Monday, October 31, 2011

Multitasking at the Annual Grouse Kill weekend

Last weekend was the long standing Annual Grouse Kill up at Camp O near the Wisconsin-Northern Michigan border. This is typically the weekend that reminds me that fall is in full swing and its time to dial the kayak activity back and ramp up shotgun, bow and arrow, and rifle related focus. It's also a time to hang with friends, cronies, ne'er do wells, and other folks that are seen only once or maybe twice a year. It's a weekend where a person can do pretty much whatever they want to, as many times as they want to. For some this weekend results in sore muscles, others hangovers that require sleeping until noon, and yet others a more sharpened focus on issues of the day. It's similar to the line from the old Arlo Guthrie tune, "You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant".

The Bar That Never Closes is the focal point for the dining, music, and adult beverage intake at this event and the liberating feeling of not having to worry about 'last call' is a freedom that some are unable to manage. A professional musician, who shall remain nameless, allegedly forgot the words to one of his bread and butter songs, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, after perhaps one too many duets with our pal Jose Cuervo. More than one keg went through the Karl O. Rohlich Memorial tapper but no one got anywhere near a motor vehicle, which is another charming aspect of the weekend.

There is some work to be done this weekend although I'm not sure if the dock and pontoon pulling was ever accomplished. Winter is harsh with several feet of snow in the area and things need to be buttoned down and boarded up. Wood needs to be made since that is the only form of central heat in the majority of the buildings in the complex. The water needs to be dealt with because frozen pipes are never any fun, and a number of other things need to handled to avoid headaches in the spring when the opening of the complex, the Annual Bark Bay Fishing Invitational, is held. One new addition to the joint was a wood fired pizza and bread oven that was utilized quite effectively and also used to cook the prime rib dinner for Saturday night.

One of the aspect of the fall that we enjoy/suffer with is the Wisconsin Badger football team. For the second week in a row hearts were broken and spirits stomped upon by a last second defensive choke. The WoodFondlingBarrister, a man who would overlook almost any scandal or 3.7% graduation rate if only they would win consistently, is shown in these two photos the first at the very height of elation as the Badger offense scores with under two minutes left to take the lead. The feverish high fives began when the radio annoucer screamed (question from the VOR: "why do they always have to yell all the time?".) TOUCHDOWN WISCONSI!!. The suicidal appearance in the second image is after the Badger defense forgets that covering receivers in the end zone is a key aspect to winning close games, an issue eerily reminiscent of last Saturday night in East Lansing. We were able to calm him down and steer him over to the poker table, where he was summarily cleaned out, before he could do harm to himself or others.

Even though the name of this event is the Annual Grouse Kill no grouse were harmed in this years production. Theywere pursued though, and at least three were scared badly by a loud noise and a cloud of shotgun pellets passing either above, below, in front of, or behind them. The population swings up and down on a 10 year cycle which biologists haven't really figured out yet and it would seem that we are somewhere in the middle of that cycle this year.

On a more serious note a bunch of us toured the proposed site of what the GTAC mining company would like to be the Gogebic iron mine, less than five miles from Camp O. I will write more on this in another post, but it is some beautiful land with lots of streams, waterfalls, and other natural assets. The range is clearly visible as the Podman, plat book in hand, points it out to the group. Turning it from the Gogebic range into Gogebic valley is something that needs some long, hard thinking and research.

I ended the weekend on Lake Superior, possibly the last paddle of the year on the big lake. There was a nice south wind with surfable waves and I was the only person on the water that I could see for 20 miles in any direction. I paddled around Lake O Saturday and confirmed that the water is indeed turning over, and that I should have worn gloves when rolling. The 180F sauna was very welcome after that chilly session. It was a great weekend to paddle but wandering through the woods with a shotgun, smelling the leaves and breathing the crisp fall air had definitely triggered the hunting season in my head. I will get out on the water, most notably the annual Gales of November paddle honoring the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on 10 November but my mental switch has been flipped. Out to da blind as they say in northen Wisconsin and the UP.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sea kayak Ireland

We did not manage to get into boats while in Ireland and in fact saw very few sea kayaks in harbors and quay areas. We did notice a fair number of river kayaks and the water was running high and fast due to the rains from the Shannon estuary up to Clew Bay in Mayo. The sea kayaking potential in the area seems to be phenomenal though. Islands, sea stack, sea caves, and both exposed areas and sheltered bays appear to be tailor made to get out in a boat and play. Here are a few spots that would seem to be perfect.

