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.

1 comment:

Ranger Bob said...

Oh, man, brings it all back. Thanks for the vivid account!

[hums to himself]

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