Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday paddle

The stores opened early today for holiday shopping madness. The lake was open all night, so we didn't have to wait in line. And we had the place to ourselves!
Sharon stayed home to eat leftover stuffing. (Her arm is still healing.) But here are a few black-and-white photos from our Black Friday Paddle:

Alec wearing his festive Black Friday wool hat.

The Skyway on display. No holiday discounts there.

Hannah surveys the merchandise.

A skyscraper far from the Loop.


So long and thanks for all the fish! Hannah and Lyn head home.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A bad day paddling beats a good day recycling

For those who question the safety of kayaking, we have evidence that staying at home can be far more dangerous. Yesterday, while carrying a bin of recyclables to the alley, Sharon had a close encounter of the sutcherable kind with the top of an aluminum can.

Sharon'a forearm, nine stitches later.

Alec did get to put some of his Wilderness First Aid training to use. And since we were well within two hours of access to medical attention, he didn't have to sew Sharon up himself.
Thanks to our fabulous family physician, Robin Uchitelle, Sharon is on the mend. But she won't be paddling for the next two weeks. 

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Who says calm days can't be fun?

  Sharon paddles along a breakwall east of Navy Pier.

"You wouldn't want to go paddling today," a friend said in a message on our voice mail. "The wind is light and the water is flat."
We missed her message because we were out on the lake.
In fact, it was a lovely day. We could put in and take out anywhere we liked. We didn't even have to pay for parking at North Avenue Beach. We saw only two boats: a tour boat heading for dry dock and a Coast Guard boat zipping to shore. Most of the buoys were gone.
First we visited the four-mile crib, one of the city's water intake locations. It's a fortress-like structure with a Tim Burtonesque tower on top. The water was calm enough that Alec was able to bring out his non-waterproof camera.

Alec shooting the four-mile crib.

From there, we paddled down to 12th Street Beach. No sunbathers, no lifeguards, no seagulls. Just groups of elementary school students on field trips to the Museum Campus, who found us at least as interesting as the marine mammals in the Shedd Aquarium. We rounded out our paddle by visitng various lights and lighthouses along the breakwall east of Navy Pier. 
Sharon gives some scale to the boulders at the base of the lighthouse.

We paid our respects to light number 1. 

By the time we returned to North Avenue Beach, the sun was getting lower (even though it was barely 3 p.m.) and the air was starting to cool. We landed on the empty beach, packed up in the abandoned parking lot, and returned to the chaos of rush hour traffic--two water creatures in a current of landlubbers.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Review: "Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown"

Gordon Brown, photographed by Simon Willis.
When Gordon Brown’s book, “Sea Kayak: A Manual for Intermediate and Advanced Sea Kayakers," came out in December 2006,  it was one of the few books not aimed at beginners. It was a survey of all the knowledge required of sea kayakers, infused with his personal points of view.

Some of those same idiosyncratic perspectives are in Simon Willis’ new video, “Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown,” produced by Sunart Media and distributed in North America by Heliconia Press.

This video uses a four-day journey along the west coast of the Scottish Isle of Skye as a frame for coaching sessions on sea kayak strokes. Gordon Brown’s companions include his wife, Morag, and five paddlers who range from beginner to low intermediate, along with the invisible cameraman and his “driver” who paddles from the back of his double.

Gordon Brown and companions paddling along the west coast of the Isle of Skye.
The scenery is stunning, and one of his companions, John, provides a wealth of knowledge about local flora, fauna, history and geology. Punctuating the trip are the coaching sessions, in which Gordon Brown demonstrates boat fit, edging, strokes and techniques for the viewer, not his companions on the journey. He explains as he demonstrates, and Willis employs a creative set of camera angles to allow viewers to see exactly what Gordon Brown’s body, boat and blade are doing. (He even goes inside the cockpit during the boat fit session to show how Gordon Brown’s feet and knees contact the boat.)

