I will admit to a bit of trepidation before the start of this years 2 mile open water swim from Bayfield to Madeline Island. I noticed roughly the same number of safety boaters but that the field has swelled to 400 swimmers, double what it had been last year. Last year there had been a bit of a chop out of the northeast and keeping the swimmers heading to LaPointe on Madeline Island was like herding cats. This year there was not a breath of wind at the beginning of the race and that made all the difference.
It could not have been a more perfect day. The air was still and the lake looked like liquid mercury. Large pyramid shaped buoys marked the course across the lake and the safety boaters were divided up into 6 groups, each with a leader. The safety boaters would 'accordion out', with the group near the finish line paddling with the line of leaders and the other groups forming a picket line of sorts to keep swimmers aimed in the general direction of Madeline. Swimmers, like kayakers and people lost in the woods, tend to move in a circle if they don't have a point to orient on. Since efficient swimmers have their heads in the water most of the time it can be tough to go straight. When they start heading for Washburn or Basswood Island our job as safety boaters is to get their attention and help them back on course. This is more easily said than done due to heads in the water and swim caps over their ears. Yelling when they come up to breathe and sometimes a touch with the paddle is needed. With 400 swimmers and roughly 35 safety boaters that gave each of us roughly a dozen swimmers that we were responsible for. I did not like those odds but my concerns were unfounded. The race came off like clockwork. Everyone had fun and many personal best's were recorded, including the lovely woman and her homely companion in the image to the left.
Flat water and minimal current seemed to be the main reason that people stayed on course. In addition to the picket line of kayakers there were power boaters, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and USCG boats as well, many with EMT's on board. We were armed with little orange flags and many of us had radios. If a swimmer looked like they were in trouble we were to assess their condition. Questions that made them think such as their complete street address, middle name, or who is the vice president (no kidding that was on the instruction sheet!) needed to be asked and if they appeared as though they were going to boink we were to key channel 22A on the radio or frantically wave the orange flag. Again, to my knowledge no flags were waved and I did not hear any distress calls on the radio. It was the best day for the swim in my years of safety boating. I even got to bond with two of my former kayaks, the Gulfstream and Solstice GTS HV, Kathy's CD Storm, and my former VW Passat. All were in one spot in the image right.
I headed back to Bayfield with KleanDeckKate while the rest of the usual suspects enjoyed the complementary breakfast on the island. I needed to rendezvous with an Iowa/Nebraska contingent and head for Quarry Bay and a 3 day paddle in the Apostles. A few stops in Bayfield and I was at Red Cliff, where once again (to my mild surprise) a kayak can be launched as the big new casino goes up. The boys were heading out of Little Sand Bay but just as I was about to launch to meet them, boat all loaded and geared up, I got the call that they had aborted the launch. A line of nasty thunderstorms was on the radar and heading our way. NOAA had issued small craft and lightning warnings on the radio and they prudently turned around after a solid 100 yards or so of paddling. In the end it was much ado about nothing because the storm moved well to the south. Once again I wound up setting up my tent in the Town of Russell campground. This time however I persuaded the crew to head into Cornie for whitefish dinners and pitchers of South Shore Nut Brown at the Village Inn. This was followed by ice cream at Ehlers Store, a spot where I once purchased eye bolts, chicken, a box of .22 Long Rifle shells, and two six packs of beer all in one stop. We were all disappointed that we didn't launch but cajun broiled whitefish definitely trumped jet boil dehydrated lasagna for most of the crew. The next morning we were launched by 9am and off to Oak 4 & 6 via Sand, York, and Raspberry Islands. Life is indeed good.