning but the lake would soon be delivering a gentle reminder that it was indeed the boss. After a relatively disjointed, random discussion of where we wanted to day paddle (such grass roots democracy is one of the endearing qualities of the SKOAC club for me; we typically don't have meetings), we split up into the Otter Island group and the Stockton Island group and headed out with a light southerly breeze. Just about the time we landed at Presque Isle on Stockton after a 9 mile paddle, we felt the breeze grow cool on the backs of our necks, and turned around to see a rapidly advancing squall line. The weather radio informed us that a severe thunderstorm with 60mph winds and quarter sized hail had just passed through Ironwood to the south of us. I asked the KingOfIronwoodIsland, a resident of North Ironwood, MI, if he had put his $80,000 pickup truck in the garage and had his roof adequately insured. He informed me that yes, he was in good shape. Another cell was working its way up the north shore and we could see both of them from the Presque Isle dock. The one that concerned us most, of course, was the one that was coming straight for us.

The squall line hit with 40mph winds, measured by one of the sailboats tied up at the dock. If I was employed in my dream job I could have been in the sailboat, interviewing the occupants, getting paid, and likely enjoying an adult beverage. But no, I was sitting in my trusty camp chair with my storm cag on, being pelted by the wind and rain. It was a short lived event but now we had a 15-20 knot headwind for our 8.5 mile paddle back to Oak, including a 4 mile slog through the infamous Basswood Triangle, an area bounded by Stockton to the east, Oak to the north, Red Cliff Point to the west, and Basswood to the south. The waves had picked up and was blowing the tops off the waves in the classic whitecap scenario.

Meanwhile, the Otter party had been caught on the water by the storm. The BemidjiIntelOfficer had the skeg on her Aquanaut stick in the down position and was veering off toward Manitou when LoneRangerRob managed to catch her and get it back up. All turned out well and they even had a lee on the east shore of Oak for a bit, and managed to beat us back to camp by a couple hours.
Back on Stockton, we were watching another front coming through and decided to make a run for it. The headwind reduced our pace by a solid knot, roughly 3 knots instead of 4 knots, slowing us by 25% and cutting deeply into our happy hour time at the camp. Basswood Triangle lived up to its reputation, giving us some northwest winds, southwest winds, hot breezes off Oak Island, cold winds down the North Channel, and waves that were hitting each other at 45 degree angles, which gave us that 'paddling on an upside down egg carton' effect. It was more interesting than nerve wracking however, and we made it back to a lovely pot luck, with the Stockton crew scrambling to get their contributions on the table. The King had the perfect dish for the situation as well as the one that drew the most rave reviews. He had made a rum soaked bundt cake the night before and just pulled it out with no prep needed. This allowed him to focus his efforts on the bag of Pinot Grigio that he had thoughtfully iced before we left.

Given the anarchic nature of this group, we kind of dribbled over to the mainland on Sunday. Eight folks left first, followed by 5 more a bit later, and LoneRangerRob bring up the rear. He had paddled over solo and did the same on the way back. We're pretty sure he made it. Those of us in the second group got a nice tailwind and the first group got a push when the wind direction switched 180 degrees about halfway through the crossing. A stop for beer and chow in Bayfield, a quick check on the progress of Bayfield's new kayak shop that's slated to open on Wednesday, and it was back to the city.

It was a good trip with 'fun for the whole family' as they say. Fourteen folks with a nice mix of ages, genders, boats, culinary expertise, and paddling skills. Gitchee Gumee provided us a with a nice mix of sun, rain, wind, flat calm, building chop, and some baby swells. Now its three days of work and back up to Washburn for the Inland Sea Kayak Symposium, where I will be volunteering with the Friday tours, Saturday safety boating, and anything else they want to throw at me. The VOR and a bunch of other folks will be heading up to the event as wellIt seems like a foolish waste of time, gas, and is also very non-green and non- sustainable, for us to drive back when we could be paddling from sailboat to sailboat conducting my interviews but so be it. For now. I'll be back on the big lake before I know it. When I look at the image below of the VOR gazing out toward Basswood Island, it makes my work focus wane a bit. Maybe I shouldn't have used it for my screen saver at this particular point.......

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