Tuesday, July 5, 2011

So, which island is that?

Keith Wikle has an interesting post on his blog. Keith is our eastern shore of Lake Michigan kayak surfing guru and the guy who introduced me to surfing the big water at the GLSKS a couple years back. He is also the winner of the David Johnston look alike contest. The post talks about additional questions the NPS or Coast Guard Auxiliary should be asking of folks that are launching their kayaks into Lake Superior at Little Sand Bay or Meyers Beach in the Apostles. This year the Coast Guard Auxiliary has a presence at the two sites and is handing out brochures for Operation Paddle Smart and talking to paddlers as they get ready to launch. The idea is to make people more aware of what they are getting into and prevent accidents like the two at Little Sand Bay last fall and this spring. It's a polite and friendly conversation, not a beach nazi rant like I have launched into upon occasion when I see the ingredients for an incipient disaster being stuffed into a rec boat. Keith's post has a bunch of great questions, questions that will make their way to the folks in the big old former brownstone government building that houses the NPS in Bayfield. My guess is that a Cabin Fever ESB fueled conversation with Keith up at GLSKS this year will unearth more insightful questions. The one thing I wanted to expand upon in regard to Apostle Islands kayaking is the concept of knowing where the hell you are out on the water.

I am guessing that over 50% of the people on the water don't know where they are at any one particular point. None of the people I run into that fall into that unconscious/incompetent quadrant of the kayak skills matrix have ever had even one of those classic placemat maps on their decks, the ones that warn 'Caution-This chart is not for use in navigation'. We once had a power boater come up to us off the Raspberry Island light, one of the most recognizable landmarks in the AINL, and ask, "So.....which island is that?". The Coast Guard is well aware of the problem. A few years ago I had to call in a mayday for a paddler that was sick and dehydrated and could not keep anything including water down. We feared possible kidney shutdown, saw signs of delirium and radioed in. I was asked at least 4 times where we were (the SE corner of Oak) and it was only when I told them I saw their boat heading for us and offered to pop a flare, an offer that was sadly refused, that they decided I really did know where I was. At the symposium led trip to Raspberry Island I had mentioned in a previous post that of 19 paddlers about a half dozen had compasses and 4 had maps. I suggested in the future that they all have maps so they could 'follow along at home' as we did our three crossings on the trip.

I will confess that I was ill prepare last weekend. Since I was 'only' going to Sand for the evening I had the cheapo free park handout map and my deck compass. No bearing compass, gps, decent chart, or clear nav tool. When we rolled in fog had obscured Sand Island and the thunderbuster was racing in our direction. While we had the proper gear in the group I always feel like I forgot to put my pants on if I don't have my nav gear, just another check mark in the launch/don't launch' progression that kept us on the beach Friday night. A GPS is great but nothing more than a supplement for a good chart and compass. While useful units, they run on batteries, have all the inherent unreliability of an electronic device, and have documented cases of sending elderly tourists down dead end roads in Death Valley in their Buick Roadmasters. Nope, you need a chart and a compass. Every symposium in our sport has a navigation course, usually poorly attended, which everyone should take. The other thing we need to do is practice. Take those bearings, pay attention to your compass, preferably a deck mounted one, and get an idea of which direction you are headed and the distance involved. It will make you a better and more confident paddler in the long run.

No comments: