Sunday, September 12, 2010

Kayaker dies in the Apostles

On the drive down the north shore of Lake Superior, returning from our annual fall kayak trip, I heard about a search for missing kayaker in the Apostle Islands. I was heading to Gurney anyway to meet up with the VOR, Pod, and the Gurney Granny, and altered my route to hit Meyers Beach, Red Cliff, and Bayfield. I talked to some folks and got a bit of info on what had happened.

Two guys from Minnesota, one with his own boat and the other with a rented boat, got caught between Sand and York Islands in a stiff northeast wind. They became separated and the fellow in the rented boat reported his companion missing. The rotomolded sea kayak with all its gear in it was found and then much later, I don't know how long but the paper reported Coast Guard helicopters from Traverse City and a Canadian C-130 from Winnipeg were involved in the search, the paddlers body was found. The man was wearing a life jacket and a wetsuit and was found in Justice Bay, just north of the Sand Island sea caves.

I don't know what to say. I'm sure more info will come out. The fact that an accident like this could occur in August with warmer water temps only illustrates once again the respect that this body of water needs to be given. We pulled out of the Sauna Islands a day early due to a forecast of rain, gale force winds veering to the southeast, and waves 1.5 to 2 meters from the Canadian forecasters. I hope as more info is made available, this accident can be used for constructive learning. For now I guess its time for condolences to friends and family and thanks to the folks who participated in the search.

7 comments:

Silbs said...

Well said and, sad to say, we know it will happen again. Sometimes it is poor judgment and other times it is just Mother rearing up overwhelming us. It is a fact of life for those of us who go out onto the water...in anything.

courtney said...

Mr O - I read about the acident this morning, any idea who it was, the article in the Duluth News Tribune said the paddler was from MN.

DaveO said...

No idea on the identity, although folks monitoring the marine band in the AINL said the fellows name was given and the guys were allegedly from Scandia. All speculation however, and no updates in the paper this morning.

kykr13 said...

I'm curious about the conditions - if I'm seeing correctly, Ashland was reporting wind speeds barely into the teens on Friday, but the CG reports the rescue was delayed because of the conditions.

Lots of questions at this point, but I agree on sending condolences.

Charlie said...

Nation Park Service searched till midnight when rain reduced visibility.Water temp was 47 degrees, wind was 19-22 with gusts to 25. PFD did not have any reflective material. Full report expected next week in NPS Morning Report

DaveO said...

Thanks Charlie. I had talked to one of the folks on one of the NPS search boats and they said when they got home at 1am they were colder than hell. No moon, rain and wind made visibility impossible. I didn't realize the water was that cold however. The week before on the Canadian north shore we had consistent 56-58F readings. Sunday at 2pm off Bark Point I got 62F. It only goes to show how much the water temp can vary with that much wind moving water around.

Nancy Langston said...

We talked with one of the NPS rangers on Sunday. She was part of the search last week. This is secondhand, but this is what she told us:


1. the autopsy is still underway, so they still don't know exactly why the man died (ie, he could have had a heart attack)
2. he was with a friend, launching from Little Sand Bay when the weather was already getting rough. The two men were warned by several people not to set out, because the waves were much worse out of the bay. They set out anyway
3. the man who drowned was the faster kayaker, and the other man shouted for him to wait up. But the first man couldn't hear. He was heading not toward Sand Island, but instead eastward, toward York Island (perhaps because of the winds; perhaps because he was confused; perhaps because he thought it would be safer--no way of knowing)
4. the second man soon lost sight of the stronger kayaker and turned west toward Sand Island. He made it to the campground and waited about 2 hours for his friend to arrive
5. after 2 hours, a camper there convinced him to use the camper's cell phone or radio to call the NPS and coast guard.
6. so the search started long, long after the first kayaker got out of sight
7. the NPS and coast guard searchers quickly found the overturned, empty kayak. They searched well into darkness for the kayaker, and had to call off the search eventually because of conditions, resuming it in the morning
8. and at that point, the day after the man vanished, his body was found

So: the two kayakers had no radio, didn't stay close together, and most importantly, set off in bad conditions even though they were told that the conditions were too bad to set off.

The man who drowned did have a wet suit and pfd on when he was found. The ranger said there was essentially no reflective material on the man's pfd or wetsuit, and she felt they would have had a much better chance of finding him earlier if he had had reflective tape on his shoulders and top of his pfd, and a strobe would have been even better.