Thursday, July 28, 2016

Getting Better and some Rallying

 The annual Great Lake Sea Kayak Symposium is in the books.  Attendance was down a bit but the usual flood of late registration chaos insured the usual course and instructor shuffling while the big lake threw in some weather that cancelled some tours and modified others. In other words, the more things change the more they stay the same.  What the lake did provide was great conditions for learning.  This is not the best for tours, especially the beginner tours that are booked as 'tranquil' but for getting better on big water it was excellent.  Thursday we did a beginners primer on Sable Lake and worked through a syllabus that was developed by my buddy Jerome Rausch for our SKOAC club.  A solid 10-15 knot wind from the west allowed us really put paddle stroke and boat control skills into play.  Its one thing to tell people that their boat will blow away if they do a wet exit and don't hang on to it.  Its another thing to watch it blow away. The new sport of log gardening, paddling into, out, and around fallen trees in the water was discovered, and the folks in the class went on to bigger and better skills work on bigger water the next two days.   
Friday was boat control in the morning and open water boat control in the afternoon.  We awoke to 15-20 knots right out of the north and waves that began somewhere on the Canadian shore a couple hundred miles away.  Mike Looman, our Current Designs / Wenonah czar, led this session while I mainly tried not to confuse people.  Once again the Grand Marais harbor provided nice shelter and conditions got bigger and gnarlier the farther one ventured up the channel toward Gitchee Gumee proper.  Perfect learning conditions.  That afternoon was open water boat control.  Alec Bloyd-Peshkin, a man with whom I share a birthday, albeit a couple years apart, and David Johnston, the Canaidan Ambassador to the UP, ventured outside where the seas had subsided in the afternoon but were still plenty big enough to challenge people as they turned their boats on top of the waves.  Again, its one thing to tell people that a bow or stern rudder works better going into conditions or with a following sea but the big lake points this out very clearly when she's rockin'. Saturday was bluebird weather which made for a nice relaxed tour from the Hurricane River to the Grand Sable Dunes and back with a stop at the Au Sable light.  We also found two of the three shipwerecks along the stretch of lake known as the Shipwreck Coast. Sunday morning found me working with John Browning on boat repair. My NDK Explorer was the perfect example of a boat sorely in need of repair.  The keel strip is beginning to wear, the gel coat on the deck is cracked from various maneuvers over the years, and there is a two inch crack in the side where it half blew off the pickup and struck the side of the bed.  I had hoped, being a basically lazy person, that JB would actually fix the crack and was just a little disappointed when he just talked about how to fix it. I could not complain however as the whiskey tasting at the back of his van on Saturday evening was sublime and satisfying as usual, especially with Ray Boucher tending bar.

The next event on Lake Superior to get better while having fun, next co-ed event anyhow, is the brand spankin' new Bayfield Paddle Rally in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  It's the weekend after Labor Day with great coaches and a fair amount of the chow included.  The Fat Radish in Bayfield will be catering the event and trust me folks, that's a very good thing.  My buddies at Trek & Trail decided it's time for a paddle event again in the Apostle Islands area with the last one being the Gales event, hamstrung a bit by a ridiculous government shutdown at the time.  One of the reasons the Apostles is a world class paddling destination is that the island group always seems to offer a lee to paddle in.  Plan B, C, & D are usually available to ger on the water no matter the wind direction and the scenery never disappoints.  Here's the other little secret that I hesitate to even mention.  It is absolutely the best time of the year to visit Lake Superior.  The water is about as warm as it's going to get, the bugs have all surrendered, the three day blows which can strand you on an island don't start until about three weeks later, and.....the best part....the crowds have disappeared.  We have done a Fall trip with some cronies since 2000.  It always starts the Tuesday after Labor Day and usually lasts a week.  The Apostles, Silver Islet, Rossport, the Slates, Lake Superior Provincal park, it really makes no difference.  The most people we've seen during this trip,  including power boats, is six.  For the week.  The hot ticket for the Bayfield Paddle Rally in my humble opinion would be to tack a 3-4 day island camping trip on to either end of the event.  Or camp at one of the excellent campgrounds in the area, Thompson West End in Washburn, Dalyrymple in Bayfield, or Town of Russel at Little Sand Bay, and do day trips.  Excellent motels and B&B's in the area and you can get a room that week, trust me. The weather is typically cooperative as well.  The key, now that we are all in mid season paddle form, would be to get the registration in and booked.  While late entries always seem to be accomodated it is indeed a PITA.

One more unique kayak opportunity in the Apostles.  Safety boat for the Point to LaPointe Open Water Swim coming up on Saturday 6 August.  Safety boat volunteers get a nice T shirt, a $25, gas card from the IGA, and breakfast on the island before heading back to Bayfield.   Just email Scott Armstrong,, and he will get you hooked up.  The start is spectacular, the finish line is joyous, and you might even get to nudge a swimmer back on line with your paddle as they resolutely head for Basswood instead of Madeline Island.

We hope to see lots of long skinny boats up in the Apostles in the next couple months.