Sunday, June 28, 2009

Monkey butt?

I spent most of yesterday on the water and I did not have a paddle in my hand. That fact, along with the calendar indicating that it's the last weekend in June, meant that once again, for the 37th year in a row, I would be attending the Eau Claire River Float Trip.

In addition to getting older, many other things have changed with the float trip over the years. The river itself, which I first experienced as a Boy Scout in 1968, is constantly changing its channel, creating new islands, and turning existing islands into part of the mainland. As the masthead on the blog indicates, we have also become experienced as a result of bad judgement. No trucks have been rolled, no 2nd degree sunburn suffered, no dehydrated floaters, indecent exposure, or people unable to make it out of the river under their own power for the last several years. Its a fairly laid back, sometimes mildly risque event, and there is a core of people who look forward to the last Saturday in June for most of the month.

This is not to say the event is without problems. This year it was raining when I started my 100 mile drive eastward and I knew that the weather forecast of 70% chance of showers would chase away some of the wimpy, wussy, weak tit, fair weather floaters. You know who you are. Of course it was warm and sunny for most of the day and the one shower we did get lasted all of 10 minutes. You would think people would learn after 37 years but I guess bad judgement doesn't always result in experience.For the hundredth time I was stunned and shocked that the weather forecast was 180 degrees wrong. Another problem that has not yet been solved is supplying the floaters, drifting sedately down the river in their inner tubes, with an adult beverage when they require it. We have a canoe where all the small coolers and dry clothes are stored and the plan has always been for the canoe to be close to most of the tubers to replenish beverages. A monkey wrench has been thrown into this plan year after year by the occupants of the canoe, my sister (Help him you assholes!), and her partner in crime GuzziSuzy. They seem unable to focus on staying within a reasonable or sometimes even shouting distance of their customers. During planning discussions this knotty problem was brainstormed and it was suggested that a couple monkeys from the zoo would do better, be more trainable, and have a much friendlier disposition than the two incumbents. My sister, upon hearing the suggestion, remarked to "be sure to get the ones with the big red butts". She was certainly not talking about the kayaking condition that results from sweating in a neoprene Farmer John when the air is too warm and the water too cold to avoid wearing it.

A call to both the Como Park and Apple Valley Zoo revealed that renting monkeys was not part of their operational charter. So I decided to do the next best thing. When we got off the water from Oak Island a couple weeks back, the VOR pointed out the monkey store across from the restaurant we were eating at. A short walk produced two monkey visors. When I got home I went online and was once again amazed at what the internet could offer. I simply Googled 'monkey butt costumes' and they popped right up. We did wonder what the guys in the factory in China making monkey butts thought of we Americans but that was beside the point. Their outfits were complete and I explained to the ladies that a sun protectant for their delicate faces and a new wearable seat cushion for the canoe could only make the trip more comfortable. They were extremely grateful.

I'm sorry to report that they monkey costumes did nothing to alleviate the problem that inspired them. The women were still miles ahead, surly, unresponsive, and self absorbed for most of the trip. I suppose raising our own monkeys would be the logical solution but I hate to invest that sort of time and money for one day a year. I'm sure we'll think of something. In the interim, enjoy the clip of a young man attempting to get out of the river and up the bank. Note the monkey-like belly scratching. A possible candidate for next year??

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Another Grumpy's religious experience

My local pub, Grumpys Northeast, tends to have some eclectic guests from time to time. The St Mary balalaika orchestra, the Minneapolis Police Pipe Band, and various other dignitaries have graced this classic tavern from time to time. Last night was one of the more interesting events when Grumpy's hosted Father Isaac from the Koningshoeven/LaTrappe monastery in Holland.

Father Isaac is on a tour to promote the 125th anniversary of the brewery and its Isid'or 125th Anniversary product. He had been a pediatric oncology nurse, a midwife, and had spent time doing charitable work in Africa before entering the priesthood. The monastery is constructing a monastery/hospital in Uganda and most of the brewery proceeds are going to that cause. I don't recall ever drinking beer for charity before, but the lineup he brought could cause me to increase my 'charitable contributions' exponentially. As you can see from the image, Father Isaac seems very much at home bellied up to the bar, discussing his fine product with the regulars. The VOR and I tasted the Isid'or (samples only at this time), split a Dubbel (abv 7%), quaffed more than one Witte (abv 5.5%), and wisely avoided the Quadrupel (abv 10%). Grumpy's owner, PatD, made grilled cheese sandwiches after a trip to his alma mater, St John's University, to pick up several loaves of the famous 'Johnnie bread' from the brothers. Father Isaac brought some cheese from the abbey and a humongous ham was also cooked on the grill. It was a beautiful night and the VOR and I rode our bikes to the bar, both to enjoy the exercise and evening, and also to free me to increase my charitable contributions without fear of police intervention while driving home.

It was a beautiful and rare Friday night at home. Other than a quick trip to Eau Claire to attend the 37th Annual Eau Claire River Float Trip, we will be hanging in the area for this and...gasp....the 4th of July weekend as well. Its the first 4th of July home in recent memory but with events like the one at Grumpy's last night there should be plenty to do. And while it ain't Lake Superior, there are dozens of lakes within a couple miles that are perfectly adequate for tipping a kayak over.

