Monday, September 30, 2013

Chris Bandy - Strong kayak safety work in the Apostles

The last post in this space was about safety and how preparedness, thinking ahead, and solid risk assessment can make paddling a long, skinny boat on Gitchee Gumee a relatively safe endeavor.  My paltry efforts however, pale in comparison to a local Bayfield County guy who was honored nationally a couple weeks back for his efforts to inform and educate kayakers in the Apostle Islands on how to prepare and paddle safely in the National Lakeshore.

Chris Bandy coordinates the Coast Guard Auxiliary's "Paddle Smart" program in the AINL and has done so since 2012.  He was named the 2012 Coast Guard Auxiliairist of the year at the Coast Guards National Conference in San Diego last month.  This would be for the entire country boys and girls, which includes the Atlantic, Pacific, Bering Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The guy presenting him with the award is Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr., Commandant of the United States Coast Guard.  The complete story can be read in this link.  If you have ever talked to the friendly volunteers at Meyers Beach and Little Sand Bay and been offered one of the orange kayak emergency contact decals before launching, Chris is the guy that coordinated this effort.  He also helped execute a major kayak search and rescue exercise involving the Coast Guard, the Park Service, and at least a couple buddies of mine as the 'victims', an exercise that came off really well.  While I don't know if he was personally on the water, I spoke with two boats with Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel that were also safety boating along with the kayaks at this years Point to LaPointe Open Water Swim.  Strong work for sure and it made a difference; this year had the lowest number of Coast Guard involved paddle sport search and rescues in the past four years.

I tip my Tilley hat and salute Chris Bandy and all the other volunteers who cheerfully endure the 'don't worry, I know what I'm doing' responses from paddlers who obviously don't, given their equipment and (lack of) safety gear, as they attempt to launch into the worlds largest lake.  We can help by reinforcing the advice that these folks try to impart to rookie paddlers and thanking them with a 'nice job' and 'well done' when we encounter them at the launches.  It is pretty obvious from the empirical data on SAR events that it's working.    Lets all help them keep it going!

Photos by Auxiliarist Joseph Giannattasio

Monday, September 23, 2013

A 'Three Hour Tour' - some lessons refreshed

Actually it wasn't even three hours, it was more like 45 minutes.  A friend had just completed a
beautiful new strip baidairka for his wife and wanted a brief test paddle on Saturday morning.  His wife would christen her new boat and we would ride shotgun in my Explorer and his Squall.  We would never be more than 100 yards from shore and could only paddle about 45 minutes since I had a 'pressing' engagement at an apple press in Gurney later that morning.  Also, we weren't even on the big lake, just Chequamagon Bay north of Washburn.  The other chore of the day was to pick up the Lead Bananna, the vintage Howard Jeffs Aleut II which had been living on his trailer since a Labor Day weekend trip. I had taught on Snail Lake on Wednesday and half my stuff was in St Anthony and I left the other half at Olstone as I blew out the door, already suffering from Time Compression Syndrome, a chronic malady diagnosed by the BessemerConvivialist, which is indicated by the attempt to sfuff ten pounds of fun into a five pound bag.  Bail bag, pump, paddle float, and life jacket with all the handy gadgets were all somewhere else as we launched into a building south wind and chop, heading south to Houghton Point. 

It was a really uneventful almost boring paddle, if you can possibly consider beautiful brownstone rock formations to be boring.  When we rounded Houghton Point and got the full effect of the south wind with the waves bouncing off the cliffs on the point it got a bit more interesting.  My watch told me it was time to turn around and 66.6% of us did so successfully.  While I was watching his wife make the turn in her new baidarka, my buddy went over in the Squall when a beam sea caught him.  When I paddled over for a T rescue I noticed that the boat seemed heavy as I dragged it on to my deck to empty it.  When he jumped up on the back deck it actually sank below the water line and the cockpit filled up again.  Something was amiss and it was apparent that the back hatch was filled with water.  We would need to figure out how to dump it and I was not too excited about doing it out in the chop.  There was a dock about 75 yards away along the shore so I clipped on with my short tow and my friend swam alongside with his spouse keeping the gimlet eye on both of us.  When we got to waist deep water we pulled off the rear hatch and found that the neoprene hatch seal was missing.  To add to the water load, he had been working on a stuck footpeg, removed it, and then figured the hell with it, let's get going.  The two footpeg bolt holes had water trickling into the cockpit every time a wave passed under the boat as well.  It was obvious that the water in the cockpit had made the kayak unstable which caused the capsize in the beam seas.  At this point a well prepared paddler would pull out his bail bag which contained 6 mil poly and bungie line for hatch repair as well as super duct tape to patch the two holes.  There were no well prepared paddlers on this trip however, my bag was in the garage.  So after dumping the boat we cinched down the back hatch straps as tight as possible and I found a couple sticks of the correct diameter that I jammed into the foot peg holes and broke off and we limped back to the launch area.  I didn't even have my life jacket with knife so I could cut my water bottle to make an improvised bail bucket so we used a hat.  We made it back without incident but I was definitely chastised.

