Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sharon paddles along the break wall, past a light marking the entrance to the Calumet channel.
     There's plenty of traffic on the Chicago coast during the summer months. We share the water with tour boats, yachts, motor boats, sail boats, fishing boats, coast guard vessels, jets skis and more. On a summer weekend, it can get pretty busy--and sometimes pretty scary.
     But there's one type of boat we're always happy to see: Great Lakes freighters. These monumental vessels remind us that Chicago owes its existence to the convenience of sending cargo by sea, and that its maritime role extends to this day.
     Today we paddled down toward the heavy industrial area on Chicago's far south side. While eating lunch at Calumet Park, we saw the Philip R. Clarke as she approached the Calumet River. We knew she was coming long before we saw her because her captain announced her arrival an hour in advance on channel 16, which we monitor any time we are near or crossing shipping channels. So we paddled out to a nearby buoy to watch her turn once to get into the channel, then a second time so she could back into the river.

The Philip R. Clarke and the Avocet LV.

We stopped to take pictures, of course.

Alec brings out the serious camera.

The 767-foot freighter, capable of hauling more than 25,000 tons of cargo.
    These Great Lakes freighters command respect. They make all the little motor boats look ridiculous. They're predictable, they follow the nautical rules of the road, and they're just plain amazing. We think our kayaks, given a choice, would come back in another life as Great Lakes frieghters.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sex and the single paddler

   OK, the title of this post is a little misleading. We just wanted to see how it would affect our analytics. But this is a post about sex -- the female sex -- and the issue of all-women's classes and symposia.

Ladies of the Lake, the spirited midwestern all-women's symposium, begins shortly.
   Over the years, Sharon and Hannah have taught a number of classes that are specifically billed as women-only. We've written about this before in greater depth, but in our experience, women-only classes offer opportunities to address:
  • woman-specific paddling issues, such as having less upper-body strength and more upper-body bulk than most male paddlers (not to mention how to pee while on the water);
  • woman-specific insecurities, such as dealing with a male paddling partner who is faster/stronger/bossier or has a different set of expectations for a day on the water; 
  • woman-specific strengths, including our ability to encourage one another while we overcome our fears and learn new skills.
   Some symposia have a women's track or some women-only classes. But the upcoming Ladies of the Lake (now in its seventh year), sponsored by Downwind Sports, is a women-only symposium.
   Just because this is a women's symposium doesn't mean it isn't every bit as exciting and challenging as a mixed-gender symposium. We work on strokes, rolling, braces, navigation and incident-management, and if the surf's up, we go out and catch the waves. And just because it's a women's symposium doesn't mean we think we can only have this kind of fun with women. In fact, many of us instructors love paddling with men, learning from men, teaching men and even competing with men. We're sure the same is true of many of our students.
   But there is something very powerful about gender camaraderie, especially for a gender that has historically been discouraged from pursuing physically challenging activities. And if registration numbers for this year's Ladies of the Lake symposium are any indication, the appeal of women-specific kayak classes is still strong.