(Sorry about the image quality. I was armed with only a lousy cell phone camera)

Friday, June 26, 2009

More boat lust

One of the highlights of last weekends symposium in Washburn was the presence of Nigel Dennis, expedition paddler and founder of NDK (Nigel Dennis Kayaks). He was in the area to help ChrisG dedicate his new shop in Bayfield, speak on his circumnavigation of South Georgia Island, and lead one of the day tours out to Devil's Island.

Quite a few folks that I know attended the symposium primarily to paddle with Nigel. LoneRangerRob was on Oak Island with us the weekend before and the group split up for a day paddle. Uncharacteristically, he chose the shorter route, explaining he was, "Saving myself for the sprint to Devils and back with Nigel". That group left shortly before we did on that foggy Friday a week ago, and made it to Bear Island before complete lack of visibility made turning back the logical choice. Doug Van Doren, noted Greenland paddler and a guy who can maintain 80 strokes a minute indefinitely, was also on the tour and I noticed that he and Nigel were in the lead when they landed back at Little Sand Bay. I also had the good fortune of having Nigel directly behind me in our little environmental awareness action, the giant 350 made out of kayaks. This formation has yet to appear on the website, which is a bit of a mystery to me but maybe one of these days.

With all the peripheral stuff going on, I would still have to imagine that the main reason Nigel was there was to promote NDK boats. ChrisG from Boreal Shores had the complete NDK line down on the demo beach. Even though I was safety boating both days, the NDK kayaks beckoned me like the sirens on the rocks of Greek mythology or the three hillbilly sirens in Brother Where Art Thou?. I finally gave in and jumped in a Greenlander Pro which really didn't strike my fancy at all. I'll stick with my Q boat, thank you. ChrisG however, suggested that the Romany Surf might be a fun one for me to try so I jumped in and took it for a spin. Literally. A few different rolls, some braces, tele turns, a bit of edging.........

So if GalwayGuy and I sold the Capella 169, moved a couple things around in the garage, cut a deal with ChrisG, .........NO, I need to put this out of my mind. Its a bad mindset, the idea that I have as many boats as I need but not as many as I want. Still, with the economy needing stimulation, 4 months of paddling left, GG showing up here in a month or so......I guess I better get going, take a shower, and get ready for work. I'm thinking maybe a cold shower today.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rolling Instruction

The second thing most people ask me when they discover that I kayak is whether or not I can do 'one of them eskimo roll things'. The first thing of course, is 'aren't you afraid you'll tip over and be stuck in the kayak upside down?'. Silbs had an excellent piece yesterday with a spot on comment by Alex on the nature of teaching rolls and how you need to tailor the roll to the body type and age of the wannabe roller.

When people ask if you need to learn to roll to kayak I tell them not really. 'Roll for show, brace for dough' is a comment I've heard often. Many excellent paddlers that I paddle with do not have a reliable roll yet are confident in their boats and have the secondary skills necessary to deal with most situations. I do feel that a bombproof roll adds another level of confidence to ones paddling and besides that, its just plain fun. Just the feeling of hanging upside down in the water for a few seconds conditions a person to be comfortable in the position and also makes you realize that you have a hell of a long time and plenty of air to think, react, and deal with an emergency situation. It drives my sister absolutely nuts if I don't immediately roll up, a fact that insures I rarely immediately roll up when shes around. In one famous incident, recorded on video tape, my nephew, her beloved No1 son, was attempting to learn to roll. I was facilitating the process and spotting from a paddle boat with her hubby, UncleRick, and a couple of cold Leinenkugels. Scott is a former competitive swimmer and spent so much time in the water that whenever he got sick as a kid, the Old Man would claim it was because he was 'waterlogged'. He missed a couple rolls but got his head up for a breath. He would then collect himself under water and try again. My sister however, never saw his head come up as she was on the wrong side of the kayak, watching from a lawn chair on shore. The video shows UncleRick and I drinking beer on the paddle boat, Scott attempting to roll, and this crazed, wiry, incensed little woman running down the hill yellling, "Help him you assholes!".

Assholes indeed. Which brings us to the rolling instruction image above, taken at the Symposium in Washburn. I will admit that sitting on a paddle boat, drinking beer, may not be the best method for teaching rolling but I wonder about sitting on a park bench and having people thrash around on the ground at your feet. It sure looks a lot more comfortable than standing in the water or sitting in your kayak and it was a hell of a lot more fun to watch for we onlookers. This famous blogger and expedition paddler looks to be completely in his element and its hard to tell whether or not that's a beer between him and the water bottle. Comments from veteran rolling instructors on this revolutionary instruction techniqe are solicited.

All kidding aside, I did get some excellent pointers from Derrick on my almost there stick roll and a few more from MikeM, who I will be seeing in Grand Marais, MI next month at the GLSKS. Whether you decide to learn to roll or not isn't really the crucial thing in sea kayaking. In my opinion it's being comfortable both on and under the water since, after all, kayaking is a water sport. The more comfortable a person is with the water, the more confident and self assured paddler they will become.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Raspberry in the fog

On Friday I was the weak link in a stellar chain of guides/bloggers that led 20 symposium participants on a day trip to York and Raspberry Island. The lead guide was BrianC, who had just completed a circumnavigation of Lake Superior with his girlfriend Alissa. SecuriteSharon, who loves to tow people by the way, was in the mix as was JB, our favorite EMT and Irish whisky afficianado. Rounding out the group was none other than Silbs himself, the second busiest guy in Milwaukee (behind JB, of course).

