Monday, July 9, 2012
My friend Aras had an article published in the August edition of Sea Kayaker on an economic model for risk management in sea kayaking. It is excellent in that it quantifies the perceived value of launching and how it meshes with the twin factors of perceived risk and opportunity cost. In other words, what kind of trouble can I get into when I launch and what could I possibly be doing that might be as much or more fun than launching my kayak in dicey conditions. Apparently this matrix was at play at Meyers Beach on the afternoon of the 4th of July. The radar out over the lake looked like a person's knee after a nasty mountain bike crash, mottled, red, purple, and ugly. A squall line was moving to the northeast at 40mph. It was black and roiling to the north. Both the park service and Coast Guard were at the beach and allegedly talked a number of people out of launching to visit the mainland caves. Not everyone was dissuaded however, and a couple of rental doubles launched, got into trouble very quickly, and it took the Coast Guard, NPS, and the Bayfield Co sheriff boats to haul them out. I talked with a guide that took a group out Thursday morning, a beautiful day with sun and a 6-7 knot NW breeze. He saw the smashed up doubles on the rocks from the previous evening's excitement. Image at right. Perhaps the people did not realize the perceived risks or weigh the value of other opportunities, I don't know since I didn't talk to them. I'm trying to think of a way to be charitable here, but if the NPS and Coast Guard both strongly encourage you not to launch and you still do, you sir or ma'am, are a certified dumb ass. I wonder how the very people that told you not to launch feel about risking their safety to haul your stupid ass out of the water? I sincerely hope that some damage deposits on the boats were cashed in. At least that will raise the perceived risk, that of financial loss, if they ever think about doing this again. It was an equal opportunity afternoon though, with a powerboat swamped and buried on Bear Island, and an interesting SWI (Sailboating While Intoxicated) off Sand Island. Quite the trifecta on our nation's birthday.
Thursday was bluebird weather as I mentioned, and five of us including the VOR, MadCityMary, and our Cornhusker contingent took the perfect paddle to the Sand Island caves and the lighthouse. It was the FlowerChild's first crossing and first time on Lake Superior. The trusty Aleut II, the Lead Banana, performed perfectly. Friday's paddle was not quite as uneventful however. The UndergroundHippie, RangerMark, and I launched at the Sioux River for a quick shot across the mouth of Chequamagon Bay to the tip of Long Island and its two light stations. There had been some small squalls in the area but they had all been well north and out over the lake. NOAA had a benign forecast with the typical 'chance of thunderstorms', the sky looked good, and there was a 10-12 knot east wind 'in our teeth'. The forecast was for the wind to continue and build the waves from under two feet to 2' to 4' that evening. The paddle plan was to hammer it out, touch Long, and surf back. As we battled into the wind and got about 3/4 of the way across the three mile run, we looked over our shoulder and the sky did not look good. A consnesus decision was made and we spun around and got about 5 minutes of good open water surfing when the backside of the squall hit. The wind switched immediately from dead east to the northwest, picked up to 25 knots and the waves picked up within 10-15 minutes to three plus footers with the tops being blown off. Now it was work, all fun had ceased at that point. Paddle strokes were lowered to reduce the wind tearing at the upper blade, skegs retracted, and lots of general hunkering down with wind and spray in our faces. The UH was in the VOR's Avocet, a boat a bit too small for him so his trip was a bit more interesting than for his two companions. Lets just say the sand of the Friendly Valley Rd beach was welcoming when we hit it. At the same time, two guys we talked to on Hermit the next day were caught about 1/3 of the way between Basswood and Hermit. I didn't know their skill level but they said that the 25 knot tail wind and 'massive adrenaline' made for a quick rest of the crossing. This storm literally materialized in 15 minutes. I also heard from a buddy that was camped on Rocky Island that they chose to stay put and not paddle when they saw the storm blow up.
Lots of decisions were made by lots of people up in the Apostles over the 4th,, some good, some bad. Decisions that were made with good solid information and reasoning and others with seemingly no thought at all. Would our intrepid trio launch again given the information and resources available, skill level of the paddlers, and location of the paddle. I would have to say yes. In retrospect continuing to Long Island and hanging out for the 40 minutes or so of the blow would have likely been a better choice but then hindsight is always 20-20. Take a look at Aras's (known in this space as MrEngineerGear) article and think about that three legged stool of perceived value of the paddle, perceived risk, and other opportunities available. It adds a couple dimensions to the decision matrix that really need to be discussed and emphasized when talking to people that are deciding whether to head out. The other unspoken question is will you have fun? If the goal of this activity is fun, and that's certainly my goal, then people need to decide if battling big seas and potential disaster is really all that much fun. An excellent article, excellent weekend, and some excellent food for thought.