Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Sand Island Adventure

Tales of Alaskan yurts, gigantic tides, and extremely ugly fish will have to wait.  Last weekend the VOR and I got back on Gitchee Gumee, salt and shark free as the T-shirt proclaims.  The guest paddlers were my sister WeezyDeb and bro in law AmericasCaptainDick.  Our sextet was rounded out by nephew TaipeiScott and lady friend CalamityLisa.  It was nearly a perfect fall Saturday and we hauled most of the fleet and a Passat double,rented from our friends at Living Adventures, up to Little Sand Bay for a day trip to the caves and the lighthouse.  The Lead Banana was already out on Oak Island with BDaehlieOfMahtomedi so we grabbed the Canadian equivalent.  Everything looked good for taking a couple beginners out in the double and TS and CL, both veterans of a couple of overnights on the big lake and the LAI intro course, paddling my Aquaunaut and the Delphin respectively.  The lake however, decided it needed to throw us a curve, give us just a little taste of the upcoming fall blows, and remind us once again who was the boss.

The crossing from LSB to the Swallow Point caves was very nice, although the southeast breeze at around 5-6 knots was enough to make the water in the caves bumpy enough to that only CalamityLisa followed me in.  No calamities resulted.  We took a break at Justice Bay around 1:30 and decided we had plenty of time to visit the lighthouse.  After rounding the point the VOR scouted out the ledge by the ladder that's in place to climb to the top of the cliff. She landed easily and apparently it was fine.  I decided to take the rest of the crew around the corner to a certain lee by the big iron cleat in the rock and the VOR stayed put and walk up to the light.  As we sat on the western side of the historic brownstone structure enjoying lunch, the wind decided to switch about 30 degrees to the east and pick up a bit.  When it was time to launch the wind was due east at 12mph according to the 3pm report from Devil's Island on NOAA.  The unofficial rule seems to be that 15mph is the absolute top end for beginners and I knew from personal experience that the rough seas that had popped up at the point would mellow out if we took a wide swing around and passed between the Sand Island shoal and the NE tip of the island so that was the plan.  I would pick up the VOR as she launched from the ledge.  Unfortunately she was stuck on the sandstone ledge with waves breaking and crashing on the on the extremely firm sandstone.  Being the VoiceOfReason she thought that attempting to launch the Avocet could result in a large gelcoat repair bill at Northwest Canoe.  I couldn't argue so I backed in close, tossed my towline over my shoulder with my best Kareem Abdul Jabbar sky hook, and she clipped on and I towed the empty Avocet around to the campground where the water was millpond flat and I would pick her up.

Meanwhile, out in the lake the crew seemed to be doing well as they made slow progress into the wind.  I caught them just as they were making the turn south which exposed them to the beam seas.  Cap'nDick was a bit nervous, being an experienced Windsor Castle captain, about turning broadside but quickly realized, as did the rest of the group, that the boats would take care of them if they focused on the horizon and kept that loose 'salsa hip' as FivePieceRoy recommends in his rolling instruction. I didn't notice any tight neck muscles or the inability turn the head that often occurs when new paddlers are suffering 'sphincter pucker.' This is a group that has no fear of the water, 65F water by the way, still very swimmable. TaipeiScott's high school trips to the state swim meet and number of spectacular water skiing crashes by both him and Cpt'nDick pretty much took any panic issues out of the equation, even though it was a first time on the big lake for a couple of the group. There was also the story of a memorable endo in a sit on top in big Domincan Republic surf involving certain group members. Those factors made me feel a lot better and much more confident when they ditched my ass at Swallow Point.

First a brief analysis of what not to do when towing an empty boat.  The cockpit cover was on and when I got it out of the surf zone I thought I'd just clip on my neat Gordon Brown style short tow and keep the boat close to me.  The waves were just bit enough that the damn thing kept attacking me however, two footers with a stray three footer now and then.  (Closed circuit to Weezy.....I don't recall a single six footer.  Maybe they were only by you guys....).  After being prodded in the elbow by the bow a couple times I turned the Avocet loose on the end of my waist tow.  This had it's own set of issues since it randomly veered to port then starboard but it really didn't weigh anything, put no strain on my waist tow, and stayed nicely upright.  I spotted the VOR in Justice Bay and headed in to touch base.  Since we were still facing east there was a surfable break going in and I had a bit of fun until the Avocet surfed past me on the tow line.  I realized two things at that point.  The VoiceOfReason could walk the little bit extra and I'd pick her up at the Sand Island dock, and that surfing with an empty boat affixed to my back was a good way to get harpooned, like an unfortunate seal, in the back by a rogue uncontrolled kayak.

Before I headed into the bay the quartet,  now paddling strongly and chatting with each other in a decreasing beam sea, had been instructed to 'wait for me around the corner'.  When I came around the corner of Swallow Point and looked west I didn't see them.  I did however see paddle flashes and the distinctive orange paddle jacket and orange Delphin of CalamityLisa making a beeline for the big white fishery boat house in Little Sand Bay.  Shit.  Double shit.  Do I sprint up and catch them, then head back with everyone to get the VOR?  Just go retrieve her?  I decided on the latter course.  I figured my sister, paying just as much attention to what I say as she always has thoughout our childhoods and adult lives, had just blown me off again and decided to 'head for the barn'.  Given their water experience, water temps, wetsuits, decreasing wind and waves, and LAI training for a couple of the crew, I figured the worse that could happen was that someone got wet.  I collected the VOR and we hammered it in, about 15 minutes behind the main body.

Our late arrival meant that when we returned the Passat to LAI we had to sneak past the closed sign in the driveway like thieves in the night, unload the boat and gear and leave it stashed next to the boathouse.  It also meant that my feast of pork chops and salmon on the grill would have to be replaced with the quick, easy, and delicious Patsy burgers and Keweenaw Widow Maker on tap which TaipeiScott, a grad of MTU in Houghton, found to be excellent.  Hungry paddlers need to have their strength and dangerously low blood alcohol levels restored quickly so that was a popular plan.

What would I do differently?  Probably listen to the aptly named VoiceOfReason and sit tight for another 90 minutes or so and wait for the wind to die down, although we were only equipped with two lights for five boats.  The other thing might have been to insist that everyone hung with me as I scurried around, although people were loathe to give up ground after the tough paddle into the 12 mph wind and not afraid to let me know it.  I'm not sure what I'd do differently trying to tow that empty boat so suggestions would be welcome there.  What I do know is that everyone had a great time, a little whiff of adventure, and wants to get out on the water again and I guess that's what counts in the end.
(all photos courtesy of Mr. S. Krahn, no rights reserved)

1 comment:

Sainttom said...

omergGrWe shared your experience on Saturday. Left Little Sand Bay at about 10:15, vaguely remember something on the weather radio about winds veering NE, and paddled to the Sand caves. Stopped for a long lunch on the beach just east of the caves and just as we were launching that NE wind kicked up. Ugh. A leisurely paddle turned into 2hr plus slog. I think we saw you landing a little after six. We were grilling lake trout and white fish with fresh green beans from Bayfield Farmers Market. And adult beverages of course.