The group met at the relatively balmy 70F symposium site and then moved en masse to a non balmy 50F at the Little Sand Bay launch. Its always amazing what a body of cold water that's larger than the Irish Sea can do to the surrounding climate. Lake Superior creates its own weather and on this day she decided we needed a little fog. Actually a lot of fog. The plan was to hug the coast to Point Detour and then head almost dead north to the York Island spit and from there to the newly renovated Raspberry Island light. JB gave a brief overview of navigation, a course he's given many times (once with me as a student), and off we went. This tour was billed as intermediate level and we seemed to have a wide range of what could be considered intermediate paddlers. We were a bit off course to the west on the way to York since we didn't get quite to the tip of Point Detour; the reason I knew that was because I was cheating and had my gps on, complete with waypoints for almost every island in the park. It became apparent when we reached York that a couple of our 'intermediate' paddlers were really beginners and one had been towed by SS for part of the crossing. We huddled to discuss the problem and Silbs selflessly volunteered to lead these two women back to Little Sand Bay. Despite a bit of seasickness decorating Silb's Romany and some more towing, the trio made LSB with minimal trouble.

Meanwhile, back on York, we were setting our course for Raspberry in fog that had become thicker as the morning went on. There is something scary, exhilarating, intimidating, and majestic about paddling off into a fog bank for the first time, which was the case for many of the folks. Were we to miss York island, Taconite Harbor, MN was a short 45 miles away on the same bearing. Gitchee Gumee was kind enough to provide us with this scenario, along with a lazy swell from the northeast, which contributed to the mix. I switched places with JB and took the lead, with instructions from Brian to keep us at a pace of around 3.5 mph. Brian liked leading from the rear, where he could keep a good eye on everybody and everything. There were not many craft on the water and those that were moved slowly and carefully with one exception: the tour boat Island Princess. We heard her foghorn coming from the direction of Devils Island and correctly surmised that our 22 boat pod and The IP were bound for the same destination, the Raspberry Island light. As the horn got closer and louder I had just turned around to yell to JB on the left flank about putting out a securite call on the radio when SecuriteSharon (guess how I made that name up!) beat us to the punch. A securite call is a radio call on the hailing channel, informing other craft of your position, speed, and bearing. The sound of the horn kept getting closer and SS put out another call and this one was answered by the captain of the Island Princess, who told us he had us on radar. I'd like to see what 22 kayaks looked like on radar, maybe a bunch of logs or maybe 'speed bumps'? For most of the folks the highlight of the tour was when the tour boat came looming out of the fog headed directly toward us. "Stop!". "No, PADDLE". A moment of confusion before it became apparent that the cruise boat would just slide behind us. At about the same time the lighthouse became visible through the fog. One slight complication was a couple of knucklhead kids from a sailboat who were using Channel 16 to let mommy and daddy know where they were but we managed the critical communication and that's the important thing. It was a scenario where a number of elements came together for a short moment and then it was gone.

The rest of the paddle was pretty uneventful with a crossing to Eagle Bay on the mainland (JB back in the lead), a spectacular fog shrouded view of Oak Island, the usual eagle visit, a bit of baby clapotis at Point Detour, and back to Little Sand Bay. Everyone appeared to have a great time and word of the Great Tour Boat Encounter in the fog spread through the symposium. I suspect that a few folks also picked up some navigation techniques (thanks to Brian and JB), radio procedure, and simply the fact that both implements would be damn good things to have when paddling in the fog. Once again the symposium combined learning and fun. It makes me wonder why they couldn't pull off that exacta at Central Junior High when I was a kid but I suspect that my openness to learn at age 14 may have not quite been at the level of our 18 paddlers. Go figure. It was another great day on the water and Gitchee Gumee could not have served up a better mix in my humble opinion.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Inland Sea Kayak Symposium - Getting There

This years incarnation of the ISKS was almost perfect. The weather, crowd, facilities, food, and yes, even the beer supply all cooperated quite nicely. I figure I can squeeze at least 2 or 3 posts out of this event and the first one, properly enough, should involve getting there.