Ballyvaughn is a small village on the south side of Galway Bay. It has one of the finer seafood pubs I've been in, Monk's Pub right on the water, and a dangerous whiskey bar that has a dazzling array of rare Irish whiskey and an independent owner that opens when he damn well feels like it, usually around 4 or 5pm. I have done three cycling tours with Irish Cycling Safaris, a Dublin tour company that I can highly recommend. On one of them we spent a rest day in Ballyvaughn and a few of us kayaked the bay with the local outfitter who, I was informed by the locals, has returned to Brittany. As much as I love Lake Superior there just aren't that many seals to view or tidal races to play in. Its well into Galway Bay but the Atlantic swell is still pronounced and adds to the fun.

The Cliffs of Moher, a major tourist attraction and finalist in the Seven Wonders of the Natural World contest looked like some crazy paddling. I think both Chris Duff and our local Marquette guy, Sam Crowley, would have to say that paddling at the base of 900 foot sea cliffs was a spectacular experience. We watched the big Atlantic swells from the top and when the waves and wind combined to throw salt spray 1,000 feet in the air and spot my camera lens, we figured it might be a bit more than we were interested in that particular day. There is a new company in Doolin, home of traditional Irish music on the west coast, called North Clare Sea Kayak Touring Co, which does local lakes, rivers, Ballyvaughn area, and Liscannor Bay on the Atlantic. We will need to check them out next trip over.

On this land based trip we decided to hike to the top of Croagh Patrick, the mountain where St Patrick allegedly drove the snakes out of Ireland. This could have been a religious pilgrimage had we climbed a couple months earlier. Three stations involving several Our Fathers and Hail Mary's, and for some a barefoot climb as an act of penance, are part of the experience for the devout but since we were there on an off month (and my feet hurt) we decided to just climb the thing with our boots on. Unfortunately we did not make it. 50mph wind gusts with an intermittent rain made for a challenging day. The summit was in the clouds and when a couple experienced hikers who had climbed 'The Reek' many times told us that it was too windy and too foggy to summit, making the path back down difficult to find we listened. Plus I had seen a sign at the Murrisk village pub we parked next to with their motto: "The pint you seek when you climb The Reek". On our way back down we had a fabulous view of Clew Bay and its hundreds of islands and remarked that the kayaking would appear to be superb in that bay. Its the home of Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen, the woman who ruled western Ireland in the 16th century and faced down Queen Elizabeth I. We did some checking and found that there is a mobile sea kayaking company that shuttles paddlers out of Westport at the head of Clew Bay called Saoirse Na Mara Sea Kayaking. Once again, another thing to check out on a return visit.

We had a wonderful land and pub based trip and saw some amazing sights, met some interesting people, listened to some fine traditional music, and sipped some sublime pints of Guinness. Don't tell anyone but the VoiceOfReason would appear to have developed into a connoisseur of 'the Devil's Buttermilk', remarking on the subtleties that one finds from pub to pub in the Guinness. We did hear the siren's song of the long skinny boats however and next time we are in the west of Ireland we plan to listen to that song and get out on the water.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Another 'progressive' Minnesota beer law

Since I am in Ireland this week, combining business with pleasure, and the fellow I paddled with on Galway Bay in Ballyvaughn is back in Brittany with his kayak touring business shut down for the season, I guess I might as well write about beer. The contraption at the top of the post is called Arthurs Table, a double tap unit that beer lovers can sit around and draw their own beers. The unit is metered and set up to pay by the pint. The one above is in Doolin, Co Clare but there was one in Minneapolis at The Local and I made many a black and tan from it at an industry reception that my company held last year. I won't be making any this year however, because the City of Minneapolis shut it down.

When I got the note about this torpedo that the city fired at our little event in November, I immediately got in touch with the city councilman for our ward. Kevin Reich got back to me immediately and said that although the city inspectors indeed shut the tap unit down, it was at the behest of the state and their liquor laws. It was explained that since the bartenders did not control the unit there was a great danger of serving those who had been overserved as well as minors. That is a lame argument at the very best. Bars can't let minors in unless they are with their parents. There are bartenders and waitressed all over the place that can check on drunks and ask them to leave. Plus, I don't know about anyone else but if I'm paying for the beers I'm not going to pull a pint for anyone I don't know or isn't part of my group. It would be the same for a group sitting around the table. What's the likelihood of a drunk stranger or 16 year old sidling up and getting you to pour them a beer? Pretty damn poor in my opinion.

