Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Kayak tragedy off Pigeon Point
As BBS put it in his email, he was the kind of guy you could talk to for 5 minutes and figure out he would be great on your week long Gitchee Gumee paddle trip. He had good gear, was safety conscious to the point of installing a foot pump in his boat, and was very fit and tuned in. He was a Wisconsin boy, 57 years old, paddled an Explorer as his expedition boat, had a hard chine Brit boat to play in, loved the Greenland stick, and wrote a blog about his paddling experiences. That of course, is an exact and precise description of the fellow plunking away on the keys, working on this difficult post. Sobering. Very, very sobering. There but for the grace of God go I. Bob did the Nigel/Doug Devil's Island paddle at the ISS last year along with a number of friends including LoneRangerRob and my buddy Rick from south of Rockford. He was a strong paddler and very fit and prepared. The trip he was on was a fund raiser for an organizaton called Big City Mountaineers, an organization that provides at risk kids with an outdoor experience and many times a second chance.
We may never know what happened. His last post was dated Thursday and he talked about enjoying a cup of coffee in the Java Moose in Grand Marais, MN. He would have paddled up the north shore past Grand Portage, through the spectacular Susie Islands, and around Pigeon Point, possibly headed toward the border checkpoint at the river bridge, which he had alluded to. We have no clue to where he might have camped Sunday night but it could have been Grand Portage or even Hole in the Wall. My guess on gear from looking at Bob's stuff at the ISS would be drysuit, EPIRB, new radio, good pfd, and all the proper gear. The reports said 30mph wind and 42F water but Bryan did some checking and surmised SW winds, maybe not that strong, with waves 2-4'. It's a remote location, a very solid hour plus paddle no matter where you launch from, and there are no rescue resources close at hand. Even with proper gear if you don't have any fellow paddlers the margin of error in that part of the lake is razor thin.
I wish I would have known him better, other than a quick sandwich at a picnic table in Washburn. This is something we are all going to need to get our heads around. I plan on very carefully and deliberately evaluating my skill level, preparedness, and comfort in different paddling conditions that I may encounter. This will be discussed this weekend at Little Sand Bay. I also need to evaluate my solo paddles and the progression if things go bad. In Bob's case the escalation from self rescue to companions to boaters in the area to professional rescue was short circuited directly from self to the pros. We all need to think about how comfortable we are with that scenario, very common on the big lake. My heartfelt condolence go out to friends and family, small consolation given their loss. The fact is that with a community focused guy like Bob it is a collective loss on a number of levels. Plan, prepare, carefully think ahead like a good pool player, and paddle safely. We owe it to ourselves, Bob, and the paddling community as a whole.