A lot of folks came a long way to attend this event. I did my normal 3 hr 45 min drive via the Thirsty Pagan (growler stop), set up my tent at the beautiful Memorial campground in Washburn, and then headed back downtown to see what all the cars with kayaks were doing in front of Patsy's Bar. To be honest, I had a pretty good idea what they were doing before I walked in. The next morning I overheard some folks from Illinios complaining about the drive at breakfast until a couple fellows at the next table leaned over and told them they had driven all night from Sudbury, ON. The gang from Naturally Superior Adventures in Wawa, ON drove halfway around Lake Superior to attend. One of their guys complained that when he was driving everyone slept and that when he was trying to sleep they were all awake talking. The hazards of car pooling I guess. Many folks came early or stayed late to take advantage of paddling the islands while they were in the area. We took a very nice paddle south of Washburn on Thursday morning with Pod, the BearWhisperer, and CatamountWalt. As we sat in Patsy's, critiquing the morning's paddle over Summit Pale Ale and half pound burgers, a fellow from another table walked by and commented, "nice blog". I don't think I was sitting there asleep with my mouth open as I am in the blog shot, but he recognized me anyway. They were a group from Indiana that, coincidentally enough, I had seen before but didn't know it. They were coming into Stockton Island on a strong tailwind from the thunderstorm squall line the Saturday before last as we were hunkered down on the beach. We saw a guy go over twice and figured they were taking the opportunity to practice rescues. It was actually a member of their group that was a relatively new paddler, getting a crash course in handling his boat in following seas.
By far the most interesting route to the symposium belonged to RickH, a fellow I'd met up in Grand Marais at the GLSKS a couple years ago. He's a regular guy, a former farmer from south of Rockford, IL, and very passionate about kayaking and paddling Lake Superior specifically. He picked up one of the brand, spanking new Wisconsin water trail maps at Canoecopia last fall and studied it carefully. One of the events at the symposium this year was the official unveiling of the water trail map, which my buddy RangerMark worked on extensively. An insanely addictive interactive version can be found here. I met the guy that set that mapping portal up. He was forced to visit and photograph every site listed on the map, another job that I think I would be perfect for. In any event, Rick looked at the map and figured he would take the week off and paddle to the symposium from Wisconsin Point in Superior, the westernmost point on the trail and scene of many smelting adventures during my misspent youth. He began paddling on Thursday and on Friday reached Port Wing and felt he needed a traditional Wisconsin fish fry. He was directed to the Port Bar, the northernmost outpost of Summit Porter in the state, but it's a couple mile walk from the marina. Rick determined that it would be much closer if he paddled up the Flag River, left his boat under the Hwy 13 bridge, and walked the two blocks to the bar. Now thats resourceful! It must have been a great fish fry because he wound up camping there on Friday night. He continued his trip along the south shore, through the Apostles, and along the south shore of Long Island, past Ashland, and up to Thompson's West End Park where the symposium was held. Very appropriately, he spoke about his trip at the water trail kick off on Thursday night at Stage North in Washburn.

The bottom line is that roughly 180 folks made it to Washburn, some by more interesting means than others, and it made for a great symposium. More to follow.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bayfields new kayak shop

I've been up since 5am, excited at the prospect of getting the hell out of Dodge and heading up to the kayak symposium in Washburn for the next 4 days. The only regret I have is that I won't be up there in time for the grand opening of Boreal Shores Kayaking, on the main drag in Bayfield, at noon today.

Our buddy and traditional paddling aficionado, ChrisG, is opening the shop in the old (old as in 10 years ago) Trek and Trail office right across from the IGA store. He will be offering NDK boats exclusively for now, which is a good thing because the ND in NDK, Nigel Dennis himself, is in town from Wales for the symposium and Boreal Shores grand opening at noon today. Reliable sources have informed me that beer will be served at this event, a nice touch that will be appreciated by most of the kayakers that I hang with. ChrisG also has a tent down at the demo beach so these famed craft like the Explorer, Romany, and Greenlander can be test paddled. Even the brand new Romany LV will be there and the finish is spectacular. I even agreed, in a weak moment, to help out at the booth on the beach. So if you want good reliable information, talk to the 6'4" muscular, clean shaven guy. If you want misinformation and general bs, look for the bearded 6'4" guy with the kick-sand-in-his-face build.

It should be a fine, fun, instructive weekend. I better pack my last minute gear and get to work in order to get out of work in a timely fashion. I hope to see lots of old friends and make some new ones this weekend. Good luck on the water to everyone this weekend,no more posts until the symposium recap Sunday evening.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Vintage kayak sighting

After escorting our two neophytes back from York Island a couple Sundays back, RonO and I fired up the stove at Little Sand Bay to make our delayed bacon, eggs, and hash brown health food breakfast. As we cooked, a car pulled up with Indiana plates and an interesting craft on the roof. It appeared to be a father/son duo but being the two reserved Minnesotan's that we are, we didn't pry. We did ask them about the boat and the older fellow said it was a 1963 Folbot that he had rescued from 35 years in a guys barn.

It was indeed an intersting craft. I looked through some old Folbot stuff and couldn't find the model or a picture of a similar craft so I can only assume that it is indeed a Folbot. It had a nice wooden frame, a canvas or fabric skin, and a nice bright orange spray skirt which was obviously a retrofit. All of the rest of the stuff looked original including the long, rather unwieldy looking paddles. It didn't really look like any folding boat that I have seen and it had an aluminum rub rails screwed along the side where the deck met the gunwhales, and the owner said it came apart but that he had not had it disassembled since he had owned it.

That particular day had building seas with a forecast wave height of 8-10' by dusk. The guys were heading out to Sand on the start of a 5 day trip and were perfectly prepared to be windbound, a wise and refreshing comment that Ron and I were happy to hear. We wished them well and headed off to Washburn to make sure the Summit Porter at Patsy's Bar had not gone stale since the last time we were there. I'm sure they had a great trip, given the weather the rest of the week, and it made us feel good to see a 46 year old boat on the water and guys who knew how to paddle it.