Alls well that ends well but it was still a screwup.  I don't check friends boats before we hit the water and I probably won't start now but a quick look around doesn't hurt; I may or may not have noticed the big chrome foot peg screws missing. No way on the neoprene hatch however, I would not have spotted that.  Had it been cold water or no decent place to land it would have been different and more critical but the water was warm and there was a place to land.  In the cold water scenario, given wind direction and proximity of the land, I would have probably abandoned the boat, hauled my buddy to shore, then gone back out for the kayak.  Either that or raft up with two boats to empty the hatch. I guess those elements of risk management, bluebird weather, a landing spot, and warm water, probably figured into my usual preflight unconsciously.  Not throwing in the bail bag was stupid as was none of us having a pump on deck. We improvised, dealt with it, and in the end it was a minor, no big deal situation.  But consistency is a crucial attribute in a number of activities.  Last weekend I paddled out to Oak with a group including a friend that is not in tip top condition these days.  Tow belt, energy bars, bail bag, paddle float, bilge pump, and gadget laden life jacket were all consciously along for the ride.  While we had an interesting crossing from Red Cliff Point to the Oak Spit, all went well.  As it does 98% of the time.

But the Houghton Point event was a warning, Gitchee Gumee telling me that I need to have my shit together all the time if I am within her sphere of influence, and it will be heeded.  I crashed a motorcycle when I was 18 years old and escaped no worse for wear, just like this incident.  I was a different biker after that and I will be a slightly more tuned in and consistent paddler after this situation.  In the very wise words of my buddy Silbs, paddle safe!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Outer limits

Last week I returned from two very different kayak adventures in the Apostles on either side of the Labor Day weekend.  The post weekend trip was with the usual suspects on the annual fall trip and the pre weekend event was with five boys and two adults from the Washburn Scout troop.  While they were different, they were both fun as well as instructive.

The scout trip had five boys and three adults.  While they all lived in the Bayfield peninsula, none had been to the islands via a people powered boat.  Maps and compasses were required and explained and five crossings we did over the course of three days were uneventful though slow.  The group got strung out on the second one from Sand to York, but with light winds and mild chop it wasn't much of an issue.  I did explain why we want to stick together however and we had a nice tight formation for the last three.  We did have one double, a really good fall back if there is a weaker or ill paddler, as well as a great place to store extra 'comfort' gear.  The boys cooked us breakfast and supper over the wood fire, which I always enjoy, and had the camping part dialed in due to BWCA canoe trips and backpacking adventures in the Porkies.  The 11.5 miles from Sand Island to the Oak spit was a bit much for some of the guys but we all survived just fine.  I was determined that if the wind was over ten knots we would abort and head back to Little Sand Bay but, contrary to the forecast 15-20 out of the NE, we got light and variable, perfect for beginning paddlers.  We also had an estrogen component in the group, sis-in-law  the MayorOfTurtleRiver.  She has experience in scouting up in the Bemidji area with her two boys and was a welcome addition.  Plus she got to hang around Washburn with her eldest sis, the VoiceOfReason.  Blueberries were picked, music enjoyed at the Big Top, and a bit more paddling was squeezed in, although much more Gitchee Gumee paddling is needed in her opinion.

