Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The mythical twenty footer

The subject of countless emails, Facebook posts, and conversations yesterday was the big northwest wind and the alleged twenty foot waves on Lake Superior. When I sent RonO the info from the NOAA mid lake buoy, he trumped my pathetic little bit of data with the glorious full color NOAA wave map above. Actual link is here. The front that brought us Fall on Sunday afternoon also brought steady northwest winds of 35 knots with gusts of over 45 knots, producing the twenty footers shown on the map along the south shore. But were there any twenty footers?

Wave height estimation seems to be like the fish you got right up to the boat and lost, or the buck that you just missed with your bow. Or maybe missed 4 times in 2 days like a nameless.....OK, it was the KingOfIronwoodIsland....Reefer Creek bow hunter. In our mind they always seem bigger than they are. The solid measure of wave height in a kayak is the rough placement of most peoples eyes about 3 feet above where their ass is on the kayak seat. So if all your fellow paddlers can be seen when you are in the trough of the wave, it just isn't a three foot wave no matter how much we would like it to be. About the time that I was studying the map and fantasizing about being windbound on the tip of the Keweenaw with an ample supply of food and adult beverage, I had the brainstorm to get in touch with a couple of on the scene witnesses, Pod and the GurneyGranny. Its unclear at this time who rushed down to Saxon Harbor but 5 images were in my email at about 6:30. As you can see, even the most notorious lying fisherman could not get 20' out of those waves. To be fair, Saxon Harbor appears to be in the 14' bar on the chart but those waves look like all of about 4 or 5 footers max to me. I also received a report from a Marquette native who said, "I saw pictures today from a friend east of Marquette. Pretty awesome there with stacked 7-10 foot waves and howling wind/rain". On the map 'east of Marquette seems to be solidly in the 16'range.

As readers of this blog are well aware, I've never scoffed at forecasts and data from NOAA and am certainly not now. I just want to see a twenty foot wave on Lake Superior. Or a picture of a twenty foot wave. I don't necessarily need to be out on a twenty foot wave, although I do admit that being on the Gull Rock Lighthouse, pictured below off the tip of the Keweenaw, during one of these blows would be outstanding. If you possess an image of a 20' Gitchee Gumee wave, please send it over. I'd really like to see it and I'm sure the readers of this blog would as well. This link has some excellent wave shots but, again, I don't see a twenty footer. A little help out there?


Bryan said...

The point where these waves are breaking is around 30 to 40 feet deep. I don't think they're 20 footers, but in the high teens: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-weM8fJVN7o & here at 121 on the north shore: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZJfQE5tUgM

That same day, I saw three surfers pretty much head to toe lined up from the bottom to the top of a wave with more wave above and more below. It had to be 20+.

The above photo looks like 5 foot waves, but my guess is that a larger wave broke on an outer sandbar and then reformed as smaller waves inside.

And I've seen waves much bigger than these on NE gale days.

DaveO said...

I gotta make it a point just to head up when its nasty. I need to see one of those with my own eyes! Artists Point would be the place to be during a NE blow.

Bryan said...

Artist's Point or Sugarloaf Cove. The real action is at 121--drive to mile marker 121 on Highway 61 on a wave day and you'll know what I mean. Don't forget the surfboard.

Here's a picture from 121: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/1233405 It's misplaced on the map, but close.