Actually it wasn't even three hours, it was more like 45 minutes. A friend had just completed a
beautiful new strip baidairka for his wife and wanted a brief test paddle on Saturday morning. His wife would christen her new boat and we would ride shotgun in my Explorer and his Squall. We would never be more than 100 yards from shore and could only paddle about 45 minutes since I had a 'pressing' engagement at an apple press in Gurney later that morning. Also, we weren't even on the big lake, just Chequamagon Bay north of Washburn. The other chore of the day was to pick up the Lead Bananna, the vintage Howard Jeffs Aleut II which had been living on his trailer since a Labor Day weekend trip. I had taught on Snail Lake on Wednesday and half my stuff was in St Anthony and I left the other half at Olstone as I blew out the door, already suffering from Time Compression Syndrome, a chronic malady diagnosed by the BessemerConvivialist, which is indicated by the attempt to sfuff ten pounds of fun into a five pound bag. Bail bag, pump, paddle float, and life jacket with all the handy gadgets were all somewhere else as we launched into a building south wind and chop, heading south to Houghton Point.
It was a really uneventful almost boring paddle, if you can possibly consider beautiful brownstone rock formations to be boring. When we rounded Houghton Point and got the full effect of the south wind with the waves bouncing off the cliffs on the point it got a bit more interesting. My watch told me it was time to turn around and 66.6% of us did so successfully. While I was watching his wife make the turn in her new baidarka, my buddy went over in the Squall when a beam sea caught him. When I paddled over for a T rescue I noticed that the boat seemed heavy as I dragged it on to my deck to empty it. When he jumped up on the back deck it actually sank below the water line and the cockpit filled up again. Something was amiss and it was apparent that the back hatch was filled with water. We would need to figure out how to dump it and I was not too excited about doing it out in the chop. There was a dock about 75 yards away along the shore so I clipped on with my short tow and my friend swam alongside with his spouse keeping the gimlet eye on both of us. When we got to waist deep water we pulled off the rear hatch and found that the neoprene hatch seal was missing. To add to the water load, he had been working on a stuck footpeg, removed it, and then figured the hell with it, let's get going. The two footpeg bolt holes had water trickling into the cockpit every time a wave passed under the boat as well. It was obvious that the water in the cockpit had made the kayak unstable which caused the capsize in the beam seas. At this point a well prepared paddler would pull out his bail bag which contained 6 mil poly and bungie line for hatch repair as well as super duct tape to patch the two holes. There were no well prepared paddlers on this trip however, my bag was in the garage. So after dumping the boat we cinched down the back hatch straps as tight as possible and I found a couple sticks of the correct diameter that I jammed into the foot peg holes and broke off and we limped back to the launch area. I didn't even have my life jacket with knife so I could cut my water bottle to make an improvised bail bucket so we used a hat. We made it back without incident but I was definitely chastised.
Alls well that ends well but it was still a screwup. I don't check friends boats before we hit the water and I probably won't start now but a quick look around doesn't hurt; I may or may not have noticed the big chrome foot peg screws missing. No way on the neoprene hatch however, I would not have spotted that. Had it been cold water or no decent place to land it would have been different and more critical but the water was warm and there was a place to land. In the cold water scenario, given wind direction and proximity of the land, I would have probably abandoned the boat, hauled my buddy to shore, then gone back out for the kayak. Either that or raft up with two boats to empty the hatch. I guess those elements of risk management, bluebird weather, a landing spot, and warm water, probably figured into my usual preflight unconsciously. Not throwing in the bail bag was stupid as was none of us having a pump on deck. We improvised, dealt with it, and in the end it was a minor, no big deal situation. But consistency is a crucial attribute in a number of activities. Last weekend I paddled out to Oak with a group including a friend that is not in tip top condition these days. Tow belt, energy bars, bail bag, paddle float, bilge pump, and gadget laden life jacket were all consciously along for the ride. While we had an interesting crossing from Red Cliff Point to the Oak Spit, all went well. As it does 98% of the time.
But the Houghton Point event was a warning, Gitchee Gumee telling me that I need to have my shit together all the time if I am within her sphere of influence, and it will be heeded. I crashed a motorcycle when I was 18 years old and escaped no worse for wear, just like this incident. I was a different biker after that and I will be a slightly more tuned in and consistent paddler after this situation. In the very wise words of my buddy Silbs, paddle safe!