P.S. In the lightning fast world of the internet, Tom Lynch confirmed in the comment section that this is indeed a Folbot and that he has one in his garage. Just a bit later, I received an email from Wanda at the Folbot plant in Charleston, SC, who said it looked like a Super which was made up until Hurricane Hugo leveled their plant in 1989. When they rebuilt they redesigned the entire line. Check out this old magazine ad for a Super with its 37" beam, which tells us that it's "NOT to be confused with undersized kayaks". And don't forget your "two 9' paddles"; those 230cm sticks are for wimps!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Oak Island SKOAC weekend

We found ourselves paddling to Oak Island on Friday night for a large SKOAC group event. Over the years I've studiously avoided such group events and still can't figure out what lured me on this one, but there we were, hitting the water at 8pm for the six mile crossing. Five of us had met at Morty's Pub for the traditional Wisconsin Friday fish and were joined by WaltK, the fellow from the University of Vermont who is working on the long running (1975) study on recreational users in the Apostle Islands. More on that in another post but suffice to say a couple positions are still open for my dream job, paddling around for a couple hours a day interviewing boaters. I haven't let go of that idea quite yet.

The crossing was both uneventful and beautiful. I was a lovely night, the stars were out, and we turned on our head lamps at the Red Cliff Point nav buoy. I reminded the group that RonO and the BessemerConvivialist had barely avoided a hefty ticket from the Coast Guard last year for having inadequate (eg. not turned on all the time) lights. We also learned that you can see those little head lamps for a couple miles easily. The folks that had already reached camp could see our lights easily two miles out and we, in turn, could see their lights in camp. We landed and set up in the dark, a task that seems to get easier with repetition. It seems that disengaging from work on Friday gets tougher and tougher, another problem that would be solved were I the official boater census taker on Rocky or Stockton Island. We were not the last group to arrive however, as three women, including KleanDeckKate, ground ashore on the sandy beach of Oak at just about 11pm.

Saturday dawned with perfect weather and a minimal insect activity. There was a bit of complaining but once again I noticed it was gender specific. As a fairly low brow, neanderthal, basic representative of my gender, I avoid moisturizers, aloe based creams, perfumes, jasmine soaps, and other scented product which seem to attract insects like bees to honey or flies to....well, you get my drift. It was a pretty nice morning but the lake would soon be delivering a gentle reminder that it was indeed the boss. After a relatively disjointed, random discussion of where we wanted to day paddle (such grass roots democracy is one of the endearing qualities of the SKOAC club for me; we typically don't have meetings), we split up into the Otter Island group and the Stockton Island group and headed out with a light southerly breeze. Just about the time we landed at Presque Isle on Stockton after a 9 mile paddle, we felt the breeze grow cool on the backs of our necks, and turned around to see a rapidly advancing squall line. The weather radio informed us that a severe thunderstorm with 60mph winds and quarter sized hail had just passed through Ironwood to the south of us. I asked the KingOfIronwoodIsland, a resident of North Ironwood, MI, if he had put his $80,000 pickup truck in the garage and had his roof adequately insured. He informed me that yes, he was in good shape. Another cell was working its way up the north shore and we could see both of them from the Presque Isle dock. The one that concerned us most, of course, was the one that was coming straight for us.

The squall line hit with 40mph winds, measured by one of the sailboats tied up at the dock. If I was employed in my dream job I could have been in the sailboat, interviewing the occupants, getting paid, and likely enjoying an adult beverage. But no, I was sitting in my trusty camp chair with my storm cag on, being pelted by the wind and rain. It was a short lived event but now we had a 15-20 knot headwind for our 8.5 mile paddle back to Oak, including a 4 mile slog through the infamous Basswood Triangle, an area bounded by Stockton to the east, Oak to the north, Red Cliff Point to the west, and Basswood to the south. The waves had picked up and was blowing the tops off the waves in the classic whitecap scenario.

Meanwhile, the Otter party had been caught on the water by the storm. The BemidjiIntelOfficer had the skeg on her Aquanaut stick in the down position and was veering off toward Manitou when LoneRangerRob managed to catch her and get it back up. All turned out well and they even had a lee on the east shore of Oak for a bit, and managed to beat us back to camp by a couple hours.
Back on Stockton, we were watching another front coming through and decided to make a run for it. The headwind reduced our pace by a solid knot, roughly 3 knots instead of 4 knots, slowing us by 25% and cutting deeply into our happy hour time at the camp. Basswood Triangle lived up to its reputation, giving us some northwest winds, southwest winds, hot breezes off Oak Island, cold winds down the North Channel, and waves that were hitting each other at 45 degree angles, which gave us that 'paddling on an upside down egg carton' effect. It was more interesting than nerve wracking however, and we made it back to a lovely pot luck, with the Stockton crew scrambling to get their contributions on the table. The King had the perfect dish for the situation as well as the one that drew the most rave reviews. He had made a rum soaked bundt cake the night before and just pulled it out with no prep needed. This allowed him to focus his efforts on the bag of Pinot Grigio that he had thoughtfully iced before we left.

Given the anarchic nature of this group, we kind of dribbled over to the mainland on Sunday. Eight folks left first, followed by 5 more a bit later, and LoneRangerRob bring up the rear. He had paddled over solo and did the same on the way back. We're pretty sure he made it. Those of us in the second group got a nice tailwind and the first group got a push when the wind direction switched 180 degrees about halfway through the crossing. A stop for beer and chow in Bayfield, a quick check on the progress of Bayfield's new kayak shop that's slated to open on Wednesday, and it was back to the city.

