Sunday, May 6, 2007

Risk assessment

I just returned from a fine long paddling weekend with RonO to the south shore of Lake Superior and points east. The lake is alarmingly low,with much real estate visible that I have never seen in 40 odd years of hanging around the south shore. We launched with a bit of difficulty from a slough that was formed behind a tombolo-type beach and paddled out the river opening into the open lake. Things were relaxed and easy until we rounded a small point.

We had picked this spot because we thought it was sheltered from the "small craft advisory, winds from the northeast 20-25 knots, waves 3-5 feet" that NOAA had promised us from their Duluth station. Ron and I are pretty compatible paddlers and are at a similar skill level. We met while attending Wednesday night skill sessions and their accompanying post paddle beer debriefings. We kinda figured out the rolling and bracing stuff at the same time and set off on some weekend paddles with the SKOAC renegade group. Its always fun to find someone that you are comfortable with on both personal and skill levels. Anyway, as we blissfully paddled along, congratulating ourselves on our inspired choice of paddling venues, we rounded the small point and hit the precise conditions that Duluth NOAA had predicted. Except we got a bit of clapotis thrown in to stir the pot, wind blowing the tops off the waves as they built, and the beloved Three Sisters wave sets so common on Lake Superior. Every so often I could hear the smack of Ron's boat hitting the water as he fell off the crest of a building wave. This was indeed fun stuff, the kind of sharpened senses fun that a good intermediate skier has when he decides to take a mogul run or two to push his skill envelope. After about 5-10 minutes of this (the waves hadn't quite 'turned the minutes to hours' but time did slow) I thought to myself that turning around and heading back might not be the easiest feat but that we should probably do it. Just about then Ron hollered over, "When do you figure we should turn around?". I replied, "Right now if this wasn't so damn much fun". So we made the 180 degree turn in a gingerly fashion and paddle/surfed back to the lee of the point. When we got back to our sandwiches and cooler we talked about the thought processes that brought us both to the same conclusion at the same time. We were both on the same wavelength. 38 degree water, building seas, clapotis extending out further and further from the cliffs, being washed into the cliffs if we had trouble, and a general dislike of freezing our butts off. Another consideration was lack of a third paddler. 'When at sea, the number is three' would not occur until my friend Todd rolled in from Madison the next day. So with a combination of reason and intuition we headed back. Just one of those times when, as it says on the top of this blog, good judgement comes from experience.


Silbs said...

Nice piece. Reminded me of s similar experience with Greg. I remember us talking about that gut experience when we each realized what we were in and that turning around in it was necessary and gut-tightening.

DaveO said...

Yeah, it makes you feel kinda smart when you actually do the right thing. I saw you were in Madison last weekend; we're heading down this weekend for some city lakes/Yahara play. And I hope that wasn't my cold you got!

Alex said...

Good call guys. Thanks for the recap.