Friday, June 29, 2007

Fleet Expansion

I think kayaks are like fine hunting rifles; or maybe like Imelda Marcos' shoes. You generally have more than you need but not as many as you want. As I perused the SKOAC for sale page I came upon a Valley Skerray RMX. This I thought, would be the perfect boat for GalwayGuy, industrious college aged son of the Voice of Reason. Since he was engaged in making hinges for laptop computers from 3pm to 3am it was up to me and the VOR to jump on this opportunity and spend his cash for him. I would have loved to complete the several chores I had scheduled but when a hot boat deal beckons what can a man do?? After dinner we jumped in the car and headed to a nearby burb to reconnoiter. I suggested to the VOR that she might want to hide the tie down straps in the back seat lest the seller think we actually want to buy the damn thing. We checked the boat out and it was in fine shape for an older boat. No beer canning of the keel, hatches tight (I'd confirm this for sure later), and a nice silver/gray color. It also has the classic rope skeg, the nefarious device that caused RonO to become inverted in Lake Superior last October. The seller had upgraded to a nice new P&H Quest, a boat I'd had on the short list when I bought the Aquanaut HV. It was on his roof and I noticed he had nose plugs around his neck so we loaded up the Skerray and headed for Milfoil, er, ah, Medicine Lake (thanks again European freighters, for this fine ballast water borne addition to our ecosystem). The VOR went first and pronounced it very similar in handling, turning, and speed to her Avocet and light years ahead of her CD Storm. I donned my beloved Reed tuliq and took it out and turned it inside out. A very nice boat. I could almost do a static brace in the thing and it rolled very nicely. The question, "who's rack are you going to put it on, yours or mine?" resulted in short and productive negotiation and we lashed 'er to the roof of my Passat.

I drove it into the garage and noticed this morning that it had been removed from the roof and set next to the rest of the fleet. Looks like GalwayGuy had to climb in when he finished his shift this morning. Now I need to figure out where to put the thing but that should not be a problem. We have a 5 day Apostles trip coming up and I'm sure he's excited to be in his own boat for the first time. Its great to see a new, committed, and excited kayak owner who was willing to exchange his hard earned cash for what could be the start of a lifetime sport.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Decision to Paddle

“You’re totally self reliant when you’re in a kayak out there,” Follis said.

This is the comment made by Bayfield Co sheriff Bob Follis regarding the kayaker who died of hypothermia near the mainland sea caves last weekend. I tend to think sheriff Bob is correct. Its you, your gear, your paddling partners, and your ability to assess your skills in relation to the paddling conditions. I worry however, that self reliance seems to be a virtue in decline. Instead, regulating and managing activites to protect the least competent and most irresponsible members of society seems to be the trend these days. One personal example is Interstate Park between Minnesota and Wisconsin on the St Croix River. One of our annual family events was to pack a picnic lunch, canoe up to the cliffs at the Dalles of the St Croix, and spend a hot summer afternoon jumping off the cliffs. A few years back, a drunk and stoned teenager dove off one of the cliffs, struck his head and was killed. Alcohol dulls the senses and marijuana confuses them; lets get dull and confused and then dive into the river! The NPS, which has jurisdiction because the St Croix is a Wild and Scenic River, immediately banned 'cliff jumping'. I fear (and can actually envision) a day when the "No kayaking allowed" flag is flying in the Apostle Islands Nat'l Lakeshore launch areas. This would likely be based upon some arbitrary wind and wave level designed to protect a 14 year old beginning kayaker in a plastic Carolina-type rec boat with no spray skirt. No public hearings that I know of were held on the administrative order to ban cliff jumping. In fact, a hearing on the Apostles Islands Management Plan that I attended in Minneapolis last year reminded me of those car seats that were around when I was a kid. They were unsafe as hell but had a little plastic steering wheel that let you pretend y0u were driving. Every once in awhile the car would turn in the same direction that you turned the wheel and it gave you the illusion that you were driving. But you weren't and you knew very well who was in the drivers seat. I think that meeting was much more of a 'here's what we're gonna do' rather than a 'please tell us your ideas and concerns' type of scenario.

It was a tragic death last Friday at Meyers beach, one that was completely preventable and a real waste. However we in the kayaking community need to be vigilant of any possible regulatory or administrative backlash. Responsibility, enlightened decision making, and acceptance of consequences are still qualities that a number of us cherish. We need to make sure that the do gooders don't inhibit our right to exercise those qualities in pursuit of advancing our kayaking skills and abilities.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Kayaker Death?