Gordon Brown covers familiar basic strokes (forward stroke, forward and reverse sweep strokes, draw strokes) as well as more advanced maneuvers (bow rudder, cross-bow rudder,  stern rudder), in both calm and rough water. His demonstration of linked turning and draw strokes while rock gardening is gorgeous.  And his explanations are often unlike ones we’ve heard before. For example, he describes the forward sweep as a high brace position stroke and the reverse sweep as a low brace position stroke. He also suggests exercises for gaining comfort with some of the strokes, such as a beautiful demonstration of practicing eddyline turns with eyes closed. Each of the coaching sessions contains such a gem and makes this video well worth watching no matter what your paddling level.

Gordon Brown, making rock gardening look easy.
Beginners will find that this video won’t answer all their questions. For example, he explains edging and leaning without clarifying their roles in turning. We agree with his comment toward the end that the book is an ideal companion to the video. In fact, we feel that the book is stronger as a stand-alone source of information, while this video is an appealing sampler.

But every paddler will get something practical out of this video, in addition to an abiding affection for Gordon Brown, whose charm and sense of humor are palpable. After listening to him sing in the sea caves, you may be tempted to run out and buy a ticket to Scotland.

Here is the trailer to whet your appetite:

Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown - Main Trailer from Simon Willis on Vimeo.

The DVD is available now directly from Sunart, and will soon be carried at Geneva Kayak Center and other well-stocked paddle centers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Doing battle with the gales of November

Today was National Cape Day, according to our son. Or perhaps it was. Regardless, Alec took the morning off to paddle with Scott in what promised to be conditions demanding near super powers, if not capes.

Not all superheroes wear capes. Some wear drysuits. Scott models.

The winds were out of the east-northeast at 25 knots, gusting to 28, and the waves were 5 to 7 feet and gnarly. An unusual current flowed from south to north along the beach at Montrose, perhaps the recirculating portion of the general north-to-south flow.

Scott punching out or surfing backwards...hard to tell which (and who remembers?).

Conditions like these can wear you out quickly. Before calling it quits, Alec and Scott paddled out to the end of the pier and looked south, where the full brunt of the wind was bouncing off the pier and the breakwall. There was clapatis as far as the eye could see. "If you paddled out there, you'd be on your own," Scott mused.

Scott explores the clapatis south of the pier.

Conditions can kick up quickly on the Great Lakes and subside just as fast. By tomorrow night, the winds will shift around to the southeast and the waves will subside to 1 to 3 feet. Even superheroes can't do anything about that.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Neither cold nor waves nor gloom of fall....

Wave height matters. Paddler height, not so much. 
(Alec and Aaron, dressed for the weather.)

Yesterday, Geneva Kayak Center held an end-of-season staff meeting. Part one was held on Lake Michigan in the company of three- to five-foot waves, 20-knot winds and plenty of geese. Needless to say, it was the nonverbal portion of the meeting. Part two was held while hungrily awaiting pizza delivery.
Jim Tibensky chose to paddle an old-school whitewater boat 
to take maximum advantage of the waves.

Some of us haven't paddled together since the start-of-season staff paddle and meeting. We've led parallel paddling and teaching lives, coming and going at different times with different students. We hear about one another's on-water time more often than we share it. So this was an opportunity to get out and play together.

 Parallel play, instructor style.

The paddling season is far from over. For this group, a "small craft advisory" is a warning that it's time to drop everything and get on the water. It's also a guarantee that we and the kite boarders will have the lake to ourselves.  No sailboats, motorboats or tour boats. Just us and the birds. 

Monday, November 2, 2009

Back to the great indoors

The start of the Chicago Whitewater Association pool sessions is bittersweet. It's great to see our river-running friends again, but it's a sure sign that winter is coming.

John Karsh offers some bank-based coaching.

This is the 30th year of the CWA's pool sessions here in Oak Park. We offer two 10-week sessions, during which we cover strokes, rolling, river-reading and safety. In the spring, students will be able to join us for a series of incrementally more challenging river trips. 

Who says paddling in a pool can't be fun?

For us, the CWA pool classes are an example of giving back to the sport that's done so much for us. This is where we first learned to paddle and roll. Now we can help other people gain both skill and a love of the sport.
And who can argue with 78-degree water in the middle of winter?

Hannah doesn't seem unhappy.