In keeping with that double kayak mode, RangerMark and the BadHatter decided to take the Aleut II on our fall adventure, this year to Outer Island for two nights.  Once again the spacious middle hatch allowed for such things as a restaurant style butane burner for convenient gourmet dining plus the extra space to make sure there would be enough adult beverages if we were windbound.  As usual when paddling the Apostles there were pros and cons with the pros heavily outweighing the cons.  When we arrived on Ironwood Island, our first night, we found 'Bring back the picnic tables' spelled out in sticks on one of the tent pads.  We heartily agreed.  Even though it is technically the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness Area, the campsites are far from bare bones wilderness.  They all have a large metal bear box, many paid for by a combination of the Friends and  a half dozen kayak clubs around the area, tent pads and fire areas surrounded neatly by 8 x 8 timber borders, and a iron fire ring with cooking grate.  We all have camp chairs but, like everyone gravitating to the kitchen to talk, it's just nice to have a place to lean your elbows while relaxing.  I'll bet those same kayak groups might ante up for a few tables.  I'm not sure what happened to the ones that used to be there but the ones in the group sites are really nice.   They also moved the campsite on Outer about 250 yards up the spit.  Being a creature of habit, I bombed in and did a surf landing when I saw the small sign that I thought was the campsite sign was actually the sign at the right.  Oh well, back in the boat, launch through surf and another surf landing 250yards up the beach.  We then encountered the ‘tents within a first down of this sign’ sign.  One smart ass decided that touching the sign would be a good thing, but I’m not sure the sign was needed.  There were maybe 3 or 4 places to pitch a tent and that was it.

The overall experience on both trips was outstanding however.  We watched the red light on Devils flash from the Little Sand Bay dock, and watched a thunderstorm complete with multiple lightning strikes savage the Bayfield peninsula as we sat there high and dry, protected by the Gitchee Gumee force field or something.  The Oak group site, far and away the best group site in the islands has a perfect view, big dry area for tents, and the high ground breeze that keeps the bugs at a manageable level.  For some reason the NPS is talking about closing this site, a spot where there has been human habitation for quite some time. I don’t get it but it’s on the table for some reason.  The Ironwood campsite is fabulous, an observation I made when we camped there last August. Nice tent pads, exposure to a nice breeze, and a bombproof landing area against anything but a southerly wind. The Milky Way was just cookin’ on a moonless night and we saw so many satellites we began to think there was some sort of NSA facility hidden away on Ironwood. We visited the new Cat Island site which is no longer on the beach.  It is nicely thought out with a water view but it looks like it might harbor a mosquito or two during the buggy season.  It has a cool composting privy and it will be interesting to see how that works. We even got some big water to paddle in as we began our 22 mile trip from Outer to Red Cliff.  It was all of 3-5’ which oddly enough is what NOAA forecast on the nearshore.  The north shore of Stockton offered a nice lee for a dozen or so miles and by then the wind had decided to taper off. I also have to hand it to the Red Cliff Band.  I feared no more kayak launching when the big fancy casino came in but you can launch and park for a fee and when you get done paddling a nice shower awaits you along with a beer in their lounge overlooking the harbor.  Be advised that the beer should be purchased while breathing very shallowly and taken out to the patio because every guy who used to love sitting in a bar smoking before the ban is at Red Cliff, exercising that right.

Good weather, good company, active water on Gitchee Gumee and a great park.  I couldn’t think of anywhere I would have rather been.  Now Bob and Neil, about those picnic tables………….

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lost Roll Found

I've got a dirty little secret I need to get off my chest.  No, it's not the confession that my tent has only been on an island for one night this year, or the fact that I actually spent an entire day on Superior with a Euro paddle.  It's my forward finishing rolls.  My chest scull and forward sweep seemedto have disappeared.  A lot of people out there like to point fingers and I will keep the tradition alive by fingering RonO and GalwayGuy as two of the main causes of the missing rolls.  With GG out in Minot, ND on a Mission from God and RonO happily wrenching on bear watching aircraft in Homer, AK, my group of rolling compadres has dwindled to zero.  Sure, there are folks who want to roll for a bit but they actually want to paddle and, worse than that, actually spend the better part of the evening paddling!  With Ron and GG, a good night was launching, paddling 35 yards from shore, and rolling off and on for an hour or so.  We would then adjourn to the closest establishment to discuss and dissect said rolls over esoteric pints of fine ale.  I have not discussed my problem with either of them and kind of suspect that they may be suffering from the same problem.  I don't recall any decent body of water near Minot and I most certainly recall from last years trip, that the water in the Homer area is a bit brisk for extended rolling.  With the 'normal' avenues of critique and roll refinement hundred and thousands of miles away, It was apparent that Plan B and C needed to be put into place.