I just returned from a weekend in the Apostles and have an unconfirmed report that a kayaker died near the mainland sea caves off Meyers beach on Friday night. I searched both the Duluth News Tribune and the Ashland Daily Press and found no info on the incident. The volunteer couple at the Michigan Island lighthouse told us on Saturday that they had heard radio chatter of a kayaker being airlifted to Duluth by helicopter Friday night after being pulled from the water by the Coast Guard. The ranger at Meyers beach, this afternoon, told us that the guy didn't make it; he was flown to Duluth around 6pm and died around 10pm. His core temp was 77F. This afternoon in the Village Inn in Cornie, the topic of conversation was 'stupid kayakers' and 'how many times does this need to happen before they wise up'. One of the commercial fisherman from Halversons said water temp a few feet below the surface in the lake was 41F.

Here's the story to the best of my knowledge, pieced together from a half dozen unconfirmed sources. Two kayakers, mid 30's, with rec boats, life jackets but no spray skirts or paddle floats/bilge pumps, try to launch at Meyers Beach but are strongly discouraged by the ranger on duty. After the ranger leaves they launch and head for the caves anyway. One of the guys, wearing a T-shirt and shorts, capsizes. The other has no idea what to do. Whether he heads for help or not is unclear. A woman hiking on the trail above the cave spots the situation and goes for help. The fellow is in the water approximately one hour. Coast Guard Bayfield pulls him from the water and the LifeLink helicopter from Duluth lands on Hwy 13 in Cornie to pick him up. Conflicting stories at this point say he was taken to Ashland via ambulance or helicoptered to Duluth. Makes no difference I guess. Bottom line was he didn't make it. Core temp of 77F alluded to above and the 10pm time of death were info from the NPS Ranger on duty at Meyers Beach this afternoon.

More to follow when I make a call or two in the morning. I have to stress this is unconfirmed but the basic story is consistent with all the folks we talked to. A similar incident happened in 2004, August to be exact. We were up there paddling that weekend also and information came out very slowly. Grant Herman from Living Adventures in Red Cliff wrote an excellent article in Sea Kayaker describing the situation. I would hope to provide some comment and analysis when I learn more.

The title of this blog is The Lake is the Boss. I believe that with all my heart and NEVER take Gitchee Gumee for granted.... in any situation. As our friend Silbs says at the end of each of his blogs, "Paddle Safe". Its our job in the kayaking community to continue to get the word out and educate people about the opportunity and danger that our inland sea, with 11% of the planets fresh water, affords us. We need to keep teaching people to paddle safe. More to follow.....

Quick update.......I found the article in the Duluth News Tribune this afternoon, Kayaker Dies of Hypothermia. One man died and the other was found incoherent on the rocks.

Friday, June 22, 2007


We had a lovely extended weekend north of the border at my friend Bryan's camp. Its a tidy and efficient camp in an exquisitely beautiful location, with a view of Isle Royale and some spectacular examples of the Canadian Shield geology. It has everything you need except for electricity, running water, flush toilets, or cellular coverage. In other words its absolutely perfect! I have several friends who would find this intolerable but many more who feel as the VOR and I do. We both grew up spending time at deer camps with wood stoves and kerosene lights. The newer more modern camps usually feature propane Humphrey lights, propane stoves, and even composting toilets but still retain that uncivilized ambiance. At our camp in northern Wisconsin we don't even drive the cars into the cabin area and electronics are banned except for music. We do have a 6" black and white battery operated TV which is only allowed to be turned on for Packer games and the World Series. I recall that the emotions displayed in the picture below are disgust and not exhilaration at our Packers.

The weather was very flexible. It was sunny and rainy, clear and foggy as hell, calm and windy, and warm and cold; all on Monday! We paddled to the famous Hole in the Wall on Pigeon Point and then up the Pigeon River which forms the boundary between the US and Canada. The VOR was a bit uneasy since she was using a Greenland stick for the first extended paddle (she may be coming over to the dark side!) and the waves at Pigeon Point were impressive to say the least.

