Saturday, December 4, 2010

A midwinter day's paddle

   As winter settles in, opportunities to paddle on Lake Michigan gain a certain urgency. Perhaps it's because we don't know how much longer we'll have safe access to water in its liquid state; perhaps it's because once we get out of the habit of bundling up and venturing out on bitter cold days, we'll find it easier to make excuses for staying indoors.
    Either way, yesterday's paddle with Keith Wikle and John Flemming from Saugatuck to Holland, Michigan, and back again was winter paddling at its finest.

Cap'n Wikle wants you to put on your dry suit.
   The parking lot was nearly abandoned, except for the occasional wistful boater who considered the season over but drove by to look at the lake.

A light dusting of snow covered the sand.
   We loaded our boat and dressed quickly, trying to retain the heat from our cars in our fingers and toes as long as possible.

Ours were the first footsteps to disturb the surface.
We wore pretty much every layer we owned.
    Ordinarily we would have welcomed the three- to five-foot waves that were predicted, but given the sub-freezing air temperature and 40-degree water, we were fine with relatively calm water. We headed north, toward Holland.

Sharon punches out through the minimal surf while John finishes attaching his spray skirt.
   By the time we got on the water, everybody had lost feeling in their toes and several of us had cold fingers. But paddling warmed us up. First we removed our neoprene hoods; next we felt the blood surge back into our toes. This is one of the pleasure of winter paddling: You can stay warm as long as you keep moving. And if you have the right experience and equipment, you can be safe.

Paddling along the dunes.
   You never know who you'll meet on the water. This time, it was either a squirrel or a rat that had seen better days.

    When we arrived at the Holland channel, we contacted Scott Fairty of Geneva Kayak Center and asked him to look for us on the Spyglass Hill webcam. He took a screen shot.

The view from the water.

The view from the webcam.
   By now, the air was cooling and the light was fading. We paddled south toward Saugatuck, hoping to make it back before dark and barely succeeding.

Back on the beach, just after sunset.
    We loaded up quickly, trying to keep warm while putting away wet boats and gear. Our two-piece paddles were frozen into one-piece paddles. The quick-release knots in our short toes were ice balls. Touching anything metal was painful. But our warm cars rewarded us for our quick work in the cold.
   This morning, we awoke to the snowfall that was predicted to fall yesterday. Our kayaks were blanketed in snow, dreaming, no doubt, about the previous day's journey.

1 comment:

robert said...

wow, that looks cold !!!