One of the first things that happens at every symposium that I've ever attended is tour day. I've always thought it would be good to do the tour after everyone had worked on their strokes, wet exits, and other skills refinements but logistics trumps logic. People need to get back to their daily grind and a tour on the last day would not be smart. There is a lot that goes into setting up and pulling off a tour however, and most people whether they be instructors or symposium attendees, don't realize all the thought and planning that takes place before and during a tour.
Categorizing the group is always tough. Beginner, intermediate, and advanced. People rarely self select themselves at the skill level they are really at. The more conservative tend to denigrate their own skills and the more optimistic tend to feel that they are better than they really are. Not surprisingly, I've found this break to fall along gender lines. Attractive and fit women look into the mirror and think 'Oh God I'm so fat!'. Guys with beer bellies that should have a name of their own do the same thing and think 'Lookin' good dude!'. It kinda works the same with self assessment of paddle skills. Picking the route, scenery component of the route, and distance is the easy part. Adjusting pace and keeping a large diverse group together and interested is the toughest part of any tour.
This year was no different from two years ago on the same trip, the Raspberry Island intermediate tour. The tour had 3 crossings from a mile to three miles and a potentially nasty stretch of water, the always unpredictable Point Detour. I believe Point Detour was named when 19th century ships captains were warned to detour around that particular headland on their way into Chequamagon Bay. We had 8 coaches on the tour and 20 participants. Our fearless leader was the ElyFlash, noted paddler, biker, and Outward Bound/NOLS dude from prestigious Vermillion CC in Ely, MN. The weather report from NOAA was dense fog and winds from the northeast increasing to 10-15 knots and waves building to 1-3'. Solidly intermediate conditions in our estimation,but we would need to observe the group to see if we really had intermediate paddlers that could handle the potential quartering 3 footers from the stern and the clapotis that would surround Point Detour on the way back.
I drew the short straw and led the first leg, hugging the shore line from Little Sand Bay up to Point Detour and a fog crossing of a mile to the York Island spit. Of the 19 particpants about 6 had compasses and maybe 4 had maps. I told them that even though this was a guided tour that its always a good idea to be proactive and bring those two things, along with a watch, so they could 'follow along at home' as the old game show hosts used to say. We launched like a herd of turtles and set off for Point Detour at a steady 3 mph pace. I was in the lead and had people who insisted on getting in front of me as well as paddlers strung out 100 yards behind me. Eight coaches was not too many at this point. Not surprisingly there was a bit of whining about our snails pace on the front and when we reached Point Detour we had one woman who decided she needed to turn back. More on that later.
I took a bearing, let the group know what it was, 20 degrees north, and set off for York. I was disappointed when the fog lifted about 2 minutes into the paddle and we could see the spit under a mile away. One of the coaches had headed back to LSB with the paddler that opted out and the seven that were left moved around and shepherded the group to York. This is always a great opportunity to answer questions, work on some stroke stuff, and generally talk paddling smack back and forth. In a stunning reversal of the weather forecast it was flat calm and the sun came out. We headed for the Raspberry Island light which we could view clearly in the non fog, and saw the Island Princess, which we feared was going to run us over in the dense fog two years ago, and had an easy crossing. Some toured the light and others kicked back and took a power nap. We took some nice shots of the lighthouse from the water and headed into our last crossing of the day from Raspberry to Point Detour. The wind had freshened to about 6-7 mph which kicked our speed up to well over 4mph with the trailing seas. It also gave us just a bit of clapotis, bounce waves, to play in off Point Detour.
Flexibility and adaptation is a crucial element of these tours. Had it gotten too windy we would have cut thing short based upon the expert judgement of the ElyFlash. Had it been just too nasty and the forecast too daunting we might have had a venue change to more sheltered waters. I offered to lead the group to Bark Bay Slough and then the Village Inn Bar in Cornie if we had to move to an alternative but that did not happen. The one adaptation that did occur was the woman that headed back to LSB with one of the coaches, who just happened to be raconteur and fellow blogger from the Milwaukee area, Silbs. I almost expected the paddler who turned back to be a bit sheepish when I asked how it went but she was positively bubbly and buoyant when she related how her day had gone. Now some of us that know know Dick might shudder at the thought of several one on one hours with him, but the fact is that he is a superb Level 4 open water ACA instructor. They worked on strokes, speed, paddle cadence, rotation, and he even switched her to a smaller blade paddle, more of a touring blade, that's a bit easier to pull through the water. Her speed and confidence on the water increased significantly.
The key thing on the tour was that everyone had a good time and paddled safely. Some people quizzed me on the navigation thing, others played with paddle strokes, a little fun in the bounce waves, and we all got a good taste of the varying moods of Gitchee Gumee. One woman got some nice private lessons and everyone left LSB for Washburn feeling pretty good about the day. I guess in the end that's what its all about.