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.

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