We also stopped at Grand Marais on both the way up and the way back. Did I mention that a friend was making a SOF boat?? More on that later. It was a fine weekend and I find there is nothing that clears the brain better than being away from what we commonly refer to as 'civilization'.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Voyageur's Highway and Skin Boats

The VOR and I leave today for a 5 day interlude on the Canadian north shore of Gitchee Gumme. My friend has a rustic cabin on Little Pidgeon Bay, along the route where the voyoageurs hauled their furs to Montreal, and we plan to kayak and hike from that base camp. On the way we will stop in Grand Marais, have a beer or 3 at the Gunflint Tavern, and take our traditional moonlight harbor paddle. My dirty little secret is that I will also be dropping in on my friend Pat from Thunder Bay who is making a skin boat at the North House Folk School. I had met him while carving a Greenland paddle there last spring. I must admit the thought of a skin boat makes me a bit twitchy. "Hi, my name is Dave and I'm a kayakaholic". A non kayaking acquaintance asked me why I had 3 boats and I had to tell him it was because I sold two last year. I may need to sent the VOR to the Siverston Gallery so I can lust in relative tranquility. I don't need a SOF, I don't need a SOF, I don't need............although the back deck on my Aquanaut is fairly high for some of the trickier Greenland maneuvers. Sigh. In any event the paddling and company should be excellent and next weekend is the Wooden Boat Festival in Grand Marais, which I will miss this year. I'm sure they won't miss me, however, because my Chesapeake is not quite the meticulously varnished and sanded craft that these boats are. In fact my CLC 17lt looks really good on the roof of my car while its parked on the street and you are looking at it from the house. It also looks really good at 65mph on the roof rack. Just don't look too close. It does float, paddle, and handle superbly though, and I guess thats what counts. The Irish Greenland stick looks pretty sharp however!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Fair Winds and Insect Drama

I remarked to my paddling companions, the VOR and her son GalwayGuy, that I'd never had such favorable winds in 10 years of kayaking Lake Superior. We left Little Sand Bay for York Island on Friday with a 25 knot west wind surfing us the two plus miles to York Island. The 3 guys from Green Bay that I had been in touch with, the GB Regulators, had said they would be in the vicinity but we didn't see them. This made complete sense given the wind conditions and the fact that they were on . Check their blog for some nice video and commentary on Fridays paddling conditions. On Saturday morning the wind obligingly shifted to the southwest which blew us up to the north end of Bear Island and then over to Devils with minimal effort. The same SW wind allowed us to set up camp, blew the bugs away, and gave us perfect conditions to explore the north end sea caves, which I consider to be the best on Lake Superior.
Upon rising Sunday morning we had - you guessed it - a northeast wind which pushed us down the east shore of Bear, over to Raspberry to check out the new lighthouse remodeling job, and around Point Detour into Little Sand Bay. I think we may have paddled a total of 3/4 miles out of the 32 total miles with the wind in our teeth. Unheard of!

The insects were notable in their absence. Other than a plague of flies when you got near the rocks and cliffs that were leeward (see life jacket and boot pix) the biting insects must have been on break. We never even used the insect repellent or headnets the whole weekend. A couple of mosquitos were swatted but it was unbelievable for mid June. The insect drama I referred to in the title had to do with the butterfly population. Every beach we hit had several deceased Monarchs on them and the bug slicks (ribbons of dead insects floating on the lake - a good place to fish!) had Monarch butterflies floating in significant numbers. One theory was that it could have been the big storms that came through Thursday except for one thing. The Tiger Swallowtails were all over the place, alive and partying on the beach. Click on the images to get a better and larger view.

You never know what you are going to run into on the inland sea which is why its so much fun to keep coming back. Several of our paddling friends are heading to the Inland Sea Society's symposium in Washburn this weekend, both at attendees and instructors. I will be heading up the north shore with the VOR to visit a friends cabin just over the border in Canada. From there we hope to access the Susies and Hole in the Wall on some day trips. Must be summer!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Water wars

Today, when I stand on the shores of Lake Superior, I don’t see a lake. I see a sprawling deep blue battleground that stretches from Duluth, Minnesota, to Trois Rivieres, Quebec -- and I wonder, who will win the war?” –- Peter Annin, “The Great Lakes Water Wars”

In case you didn't realize it, everyone wants our Great Lakes water. Not just the surrounding cities and towns and not just the farmers and miners within reach of the shores. Las Vegas, LA, and most of the western states would be happy to pump water out of the Great Lakes for their lawns, pools, and Caesars Palace fountain. As you may have surmised, I am violently opposed to even the idea that such a thing would be considered. Yet a number of our fine public officials have been and are considering just that. As you know from previous posts, Lake Superior is down roughly 18' for its lowest level in years. Heres another shot of our old friend The Fedora jutting out of the lake. You willl note the mark where the normal water line falls. I don't want one drop of that Great Lakes water squirting out the top of the fountain in some Hollywood producers pool/patio.