It was a good trip with 'fun for the whole family' as they say. Fourteen folks with a nice mix of ages, genders, boats, culinary expertise, and paddling skills. Gitchee Gumee provided us a with a nice mix of sun, rain, wind, flat calm, building chop, and some baby swells. Now its three days of work and back up to Washburn for the Inland Sea Kayak Symposium, where I will be volunteering with the Friday tours, Saturday safety boating, and anything else they want to throw at me. The VOR and a bunch of other folks will be heading up to the event as wellIt seems like a foolish waste of time, gas, and is also very non-green and non- sustainable, for us to drive back when we could be paddling from sailboat to sailboat conducting my interviews but so be it. For now. I'll be back on the big lake before I know it. When I look at the image below of the VOR gazing out toward Basswood Island, it makes my work focus wane a bit. Maybe I shouldn't have used it for my screen saver at this particular point.......

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rolling the Aleut II

Last year RangerMark and the GreenThumbChef decided that they were getting "too old" to hoist their vintage Valley Aleut II double kayak on to the roof of the car. Those of us who accompany them on the annual fall paddle trip heartily agreed with that assessment, having lifted the bright yellow fiberglass Aleut II many times, both empty and fully loaded. Early on, the craft had been christented "the Lead Bananna", a very apt name for this hernia inducing double kayak. Having a double in the group can be very handy. Its great to have the extra space and carrying capacity, especially for things like a large dutch oven for single pot meals for six, fresh non dehydrated food, and of course an ample reserve beer supply. If someone gets injured or suffers some malady like cous cous poisoning, they can relax in the front seat and the group can keep moving to the next camp or back to the launch. So when our two friends began to mull over the idea of purchasing the very same boat in carbon fiber/kevlar layup, they were heartily encouraged. We all enjoy spending other people's money, especially me. I should have gone into a political career with a knack like that, but felt that my private life might not lend itself to the close scrutiny needed to be a successful politician. I just don't have the unerring moral compass of a Ted Kennedy, the fiscal acumen of a Rod Blagojevich, or the keen and incisive intelligence of a George Dubya though. We did manage to persuade RM and the GTC to pull the trigger however, and they ordered their boat with custom fitting that they have learned, over the years of paddling, suit them well .

When it arrived from Valley this spring it had none of the ordered features. Its a puzzle how that could happen on a special order boat but it did. A deal was apparently reached with Valley and the distributor to pay for the ordered modifications and the boat has been at Northwest Canoe since then. Dennis and George confided to me that they were more than a bit nervous hacking into a brand new high end boat before it had even hit the water but they did and it looks pretty damn good. I picked it up last evening and we took it to Long Lake for a test paddle and an attempted double roll before I deliver it back to its rightful owners tomorrow.

This is one big honkin' boat. Its 22' long and 26" wide and one of the best rough water doubles made. I don't know what it weights in the carbon fiber/kevlar but it feels about the same as my old CD Scirocco RM. RonO and I were a little nervous when we got in but knew if we didn't attempt the roll that we would get no end of grief from the ManFromSnowyLegs, our video cameraman. The first thing we noticed was how low in the cockpit we were. This made us even more nervous about hitting a layback roll but we also both commented on how comfortable the position was. Ron thought he could paddle all day plus in that seat. It was also as stable as a bass boat but the hull gave you the feeling that you could go through some nasty crap with no trouble whatsoever. The big wooden rudder was controlled by the pedals which had been moved to the front cockpit, but I was too tall to get my feet on them anyhow so we just controlled the boat with sweep turns.

It was time to quit stalling and tip the thing over. The BemidjiIntelOfficer was there in her Aquanaut LV, either for moral support or harassment when we had to bail. Ron and I gulped, set up, and over we went on the count of 3. And up we came just as smooth as silk. No one was more surprised than we were. We did it again just to make sure it wasn't a fluke and headed for shore.

The boat will be delivered the the shores of beautiful Chequamagon Bay sometime tomorrow. I may have modified my opinion a bit on the whole double concept, the divorce boat as many say. It sure is a dream to paddle and as comfortable as a Lazy Boy. We love having it on the trips and who knows, maybe one of these years the VOR and I will jump in and take it for a spin.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

'Relaxing' weekend on York Island

The weekend plan had been for a relaxing, short paddle out to York Island with hopes of bouncing around in some waves on Sunday. The weather forecast seemed to indicate that we might get an east wind so the plan was sounding really good. We had executed our Friday R&R plan to a 'T', with a stop for pizza and handcrafted ales at the Thirsty Pagan in Superior and a blistering hot sauna at the deer camp. Even the mower cooperated by not starting the next morning, so we had breakfast at the Village Inn in Cornucopia, picked up our permit, and launched from Little Sand Bay around one pm.

The beautiful cool and sunny morning had deteriorated into a breezy and overcast afternoon. At the launch we ran into a young couple with a rental double who told us that they had decided on Wednesday to go kayaking, signed up for the safety course at the Bayfield outfitter, and here they were. We gently grilled them with the usual questions about radios, bilge pumps, area knowledge, how they liked the wet exit practice in 45F water, and they seemed to have a handle on things. We warned them about possible reflection waves at the Sand Island sea caves, learned that they would be on York as well, and wished them good luck and told them we'd see them there. Ron and I both got the feeling that they were in good shape, had a grasp of the fundamentals and also the overall situation.