Plan B was pretty simple.  Since I was coaching up at the Great Lakes Symposium I would just stroll down to the rolling beach during some spare time and let the guy that showed me the secrets of the chest scull in the first place, FivePieceRoy, diagnose the problem.  The only things wrong with that plan were, a) due to the grueling, indentured servant-like scheduling of the cruel Bill Thompson and maniacal Kelly Blades, I didn't have any spare time and b) neither did FivePieceRoy.  He had groupies lined up every minute that he was in the water down at the rolling beach. So rather than refining and diagnosing my roll I was forced to consume pints of Cabin Fever Bitter at the Dunes Saloon and taste fine Irish and Scotch whiskeys from the back of JB's van. I will admit though, that all angst about rolling was pushed into the mental closet by these convivial activities.  I knew the vacation week in the Grand Island area wouldn't offer any rolling tips either.  The BadHatter is concerned with having one good roll and one only so he can come up without wet exiting if he should find himself upside down unexpectedly.  He feels that anything other than a standard sweep is for trained seals and why bother worrying about some contorted forward sweep BS when you have a solid standard roll? 

It would appear that Plan C would need to be executed.  Plan C was by far the most solid of my schemes and one that was damn near foolproof.  I had signed up for ChrisG at Boreal Shores' annual Lake Superior fun with Turner and Cheri from KayakWays.  I knew in the back of my mind that this was my ace in the hole, up the sleeve, on the bottom of the deck or whatever.  We spent the morning working on various Greenland stroke techniques and remembering things that were in the back of my head but needed to be dragged to the forefront again.  Turner's comment that, "I come out here to the midwest and you guys all have this low angle stroke; what's that all about anyway?" struck home once again. He also handed me a new Razor paddle that he'd made for me and actually finished on the way to Bayfield in Parry Sound, ON.  I'm certain that Turner really wanted to visit the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame museum but diligently finished my stick instead.  Thanks man!

Now for the reconstruction of my chest scull and forward finishing rolls.  I'd like to say that observation, refinement, and hard practice for a couple hours got me back in the groove.  Actually, it took Cheri Perry about 12 seconds of watching one lame assed roll to inform me, "Olson, you're not dropping your head, you aren't staying flat on the water, and you're lifting your shoulder before you slide up on the front deck".  I thought to myself, 'I can't be that screwed up, am I?', but of course I was.  Keeping those three elements in mind, I hit the first roll painfully and then things smoothed out and got back to normal after a few reps.  I am officially back in my forward finishing groove.  A good roll is like hitting a baseball or a good golf swing.  Bad contact sends vibrations up your arms and the ball kind of dribbles off your bat or club.  Contact in the sweet spot makes you feel like you never even hit the ball as you watch it soar off into the distance.  Good rolling technique is the same way, practically zero effort or strain and you're up.  When we Neanderthal males encounter difficulty we automatically revert to upper body strength and muscling our way through the problem, an exceedingly stupid way to deal with it.

I guess there are a couple of lessons to be gleaned from this tale of rolling woe.  The first is that instructors need to continue their own instruction.  Constant learning and refinement is a good idea no matter when endeavor you are involved in.  The second is to not wait so long before dealing with a problem, kind of like our propensity to wait too long before visiting the doctor. I know, I know, it's a guy thing.  Lastly, good solid instruction is always worth it.  Always.  Maybe next year I'll drag the BadHatter up to Bayfield for this event.  Cheri actually got him rolling for the first time at the last Traditional Gathering held in Akeley, MN many years back.  I also need to take advantage of the rolling resources here in town.  Christopher Crowhurst has a session or two or twelve and had been kind enough to invite me more than once, but my mental state by the time I get down to Spring Lake on the faaar side of town, usually during rush hour, is so foul and toxic that it takes me 45 minutes to get my head back on straight.  Thoughts of harpooning the 24 year old bleached blonde woman, talking on her cell phone as she tailgates me down I-35W in her fluorescent Ford Focus, take a while to leave my brain.  Thoughts of living full time in a county that still does not have one single stop light on the other hand, rarely leave my brain.  No stoplights since Wednesday evening.  Three day trip with the Boy Scouts was completed, assisted by the MayorOfTurtleRiver then a 5 day Outer Island adventure with the usual suspects for the annual Fall trip. In between Labor Day fun with the VOR, Matt, and TheMayor, including some music at the Big Top Chautauqua.  I may even practice a forward finishing roll or two along the way.