No alcohol on Sunday, breweries that couldn't sell their own pints on premise, the marvel of '3.2 beer', no beer sales at the grocery store, etc., etc. The list goes on. When it comes to getting a beer Minnesota is indeed The State Where Nothing is Allowed. When I get back to good old Minnesota I will continue to harass my state legislators on the issue (among a few others) but for now its frothy, rich, lovely pints of Guinness. In short, less posting more Guinness consumption. until Sunday anyway.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Day Two - Rock Gardening

This post is not about Japanese rock gardens but rather the sea kayaking equivalent of a whitewater slalom run down a rocky river. The difference is that the water is moving in both a horizontal and vertical plane, yet another dimension of paddling fun. While the wind and waves were a bit anemic, we still had enough water flowing around the rocks to leave us high and dry in the teeter tottering position more than once. Those of us in composite boats also left a few noticeable gelcoat deposits on the ancient rocks surrounding Presque Isle in Marquette.

As happy as I was to have had the Delphin the day before in the surf, I was even happier to have it as we squeezed through some cracks and crevices in the rocks. Once again we had a great group of paddlers with Scott Fairty lead coach and Alex Bloyd Peshkin assisting. We also had Randy Henriksen, all the way from Manhattan, with a trailer load of Tiderace boats for us to test paddle. I'm not sure that a new bright red Tiderace Xtreme would have been my first choice to tangle with some of the oldest exposed rock formations in North America but hey, it ain't my boat! We sand paddlers from the Apostle Islands area had a blast in the nooks and crannies of the black rock that jutted out into Lake Superior from Presque Isle Park. Probably my biggest 'aha moment' was that certain strokes that I'd seen, practiced, and promptly forgot because I could see no earthly use for them, were suddenly effective and even necessary when six inches away from a rock face. One of the tougher things to keep focused on was the twin role of student and coach. Trying to learn the skill properly and then figure out how to present it and pass it on to students made my head hurt at times but it was all good.

One of the highlights of the afternoon had more to do with rock climbing than paddling. Our group came upon what the lawyers call an 'attractive nuisance', loosely defined as a dangerous condition that tends to attract children....or kayakers with the mental age of 14. In this case it happened to be a roughly 15 foot cliff that exuded the siren song of 'climb up here and jump off me, just jump off me'. So we did. The drill was to paddle next to the cliff, stand up in your boat, grab the hand and foot holds on the cliff, and give the boat a shove with the free foot. We got some looks from a couple of hardy Yoopers wearing swim suits with our dry suits and helmets, but it was great fun for all concerned. A couple cowboys and a couple T rescues and we were on our way again, playing and learning in the undulating waves along the rocks.

Once again a great day of paddling at a great event. It would appear we may have been a week too early since the nearshore for Marquette today calls for gale warnings, NW wind to 30 knots, gusts to 37mph and waves building to 8-11 feet. Nonetheless we found conditions, whether they were on Lake Michigan, the Menomonie River, or right in the city of Marquette. Now if I can only figure out an easy way to get up to Naturally Superior in Wawa for next years event........

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chasing the waves

When we left the deer camp on Friday the wind was beginning to blow. We had knocked three hours off the drive to Marquette by meeting Pod at camp Thursday night and enjoyed a hot sauna, and some new beers including Hop Dog Double IPA from Anchorage, AK (courtesy of RonO) and a nice brown ale, Third Stone, from Lincoln, NE (courtesy of the UndergroundHippie from Omaha). The wind was supposed to ramp up to the 20-25 knot range and blow all night, excellent weather for the Gales Storm Gathering except for one small problem. The wind was from the south which means the Marquette area would be in the lee.

No worries Saturday morning however, as we were paid a personal predawn visit by LordSurf himself, Keith Wikle at our spartan state park cabin, a half mile off the trailhead. We were informed that if we wanted to surf, a crew was heading 90 minutes south of Marquette to Manistique, MI where that south blow had been building waves all the way up Lake Michigan from Chicago for the past 24 hours. The last thing any of us wanted to do was drive more and we had decided to stick to our Pictured Rocks and rock gardening plans until we hit Downwind Sports and were informed that everyone was heading to Manistique. So off we went.