Things were freshening as we hit the channel between Point Detour and the York spit. It was indeed a northeast wind and the whitecaps indicated the seas were building. We screwed around, took the lee shore around York, and cruised into the camp. There are three well spaced sites on York and the middle one was occupied. After we set up, we walked over and learned that there were two sisters on the site who had virtually same idea as the young couple we met at the launch. This however, was literally the first time they had gone camping and they had borrowed most of the gear. Ron showed them how to clean the water filter so it worked, and got their MSR stove going. They were having a good time but were not necessarily dialed in with the situation. Their radio was a large Coleman product the size of an old lunch pail and it had a fluorescent light, a crank generator, and multiple handy features. What it didn't have however, was NOAA's weather band. The extent of their forecast was when the DJ on the oldies stations mentioned that it was going to be 'unseasonably cool and windy' before he played Stairway to Heaven for the 4.6 millionth time. They also confided that the wet exit at the safety course had made them grumpy and one sister confessed that she could not get back in the boat 'no matter how I tried'.

Ron and I tried not look at each other. The forecast was for winds increasing throughout the night and waves 2'to 4' at dawn and building to 8' to 10' by nightfall. The camps and launch beach faced dead northeast into the wind. We suggested to the women that they paddle back with us in the morning and they readily agreed. Sure enough I reluctantly crawled out at dawn to 40F temps, a 20 knot wind, and waves that were all of 2'-4'. Ron and I walked over to see if they were up, but no sign of life. "Wonder when they will get up?" asked Ron. "Right now" I said, and shook the tent. The young couple had already left, most likely after hearing the forecast from the night before. The women were actually ready before we were, waiting on the beach, staring at the dumping surf with their arms crossed across their chests. We decided that I'd launch and turn around just outside where the waves were breaking. Ron got 'em in the boat, spray skirts secured, and told 'em to paddle for me and he'd catch up. Had he not been there to help I can't imagine how they would have launched. I kept talking with them as we went around the point and its accompanying shoal, explaining that if they got too close a larger wave could break in the shallows and dump them. We didn't get too far out though, because the rescue technique that we discussed if they went over was to have them swim to shore. There was no way in hell they were getting back in the boat in 3' seas if they couldn't do it on the flat water of Bayfield harbor. Once we hit the lee of York we were home free. They did very well in the rough stuff, listened well, absorbed the information, paid attention, and seemed relaxed and confident. We landed at LSB, wished them well, and cooked the giant breakfast which had been deferred in order to hit the water early. They both thanked us sincerely and were grateful for the help.

I had formulated a tirade in my brain about this whole scenario but upon reflection, I have nothing but questions. I also have a deeper appreciation of what the outfitters, Park Service, and maybe even the Coast Guard deal with on a daily basis. If you're an outfitter, what do you do when a potential client fails the wet exit/reentry skill? And when you have the forecast, which didn't change all day, what do you tell two novices that might encounter 8' seas? Do you suggest an alternative spot? Do you still rent to them? And what should the Park Service do when they picked up their permits? Again, an alternative spot or a lecture on the possible downside of the plan? I know there isn't any 'no, you can't go' option available because then the implication would be that if they didn't tell you no, that everything was OK. Let a member of the plaintiffs bar like the WoodFondlingBarrister get his shark-like teeth into that in the event of personal injury and we taxpayers would be paying through the nose. How about Ron and I, what's our responsibility? It would have been a perfect day to work on some big water skills, even tip the boat over a few times to see how our rolls work in a loaded boat in big water but we wound up plodding back to Little Sand Bay. Or, if it had been worse and the other two parties had said hell no we won't go, would we have been morally required to stay as well? Our vacation time is a precious commodity and we'd both be reluctant to spend a day when we could easily paddle back with absolutely no problem. What if we just told em good luck on your trip back, we plan to stay out here and savor the big water? Hope you make it back OK, especially with no map, compass, or gps. If we did head back by ourselves, would we then notify the Park Service and/or Coast Guard and then what the heck could or should they do?

Nothing but questions. Fortunately everything turned out just fine, everyone had a great time, and seemed to enjoy the park and the kayaking. The situation had some real disaster potential though, since there was only one other boat on the water that we saw and he was trolling off the SW point of Sand Island, well out of any visual contact. As you can see from the image, the waves did build that afternoon. I don't know what to do in these situations other than keep talking and attempting to educate, which is exactly what we will do. Maybe next time we just pick Lighthouse Bay. We shall see what the next encounter brings.

Monday, June 8, 2009

My dream job

It was an interesting weekend on York Island with things not quite going as planned. The lake reminded us that it is indeed the boss, with northeast winds and waves that built from 2' to 4' to a predicted 8' to 10' throughout Sunday. Right now at 7am there is a ENE wind gusting to 30mph at the Devil's Island weather station, which is pretty much the direction it blew all weekend. But more on the weekend later. I need to get to work and fill out the application for my dream job.

