Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Gales Storm Gathering premiers

The view from Middle Island looking toward Marquette on a calm day.
We just returned from the first annual Gales Storm Gathering, a Great Lakes rough-water symposium based this year in Marquette, Michigan. We write "based" and not "held" because while all the coaches and participants stayed in Marquette, class locations depended on conditions. One of the unique aspects of this symposium was the night-before planning: Depending on the forecast, classes would be offered on surfing, rough-water rescues, incident management, rock gardening, navigation, and long boats in current. Even the scenic tours offered opportunities to learn boat control in wind and waves.

We expected rough water on Lake Superior in early October, but were instead treated to a classic Indian summer. The days were warm and sunny, and the winds generally light. The coaches scouted the two key locations: the nearby coast of Lake Superior, with its rocky islands and shoals, and a stretch of the Menominee River that offers current, eddies and rapids.

Scouting the Menominee to find the right line.
When the symposium began, the winds picked up, but they were off-shore instead of on-shore, creating no surf. So day one began with a drive through the Hiawatha National Forest--a visual feast of fall leaves--to Manistique, where Lake Michigan was delivering waves to five feet.

A pre-surf session talk about launching and landing.
Another unique aspect of this symposium was the ratio of instructors to students. With 12 instructors and 36 students, it was possible to safely take people out in dynamic conditions and keep class sizes small. This also meant that instructors and students got to know one another well over the course of the weekend, and everybody benefitted from working with guest coaches Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme of Body Boat Blade

Shawna debriefing with her class after an incident-management scenario. 
Even though we never got rough conditions on Lake Superior, the symposium managed to deliver on its promises, thanks to trips to Lake Michigan and the Menominee and creative use of rocky shorelines. It was a pleasure to work with participants who had substantial paddling skill and experience and were eager to be challenged and learn. 

Cliff jumping, kayaker style.
This symposium will happen again next October, based in Wawa, Ontario--another place known for rough water in the fall, but that also has a river to ensure conditions no matter what Mother Nature delivers. We're looking forward to it already.


DaveO said...

Good to see you guys up there, it was indeed a fine weekend. I kicked out a post and will likely do another one on the rock gardening adventure on Sunday. Alex, thanks for the tips!

Silbs said...

Looks as if all had a good time and a good learning experience. Hopefully the wind will come next year.