The Manistique River flows into Lake Michigan and is protected by a large breakwater with a lighthouse, the perfect place to launch. Beyond the breakwater the waves were a steady 3-5 foot with plenty of seven footers, especially at a shoal area 400 yards off the light. Our coach was Mike McDonald, a fellow I'd worked with before up at the Great Lakes kayak symposium, a skinny stick guy who helped me master the elusive forward finishing roll. The students were me, RonO, the ManFromSnowyLegs, the PunctualGerman, and RickH, my buddy from Illinois. A quick word on waves and 'wave inflation'. One of the first things we did was determine how big the water was. If a buddy disappears in the trough of the next wave it's at least three feet. If you are counting 'thousand one, thousand two......' before they pop up the waves are higher. Try sitting down next to your car. Most car roofs are roughly five feet off the ground. As you look up at the roof from the vantage point of your butt, imagine the car rolling in your direction. That's a five footer. There were plenty of waves that day that were bigger including the one that 'window shaded' me shortly after we got out into conditions.

As I was sliding up the wave it began to break. I quickly leaned into the wave but was a hair too late and I turned my low brace into the setup for my roll. When I came up I told myself, "OK self, we are officially now paying attention". RonO saw the 'performance' and had a smile on his face. It was a great day on the water. We surfed, broke out through the surf, worked on boat handling, did some rescues, some stroke refinement, and were made aware of some little yet crucial things. When MSFL attempted a roll he discovered that his drysuit had not been completely burped which prevented him from getting under the boat. I learned that I was about a boat length too far away for a bow rescue and we wound up doing our first T rescue of the day. Later Rick took a swim in the surf and the PG got him back in his boat very nicely with a 'T'. The most spectacular moment of the afternoon was when the MSFL got broached by a big wave in exactly the same spot that I had my rolling practice earlier. It was surfing him toward the rock breakwater and then window shaded him and he rolled up. Still on the wave, he went over again and when he rolled up for the second time his boat was pointed the correct way for him to paddle off the thing. We both agreed that it was some of the best learning of the day. Like downhill skiing, if you don't fall a couple times you just ain't pushin' it. We all decided it was the most fun we have had sitting down in recent memory.

The structure of the course and the skill level of the instructor and participants made it work. We all had a working roll, some of us were instructors, and I had worked with Mike before, a guy with one of the most fluid and seemingly effortless Greenland paddle stroke repertoires I've seen. Three sticks and three Euro blades was the paddle breakdown. This course makeup allowed us to dispense with a lot of basic talk and just paddle, watch, model skills, and learn from each other. And surf. Surf, surf, and more surf, which was a treat for us surf starved Apostles paddlers. I've gotta say it again, it was a great day on the water. The recap at the Black Rocks brewpub only confirmed that as we recounted our day over fine microbrews. Unlike other experiences which tend to increase in exaggeration leve,l directly proportionally to the number of pints consumed, this paddle day did not need any build up. We all agreed it was worth the price of admission and we still had one day left to go!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Off to (what we hope are) The Gales

We leave on the road trip to Marquette, MI this afternoon to attend the Gales Storm Gathering. We are all sincerely hoping that the image above will be the weekend scene in the UP and not the one below, two very different moods of the often fickle Gitchee Gumee.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Back to plastic - the Delphin conspiracy

A couple of plastic boats have been added to the fleet, one new and one 'gently used'. The VOR and I started out with the same plastic boat, the stable and absolutely straight tracking Current Designs Storm. Then came the glass and composite skeg boats with day hatches and that lovely gel coat finish. Some friends are still sold on plastic boats, the BadHatter, FrugalFisherman, and KingOfIronwoodIs among the most notable, but lower weight, more stiffness (and hence speed), and of course that sleek and cool look have plenty of sea kayakers in glass and composite boats. But there are many good reasons to have a plastic boat and that's why the venerable Valley Skerray and a trendy P&H Delphin are now stuffed in the garage. How the new one got there is where the thread of conspiracy begins.

I am not one of those guys who jumps out of his boat into water just over the top of his Chota mukluks, in order to protect his delicate gel coated hull. I do admit though, that the brutal beating the BadHatter administers to his Prijon is a frequent cause for envy. There is no rock too sharp, no beach too cobbled for him to abandon his 'accelerate to ramming speed' landing technique. Launches are much the same as the video clip below illustrates. Instruction is another good case for plastic, as is guiding. Contact tows, T rescues, and other tasks are OK with a composite boat from time to time but if they are done a dozen times a day things tend to get scratched and nicked. Rivers with fast water and lots of rocks make plastic attractive as well. Those pesky rocks are unfriendly to high end craft and the gel coat deposits on prominent rocks tell the tale. The above considerations played a significant part, but the main reason I decided to revisit plastic boats were two additional reasons. Surfing and rock garden play, and participating and coaching 'kayak games' type events at classes and symposiums. Those two thoughts meld together like beer and pretzels in the person of one insidious, some would say disturbing indivdual, Mr. Kelly Blades, one of the ringleaders of the conspiracy I've discovered.

