Wednesday, June 29, 2011
The Real Time Wave Unit is Online
One of the most visited attractions in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore are the mainland sea caves which are accessed from Meyers Beach. In the good old days there was just a pothole pocked dirt road down there, an outhouse, and a marginal parking lot. These days its a lovely blacktopped road with vault toilets, painted lines for proper parking, a parking fee, weekend rangers on duty, and a nice display at the top of the stairs where you descend down to the beach to launch. The popularity of the sea caves and heavy usage of the launch is the reason for the improvements. That same popularity is also the reason for the ranger and the display.
The display warns of the potential nasty conditions that can result in the short one plus mile paddle to visit the caves. It tells of a young man, a very fit soccer player at my alma mater of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, who died when he capsized near the caves in large,confused clapotis waves. Even though it was August he perished from hypothermia after three plus hours in the water. Rescuers had a hellish time reaching him because of the wave action. That was in 2004. The same thing occurred in 2007 to a fellow from Brule, WI. Almost any day of the summer you can see people down there, heading out to the caves in rec boats with no spray skirts, cotton T-shirts, and no paddle float or bilge pump to help get their asses back in the boat if they go over. This the very site where I argued with an idiot who was heading out there sporting the gear I described above. I had actually capsized while surfing in that day but had my wetsuit on. OK, OK, I may have been screwing around a bit as well, but the waves were 1-3 footers and the wind was westerly which meant much larger waves once a paddler cleared Mawikwe Point. It was only when I got this 'Lighten up dude, I know what I'm doing' macho man to discuss the launch/no launch issue while standing knee deep in the bone chilling June water that he relented and took my advice to head to Bark Bay for some safer communing with nature. Rangers at the parking area have told me they encounter the same thing on a daily basis.
To help give people real time, useful, and accurate information on conditions at the caves, a number of groups have helped fund and implement the RTOS, the Real Time Wave Observation System, which has also been added to the links on the right side of the blog. I went in and played with it and its a pretty cool website. Unlike the NOAA nearshore forecast this is real time and precise. It has the groups that were involved in funding and implementing the project, the real time wave and wind data, a wave plot of 4 hrs, 2 days, and 10 days, and even an hourly picture of the caves. Assuming a person can get cell coverage from the beach, they could view the actual conditions at the time on their smart phone.
You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. You can show a potential paddler what it looks like at their destination but you can't make em stay on the beach. Education efforts continue to help people make informed decisions on whether or not to launch. At the ISS Kayak Symposium earlier in June, there was a presentation put on jointly by the NPS and USCG from Bayfield. When the two gents in the above image were setting up there were only 3 people in the audience. I headed out to try to round some more folks up but it was unnecessary. By the time I got back it was standing room only, well over 50 people, listening intently and asking all kinds of questions about the fatalities that had occurred last fall and then again just the week before the symposium. They were preaching to the choir, folks that had invested the time and money go get better at their sport but it was great to see them there and hear things from the perspective of the guys who are going to have to get your bacon out of the fire if you screw up.
Check out the RTWOS, send a link to friends, and let people know its out there. If we keep talking maybe more and more people will listen. I can't come up with any better way to get the word out than one on one interaction. As the famous Milwaukee blogger writes when he closes his posts, "Paddle Safe".