Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Weather and the kayaker
On Monday night I attended a talk sponsored by ISK with the same title as this blog post. It was researched and presented by fellow blogger, ACA instructor, and BCU trainee ATWPeggy. I assisted mightily in the research by eating as much Indian food as I possibly could during a luncheon discussion of Gitchee Gumee weather craziness a couple weeks back. It was a wonderfully informative and organized talk and the audience ranged from the 'I'd like to paddle Lake Superior' to the 'been there, done that' crowd. Wind and its traveling companion waves, as we all know, is the wild card in the trump suit, the determining factor on whether we paddle or drink beer in camp on any given day. A number of folks in the audience were on Lake Superior September 10, the day that the Allen Kachelmyer died of hypothermia off Sand Island, and the I thought the most intriguing discussion was on what the various paddlers did that day and why they decided to do it.
A relatively large group from ISK was up on Oak Island that weekend and split up to paddle around the island. Some of the stronger paddlers went all the way around and some of the newer paddlers did an out and back on the leeward side. They also welcomed a very shaken paddler who had done the crossing from Red Cliff point to Oak Island in the afternoon. Another group decided to stay on shore and just kick back for the day. The folks at Living Adventures watched two paddlers launch from Red Cliff and one capsized. The NPS came out and checked them out. Another group found a lee shore to paddle, a good option and always viable alternative in the midst of 22 islands. No one in the various groups did a crossing or even seriously considered a crossing that day.
Our Fall Trip crew were up on the Canadian north shore and experiencing very similiar weather and wind direction. We had crossed from Flatland to Mink Island and rafted up to debate whether to find a camp site and spend the night or head for the launch. Wind was almost dead east, 20 knots with 3'-5' seas, a meter to 1.5 meters according to Environment Canada in their half time English language report, with rain coming and wind picking up and veering south east. There was hemming and hawing about not cutting the trip short but the GreenThumbChef , our lone estrogen component, cut to the point quickly, nicely filling the normal role of her friend the VoiceOfReason, who did not make the trip. "Would you guys rather wake up tomorrow with everything wet, pack up wet gear, then battle beam seas back to the launch -or- head for the launch now, surfing on following seas, get a motel in Grand Marais, and sit in the Gunflint Tavern tonite with a cold pint in front of you?". I could almost see identical cartoon balloons forming above our three heads; the four of us at a table in the Gunflint, listening to live music, as we agonized over which of the 12 tap handles would be pulled at our behest. We very quickly got out of the lee of Mink Island and surfed into Sturgeon Bay where the cars were stashed. Our Friday evening was as good as our cartoon balloon images.
People come to their paddle/no paddle decisions in different ways. Sometimes its just that one little thing that can point the decision to go or not go, the proverbial tipping point. In all cases but one on that stormy Friday in early September, the 'correct' decision was arrived at but reached by very different routes. The one ill conceived decision paid the ultimate price.
We paddled on that Saturday morning as well, and the forecast was pretty accurate. Once again no crossings were made in the wind and seas but the BadHatter and I surfed a bit and practiced our rough water rolls off Grand Marais harbor in the predicted rainy blow. It was an onshore wind, we were definitely dressed for immersion, and we felt the risks were acceptable. Often, such as when I persuaded the guy in the shorts and sandals not to head to the Meyers Beach sea caves by slowly explaining the potential problems to him as he stood knee deep in 48F water, it just takes that one little thing to push people toward the safe decision. Sometimes 'I gotta get out there to start my vacation', 'I gotta get back to go to work', or the stupid macho 'I can handle it, this ain't nuthin' can be derailed by that one small fact or tidbit that causes the safety and logic synapse to fire in even the most bullheaded and rigid of brains. People need something to hang their rationalization hat on and sometimes finding that something can be a life and death task.