The attached article was published this month in Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine. Read it. No, I mean it! Read the damn thing! And take a good look at the map of who will be wanting this water in the near future. Ideas and feedback are greatly encouraged.

A Firm Hand on the Spigot, Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Birthday Rafting

Last Thursday my friend SteveS celebrated the onset of the final year of his 4th decade on the planet. As a kayaker, biker (commuter,road, and mountain), and high level XC skier, Steve has a carbon footprint about the size of Cinderella's slipper. It was decided that to properly celebrate this momentous event we needed to paddle out on White Bear Lake, raft up, drink some wine, and eat some hors doovers! Steve, ColleenC, BethL, StaceL, ChrisE, the VOR, and myself all headed out to enjoy the birthday, the gorgeous sunset, and the rise of the Blue Moon in the eastern sky.

It was indeed the perfect night. As the wine was pulled out and the snacks prepared, our raft drifted a bit behind an island. Steve, paddling my Feathecraft, was encouraged to hook on and pull the six of us back into position for a proper sunset view. This prompted the VOR to quip, "Poor Steve.....he has to drag people to his birthday party!". I was asked, "What if the DNR checks us and notices that you don't have a sticker on your folding boat?". My response of course was, "My boat?? Thats your boat, at least until its back on top of the car!". Stace was prepared for an Antarctic expedition, gear-wise, and pulled out salmon, cheese, cutting board, Swiss Army corkscrew, wine, Cusinart, trash compacter, etc and we got down to partying.

The sunset and moon rise were as spectactular as we thought they would be, the bottle(s) of wine were excellent, weather perfect, and in general the stars were aligned. Some minor shrinkage occurred when a wine glass went overboard and the carefully tethered and carbinered Swiss Army knife went missing (Steve???) but it couldn't have been a more perfect night.
Noted local convivialist, JillW, had some lame excuse, didn't show, and missed the kayak/wine event of the year so far. I must credit Steve with the photos used here as well as a couple that I pirated for other posts in this blog. Happy B-Day and keep that silent sports torch aloft!

Monday, June 4, 2007


People don't seem to realize that when the weatherman says there is a 50% chance of showers that it must mean there is also a 50% chance of no showers. We chose to believe the no showers part and headed for the Apostles this weekend. The Voice of Reason, SammyW, and I had a one night permit on Manitou Island. In a complicated deal involving cars, cash, wine, and who knows what else, Sam wound up with the VOR's CD Storm. That was her first boat and the venerable Storm was my first boat also. This was Sams first solo trip so we hoped that Superior would cooperate and it did so nicely. We had some 'wind in the teeth', following swells, a blind crossing in the fog, some clapotis, and some dead flat paddling; I couldn't have devised a better paddling syllabus had I tried. Unlike many parts of the state, we seemed to only get rain when we were on the water. I'm convinced that a properly rigged tarp precludes any rain while forgetting your tarp means steady downpour. Speaking of which, I did forget a number of things in this initial cruise including the coffee press, my camera, and my drysuit. My tuliq filled in quite nicely however and was actually the perfect gear for a damp 50-60F weekend. I practiced a few rolls off the Basswood Island dock and can attest that Gitchee Gume is still pretty chilly. The fog Sunday morning was spectactular. We had visibility of about 100 yards (photo from last camera, remember?) and I was excited to do a couple of blind crossings. My companions were not quite so excited. The lake was dead flat when we started and all the senses were sharp, which helped with the navigation. For example you knew where the Manitou Reef was because you could hear the gulls on the rocks. You knew when you were getting close to the Red Cliff buoy because you could smell the cormorant crap. At one point in a break you could see the top of Oak Island sticking out of the fog like a mountain. I cursed my lack of camera once again at that point. It was a nice shakedown in preparation for Devils Island next weekend and once again the lake amazed me with its many moods. I'm glad we paddle those skinny boats!