Monday, August 9, 2010

Safety boating the open water swim

For the second year in a row a number of us served as safety boaters for the Bayfield to Madeline Island open water swim, an event to benefit the rec center in Bayfield. This event has grown geometrically from 24 people the first year to just under 300 this year. Rumor was that over 60 people were turned away when the event hit the Coast Guard mandated cut off number. One of the key safety elements is lots of folks in people powered craft keeping an eye on, guiding, and encouraging the swimmers. They are supported by power boats with EMT's as well as Coast Guard craft. The whole exercise seemed to me a lot like herding cattle. I was then corrected by one of my fellow safety boaters. No, she said, it was like herding cats.

The whole point of course, was to get from Bayfield to the island in the minimal amount of time. There are really no course markers, just giant buoys placed in an arc shape along the course. They reminded me of a trajectory or ballistics chart for a rifle round as they arced south toward Chequamagon Bay and then back toward the finish. Actually it was more like a shotgun slug, with a considerable curve away from then back toward the finish. Some swimmers followed the buoys but they got to swim a considerable extra distance. I was on the north end of the route, patrolling with the KingOfIronwoodIsland. I had my gps on and we took a dead straight line across the channel. We were encouraged to 'move em in, move em in' but the fact is that the folks that we were shepherding were on a pretty straight line to the finish which, according to Ms Meinen my high school geometry teacher, is the shortest distance between two points. No one seemed to know why the buoys were so far off the straight line course to the island but two theories were to compensate for the current or to keep swimmers away from the ferry route. Even though there was a bit of kayaker/swimmer acrimony and a bit of kayaker/kayaker acrimony (people who are pretty sure they know what they are doing resent being told that they don't) it was a great event once again. There were a couple Coast Guard evacs but almost all of the folks made it on a perfect day in rare 70F water with a light chop from the south. Unlike last year, the places on the island that offered free breakfast after the race were open and we had a lovely buffet at Grandpa Tony's,which was not one of the designated breakfast spots on last years lineup. A leisurely paddle back to Bayfield followed by a debriefing at Patsy's Bar in Washburn completed the morning.

Like most volunteer run events there are things that can be improved. I plan to shoot an email off to Scott with some ideas that may help if the event grows again next year, ideas fermented in Patsy's by Keweenaw Widow Maker and Summit EPA. There is nothing like a good after action briefing and discussion to help facilitate progress. Even with the minor issues it's a very worthwhile event for a good cause. Safety boaters receive a T-shirt, $25 gas card (OK, its actually a card from the Washburn IGA so it can be used for gas, groceries, or.....even beer.
'Fuel card' can be interpreted several ways), and the breakfast on the island coupon. If you're a paddler with a Lake Superior worthy boat and an intermediate skill set, think about it next year. Its a fun and rewarding way to spend a beautiful Saturday morning in August.

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