Yes readers, Kelly Blades. While assisting him at his sadistic 'kayak games' class at the Washburn symposium I found myself standing up in my NDK Explorer, in the steady rain, while the boat was the top log in a Lincoln Log-like arrangement of kayaks. I don't remember being drugged, yet there I was. The Elite layup did not enjoy the abuse and I wound up spider cracking the foredeck, either then or when I was clambering around on it like a pommel horse at a gymnastics competition, also at Mr. Blades behest. Later that month I found myself in roughly the same situation with his co-conspirator Ben Lawry, and after I showed him the cracked fordeck and brutally savaged Mr. Blades, he suggested the Delphin might be the answer. Since he is a P&H rep this makes sense. So is Kelly, which is where my first inkling of conspiracy began. Then an article shows up in the Gales Spacebook site touting the virtues of the Delphin. The author you ask? None other than Kelly Blades.

The Delphin seed had been subliminally planted and a combination of no boats locally and very pricey boats in the state to the east led me to Bill Thompson of Downwind Sports in Marquette, who solved both problems. Coincidentally enough, the Gales is being held in Marquette and will be attended by one Kelly Blades who will be delivering a talk on....the new P&H Aires/Delphin! Lets see here....cracked fiberglass boat, Delphin suggestion from P&H rep, Gales event in Marquette with strong recommendation of plastic boats, article on the Delphin, keynote address on said boat at Gales......yup, it's pretty apparent that I fell for this Delphin/Gales ponzi scheme hook, line, and sinker. I now own the boat as well as a registration confirmation for the Gales Storm Gathering.

I feel so used. On the other hand I have a sweet boat, two of them actually if the VOR consents to let me play in her Skerray, a boat we owned once before, sold to the BearWhisperer up in Washburn, WI. I can blast down the local rivers, land at the Sand Island light's rock ledge with impunity, and generally be free from the shackles of gel coat. In select occasions of course. Our quartet will saddle up later in the week and head north and east with visions of wind and waves in our heads. I hope to learn more about rough water technique, put the boat through its paces, and go toe to toe with the Grandmaster of this conspiracy, Mr. Blades, with a fine microbrewed beer in both of our hands.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Gales of.......September?

Next weekend is the Gales Storm Gathering in Marquette, MI. The joke has been the question of whether the event would be cancelled due to bad weather. Meaning sunny, flat calm, with Bluebirds singing and kids running around in shorts. We all hope for a healthy dose of nastiness and there are 'long boats on fast water' classes if it's too benign, but I'm not sure anyone is wishing for what came through on Thursday, a Great Lakes storm that was forecast but managed to outdo itself with its speed and intensity.

The best way to illustrate what went down over the 24 hour period is with NOAA's real time wave chart which is linked under the Lake Superior Trip Planning Tools to the right of this post. Along with the surface water temperature, near shore forecast, and a couple key weather stations, a person can get an accurate picture of what's going on around Gitchee Gumee. It can also be used for vicarious pleasure, to mentally take us to spots where we have been so we can fantasize about gigantic waves crashing on the beach or rocks. The first image above is at 6am on Thursday morning and then again around noon. From a flat calm the seas built over a half dozen hours to eleven footers rolling into the Keweenaw peninsula.
By mid afternoon things have escalated considerably. As the front moved from the northwest in a southeasterly direction the waves built. By 2pm the scope of the storm had increased and by 4pm there were fourteen footers hammering Copper Harbor and Manitou Island at the tip of the Keweenaw.

By dusk wave height and wind had almost doubled. Note the large swath of twenty foot plus waves (purple color) from the tip of the Keweenaw all the way down past Marquette and Munising. I'm not sure how long the storm lasted but by 6am Friday mornings things had moved south and calmed down with 'only' eleven footers on the Keweenaw and sixteen footers near Harvey, MI.

Lake Michigan did not escape either. All the parks in Door County including Rock Island and Peninsula State Parks, are closed due to wind and wave damage. Cyclists and walkers were swept off Chicago lakeshore paths, fortunately with no injuries, and the buoy in the middle of Lake Michigan registered twenty three footers at 5am. The lake, or lakes, are indeed the bosses. I sincerely hope the damage across the area was not too heavy and can be dealt with relatively easily and quickly. I also hope we are granted a taste of this as our intrepid foursome heads to Marquette next weekend, but I think I'll pass on the full five course meal. Soup, salad, and a light entree will be just fine, thank you.