The following job application was sent to me on Friday:

Summer Jobs

at the Apostle Islands*

University of Vermont and UW-Madison

Hiring Part-Time positions during the Summer of 2009

Part-Time Field Interviewers for research on boaters at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. This job requires the person to camp on various islands for 3 to 5-day periods during the summer and early fall. In the early evenings, the interviewer will contact each boat moored or docked and secure the names and addresses of each person on the boat. Interviewers must be personable and comfortable talking with boaters. They must also be proficient at handling a canoe or kayak. A boat and other equipment can be provided if necessary. Transportation to the islands will be provided for research personnel. The interviewer must provide own food. We are seeking people who are good at working with the public and can present themselves in a professional manner. Must be able to work independently. References required.

For more information, contact: Walter Kuentzel


Phone: 802-999-6713

There is no doubt in my mind that I would be the perfect person for the job. I paddle around the islands as much as possible in the summer anyway, I always bring my own food, and I invariably strike up personable, confortable conversations with my fellow non paddle powered Lake Superior lovers. Heck, I'm doing the job already, I just need to get the list of questions and write them down. I've also discovered through my own personal research, that boaters usually have cold beer. Its normally some sort of light beer or BudMiller lager but it is cold and there are times in hot weather when cold trumps tasty. I would guess that the 'early evening' interview time requirement could be construed to be right at the start of happy hour. I immediately applied for sabbatical leave with my boss but he told me that he would put me on the list and that I'm now second in line. Behind him. So its not looking good for me this summer. Maybe I need to just ask for a small stipend to interview the boaters at the more obscure docks, like the lone sailboat moored at the Michigan Island dock in the photo. Hmmm........I better email Walter and get my plan in place before someone beats me to the punch.

Friday, June 5, 2009

We got a "Great Lakes Czar"!

President Obama, before leaving for the middle east, appointed a 'Great Lakes Czar' to make sure that about a dozen federal agencies can figure out how to coordinate their efforts and play nicely on such things as invasive species, polluted harbors, water usage, etc. The guy is Cameron Davis, the head of some environmental group in Chicago called the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

It sounds like an admirable goal but I would guess that it will require a plush office, numerous staff, and a hefty budget to get done what could likely get done with some inter agency liaison groups. I just hope he is a benevolent and reforming czar like Alexander II and reforms institutions, frees the serfs, and helps us wisely use our natural resources. Of course Alexander II got 'blowed up' when some of the very people who he assisted in removing the boot from their necks pitched a bomb into his carriage; that was no good at all. I also sincerely hope he isn't an autocratic czar like Nicholas I, who sent sword wielding cossacks into Winter Palace Square to squash the Decemberist revolt. Most of all, I fervently hope he isn't a basically well intentioned incompetent like Nicholas II, who left running the government to his spooky wife and a crazy monk from Siberia named Rasputin. We all know how that wound up.

As you can possibly tell, I'm a little sick of the 'czar this', 'czar that' stuff. We can thank our very own vice president, the swine flu phobic Joe Biden, for coining the phrase with his Drug Czar push back in the 80's. Thanks for that Joe, too bad your shoe wasn't in your mouth when that thought zoomed into your brain. I'm a bit skeptical about this whole Great Lakes Czar concept anyway. I think that money given to a solid grass roots group like the Inland Sea Society, sponsors coincidentally enough, of the upcoming kayak symposium, would go about 3 times as far as if we pitched it into the black hole of Great Lakes Czarism and let it trickle down through the unstable soil of a dozen government agencies. I just hope that the new Great Lakes Czar does not have an extensive network of Chekists, secret police, and GRU agents to track me down and send me to the Gulag (I think its somewhere in central Texas) for my dissident views. I can't worry about that right now however, because RonO and I are gearing up for a trip to York Island with stops at the Thirsty Pagan and the deer camp. We will scout out the state of the York/Sand/Raspberry triangle and report back to The Czar with our findings. I hope we are able to make ourselves useful in the overall scheme of things.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Kayak Math

I normally don't forward this kind of thing but it kind of intrigued me how it could actually work. The last math class that I took was sophomore geometry in high school. Fortunately for me, I was able to meet my science requirements in college and avoid the math department entirely. Like Jethro Bodine I can cipher my 'timeses' and 'goesintas' but anything involving lines that have no thickness or sines and tangents makes my eyes glaze over very quickly. So, here is the kayak calculator. I have no idea why it works but apparently 2009 is the only year that it will. Here goes......

This calculates your age by Kayak Math. Takes about 30 seconds and don't cheat and look at the bottom of the page. Get your mouse away from that scrolling icon!!

1) Pick the number of times a week that you would like to kayak. It needs to be more than once but less than 10. Sorry, I know 12-15 would be many people's choice but humor me.

2)Multiply tht number by 2. See, you can get up to 18 times a week anyhow!

3)Add 5 to the number just for the hell of it.

4) Multiply by 50. I'll hang out while you get the calculator to do your cipherin'.

5)If you already had your birthday this year, add 1759. If not, add 1758.

6)Now subtract the four digit year you were born in.

You should now have a three digit number. The first digit should be the original number of times you want to kayak a week from question #1. The next two numbers are your age.

Pretty cool, eh? I have no idea how or why it works and my cousin's kid that graduated from MIT is far to busy to explain it to me. This is the kind of stupid internet fun that I'm sure Al Gore had in mind when he invented the medium. Enjoy!